Friday, April 26, 2024

My dear Lord Harvey’s body

‘Put my dear Lord Harvey’s body on board the Centurion. The great Cabin was hang’d and the floor cover’d with mourning; round about were fasten’d scutchions; the Steerage was hang’d likewise. My Lord’s body was taken of the Dogger into the Centurion’s long boat, there cover’d with a rich velvet Pal, bordered with white Sarsenet and satin.’ Some 350 years ago this very day, Dr John Covel - who had been appointed chaplain to the ambassador at Constantinople - was overseeing the ambassador’s corpse being made ready for its return to England. Covel’s diaries - which provide a rare first hand and detailed report of Ottoman politics, culture and society - lay buried in the British Museum for many years before being published by the Hakluyt Society more than two centuries after they were written.

Covel was born at Horningsheath in Suffolk in 1638, and educated at Bury St. Edmunds and Christ’s College, Cambridge. He trained to be a physician, but was elected to a fellowship at his college, and took up Holy Orders. In 1699, he was appointed chaplain to the ambassador at Constantinople (Sir Daniel Harvey) by the Levant Company. Charles II aided the appointment by providing a dispensation for him to go to Contantinople while holding his fellowship at the same time. For two years, after Harvey’s death, he was in sole charge of the English embassy there, but thereafter - and for nine years - he travelled widely.

After his return to England, Covel spent the winter of 1680/1681 in Suffolk suffering with fever, before being made Chaplain to the Princess of Orange in The Hague (1681-1685). He was then elected the 15th Master of Christ’s in 1688, a position he held until his death in 1722. In his later years, he continued to correspond with a wide range of English scholars, including Isaac Newton, John Locke, and John Mill, and is said to have helped develop the study of fossils. Further information is available at Wikipedia and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (modern version with log-in required or out of copyright edition). 

Covel kept a diary during his travels in the 1670s but this was not edited or published until 1893 in The Hakluyt Society’s Early Voyages and Travels in the Levant (edited by J. Theodore Bent). The tome - freely available at Internet Archive - contains two sections: The Diary of Master Thomas Dallam 1599-1600; and Extracts from the Diaries of Dr. John Covel (1670-1679). Here are Bent’s (entertaining and informative) notes on Covel and his diary.

‘The writer of the second MS. we have before us is mentioned by Evelyn in his Diary (ii, 338) as “Covel, the great Oriental traveller”. Evidently he intended either to publish a work himself, or that his diary should be published shortly after his death, for he divided part of his MS. into chapters, put in illustrations, and collected together everything connected with himself, every scrap of letter and paper that would be of use, even down to his testamur when he took his B.A. in 1657; but this mass of MS. has remained hidden in the British Museum, and has never yet seen the light of day. It is easy to see why any publisher would recoil from bringing out so prolix a work, for the Doctor is wearisome in the extreme. Before we leave Deal, in his first chapter, at the outset of his travels, we are treated to at least thirty closely-written pages on the wonders of the deep, which he picked up there; soon follows a long dissertation on sea-sickness, and its supposed causes; and whenever he came near any place of archæological interest, such as Carthage, Ephesus, Constantinople, etc., he gives us enough information to fill a good-sized volume on each spot. Consequently, it has been found necessary to eliminate much in Dr. Covel’s exceedingly bulky diaries.

His narrative is, however, extremely interesting on many points: during the six-and-a-half years he resided at Constantinople, from 1670 to 1677, he noticed everything; his sketches of life, costumes, and manners are minute and life-like. Sir George Wheeler says, in his volume of travels: “Dr. Covel, then chaplain to his Majesty’s ambassador there, amongst many curiosities shewed us some Turkish songs set to musick; which he told us were, both for sense and music, very good: but past our understanding.” Being, as he was, intimately connected with the embassy, he had ample opportunity for studying the politics of the time. Dr. Covel was present at the granting of the capitulations of 1676, which gained for the Levant Company privileges which established it, for the ensuing century and a half of its existence, on an unapproachable foundation.

[. . .] During his residence at Constantinople he witnessed many important sights, notably the great fêtes at Adrianople in honour of the circumcision of Prince Mustapha, and the marriage of the Sultan’s daughter, which were the most noted fêtes of the century in Turkey, and also the granting of the capitulations during the time of the plague.’

And here are several dated extracts (though most extracts in the work are, in fact, undated)

10 April 1674
‘At 8 at night we weigh’d (being upon the Dogger), and next day 3 1/2 in afternoon we came to Anchor at the Asia side over against the little conduit within shot of that most innermost castle. We went on shoar and dispatcht our business with the Aga there. My Ld. had sent each of them a vest of cloth; we had our audience without the castle, in a house on purpose, by the draw bridge. Our Jew Druggerman, 10 or 12 dayes before, had shew’d some strangers up and down without the Castle, and at last, venturing to peep in, was catch’t and soundly drubb’d. Notwithstanding this, I went round about the outside and past it.

