Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Important not to be duped

‘For my part, I consider it important above all not to be duped. That’s what I peacefully strive for. I know the deep wretchedness of our generation and the ones that follow, and I have tried, with what means I have, to provide a small cure. I recognize that I can do nothing. Lacking either enough intelligence for problems that are too great or enough simplicity for problems that are so hugely simple they defy mathematics, I would nevertheless reserve the right to laugh and comfort myself with scorn, precisely applied. English generosity; American civilization.’ This is the French writer Jean Giorno starting - exactly 80 years ago today - a diary in which he would extemporise on his literary, social and political thoughts providing, once published, ‘a unique window into one of French literature’s most voracious and critical minds’.

Giorno was born in 1895 in Manosque, southeastern France, to humble parents - his father was a cobbler and his mother a laundry woman. He left school at 16 to work in a bank (though he continued to read widely) before being called up for military service on the outbreak of war. The experience - not least at the Battle of Verdun - turned him into an ardent pacifist. In 1919, he returned to the bank, and a year later, married a childhood friend, Élise Giono, with whom he had two children. After publishing poetry, he produced, in 1929, his first novel, Colline, which won the Prix Brentano. He left the bank the following year to devote himself to writing. Two more novels - influenced by Virgil and Homer - followed: Un de Baumugnes (1929) and Regain (1930).  Together with Colline they made up the so-called Pan trilogy.

Throughout the 1930s, Giono wrote novels and pamphlets much influenced by his belief in pacifism. He joined a group of like-minded thinkers - with Lucien Jacques and Henri Fluchère - who gathered in the hamlet of Contadour, and whose pacifist writings were published as the Cahiers du Contadour. In 1939, on the outbreak of the new war, he was briefly imprisoned as a Nazi sympathiser. After the war, in 1945 he was held captive by a communist band of Resistance fighters who again accused him of collaboration with the Nazis. Many French writers blacklisted him, but a vigorous defence by author André Gide helped re-establish his reputation.

In the post war years, Giorno adopted a new style, more concise, concentrating on storytelling, in novels such as Le Hussard sur le toit (1952) and Le Bonheur fou (1957). Outside of France, he is probably best known for his short fable The Man Who Planted Trees first published in 1953. In 1954 he was elected to the Académie Goncourt. He died in 1970. Further information is available at Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica and The New York Times.

During the latter part of the war, Giono kept a detailed diary - starting on 20 September 1943. Subsequently, in 1995, this was published by Gallimard as Journal de l’Occupation; but it was not translated into English, by Jody Gladding, until 2020 when it was published by Archipelago as Occupation Journal. Some pages can be freely read at Googlebooks, and some extracts can be read in The Paris Review.

Here is the publisher’s blurb, followed by the first entry in the diary (taken from the  Penguin Random House website).

‘Written during the years of France’s occupation by the Nazis, Jean Giono’s Occupation Journal reveals the inner workings of one of France’s great literary minds during one of the country’s darkest hours. A renowned writer and committed pacifist throughout the 1930s – a conviction that resulted in his imprisonment before and after the Occupation – Giono spent the war in the village of Contadour in Provence, where he wrote, corresponded with other writers, and cared for his consumptive daughter. This journal records his musings on art and literature, his observations of life, his interactions with the machinery of the collaborationist Vichy regime, as well as his forceful political convictions. Giono recounts the details of his life with fierce independence of thought and novelistic attention to character and dialogue. Occupation Journal is a fascinating historical document as well as a unique window into one of French literature’s most voracious and critical minds.’

20 September 1943
‘There is such confusion in people’s minds that, even among the best of my acquaintances, no one knows how to conduct himself according to the simple rules of nobility and grandeur anymore. In the fellowship of the Contadour, R. B. was a comrade who seemed to me capable of understanding and applying those rules on all occasions. He was clear-sighted and bright, and if it worried me knowing that he regularly spent time with reserve officers, I imagined that his social position demanded it (teaching at the teachers’ college). His convictions, if he was expressing them honestly, were pacifist and humane. He could not retain his integrity in the tangle of propaganda. It’s hard for me to imagine that this is the same man now mixed up in arms drops, who runs off and distributes machine guns to young men hidden in his county. I know - if I take into account the terrible worries eating at his heart - (his love for M., his crazy son) there are certainly excuses for his desire to escape at any cost his life’s inconceivable misery. All the same, I was hoping he would escape in the direction of nobility.

