Tuesday, July 25, 2023

A nice little slot

‘I think some critics are uncomfortable with me because they have never been able to put me into a nice little slot. They haven’t been able to place me. But I’ve long since ceased to lose sleep over that. They’ve got their jobs to do, and I’ve got mine.’ This is from the diaries of the great British film director John Schlesinger who died 20 years ago today. The diaries - taped and written - have never been published but Schlesinger’s biographer, William J. Mann, refers to them repeatedly in his biography Edge of Midnight.

Schlesinger was born in 1926, in Hampstead, London, to wealthy Jewish parents - his father was a distinguished physician. He was educated at St Edmund’s School (Hindhead) and Uppingham School before enlisting in the British Army serving, during WW2, with the Royal Engineers. He became involved in making films on the front line, and he also entertained fellow troops with magic tricks. Subsequently, while at Balliol College, Oxford, he continued to make films and perform, not least with the Oxford University Dramatic Society.

In the early 1950s, Schlesinger appeared in various supporting roles for British films and television productions, but his directorial debut came in 1956 with a short documentary Sunday in the Park about London’s Hyde Park. Another followed, in 1958, about Benjamin Britten and the Aldeburgh Festival. He provided assistant directorial services on dozens of episodes for the TV series The Four Just Men, as well as a few for Danger Man. The early 1960s saw his career take off with several releases - Terminus, A Kind of Loving, Billy Liar, Darling and Far from the Madding Crowd - winning awards. In 1969, his film Midnight Cowboy won Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture. Through the 1970s and 1980s, he continued making successful films (and some not so successful), in Hollywood and Britain, as well as directing drama for television, and also sometimes in the London theatres.

Schlesinger’s final films were the intense drama Eye for an Eye (1996), about a revenge-driven mother, and The Next Best Thing (2000) starring Madonna and Rupert Everett. Schlesinger had come out as gay during the making of Midnight Cowboy, and he had a long term relationship with Michael Childers. He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1970 Birthday Honours for services to film. He died on 25 July 2003. Encyclopaedia Britannica has this brief assessment: ‘Although the films of his later career were less uniformly brilliant than those early films with which he made his reputation, Schlesinger left an enviable body of work.’ Further information is also available from Wikipedia and IMDB.

Schlesinger left behind a large volume of diary material, much of it tape-recorded rather than written. William J. Mann uses this material extensively in his biography - Edge of Midnight: The Life of John Schlesinger (Hutchinson, 2004). ‘I sorted through the tapes,’ he says in the biography, ‘they were intended for his own use, for writing his own memoir; he hadn’t expected anyone other than himself to hear them. Not for every film did John keep a detailed diary. There were gaps, but also some wonderful surprises: a rambling, intimate account of a holiday in South Africa with Michael; an on-the-set recording of rehearsals for The Believers; a tape left running after a radio interview had “officially” concluded. Not all of his diaries were tape-recorded: of his earlier work, he left mostly written records, often squeezed into the columns in his daily planners, a practice repeated again on his last film. Helpful and insightful as such written records were, however, they could not compare to the power of hearing his voice.’

Mann uses the written and taped diaries many times in the biography, but mostly by weaving very extracts phrases into his narrative rather than by providing whole and dated extracts. Nevertheless, here are few passages from Mann’s book (which can be digitally borrowed from Internet Archive) which include such excerpts from Schelsinger’s diaries.


‘He would learn, despite his kneejerk pessimism, to distance himself from criticism and rejection, for they would become the ever-present background chorus to his career. “I’ve often been dismissed,” he told his diary. “I think some critics are uncomfortable with me because they have never been able to put me into a nice little slot. They haven’t been able to place me. But I’ve long since ceased to lose sleep over that. They’ve got their jobs to do, and I’ve got mine.” ’ 


‘Gloria Swanson visited the set, courtesy of the Paramount publicity machine. “I think she didn’t really know what it was all about, what was going on around her, but she was very charming,” John recorded in his diary. “I never realized how small she was, nor that the beauty mark that has been so much her trademark was in fact a rather ugly, raised black mole, quite hideous on close inspection. I’m amazed a film star of such magnitude would have clung to it for so long, that it never registered what it really was.” ’


