Tuesday, May 31, 2022

A kindly and witty diarist

‘Introduced bill to curb gambling on the stock market and it is about as popular as an alarm clock in a boys’ dormitory.’ This is from the very readable diaries of Henry Fountain Ashurst, one of the first two representatives from Arizona to be elected to the United States Senate. Ashurst died 60 years ago today, but he left behind a good set of diaries - covering more than a quarter of a century - which were published the same year. One reviewer called him ‘a kindly and witty diarist’.

Ashurst was born in 1874 in a covered wagon near Winnemucca, Nevada, the second of ten children. The family moved to a ranch near Williams, Arizona, when he was two, and he attended school in Flagstaff. Aged 13, he worked as a cowboy on the family ranch. By 19, he was the turnkey at a local jail, and while working there developed an interest in law. For a while he was employed as a lumberjack, studying law at night. He entered Stockton Business College, graduating in 1896, and was admitted to the bar in 1897. Around the same time, he began a political career, serving in the territorial House of Representatives and after two years becoming house speaker. He also spent a term in the territorial Senate. After spending a year in law college, he married Elizabeth McEvoy Reno, an Irish-born widow (with four children from her first marriage). 

Ashurst was one of the first two Senators elected when Arizona became a state in 1912. He was regularly re-elected, serving for the best part of 30 years, until he was defeated during the 1940 Democratic primary. During his early years in the Senate, he was a supporter of the Woodrow Wilson administration and served as chairman of the Committee on Indian Affairs between 1914 and 1919. When the Democrats lost control of the Senate in 1918, and the presidency in 1920, he became a strident critic of Republican leaders and policy. When the Democrats regained control in 1932, he was appointed chairman of the Judiciary Committee, serving until he left the Senate.

Through his years in the Senate, Ashurst was a notably advocate for the citizens of Arizona (rather than, say, specific national policies). He was a notable public speaker. His most celebrated address - chastising Huey Long in 1939 - was  described in Time magazine as ‘one of the most devastating speeches the chamber ever heard’. He was also noted for an eccentric and flexible voting record (switching sides on probation for example), such that he appointed himself ‘Dean of Inconsistency’. In 1941, he took up a post on the US Board of Immigration Appeals, retiring in early 1943. Thereafter, he lived in Washington, D.C., devoting his time to classical poetry and public speaking. He died on 31 May 1962. Further information is available from Wikipedia, the University of Arizona Libraries website, and True West Magazine.

Ashurst kept a diary from 1910 through to 1937. This was edited by George F. Sparks and published by the University of Arizona Press, also in 1962, as A Many Colored Toga: The diary of Henry Fountain Ashurst. The full work is freely available to read online at the HathiTrust website. And a review of it can be found in the Pacific Historical Review. The review begins as follows.

‘A reading of this book will leave the professional historian with mixed emotions. He cannot fail to admire the kindly and witty diarist, and he will appreciate the wonderful opportunity Ashurst had as senator from Arizona for almost thirty years to observe and participate in events of great significance, in the years recorded here (1910-1937). A diary is an extremely individualistic form of literature, and it is ungracious or worse to criticize a diarist for not doing what he did not propose to do. Still, an honest report must state that there is something to be desired in this book. It is a worthwhile volume, as the late senator was a worthwhile political leader; but an adjective such as “great” should be attached to neither. Ashurst enjoyed close intercourse with many “greats” and the diary contains frequent observations on them, often penetrating and revealing although, one realizes upon reflection, always friendly. The Arizona solon seems by nature to have something of a dilettante, with fine instincts and talents but no inclination to penetrate very deeply into any subject, and no goal more specific than that of public service.’

1 May 1912
‘Senator Mark Smith has many friends. He is one of the best storytellers in Congress; and of all the senators, his company is the most sought. His repartee and learning make him welcome everywhere. He is of such vast experience in Congress that my unsophistications nettle him and tax his patience. He is opposing the confirmation of Judge Sloan.’

17 May 1912
‘This fight Mark Smith and I are making against the confirmation of Judge R. E. Sloan, nominated for the district bench, is difficult. I do not dislike Judge Sloan; I have tried many cases before him at nisi prius. In his later years on the bench, he became cross and sour. If Sloan comes to grief, it will be upon that age-old rock upon which many judges have been wrecked, viz., he rides, hunts, fishes, dines, and fraternizes with a few but not with all the lawyers at his bar. Those with whom he does not ride, hunt, fish, or dine are filled with jealousy and rage. He is assailed with a fury which he cannot understand.’

7 April 1913
‘The Sixty-third Congress convened in special session. I believed when elected to the Senate, I would have time and opportunity to study, to explore histories and philosophies for truths that make nations great and peoples free, but alas! all my time since the elections has been consumed by applicants for political jobs.

During last January, February, and March, delegation after delegation of place-hunters came all the long way from Arizona looking for some "appointment.” My weakness is that I have not cultivated the habit of saying NO.

When the second session of the Sixty-third Congress adjourned, President Taft gave a recess appointment to Judge Richard E. Sloan, as District Judge for Arizona, and he served until March 4, 1913, but the Democratic senators filibustered in Executive Session during December 1912 and January and February 1913, and thus defeated the confirmation of Judge Sloan.

The stock-growers are urging a tariff on imported meats, hides, wool, pelts, cattle, and sheep. I stated my views as to our party's promises in the 1912 campaign, whereupon, Senator Stone of Missouri, as is his custom, scolded me severely for “speaking prematurely.” ’

21 April 1913
‘Introduced bill to curb gambling on the stock market and it is about as popular as an alarm clock in a boys’ dormitory.’

28 November 1915
‘Dispatches from the war zone say that reports from Mesopotamia indicate that a British expedition is near Bagdad. Bagdad is the ancient metropolis of the Moslem world and is a sordid slum of a city with a few tawdry mosques that serve to recall the power and magnificence of the caliphate of the days of Haroun Al Raschid, but it is potentially one of those gateways which from time to time adventurous armies strive to take. The country surrounding Bagdad is a land of solitude and mystery, and some say it was the cradle of the human race.’