In our modern mechanical world, it’s clearly very tempting to embrace the cause of a religious war. It must give one the impression, despite everything, that he is a thinking being. And, after the fate dealt to man in 1930-1940, it must suddenly be so invigorating that it’s difficult to resist. But the quest for the Grail made the knights-errant gallop in a straight line. Even Don Quixote walks straight. Today it seems as though the Grail has shattered and they are chasing all the scattered bits of it in every direction. They charge blindly, noses in the air, radios behind them in the saddle, newspaper helmets fastened securely on their skulls. Those who have donned secret papers, clandestine publications, think they are wearing the most magical helmets of all. Not a single head remains bare.

For my part, I consider it important above all not to be duped. That’s what I peacefully strive for. I know the deep wretchedness of our generation and the ones that follow, and I have tried, with what means I have, to provide a small cure. I recognize that I can do nothing. Lacking either enough intelligence for problems that are too great or enough simplicity for problems that are so hugely simple they defy mathematics, I would nevertheless reserve the right to laugh and comfort myself with scorn, precisely applied. English generosity; American civilization. 

Last week, there was an assassination attempt here against the head of the militia. He was returning from the cinema with his family when an armed stranger shot at him. Ch. shot back and killed his assailant. At which point a sort of impromptu legend started. The assailant, who had come from Marseille to kill Ch. (it seems he confessed before dying), was a miner from the north of France, his children had been killed in a bombardment, and his wife, I don’t know what, something terrible, I dare say, no doubt raped by the Uhlans. He became the hero. Almost everyone attended his funeral, Dr. G. and his wife prominently at the head of the line. Dr. G. is a perfect and pure careerist, an opportunist, an ambitious man who dreams of a seat on the district council. That’s clear to everyone here. But he was much admired behind the hearse. Of course Dr. G. is not a Communist, he made two or three million in a few years (he arrived here very poor), and is an admirable specimen of the ordinary materialist. He’s only trying to position himself for the next wave of “honors.” That’s nothing. It’s only that no one thought to explain this in a simple way. The man from Marseille was really only a paid assassin. Because why - even as martyr and hero - especially as hero - why come to assassinate Ch.? The back wheel of the wagon. Ch. is not exactly anyone important. At present, it’s simply personal accounts being settled. And personal business being conducted (Dr. G.). All that is fine, I’m not asking Dr. G. or the assassin or Ch. to be Lancelot of the Lake or Percival, I only ask that no one tries to make me believe they are.

Wonderful weather, exhilarating wind coming from the sheep plateaus. Cool and crisp, and those earth tones and bruised sky that announce autumn. The sound of the bell that rings at noon undulates in the wind like a cracked whip. The air is delicious to breathe. I am going to start writing again. These days. I need a serious discipline for mind and body.

Plans for Fragments d’un Paradis. Never forgetting that after Don Quixote (I must begin the discussion with myself on this book. In Doré’s illustrations, Don Quixote resembles my beloved father, but embittered. My father was good and gentle, clearly readable in his entire body), never forgetting that Cervantes finished his life writing the The Trials of Persiles and Sigismunda. I am anxious for Jacinto G. to send me this book in Spanish; I’m going to try to learn enough Spanish to read it. 

Fragments must be an adieu to the poetic (as Don Quixote is an adieu to grandeur - and not a satire on chivalry. What pettiness! Imagine Cervantes wanting to mock chivalry! And he would finish his life writing (with the most careful attention to the form and spirit of it) a novel of Chivalry! No, he wanted to say a melancholy farewell (hence Don Quixote’s madness) to grandeur). Fragments must say farewell to the poetic, to lyricism, to the “lie” without which there is no art, by which I mean the subjective. Goodbye to romanticism, on the threshold of 1616, when truth, exactitude, the slice of life will be extolled (you’ll see) (but Maupassant was lying (was interpreting), but Gide lies (happily), but Eugène Dabit suffered and died for not knowing how to lie, that is, for not having the strength (first of all, the physical strength) to stomach “spectacles” in order to express them in the end as Van Gogh expresses a wheat field and a cypress. Because they know and he knew (E.D.) what it is that interests me, which is not the cypress or the wheat field. It is the cypress + Van Gogh and the wheat field + Van Gogh. The mark. To leave his mark). Because how could he have been in step with Communist times?