Several guns on the ground play up and down the Hellespont; on that side are 14 port holes, where lye great guns chamber’d to shoot stone shot, very big, near 2 foot diameter, all fixt and immovable, and therefore to be charged only without. They will fling a shot crosse the Hellespont with ease. In the night they have lights on either side, and watch if any ship steals down; just as they eclips those lights, they can see them and so fire upon them. Bellonius makes it but 1/4 mile over; it is near a mile at least. I was not on the other side Castle, but I counted just 23 gun holes and thre sally ports between them ; it seem’d a farre bigger castle than Abidos above said.’

12 April 1674
‘By reason of our present, with leave, we weigh’d at 10 o’clock, and within lesse then an houre we passt the other outward castles, but at too great a distance to say any more then that they are fairer and greater, and built according to modern formes. At night we rcacht the N. end of Mitilene about 8 o’clock.’

26 April 1674
‘Put my dear Lord Harvey’s body on board the Centurion. The great Cabin was hang’d and the floor cover’d with mourning; round about were fasten’d scutchions; the Steerage was hang’d likewise. My Lord’s body was taken of the Dogger into the Centurion’s long boat, there cover’d with a rich velvet Pal, bordered with white Sarsenet and satin. At the Head of the Corps was fixt a Hatchment, my Lord’s armes, in a square frame standing on one of the corners. At the head of the boat was his six trumpeters and his drummer. The Advise’s long boat tow’d it forward, and in it was his 6 Trumpeters likewise, and his drum, all sounding a dead march, went slowly forward in a round; the Consul’s (Mr. Ricaut’s) boat followed; after that many of the festoons in other boates. At its reception into the Centurion there was 3 voleyes of small shot and 30 Guns fired. The Advice fired 28; all the General ships and others in port fired, some 12, some 14, some 16 guns. Worthy Capt. Hill, who brought him out, fired every minute all the while we were going on the Dogger. The Body was put down into the hold, and a Cenotaph stood in the great cabbin, cover’d with the pall. The great Scutcheon displayed at the head six great tapers burning by in six great silver candlesticks. I gave away about 40 dwt. weights among the officers of the Centur., and sent a cask of 19 Meters of wine among the Seamen. We din’d aboard, treated civilly. The Consul brought flasques of Smyrna wine; Mr. Temple brought 20 flasques, and several fresh provisions. At 6 at night we all returned to Smyrna.’

Friday, April 19, 2024

The pleasures of this life

’If this had been begun ten years ago, and faithfully kept!!! - heigho! there are too many things I wish never to have remembered, as it is.’ This is George Gordon Byron, who died, aged only 36, two centuries ago today, writing about his decision to start keeping a diary. Popularly known as Lord Byron, he was the most flamboyant and colourful of romantic figures, and is considered one of Britain’s greatest poets. Unfortunately, he only kept up the diary habit for a few months, and though he wrote a journal at three more periods in his life, each one lasted but a short while.

Byron was born in London in 1788, physically disabled by a clubfoot, but was taken to live in Scotland when young by his mother, Catherine Gordon. At the age of 10, he inherited the title, house and grounds of Newstead Abbey from his great-uncle, who had been granted them by Henry VIII. Thereafter, he was educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he formed a close friendship with John Cam Hobhouse. In January 1809, he took his seat in the House of Lords, but then embarked on a tour of Europe, often accompanied by Hobhouse, which included a sojourn in Greece.

Byron returned to England in 1811, and to Newstead where his ailing mother had just died. In 1812, his book Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage made him a society celebrity and brought him into contact with Lady Caroline Lamb, who became one of his many mistresses (and who wrote of him, he was ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’). It is widely accepted, also, that Byron had an affair with his married half-sister Augusta Leigh, and that he fathered her daughter Elizabeth. Though Byron married Anne Isabella Milbanke in early 1815, partly to try and shake off scandal, his relationship with Leigh continued. (Milbanke’s daughter, Augusta Ada, and Byron’s only legitimate child, became a mathematician but died young, at the same age as her father, 36).

Much encumbered by debts and with his wife accusing him of incest, Byron left England in 1816 never to return. He journeyed to Switzerland first, and then Italy where he lived for six years - in Venice, Ravenna, Pisa, Genoa - selling Newstead Abbey to pay off his debts. He continued writing his long satiric poem, Don Juan, which was first published in 1819. Famously, he was friends in Italy with Percy Bysshe Shelley (and his sister, Mary), and together they started a newspaper The Liberal. Shelley drowned in 1922, and the following year, Byron, bored with his life, bought a boat and sailed to Greece to help with the nationalist fight against the Ottoman empire. He spent thousands of pounds of his own money for the cause, and began to lead a rebel army, only to fall sick and die of a fever, on 19 April 1824.