‘Camaraderie, in fact, extended from the grips and the technicians right up to the top. John liked his second American crew much better than his first: “This is not at all the Hollywood experience that I had somehow expected,” he recorded in his diary. I had expected bullshit. I had expected union problems. I had expected a kind of blaséness and I’ve found none of that. I suppose it’s the executives and the agents that sometimes turn me off the place, but I must say, working with these people has been an eye-opener.” ’


‘Watching Alan Bridges’ film The Hireling, with a script by Wolf Mankowitz, he also felt “homesick.” Musing to his diary, John wrote: “I felt once again a sense of terrible loss about the British cinema because when we do it well, we do it well. Much better, I think, than the average film made here.” ’ 


‘ “I have a very strong feeling that whatever the outcome of this picture [Yanks],” John recorded in his |diary, whether it’s commercially successful or not, I’m making the right move at this moment of my career.” Certainly, he was now enjoying being back in England, defying the odds in mounting a major film there - even if none of the money was British. “There is sheer pleasure in having won all our financial battles in getting the thing off the ground after an extremely depressing summer, when I really felt that it would never see the light of day.” ’


‘ “Vanessa [Redgrave] is without question one of the best actresses I’ve ever worked with,” John told his diary. “She is the consummate actress, able to take direction, really a wonderful musical instrument, so to speak, for a director to play.” ’

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Descended from a bishop

Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Winchester and a force for Anglo-Catholocism in the mid-19th century, died 150 years ago today. His detailed diary underpins a three-part biography partly written by his son Reginald, though, unfortunately, it says nothing about his criticism of Darwin for which he is much remembered. Reginald, however, does include an anecdote about his father speaking at a British Association debate on Darwin: when he made a comment about monkeys in a zoo having no connection with his ancestors, a learned professor responded: ‘I would rather be descended from an ape than a bishop.’

Wilberforce was born in Clapham, London, the third son of William Wilberforce (also a diarist, see - God’s work against slavery). He studied mathematics and classics at Oriel College, Oxford, where he became associated with the Oxford Movement. In 1828 he married Emily Sargent, and they had five children that survived infancy, but then Emily herself died young, in 1841. The year of his marriage he was ordained and appointed curate-in-charge at Checkenden near Henley-on-Thames. Two years later he took over as rector of Brighstone, Isle of Wight.

Wilberforce published hymns and sermons as well as stories and tracts on social subjects. In the second half of the 1830s, he edited the letters and journals of Henry Martyn (see - My unprofitable life), and co-authored with his brother, Robert, a biography of his father. He rose up the church ranks quickly, becoming archdeacon of Surrey and canon of Winchester, and served as rector of Alverstoke, Hampshire, between 1840 and 1845. In 1841, he was appointed chaplain to Prince Albert, and in 1847 became Lord High Almoner to Queen Victoria, a post he held until 1869.

In the mid-1840s, Wilberforce became Dean of Westminster and Bishop of Oxford. When John Henry Newman, leader of the Oxford Movement, converted to Roman Catholicism, Wilberforce used his influence to try to keep the Movement together. He was a frequent critic of liberal bishops and is particularly remembered for attacking Darwin’s theory of evolution. In the 1850s, he founded one of the first Anglican theological colleges. In 1869, he was appointed Bishop of Winchester. He died on 19 July 1873. See Wikipedia, the Winchester Cathedral website or Anglican History for further biographical information.

For much of his life, Wilberforce kept a fairly detailed diary. This was used, and quoted, extensively for a three volume biography - Life of the Right Reverend Samuel Wilberforce - put together first by A. R. Ashwell, and then, after Ashwell’s death, by Wilberforce’s son, Reginald (John Murray, 1880-1882). All three volumes are freely available at Internet Archive.

Here are several extracts from Wilberforce’s diary, showing his politicking, his easy relations with royalty, and a good deal of self-analysis too. Only once, as far as I can tell, does Wilberforce mention Darwin in his diary. Reginald’s text, accompanying that one mention, bemoans the lack of any further reports by his father on the Darwin debate, but does include an interesting anecdote.

