Tuesday, November 29, 2022

I flied the highest

‘I ran in the wind and played be a horse, and had a lovely time in the woods with Anna and Lizzie. We were fairies, and made gowns and paper wings. I “flied” the highest of all.’ This is Louisa Alcott - famous for being the author of the American classic Little Women - born 190 years ago today. She was writing in the diary then as a young girl, aged 11, but would go on to keep a diary for  much of her life. This diary, apart from documenting her own life, says much about the New England Transcendentalist movement her father was involved with.
Alcott was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, on 29 November 1832. She spent her childhood in Boston and in Concord, Massachusetts, being schooled, with three sisters, at home by her father, a New England Transcendentalist. For three years, they were part of the Utopian Fruitlands community. When this failed, they were helped out by her father’s friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson; money problems, though, were never far away. Louisa started writing early, mostly poetry and short stories. Flower Fables, her first book, was published when she was just 22.

In 1862, Alcott, an avowed abolitionist, went to Washington to work as a nurse during the Civil War, but her service lasted only a few weeks, as she nearly died from typhoid. She never recovered full health again. A book of her letters at the time, called Hospital Letters, brought her a first taste of literary fame. She began writing stories for Atlantic Monthly. Her most famous work, Little Women, written in 1868, and set at Orchard House, is still popular today. Alcott continued writing children’s books - though she yearned to do more serious fiction - because the family needed the income. In all, she published over 30 books and collections of stories.

Alcott died, aged 55, in 1888, just two days after her father. Further information is available from Wikipedia, the website for Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House (‘one of the oldest, most authentically-preserved historic house museums in America’) or The Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography.

From an early age through to the end of her life, Alcott kept a diary which she never intended for publication. Parts of it first appeared a year after her death in Louisa May Alcott Her Life, Letters and Journals edited by Ednah D. Cheney and published by Roberts Brothers in Boston. This book was continually reprinted before and after the publisher was taken over by Little, Brown in 1898. A first unabridged edition of Alcott’s diaries appeared a century later in 1989 when University of Georgia Press brought out The Journals of Louisa May Alcott edited by Madeleine B. Stern. Her Life, Letters and Journals is freely available at Internet Archive, and some of the more recent publication can be previewed at Googlebooks and Amazon.

1 September 1843
‘I rose at five and had my bath. I love cold water! Then we had our singing-lesson with Mr Lane. After breakfast I washed dishes, and ran on the hill till nine, and had some thoughts, it was so beautiful up there. Did my lessons, wrote and spelt and did sums; and Mr Lane read a story, “The Judicious Father”: How a rich girl told a poor girl not to look over the fence at the flowers, and was cross to her because she was unhappy. The father heard her do it, and made the girls change clothes. The poor one was glad to do it, and he told her to keep them. But the rich one was very sad; for she had to wear the old ones a week, and after that she was good to shabby girls. I liked it very much, and I shall be kind to poor people.

Father asked us what was God’s noblest work. Anna said men, but I said babies. Men are often bad; babies never are. We had a long talk, and I felt better after it, and cleared up.

We had bread and fruit for dinner. I read and walked and played till supper-time. We sung in the evening. As I went to bed the moon came up very brightly and looked at me. I felt sad because I have been cross to day, and did not mind Mother. I cried, and then I felt better, and said that piece from Mrs Sigourney, “I must not tease my mother.” I get to sleep saying poetry, I know a great deal.’

14 September 1843
‘Mr Parker Pillsbury came, and we talked about the poor slaves. I had a music lesson with Miss F. I hate her, she is so fussy. I ran in the wind and played be a horse, and had a lovely time in the woods with Anna and Lizzie. We were fairies, and made gowns and paper wings. I “flied” the highest of all. In the evening they talked about travelling. I thought about Father going to England, [. . .]

It rained when I went to bed, and made a pretty noise on the roof.’

8 October 1843
‘When I woke up, the first thought I got was, “It’s Mother s birthday: I must be very good.” I ran and wished her a happy birthday, and gave her my kiss. After breakfast we gave her our presents. I had a moss cross and a piece of poetry for her.

We did not have any school, and played in the woods and got red leaves. In the evening we danced and sung, and I read a story about “Contentment.” I wish I was rich, I was good, and we were all a happy family this day.’

4 January 1863
‘I shall record the events of a day as a sample of the days I spend:

Up at six, dress by gaslight, run through my ward and throw up the windows, though the men grumble and shiver; but the air is bad enough to breed a pestilence; and as no notice is taken of our frequent appeals for better ventilation, I must do what I can. Poke up the fire, add blankets, joke, coax, and command; but continue to open doors and windows as if life depended upon it. Mine does, and doubtless many another, for a more perfect pestilence-box than this house I never saw, cold, damp, dirty, full of vile odors from wounds, kitchens, wash-rooms, and stables. No competent head, male or female, to right matters, and a jumble of good, bad, and indifferent nurses, surgeons, and attendants, to complicate the chaos still more.