Finishing the third act of Voyage without proving anything. Having wanted to demonstrate a slowing of the action in the second part of Act 1, an act I am not at all happy with. Writing the text for Virgil that Corrêa wants and immediately afterwards (before the end of the year if possible), I hope to begin Fragments. Because if I wrote Le Voyage for the theater, it’s so that I might finally have a little peace financially (I must speak a little about my legend one of these days, and in particular about my “wealth” (in 1940, living on 20,000 for the whole year, nine people, and actually giving the figures) because what Vlaminck says about me he says relying on legend alone, journalistic and cinematographic legend). (I am not suspicious enough of visitors. Too nice.) Tino Rossi aside, of course. Because he’s not completely wrong. There is a little of that. But I believe (I may be wrong. I don’t dispute it) I believe that’s all there is. Writing Fragments for my own pleasure, as I like, at my own pace (which is slow), taking the most pleasure possible in the writing.

Yesterday evening, Uncle did not return. Believed it to be the usual fit of drunkenness and expected to hear the doorbell during the night. This morning I realized that he had still not come home. It was Charles I heard having coffee. I wondered if Uncle might be dead in the pavilion, a stroke or from hanging himself. Suicide is a possibility with this hideous, horrible, arrogant, worthless but sensitive man who has turned everyone against him. Has made everyone detest him, even his own daughters, and yet, sometimes, a burst of grandeur, I thought to myself . . .  this morning I went to see, to have a look in the pavilion with its door left open. I looked in the linden tree. Charles had the same thought. My mother, too. Charles went to look out the windows. He was not there, he told me. Then, later, while I was writing, I heard him coughing and clearing his throat below in the garden. He’d only gone on his usual binge. Too often (always) I judge others according to myself. I believe that’s what happened over the twenty years with Lucien Jacques as well.’

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Baudin’s voyage to Australia

The French explorer Nicolas Baudin died on this day 220 years ago. Born in humble circumstances, he rose to captain one of France’s most important scientific and geographical expeditions to Australia - rivalling a similar expedition by the British captain Matthew Flinders. Both Baudin and Flinders -  who met once at Encounter Bay - are much studied by academics in Australia, and thus there is plenty of information about them on university and state library websites. In particular, the Libraries Board of South Australia published - in the 1970s and for the first time - a personal journal kept by Baudin. This latter contradicts some of the official French version of the voyage, dating from the early 19th century, which is highly critical of Baudin.

Baudin was born in 1754 at Île de Ré, a small island off the west coast of France. He joined the merchant navy aged 15, then the French East India Company, and then the French navy, as an ‘officier bleu’ (a commoner not of noble birth). He served a year in the Carribbean, before resigning and returning to merchant service, transporting emmigrants to New Orleans, and timber back to France. After a chance meeting with Franz Boos, the Austrian Emperor’s head gardener and botanist, Baudin took charge, in 1792, of a scientific expedition for Imperial Austria to the Indian Ocean. In 1796, he made a similar scientific voyage to the West Indies, where he collected material for museums in Paris.

In 1800, Baudin was selected to lead, what became known as, the Baudin expedition to map the coast of Australia (then still called New Holland) with two ships, Géographe and Naturaliste, and a company of scientists. He reached Australia in May the following year, and was the first to explore and map the western coast and part of the southern coast. In 1802, he stopped in Sydney, sent home the Naturaliste with all the scientific specimens he had acquired, and bought a new ship - Casuarina. He made for Tasmania, then Timor, before heading back to Europe; but, having stopped at Mauritius, Baudin died there of tuberculosis on 16 September 1803. See Wikipedia, the ABC’s Navigators website, or the Australian Dictionary of National Biography for more information.