4 February 1855
‘Prepared sermon for St. Mary’s, Princes Street, Lambeth a most miserable population in Lambeth, through which I passed which quickened me in my sermon. To Chapel Royal in the afternoon, and walked back with Gladstone. Lord John has ‘utterly’ failed in forming a Ministry. Thank God. Lord Palmerston now sent for. He was invited by Lord Derby to join with Gladstone and Sidney Herbert. At first he was unwilling, and at night declined. Gladstone and Sidney Herbert ready to serve. Gladstone though feeling acutely the evil of Shaftesbury’s suggested Bishops would not feel clear on that ground of refusing not a fair constitutional ground. Dined with the Bishop of London. He agrees as to Convocation course. The Archbishop came to him yesterday. Had heard from Dean Elliott, and others, as to impropriety of allowing Convocation to meet in Ministerial interregnum. Second letter by a friend from Shaftesbury who is to move about it in the House of Lords to-morrow. The Bishop (London) said he thought Lord Aberdeen’s letter settled it. That he was in till another appointed and no right to suppose there would be a change; rather insulting to Lord Aberdeen and not very civil to the Queen (whose will he expressed) now to alter. The Archbishop: ‘Quite a relief to find that your opinion; it was my first opinion, and I shall be prepared to state it to-morrow in the House.’ ’

7 February 1855
‘Off to Windsor, to Chapter (of the Garter), and saw the Queen afterwards. She was cheerful and very affable. Went after Chapter to Clewer. Long conversation with Mrs. Monsell. Things quiet in House; but Miss –– very unsettled in mind. Fear that she will ultimately Romanize. Dear –– is acted on by these women far too much, and kept from heartily and with a strong English tone putting down the sentimentalism which leads to Rome. Dear fellow! he is good, and gentle, and loving beyond praise. But I am always trying to keep him from that perilous neighbourhood.

In the evening a large party. I had a talk with Lord Aberdeen about Palmerston’s Church preferment. Suppose Montagu Villiers must be a Bishop. But Palmerston will beware of Shaftesbury, for fear of Gladstone, &c. Lord Aberdeen natural, simple, good, and honest as ever. A longish talk on politics with good Stockmar, Lord Aberdeen’s honesty, Lord Palmerston’s ambition. He agreed with me that Lord Palmerston was a great take-in, but that it was necessary that bubbles should burst. He would have much preferred seeing Gladstone and Herbert join with Lord Derby. On the Continent it is constitutional liberty which is reproached by our failure at Sebastopol. They say, If England with all her strength cannot make head against the Autocrat, who could that has a constitutional Government, &c.? As to the Royal Family, he said, ‘The Prince of Wales is the strongest of all. He can bear great fatigue. He takes most after his father’s family. The Princess Royal is a thorough Brunswick. She is very clever indeed, has great imagination and varied powers; her picture of “The New Year” full of ability, &c. Prince Albert is not a strong man; a little would throw him down. The Duke of Kent was the ablest of that family. The Duke of Cambridge and King William the Fourth the kindest but the most stupid.’

20 March 1856
‘To Windsor Castle. The Confirmation of Princess Royal interesting she devout, composed, earnest; youngest sister much affected the Queen and Prince also. The Queen spoke most kindly to me after: all very kind. On to London large Confirmation at St. James’s  felt constrained, and very unlike my own. Then to London House. Met Dr. Todd, who spoke hopefully of Bishop. Saw him, very low, very affecting state, spoke of himself as dying. I certain to succeed him, and no one to whom he could more happily entrust his Diocese, &c. About himself, his keen sight of past sins; no hope but simply in Christ’s sacrifice for him. A great struggle between conscience and faith. Pray for me. A most affecting sight in one so good. How awful to all the vision of sin in the light of God’s countenance.’

23 March 1856
‘Very low all day, blessed Easter day as it was. But felt so bitterly my desolateness: my darling Emily gone or all would be too gladsome for earth. My Herbert! Robert and Henry worse than gone. Beloved Mrs. Sargent 76; Ella married. The three boys, will they be taken as they grow up? God’s will be done.’

20 May 1860
‘Up in good time and prepared sermon on ‘All are yours.’ Preached at St. James’s, great crowd; collected 176l. Then back to my rooms and finished (Darwin review) [for the Quarterly Review]. Walked across the Park with Gladstone, he rather subdued; he said, ‘If the next twenty years alter as much the position of those who govern England, &c.’