After this unwelcome progress through my stifling ward, I go to breakfast with what appetite I may; find the uninvitable fried beef, salt butter, husky bread, and washy coffee; listen to the clack of eight women and a dozen men, the first silly, stupid, or possessed of one idea; the last absorbed with their breakfast and themselves to a degree that is both ludicrous and provoking, for all the dishes are ordered down the table full and returned empty; the conversation is entirely among themselves, and each announces his opinion with an air of importance that frequently causes me to choke in my cup, or bolt my meals with undignified speed lest a laugh betray to these famous beings that a “chiel’s amang them takin’ notes.”

Till noon I trot, trot, giving out rations, cutting up food for helpless “boys,” washing faces, teaching my attendants how beds are made or floors are swept, dressing wounds, taking Dr F. P.’s orders (privately wishing all the time that he would be more gentle with my big babies), dusting tables, sewing bandages, keeping my tray tidy, rushing up and down after pillows, bed-linen, sponges, books, and directions, till it seems as if I would joyfully pay down all I possess for fifteen minutes’ rest. At twelve the big bell rings, and up comes dinner for the boys, who are always ready for it and never entirely satisfied. Soup, meat, potatoes, and bread is the bill of fare. Charley Thayer, the attendant, travels up and down the room serving out the rations, saving little for himself, yet always thoughtful of his mates, and patient as a woman with their helplessness. When dinner is over, some sleep, many read, and others want letters written. This I like to do, for they put in such odd things, and express their ideas so comically, I have great fun interiorally, while as grave as possible exteriorally. A few of the men word their paragraphs well and make excellent letters. John’s was the best of all I wrote. The answering of letters from friends after some one had died is the saddest and hardest duty a nurse has to do.

Supper at five sets every one to running that can run; and when that flurry is over, all settle down for the evening amusements, which consist of newspapers, gossip, the doctor’s last round, and, for such as need them, the final doses for the night. At nine the bell rings, gas is turned down, and day nurses go to bed. Night nurses go on duty, and sleep and death have the house to themselves.

My work is changed to night watching, or half night and half day, from twelve to twelve. I like it, as it leaves me time for a morning run, which is what I need to keep well; for bad air, food, and water, work and watching, are getting to be too much for me. I trot up and down the streets in all directions, sometimes to the Heights, then half way to Washington, again to the hill, over which the long trains of army wagons are constantly vanishing and ambulances appearing. That way the fighting lies, and I long to follow.

Ordered to keep my room, being threatened with pneumonia. Sharp pain in the side, cough, fever, and dizziness. A pleasant prospect for a lonely soul five hundred miles from home! Sit and sew on the boys’ clothes, write letters, sleep, and read; try to talk and keep merry, but fail decidedly, as day after day goes, and I feel no better. Dream awfully, and wake unrefreshed, think of home, and wonder if I am to die here, as Mrs R., the matron, is likely to do. Feel too miserable to care much what becomes of me. Dr S. creaks up twice a day to feel my pulse, give me doses, and ask if I am at all consumptive, or some other cheering question. Dr O. examines my lungs and looks sober. Dr J. haunts the room, coming by day and night with wood, cologne, books, and messes, like a motherly little man as he is. Nurses fussy and anxious, matron dying, and everything very gloomy. They want me to go home, but I won t yet.’

27 April 1872
‘Mr Emerson died at 9 P.M. suddenly. Our best and greatest American gone. The nearest and dearest friend Father has ever had, and the man who has helped me most by his life, his books, his society. I can never tell all he has been to me, from the time I sang Mignon’s song under his window (a little girl) and wrote letters a la Bettine to him, my Goethe, at fifteen, up through my hard years, when his essays on Self-Reliance, Character, Compensation, Love, and Friendship helped me to understand myself and life, and God and Nature. Illustrious and beloved friend, good-by!’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 29 November 2012.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Party at the palace

Eighty years ago today, Mary, youngest daughter of Winston Churchill, went to a party hosted by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace. Expressions of pleasure and nervousness fill an entry in her diary for the day: ‘I suppose I must still be very young because I was simply THRILLED by the party & felt stupidly shy & overcome & excited.’  

Mary Spencer-Churchill was born in London on 15 September 1922, the same week in fact as her father purchased Chartwell, a country house in Kent, where she was brought up, and where she attended local schools. She worked for the Red Cross and the Women’s Voluntary Service from 1939 to 1941, subsequently joining the Auxiliary Territorial Service, serving in London, Belgium and Germany in mixed anti-aircraft batteries, rising to the rank of Junior Commander. She accompanied her father as aide-de-camp on several of his overseas journeys. In 1945, she was awarded an MBE in recognition of her military service.

Mary married the Conservative politician Christopher Soames (later created Baron Soames) in 1947 and they had five children. She accompanied him on his foreign postings to France and Rhodesia. She served many public organisations at various times in various positions (Churchill Society, Church Army, Royal National Theatre Board of Trustees, National Benevolent Fund for the Aged). However, she also published several acclaimed family biographical works, including Clementine Churchill: The Biography of a Marriage and Winston Churchill: His Life as a Painter. In 1980, she was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for her public service, particularly in Rhodesia. She died in 2014. Further information is available from Wikipedia, or from obituaries in The Guardian, The New York Times, and the BBC.

Mary Churchill began keeping a diary in earnest in January 1939, and kept up the habit during the war years. With motherhood and marriage, her diary became less detailed, and by the mid-1950s her entries mainly concern gardening (with the exception of the diary for 1979-1980 when she was with her husband in Rhodesia). All her diaries are open for public inspection at the Churchill Archives Centre, and its website has a detailed description of each volume. 

