Sunday, November 26, 2023

I feel shocked and ashamed

‘The atomic bomb was used yesterday for the first time on the Japs. I must say I feel shocked and ashamed. Nobody knows what the effects of it, indirect or direct, will be on the area. I don’t think posterity will think it was a very creditable action.’ This is from the war diaries of Oliver Charles Harvey, first Baron Harvey of Tasburgh, born 130 years ago today. At the time, Harvey was Private Secretary to the Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, and he wrote his diaries believing their future value would lie in their “hotness”, in providing immediate impressions and atmosphere.

Harvey was born on 26 November 1893 at Rainthorpe Hall, near Norwich, the only son of Sir Charles Harvey, second baronet, landowner, and his second wife, Mary Anne Edith. He was educated at Malvern College and at Trinity College, Cambridge. He served throughout the First World War in the Norfolk regiment, in France, Egypt, and Palestine, and was mentioned in dispatches. In 1920, he married Maud Annora (with whom he had two sons); and that same year he joined the Diplomatic Service, advancing to Second and then First Secretary with stints in Rome, Athens and Paris. Between 1936 and 1943 he was - in two different stretches (1936–1938 and 1941–1943) - private secretary and confidant to Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden.

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required) has this assessment: ‘As private secretary to the foreign secretary, and as a convinced anti-appeaser, Harvey interpreted his duties widely, often proffering advice on matters of policy in terms critical of the prime minister and of his interference in foreign affairs. After Eden's resignation in February 1938, Harvey continued to offer unofficial advice to his former chief. His personal relations with Eden's successor, Halifax, were good but unenthusiastiic .[. . .] it was no surprise that when Eden returned to the Foreign Office in December 1940 he took the first opportunity of reappointing his old private secretary, although Harvey was by now well above the rank normal for the post. [. . .] 

From then on Harvey was closely involved in all the complicated issues which beset the Foreign Office during the war. He accompanied Eden on three trips to Moscow, the first at the dramatic moment when the Germans had been halted a bare 20 miles away in December 1941, and once to the United States. He was closely involved too in the controversies over the employment of Darlan and Giraud, the struggle over the recognition of the national committee of de Gaulle, the difficulties with the exiled Polish government, and the like. In all these questions his advice was forward looking, realistic, and on the side of the new forces which he believed would emerge in the open at the end of the war.’

After the war, Harvey served as Deputy Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (1946 to 1948) and as Ambassador to France (1948 to 1954). On retirement, in 1954, he was created a baron, and he succeeded his half-brother as fourth baronet. Though attending the House of Lords, he rarely took part in debates. He died in 1968. Further information is also available from Wikipedia and The Peerage.

From 1937 through the Second World War, Harvey kept detailed diaries. These were edited by his son John Harvey and published by Collins in two volumes: The Diplomatic Diaries of Oliver Harvey 1937-1940 (1970) and The War Diaries of Oliver Harvey 1941-1945 (1978). Digital copies of both can be borrowed at Internet Archive

In the first volume, Harvey explains how he came to keep a diary, and why. ‘I was appointed Private Secretary by Anthony Eden shortly after he became Foreign Secretary. I came over from Paris, where I had been Head of the Chancery, arriving in January 1936 on the day King George V was dying, the end of another chapter. It was some time before I began my diary. Owing to pressure of new work, I was too busy to think of it, but as time went on it seemed to me that it might be valuable to set down day by day the course of events and our first reaction to them as they struck us at our particular centre of things. The diary was thus written down “hot” at the time, sometimes hour by hour, rarely a few days or a week or so after the events, and it has in no case been written up or adjusted subsequently. Indeed, its whole value, if it has a value, lies in its “hotness”, in the immediate impression and atmosphere. I am the first to recognise how many of the first reactions and impressions and judgments were proved wrong and would be admitted wrong by myself now, but that is not the point. This is how we saw things at the time.’

And here are several extracts from the second volume.

13 July 1941
‘I drove down to Frensham this morning with A.E.’s box. He greeted me with the news that Winston had been on the telephone five times over a government reconstruction. He wished to send Duff to Far East as coordinator à la Lyttelton, Brendan Bracken to M. of I R.A.B. to Ministry of Education and Dick Law to be Undersecretary at F.O. A. was against Duff going to Far East and thought it preferable to make no change at M. of I. but to see how new arrangement worked there. He said he would miss R.A.B. who was good with the House of Commons and took a lot of work off his shoulders, but he had always wanted Dick - though latter suffered from diffidence and lack of authority. I said I was sure this would be a good change and it was important to bring Dick on. Anyway we get rid of Chips [Channon]! I think A.E. feels R.A.B. was useful in keeping Munichers in Parliament in order. He also wondered whether he should have had a Labour Under-Secretary - but who? I think this is the best arrangement and Dick deserves the opportunity.

Instructions were sent to Cripps last night to sign Anglo-Soviet Declaration - we expect news of it at any minute.

The Polish-Soviet conversation on Friday went fairly well. Maisky agreed to most of the Polish points. The trouble is that half the Polish Government here is violently anti-Russian. There is also an ugly snag in the Polish political prisoners whom the Poles want released and who are believed to have been “liquidated”. A.E. is using all pressure to bring them together.

There was a last-minute hitch last night over Syrian armistice, Dentz refusing to treat with us if Free French were also included. But this seems to have been got over and we hear French plenipotentiaries crossed our lines early this morning.

Meanwhile things don’t look too bad. Russians are doing far better than was expected and must have badly delayed German programme. The Russian Mission here are getting on very well with our staffs. But I still wish it were possible to do more to help them than bombing in the West.

A most important thing is how well A.E. and the P.M. get on. Latter, I think, really trusts him and listens to him, headstrong though he is. He apologised to A.E. for being so tiresome over his personal telegrams to Stalin. He is an eternal schoolboy.’

3 July 1942
‘P.M. made, as usual, a great speech yesterday and on the whole seems to have won the sympathy of the House. All were rather overawed by the issues being fought out in Africa and slightly ashamed of themselves.

A.E. dined with P.M. afterwards. He told me this morning he found the P.M. “in the greatest heart” and planning to go off at once to Egypt himself by aeroplane! He told A.E. he had got the King’s permission as well as that of Attlee and Bevin. A.E. and Bracken did their best to shake him out of such a mad idea which, tho’ admittedly most heartening to the troops, would only hinder General Auchinleck. P.M. was like a naughty child. He went on to say to A.E. he had prepared his political testament which he would leave behind. “You may like to know what is in it. You are in it.”

Battle yesterday still uncertain. Very hard fighting round Alamein. Late last night our most secret sources said that Rommel was talking of making “one more attempt” to take the place today. That is encouraging.’

28 July 1945
‘I had just gone home last night when Bob Dixon rang up to say would I come back to F.O. at 9 as Mr. Bevin (who had been appointed F.S.) wanted to be given an idea of the Potsdam Conference before starting off the next morning.