Reginald Wilberforce’s text accompanying the above diary extract says this: ‘From June 27 to July 3 the British Association was at Oxford: it is much to be regretted that the reports of the debates are of the most meagre description. From those which we possess, it is to be gathered that the Bishop on two occasions took part in the discussions. First in the Geographical Section, when, after the reading of some of Dr. Livingstone’s recent letters, Mr. Craufurd, the President of the Ethnological Society, argued against the scheme of extending commerce and Christianity in Central Africa, on the ground of the great difficulties that had to be overcome and of the incapacity of the natives to receive such benefits. The Bishop spoke against these inferences, and, when supporting an opposite view, carried his audience by the force of his argument. Secondly, in the Zoology and Botany Section, where a discussion took place on the soundness or unsoundness of the Darwinian theory. The Bishop, who, as the last-quoted Diary entry shows, had just reviewed Mr. Darwin’s work ‘On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection,’ made a long and eloquent speech condemning Mr. Darwin’s theory as unphilosophical and as founded on fancy, and he denied that any one instance had been produced by Mr. Darwin which showed that the alleged change from one species to another had ever taken place. In the course of this speech, which made a great impression, the Bishop said, that whatever certain people might believe, he would not look at the monkeys in the Zoological as connected with his ancestors, a remark that drew from a certain learned professor the retort, ‘I would rather be descended from an ape than a bishop.’

14 July 1863
‘Survey my Life. What wonderful advantages - my father’s son, his favourite, and so, companion. My good mother, such surroundings. My love for my blessed one, compassing me with an atmosphere of holiness - my ordination - my married life - my ministerial. Checkendon, its bliss, arid its work opening my heart. Brighstone, Alverstoke, the Archdeaconry, the Deanery, Bishopric, friends. My stripping bare in 1841. My children. Herbert’s death-bed. How has God dealt, and what have I really done - for HIM? Miserere Domine is all my cry.

Cuddesdon Chapel. After meditation on Death, resolve:
(I) to take periodic times for renewing this meditation;
(II) to strive to live more in the sight of Death;
(III) to commend myself more entirely as dying creature into the Hand of the only Lord of Life.’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 19 July 2013.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

A journey to Flanders

Joshua Reynolds, one of the most important 18th century British painters and a founder of the Royal Academy of Arts, was born three centuries ago today. Although not a diarist, he did keep pocket-books - one author has called them diaries - from which he has ‘gleaned’ much about Reynold’s daily life as an artist. Also, later in life when travelling in northern Europe, he kept a diary of sorts which sheds light on his huge admiration for the Flemish painter, Peter Paul Rubens.

Reynolds was born in Plympton, Devon, on 16 July 1723, the third son of the Rev. Samuel Reynolds, master of the town’s Free Grammar School. Educated by his father, he showed an early interest in art - his first recorded portrait dates from 1735 - and was apprenticed in London in 1740 to the Devon-born painter Thomas Hudson. After his father’s death in 1745, he took a house in, what is now, Devonport with his two unmarried sisters. However, by 1747 he was spending extended periods in London, where most of his clients lived, with a studio in St Martin’s Lane. The following year, Reynolds was named, by Universal Magazine, as one of the country’s most eminent painters, indeed he was the second youngest on the magazine’s list (only Thomas Gainsborough being younger).

Between 1749 and 1752, Reynolds travelled extensively on the Continent, mostly in Italy, where he was much influenced by the Italian use of colour and shading. On his return, he went to Devon for a few months before settling permanently, and for the rest of his life, in London. He became very successful, painting portraits of many important people, and by 1760 had sufficient wealth to purchase the lease on a large house, with space to show his works and accommodate assistants, by Leicester Fields (now Leicester Square).

Reynolds met Samuel Johnson in 1756, and, a few years later, he set up The Literary Club for a small circle of Johnson’s closest friends (including among others Edmund Burke and Oliver Goldsmith). He also painted Johnson several times. Reynolds was one of the earliest members of the Royal Society of Arts; and he helped found the Society of Artists. With Gainsborough, he established the Royal Academy of Arts, and, in 1768, became its first president, a position he held until his death. During the next ten years or so Reynolds exhibited over 100 pictures at the Royal Academy, considerably more than he had exhibited at the Society of Artists.