Mary’s daughter, Emma, has recently edited some of the diaries for publication as Mary Churchill’s War - The Wartime Diaries of Churchill’s Youngest Daughter (Two Roads, 2021). This can be previewed at Googlebooks. Here is her entry from 80 years ago today - describing a thrilling visit to Buckingham Palace!

6 November 1942
‘Thanksgiving Day and I’m thrilled at the thought of the party at Buckingham Palace. Caught 1.05 train & had picnic lunch. Found Mummie still in bed but quite well & very gay. Tidied up frantically. Car took me to No. 10 at 3. Found Papa talking to Adml Noble who is off to Washington on a mission. We set off about 3.10.

I felt so excited couldn’t have been more thrilled if I d been in white satin & feathers (tho’ of course that would have been rather gay). And I felt so proud going with Papa. When we arrived we were shown into a drawing room by Sir Alexander Hardinge. Here we waited - there was Mr Winant, the Mountbattens, Ladies in Waiting, Admiral Stark & so on. The other guests were being shown into the next door room. Then another door opened & the Queen followed by the King & the 2 Princesses came in.

Papa unnerved me by saying in a hoarse whisper as Patricia Mountb. kissed the Queen’s hand & then her cheek - ‘You don’t do that’ - I was feeling VERY nervous by this time & I do hope I curtseyed ok. The King asked me about the OCTU - which was rather nice of him I thought. Then we stood behind the R[oyal] F[amily] as they received the guests. Papa had the King’s permission to leave soon afterwards & left me under the friendly wing of Mr Winant - who was looking more like Abe Lincoln than ever. Sir Charles Portal also adopted me & introduced me to S[quadron] Leader Nettleton VC (so good-looking AND married - tant pis) & S Leader Scott Malden who’s just made a tour of the USA.

Then I suddenly got caught up in a whirl of American army - cols, gens, majors etc - Very kind & gay & charming. Also some charming marines, Admiral Stark’s ADC. Stood for about 2 1/2 hrs. King & Queen talked constantly to the Americans. They (the Americans) were very much impressed & I felt so proud that they are our King & Queen. She is so beautiful & fresh & gracious - she was wearing lavender & pearls & was quite perfect. Then they played ‘God Save the King’ & Mr Winant took me home.

I suppose I must still be very young because I was simply THRILLED by the party & felt stupidly shy & overcome & excited - & it was so full of colour - red & gold & beautifully lit & lots of uniforms & gold braid!’

Incidentally, and apropos of nothing other than the date, on the very same day, the film Casablanca (which went on to become one of the most famous and loved films of all time) was being premiered at the Hollywood Theater in New York City.’

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Shakespeare’s name William

It is four centuries to the day since the death of John Manningham, a lawyer at Middle Temple. There was nothing much remarkable about his life, but he is remembered thanks to a diary he kept for a year or two at the dawn of the 17th century; and this diary happens to mention Shakespeare, and to give an historically important account of the death of Queen Elizabeth I.

John was born around 1575, the son of Robert Manningham of Cambridgeshire. When Robert died, John was formally adopted by his grandfather’s younger brother, Richard, a prosperous London mercer. He studied at Cambridge, graduating in 1596 before entering the Middle Temple.

Manningham married Anne Curle in 1605, and they had at least six children. He practised law throughout his life, and had a position at the court of wards and liveries. He inherited, from Richard Manningham, the manor house of Bradbourne in East Malling, Kent. He died on 22 November 1622. There is a little more biographical information available at Wikipedia or the Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900.

Undoubtedly, Manningham is remembered today because of a diary he kept for a short while at the start of the 17th century while he was still a student at Middle Temple. Diary of John Manningham of the Middle Temple, and of Bradbourne, Kent, Barrister-at-law, 1602-1603, was first edited by John Bruce and published by the Camden Society in 1868. It is freely available at Internet Archive.

Bruce suggests Manningham’s text ‘is scarcely what is generally understood by a Diary. It is rather a note-book in which the writer has jotted down from time to time his impressions of whatever he chanced to hear, read, or see, or whatever he desired to preserve in his memory. The result is a curious patchwork. Anecdotes, witticisms, aphoristic expressions, gossip, rumours, extracts from books, large notes of sermons, occasional memoranda of journeys into Kent and Huntingdonshire, with some little personal matter of the true Diary kind, are all thrown together into a miscellany of odds and ends.’

The Dictionary of National Biography describes it thus: ‘The work is an entertaining medley of anecdotes of London life, political rumours, accounts of sermons, and memoranda of journeys. The gossip respecting Queen Elizabeth’s illness and death and the accession of James I is set down in attractive detail, and Manningham often supplies shrewd comments on the character of the chief lawyers and preachers of the day. He also gives an interesting account of the performance of Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’ [. . .] in the Middle Temple Hall. [. . .] The familiar anecdote of Shakespeare’s triumph over Richard Burbage in the pursuit of the favours of a lady of doubtful virtue rests on Manningham’s authority [see Shakespeare Online for example]. Sir Thomas Bodley, John Stow, and Sir Thomas Overbury are also occasionally mentioned by Manningham.’