There is no shortage of information about Byron available on the internet, at Wikipedia, for example, the English History website, The Literature Network, and the BBC. Thomas Moore’s early biography (Byron had named the Irish poet as his literary executor in 1822), Letters and Journals of Lord Byron, published in 1830, is also widely available, at Internet Archive, or more accessibly at Virginia Tech’s Lord Byron website. Confusingly, at Internet Archive, one can also find 17 volumes of Moore’s The Works of Lord Byron: with his letters and journals, and his life, all published in the 1930s too.

For years, Byron had been writing an autobiographical memoir, but on his death, this was deemed too scandalous for publication, and his publisher, John Murray along with several of Byron’s friends burned the manuscript. However, four of Byron’s journal/diary jottings were edited by Moore and published in his voluminous works (and can be found through the links above). Though fragmentary, the diaries sparkle with Byron’s literary skill. The diaries of others, of course, also contain much about Byron, not least those written by Hobhouse, Mary Shelley and Thomas Moore (see also Doomed to sing).

There are four separate, but rather short, periods for which Byron’s journals survive (Peter Cochran’s website provides accessible pdfs for each diary): between November 1813 and April 1814 (the London Journal); in September 1816 (the Alpine Journal); in January and February 1821 (the Ravenna Journal); and between June and December 1823 (the Cephalonia Journal). Here are a few extracts, all taken from Moore’s Letters and Journals.

14 November 1813
’If this had been begun ten years ago, and faithfully kept!!! - heigho! there are too many things I wish never to have remembered, as it is. Well, - I have had my share of what are called the pleasures of this life, and have seen more of the European and Asiatic world than I have made a good use of. They say ‘virtue is its own reward,’ - it certainly should be paid well for its trouble. At five-and-twenty, when the better part of life is over, one should be something; - and what am I? nothing but five-and-twenty - and the odd months. What have I seen? the same man all over the world, - ay, and woman too. Give me a Mussulman who never asks questions, and a she of the same race who saves one the trouble of putting them. But for this same plague - yellow-fever - and Newstead delay, I should have been by this time a second time close to the Euxine. If I can overcome the last, I don’t so much mind your pestilence; and, at any rate, the spring shall see me there, - provided I neither marry myself nor unmarry any one else in the interval. I wish one was - I don’t know what I wish. It is odd I never set myself seriously to wishing without attaining it - and repenting. I begin to believe with the good old Magi, that one should only pray for the nation, and not for the individual; - but, on my principle, this would not be very patriotic.

No more reflections. - Let me see - last night I finished ‘Zuleika,’ my second Turkish Tale. I believe the composition of it kept me alive - for it was written to drive my thoughts from the recollection of -

“Dear, sacred name, rest ever unreveal’d.”

At least, even here, my hand would tremble to write it. This afternoon I have burned the scenes of my commenced comedy. I have some idea of expectorating a romance, or rather a tale, in prose; - but what romance could equal the events - [. . .]

To-day Henry Byron called on me with my little cousin Eliza. She will grow up a beauty and a plague; but, in the mean time, it is the prettiest child! dark eyes and eyelashes, black and long as the wing of a raven. I think she is prettier even than my niece, Georgina, - yet I don’t like to think so neither; and, though older, she is not so clever. [. . .]

I have declined presenting the Debtor’s Petition, being sick of parliamentary mummeries. I have spoken thrice ; but I doubt my ever becoming an orator. My first was liked; the second and third - I don’t know whether they succeeded or not. I have never yet set to it con amore; one must have some excuse to oneself for laziness, or inability, or both, and this is mine. ‘Company, villanous company, hath been the spoil of me;’ - and then, I have ‘drunk medicines,’ not to make me love others, but certainly enough to hate myself.

Two nights ago, I saw the tigers sup at Exeter ‘Change, Except Veli Pacha’s lion in the Morea, - who followed the Arab keeper like a dog, - the fondness of the hyaena for her keeper amused me most. Such a conversazione! There was a ‘hippopotamus,’ like Lord ____ in the face; and the ‘Ursine Sloth’ hath the very voice and manner of my valet - but the tiger talked too much. The elephant took and gave me my money again - took off my hat - opened a door - trunked a whip - and behaved so well, that I wish he was my butler. The handsomest animal on earth is one of the panthers; but the poor antelopes were dead. I should hate to see one here: - the sight of the camel made me pine again for Asia Minor. “Oh quando te aspiciam?” ’

19 April 1814
There is ice at both poles, north and south - all extremes are the same - misery belongs to the highest and the lowest only, - to the emperor and the beggar, when unsixpenced and unthroned. There is, to be sure, a damned insipid medium - an equinoctial line - no one knows where, except upon maps and measurement.

“And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death.”