During the 1780s Reynolds turned increasingly for inspiration to the art of Flanders and the Low Countries, an interest which led him to take a two-month tour in 1781. He also focused more on history paintings, something his followers thought provided evidence of a genuine commitment to the cause of high art. His allegiance to the Whig party had become increasingly evident by this time, and several of his closest friends assumed key government positions when the Whigs returned to power in 1782. In 1784 Reynolds was sworn in as principal painter-in-ordinary to the King. After Johnson’s death, in 1784, Reynolds became friendlier with Boswell, who later dedicated his (now famous) biography of Johnson to Reynolds. In 1789 Reynolds lost the sight of his left eye, leading to his retirement; and he died in early 1792. Further biographical information is readily available at Wikipedia, for example, National Museums Liverpool, Encyclopaedia Britannica, or Artble.

Writing the entry on Reynolds for the Oxford National Dictionary of Biography (log-in required), Martin Postle sums him up thus: ‘Reynolds dominated the British art world in the second half of the eighteenth century, and any cultural history of the period would not be complete without some recognition of his central role. Many qualities contributed to his success. First and foremost, Reynolds was the most innovative portrait painter of his generation. Despite technical shortcomings and a tendency to sacrifice quality for quantity, his best portraits retain an unrivalled power and physical presence. His professional skills were underpinned by an unswerving personal ambition, tempered with an awareness of what could be realistically achieved in the current artistic climate, and within the bounds of his own particular gifts. Reynolds appreciated the value of patronage and social networks, and despite his own political preferences (he was a thorough whig), established a wide circle of acquaintance. He was a loyal and generous friend and loved company.’

Given Reynolds prominence in 18th century society, references to him can be found in many diaries of the time, and, such was his influence, for long after his death too. His name has occurred in several different Diary Review articles. He is mentioned often in the diary of Joseph Farington, a later painter - see Farington on Dance; John Churton Collins, a writer and literary critic, wrote a book on Reynolds - see I thought I was out of the woods; and the poet and teacher William Johnson, later called Cory, was distantly related to Reynolds - see A peculiar pleasure.

Reynolds himself was not a regular diarist. That said, he did keep pocket books that are referred to as diaries, which were extensively mined by William Cotton for Sir Joshua Reynolds and his works, gleanings from his diary, unpublished manuscripts, and from other sources (Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, and Roberts; London, 1856). This can be read online at Googlebooks. The preface states: ‘The extracts from Sir Joshua’s private Diary contain much that is interesting and amusing, besides giving proof of the astonishing amount of work accomplished by him; for we there learn that he was often in his studio from nine o’clock in the morning till four in the afternoon, and received as many as seven or eight sitters in as many consecutive hours. But when absent from home, he appears to have enjoyed the sports of the field, and on one occasion, in September 1770, we find him hunting and shooting every day during a week’s visit at Saltram.’

In a chapter of the book entitled Reynold’s diary, from 1755 to 1790, Cotton ‘gleans’ ‘a more complete list of his works than has hitherto been published’. Indeed, the vast majority of extracts are simply names of those who have come to sit for portraits. Here is one extract as found in Cotton’s book:

‘Extracts from the Diary
April. The Lady Northumberland’s portrait to be finished.
June. The Duke of Portland.
Frame for the little picture of Master Pelham.
August. To send Mrs. Fortescue’s and Mr. Shirley’s portraits to be copied.’

For a short period in July 1781, during a trip to Flanders and Holland, Reynolds wrote down something akin to a diary, more like notes really. Postle in the ONDB says ‘Reynolds’s detailed journal entries, which were intended ultimately for publication, reveal that the tour was organized around major private collections in the Low Countries and the great altarpieces of Flanders’. In any case, Reynold’s narrative of the journey was first published in 1798 by Cadell & Davies as part of the second volume of The Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds by Edmond Malone. This is freely available online at Internet Archive.

The text of A Journey to Flanders and Holland is almost exclusively taken up with descriptions of paintings, though the final section is more of a treatise on the genius of Rubens. Here are the first three paragraphs.

‘At Ostend, where we landed, July 27, 1781, there are no pictures, and even Bruges affords but a scanty entertainment to a Painter: however, there are a few, which, though not of the first rank, may be worth the attention of a traveller who has time to spare.

In the Cathedral. The high altar; the Adoration of the Magi, by Segers. This picture is justly considered as one of the best of that painter’s works. The part which first obtrudes itself on your attention is one of the kings, who is  placed in the front : this figure, not withstanding its great fame, and its acknowledged excellence in many respects, has one great defect; it appears to have nothing to do with the rest of  the composition, and has too much the air of a whole-length portrait. What gives it so much this appearance is, the eyes looking out of the picture; that is, he is looking at the person who looks at the picture. This always has a bad effect, and ought never to be practised in a grave historical composition, however successfully it may be admitted in ludicrous subjects,  where no business of any kind, that requires eagerness oEf attention, is going forward.