The official account of the Baudin expedition - written partly by François Péron and completed by Louis de Freycinet - appeared in two volumes (1807 and 1816) of the series Voyage de découvertes aux Terres Australes exécuté par ordre de Sa Majesté l’Empereur et Roi, sur les corvettes le Géographe, le Naturaliste, et la goélette le Casuarina, pendant les années 1800, 1801, 1802, 1803, et 1804. Péron was particularly hostile towards his former commander, Baudin, and this shows through his account of the expedition.

However, a personal journal kept by Baudin during the voyage, from October 1800 to August 1803, gives a very different impression to that of Péron’s account. This was first translated from the French by Christine Cornell and published in 1974 by Libraries Board of South Australia as The Journal of Post Captain Nicolas Baudin, Commander-in-Chief of the Corvettes Géographe and Naturaliste, assigned by order of the government to a voyage of discovery. A lot more about the project to translate the journal can be found in The Baudin Legacy newsletter. A revisionist analysis of Baudin and his expedition to Australia can be found in The Baudin Expedition in Review: Old Quarrels and New Approaches (Australian Journal of French Studies, 2004).

Further information about Baudin’s journal is also available in Ill-Starred Captains: Flinders and Baudin by Anthony J. Brown, partly available to read on Googlebooks, which focuses on Baudin and the captain of a rival British expedition, Matthew Flinders. The two - famously - met at Encounter Bay on 8 April 1802. A website celebrating this encounter and both expeditions was set up by the State Library of South Australia in 2002; and this includes many extracts from Baudin’s journal. Here are three.

9 April 1802
‘There was little wind for the rest of the day. Sometimes we were even becalmed and at the mercy of the current, which carried us towards the coast, then only a league off. After sighting our points of the previous day, we sailed along the high land that we had seen a little before sunset. The coast in this part, if not extremely pleasant. was at least preferable to the region of sand-hills that we had just left.

At midday the latitude observed was 35° 36' but this was very uncertain. At three o’clock we sighted the island and islets spoken of by Mr. Flinders. I proceeded so as to run in for the channel separating them from the mainland, but since the slight wind blowing did not allow me to do this before dark, I went about at five o'clock to stand out to sea.

Coasting the mainland during the day, we sighted three islets or rocks lying such a short way out, that to see them. it was necessary to be as close in as we were. If becalmed, one could anchor there in 24 or 21 fathoms, for the bottom is sandy and good - a rather rare thing between here and the Promontory. At sunset we could still see Mr. Flinders’ ship running on the South-westerly leg.

Until midnight the winds were South to South- South-East and rather fresh, but then they moderated, and shortly after, we went on the landward leg.’

19 April 1802
‘I was expecting the weather to turn fine again and to be able, during the day, to explore the part of the coast that we had seen the previous day. But instead of that, the sky (which had been fairly fine throughout the night) grew damp and misty, with a very threatening appearance for the rest of the day.

At seven o’clock land was sighted from the mast-heads. It stretched from East-North-East to North North-West, proving only too plainly that we were in a gulf, as I had always thought we were, judging from the general shallowness of the water and the progressive decrease in its depth as we headed either West or East towards one coast or the other.

Since the weather promised too badly for us to think of reconnoitring the western part of this gulf, I sought to bear South as much as possible in order to be in a more advantageous position. During the morning the winds varied from North-West to West-South-West and were frequently accompanied by squalls and strong gusts. [. . .]

At one in the afternoon, with the wind still increasing and accompanied by sharp gusts, we wore ship and headed West of North-West to stand off the coast for greater safety during the night, for it looked as if it would be rather exhausting for us. At two o’clock the wind was still rising and the sea was growing steadily rougher, so we had to furl the mizzen-topsail and, shortly after, the fore-topsail. Although we were carrying no more than the foresail, main-topsail, close-reefed, and mizzen-staysail, the ship had on quite as much as she could manage in the squalls. We continued to tack West of North-West until eight in the evening. At that stage, being in 23 fathoms, we took our point of departure for the night’s tacking. The weather throughout it was very bad and the gusts were even stronger than during the day. We were several times obliged to lower our main-topsail, despite its small amount of canvas left. We went about every four hours and managed to maintain ourselves between 20 and 24 fathoms, tacking in a depth that never exceeded 30 and that diminished to East and West once one had reached there.