I will keep no further journal of that same hesternal torch-light; and, to prevent me from returning, like a dog, to the vomit of memory, I tear out the remaining leaves of this volume, and write, in ipecacuanha, - “that the Bourbons are restored!!!” “Hang up philosophy.” To be sure, I have long despised myself and man, but I never spat in the face of my species before - “O fool! I shall go mad.” ’

17 September 1816
‘Rose at five; left Diodati about seven, in one of the country carriages (a char-a-banc), our servants on horseback. Weather very fine; the lake calm and clear; Mont Blanc and the Aiguille of Argentines both very distinct; the borders of the lake beautiful. Reached Lausanne before sunset; stopped and slept at __. Went to bed at nine; slept till five o’clock.’

18 September 1816
‘Called by my courier; got up. Hobhouse walked on before. A mile from Lausanne, the road overflowed by the lake; got on horseback, and rode till within a mile of Vevay. The colt young, but went very well. Overtook Hobhouse, and resumed the carriage, which is an open one. Stopped at Vevay two hours (the second time I had visited it); walked to the church; view from the churchyard superb; within it General Ludlow (the regicide’s) monument - black marble - long inscription - Latin, but simple; he was an exile two-and-thirty years - one of king Charles’s judges. Near him Broughton (who read King Charles’s sentence to Charles Stuart) is buried, with a queer and rather canting, but still a republican, inscription. Ludlow’s house shown; it retains still its inscription - ‘Omne solum forti patria.’ Walked down to the lake side; servants, carriage, saddle -horses - all set off and left us plantes la, by some mistake, and we walked on after them towards Clarens; Hobhouse ran on before, and overtook them at last. Arrived the second time (first time was by water) at Clarens. Went to Chillon through scenery worthy of I know not whom; went over the Castle of Chillon again. On our return met an English party in a carriage; a lady in it fast asleep - fast asleep in the most anti-narcotic spot in the world - excellent! I remember at Chamouni, in the very eves of Mom Blanc, hearing another woman, English also, exclaim to her party, ‘Did you ever see anything more rural?’ - as if it was Highgate, or Hampstead, or Brompton, or Hayes - ‘Rural!’ quotha? - Rocks, pines, torrents, glaciers, clouds, and summits of eternal snow far above them - and ‘rural!’

After a slight and short dinner we visited the Chateau de Clarens; an English woman has rented it recently (it was not let when I saw it first); the roses are gone with their summer; the family out, but the servants desired us to walk over the interior of the mansion. Saw on the table of the saloon Blair’s Sermons, and somebody else (I forget who’s) sermons, and a set of noisy children. Saw all worth seeing, and then descended to the ‘Bosquet de Julie,’ &c. &c.; our guide full of Rousseau, whom he is eternally confounding with St. Preux, and mixing the man and the book. Went again as far as Chillon to revisit the little torrent from the hill behind it. Sunset reflected in the lake. Have to get up at five to-morrow to cross the mountains on horseback; carriage to be sent round; lodged at my old cottage - hospitable and comfortable; tired with a longish ride on the colt, and the subsequent jolting of the char-a-banc, and my scramble in the hot sun.

Mem. The corporal who showed the wonders of Chillon was as drunk as Blucher; he was deaf also, and thinking every one else so, roared out the legends of the caste so fearfully. However, we saw things from the gallows to the dungeons (the potence and the cachots), and returned to Clarens with more freedom than belonged to the fifteenth century.’

19 September 1816
‘Rose at five. Crossed the mountains to Montbovon on horseback, and on mules, and, by dint of scrambling, on foot also; the whole route beautiful as a dream, and now to me almost as indistinct. I am so tired; for though healthy, I have not the strength I possessed but a few years ago. At Montbovon we breakfasted; afterward, on a steep ascent, dismounted; tumbled down; cut a finger open; the baggage got loose and fell down a ravine, till stopped by a large tree; recovered baggage; horse tired and drooping; mounted mule. At the approach of the summit of Dent Jument dismounted again with Hobhouse and all the party. Arrived at a lake in the very bosom of the mountains; left our quadrupeds with a shepherd, and ascended farther; came to some snow in patches, upon which my forehead’s perspiration fell like rain, making the same dints as in a sieve; the chill of the wind and the snow turned me giddy, but I scrambled on and upwards. Hobhouse went to the highest pinnacle; I did not, but paused within a few yards (at an opening of the cliff). In coming down, the guide tumbled three times; I fell a laughing, and tumbled too - the descent luckily soft, though steep and slippery: Hobhouse also fell, but nobody hurt. The whole of the mountains superb. A shepherd on a very steep and high cliff playing upon his pipe; very different from Arcadia, where I saw the pastors with a long musket instead of a crook, and pistols in their girdles. Our Swiss shepherd’s pipe was sweet, and his tune agreeable. I saw a cow strayed; am told that they often break their necks on and over the crags. Descended to Montbovon; pretty scraggy village, with a wild river and a wooden bridge. Hobhouse went to fish - caught one. Our carriage not come; our horses, mules, &c. knocked up; ourselves fatigued.