Here are several extracts, including those that mention Shakespeare and the dying/death of Queen Elizabeth I.

18 January 1602
‘I rode with my cosen’s wife to Maidstone; dyned at Gellibrands.

As we were viewinge a scull in his studye, he shewed the seame in the middle over the heade, and said that was the place which the midwife useth shutt in women children before the wit can enter, and that is a reason that women be such fooles ever after.

My cosen shee said that the Gellibrands two wives lived like a couple of whelpes togither, meaninge sporting, but I sayd like a payre of turtles, or a couple of connies, sweetely and lovingly.

Mr. Alane, a minister, was very sicke. Gellibrand gave him a glyster, and lett him bloud the same day, for a feuer; his reason was, that not to have lett him bloud had bin verry dangerous; but to lett bloud is doubtfull, it may doe good as well as harme.

My cosen shee told me, that when shee was first married to hir husband Marche, as shee rode behinde him, shee slipt downe, and he left hir behinde, never lookt back to take hir up; soe shee went soe long a foote that shee tooke it soe unkindly that shee thought neuer to have come againe to him, but to haue sought a service in some vnknowne place; but he tooke hir at last.

Wee were at Mrs Cavils, when she practised some wit upon my cosen. Cosen she called double anemonies double enimies.’

2 February 1602
‘At our feast wee had a play called “Twelue Night, or What you Will,” much like the Commedy of Errores, or Menechmi in Plautus, but most like and neere to that in Italian called Inganni. A good practise in it to make the Steward beleeve his Lady widdowe was in love with him, by counterfeyting a letter as from his Lady in generall termes, telling him what shee liked best in him, and prescribing his gesture in smiling, his apparaile, &c., and then when he came to practise making him beleeue they tooke him to be mad.’

13 March 1602
‘Vpon a tyme when Burbidge played Richard III, there was a citizen grone soe farr in liking with him, that before shee went from the play shee appointed him to come that night vnto hir by the name of Richard the Third. Shakespeare ouerhearing their conclusion went before, was intertained and at his game ere Burbidge came. Then message being brought that Richard the Third was at the dore, Shakespeare caused returne to be made that William the Conqueror was before Richard the Third. Shakespeare’s name William.’

23 March 1603
‘I dyned with Dr Parry in the Priuy Chamber, and understood by him, the Bishop of Chichester, the Deane of Canterbury, the Deane of Windsore, &c. that hir Majestie hath bin by fitts troubled with melancholy some three or four monethes, but for this fortnight extreame oppressed with it, in soe much that shee refused to eate anie thing, to receive any phisike, or admit any rest in bedd, till within these two or three dayes. Shee hath bin in a manner speacheles for two dayes, verry pensive and silent; since Shrovetide sitting sometymes with hir eye fixed upon one obiect many howres togither, yet shee alwayes had hir perfect senses and memory, and yesterday signified by the lifting up of hir hand and eyes to heaven, a signe which Dr Parry entreated of hir, that shee beleeved that fayth which shee hath caused to be professed, and looked faythfully to be saved by Christes merits and mercy only, and noe other meanes. She tooke great delight in hearing prayers, would often at the name of Jesus lift up hir handes and eyes to Heaven. Shee would not heare the Arch[bishop] speake of hope of hir longer lyfe, but when he prayed or spake of Heaven, and those ioyes, shee would hug his hand, &c. It seemes shee might have lived yf she would have used meanes; but shee would not be persuaded, and princes must not be forced. Hir physicians said shee had a body of a firme and perfect constitucion, likely to have liued many yeares. A royall Maiesty is noe priviledge against death.’

24 March 1603
‘This morning about three at clocke hir Majestie departed this lyfe, mildly like a lambe, easily like a ripe apple from the tree, [. . .] Dr Parry told me that he was present, and sent his prayers before hir soule; and I doubt not but shee is amongst the royall saints in Heaven in eternall joyes.’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 22 November 2012.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

I always see the ruin of Italy

‘Am listless and sleepy, as I have never been before. I sleep little at nights: before me I always see the ruin of Italy, . .’ This is from the diaries of the Italian writer and philosopher Benedetto Croce, who died 70 years ago today. Reluctantly, he took on, briefly, active political roles before and after Mussolini’s rise and fall, but he is best remembered for his philosophical works and contributions to liberal political theory.

Croce was born in 1866 in Pescasseroli (Abruzzi region of Italy) into a Catholic and wealthy landowning family. In 1883, he lost his parents in an earthquake on the island of Ischia, and went to live with an uncle in Rome, where he studied law at university. There he abandoned his religious faith, but also became disillusioned with the university, returning to Naples. Having inherited his family’s fortune, he had the freedom to devote time to personal studies, such as on historical realism. He traveled in Spain, Germany, France, and England, but in 1893, influenced by the Neapolitan-born Gianbattista Vico, he turned his learning towards philosophy (even buying the house in which Vico had lived). Friends persuaded him to read Hegel, and in 1907 he published a commentary on the German philosopher - What is Living and What is Dead of the Philosophy of Hegel - which brought him increased attention.