The night was very tiring for the crew and me in that we spent it constantly on deck. Except for those who changed watch, all the officers passed it just as peacefully in their beds as if the ship had been absolutely secure. As it was not the first time that they had done this, even in more critical situations than we were then in, I was not in the least surprised by it and left them in complete peace. This was what I had decided to do whenever such an occasion should arise. The stay of our fore-topmast staysail and its halyard went twice during the night, but the sail was only slightly damaged. The rain-bearing squalls were very cold and sometimes the water was like half-melted snow. We concluded from this that the winter cannot be very agreeable in this climate. The scientists, however, are of a contrary opinion because they saw parakeets in D’Entrecasteaux Channel.’

7 February 1803
‘As soon as our sails were furled, two boats were immediately dispatched to go sounding all around the ship and in various directions. On their return, I was informed that the depth of this bay was not sufficient for even a small vessel. At about a mile from the ship there were no more than 5 fathoms of water; half a mile further on, 4, and almost straightaway, 3 and 2. Nearer to the shore there was nothing but shallows and a continuous succession of sand-banks partly visible at low tide.

The boat which had had orders to head North-West gave us a moment of joy and satisfaction when it told us that it had discovered a fine port into which four rivers flowed, and that in the one it had entered, there were 4 fathoms of water and 3 inside. As a matter of fact the water in it was salty, but it would probably finish by becoming fresh as one went further up it. This was particularly pleasant, as it compensated for our regret at having found nothing on this coast so far that could repay us for our efforts and be of use to navigators.

The little boat had been sent off likewise to the island opposite which we were at anchor, and Citizen Guichenot, our gardener, had gone in it to reconnoitre the territory and discover what it produced. The boat did not return until during the night, having been stranded at low tide more than 2 miles off shore.

According to the gardener’s report, this island consists merely of sand, in which various low, shrubby trees grow. He only brought back some plants that were gone to seed, having been unable to find any in flower. Amongst them, there is one that has absolutely the bearing of an olive-tree. Its fruit resembles the olive in miniature, although the seed inside is very different. A big fire was lit on this island to serve as a beacon for the Casuarina, should she happen to enter this region.

As there was a very strong breeze all day and we had only 30 fathoms of cable down, we paid out 20 more, and in spite of the heavy South-South-easterly gusts, held firm on our anchor - proof that the bottom was not foul and that the holding was good.’

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

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Rid of such monsters

‘I have omitted to mention the execution of the Cato Street conspirators [concerning a plot to murder all the British cabinet ministers and the Prime Minister Lord Liverpool], which took place on the 1st of this month. Thistlewood & 4 other of the leaders were hanged & beheaded, exhibiting to the last the most hardened & brutal want of religion or any proper feeling. One really ought to thank God that the world is rid of such monsters, for their avowals of guilt on the scaffold & when they were brought up for judgement were quite terrific. Six others, who pleaded guilty, were sent off the night before for transportation for life to Botany Bay.’ This is from the diaries of Harriet Arbuthnot who died tragically young 230 years ago today. She married a much older man, a minister in the government, and found politics, especially Tory politics, much to her liking. Because of her very close friendship with the first Duke of Wellington, her very detailed and opinionated diaries are considered an important historical resource. 

Harriet Fane was born on 10 September 1793, the youngest daughter in a well-off family living near Grantham in Lincolnshire. Her father died when she was nine, but the family fortunes improved considerably in her late teens when her mother inherited estates in Hampshire and Dorset. Aged 20, she married Charles Arbuthnot, some 26 years her elder, who had been a member of parliament since 1795. She soon became fascinated by politics, supporting Tory causes, enjoying success as a political hostess. 

Although Harriet’s marriage was considered a happy one, she also formed close relationships with other older, powerful men, such as Lord Castlereagh (who was foreign secretary from 1812 to 1822) and particularly with the Anglo-Irish peer, the Duke of Wellington (who became Prime Minister in the 1820s). In 1823, her husband was given the Department of Woods and Forests, a position which gave him charge of the Royal parks and gardens and thus boosted the couple’s social status. She died suddenly of cholera in 1834, aged just 40. Further information is available at Wikipedia.