The view from the highest points of to-day’s journey comprised on one side the greatest part of Lake Leman; on the other, the valleys and mountain of the canton of Fribourg, and an immense plain, with the lakes of Neufchatel and Morat, and all which the borders of the Lake of Geneva inherit; we had both sides of the Jura before us in one point of view, with Alps in plenty. In passing a ravine, the guide recommended strenuously a quickening of pace, as the stones fall with great rapidity and occasional damage; the advice is excellent, but, like most good advice, impracticable, the road being so rough that neither mules, nor mankind, nor horses, can make any violent progress. Passed without fractures or menace thereof.

The music of the cow’s bells (for their wealth, like the patriarch’s, is cattle) in the pastures, which reach to a height far above any mountains in Britain, and the shepherds shouting to us from crag to crag, and playing on their reeds where the steeps appeared almost inaccessible, with the surrounding scenery, realized all that I have ever heard or imagined of a pastoral existence: much more so than Greece or Asia Minor; for there we are a little too much of the sabre and musket order, and if there is a crook in one hand, you are sure to see a gun in the other: but this was pure and unmixed - solitary, savage, and patriarchal. As we went, they played the ‘Rans des Vaches’ and other airs, by way of farewell. I have lately repeopled my mind with nature.’

4 January 1821
‘ “A sudden thought strikes me.” Let me begin a Journal once more. The last I kept was in Switzerland, in record of a tour made in the Bernese Alps, which I made to send to my sister in 1816, and I suppose that she has it still, for she wrote to me that she was pleased with It. Another, and longer, I kept in 1813-1814, which I gave to Thomas Moore in the same year.’

The Diary Junction

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 19 April 2014.

Friday, April 12, 2024

Beautiful blueberries

Happy 70th birthday Jon Krakauer, US author of several best-selling true-story books. I have no idea whether Krakauer is a diarist himself, but in two of his books - one about a young man who died on a solitary adventure in Alaska, and the other about Pat Tillman, a famous football player-turned-soldier killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan - he makes very good use of his subjects’ diaries.

Jon Krakauer was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, on 12 April 1954, but was raised in Corvallis, Oregon, from the age of two. His father was a doctor and mountaineer, and he took Jon climbing from the age of eight. Jon studied at Hampshire College, where he graduated in environmental studies. He married Linda Mariam Moor in 1980. They lived in Seattle, Washington, before moving to Boulder, Colorado. But Krakauer divided his time between Colorado, Alaska, and the Pacific Northwest, supporting himself primarily as a carpenter and commercial salmon fisherman, but also writing for Outside magazine.

Some of Krakauer’s essays and articles on mountain-climbing were collected in his first book, Eiger Dreams: Ventures Among Men and Mountains, published in 1990. Then, in 1993, he wrote a 9,000 word article for Outside on Christopher McCandless an American hiker and idealist who ventured into the Alaskan wilderness and died four months later, probably from starvation. Krakauer went on to write a very successful book about McCandless - Into the Wild (Macmillan 1996) - partly based on a diary that was found with his body, and which documented his struggles to stay alive.

In 1996, Krakauer climbed Mt. Everest, but four of his party, who reached the summit with him, died in a storm. An analysis of the tragedy for Outside was highly regarded, and is said to have led to a general re-evaluation of the commercialisation of what had once been a romantic, solitary sport. His book on Everest, Into Thin Air (Villard, 1997), became another best-seller, and was widely translated.

A third non-fiction best-seller followed in 2003 with Under the Banner of Heaven (Doubleday), about offshoots of Mormonism, and the practice of polygamy within them; and a fourth best-seller came in 2009: Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman (Doubleday). Tillman was an American football player who gave up sport to enlist in the army, in 2002, following the September 11 attacks. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The army initially reported that he had been killed in action, but it later became clear that his death by friendly fire had been covered up. Krakauer’s book draws on Tillman’s journals and letters.

In the first paragraph of the first chapter Krakauer writes: ‘During Pat Tillman’s stint in the Army he intermittently kept a diary. In a diary entry dated July 28, 2002 - three weeks after he arrived at boot camp - he wrote, “It is amazing the turns one’s life can take. Major events or decisions that completely change a life. In my life there have been a number.” He then catalogued several. Foremost on his mind at the time, predictably, was his decision to join the military. But the incident he put at the top of the list, which occurred when he was eleven years old, comes as a surprise. “As odd as this sounds,” the journal revealed, “a diving catch I made in the 11-12 all-stars was a take-off point. I excelled the rest of the tournament and gained incredible confidence. It sounds tacky but it was big.”