29 September 1917
‘Washington is now a boom city; it is rushing, shouting, building and hurrying. Owners of lots are letting contracts here for the construction of more hotels and theatres, although wages and the price of material have “skyrocketed” within the past thirty days. In the olden days of the West, we had “boom towns,” such as Virginia City, Gold Hill, Placerville, Carson City, Leadville, Tonapah, Goldfield, Brodie, Rawhide, Tombstone, Cripple Creek, Dawson et al, but Washington is our first “boom city.” ’

4 December 1931
‘A snowstorm of Arctic ferocity has fallen upon the Navajo Indian Reservation in Northern Arizona. Many Navajo Indians have perished in the snowdrifts or frozen in the frosts.

I spent the day at Indian Bureau in arranging relief for them.’

13 August 1932
‘It is, I suppose, a human tendency to try to advance one’s self, and even eminent philosophers seem to desire a social order fitted to the skills and qualities they possess. Plato’s preference was for a rule by the philosophers; Jefferson, a man of virtue and learning, favored a government by the virtuous and learned. The unlearned, incompetent ones, would seek equality by reducing all to mediocrity.

It is becoming obvious as the years roll on that I and the other diarists who are so “truthful” in telling tales about others rarely, if ever, write of our own mean, petty, and contemptible doings but seldom omit recording our own generous and virtuous actions. My opponents derisively say that I have flattered Neptune out of his trident yet Senator J. Hamilton Lewis recently said to me, “Why, dear Prince Hal, you have by making immaterial concessions to human vanity, stimulated many persons into worthy action.”

Be that as it may, it is nobler to be truthful and resolute than to be eloquent, lubricous, and socially and politically eligible. I have been tardy in divining that no matter how meagre, obscure, and indigent a particular human life may be, romance inheres in that life.

To my misfortune, from my earliest sentience, I accepted existence as a futility more honorably endured by complaisance than by resentment; and my failure accurately to appraise and evaluate life was a ghastly mistake, difficult of correction now. I have been a laggard in recognizing the justice of nature and the dignity of mankind. In order to live a worthwhile life, indeed, in order to enjoy even a moderate measure of graceful and felicitous existence, it is requisite that one shall approach life realizing that the universe is operated according to “a good and great plan” and that in harmony with this plan mankind, endowed with reason and conscience, may direct his affairs beneficially if his goal be justice and righteousness. To achieve any durable success one must have a fixed and settled realization that demonstrable truths do exist and that mankind is capable of applying these truths to this life.’

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Journal des Goncourt

Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Edmond de Goncourt, a major French literary figure of the 19th century, and the founder of Académie Goncourt which administers France’s famous prestigious literary award - the Prix Goncourt. Edmond wrote many of his books in collaboration with his younger brother, Jules, including - extraordinarily - their diary. This is considered to be one of the finest of French diaries, for its entertaining and gossipy record of Paris’s social and literary life in the second half of the 1800s.

Edmond de Goncourt was born on 26 May 1822 in Nancy, and his brother Jules in Paris in 1830. They both attended good schools in Paris, but their father died while Jules was still a child; their widowed mother then died in 1848, leaving them both a modest income. The legacy meant Edmond need not continue working as a clerk, a job he hated. Subsequently, the brothers became artists, and even went on a painting tour; they evolved into art critics and historians. But, it was to literature that the brothers - who were inseparable - would become most committed.

After an unsuccessful novel and some attempts at drama, the Goncourts began publishing books - always authored jointly - on various aspects of art and society in 18th century France. In the 1860s, they returned to fiction, and published six novels which they described as history which might have taken place. Jules, the more highly strung and delicate of the two, suffered a nervous breakdown and died in 1870, possibly from a syphilis-related condition. Edmond continued sporadically to write further books on his own; he also hosted a literary salon. The brothers’ literary style is said to have been influential in the development of naturalism and impressionism.

Edmond died in 1896; and in his will he left his entire estate to finance the Académie Goncourt to promote literature in France. Establishing the academy proved a contentious and controversial development in French literary circles, nevertheless, from 1903 to the present day, the academy’s ten-member board has awarded the now-famous Prix Goncourt for the year’s best work of fiction. Wikipedia has brief articles on the brothers, the Académie Goncourt and the Prix Goncourt. Further information is also available from Encyclopaedia Britannica and The Paris Review.

Today, the Goncourt brothers are remembered largely for their gossipy and informative diary. They began keeping a journal in December 1851. Astonishingly, the brothers wrote the journal together, as one: astonishingly, for co-authorship of books is one thing, co-authorship of a diary is another. Robert Baldick, who edited and translated an English version of the diary in the 1960s (see below), described the co-authorship process as follows: ‘Jules usually acted as the scribe, with Edmond standing behind him and leaning over his shoulder, so that, as with their novels, it is impossible to attribute any entry to one or other: even when an anecdote clearly refers to the experiences of one brother, the recording of it may well have been modified by the other, in the process of what Edmond called their ‘dual dictation’.’

When Jules died, Edmond decided to stop keeping the journal, but, as Baldick explains: ‘the compulsion to describe his brother’s long death-agony, partly to derive comfort from the memory, partly to pay tribute to the dead man, and partly no doubt out of habit, proved too strong for him. Then came the Franco-Prussian War, the Siege of Paris, the Commune, and the fascination of recording his impressions of these events enslaved Edmond once more to the Journal.’ Edmond went on writing the diary until a few months before his death.

Extracts from the journal appeared in the newspaper Figaro in 1886, and a first published volume came out a year or so later. Figaro, though, attacked it as a ‘masterpiece of conceit’. Another eight volumes appeared in Edmond’s lifetime, often attracting personal and public hostility. All of these are available online at Internet Archive. A two volume edition of the diaries was first published in English by Heinemann in 1895 as Edmond and Jules de Goncourt: With Letters and Leaves from their Journals, compiled and translated by M A Belloc and M Shedlock. These are also downloadable from Internet Archive.

Several more editions have since been published, including The Journal of the De Goncourts, with an introduction by Julius West (Thomas Nelson, circa 1915) but with no translator credited. In 1962, Oxford University Press published Pages from the Goncourt Journal, edited and translated by Robert Baldick. Baldick concluded: ‘Whether it is considered as a monumental autobiography or as a history of social and literary life in Paris in the second half of the nineteenth century, the Goncourt Journal is a document of absorbing interest and outstanding importance.’

Here are several extracts. The first three, written while Jules was still alive, are taken from Baldick’s translation; the others are taken from the online version of the Julius West edition.