Harriet Arbuthnot is best remembered for her diaries, kept from 1820 until 1832, in which she which wrote about the politics and society of the day in extensive detail. Specifically, they contain much of interest to biographers of the Duke of Wellington. The diaries were first published by Macmillan & Co in 1950 in two volumes as The Journal of Mrs. Arbuthnot, 1820-1832 (edited by Francis Bamford and Gerald Wellesley, 7th Duke of Wellington). Volume 1 (1820-1825) can be digitally borrowed from Internet Archive. A discussion of the diaries by Dr Stephen Lee can be found on The History of Government blog - Lee says they are ‘one of the most extraordinary documents we have on the internal dynamics of elite politics in the early 19th century’.

Here are several extracts from the published diaries, including the very first entry. 

‘It has often been a matter of great regret to me that, in all the years that I have been married & from circumstances have been living so much among the leading men of the day, it had never occurred to me to keep a journal. I have constantly heard so many things that it would be interesting to remember, the greater part of which, from their succeeding each other so rapidly, I have already forgotten. I have now determined to conquer my natural laziness & make it a rule from this time forth to write down all that occurs to me, or that I hear of in public affairs that is interesting to me. I begin with the reign of George the 4th, the 1st of February, 1820.’

2 February 1820
‘A council held at Carlton House for the new King’s declaration. Mr. Arbuthnot attended & told me the King appeared extremely ill & was so much agitated he could hardly go thro’ the necessary forms.’

9 February 1820
‘The King recovering from his severe illness, but still very unwell & not able to attend to business. The Duke of W[ellingto]n called on me & told me the King was determined to dismiss the ministers if they did not consent to attempt a divorce for him [King George IV was trying to persuade Parliament to grant him a divorce from his estranged wife Queen Caroline]. They equally determined not to do so. He likewise told me that the Vice-Chancellor misled the King by making him believe the Whigs would try to consent to try the divorce. Saw Fred: Ponsonby & Charles Greville who asserted that the Whigs in a body would vote strongly against a divorce. Dined at the Russian Ambassador’s; Madame de Lieven played & Count Pahlen sung most beautifully.’

12 February 1820
‘Every thing still doubtful about the dismissal of ministers. The King saw Ld Castlereagh & ordered the immediate recall of Count Munster & Ld Stewart. He appeared perfectly resolved upon trying the divorce.’

27 March 1820
‘Walter Scott dined with us & met the Duke of Wellington. We had only Sir Henry Hardinge in addition, & our evening was very agreeable between Scott’s Highland stories & the Duke’s accounts of some of his battles. Mr. Arbuthnot met Scott some days after, who said he had been enchanted at hearing Caesar descant on the art of war.’

28 March 1820
‘Went into the country for the Easter holidays. We went to the Duke of Dorset’s at Drayton in Northamptonshire, which is three miles from our own farm. While we were there a farmer in the neighbourhood offered Mr. A. £1.00 for a calf three months old, which he refused & for which I thought him very foolish. This rather shews that the agricultural interest is not at so low an ebb as is thought by some, when a common farmer could afford to offer such a price on such a mere speculation.’

3 May 1820
‘My sister, Mrs. Chaplin, came to London on her way to the sea & staid two days. She has been confined by illness to a couch for near three years & is now, I hope, quite recovering. She well deserves to be restored to perfect health, for she has borne this long & grievous confinement without ever uttering a murmur or expressing the slightest feeling of impatience.

I have omitted to mention the execution of the Cato Street conspirators [concerning a plot to murder all the British cabinet ministers and the Prime Minister Lord Liverpool], which took place on the 1st of this month. Thistlewood & 4 other of the leaders were hanged & beheaded, exhibiting to the last the most hardened & brutal want of religion or any proper feeling. One really ought to thank God that the world is rid of such monsters, for their avowals of guilt on the scaffold & when they were brought up for judgement were quite terrific. Six others, who pleaded guilty, were sent off the night before for transportation for life to Botany Bay.

My brother Cecil, who had never seen an execution, told me he had a great curiosity on this occasion & went. He wished very much to see how they would behave; but, when they were tied up, he felt so nervous & in fact felt so much more than they themselves did that he retired into a corner of the room & hid himself that he might not see the drop fall, which excited great contempt in the people who were in the room with him; amongst whom was one woman, young & pretty & very decent looking, who kept her eyes fixed on it all the time &, when they had hung a few seconds, exclaimed, “There’s two on them not dead yet”.!!’

