Friday, May 24, 2024

Master of Trinity College

William Whewell - scientist, philiosopher, college administrator, polymath - was born 230 years ago today. He defied his humble origins to become prominent in various fields, and to become Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, a position he held for 25 years. He is largely forgotten today, in the sense that there’s no modern biography. There is, though, an early biographical work, which makes extensive use of Whewell’s letters, and, more occasionally, of his diaries. One extensive diary quoted in the biography describes a visit to Trinity by the Duke of Wellington.

Whewell was born on 24 May 1794, the eldest child in what would become a large family. His father, a carpenter, wanted him to apprentice to the trade, but William proved academically bright, and came to the attention of Revd Joseph Rowley, head of Lancaster Grammar School, who allowed him to study for free. Later, he won a part-scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge, from 1812. Following, perhaps, after his mother who had published poems, he won the Chancellor’s prize for an epic poem entitled Boadicea.

Whewell did well at Trinity, excelling at mathematics; and, having been considered something of a rustic or ill-mannered, he significantly improved his social status. He was appointed as a mathematics lecturer and assistant tutor in 1818, and the following year was one of the founder members of the Cambridge Philosophical Society. By this time, his interests had extended beyond mathematics, towards science in general (indeed he is credited with coining the word ‘scientist’ in 1833) and philosophy. In 1828, he was elected to the Chair of Mineralogy.

In subsequent years, Whewell wrote a number of important papers on the subject of tides, and on the principles of education. In 1838 he was elected to the Knightbridge Chair of Moral Philosophy - before which he wrote History of the Inductive Sciences, and after which he wrote its sequel The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences.

In 1841, thanks to the election of the Conservative Robert Peel as Prime Minister, Whewell was appointed  Master of Trinity College (over his more senior colleague, Adam Sedgwick, who would have been favoured by a Whig government). A little earlier the same year, he had married Cordelia Marshall. They had no children, and after Cordelia died in 1855, he married again, to Everina Frances, widow of Sir Gilbert Affleck in 1858.

Much of Whewell’s early years as Master were taken up by revising the college statutes; and, as Master of the largest college, he had much influence across the university. He also served twice as vice-chancellor. Although considered a reformer in his youth, he is remembered as a reactionary Master, sternly defending the autonomy of the colleges and the type of liberal education he espoused in Of a Liberal Education in General, with particular reference to the leading studies in the University of Cambridge (1845). He preached his last sermon in Trinity College chapel in February 1866, and died later the same year, after a fall from a horse. There is plenty of information about Whewell online, at Wikipedia, Cambridge University’s Janus website, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and Victorian Web.

Richard Yeo, summarising Whewell’s reputation in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required), says: ‘At the time of his death Whewell was known as a great master of Trinity and a man of enormous intellectual power and learning. Within the scientific community throughout Europe he was recognized for his research on the tides, his contributions to conceptual debates and terminology, and for his unrivalled knowledge of the history of the sciences. Although some aspects of his philosophy of science were criticized, Whewell’s work set an example for the critical study of the nature of science and, since the 1970s, the historical inquiry on which he claimed to base his philosophy of science has been more warmly appreciated. He combined this study of the physical sciences with publications on education, moral philosophy, and other subjects in a manner that astonished his contemporaries. He did this at a time when intellectual activity was becoming more specialized - a phenomenon that Whewell recognized in his own philosophy of knowledge. Today we are able to see that his achievement was one of the last of its kind.’

The Trinity College archive of Whewell’s papers lists ‘diaries 1817-1853’, but the online summary contains no further details. As far as I can tell, none of these diaries have ever been published. However, Mrs Stair-Douglas (also known as Janet Mary Douglas), having been asked to do so by Whewell’s sister, Mrs Newton, put together a biography of Whewell, largely based on his letters. This was published in 1881 by C Kegan & Co as The Life and Selections from the Correspondence of William Whewell, D. D. late master of Trinity College, Cambridge. Occasionally, the book (freely available at Internet Archive) makes references to, and provides extracts from, Whewell’s diaries.

For example, Stair-Douglas writes: ‘The pocket-books of this year [1829] contain a brief pencil diary, and also a number of notes and memoranda, chiefly mineralogical and architectural, made during the tour in Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, upon which Mr. Whewell started on July 4. [. . .]