We all met at 9 in the empty and gloomy office. Mr. B. very genial and friendly. I congratulated him. He said “commiserate rather”. He had only known at 4.45 that he was to be F.S. - up till then he had thought he was to be Chancellor of the Exchequer which he would have rather liked. “However, I didn’t mind taking this”. The election itself had been the surprise of his life. He was so sure the Tories were in that he had taken a little cottage in Cornwall for the holidays.’

We went over the doings of the Conference. I asked him whether he and Mr. Attlee proposed to carry it on. He said he hadn’t had a talk with A. yet but believed the idea was that the latter would return on Sunday but that he himself should stay on. He was ready to do so and to stay as long as the Soviets and U.S. wished. He thought it wouldn’t be at all desirable that we should propose an adjournment. He would leave that to the others.

Earlier in the day, A.E. had had a farewell tea-party in the Ambassador’s waiting room at the Office. He called me to his room later to say goodbye. Poor man, he had heard while at Potsdam of the discovery of the aeroplane in the jungle with the bodies of his son and the crew. But otherwise he seemed well and not much concerned at the Government’s defeat. He was worried about Winston, and wished he could get him away and out of the House. He would like now to be Leader of Opposition himself and mould the Party as he wants it. But he fears Winston will stay on and get everything wrong. I begged him to give himself a rest, saying that for him personally it couldn’t have been better. He could never have stood another Government as No. 2 to Winston and as Leader of the House plus the F.O. Now he could make a complete recovery. He was worried about the Garter which Winston had offered to recommend him for. He was reluctant to accept it. He thought it would rather diminish him in the public eye.’

7 August 1945
‘The atomic bomb was used yesterday for the first time on the Japs. I must say I feel shocked and ashamed. Nobody knows what the effects of it, indirect or direct, will be on the area. I don’t think posterity will think it was a very creditable action.

I’ve seen no more of Mr. Bevin, but those who were at Potsdam were extremely pleased with his performance there. He says he wants to improve Anglo French relations, thank goodness!

I’m afraid Winston and A.E. had latterly become quite exhausted. They could no longer look at the problems properly or read the papers about them. It had become mere improvisation. Bevin, we hope, will really devote his mind to foreign policy, read the papers, and not divide up his time with other duties.’

Saturday, November 18, 2023

What poems people are

‘I felt more powerfully than ever today what poems people are; not the part of them that speaks, but the mysterious, intricate network of thoughts and feelings which remain unexpressed.’ This is from an early diary of Ruth Crawford Seeger, American composer and folk music specialist, who died 70 years ago today. Her diaries, though not published, have underpinned at least two biographies.

Crawford was born in East Liverpool, Ohio, the second child of a Methodist minister. The family moved several times during her childhood, settling in 1912, in Jacksonville, Florida. Her father died of TB, and her mother then opened a boarding house to help make ends meet. Having shown promise in poetry and music from an early age, she started, in 1913, taking piano lessons with Bertha Foster (founder of the local School of Musical Art). Further studies followed with Madame Valborg Collett. After leaving high school in 1918, she began to pursue a career as a concert pianist, sometimes performing at musical events. She also began teaching at Foster’s school and began composing for her pupils. In 1921, she moved to Chicago, and enrolled at the American Conservatory of Music.

In Chicago, Crawford studied piano with Heniot Levy and composition/theory with Adolf Weidig; she also wrote several early works. After receiving her degree in 1924, she enrolled in the master’s degree programme. That year, she took up private piano lessons with Djane Lavoie-Herz, a teacher who introduced her to the ideas of theosophy, the music of Alexander Scriabin, and to a wider world of artists and thinkers. She moved to New York where she studied composition, and where she worked as a piano teacher for the children of poet Carl Sandburg. Through Sandburg, she became interested in American folksongs, contributing arrangements to his 1927 book The American Songbag. In 1929 she began study with Charles Seeger. The two married in 1932 with Ruth assuming responsibility for Charles’ children by a previous marriage, including Pete, soon to become America’s best known folksinger (see They mix it up almost as I do). With Charles, she had two children, Peggy and Mike, both of whom also became renowned folksingers and teachers.

In 1936, the Seegers moved to Washington, D.C. to collect folk songs for the Library of Congress. Ruth acted as transcriber for the book Our Singing Country and, with Charles Seeger, Folk Song USA, both authored by John and Alan Lomax. Subsequently, she published her own pioneering collection, American Folk Songs for Children, in 1948. This and other Crawford Seeger books of the kind came to be regarded as key texts in primary music education. Having composed little since 1934, she returned to serious composition with the Suite for Wind Quintet in 1952. By the time it was complete, she learned she had cancer. She died on 18 November 1953 aged only 52. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Peggy Seeger’s website, The New York Times, Encyclopaedia Britannica, or the Los Angeles Public Library.

Seeger kept a diary from the age of 13 though only portions are extant. Those from her late teens cover daily activities, some philosophical musings and self-analysis. Later entries (1927-1929) ruminate on her first serious love affair, her decision nonetheless to pursue a career in New York, and the beginning of her long friendship with Marion Bauer. Her diaries have not been published as far as I can tell, but at least two biographies mention them often. Ruth Crawford Seeger: memoirs, memories, music by Matilda Gaume (Scarecrow Press, 1986) is freely available at Internet Archive (log-in required). This provides a number of direct quotes from the diaries, and, where not clear in the narrative, their dates are given in the extensive notes at the back of the book. Here are several examples.

6 January 1918
‘What is the soul? When it leaves the body we do not see it. And where is God? Everywhere? But what is he? Why can’t I know all these things? Because thou shouldst then know as much as God. Yes, true. But how -how I want to know it all.’ 

28 October 1927
‘I felt more powerfully than ever today what poems people are; not the part of them that speaks, but the mysterious, intricate network of thoughts and feelings which remain unexpressed.’

16 August 1929
‘Marion Bauer - she has freed me - I am writing again. She asks me to lunch on Tuesday; after lunch she plays some of her preludes . . . One thing I learned from this beautiful afternoon with Marion Bauer was that I had been forgetting that craftsmanship was also art. I have not been composing and have felt tense, partly because I relied on inspiration only. I was not willing to work things out; I felt that inspiration, emotion within, but when it started to come out, my attitude was so negative that the poor thought crept back into darkness from fear. Discipline. We talked on discipline a few nights ago - necessary - ear-training - hearing away from the piano. Lie on your couch and hear and study Bach chorales. Make yourself hear; also improvise, not wildly, but making your self hear the next chord. Courage, Marion Bauer tells me - work. You have a great talent. You must go ahead. I do not mean that you must not marry, but you must not drop your work.’

17 February 1930
‘Only God and my creditors know how poor I am. I wish my creditors were like God. He takes his pay too, but he does it gradually, and you don't realize it until the peanut bag is empty. Then he blows into it and claps it between his two hands, and throws away a bag that isn’t any good any more because it has a hole in it. All the time he is putting peanuts into new bags, and taking them out of old bags, and there is a regular stock exchange of peanuts. But he isn’t the kind of creditor who sends you a bill.’