The second altar on the right from the door is the Nativity, by Otho Venius. Many parts of this picture bring to mind the manner of Rubens, particularly the colouring of the arm of one of the shepherds : but in comparison of Rubens it is but a lame performance,  and would not be worth mentioning here, but from its being the work of a man who had the honour to be the master of Rubens.’

And here is the last paragraph of A Journey to Flanders and Holland.

‘To conclude; I will venture to repeat in favour of Rubens, what I have before said in regard to the Dutch school, that those who cannot see the extraordinary merit of this great painter, either have a narrow conception of the variety of art, or are led away by the affectation of approving nothing but what comes from the Italian school.’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 16 July 2013.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

I also love Kenya

It is 30 years since Dan Eldon - a bright young star of photojournalism - was killed aged only 22 covering events in Somalia that presaged the so-called Battle of Mogadishu later that year. Eldon’s memory has been kept alive by his family through various initiatives, one of which is a website - Dan Eldon: artist, activist, adventurer - which has a lot of information about, and many extracts from, Eldon’s extraordinary, collage-based, journals.

Dan Eldon was born in London in 1970, the son of a British father and American mother. Aged seven, he and his younger sister moved to live in Kenya with their parents. During the 1982 attempted coup and the aftermath, Eldon joined his mother, a journalist at the time, on local assignments, and was soon taking photographs for local newspapers. Aged still only 14, he launched a fund-raising campaign to help save the life of a young Kenyan girl, and a year or so later began supporting a Maasai family by buying their handmade jewellery, to sell on to students and friends.

In 1988, Eldon graduated from the International School of Kenya, winning various awards and being voted the most outstanding student. That same year he went to New York to work on a magazine, but a few months later moved to study in California. Thereafter, and for the next few years, he kept switching his place of study, while regularly dreaming up schemes to get back to Africa, usually by undertaking somewhat wild but charitable adventures. One of these involved the donation of a Land Rover and money to a refugee camp in Malawi, while others involved the purchase of goods in Morocco to resell in the US to fund a charity he had set up.

In April 1992, Eldon joined a film crew in Kenya; then, with the Somali famine raging, he flew to the Somali town of Baidoa, where he shot some of the first dramatic photographs seen in the West. Reuters spotted them, and engaged his services, thus giving his photographs (of the increasingly desperate situation) much wider coverage. During the spring of 1993, he stayed in Mogadishu, and in June one of his photographs made a double-page spread in Newsweek magazine, as well as the covers of newspapers worldwide. By this time he had also published a first book of his photographs, and had set up various businesses - selling t-shirts and postcards, for example - to raise money.

A few weeks later, on 12 July, he raced, with three colleagues, across the city to cover a raid to arrest the warlord General Aidid. Many innocent people were killed in that UN raid, and in the subsequent confusion Eldon and his colleagues, trying to take photographs, were stoned and beaten to death by an angry mob. Further biographical information is available from the Dan Eldon website, and from Wikipedia.

After Eldon’s death and to honour his legacy, his mother Kathy Eldon and sister Amy Eldon Turtletaub founded, in 1998, the Creative Visions Foundation (CVF) to help others like Dan ‘use media and the arts to create meaningful change in the world around them’. To date CVF ‘has incubated more than 100 projects and productions on 5 continents, by providing fiscal sponsorship, mentorship, inspiration, fundraising, connectivity, and step-by-step toolkits for launching projects’. It claims that creative activists under its umbrella ‘have touched more than 90 million people and raised more than $11.2 million to fund their projects’.

One of projects organised by the family has been to set up the website - Dan Eldon: artist, activist, adventurer - and another has been to promote Eldon’s extraordinary journals and notebooks. The website says this: ‘Dan left behind seventeen bound leather journals filled with drawings, writings and photographs which constructed vivid collages of the world he saw. These journals chronicle a child’s journey into manhood, visual editorials on society, and homages to strangers and loved ones. Dan’s images represent his enduring belief that every individual has a creative spark within that can transform their environment for the better. His journals are a celebration of adventure and a testament to live life to its fullest.’