And here are several extracts from the first of Krakauer's best-sellers, Into the Wild, all of them quotes from McCandless’s diary. The first three are from a diary McCandless kept soon after leaving university and heading off on his solitary travels. During this period, he called himself Alexander, and wrote about himself in the third person. The rest of the entries are from the weeks preceding his death in Alaska in August 1992, probably from starvation, although Krakauer argues that McCandless poisoned himself by eating the wrong kind of berries. Sean Penn wrote and directed a film adapted from the book in 2007.

5 December 1990
‘At last! Alex finds what he believes to be the Weltreco Canal and heads south. Worries and fears return as the canal grows ever smaller. . . Local inhabitants help him portage around a barrier . . . Alex finds Mexicans to be warm, friendly people. Much more hospitable than Americans.’

6 December 1990
‘Small but dangerous waterfalls litter the canal.’

9 December 1990
‘All hopes collapse! The canal does not reach the ocean but merely peters out into a vast swamp. Alex is utterly confounded. Decides he must be close to the ocean and elects to try and work way through swamp to sea. Alex becomes progressively lost to point where he must push canoe through reeds and drag it through mud. All is in despair. Finds some dry ground to camp in swamp at sundown. Next day, on 12/10, Alex resumes quest for an opening to the sea, but only becomes more confused, traveling in circles. Completely demoralized and frustrated he lays in his canoe at day’s end and weeps. But then by fantastic chance he comes upon Mexican duck hunting guides who can speak English. He tells them his story and his quest for the sea. They say there is no outlet to the sea. But then one among them agrees to tow Alex back to his basecamp, and drive him and the canoe to the ocean. It is a miracle.’

28 May 1992
‘Gourmet Duck!’

1 June 1992
‘5 Squirrel.’

2 June 1992
‘Porcupine, Ptarmigan, 4 Squirrel, Grey Bird.’

3 June 1992
‘Another Porcupine! 4 Squirrel, Grey Bird.’

9 June 1992

Although McCandless was enough of a realist, Krakauer observes, to know that hunting game was an unavoidable component of living off the land, he had always been ambivalent about killing animals. Believing that it was morally indefensible to waste any part of an animal that had been shot for food, McCandless spent days toiling to preserve what he had killed before it spoiled.’

10 June 1992
‘Butchering extremely difficult. Fly and mosquito hordes. Remove intestines, liver, kidneys, one lung, steaks. Get hindquarters and leg to stream.’

11 June 1992
‘Remove heart and other lung. Two front legs and head. Get rest to stream. Haul near cave. Try to protect with smoker.’

12 June 1992
‘Remove half rib-cage and steaks. Can only work nights. Keep smokers going.’

13 June 1992
‘Get remainder of rib-cage, shoulder and neck to cave. Start smoking.’

14 June 1992
‘Maggots already! Smoking appears ineffective. Don’t know. Looks like disaster. I now wish I had never shot the moose. One of the greatest tragedies of my life.’

A couple of days later McCandless writes:
‘Consciousness of food. Eat and cook with concentration . . . Holy Food.’

And then on the back pages of the book that served as his journal, he declared:
‘I am reborn. This is my dawn. Real life has just begun. Deliberate living: Concious attention to the basics of life, and a constant attention to your immediate environment and its concerns, example -> A job, a task, a book; anything requiring efficent concentration (Circumstance has no value. It is how one relates to a situation that has value. All true meaning resides in the personal relationship to a phenomenon, what it means to you).

The Great Holiness of FOOD, the Vital Heat.
Positivism, the Insurpassable Joy of the Life Aesthetic.
Absolute Truth and Honesty.
Finality - Stability - Consistency’

5 July 1992
‘Disaster . . . Rained in. River look impossible. Lonely, scared.’

McCandless’s inability to cross the river (now much more swollen than when he had first crossed it earlier in the year), which would have allowed him to hike back to the highway, appears to have led to his death some weeks later. 

Krakauer quotes a few more journal entries, but, he says, the signs are ominous.

30 July 1992

2 August 1992

5 August 1992

12 August 1992 [the last dated entry]
‘Beautiful Blueberries.’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 12 April 2014.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Breeches have vanished!

‘Tide low, big lumbering vessels crowding up the little dock, a juvenile Celt waiting there, perchance in the desperate hope that some one intent on bathing might also appear, and keep him company. Getting on a bit of a floating raft we undressed placing clothes on the edge of a large clumsy vessel beside. Our swim over & pleasant enow, out we got, Celtic boy dressed & left; we mounting from raft to the bank side leisurely prepare to do the same. But ere long I discover that my pants are not! Breeches have vanished! Then ensued much searching & speculation, groping in the black recesses of the vessel below & finally I get into the water again & grope by the ships side, thinking that the breeks have fallen in.’ This is from the diaries of comic illustrator, Thomas Butler Gunn, who died 120 years ago today. Although English born, he spent a good deal of his adult life in New York, where he joined a set of characters loosely associated with Pfaff’s, a drinking establishment known for its literary and artistic clientele.