More recently, Judith Tick in her biography, Ruth Crawford Seeger: A Composer’s Search for American Music, (Oxford University Press, 1997), also available to borrow at Internet Archive, does not include so many complete quotes, but she does weave short excerpts into her narrative, for example, as follows:

Page 22
‘Ruth Crawford found her way to composition through the routine of playing through music for her small pupils. A few notations in her diary outline the steps. On December 18, 1918, Ruth “looked over more music [for teaching] and improvised some.” January 3, 1919: “Have made up another piano piece - the 2nd one,” she wrote, adding, “Love to do it!” She showed her compositions to a Mr. Pierce, who perceived talent and decided to teach her some theory. He gave her what she later belittled as “four dry lessons from Chadwicks harmony book”; but on January 17, she wrote in her diary that she was “crazy about harmony.” Two piano pieces, Whirligig and The Elf Dance, date from this period. The Elf Dance was pronounced “real cunning” by Mrs. Doe, a teacher at the School of Musical Art, and a “cute thing” by Madame Collett.’

Page 57
‘Sandburg, moreover, stood on the shoulders of writers whom she perhaps loved even more: Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman. Crawford opened her 1927 diary with a quotation from Walden Pond, underlining Thoreau’s admonition to “probe the universe in a myriad points.” She alluded to Whitman frequently. One diary entry recounts a telling incident at Djane Herz’s studio: “I pick up Leaves of Grass and find a good many of the first verses of Song of Myself underlined. I feel at home.” Whitman’s cosmic metaphysics inspired her. “His constant reiteration of the oneness of himself with all other creatures - a sense of bigness” was an article of faith in her aesthetic theology.’

Page 60
Despite her success, 1926 was a difficult year. One diary entry refers to 1926 as a “nightmare,” with a darker reference to one “bitter, irritable day” in which “more sensitive morbid people become suicides. My wretchedness comes from the returning to my eyes of last year’s pulling, wracking strain, which makes practice and composing hard.” Little else is known about this crisis of nerves and health, or about an operation that Ruth had in the fall of 1925 to alleviate these symptoms. They abated but did not disappear entirely, and could trigger what Crawford described as spells of “depression.” ’

Page 90
‘Clara Crawford slipped into a coma a few days before her death on August 14. In the last diary entry Ruth’s own sense of loss finally tempered her journalistic fever, as she began to grieve. “I find myself often thinking of something I want to tell or ask Mother. Can it be that I shall never be able to talk to her again? It seems incredible. How little I realized how close she was to me, and what a child I still was, and how very much her interest and love and thoughts for my music were woven into my life! I feel stifled to think she will never again be there to hear and sympathize; I look forward through the years, and feel tragically alone. I begin to wonder how I can live. And to think that I had been feeling during the past year or two a desire to live alone, never dreaming how painfully soon Fate would answer my misplaced and erroneous desire. . .  How pitifully small was my realization of my love and need for Mother. . . I sit here by her bedside and though she breathes and I feel comfort just in holding her hand on my knee, yet my heart aches and I feel like one in prison, for I can tell her nothing, and if I could, she could not answer.” ’

Thursday, November 16, 2023

The Prospect of Constantinople

‘The Prospect of Constantinople, when ye behold it from the top of the Channel, at the distance of two Miles, is beyond compare, as being to my Eyes, as to all that ever saw it, the most Charming Prospect that can be seen.’ This is from the published travel memoir/diary by Jean (or John) Chardin, born all of 380 years ago today. He was an obsessive traveller, revelling in the culture and riches of the Near East, particularly Persia, and his works are considered valuable information sources about the region and period. John Evelyn, in his diary, described him thus: ‘A very handsome person, extremely affable, a modest, well-bred man, not inclined to talk wonders. He spoke Latin, and understood Greek, Arabic, and Persian, from eleven years’ travels in those parts, whither he went in search of jewels, and was become very rich.’

Chardin was born in Paris on 16 November 1643, the son of a wealthy merchant jeweller. He joined his father in business, and in 1664 he was sent overland, with another merchant from Lyon, on a trading mission to the East Indies. In Persia, he won the confidence of the Shah, Abbas II, who appointed him as a royal merchant and also commissioned jewellery of his own design. After travelling to India, he returned to Paris in 1670. The following year, he again set out for Persia, traveling through Turkey, Crimea, and the Caucasus, not reaching Isfahan for nearly two years. He remained in Persia for four years, revisited India, and returned to France (in 1677) via the Cape of Good Hope.

Fleeing French persecution of the Huguenots in 1681, Chardin settled in London, where he became court jeweler and was knighted by King Charles II. That same year, he married Esther, daughter of M. de Lardinière Peigné, councillor in the Parliament of Rouen, then also a Protestant refugee in London. Chardin was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. And in 1684, the king sent him as envoy to Holland, where he stayed some years, operating as agent to the East India Company. He died in 1713, and a funeral monument was raised to his memory in Westminster Abbey, bearing the inscription Sir John Chardin – nomen sibi fecit eundo (‘he made a name for himself by travelling’). Further information is available from Wikipedia and Encyclopaedia Iranica.

Chardin kept diaries of his journey, and wrote detailed travelogues - these works are considered highly valuable first hand sources, covering the Safavid period in Persia, and specifically the coronation of the Persian sultan Suleiman III. He published a first volume in 1686, under the title, Journal du voyage du chevalier Chardin en Perse et aux Indes orientales: par la mer Noire et par la Colchide. This is freely available at Internet Archive. Chardin planned three further volumes, also to include some diaries, but these never appeared as envisaged. Thenceforward, the history of Chardin’s written works - republished, reissued and translated in many versions - is both complex and confusing - see Encyclopaedia Iranica for details. Although there is many a reference to his diaries and journals, the narratives in the published books rarely look like verbatim diary extracts.

The following extracts - which are taken from a modernised text of the original 1686 volume: The Travels Sir John Chardin into Persia, Through the Black-Sea, and the Country of Colchis - can be found at the Early English Books Online website, hosted by The University of Michigan Library

‘I Departed from Paris, with an Intention to return to the East-Indies, the Seventeenth of August 1671, just Fifteen Months after I came from thence. I undertook this tedious Journey a second time, as well to perfect my self in the Knowledge of the Languages, the Customs, the Religions, the Trades and Sciences, the Commerce and History of the Oriental People as to endeavour the Advancement of my Fortunes and Estate.

[. . .]