The diaries were first published as The Journey is the Destination: The Journals of Dan Eldon in 1997 by Chronicle Books in San Francisco and Booth-Clibborn Editions in London. The publisher’s blurb stated: ‘This is no ordinary diary; it is an astonishing collage of photographs, drawings, words, maps, clippings, paints, scraps, shards, and trash that reveals his strange and vivid life. The wild trips and weird places, the lovers and late nights, the danger and fun are captured in pages that seem to shiver with passion, opinion, and dark humor. Eldon’s journal holds up a pure mirror to both the sickness of the modern world and the fragile happiness of the human condition, and ultimately, reveals the accidental beauty that only a young artist can truly capture.’

A detailed introduction to the journals by Jennifer New can be found on the Eldon website, as can a generous collection of extracts and images from the diaries themselves. The earliest diaries do contain some text and diary writing, but most of the pages in all the journals are filled to bursting with collages rather than text - but here is one short extract from one of the earliest journals.

22 August 1982
‘I have decided that I am happier this year than any other. I am enjoying life and the people in our class. I have a lighter class load this year. Last year I took French and German and I have dropped German for a year. I also love Kenya (I always have but I still do). I like it less when the weather is bad. We have bought land at the coast where we will build a house which I am looking forward to.’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 12 July 2013.

Thursday, July 6, 2023

Edward VI, the Boy King

‘The lordes of the counsel sat at Gildhaul in London, where in the presence of a thousand peple they declared to the maire and bretherne their slouthfulnes in suffering unreasonable prices of thinges, and to craftesmen their wilfulnes etc, telling them that if apon this admonition they did not amende, I was holly determined to call in their liberties as confiscat, and to appoint officers that shold loke to them.’ This entry about a cost-of-living crisis comes from the remarkable diary of Edward VI, dubbed the Boy King, who died 470 years ago today aged only 15.

Edward, born in October 1537, was the only legitimate son of Henry VIII. His mother Jane Seymour died 12 days after his birth. On the death of his father nine years later, Edward became king. The realm, however, was governed by a Regency Council, which, initially, was led by Edward’s uncle Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset. Towards the end of 1549, Somerset was arrested for mismanaging the government - the year had seen widespread social unrest across England - and eventually beheaded in January 1552.

Thereafter, the Regency Council was led by John Dudley, 1st Earl of Warwick, and, from 1551, by Duke of Northumberland. But, as Edward fell ill in early 1553, so a succession crisis loomed. Edward himself named Lady Jane Grey, a great-granddaughter of Henry VIII and a Protestant married to one of Northumberland’s sons, as his heir presumptive. A few days after Edward’s death on 6 July, Jane was indeed proclaimed queen, though there is academic debate over whether she was ever a legitimate monarch. A further nine days on, the Privy Council changed its mind and named Edward VI’s Catholic half-sister Mary as queen. Jane was executed the following year, aged 16.

Edward, himself, probably died of tuberculosis, though some have claimed he was poisoned. He was a precocious child, and his short reign is considered to have made a lasting contribution to the English Reformation, and to have seen radical changes in how the church operated. The pace of change stalled then with Edward’s successor, Mary, until Elizabeth took the crown in 1558. Further biographical information is readily available from Wikipedia or English History for example.

Remarkably, while king, Edward kept a diary - its 68 leaves are held by the British Library. He may have been prompted to do so by one of his tutors. In order to make a complete chronicle of his reign, he started with a description of his childhood until 1547, followed it with a list of past events (mostly referring to himself in the third person), and then from March 1550 he kept daily entries until November 1552. It was first published in Gilbert Burnet’s The History of the Reformation of the Church of England (volume 4), and later, in 1857, as part of the Literary Remains of King Edward the Sixth by John Gough Nichols (from which the following extracts are taken). Nichols says the diary’s value does not lie in its completeness, nor in its minute accuracy, but rather in ‘its incidental disclosures of state policy, and in its continual reflection of the character and pursuits of the young monarch himself’. So dense are the historically important references, that Nichols’s footnotes often take up far more of the page than Edward’s diary itself.