Croce published other significant works around this time, not least Aesthetic (1902), Logic (1908), and Philosophy of the Practical (1908). In 1903, he also founded (in collaboration with his friend the philosopher Giovanni Gentile) La Critica, a journal of cultural criticism in which, over the next 40 years, he would publish nearly all of his writings. Hitherto, he had eschewed interest in politics, but in 1910 he was persuaded into a more public role, being appointed to the Italian Senate. In 1914, he married Adela Rossi, with whom he had four daughters. He opposed Italy’s participation in the First World War. In 1919, he supported the government of Francesco Saverio Nitti, and was appointed Minister of Public Education - a position he held between 1920 and 1921. 

Initially, he supported Mussolini’s fascist government, but by 1925 he had written and signed a Manifesto of the Anti-Fascist Intellectuals. After Mussolini’s fall, in 1943, he became Minister without Portofilio of the new democratic government and a member of the Constituent Assembly. From 1943 to 1947, he was President of the reconstituted Liberal party. In 1947, he retired from politics and established the Institute for Historical Studies in his Naples home, where he had an extensive library. From 1949 until 1952, he was president of PEN International, the worldwide writers’ association, and he was nominated 16 times for the Nobel Prize in Literature. He died on 20 November 1952. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica and the New World Encyclopedia.

Croce kept a diary for much of his life; and at some point had them privatively printed in six volumes. But after the Second World War, a year’s worth of his diary entries in 1943/1944 were published in Quaderni della Critica. These were then translated into English by Sylvia Sprigge for publication by George Allen & Unwin in 1950 as Croce, the King and the Allies: Extracts from a diary by Benedetto Croce July 1943 - June 1944. This was re-published in 2019 by Routledge - an edition which can be sampled at Googlebooks. Extracts of Croce’s diaries from other periods in his life can also be found in the biography Benedetto Croce and Italian Fascism by Fabio Fernando Rizi (which can be digitally borrowed from Internet Archive).

A foreword to the 1943/1944 diary extracts provided by Croce for Quaderni della Critica was also included in the English editions. He wrote: ‘Historical accounts are beginning to appear in print of the nine months from early September 1943 to June 1944, a period when Government and political party activity could only take place in southern Italy and in the islands. I thought I might correct and integrate certain errors and certain omissions not easy to avoid in such accounts, with these notes from a diary, which I have been keeping these last forty years in a fairly brief form, at the beginning or end of my day, and whose purpose has been to note the course of my literary work. But after July 25th 1943, owing to the rush of events, the diary gradually filled with notes on political matters. In the following pages are extracts without the literary and private notes, of which I have left only a few in the early pages so that the character and nature of the Diary may be kept in mind. The political notes were a part of it, and at first were entered occasionally and almost involuntarily. Some details of little importance I have left in, being desirous and careful not to offend the susceptibilities or rouse the resentment of any one, for my purpose is solely that which I have already outlined. I do not know whether I have always succeeded in this, despite the goodwill which I have put into it.’

And here are three extracts (including the first) from Croce, the King and the Allies.

25 July 1943, Sorrento
‘In the morning, historical reading; but in the afternoon, visits from friends. Parente, both the Morellis, Zanotti Bianco, Petaccia. The Dohrns are here too. I was tired and had gone to bed at eleven o’clock when a telephone call from Signorina Elena di Serracapriola’s villa brought the news that Mussolini had resigned and that the new Government had been entrusted to Badoglio by the King. Parente and the Morellis, who had gone away half an hour ago, on hearing the news also arrived, jubilant, and we talked of the event. Back to bed, but I could not close my eyes till four o’clock or later. The feeling I have is of liberation from an evil which weighed upon the heart’s core; derivative evils and dangers remain, but that evil will not return.’

20 August 1943
‘Am listless and sleepy, as I have never been before. I sleep little at nights: before me I always see the ruin of Italy, and the news of Giovanni Laterza’s bad health, rapidly deteriorating, depresses me. When they brought the news of the fall of Fascism to his sick-bed on July 26th, he ordered the words “God be praised” to be written at the head of all letters and bills of that day. In the afternoon, as best I could, took up the threads of work in hand, including the revised elaboration of Blanch. The Giornale d’ltalia has printed my article on the Italian Academy despite the veto of the censors which Bergamini has overridden. But other articles on the subject are forbidden. I am told that the King said, “The Academy is not to be tampered with any more than the Senate.” But the Senate too, unworthy and corrupt as it is, will have to be ‘tampered with.’

17 September 1943
‘In the morning a visit from an American journalist, Kearney, who asked me some political questions, which I answered as best I could, what with being tired, not having slept and it being stiflingly hot. While Elena was helping to translate my answers into English, the English Admiral, J. B. Morse, came to visit me with his aide, Richard Long, and we had a short conversation. The lieutenant asked me who were the dangerous or Fascist people in Sorrento, and I asked to be excused because I could not, in my old age, begin doing things I had never done in the course of my life, to which the lieutenant agreed and said he well understood. The Germans left over there were mentioned in the conversation; but the Dohrn family, although attached to their country, has been noted as ‘neutral.’ In the evening a much famed journalist, Knickerbocker, came to say a lot of kind things to me, and then talked for a long time with my daughters, and wanting to give proof of his admiration, he wrote some lines by which to remember him in a copy of Shakespeare which they had with them.’