The 10th of November we Embark’d in a Vessel under a Holland Convoy, bound for Smyrna. This Fleet was compos’d of six Merchant Men, and two Men of War. The whole Cargo amounted to three Millions of Livers, besides what the Passengers, Mariners, and Captains themselves kept close and undiscover’d, to prevent the Payment of Freight, Custom, and the Consuls Dues. We touch’d at Messina, Zant, and several other Islands of the Archipelago. Near the Island of Micona we had a considerable Dispute with a Corsair of Legorn, about one of his Men who had made his escape aboard us, by swimming a Mile. Upon demand of him, the Corsair sent us word, He would Fight us, if we did not restore him his Seaman; and for our parts we did not think it worth our while to protect him.

[. . .]

I arriv’d at Smyrna the seventh of March 1672, after being four Months at Sea. In which tedious Voyage we endur’d much Cold, and many a boystrous Storm. We were in want of Victuals; nor could we have made this Voyage with more Danger or more Hardship.

I shall not trouble my self to make any Description of Smyrna, where I found nothing worthy Remark, or in any other part of the Archipelago, more than what is to be found in the Relations of Spon, and other Travellers, Men of Learning and Exactness, who have been there since my time. I shall therefore content my self with recounting some Particulars relating to Commerce and History, of which they have not spoken.

The English drive a great Trade at Smyrna, and over all the Levant. This Trade is driv’n by a Royal Company setled at London; which is Govern’d after a most prudent manner, and therefore cannot fail of success. It has stood almost these hundred Years, being first Confirm’d towards the middle of Queen Elizabeth’s Raign. A Raign famous for having, among other Things, giv’n Life to several Trading Companies, particularly those of Hamborough, Russia, Greenland, the East-Indies and Turkie, all which remain to this Day.’

[. . .]

After I had staid twelve days at Smyrna, I embark’d for Constantinople, where I arriv’d the Ninth of March, and Landed without any trouble, any danger, or any expence a very great Quantity of Rich Goods, which I brought along with me, being more then two Horses could carry. For M. de Nointel did me that favour as to give me leave to put his Name and the Flowre de Lices upon my Chests, and then sent for ‘em as belonging to himself. Which was done with the greatest ease in the World. For he presently sent his Interpreter to the Officer of the Custom-House, to let him know that he had two Chests aboard a Flemish Vessel that arriv’d the day before, which belong’d to him; and therefore desir’d they might be deliver’d Custom-free. Accordingly the Officer gave such Order, that the Interpreter went aboard the Dutch Vessel, unladed the two Chests, and sent ‘em to the Ambassador's House, who did me Kindnesses to send ‘em to my Lodging the next day.’


‘The 19th of July the Greek Merchant who was to Conduct me to Mingrelia, came to give me notice that the Saic lay at an Anchor near the Mouth of the Black-Sea, and only expected a fair Wind. So that I would presently have gone aboard, but my Friends did not think it convenient, till the Vessel was ready to Sail, for fear I should be discover’d for a French-Man. Thereupon I staid three days with Signor Sinibaldi Fieschi, Resident of Genoa, at a Country-House which he had upon the Bosphorus, and four days more at a fair Monastery of the Greeks, at the end of the Channel upon Europe side, over against the Harbour where the Saic lay at Anchor.

The Thracian Bosphorus is certainly one of the Loveliest parts of the World. The Greeks call Bosphori, those Streights or Arms of the Sea which an Ox may be able to swim over. This Channel is about Fifteen Miles in length, and about Two in breadth, in most parts, but in others less. The Shores consist of Rising Grounds cover’d over with Houses of Pleasure, Wood, Gardens, Parks, Delightful Prospects, Lovely Wildernesses Water’d with Thousands of Springs and Fountains.

The Prospect of Constantinople, when ye behold it from the top of the Channel, at the distance of two Miles, is beyond compare, as being to my Eyes, as to all that ever saw it, the most Charming Prospect that can be seen. The Passage through the Bosphorus is the most lovely and fullest of Divertisement that can be made by Water: And the number of Barks that Sail to and fro in fair Weather is very great. The Resident of Genoa told me, He made it his Pastime to tell the Boats that Sail’d to and fro before his House from Noon to Sun-set, in what time he told no less then Thirteen Hunderd.

There are Four Castles that stand upon the Bosphorus well Fortifi’d with great Guns: Two, Eight Miles from the Black-Sea, and Two more near the Mouth of the Channel. The Two latter were built not above Forty Years ago, to prevent the Cossacks, Muscovite and Polanders from entring into the Mouth of the Channel; who before made frequent Inroads into it with their Barks, almost within sight of Constantinople.’


‘The 14. we travell’d five leagues, through a Country full of little Hills, following the same course as the days before, that it is to the North-West, leaving that spacious Plain upon the left hand, which has been the Stage of so many Bloody Battels, fought in the last ages; and in the beginning of this between the Persians and Turks. The people of the Country shew you a great heap of Stones, & affirm it to be the Place where that Battel began, between Selim the Son of Solymon the Great, and Ismahel the Great. Our days Journey ended at Alacou. The Persians assert that this place was so call’d Alacou, by that famous Tartar Prince who conquer’d a great Part of Asia, and there founded a City, ruin’d during the Wars between the Turks and Persians.

The 15. our Journey was not so long as the day before, but the way through which we travell’d was more smooth and easie. We lodg’d at Marant; which is a good fair Town, consisting of about two thousand five hundred houses, and which has so many Gardens, that they take up as much ground as the Houses. It is seated at the bottom of a little Hill, at the end of a Plain, which is a league broad and five long: and which is one of the most lovely and fairest that may be seen; a little River call’d Zelou-lou running through the middle of it: from which the people of the Country cut several Trenches to water their Grounds and their Gardens. Marant is better peopl’d than Nacchivan, and a much fairer Town. There grows about it great plenty of Fruits, and the best in all Media. But that which is most peculiar to these Parts is this, that they gather Cocheneel in the Places adjoyning; though not in any great quantity, nor for any longer time then only eight days in the Summer, when the Sun is in Leo. Before that time the People of the Country assure us, that it does not come to Maturity; and after that time the Worm from whence they draw the Cocheneel, makes a hole in the lease upon which it grows, and is lost. The Persians call Cocheneel Quermis from Querm, which signifies a Worme, because it is extracted out of Worms.’


‘The 18. our Journey reach’d to Cashan, where we arriv’d, after we had travell’d seven Leagues, steering toward the South, over the Plain already mention’d: and at the end of two Leagues, we found the Soyl delightful and fertile, stor’d with large Villages. We pass’d through several, and about half the way left upon the left hand, at a near distance, a little City call’d Sarou, seated at the foot of a Mountain.

The City of Cashan is seated in a large Plain, near a high Mountain. It is a League in length, and a quarter of a League in breadth; extending it self in length from East to West. When you see it afar off, it resembles a half Moon, the Corners of which look toward both those Parts of the Heavens. The Draught is no true Representation, either of the Bigness or the Figure; as having been taken without a true Prospect. And the reason was the Indisposition of my Painter, who being extremely tir’d with the former days Travel, was not able to stir out of the Inn, where we lay. All that he could do was to get upon the Terrass, and take the Draught from thence.