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Longing after damsens

Samuel Ward, a sixteenth century religious scholar who spent all his working life at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, died 380 years ago today. As with Margaret Hoby who was born one year before Ward and died 10 years earlier - see After private prayers - much of what we know about Ward today comes from a diary he left behind. This, like Hoby’s, is largely concerned with Ward’s religious life, but whereas Hoby’s simply provides a record of her actions, Ward’s is much richer in terms of psychology since he writes so much about his own sins, many of them trivial, such as ‘longing after damsens’!

Ward was born at Bishop’s Middleham, Durham, in 1572. He studied and then taught at Cambridge University, rising to become Master of Sidney Sussex College. He married a widow with one child in the early 1620s. As a Puritan, he wrote widely on doctrinal issues, such as baptism. He was one of the scholars involved with the translation and preparation of the King James version of the Bible. He served as part of the English Calvinist delegation to the Synod of Dort.

When the First English Civil War broke out he fell out with the Presbyterian majority, and, in 1643, along with others, was imprisoned in St. John’s College. When his health gave way, he was permitted to retire to his own college. He died on 7 September later that same year. Further information is available from Wikipedia, the 1895-1900 edition of Dictionary of National Biography, or the University of Cambridge.

Intermittently, Ward kept a confessional diary, and this has survived down the centuries, and is held by Sidney Sussex College. It was published in 1933 by The American Society of Church History as part of Two Elizabethan Puritan Diaries by Richard Rogers and Samuel Ward, edited by M. M. Knappen. This can be digitally borrowed at Internet Archive
Since then it has been reprinted, and reissued in different guises, serving as an important first hand source of historical information on the King James Bible. Most recently, the University of Cambridge has made every page of the notebook freely available online through its digital libraryThe following transcribed quotes are taken from a 1966 reprint of Two Elizabethan Puritan Diaries. (Any trailing dots within the extracts come from the original source.)

13 May 1595
‘My little pity of the boy who was whipt in the hall. My desire of preferment over much. My adulterous dream. Think thow how that this is not our home in this world, in which we are straungers, one not knowing anotheres speach and language. Think how bad a thing it is to goo to bed without prayer, and remember to call on God at goyng to our prayers in the Chappell.’

8 August 1596
‘. . . Also my longing after damsens when I made my vow not to eat in the orchard. Oh, that I could so long after Godes graces . . .’

25 August 1596
‘. . . My extreme anger the day before att John Mourton for taking the axeltree out of my glob . . .’

27 August 1596
‘. . . Also my pride in thinking of the new colledg, wheras it is not licky I should have any place ther. Also my stomaching of Cuthbert and Holland agayne, and my grudging att ther remembrance my disease. . .’

3 September 1596
‘My complayning to Mr. Pott and Mr. Glover of Mr. Hutchinson, and my proud thoughtes with Mr. Montague when he said we should go se the crocodile. Also my proud and wild thoughtes in that I had so many places offrd, as one by Sir Hornby. Truly when God is favorable and merciful to me I begin to be proud and to attribute to myne oven desert sathanically. My unthankfulness for Godes benefits. My immoderate desire of the meat left for the sizer.’

5 September 1569
‘. . . My goying to the taverne with such lewd fellowes, albeyt I knew them not. How little greived was I att their swearing and othes and wyld talk. O Lord, thou knowest that I wished often to be ridd of their company. My little care of my health notwithstanding my disease grew upon me. . .’

6 August 1597
‘How little I was affected with hearing of the ill success of our Navy . . .’

25 December 1597
‘My lasines in not rising early inough to prepare myself to the worthy receit of the communion.’

5 November 1599
‘The like the Archbishop now hath performed in the choosing of this new - to be vicechancellor against the will of many in the University. Lord, turn all their plots and devices to thine own glory, and the good of thy church etc.’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 7 September 2013.

Saturday, September 2, 2023

Written in Elvish

Half a century ago today died the English fantasy writer, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, best known for his novel, The Lord of the Rings. An archive of his papers is kept at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and includes diaries. These have not, however, been published. Biographer Humphrey Carpenter has said that Tolkien used the diaries ‘chiefly as a record of sorrow and distress’, but also that they were written in Elvish.