Gunn was born in 1826 in Banbury but moved with his family to the St. Pancras area of London in the 1830s and then to New Kent Road. He was articled to an architectural practise in Soho Square and he began contributing illustrations to various publications, not least Punch. Backed by his father, in 1949, he sailed to New York with two cousins, and began looking for work as an illustrator. While building up a network of potential customers, he also took poorly-paid work as an architect’s draughtsman. Moreover, he began to work as an editor and to write himself, publishing, in 1857, the comic Physiology of New York Boarding-Houses.

In 1854, Gunn returned to England to see his family and to propose to his childhood friend Hannah Bennett, though they did not marry at the time. He returned to New York in 1855. As the country moved towards civil war, in 1860 Gunn was sent to Charleston, South Carolina, as an artist-reporter by John Bigelow, editor of the New York Evening Post. And then, in 1962, he was engaged as correspondent by Charles Anderson Dana of the New-York Tribune. He joined General Heintzelman’s military camp, and reported on the Yorktown and Williamsburg battles. Further assignments followed, but in 1963, on receiving news from Hannah about his father’s ill-health, he returned to England.

Gunn’s father died in November that same year, and in December, finally, Hannah and Gunn married. They set up home on the outskirts of Banbury, and had one child who was still born. Gunn continued to write for newspapers often on historical themes, his articles sometimes being published in America; and he wrote verse. He died on 7 April 1904. A little further information is available from Wikipedia, Lehigh University, or the Missouri History Society.

Throughout his years in the US, Gunn kept diaries, indeed it is thanks to these diaries that his name is remembered today. Some 22 volumes are held by the Missouri History Society, and every page of every the volume is available as an image with a transcription: see Lehigh University, Digital Public Library of America, and Wikimedia Commons.

According to The Vault at Pfaff’s (An Archive of Art and Literature by the Bohemians of Antebellum New York): ‘The diaries . . . contain a wealth of information about the New York literary scene in general and the Pfaff’s bohemians in particular.’ Mentioned in the diaries, among others, are Frank Bellew, Sol Eytinge Jr., Fanny Fern, Thomas Nast, James Parton, Fitz James O'Brien, Alfred Waud and Walt Whitman. Here are several extracts.

2 September 1852
‘Thursday. Over to New York with Barth, quitting him at Barnums. To Office & to work. Barth came again at 1 or so. Dined together at Goslings, parting at Castle Garden, he across the bright water and I back to Lantern Office. [John] Brougham returned from Washington. Got no money from them. Returned to Office & [Alfred] Waud coming up, agreed to accompany him to Brooklyn for a bathe in the East River. Fagan called & left. To Brooklyn with Waud, - a dark moonless night. Calling on Davis, he at supped & disinclined to leave, we sought the place. Tide low, big lumbering vessels crowding up the little dock, a juvenile Celt waiting there, perchance in the desperate hope that some one intent on bathing might also appear, and keep him company. Getting on a bit of a floating raft we undressed placing clothes on the edge of a large clumsy vessel beside. Our swim over & pleasant enow, out we got, Celtic boy dressed & left; we mounting from raft to the bank side leisurely prepare to do the same. But ere long I discover that my pants are not! Breeches have vanished! Then ensued much searching & speculation, groping in the black recesses of the vessel below & finally I get into the water again & grope by the ships side, thinking that the breeks have fallen in. All in vain, - much objuration bestowed upon the Celtic boy, self-felecitation that my coat (& its contents,) had not gone also. At length, half an hour having passed thus, [Alfred] Waud is about to start to his room for a pair of his own, when we are horribly startled by a howl from immediately below us, in the dark abysm of the ship. It was Davis! - he had climbed aboard at the stern sailor-like & had possessed himself of my breeks, awaiting the discovery and all that ensued afterwards. [Alfred] Waud crossed to New York with me, we had an oyster stew in Broadway, then each on our several ways to bed.’

15 May 1859
‘Sunday. Reading and [phonography] all the sunny cool morning. [Jesse] Haney came after dinner, about to start for Philadelphia and presently Rawson Gill. Out, & with Haney to the Jersey City terminus, seeing him into the cars. To 16th Street, via 6th Avenue, supped at Mrs [Catharine] Potters with old acquaintances. Out with [William] Leslie, quitted him and to [E.H.] Chapin’s. Walking uptownwards, when nearly opposite Edwards’ was accosted by [Moses] Morse (who Married Mrs [Rebecca] Kidder) and whom I recollected. Strolled to Union Square with him.