There is no River that runs by the City, only several Canals convey’d under Ground, with many deep Springs and Cisterns as there are at Com. It is encompass'd with a double Wall, flank’d with round Towers, after the Ancient Fashion; to which there belong five Gates. One to the East, call’d the Royal Gate; as being near the Royal Palace, that stands without the Walls. Another call’d the Gate of Fieu; because it leads directly to a great Village, which bears that name. Another between the West and North, call’d the Gate of the House of Melic; as being near to a Garden of Pleasure, which was planted by a Lord of that Name. The two other Gates are opposite to the South-East, and North-East. The one call’d Com Gate, and the other Ispahan Gate; be cause they lead to those Cities. The City and the Suburbs, which are more beautiful then the City, contain six thousand five hundred Houses, as the People assure us; forty Mosques, three Colleges, and about two hundred Sepulchres of the Descendants of Aly. The Principal Mosque stands right against the great Market Place, having one Tower, that serves for a Steeple, built of Free Stone. Both the Mosque and the Tower are the Remainders of the Splendour of the first Mahumetans, who invaded Persia.


It is worth noting that although I have not been able to find any extracts from Chardin’s actual diaries, he does appear a few times in the pages of John Evelyn’s diary. Here’s Evelyn’s most substantial passage about Chardin.

30 August 1680
‘I went to visit a French gentleman, one Monsieur Chardin, who having been thrice in the East Indies, Persia, and other remote countries, came hither in our return ships from those parts, and it being reported that he was a very curious and knowing man, I was desired by the Royal Society to salute him in their name, and to invite him to honor them with his company. Sir Joseph Hoskins and Sir Christopher Wren accompanied me. We found him at his lodgings in his eastern habit, a very handsome person, extremely affable, a modest, well-bred man, not inclined to talk wonders. He spoke Latin, and understood Greek, Arabic, and Persian, from eleven years’ travels in those parts, whither he went in search of jewels, and was become very rich. He seemed about 36 years of age. After the usual civilities, we asked some account of the extraordinary things he must have seen in traveling over land to those places where few, if any, northern Europeans, used to go, as the Black and Caspian Sea, Mingrelia Bagdad, Nineveh, Persepolis, etc. He told us that the things most worthy of our sight would be, the draughts he had caused to be made of some noble ruins, etc.; for that, besides his own little talent that way, he had carried two good painters with him, to draw landscapes, measure and design the remains of the palace which Alexander burned in his frolic at Persepolis, with divers temples, columns, relievos, and statues, yet extant, which he affirmed to be sculpture far exceeding anything he had observed either at Rome, in Greece, or in any other part of the world where magnificence was in estimation. He said there was an inscription in letters not intelligible, though entire. He was sorry he could not gratify the curiosity of the Society at present, his things not being yet out of the ship; but would wait on them with them on his return from Paris, whither he was going the next day, but with intention to return suddenly, and stay longer here, the persecution in France not suffering Protestants, and he was one, to be quiet. 

He told us that Nineveh was a vast city, now all buried in her ruins, the inhabitants building on the subterranean vaults, which were, as appeared, the first stories of the old city, that there were frequently found huge vases of fine earth, columns, and other antiquities; that the straw which the Egyptians required of the Israelites, was not to bum or cover the rows of bricks as we use, but being chopped small to mingle with the clay, which being dried in the sun (for they bake not in the furnace) would else cleave asunder; that in Persia are yet a race of Ignicolac, who worship the sun and the fire as Gods; that the women of Georgia and Mingrelia were universally, and without any compare, the most beautiful creatures for shape, features, and figure, in the world, and therefore the Grand Seignor and Bashaws had had from thence most of their wives and concubines; that there had within these hundred years been Amazons among them, that is to say, a sort or race of valiant women, given to war; that Persia was extremely fertile; he spoke also of Japan and China, and of the many great errors of our late geographers, as we suggested matter for discourse. We then took our leave, failing of seeing his papers; but it was told us by others that indeed he dared not open, or show them, till he had first showed them to the French King; but of this he himself said nothing.’

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Baekeland makes Bakalite

‘I consider this days very successful work which has put me on the knot of several new and interesting products which may have a wide application as plastics and varnishes. Have applied for a patent for a substance which I shall call Bakalite.’ This is Leo Baekeland, born 160 years ago today and sometimes referred to as ‘The Father of the Plastics Industry’, writing in his diary on the very day he named the first synthetic plastic - a substance which would soon be known as Bakelite and take over the world. 

Baekeland, the son of a cobbler, was born in Ghent, Belgium, on 14 November 1863. He studied at Ghent Municipal Technical School and the University of Ghent, receiving a doctorate in chemistry aged only 21. He taught in Bruges and then back at the university until 1889. He married Céline Swarts that same year, and they would have two children. Together they emigrated to the US. There he worked for a photographic firm before launching his own company to manufacture Velox - his own invention, a photographic paper that could be developed under artificial light (indeed it was the first commercially successful photographic paper). In 1899, he and his partner, Leonard Jacobi, sold their Velox venture (Nepera Chemical Company) to the inventor George Eastman for $1m. With some of the money he purchased a house in Yonkers, New York, where heset up his own research lab.

Having signed a non-compete clause with Eastman, prohibiting him from photography research, Baekeland journeyed to Germany for a refresher course in electrochemistry. On returning to New York he was in demand as a consultant becoming involved in various successful ventures. But, in 1905, he began searching for a synthetic substitute for shellac (a natural secretion from a bug which had many uses), a search which led him to the discovery of Bakelite, a thermosetting plastic (produced from formaldehyde and phenol at high temperature and pressure). It was the first plastic invented that retained its shape after being heated, and it also held excellent electrical insulation properties. A process patent was awarded in 1909.

In time, his invention led Baekeland - dubbed The Father of the Plastics Industry - to receiving many honours. He served as president of the American Chemical Society in 1924. At the time of his death, in 1944, Bakelite was being used in over 15,000 different products, and world production was totalling around 175,000 tons. By then, too, Baekeland held more than 100 patents. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, and the National Academy of Sciences

Baekeland kept detailed diaries all his life, 62 of them, from 1907 to 1934, are held by Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History Archives. Before they were given to the Smithsonian, Céline Karraker, a granddaughter of Baekeland, read the diaries taking meticulous notes and intending to write a biography of her grandfather. They were also read by Carl Kaufmann, husband of Céline Karraker’s step sister, Ruth Wyman, who used the diaries to flesh out his master’s thesis, published as Grand Duke, Wizard and Bohemian: A Biographical Profile of Leo H. Baekeland.