17 March 1861
‘Flaubert said to us today: ‘The story, the plot of a novel is of no interest to me. When I write a novel I aim at rendering a color, a shade. For instance, in my Carthaginian novel, I want to do something purple. The rest, the characters and the plot, is a mere detail. In Madame Bovary, all I wanted to do was to render a grey colour, the mouldy colour of a wood-louse’s existence. The story of the novel mattered so little to me that a few days before starting on it I still had in mind a very different Madame Bovary from the one I created: the setting and the overall tone were the same, but she was to have been a chaste and devout old maid. And then I realized that she would have been an impossible character.’

6 May 1861
‘At four o’clock we were at Flaubert’s, who had invited us to a reading of Salammbô, together with a painter called Gleyre whom we found already there. From four till six, Flaubert read to us in his booming, sonorous voice, which cradles you in a sound like a bronze murmur. At seven we dined, and after dinner and a pipe, the reading was resumed, taking us by way of readings and summaries of what was omitted, to the end of the last chapter, the copulation of Salammbô and Mathô. It was then two in the morning.

I am now going to write what I think, in my heart of hearts, of this work by a man I like - and there are not many such men - and whose first book I greatly admired. Salammbô is less than what I expected from Flaubert. His personality, so well dissembled, so completely absent from that impersonal work, Madame Bovary, comes through here, blown up, melodramatic, resorting to bombastic writing and crude colouring, one might almost say illumination. Flaubert sees the Orient, and what is more the Orient of antiquity, in the guise of an Algerian bazaar. Some of his effects are childish, others ridiculous. The attempt to rival Chateaubriand is the great defect of the book, robbing it of originality: Les Martyrs keeps coming through. Then there is nothing more wearisome than the everlasting descriptions, the button-by-button portrayal of the characters, the miniature-like representation of every costume. [. . .] His characters’ sentiments are not the product of a certain conscience, lost with a certain civilization: they are the commonplace, universal sentiments of all humanity and not of Carthaginian humanity; and his Mathô is at bottom no more than an opera tenor in a barbaric poem.’

30 July 1861
‘I have drunk my fill, I have had my mistress. I am in that condition in which the monstrosities one has committed seem like children’s games. I am left with a craving which, in drunkenness outlasts love and copulation, a craving which shows all over a man’s face, in his mouth and in his flaring nostrils. How utterly futile debauchery seems once it has been accomplished, and what ashes of disgust it leaves in the soul! The pity of it is that the soul outlives the body, or in other words that impression judges sensation and that one thinks about and finds fault with the pleasure one has taken.

And these are the thoughts which occur to me.

The facts: nothing matters but the facts: worship of the facts leads to everything, to happiness first of all and then to wealth.

Touch this or that switch in a woman and out comes either pleasure or truth: you can make her admit at will that she is having an orgasm or that she loves you. This is appalling. Bonald’s maxim needs to be reversed: man is mind betrayed, not served, by his organs.

There are moments when, faced with our lack of success, I wonder whether we are failures, proud but impotent. One thing reassures me as to our value: the boredom that afflicts us. It is the hall-mark of quality in modern men. Chateaubriand died of it, long before his death. Byron was stillborn with it. The essence of bourgeois talent is to be gay. Voltaire spent his life taking an interest in something: himself.

There are moments of discouragement when glory seems as insignificant as the office of mayor of a little market-town.

Debauchery is perhaps an act of despair in the face of infinity.

Any man who does not see everything in terms of self, that is to say who wants to be something in respect of other men, to do good to them or simply give them something to do, is unhappy, disconsolate, and accursed.’

29 April 1877
‘I have tried in vain to explain the intensity of the hatred against us. In my opinion, the journalists have not been critics; they have been substitutes for the Royal or Republican prosecutors. How shameful! . . . and yet . . .’

9 March 1882
‘Dinner at Zola’s. A gourmet’s dinner, flavoured by an original conversation on matters pertaining to food and to the imagination of the stomach, at the end of which Turgenev undertakes to provide us with Russian snipe, the finest game-bird in the world.

From the food the conversation passes on to wines, and Turgenev, with that pretty art of description, with the artistic little touches which he alone of us all possesses, tells us about a draught of an extraordinary Rhenish wine drunk in a certain German inn.

First, the introduction into a room at the back of the hotel, putting distance between himself and the noise of the street and the rolling of carriages; then the grave entrance of the old innkeeper coming to be present, as a serious witness of the operation, at the same time as the arrival of the innkeeper’s daughter, a true Gretchen, with her hands an honest red, and marked with little white freckles, like the hands of every German school-teacher . . . and the religious uncorking of the bottle, spreading an odour of violet through the room; then, finally, the scene in all its details, described with the minute observation of a poet.

This conversation and the succulent food are from time to time interrupted by moans and complaints on our “beastly trade,” on the little happiness which good luck brings us, on the profound indifference which overcomes us for our successes, and on the annoyances which the least things opposed to our life can cause us.’

27 December 1895
‘In this volume, the last I shall print while I live, I cannot bring the Journal des Goncourt to an end without a little history of our collaboration, without describing its origins, its expression, and indicating in this common work, year in and year out, the predominance at times of the elder over the younger, at times of the younger over the elder.

Our two temperaments were entirely different. My brother had a gay, vigorous, expansive nature; I was melancholy, dreamy, concentrated; and yet it is a curious fact that our two brains received identical impressions from the external world.

Now the day that we had both done with painting, my brother and I passed on to literature. My brother, I admit, was a more elaborate, more precise stylist than I, and at that time I had only the advantage over him of being able to see things more clearly, and of being able to discern, in the mass of things and ideas around us, what might become the literary material for novels and for plays. [. . .]

Now it gradually came about that in this manufacture of our books my brother began to specialize in looking after the style, and I in looking after the creation of the work. He became a little lazy, a little disdainful of seeking and inventing although he could imagine far finer details than I could when he gave himself the trouble. Perhaps, already suffering with his liver, and drinking Vichy water, this was a beginning of his cerebral exhaustion? In any case, he had always had a repugnance for a too numerous production for a “mass of books,” as he used to say. And he would repeat, “I was born to write, in the whole of my life, one little volume in duodecimo, after the style of La Bruyere, and nothing but that little duodecimo!”

It was, therefore, only out of affection for me that he brought me the assistance of his labour to the end, saying, with a painful sigh, “What, another volume? Haven’t we really done enough in quarto, in octavo, and so on?” And sometimes, when I think of that abominable life of labour I imposed upon him, I feel something like remorse, in the fear that perhaps I hastened his end.