22 September 1943
‘Raimondo has left again. Suffocating heat continues. Tight feeling about the heart for Naples in the hands of the Germans. From here we hear explosions and see fires, and get rumours of people killed, devastation and looting. General Donovan and a journalist called Whitaker, together with an American officer called Tomkins, whom I got to know in the last few days and who has been in Italy previously for a long time, came to see me. The General told me that large supplies have been prepared for Naples, to be landed ten or fifteen days after the occupation. He said it might be a good thing if I let this be known in Naples. I said I would spread the news among people I shall see, but that I have no means of communicating with Naples. Similarly, with another of his suggestions that the Neapolitans should try to prevent the Germans from destroying the port. Whitaker offered me presses, paper and ink with which to print a paper here! General Donovan asked me how the spirit of the Italians was, and I said that what all the best Italians wanted, and what would most encourage them, would be permission to form a combatant legion under the Italian flag to co-operate with the Anglo-American armies in liberating Italian soil from the Germans; and then, when he asked me whether there was anybody who could command such a legion, I gave him General Pavone’s name, a man of an old southern family, a patriot and a liberal, and presently a member of the Party of Action.’

Friday, November 11, 2022

Secondary arias were omitted

‘We obeyed and stood at the walls for forty minutes. Anti-aircraft guns were firing somewhere in the distance. After the lights out, the performance continued, albeit at an accelerated pace: secondary arias and duets were omitted . . .’. This is the celebrated Russian poet Vera Inber - who died 50 years ago today - writing in her diary about an air raid during a visit to the opera. It was the early days of Germany’s siege of Leningrad, an offensive that would last for 872 days and take the lives of 1.5 million people. Inber’s diary of those desperate times was subsequently published, and later translated for publication in English.

Vera Moiseyevna Shpenzer was born in Odessa in 1890. Her father (a cousin to Leon Trotsky) ran a scientific publishing house, and her mother was a teacher of Russian. She briefly attended classes in history and philology. Her first poems were published in 1910 in local newspapers. Until 1914, she lived, together with her husband Nathan Inber, in Paris (where she paid for her first collection of poems to be printed), Switzerland and then Moscow. She worked as a journalist and foreign correspondent, traveling across the country and sometimes living abroad. In her literary writing, she associated with the constructivist movement. 

Through the 1920s and 1930s, her writing focused on Moscow, the Revolution, and Vladimir Lenin. She wrote short stories - depicting the clash between old and new Soviet life - and for the theatre. During the Second World War, she joined the Communist Party and began producing patriotic works. In 1941, she moved with her second husband, Ilya Davydovich Strashun, to Leningrad, where Strashun had been appointed director of a medical institute. Her poem Pulkovo Meridian, which details daily life in Leningrad during the siege, won a Stalin Prize in 1946. After the war, she continued to live in Leningrad. She died on 11 November 1972. A little further information is available from Wikipedia, The New York Times, Encyclopedia.com, and the Jewish Virtual Library.

Inber kept a diary during the siege of Leningrad; this was published in 1945. Some time later, in 1971, it was translated into English by Serge M. Wolff and Rachel Grieve for publication by Hutchinson in 1971 as Leningrad Diary. I cannot find much about this online, though Carol Harrison uploaded the following review for Good Reads:

‘A remarkable diary, describing the siege of Leningrad during World War II. The author, an eminent Russian poet, tells the daily struggles and tragedies, from the extreme food and water shortages to the relentless shelling, from the sudden terrible deaths to the persistence of concerts and lectures even when going across the street was a risk to life (but so was staying at home). At the end of the book, although the war is still going on, Leningrad is beginning to rebuild, and there is already a museum commemorating the long siege. Trees are being replanted, and the botanical gardens are planning new trips to re-gather plants from around the world. 90% of their collection died from the cold during the siege, and the loss of tadpoles and frogs also meant the loss of some plants dependent on them. The overall message of the book is summed up by a fifteen-year-old boy who is mortally injured: “a waste”. War is always a waste of lives and of nature and of beautiful, purposeful buildings.’

And I found a substantial article about Inber and her poetry in English on a Russian website (with trigger-happy adverts!) which also had a few extracts from her diary.

26 August 1941
‘Our apartment on Pesochnaya, on the fifth floor, is high, light, half-empty. Only bookshelves and plates on the walls are plentiful. Unfading Elizabethan and Catherine’s roses, nicholas, blue and gold ornament. Gray-white faience. A fragile economy. Where with him now ?! Bedroom windows and balcony overlook the Botanical Garden. Although it is still hot, some trees are already preparing for autumn: they have dressed up in all gold and scarlet. And what else will happen in September! From the balcony one can clearly see a huge palm greenhouse, all of glass. There are few people in the garden. I haven’t been there yet. Let's go on Sunday . . .’

9 September 1941
‘In the afternoon, as usual, there were several alarms, but we nevertheless decided to go to the Musical Comedy, to the “Bat”. . . In the intermission between the first and second acts, another alarm began. The administrator came out into the foyer and, in the same tone as he probably announced the replacement of the performer due to illness, he said clearly: “I ask the citizens to get as close to the walls as possible, since there (he pointed to the huge span of the ceiling) there are no ceilings here”. We obeyed and stood at the walls for forty minutes. Anti-aircraft guns were firing somewhere in the distance. After the lights out, the performance continued, albeit at an accelerated pace: secondary arias and duets were omitted . . . As the car rounded the square, we suddenly saw black swirling mountains of smoke, illuminated from below by flames. All this piled up in the sky, swelled, let out terrible curls and spurs. Kovrov (the driver) turned and said in a dull voice: “The German threw bombs and set fire to the food depots.” . . . The houses stood on the balcony for a long time, everyone looked at the burning Badayev warehouses. We went to bed at eleven. But at two o’clock in the morning I had to (for the first time in Leningrad) go down to the shelter. . .’