More recently, however, the diaries have been digitalised and transcribed by Smithsonian Digital Volunteers, and are freely available online. A pdf of volume 1, for example, can be found here, with this intro: ‘The diary entries discuss his experiments during the time period in which he filed process patents for Bakelite. This diary [. . .] details Leo H. Baekeland’s daily activities. He writes often of his visits and discussions, as well as the subjects of correspondence he has written and received. Furthermore, Baekeland’s diary sheds light on the use and distance of travel by automobile in the early twentieth century. In the notes, Baekeland explains increasing time spent in the laboratory at the end of 1907 into 1908. The diary spans the spring months through the winter.’ Here are a few extracts, including the first mention of Bakalite. (Baekeland continued to use the term ’Bakalite’ in his diary for some time but he first started also using the term ‘Bakelite’ in November 1907.)

18-21 June 1907
‘Spent all days in my laboratory and found many interesting things. An exceedingly active period which allowed me to learn many mysterious reactions with which Thurlow has been struggling unsuccessfully since over a year. See laboratory notes marks CLS and BKL.

I consider this days very successful work which has put me on the knot of several new and interesting products which may have a wide application as plastics and varnishes. Have applied for a patent for a substance which I shall call Bakalite. Have found also a very practical solution for improving Novolak and make it practical as a varnish. All this work has been carried out while Thurlow was in Detroit showing to Berry Brothers how to deodorize Novolak. I am sure he will be surprised to hear about all what I have accomplished in so short a time.’

3 April 1907
‘I spent the morning at Westchester Hat Co. Yonkers and made an experiment so as to determine whether I could felt asbestos fibre in one of the hat machines so as to produce a cheaper diaphragm than the asbestos cloth diaphragm we are using now at Niagara Falls. The experiment was thoroughly satisfactory. In a very few seconds the whole operation was finished. I used asbestos fibre No.1 of the Johns Mandeville Asbestos Co. I intend to have the experiment repeated directly on flat cathode plates in such a way that they are placed above an opening on a flat table with suction below and a distributer of fibre above. It occurs to me that in order to utilize shorter fibre, we might stretch cheesecloth either free or over the cathode plate and thus produce an initial support for the asbestos fibre. Wetting and pressing the surface favors felting. I shall try wetting with gummy solutions or perhaps silicate of soda. We might also apply the iron paint we are using now at Niagara Falls so as to bind everything together. It occurs to me that in order to counteract the difference in hydrostatic pressure at the diaphragm in the cells we might make the lower part of the diaphragm thicker than the upper part. I have given instructions to Mr. Rowland and Marsh to carry out some further experiments on the subject. Afterwards I intend to apply for a patent.

In the afternoon went to the office of D. & F. Co. and wrote some letters.’

13 July 1907
‘A very active day which I spent in my laboratory on further research work on Bakalite. Thurlow worked on acetone formaldehyde and acetone - phenol products. See laboratory notes’

14 July 1907
‘Sunday. Started very early in my laboratory. Obtained  the first large sample of Bakalite in a bottle. The subject looks very encouraging. I believe I have an excellent thing. and it would be a great disappointment if my patent application had been preceeded by an earlier invention of somebody else.’

15 July 1907
‘Got a telegram from Townsend that Bakalite patent has been filed at Patent Office last Saturday.’

16 July 1907
‘Hard at work in laboratory.’

17 July 1907
‘Another busy day in laboratory further research work in relation to Bakalite.’

18 July 1907
‘Another hot sultry day. But I do not mind it and thoroughly appreciate the luxury of being allowed to stay home in shirt sleeves and without a collar. How about these Slave millionaires in wall street who have to go to their money making pursuit notwithstanding the sweltering heat. All day spent in laboratory - Bakalite’

25 October 1907
‘Went to N.Y. with Mr. Oppenheimer in his Limousine. Met Prof Ira Woolson at Columbia and asked him to test Bakalized Wood for me. He seemed much interested in my subject when I showed him Bakalite and told him the wood was impregnated with it. He gave me some black gum to try the process on it.

Spent remainder of morning in Prof. Tuckers laboratory testing conductivity of Graphite-Bakalite. He too seemed much interested when I showed him my samples.

Went to Wall Street where I was astonished to see mounted police men and rather dense crowds. Run on the Trust Co of America in front of office of Development & Funding Co. Good metered patient crowd line extending overlay the block until beyond custom house. Probably mostly small depositors judging from looks and appearance. Great uneasiness everywhere on account of financial condition.

Received two first copies of my book which has appeared yesterday. Consulted with Marsh & Lansing three hours, (chge 1/2 day)

Hook, Marsh & myself went to Delmonicos for lunch. Wilcox secretary of Public Utilities commission came to our table. General talk everywhere. The unsatisfactory financial condition. Asked my payment of my last bill to Hooker but he asked that I should wait and be satisfied with half of it.

Evening went to Toch’s where took supper he told me all his cash was tied up at Knickerbocker Trust Co which had suspended payments. He was rather more depressed than he ever appeared to me. Lewis fetched me at Chemists club with motor car . Took Bogurt and Toch home and we arrived here about midnight.’

23 November 1907
‘Spent all day writing letters wrote one to Quigley of Armstrong Cork Co telling him how cork Bakelite could be made in a continuous process by feeding continuously hot granulated cork with Bakelite then compressing and let the hot mass harden by itself.

All afternoon was utilized for laboratory and making a condensed report on the result of my wood impregnation tests.

Evening Mandel & wife came to eat mussels. After supper Branchi & wife joined. Showed Mandel in my lab alone my products and told him how Bakalite was made.’

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Flying into an abyss

Ivan Bunin, the first Russian writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, died 70 years ago today. Though admired for his short stories and poems, it was his diaries, written in the aftermath of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and published in the 1920s, that brought him fame among his compatriot emigrés in France as well as wider attention within European literary circles. It was not until the 1990s that parts of his diaries began appearing in English versions.

Bunin was born in 1870 into an old, noble family with a literary heritage, in the province of Voronezh, Central Russia. Having been tutored at home, he was sent to a public school in Yelets in 1881, but left in 1886 due to financial difficulties caused by his father’s gambling. The following year, he published his first poem in a literary magazine. He followed his brother to Kharkov, where he worked for a local paper, and then moved further south to Oryol where he became editor of a local newspaper, enabling him to publish his own stories, poems and reviews.

His first book - Poems 1887-1991 - appeared in 1891, and thereafter he managed to place some of his writing in St Petersburg magazines. In 1892, he moved, with his lover Varvara Paschenko, to Poltava settling in the home of his brother, Yuly. From there he travelled all over Ukraine, and, in 1895, visited St Petersburg for the first time. Thereafter, dividing his time between Moscow and the Russian capital, he made friends with Chekhov and Gorky, and was much inspired by Tolstoy.

Bunin married Anna Tsakni in 1898, but left her two years later. By the end of 1906, he had fallen in love with Vera Muromtseva, and the two then lived together, travelled in the Middle East, and married in 1922. Bunin, meanwhile, was making his literary name with short story collections, such as Bird’s Shadow, as well as translations - one of Longfellow’s Hiawatha earned him a Pushkin Prize from the Russian Academy. Another Prize, and membership of the Academy followed in 1909. He also translated D. H. Lawrence, Byron and Leonard Woolf.