But while throwing upon me the composition of our books, my brother remained an enthusiast for style. I have described in a letter to Zola, written the day after his death, the loving care he put into the elaboration of the form, in the framing of phrases, in the choice of words, taking the things we had written jointly, and which had at first satisfied us both, and working them over for hours and half-days with an almost angry stubbornness, here changing an epithet, there introducing a rhythm into a period, farther on reshaping a sentence, tiring himself, exercising his brain, in the pursuit of that perfection so difficult, often so impossible, to obtain in the French language, in order to express modern sensations . . . and after this labour resting long moments, tired out, on a sofa, silently smoking an opiated cigar.

He never gave himself so completely over to this effort of style as in the last novel he was to write, in Madame Gervaisais, in which, perhaps, the disease that was to kill him gave him at times, I believe, almost the intoxication of religious ecstasy.’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 26 May 2012.

Monday, May 23, 2022

A tale of defeat and bitterness

‘For a brief interval he had no questions to answer, no justifications to proffer, no explanations to make. The contrast with the general tenor of his life is striking. Later years would also bring occasional intervals of deep joy, of triumph, even perhaps of tranquillity, but his life as a whole was to be an almost unbroken tale of defeat and bitterness.’ This is about Charles Fothergill, born 240 years ago today, an ardent naturalist and failed entrepreneur many times over. The comment comes from the introduction to a book of diary notes kept by a still very young Fothergill on returning to his home county to research its natural history.

Fothergill was born into a Quaker family in York, England, on 23 May 1782. He was trained in his father’s business - ivory craft - but developed an early interest in natural history, even publishing a short folio he called Ornithologia Britannica at the age of 17. He travelled to London to become an actor, then tried to secure a commission in the Royal Navy. However, in 1805, he returned to Yorkshire to research a natural and civil history of Yorkshire, and the following year saw him in the Orkney and Shetland islands undertaking another similar idea. He commissioned celebrated engravers to illustrate the works, but only ever managed to published his Essay on the philosophy, study, and use of natural history. In his later 20s, he seems to have squandered an inheritance on racehorse breeding. In 1811, he married Charlotte Nevins and they had two sons. 

Further career attempts followed - studying medicine in Edinburgh, farming on the Isle of Man - before he and his family emigrated to Upper Canada (partly to escape debts). He settled Smith’s Creek (Port Hope) where he opened a general store. He was the first postmaster at Port Hope in 1817; and in 1818, he was appointed justice of the peace in the Newcastle District. He built a distillery at Port Hope and a sawmill and gristmill at Peterborough. However, debts again overwhelmed him, and his properties were seized. In 1821, he was appointed the King’s Printer and moved to York (Toronto). The years that followed were dogged with ill-health, the death of his wife, and schemes that came to naught.

In 1824, he won a seat in the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada. In parliament, he was critical of the administration and was dismissed as King’s Printer in 1826. He failed to get re-elected in 1830. During the 1830s, he also published An essay descriptive of the quadrupeds of British North America and another paper on the situation of the salmon in Lake Ontario. However, several new business ventures failed, and he died, penniless, in 1840. Wikipedia says he is considered to be Ontario’s first resident ornithologist. Further information is also available from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography and a biography by James I. Baillie Jr. in the Canadian Historical Review.

The University of Toronto Library holds the bulk of Fothergill’s extant papers, including some diaries. Shetland Museum and Archives holds Fothergill’s diary of his 1806 travels there. The Yorkshire Archaeological Society may hold the Yorkshire diary since, in 1984, it published The Diary of Charles Fothergill, 1805: An Itinerary to York, Flamborough and the North-Western Dales of Yorkshire by Paul Romney. The introduction in this latter is available to view online at Academia.

Here are three extracts from that introduction.

‘The document published here is Fothergill’s diary of his adventures as he perambulated the county of Yorkshire between May 1805 and January 1806. It is the record of a young Yorkshire Quaker, of yeoman roots and bourgeois estate, in search of the history, antiquities, folklore, customs and other phenomena, both ‘natural’ and ‘civil’, of his native county. Much of the diary is therefore taken up with jottings relevant to those subjects: accounts of archaeological relics; scraps of local history; notes on economic life, and on local dialect and nomenclature; and, of course, descriptions of flora and fauna - for Fothergill was always a naturalist first and foremost, and above all an ornithologist.’

‘None of the data the diary offers is as interesting as the interplay between the writer’s sensibility and his subject: the past and present of Yorkshire. This interplay creates a whole that exceeds the sum of the parts, conveying to the reader a sense of the time and place which is almost novelistic in its immediacy. Indeed, the diary is almost novelistic in structure; for, as the scene shifts to and fro between York and the Ridings, and scenes of solitude and tranquillity alternate with those of society and bustle, our sense of both narrator and milieu expands, while the plot takes some surprising twists before accelerating gently but perceptibly to its bittersweet climax.’

‘The diary records what was, despite its unsatisfactory epilogue, an idyllic interlude in Fothergill’s life. In the dales he wandered amidst scenery sometimes picturesque, sometimes sublime, in a region to which the name of Fothergill was native. Here was none of the clamour, filth and expense of London, none of the claustrophobia and family strife of York. For a brief interval he had no questions to answer, no justifications to proffer, no explanations to make. The contrast with the general tenor of his life is striking. Later years would also bring occasional intervals of deep joy, of triumph, even perhaps of tranquillity, but his life as a whole was to be an almost unbroken tale of defeat and bitterness.’

Monday, May 16, 2022

Dreaming of New Guinea

‘I walked down to the sea; the stars were shining and there was a crescent moon in the west. I sat withdrawn, not thinking much, but without homesickness; felt a dull pleasure in soullessly letting myself dissolve in the landscape. I fell asleep with difficulty, dreaming about the possibilities of research in New Guinea.’ This is from the diary of Bronisław Malinowski, a Polish-born British anthropologist who died 80 years ago today. As a young man, he was inspired by The Golden Bough, switch from the physical sciences to anthropology, and went to live among the indigenous peoples in Papua New Guinea for several years. 