In his 1966 study, England’s Boy King: The Diary of Edward VI, Wilbur Kitchener Jordan sums up the diary’s importance: ‘Surely in English history, and very possibly in European history, there is no historical source quite of the nature of the Chronicle of Edward VI. It is in part private diary, in part an educational exercise, and in part considered notes on policy and administration. The document stands as one of the major sources for our knowledge of the entire reign and not infrequently constitutes our only source of information for events of considerable significance.’ The full text of the diary - in the Literary Remains and in The History of the Reformation - is available online at Internet Archive and Googlebooks respectively.

24 May 1550
‘The embassadours came to me, presenting the ligier, and also delivering lettres of credaunce from the French king.’

25 May 1550
‘The embassadours came to the court, where thei saw me take the oth for th’acceptation of the treaty, and afterward dined with me; and after diner saw a pastime of tenne against tenne at the ring, wherof on th’on(e) sid(e) were the duke of Sowthfolk, the vice-dam, the lord Lisle, and seven other gentlemen, appareled in yelow; on the other, the lord Stra(nge), mons. Henadoy, and yeight other, in blew.’

26 May 1550
‘The embassadours saw the baiting of the bearis and bullis.’

27 May 1550
‘The embassadours, after thei had hunted, sat with me at souper.’

28 May 1550
‘The same went to see Hampton court, where thei did hunt, and the same night retourne to Durasme place.’

29 May 1550
‘The embassadours had a fair souper made them by the duke of Somerset, and afterward went into the tems (on the Thames) and saw both the beare hunted in the river, and also wilfier cast out of botis, and many prety conceites.’

30 May 1550
‘The embassadours toke ther leve, and the next day departid.’

15 April 1551
‘A conspiracy opened of the Essex men, who within three dayes after minded to declare the comming of straungers, and so to bring peple together to Chemsford, and then to spoile the riche men’s houses if they could.’

16 April 1551
‘Also of Londoners, who thought to rise on May day against the straungers of the cité; and both the parties committed to warde.’

24 May 1551
‘An earthquake was at Croidon and Blechingliee, and in the most part of Surrey, but no harme was donne.’

10 July 1551
‘At this time cam the sweat into London, wich was more vehement then the old sweat. Por if one toke cold he died mthin 3 houres, and if he skaped it held him but 9 houres, or 10 at the most. Also if he slept the first 6 houres, as he should be very desirous to doe, then he raved, and should die raving.’

11 July 1551
‘It grue so much, for in London the 10 day ther died 70 in the liberties, and this day 120, and also one of my gentlemen, another of my gromes, fell sike and died, that I removed to Ampton court with very few with me. [The epidemic called the sweating sickness, which remains a mystery today, had visited England before but this was the last major outbreak to occur, and thereafter vanished.]’

1 December 1551
‘The duke of Somerset cam to his triall at Westmyster halle. [The record mentions three indictments: 1) that he had designed to have seized the King’s person, and to have governed all affairs; 2) that he, with one hundred others, intended to have imprisoned the earl of Warwick, afterwards duke of Northumberland; and 3) that he had designed to have raised an insurrection in the city of London.]

He answerid he did not entend to raise London, [. . .] His assembling of men was but for his owne defence. He did not determin to kill the duke of Northumberland, the marquis, etc., but spake of it and determined after the contrary; and yet seamid to confess he went about there death. The lordis went togither. The duke of Northumberland wold not agree that any searching of his death shuld bee treason. So the lordis acquited him of high treason, and condemned him of treason feloniouse, and so he was adjuged to be hangid. He gave thankis to the lordis for there open trial, and cried mercy of the duke of Northumberland, the marquis of Northampton, and th’erle of Penbroke for his ill meaning against them, and made suet for his life, wife and children, servauntes and dettes, and so departed without the ax of the Toure. The peple, knowing not the matter, shouted hauf a douzen times, so loud that frome the halle dore it was hard at Chairing crosse plainly, and rumours went that he was quitte of all.’

22 January 1552
‘The duke of Somerset had his head cat of apon Towre hill betwene eight and nine a cloke in the morning.’

8 June 1552
‘The lordes of the counsel sat at Gildhaul in London, where in the presence of a thousand peple they declared to the maire and bretherne their slouthfulnes in suffering unreasonable prices of thinges, and to craftesmen their wilfulnes etc, telling them that if apon this admonition they did not amende, I was holly determined to call in their liberties as confiscat, and to appoint officers that shold loke to them.’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 6 July 2013.