In 1910 Bunin published his first short novel, The Village, which gave a bleak portrayal of Russian country life, caused controversy, and brought him fame. Its harsh realism, Wikipedia’s bio notes, prompted Maxim Gorky to call him ‘the best Russian writer of the day’. After winters in 1912-1914 with Gorky on the Italian resort island of Capri, he wrote what has become his most famous short story, The Gentleman from San Francisco. Bunin did not greet the 1917 October Revolution with enthusiasm. He left Moscow first for Odessa, and then, in 1920, to settle in France, where he had another grand affair, with the poetess Galina Kuznetsova, 30 years his junior, though they were both married.

In France, Bunin was hailed as one of the most important living Russian writers, and soon became the figurehead for a generation of expatriates. In 1933, he was the first Russian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, ‘for following through and developing with chastity and artfulness the traditions of Russian classic prose’. Russipedia says, though, that ‘everyone knew the real reason behind his winning the prize was the publishing of The Accursed Days, which voiced his aristocratic aversion to the harsh realties of the Soviet state’. In 1934-1936, Petropolis published, to Bunin’s approval, his complete works in 11 volumes.

Although friends arranged for the Bunins to move to the US during the Second World War, they chose to stay in their isolated house in Grasse, often with other long-term residents, and sometimes sheltering fugitives from the Nazi regime, which Bunin hated. The Bunins returned to Paris in 1945, and from around 1948 Bunin focused his creative time on writing memoirs and a book about Chekhov which he never finished; but he was often disillusioned and bitter. He died on 8 November 1953. Further biographical information is available from Russiapedia or Wikipedia.

Bunin kept a diary for most of his life. Parts of it - 1918-1920 - first appeared in print in the mid-1920s when Bunin published them in a Paris-based Vozrozhdenye newspaper under the title The Accursed Days (later put in book form by Petropolis). It was not until 1998 that this was translated by Thomas Gaiton Marullo and published in English, by Rowman & Littlefield, as Cursed Days: Diary of a Revolution. Much of it can be freely read online at Googlebooks.

Substantial extracts from Bunin’s diaries have also appeared in translation by Marullo (published by Ivan R. Dee, an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield) in three biographical volumes all subtitled A Portrait from Letters, Diaries, and Fiction: Russian Requiem, 1885-1920 (1993); From the Other Shore, 1920-1933 (1995); The Twilight of Emigre Russia, 1934-1953 (2002). 

Of the first volume, Rowman & Littlefield says: ‘Mr. Marullo gives us a compelling picture of a writer searching for himself amidst a society experiencing momentous change. Bunin alternated between periods of despair and joy throughout most of his life. He stood for traditional Russian values in a time of complete upheaval - in the “dark night” between the twilight of imperial Russia and the dawn of the new Soviet state - and he despised the revolutionaries who sought to overturn the ways he cherished. His life and art come alive in this immensely successful book.’

Of the second volume, it says: ‘Mr. Marullo gives us a vivid picture of a man suddenly and agonizingly without a country. Bunin’s life and art, which depended so heavily on traditional Russian values, seemed to be overthrown in a moment, and the writer found himself marooned amidst Western culture, clinging to his old ideals. Through his writings we are also provided a window on the lively but despairing and often fractious community of Russian emigrés in Paris in the twenties, which included Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff Chafiapin, Prokofiev, Chagall, Kandinsky, Pavlova, Diaghilev, and Zamyatin.’

Here are several extracts from Bunin’s diary as translated by Marullo for Cursed Days.

18 February 1918
‘Beginning February 1st we have been ordered to observe new style. So according to the Soviets, it is now February 18th.

Yesterday there was a meeting “Wednesday [a literary group]. Many of the “young people” were there. Mayakovsky behaved rather decently most of the time, though he kept acting like a lout, strutting about and shooting off his mouth. He was wearing a shirt without a tie. The collar of his jacket was raised up for some reason, just like those poorly shaven people who live in wretched hotel rooms and use public latrines in the mornings.’

19 February 1918
‘The newspapers report that the Germans have begun their attack. Everyone says: “Oh, if it were only so!”

We took a walk to Lubyanka. There were “meetings” everywhere. A red-haired fellow talked on and on about the injustices of the old regime. He was wearing a coat with a round, dark-brown collar. His face was freshly powdered and shaven; he had red curly eyebrows and gold fillings in his mouth. A snub-nosed gentleman with bulging eyes kept objecting hotly to what the red-haired fellow was saying. Women were fervidly adding their two cents’ worth, but always at the wrong time. They kept breaking into the argument (one that was based on “principle,” so the red-haired fellow said) with details and hurried stories from their own lives, by which they felt compelled to prove God-knows-what. Several soldiers were also there. They acted as though they understood nothing; but, as always, they had their doubts about something (or more accurately, everything) and kept shaking their heads suspiciously. [. . .]

A lady complained hurriedly that now she didn’t have a piece of bread to her name, even though once she had had a school. She had had to let all her students go because she had nothing to feed them. “Whose life has gotten better with the Bolsheviks?” she asked. “Everyone’s worse off and we, the people, most of all!”

A heavily made-up little bitch interrupted her, breaking in with naive remarks. She started to say that the Germans were about to arrive and that everyone would pay through the nose for what they had done.

“Before the Germans get here, we’ll kill you all,” a worker said coldly and took off. The soldiers nodded in agreement: “If that isn’t true!” they said, and they also left.’

21 February 1918
‘Andrei (my brother Yuly’s servant) is acting more and more insane. It is even horrifying to watch. He has served my brother for almost twenty years, and he has always been simple, kind, reasonable, polite, and devoted to us. Now he’s gone completely crazy. He still does his job carefully, but it is apparent that he’s forcing himself to do so. He cannot look at us and shies away from our conversations. His whole body inwardly shakes from anger; and when he can keep silent no longer, he lets loose with wild nonsense.

For instance, this morning, when we were visiting Yuly, N. N. said, as always, that everything has perished and that Russia was flying into an abyss. Andrei was setting the table for tea. He suddenly began waving his arms, his face aflame: “Yes, yes, Russia’s flying into an abyss, all right! But who’s to blame, who? The bourgeois, that’s who! Just you wait, you’ll see how they’ll be cut to pieces!” ’

5 March 1918
‘I went to Nikolaevsky Station. It was very sunny out, almost too much so, with a light frost. From the hill behind Myasnitsky Gates - I saw a blue-grey haze, clusters of homes, and the golden cupolas of churches. Ah, Moscow! Snow was melting on the square in front of the station. The entire place shone like gold, mirrorlike. I was taken by the massive, powerful sight of carts with boxes on them. Can it really be that all this power, this wealth is coming to an end? There were a great many peasants, soldiers in many kinds of old overcoats, wearing them any old way, and with various types of weapons - one had a saber at his side, another had a rifle, another had a huge revolver in his belt . . . These are now the masters of everything, the heirs of colossal heritage . . .’