Malinowski  was born in 1884 in Kraków then part of the Austro-Hungarian province known as the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria. His father was a professor of at the Jagiellonian University, and his mother came from a family of landed gentry. Educated at home, he was afflicted by ill health which is said to have dogged him throughout life. Nevertheless, he traveled extensively in his teens not least in the Mediterranean region with his mother (by then a widow). He attended Jagiellonian University, completing his doctorate in 1908, in philosophy with physics and maths. He spent three semesters at the University of Leipzig studying economics and psychology, before relocating to London where, inspired by James Frazer’s The Golden Bough, he studied anthropology at the London School of Economics. where his mentors included C. G. Seligman and Edvard Westermarck.

In 1911. Malinowski published a first academic paper in Polish (Totemism and Exogamy); the following year he published his first paper in English; and the year after that he brought out his first book - The Family among the Australian Aborigines - based on a reinterpretations of Australian Aboriginal data from existing literature. These gained him a reputation and promoted his plans for field research; and in 1914 he was able to go to New Guinea. Six months’ work among the Mailu on the south coast produced a monograph that helped to earn his doctorate in 1916. Much of the next few years he lived in a tent on the Trobriand Islands. He learned the vernacular, and collected a wide range data which would later feed into many of his papers. In 1919 he married Elsie Rosaline Masson, an Australian photographer and writer; they had three daughters. In 1922, he published Argonauts of the Western Pacific, which brought him international fame.

After living in the Canary Islands and southern France, Malinowski returned in 1924 to the University of London as reader in anthropology, soon to be promoted to professor. His seminars became famous, attracting prominent scientists from other disciplines, and he taught many future prominent social scientists. In particular, he followed a functionalist approach, one favouring a focus on individuals, rather than society as a whole. In the 1930s, he became interested in Africa, visiting students working among Bemba, Swazi, and other tribes in eastern and southern Africa. He wrote the introduction to Jomo Kenyatta’s book Facing Mount Kenya (prepared as a diploma thesis under his supervision). In 1938, he went on sabbatical leave to the United States, and with the outbreak of war in Europe he decided to stay, becoming Bishop Museum Visiting Professor of Anthropology at Yale University. In 1940, he married again, to Anna Valetta Hayman-Joyce, an artist. He died on 16 May 1942. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, LSE, and Culture Poland.

For two relatively short periods during his early career (September 1914 to August 1915 and October 1917 to July 1918), Malinowski kept a diary in small black notebooks. This was first edited by Valetta Malinowski (as translated by Robert Guterman) and published by Routledge and Kegan Paul as Bronislaw Malinowski: My Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term. It was reissued by Stanford University Press in 1989. This latter edition is freely available to borrow digitally from Internet Archive. The first edition carries an introduction by Raymond Firth (a New Zealand ethnologist), who added a further introduction to the second edition.

From Firth’s first introduction: ‘What then is its significance? Malinowski was a great social scientist, one of the founders of modern social anthropology, and a thinker who tried to relate his generalizations about human nature and human society to the issues of the world around him. The diary refers to that very critical period of his career when, having equipped himself theoretically for empirical studies, he began to carry out field research in New Guinea. The first section covers his apprenticeship period among the Mailu; the second, after an unfortunate gap of two years, covers most of his last year in the Trobriands. Nowadays it is recognized that while the personality of a scientist may not necessarily have a direct bearing upon his selection and treatment of problems, it must influence his work in other more subtle ways. Although chronologically very brief, and although giving no great amount of detail on professional matters, the diary does indicate vividly how Malinowski thought about issues and about people - or at least how he expressed himself when he was writing only for himself as audience.

By these criteria, while this diary of Malinowski’s in its purely ethnographic sense cannot be ranked as more than a footnote to anthropological history, it is certainly a revelation of a fascinating and complex personality who had a formative influence on social science. In reading it, one must bear in mind its purpose. I think it is clear that its object was not so much to keep a record of Malinowski’s scientific progress and intentions, or to set down the daily events of his studies in the field, as to chart the course of his personal life, emotional as well as intellectual. In the earlier section it would seem that he regarded the periodic chronicle of his thoughts and feelings as a wav of helping to organize his life, and to realize its deeper meaning. But in the later section he meant it as an instrument as well as a reference work; he saw it as a means of guiding and indeed rectifying his personality.’

From Firth’s second introduction: ‘So in this second Introduction to the Diary I would modify one judgement in the first Introduction. Though the book is undoubtedly lacking “in its purely ethnographic sense” I would no longer rank it as “no more than a footnote to anthropological history”. The concept of ethnography has altered and widened, and the book has accordingly moved over to a more central place in the literature of anthropological reflection. It is not merely a record of the thinking and feeling of a brilliant, turbulent personality who helped to form social anthropology; it is also a highly significant contribution to the understanding of the position and role of a fieldworker as a conscious participator in a dynamic social situation.’

20 September 1914
‘Today, Monday, 9.20.1-1, I had a strange dream; homosex., with my own double as partner. Strangely autoerotic feelings; the impression that I’d like to have a mouth just like mine to kiss, a neck that curves just like mine, a forehead just like mine (seen from the side). I got up tired and collected myself slowly. Went to see Bell with whom I talked about native labor. Then Ahuia at Central Court. After lunch again with Ahuia. Then I reported to O’Malley, with him to McCrann. Back home I wrote to Mother and Halinka. Went up the hill. . .’

17 October 1914
‘Saturday, 10.17. In the morning S. took me on a tour of the island - to the flagpole, to the village, then to the gardens, then across the hills to the other side where we were given coconuts, and I watched the making of toea (armshells). Then we rounded the promontory and went along the mission shore. After dinner I read a little - I had done no work as yet, waiting for the help S. promised me.’

29 October 1914
‘Yesterday morning got up fairly late; I had engaged Omaga [a Mailu informant and village constable] who waited for me below the veranda. After breakfast I went to the village where Omaga met me near a group of women making pottery. My talk with him was rather unsatisfactory. . . [In] the middle of the street a woman was making drawings. Papari joined us; we talked again about the names of the months, which Papari did not know. I was discouraged. After dinner I read the Golden Legend, then took a nap. I got up at 4, took a dip in the sea (I tried to swim), had tea; at about 5 I went to the village. Talk with Kavaka about funeral rites; we sat under palm trees at the end of the village. In the evening talked with Saville about the southern coast of England from Ramsgate to Brighton. This got me. Cornwall. Devonshire. Digression on the nationalities and character of the population (natives of Cornwall, Devonshire, the Scots). I was depressed. Read a few pages of Cherbuliez’s Vlad. Boltkif - a sketch of a spiritually unusual woman; she reminded me of Zenia. Elated, humming a tune, I walked to the village. Fairly fruitful talk with Kavaka. Watched lovely poetic dances and listened to Suau [an island to the east] music. A small ring of dancers; two dancers facing each other with raised drums. The melody reminded me of Kubain laments. Went back home where I wasted time leafing through Punch. Vision of T. Occasionally I think of Staé with real friendliness; principally the melody he composed on the way to Ceylon.’