Tolkien was born in 1892 in Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State (now Free State Province in South Africa) to an English bank manager and his wife, Mabel. Mabel took Tolkien, then aged three, and his younger brother, back to England; their father died before he could join them. The family then lived in Birmingham, and the boys were educated by Mabel, but she too died young. Thereafter, they were raised as Catholics by Mabel’s friend Fr. Francis Xavier Morgan of the Birmingham Oratory. Tolkien was sent to King Edward’s School, Birmingham, and then he studied at Exeter College, Oxford, switching after a while from classics to English. He married his teenage sweetheart, Edith, in 1916. They would have four children.

During the First World War, Tolkien served as a second lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers, fighting in the Somme offensive. He contracted trench fever and was treated at a hospital in Birmingham. After the armistice in 1918, he worked briefly on the New English Dictionary project (later to become the Oxford English Dictionary), before becoming a reader in English Language at the University of Leeds, and then, from 1925, Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College, Oxford University. From 1945 to 1959 he was Professor of English Language and Literature at Merton College, Oxford. It was at Oxford that he became a close friend of C. S. Lewis, author of the Narnia stories, and together they formed part of an informal literary discussion group known as the Inklings.

During his time at Pembroke, Tolkien wrote and published (1937) his first novel, The Hobbit. Unexpectedly popular with adults and children, the publisher (Allen and Unwin) asked for a sequel, which was eventually published in three volumes, in the mid-1950s, as The Lord of the Rings. This latter work became phenomenally successfully, and has remained so ever since. Academically, Tolkien published works on Chaucer and on the old English heroic epic Beowulf; and biographers are at pains to point out the links between the fantasy epic content of his novels and his scholarly work.

After retirement, Tolkien became increasingly discomforted by the attention of fans. He and Edith relocated to Bournemouth, then an upper middle class seaside resort; but, after Edith’s death in 1971, he moved back to rooms at Merton College until his own death on 2 September 1973. The internet is awash with Tolkien information, try, for example, The Tolkien Society, the Tolkien Library, the Leadership University, the BBC or Wikipedia.

Before his death, Tolkien negotiated the sale of some of his papers (those related to the then-published works) to Marquette University’s Raynor Library in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. However, after his death many other papers were donated to Oxford University’s Bodleian Library. Within this latter archive are a number of unpublished diaries kept by Tolkien. Although not publicly available, some researchers/
biographers have been allowed access, and their books on Tolkien contain a few quotes and references to the diaries. Notably, Humphrey Carpenter, who wrote the authorised biography, says Tolkien used the diaries ‘chiefly as a record of sorrow and distress, and when . . . his gloom dissipated he ceased to keep up the diary entries’. Some of the diaries were written in code, Carpenter explains at the end of biography, in the acknowledgements, and he thanks his wife for help in ‘de-coding’ them. Carpenter has also said elsewhere that Tolkien kept his diaries in ‘elvish’.

The few quotations from Tolkien’s diaries that do exist in the public domain, mostly undated, have been collated by the Tolkien Gateway. Here are three.

1 January 2010
‘Depressed and as much in dark as ever, [...] God help me. Feel weak and weary.’

1933 [on visiting Birmingham]
‘I pass over the pangs to me of passing through Hall Green - become a huge tram-ridden meaningless suburb, where I actually lost my way - and eventually down what is left of beloved lanes of childhood, and past the very gate of our cottage, now in the midst of a sea of new red-brick. The old mill still stands, and Mrs Hunt’s still sticks out into the road as it turns uphill; but the crossing beyond the now fenced-in pool, where the bluebell lane ran down into the mill lane, is now a dangerous crossing alive with motors and red lights. The White Ogre’s house (which the children were excited to see) is become a petrol station, and most of Short Avenue and the elms between it and the crossing have gone. How I envy those whose precious early scenery has not been exposed to such violent and peculiarly hideous change.’

August 1955
‘Venice seemed incredibly, elvishly lovely’; ‘contrary to legend and my belief, Italians . . . dislike exaggeration, superlatives, and adjectives of excessive praise. But they seem to answer to colour and poetic expression, if justified.’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 2 September 2013.