17 September 1941
‘Our room is very small: a desk by the window, two iron beds, a bookcase, an armchair and two chairs. To wash, you have to bring in a stool and a basin. On the walls are portraits of scientists. There is a round iron stove in the room. Outside the window are mighty poplars. We have convinced ourselves that they will protect us from the fragments. And the room itself is well located. In the depths of the letter “P”, between the wings of the house . . .’

12 February 1942
‘The view of the city is terrible. Met six or seven dead on a sled. (In “The Lay of Igor’s Campaign” there is a “mortal sleigh.” ice, drinking water. An early, early premonition of spring.

5 August 1942
‘In general, I have a feeling that only while I am working, nothing bad can happen to me.’

See also Only Tanya is left

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Longest Latin America diary

Heinrich Witt, a Danish merchant and financier who lived in Peru, died 130 years ago today. He is remembered for a diary he kept for much of his life. This was published in 10 volumes by Brill in 2016. It is considered exceptional for its length, and for being a ‘treasure trove for interdisciplinary postcolonial and transcultural research’.

Witt was born in 1799 in Altona, then part of Denmark (but now part of Hamburg city), into a merchant family. He was apprenticed to a trading house, before moving to London in 1823 and taking up work with Antony Gibbs and Sons. He was sent to the firm’s South American branch working first in Arequipa, Peru. In 1832, he married a widow, Maria Sierra Velarde, who already had three children. By 1833, he had been promoted to head of office in Lima. In 1842, he established himself as an independent trader of goods from Europe; and he was also active in the guano trade. 

Over time, Witt’s business became focused on financial dealings, and the country’s developing infrastructure. He was appointed Consul for the Kingdom of Denmark in Peru in 1841, and then Consul General in 1845. He was frequently in Europe, though, spending several years touring each time, between 1843 and 1845, for example, in the first half of the 1850s, and in the early 1860s. After the death of his wife in 1876, he entered a period of extensive mourning. Thereafter, for some time, his life and that of his family were affected by a war involving Peru and Chile, but he managed one more trip to Europe, afterwards living in relatively quiet retirement. He died on 3 November 1892. A few biographical details on Witt can be found in the English translation of the German Wikipedia page. But an extensive, academic-quality, biography is freely available online thanks to the publisher Brill.

Witt is largely remembered today because of the detailed diary - written in English - he kept for most of his life. Indeed, it is considered to be the most extensive private diary written in Latin America. A ten volume edition, edited by Ulrich Mücke, was published by Brill in 2016 - The Diary of Heinrich Witt. The paperback version costs over €1,000; however, every chapter appears to be freely available online (open source). Many pages are also available to read at Googlebooks. Brill states: ‘The diary gives a unique version of commerce and trade, politics and politicians, and of lawsuits and corruption in nineteenth-century Peru and abroad. It abounds in details about family life, customs and culture, and is a truly unique source for everyone interested in the history of Peru and of international trade and migration.’

Angelika Schaser, reviewing the diary in the European Journal of Life Writing, says: ‘This edition of Witt’s diary constitutes a very important source for historians. It is also a treasure trove for interdisciplinary postcolonial and transcultural research. Literary scholars can identify Witt’s narratological features and rhetorical strategies in detail. Witt’s diary provides unique opportunities for a host of profound and innovative studies.’

It is worth noting however that there is some debate over whether the work is more autobiography than diary. For example, Mücke in one of her explanatory sections, states: ‘The first question arising in an analysis of Witt’s voluminous text is whether this is actually a diary. Witt himself speaks of a diary, but he also calls the text a chronicle. Speaking against classifying the text as a diary is in particular one key fact: Witt did not write most of the text simultaneously or nearly so with the time it describes but rather in part some decades later. In addition, substantial passages in the text are not in keeping with the form of a diary or journal, i.e are not ordered as dated entries.’

Much of the diary is dense to browse, and full of societal detail, and the Brill edition, fully annotated, is very much aimed at scholars. Nevertheless, here’s a few samples from the published volumes.

5 February 1850
‘A little past 6 o’clock I started for Lima the fog was uncommonly dense, I could hardly see a few yards ahead so that I reached Lima without suffering from heat, Rufino Macedo was my companion on the road. I remained in Lima until Sunday. I took my plain meals in the Victoria Fonda, Juan his in another, whilst Garland breakfasted and dined with Foster of Allsop’s.