2 November 1914
‘Got up with a bad headache. Lay in euthanasian concentration on the ship. Loss of subjectivism and deprivation of the will (blood flowing away from the brain?), living only by the five senses and the body (through impressions) causes direct merging with surroundings. Had the feeling that the rattling of the ship’s engine was myself; felt the motions of the ship as my own - it was I who was bumping against the waves and cutting through them. Was not seasick. Landed feeling broken; did not lie down at once; had breakfast and looked through the newspapers with illustrations about the war. Looked for something about Poland - there was nothing. Very tired. Right after dinner, went to bed. Slept from 2 to 5. I did not feel too well afterward. I sat by the sea - no fit of dejection. The Stas problem torments me. In fact his conduct toward me was impossible. There was nothing wrong about what I said in Lodge’s presence; he was wrong to correct me. His complaints are unjustified, and the way he expresses himself precludes any possibility of reconciliation. Finis amicitiae. Zakopane without Stas! Nietzsche breaking with Wagner. I respect his art and admire his intelligence and worship his individuality, but I cannot stand his character.’

23 January 1915
‘I am “covering the ground” of my territory more and more concretely. Without doubt, if I could stay here for several more months - or years - I would get to know these people far better. But for a superficial short stay I have done as much as can be done. I am quite satisfied with what I have done under the poor circumstances. The arsenic works perfectly. Tonight I made an experiment. I took 10 grains of quinine and toward morning I felt quite terrible. Apparently quinine is not good and doesn’t help me at all - could it have a bad effect on the red blood corpuscles? I wonder whether arsenic is a specific against malaria? If so, what is its value in Alpine countries?    

Yesterday I walked to the village at 7. Photos of the lugumi - from behind the boathouse. I discovered this was the proper place for taking photos of Mailu (village). Then I went back, took Omaga and went to Keneni’s - Pikana joined us. I ignored him, turned my back to him. He began to talk of his own accord - and he was exceptionally good. We talked about gardens, about “Bittarbeit” [voluntary exchange of garden work] etc. . . After breakfast I took a pile of tobacco and went to the village and photographed the lugumi, then . . . went to buy stuff. Usually I overpay tremendously, I think, but I bargain till I am ready to drop. After lunch lay down and read Mexico. Two fellows brought me oba’ua - little axes made of shells. I went to the village around 4, bought two bamboo sticks with feathers; then I sat by the sea with Keneni and his family. Dini, Kavaki’s brother, came. Keneni [their uncle] and Dini went home with me and gave me descriptions of the specimens. After supper, terrible thirst - drank some soda water - then, very tired - changed plates; I walked down to the sea; the stars were shining and there was a crescent moon in the west. I sat withdrawn, not thinking much, but without homesickness; felt a dull pleasure in soullessly letting myself dissolve in the landscape. I fell asleep with difficulty, dreaming about the possibilities of research in New Guinea.’

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Infested with pirates

‘Just as unfrequented dark streets in large towns favour bandits, so too the numerous straits of these seas are infested with pirates, who usually join forces to attack merchant ships. They put out to sea in long and narrow boats similar to canoes with outriggers. [. . .] The other day, about 15 of those boats, called corocores, appeared at nightfall heading towards us.’ This is from the private journal of Rose de Freycinet, the first woman in history to keep a journal during an expedition round the world. She died 190 years ago today, though her journal was only published a century or so later, and is now considered an important anthropological resource. 

De Freycinet was born Rose Pinon in Saint-Julien-du-Sault, 100km southeast of Paris, the eldest child in a middle-class family. Her father and brother died while she was relatively young, leaving Rose with the responsibility of looking after her sisters. She was educated at a school run by her mother. Aged 19, Rose married the 35-year old Louis Claude de Saulces de Freycinet, a member of the French aristocracy. He had already made a name for himself as a sub-lieutenant to French naturalist Nicolas Baudin by mapping Australia’s coastline. In 1817, thus, he was given command of the corvette Uranie, under the auspices of the French Navy and the Ministry of the Interior, for a circumnavigational scientific expedition. 

Before departing France, de Freycinet had a secret cabin constructed on the Uranie in order to accommodate his wife (women were forbidden from sailing on navy vessels) who boarded while disguised as an officer. For three years, they cruised about the Pacific, visiting, among other places, Australia, the Mariana Islands, Hawaiian Islands, and South America. Rose kept mostly to her cabin, teaching herself to play guitar, learning English, doing needlework, and being a companion to her husband. Her presence was largely unacknowledged by those onboard, and, ultimately, official documents concerning the expedition made no mention of her.

The Uranie was shipwrecked in a storm in early 1820. She managed to limp into the Falkland Islands but no further. Eventually, the crew boarded an American vessel, bought by Freycinet and renamed the Physicienne, and set sail for Rio de Janeiro. There they remained until September before returning across the Atlantic and arriving at Havre in November, complete with the many scientific specimens - minerals, plants, insects, animals - that had been collected during Uranie’s voyages. In Paris, Louis de Freycinet fell ill with cholera. Rose nursed him back to health, but succumbed to the illness herself and died on 7 May 1832. Further information is available from Wikipedia, ABC.net, and the Western Australian Museum website.

There are several written accounts of the expedition. Freycinet’s official report (in several parts) was published in 1827 (only in French). Jacques Arago, one of the expedition’s artists, published his journal of the voyage in 1822. This was translated into English and published the following year as Narrative of a Voyage Round the World in the Uranie and Physicienne Corvettes. However, most extraordinarily, Rose de Freycinet also kept a private journal, one never intended for publication. It was written more as a series of letters than a journal in fact, some to her friend and some to her mother. These were first edited and published in French in 1927 by Charles Duplomb. In 1962, Oxford University Press published Marnie Bassett’s Realms and Islands: The World Voyage of Rose de Freycinet with extracts from the journal/letters. 