He [Moses Morse] told how he had quitted Poughkeepsie and in conjunction with a Mr Wright started a Drawing and Painting Academy in this city, which was prospering. Said he had two children and spake of Master Will Kidder. I asked him of Lotty [Kidder], he told of her living at Westfarms and spake of [Arthur] Alleyne or Granville (his real name they say) as her husband, though he professed not to know whether any divorce had separated her from little [John] Whytal of whom he knew nothing. She had been rather more of a help to Granville than he to her, or late, said Morse, and was “getting on very well,” taught music and singing to a lady and “had a sewing-machine.” The ex-Mrs [Rebecca] Kidder was on a visit to some friends, down east. Exchanging addresses, we parted. A not-satisfactory man this Morse. [Charles] Damoreau used to pronounce him a lazy man, a sort of demi-intellectual sybarite. He (Morse) must have understood Mrs K. pretty thoroughly, wherefore how came he to marry her? Probably she suited him or he might have been unwilling to risk or endure the disagreables of a break-off. Many men, of a sort, drop into matrimony that way, nor care so much about the purity of their wives before marriage.

To Edwards! The Dane, [Carl] Knudsen there. Carrying away Reade’s “Love one little &c” belonging to [James] Parton, I find stray marginal notes, quite unconsciously autobiographical in their self-revelations, by the indomitable Fanny [Fern]. As also phonographic ones by Mort Thomson to the effect of “Gracy [Eldredge] I love you,” “Dear Gracy etc.” penciled wherever the text becomes passionately amorous. Now as [Jesse] Haney as well as I can read [phonography], Mort’s audience is perchance larger than he might desire. It’s understood that Mrs [Sophy] Thomson is very proud of the coming match. [Frank] Cahill, unless specially needed for some purpose, when he is gushingly received, gets the cold shoulder at Fan’s. Mort is on duty pretty well every night. Grace is understood, in stable phrase, to “feel her oats” a good deal - entertains the conviction that she could get married any day she likes. Likely enough. There may be a break-off in the match, yet, though I think it unlikely.’

11 July 1860
‘Wednesday. Writing till 6, queer and sickish in the morning. Phillips (of the Illustrated News) came up at 1, lunched with me and stayed half an hour. At 6 to 16th street, supped with [Jesse] Haney. In his room with him and Larrison subsequently. Out with Haney to Palace Garden; music, singing, dancing, promenading, cigars and lager. Met Eldredge and his wife and Perkins. Leaving, strolled down Broadway and into 745. Sally [Edwards] and Eliza [Edwards] there, the former practising [sic] on the piano, Matty [Edwards] being with Jack [Edwards], on an evening’s visit to Captain Worth and family, whom it appeared on the girl [Matty Edwards] and her brother [Jack Edwards]’s entrance, they had followed to the Rees’ residence in Brooklyn. Jack brought news of a fire at Washington Market, so after staying an hour at the house (we went in at 10) [Jesse] Haney and I set off to witness the conflagration. Dropping in at [132] Bleecker Street to change coat, and pausing at [N.G.] Shepherd’s door to invite his company I saw the evil face of [Fitz James] O’Brien in his room. (He appeared at our breakfast-table next morning.) To the fire. Three acres space of sheds and shanties burning, the top of the market proper covered with human beings, the flames lighting up the figures and faces, the streets, river and shipping with a wondrously picturesque effect. Making our way through the crowd and puddles and over the hose-pipes of the firemen, which lay strewn around like the entrails of megatherii or other extinct monsters, we went aboard the Barclay St ferry-boat and so to Hoboken, getting a fine view of the conflagration, both in crossing and returning. It was a cool, clear night, a tranquil crescent moon in the sky, her luster paling before that of the temporary smoke of the most exquisite colors, here and there diversified by a great wave of ruddy flame marked the scene of the night. The masts of the shipping in front stood out black and ragged, looking curiously irregular out of perpendicular. Disembarking, again on the New York side, we mounted the piles of the ferry-wharf and surveyed the burning area. Not many projecting objects were standing, it appeared a bed of bright fire, a row of men sharp and blackly-defined on a pier before us and more farther on, seemingly in the midst of the conflagration. When we got out into the street again, the steam fire-engines were at work, puffing like a Mississippi steam boat. We made two attempts to get into close quarters with the fire, threading the intricacies of butcher’s shops, amid the suspended carcases [sic] of sheep, by potato sacks, where rough men conversed or boys lay sleeping, through crowds of firemen and lookers-on, but could not penetrate very far, being checked, good-humouredly enough, by the police. Ahead of us was a blur and smother of conflagration, in front, an engine with a row of men, seemingly up in the air, working heavily, the machine rocking to their labour with a ricketty thud, disorderly monotonous to the ear. Homewards by an overcrowded 3rd Avenue Car. The last southward view we had of the fire, presented an ominous, angry, dusky red aspect, volumes of sullen firy smoke, such as might crown the citadel of Dante’s Dis, obscuring all the horizon. Got home about 2. Rawson Gill has gone to Central America again. His brother [Adolphus Gouverneur] is at Niagara with their mother [Elizabeth Gouverneur Griffin].’