On Wednesday 6th my dear mother’s birthday, the exequies of the late king of Sardinia were celebrated by order and at the expense of Jose Canevaro, Sardinian Consul General, in the church of San Pedro. I learned several months later that the outlay had been made good to him by his governments, not without blaming him however, for the large sum he had expended. At about 10 o’clock I drove in full uniform to Canevaro’s house, where the members of the diplomatic and consular bodies assembled, two by two we walked to the Church and took our seats on a bench to the right of the high altar; Manuel Ferreyros, Peruv. Minister for Foreign Affairs occupied the first place, next to him Canevaro as chief mourner, then the remainder; how they sat I didn’t observe, they were Mr. W. Pitt Adams chargé for the United Kingdom, Levrand for France, Elredge for the Sandwich Isles, Toro for Chile, Triunfo Consul General for Nueva Grenada, Sousa Ferreira, for Brazil, I for Denmark, Rodewald for Hamburgh, Prévost for the United States, Lacharrière for Belgium, Alvarez for Venezuela, and Menendez for Mexico, Clay chargé for the United States had remained in Chorillos; behind us sat Barton and some Fre [. . .] The interior of the Church was splendidly decorated, all hung in black with gold fringes, the high altar brilliantly illumined, and in front of the Catafalque stood lighted wax candles of an extraordinary size. We had fine instrumental and vocal music performed by the opera singers. Mass, a sermon, or more properly speaking a discourse lauding the deceased king and pronounced by Don Tordoye, and finally the responses chanted by Don Pasquel, Bishop of Eretria “in partibus infidelium”. Though the church was crowded it was not so hot as I had apprehended, nevertheless it was no joke to sit there till three o’clock braced up in my tight filling uniform. We accompanied Canevaro back to his house, who contrary to our expectation did not offer any refreshment, which I thought at the time we had well deserved. 

On Friday the north Steamer arrived which brought me a few letters containing however hardly anything of importance. Adelaide, Queen Dowager of William 4th had died in England. On the Continent all was quiet for the present, but both Sieveking and Simon Post, from which latter I had a letter for a wonder, were of opinion that the fire was but smothering, and that it would break out on the first occasion. The two rival states Austria and Prussia looked menacingly on each other neither being inclined to be the first to draw the sword. 

On Saturday the south Steamer arrived. C. W. Schutte wrote private letters to the whole family, he found himself in difficulties, and as it was his habit looked to me for assistance. He wrote that at the end of the year his contract with his two partners, Aurégan and Le Platenier would expire; that Aurégan would withdraw his capital, but that the other in order not to leave Schutte entirely in the lurch would lend him for several years without interest 25 to 30,000$ and perhaps 10,000 more at 5% P.A. He added that he himself was not worth a real, that he was desirous Juan should join him and take the management of the Paris House, and that I should lend to the new firm from 40, to 50,000$ at a low interest, besides becoming responsible for the purchases they might make for 40,000$ more. For a certainty he had sufficient “brass” for asking. My answer is copied in my letter book; I am sure it was a negative one; so was Juan’s who had told his sister Rosa in the greatest confidence, that if circumstances would allow him, he hoped to be [. . .] husband of Isabel Bergmann within two years. Before going to bed [. . .] what, not many days previously burglars had acheived at Urmenetas, I laid my pistols close to my bed, moreover I barricaded the door; whilst W. Hopper the coachman took care of the street door.’

20 February 1850
‘I rode to Lima, a drizzling rain accompanying me all the way, even in Chorillos one or two people had been wounded, owing to the elections [. . .] Lima things had really been very bad, and it was generally affirmed [. . .] some let out of prison for the purpose, had been seen in the ranks of Echeniques fighting men. People went so far as to say that he had to ask the assistance of the police, to defend himself against his own partizans, some of whom had sacked the shop of a confectioner close to the theatre, Jose Saldivar, a staunch Vivanquista; on the other hand Genl. Colo[m]a a great friend of Echenique was severely, not dangerously wounded. The result was that Echenique’s party had completely triumphed, the electors who had been elected were almost without exception, known to be decidedly in his interests.’

15 February 1854
‘Carnival day. Early in the morning I was up San Cristoval, and by the 2 o’clock train I went to Chorrillos. Both in Lima and Chorrillos I did not escape without water being thrown upon me. I bathed, made a few calls, and strolled about in the handsome Calle de Lima, until it was Henry’s dinner hour, Dona Anita having previously invited me. In the said street, towards the sea side the houses, the one m[. . .] handsome than the other extended already as far as the desc[. . .] to that [. . .] sea-beach called Agua-Dulce. The last house, still in progress of construction, and an enormous pile, was that of Don Mariano Laos; a few steps from it was that of José Antonio Garcia y Garcia, nicknamed “El Lord Inglés” on account of the airs which he gave himself; he showed me all over it, and it was certainly very well arranged. Heudebert, it was said, was desirous to sell his, a particularly handsome villa, for S/6o,ooo though it had cost him more. At 6 I was at Henry’s, who had rented one of Swayne’s new houses. A quarter of an hour later we sat down to dinner; we were, Dona Anita at the head of the table, I to her right, next to me Mr. Swift of Graham Rowe & Co.’s house, to her left, Macandrew, then Bohl, at the bottom of the table Henry, to his right Alice Gallagher, a very nice girl. There were two other gentlemen, whose names I did not learn. Dinner was nothing particular; in fact, provisions had become so horribly dear that to give anything out of the usual way cost heaps of money. Only English was spoken, and the time slipped away very pleasantly until 8 o’clock, when I had to say good bye; and returned to Lima.’