A full English edition of the journal/letters did not appear until 1996 when the National Library of Australia published A Woman of Courage: The Journal of Rose de Freycinet on Her Voyage Around the World, 1817-1820 (as edited by Marc Serge Rivière). From the publisher’s blurb: ‘Shipwrecks, disease, pirates, storms, near-starvation and picnics of penguin meat, strange customs, encounters with island royalty and travels to remote locations, all were the ingredients of a great adventure, and all were endured for love. A memorable story of an adventurous and spirited woman, this book includes beautiful colour plates reproduced from the original limited edition French publication.’ It can be previewed at Googlebooks, and a review (pdf) can be read here

‘Being not intended for publication and being both frank and [with]personal musings about people, places and events,’ Wikipedia says, ‘[Rose de Freycinet’s] writings represent an important anthropological resource.’ Here is one dated extract from A Woman of Courage (although most of Rose’s narrative as edited is not dated).

9 December 1818, Pisang Island, north-west of New Guinea
‘On account of his poor state of health, the kind Abbé de Quélen was unable to go ashore at Dili. Accordingly, only a few days after our departure he baptised the young Timorese lad whom we had taken aboard. My husband and I are his godparents and, in accordance with the wishes of the Portuguese Governor, we gave him the name of Joseph, to which I have added that of Antonio. Don Jose wanted the boy to have his name, so that, he said, we would remember him. But we shall not forget his kindness towards us any more than the happy events during this stopover.

Although our voyage was easier once we lost sight of Timor Island because of a favourable fresh breeze, it was only after we emerged from the strait that the heat, which had affected us badly ever since our arrival at Kupang, became a little more bearable for those aboard who were in good health. Our sick crewmen are suffering greatly; we fear that the Abbé may have contracted scurvy; he has lost a lot of weight on account of the heat. The Second Lieutenant, M. Labiche, suffers from dysentery; several crewmen have already died from that disease. Such unfortunate circumstances make our journey distressing. Otherwise, it would be so enjoyable as we make our way through the Moluccan Archipelago, where one comes across enchanting islands around every corner. The richness of the soil is demonstrated by the luxurious natural forests which cover these uncultivated lands. And what trees do we find in those forests? They are the very ones which produce precious spices; their scent hangs heavy in the air all around us. Thus, we have sailed past Amboina and closer still to Ceram, two Dutch settlements which are famous for having contributed so much to the wealth of that nation.

I sometimes recall that my mother wrote to me, when I was still in Toulon, that a map of Paris and its surrounding districts was sufficient at first for her to find each of the places where we lived, that thereafter she needed a map of France and, finally, that she would only be able to follow our progress on a world map. Now, a very detailed map of Oceania would be required - if one existed - to know where we were. Even then, every day I am told that Louis corrects geographical positions, erroneously recorded until now, a fact which would not surprise anyone in this part of the world where the Creator has sown islands ‘as he sows dust in our fields’. Since New Holland, we have not come across any land other than islands, and it will be some time yet before we espy another continent.

Just as unfrequented dark streets in large towns favour bandits, so too the numerous straits of these seas are infested with pirates, who usually join forces to attack merchant ships. They put out to sea in long and narrow boats similar to canoes with outriggers, and use small paddles which require a different kind of handling to our oars, in that the paddles do not rest on the side of the canoe. The other day, about 15 of those boats, called corocores, appeared at nightfall heading towards us. Louis thought it wise to go on the defensive in case of an attack, but the pirates no doubt were deterred by the strength of the corvette and went on their way.

A few days after that insignificant event, we again encountered several armed corocores, but these belonged to the Kimalaha [chief] of the island of Gebe. I am not implying that they are not pirates. Louis believes they are when it suits their purpose, and that they were lying in wait for some ships when we saw them. But the chief, old sea wolf that he was, observing that we had the weapons to defend ourselves fiercely, came on board to start negotiations. Not only was he well received, but Louis invited him to lunch, which he accepted without waiting to be asked twice. He became very attached to one of our chairs, which was presented to him at once. In return for this present which pleased him greatly, he thought of nothing better than to remove his own hat and place it on Louis’ head, who appeared to me quite comical wearing that type of straw parasol which is skilfully woven but with the same pointed shape as the lids of our saucepans.

The name of that strange character was Abdalaga-Fourou; he was fluent in Malay, so Louis was able to obtain a lot of information from him. The chiefs of the other corocores came to join him and, like him, stayed for dinner. The Kimalaha, better dressed than the others, was wearing trousers and some kind of open dressing-gown made of white calico, printed with stripes and red flowers. Under his hat, he wore a small red turban with a crown made of fine straw. He was bronzed and his face was lively and cheerful. These men endlessly chew betel and chalk, packed into pretty little boxes made of fine straw in various colours. They exchanged a lot of arrows, paddles and so on . . . for mirrors, knives, clothes and so on . . . When night fell, Abdalaga-Fourou went back to his boat, promising to return the next day. That prince had pressed Louis to go to Gebe and, while he was aboard our ship, in order to communicate more easily with his corocores, he had asked us to take them in tow. But as soon as the wind became fresh, they loosened the moorings and left us in order to return to Gebe. Consequently, Louis does not believe the Kimalaha’s promise that he will meet us at Waigeo, where we have to stop to take observations. To derive some advantage from several days’ inactivity forced upon us by the calm weather, the Commander has sent naturalists to Pisang Island. As soon as they are back and the wind is fresh again, we will set sail.’

Monday, May 2, 2022

Read the Word of God

‘Luigi Assemani desired to argue with me again about faith in the Pope, the Virgin Mary, and the saints. But as he is very young, I thought it not fair to argue with him; I told him, therefore, that I advised him to read the Word of God diligently . . .’ This is from the journals of Joseph Wolff - Christian Missionary to the Jews of the world - who died 160 years ago today.

Wolff was born at Weilersbach, near Bamberg, Germany, in 1796 into a Jewish family. His father was a rabbi but he sent his son to the Protestant Lyceum at Stuttgart to learn German. Later he studied Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Interested in Christianity, he left home very young. After some years of travelling, he was baptised in 1812 by Leopold Zolda, abbot of the Benedictine monastery of Emmaus, near Prague. Four years later, he arrived in Rome, where he began training as a missionary at the seminary of the Collegio Romano. However, he was a subversive student, criticising his tutors, and was expelled in 1818. He moved on to England to stay with Henry Drummond, founder of the Catholic Apostolic Church, where he became friendly with Lewis Way. Wolff became a member of the Church of England, and was persuaded to train as a missionary at Cambridge University, with his expenses paid by The London Society for Promoting Christianity amongst the Jews.