Saturday, November 4, 2023

Some great calamitie

Today marks the 470th anniversary of the birth of Roger Wilbraham, a lawyer by training who held various high posts under Elizabeth I  and James 1, and who was very charitable towards his native town of Nantwich. His diary, not printed until the first years of the 20th century, is of interest for its description of current affairs - not least the gunpowder plot of 1605 (‘some great calamite’) - and for his personal opinions, such of those describing the colleges in Oxford.

Wilbraham was born in Nantwich, Cheshire, on 4 November 1553, the second of four sons of Richard Wilbraham and his first wife, Elizabeth. He was admitted to Gray’s Inn in London in 1576, and, in 1585, was appointed Solicitor-General for Ireland, a position he held for 14 years. Around the time of his return to England, he married Mary Baber de Tew of Somerset, and they had three daughters.

Wilbraham purchased the Dorfold estate in the parish of Acton near Nantwich in 1602, and was involved in the region’s salt-making industry. He soon, though, gave the estate to his youngest brother, Ralph, who built Dorfold Hall on the site of an earlier building. Though this is no longer home to Wilbrahams, another stately home nearby, Rode Hall, has been in the Wilbraham family since the mid-1600s.

In 1600, under Queen Elizabeth I, Wilbraham was appointed Master of Requests, a position he retained when James I became king in 1603. He also served as the King’s Surveyor of the Court of Wards and Liveries. In 1604, Wilbraham was elected a Member of Parliament for Callington; subsequently, he was knighted, and was returned to Parliament in 1614 as a knight of the shire for Cheshire. A year earlier he had founded Natwich’s first almshouses, for six poor men, subsequently known as Wilbraham’s Almshouses. He died in 1616. A little more information can be found at Wikipedia.

Wilbraham kept a journal - comprising of about 300 pages written in a close small hand - from 1593 to the end of his life. He described it as a ‘book of observations for my age or children’. This was first edited by Harold Spencer Scott and published in 1902, under the Royal Historical Society imprint, in the 10th volume of the so-called Camden Miscellany, as The Journal of Sir Roger Wilbraham, Solicitor-General in Ireland and Master of Requests for the years 1593-1616, together with notes in another hand for the years 1642-1649. The full text can be read online at Internet Archive
The following extracts cover the difficulties of ruling Ireland, descriptions of some Oxford colleges, the gunpowder plot, and the death of the writer’s father.

24 November 1599
‘Patrick Crosby that connyng pilot of Ireland that parlied with Desmond, father Archer, legate, Donogh McCragh, capten Terril, Mcdonogh, Knight of Kerry, &; used by the late president as a spy, brought this: 1 - that Ireland was lost &; saving townes and castels all at the rebels will: that no meanes but famyne to constraine them to loyalti: &; that must be by taking their cattall and hindering the seedes &; harvest and burning ther corne: that it now apereth Englishe soldiers are good onlie to garrizon &; to make incursions wher they may retorne to harbour with 40 howres: &; not able to make long marches nor to want ther lodginge &; good diett, &; that it will now troble England to send over 40,000 men which (being now unwilling to goe into Ireland) will not suffice to make recovery of Ireland.’

9 September 1603
‘I was at Oxford; wher lying at the Crosse Inne, the best in the citie, yet was ther two howses on either side adioyning infected with plague: sed deus nos protegat.

There was the Spanishe Ambassador lodged in Christchurch and the Archduke’s Ambassador lodged in Mawdelin Colledge: the attended ther audience at the king’s coming to Wodstock.

I surveyed the chiefest colledges: 1 Christchurch which was ment to have ben a famous monument, but never finished by the founder Cardinall Wolsey: it was ment to be a square of 8 score: three parts built, but the churche not builded: ther is the fairest hall with great church windoes, &; the largest kichin I ever sawe.

Mawdelins is the second chief colledge: a large uniform square, about 4 score yardes within & all clostered benethe: a hall with church windoes, &; chappell fairer then faire &; lardge churches: ther are walkes sufficient to environ a litle towne: for besides a close of x acres walled about for walkes &; severall divided walks with ash trees, they have manie orchards walled in, &; ech chamber to 2 Fellows have a peculiar orcharde.

They have walkes also made in the medowes wherin the river of Temmies, &; of Charwell do runne &; meete; invironed close walk of willow &; some elmes, to walk the distance of half a mile, in shadowes: this is the most compleet & fairest colledg & walks in England: (tho Trinitie Colledg square is much larger and fairer.)’

5 November 1605
‘The Lords &; Commons attended to expect the King’s coming the begynning of this parliament then to be held by prorogation: A week before, the Lord Mountegle imparted to the King & Council, a letter sent to his hands by one unknowen &; fled: wherein he was advised to be absent from the parliament, for that undoutedlie, some great calamitie wold happen soddainlie by unknowen accident, which wold be as soddaine as the fyring of the letter: wherupon the king after one serch about Parliament Howse grew so ielouse he caused a secrett watch, &; discovered one Johnson practizing about midnight to make a traine to fyre 34 barrels powder, hidden under billettz in a vault iust under the Upper Howse of Parliament, confessed by one Johnson servant to Thomas Percy, a pentioner, to have ben preparing 8 moneth to blow up the King, his Queen, children, nobles, bishops, iudges &; all the commons assembled, if it had not been so happelie discovered. So the parliament was proroged till this Saterdaie.’

[NB: Editor Harold Spencer Scott provides the following relevant footnotes: ‘The letter was not shown to the King until November 9’. ‘The first search was made by Suffolk as Lord Chamberlain on November 4, at about 3 o’clock’. ‘At 11 o’clock the same night was made the further search which resulted in the capture of Fawkes’.]

2 February 1613
‘Candlemas dat at night dyed Richard Wilbraham of Nantwich, Esq. my father, whose second sonne I was: his age at his death was 88 yeres &; 5 monthes: of a strong voice, perfect memorie, &; sound stomak to digest all grosse meates till his deathe: naturalllie wise &; politick: iust in all his dealings: verie liberal &; charitable to the pore: never stayned with any deceat or notorious cryme: his chief care for 20 yeres was to see his grand child [Thomas, son of Roger’s older brother Richard] &; heire maried &; setled to succeede him: but manie mocions & non succeded: his overeaching experience &; long age made him ielouse of his younger children and best freinds till the yere of his deathe: which seemed to be hastened by reason of a fall, werby tho not hurte yet made him languis in his bed 17 monthes &; so as a candle whose oyle was spent died without payn: god not giving him leave to see his heire maried, which was never the whole care of his lief; like Abraham who after his toile never lived tho to see, yet not to dwell in Canaan the land of promise: so as man’s wisdome or care will not prevaile to add one cubite to our stature.’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 4 November 2013.