Between 1821 and 1826, Wolff traveled as a missionary in Egypt and the Levant, and was the first modern missionary to preach to the Jews near Jerusalem. He sent Christian boys from Cyprus to England for education, and then continued his travels through Persia, Mesopotamia, Tiflis, and the Crimea. He married Lady Georgiana Mary Walpole in 1827. And, in 1828 set off east again, this time in search of the fabled Lost Ten Tribes (said to have been exiled from the Kingdom of Israel after its conquest in the 8th century). This journey lasted five years, taking Wolf to Armenia, Bokhara, India and Egypt among other countries.

Wolff travelled to the United States where he preached before Congress. He was ordained deacon by the Bishop of New Jersey, and in 1838 priest by the Bishop of Dromore. In 1843 he made another journey to Bokhara, to rescue two captured British officers. There he found they had been executed by the Emir, Nasrullah Khan; he only narrowly escaped the same fate. In 1845, he was presented with the vicarage of Isle Brewers, Somerset, where he raised funds to rebuild All Saints Church. When his wife died, he married Louisa Decima in 1861 but he himself died the following year, on 2 May 1862. Further information is available from Wikipedia, the Jewish Encyclopaedia, or Encyclopaedia.com.

Wolff kept journals of his travels, and published them in various forms during his life - the earliest being articles in the Jewish Expositor. These were collected together and interspersed with letters, memoir material, and verbatim dialogues to form his first book, Missionary Journal and Memoir of the Rev. Joseph Wolf (published by E. Bliss and E. White in 1824; editor John Bayford) This is freely available at Googlebooks and Internet Archive. (Other volumes of his can also be found at Internet Archive, such as the two-volume Travels and Adventures.) Here are few extracts from the Missionary Journal.

21 December 1821
‘Pitched my tent in Abajilbana, where we saw the sea, called Bahar Almahl.’

22 December 1821
‘We pitched our tent in the plain of the village Arish, where there are an old castle, and some cannon. They asked me there whether the English Sultan is allied with that of Islam, I said. Yes; Hamd Lelah was the answer.’

26 December 1821
‘Arrived at Gaza. There came Samson, and it was told the Gazites, saying, Samson is come hither, and they compassed him in, and laid wait for him all night, saying: In the morning, when it is day, we shall kill him: and Samson lay till midnight, and arose at midnight, and took the doors of the gate of the city, and the two posts, and went away with them, bar and all, and put them upon his shoulders, and carried them up to the top of a hill that is before Hebron. 

It is now a little town inhabited by Mussulmen, and 100 Greek Christians, who have a very old church, which, by the account of the Greek priest on whom I called, was built in the time of Constantine the Great They are in possession of an old Arabic manuscript of the Gospel, which is kept sacred in the church. I asked them whether they would sell it to me, the priest replied, it would be an Haram Allah to sell any thing belonging to the church. All the Greeks throughout the East, are now in anxious expectation of the success of their brethren, fighting against their oppressors. Those at Gaza wept, and expected to hear from me good tidings, news of victory, on which I pointed them to the Lord, from whence their help will come. The chamack of the Grand Pasha of Acre, at the custom-house of Gaza, was very kind to me; he invited me to drink coffee with him, and procured me a room in the Han, which was not very handsome: he sent me some of his dates, and candles, and all this he did without reward, but I gave him before my departure, a present of three dollars. He was once in the service of the famous Djezzar, Pasha at Acre, and he knew Dr Clarke the traveller, and Mr. Smith, and he is the friend of Lady Esther Stanhope.’

3 January 1822
‘Peter Abbott, Esq., had the kindness to introduce me to an English Jew, with whom I had a short conversation about the Gospel. That Jew is to introduce me to their synagogue. My mind is quite relieved since I am again with English gentlemen; Peter Abbott, Esq. and Mr. M’Michael, Mr. Abbott promised me that he will kindly take an interest as well in the cause of the Bible as Missionary Society. Sent letters to Dr. Naudi, Mr. Lee, and Henry Drummond, by my friend Jacob Berggren.’

4 January 1822
‘Moreover, he refused the tabernacle of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim; but chose the tribe of Judah, the Mount Zion which he loved. Psalm lxxviii. 67, 68. This very exclamation of the royal prophet may have been the reason, that the prophetical song of his harp did not sound well in the ears of the Samaritans, and that his oracles, inspired by the Holy Spirit, have not been accepted, but rather rejected by them.

I took in view this morning the seraglio of the Pasha Abdallah, at Acre, it is a little, nice building. Mr. M’Michael accompanied me. The building is not to be compared with any house of a rich private gentlemen in England. We requested, by means iff Mr. Abbott’s dragoman, a bugrat for our journey to the Mount Lebanon. The clerks of the government office are almost all Christians of this country. We met there with one of the innumerable children of Djezzar; that is to say, with one of those whose nose has beep cut off by Djezzar’s order! We afterwards took in view the spot where Bonaparte encamped with his army: it is near the sea, opposite the Mount Carmel. “There was Nabal, who was churlish and evil in his doings, he would not know who David, and who the son of Jesse was.” 1 Samuel xxv.’

3 February 1822
‘Luigi Assemani desired to argue with me again about faith in the Pope, the Virgin Mary, and the saints. But as he is very young, I thought it not fair to argue with him; I told him, therefore, that I advised him to read the Word of God diligently, which tells us, that God shall add the plagues written in that book unto the man who should add to it; and that he should read that word of God with prayer, and then he would perceive the reason of my disbelief in the Pope.’

4 May 1822
‘Several Jews called on me, and asked for New Testaments, tracts, and Bibles. I gave them the books gratis. They read them in the streets, but the Jews from Barbary took them out of their hands, and burnt a great many. Armenian and Greek priests called on me to-day, and desired to purchase Greek, Arabic, and Armenian Bibles and Testaments, but I was not able to comply with their wish; I therefore wrote again to John Barker, Esq. in Aleppo, and to Peter Lee, Esq. in Alexandria, to send me Bibles, Testaments, and tracts.’