The diary shows that Mr. Whewell habitually talked to all his fellow-travellers and extracted from them all the information he could. Sometimes a servant girl going to place tells him about wages; or a Belgian laments the high duty upon distillation, which shuts up all the smaller stills; or an ex-Franciscan or Benedictine monk tells him how the convent land was farmed, the wages of the lay brethren, &c. He always offered a seat in his hired carriage to any intelligent person travelling in the same direction. At Spires he notes that he fell in with a Frenchman who had been quarrelling with the Douane on occasion of his bringing from Baden a musical instrument with keys, the notes of which are produced as in the wind harmonica, and adds: “The difficulty of getting on with a German in conversation strikes one more on meeting a Frenchman. The German answers all your questions with the most sincere goodwill, but there you stick - you never set him ” [. . .]

After visiting the source of the Danube in Prince Flirstenburg’s grounds, he mentions his arrival at “the edge of the great basin of Switzerland - a most glorious prospect. The Lake of Constance spread out on the left, the cloudy and uncertain Alps in the distance, and in the midst of the scene six grand castled eminences scattered over a space of five or six miles. The summits bold, and rising abruptly from the more level land, and the ruins one more picturesque than another. If the snowy Alps are seen from hence, as I am told is the case in clear weather, I cannot imagine a more magnificent view. I hope for a fine morning to-morrow and then!”

The entry next morning unfortunately is: “August 7 - Wretchedly bad weather”; however, after quarrelling with tailor and shoemaker, he adds: “Off to Schaffhausen - went immediately to the fall. It is grand in all aspects, but standing in the gallery, all the surrounding objects confused by the blinding spray and a sort of eternity of waters hurrying past and filling the eye, one can scarce believe that the solid universe is not drifting away with immeasurable violence. They have managed also that the water leaps at you, and only seems just to fall short by a foot.”

After Whewell’s appointment as Master at Trinity, Stair-Douglas writes, one of the first visitors to the Master’s Lodge, was Mr. Salvin, an architect. He had been summoned because a former college student - one Beresford Hope - had donated money for the college to restore an oriel and mullioned windows removed from the building under previous alterations. She gives the following diary entries concerning this project (which would leave Whewell’s living rooms uninhabitable for most of the year).

19 January 1842
‘Mr. Salvin, architect, arrived, and under his direction and in his presence we made attempts to discover traces of the oriel which formerly existed as part of the front of the Lodge. We found the foundation of the wall of the oriel immediately below the surface of the ground. The plan was semicircular, the diameter of the semicircle 13 feet and 7 inches, exactly opposite to the oriel which exists towards the garden. By examination of the upper storey of the Lodge it appeared that there are no lodging-rooms over Henry VIII’s drawing-room, but only a blank garret, to which there is no access except through the windows.’

16 August 1842
‘We returned to the lodge and stayed one night, the workmen being then employed in the restoration of the front, in pursuance of Mr. Hope’s undertaking to bear the expense of the restoration of the windows and oriel. In the interval I had corresponded with Mr. Hope and had finally learnt that 1,000l. had been placed to the credit of the College at the banker’s to meet the expense.’

17 September 1842
‘We returned to College. The windows of the front were entirely without glass, the rooms without furniture, and the wall was removed from top to bottom where the oriel was to be. The house full of workmen.’

Stair-Douglas goes on to say that Whewell’s journal was kept with considerable regularity at this time. In it, ‘we find mention of very frequent meetings of the Master and Seniors to deliberate upon the revision of the College statutes. These statutes, which the governing body of the College had bound themselves to respect, to preserve intact and to carry into effect, had, from the changes which centuries had brought about in national habits, and many other circumstances, come into such discrepancy with actual, and often with any possible, practice as to occasion very serious difficulties. The Master and other College officers found themselves frequently compelled to choose between deliberately neglecting and modifying that which they had sworn to execute, or attempting to put in operation rules which had become totally useless and inapplicable. The difficulty was a very serious one, and one from which there was no escape.’

26 April 1842
‘Went to London to visit my wife’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Marshall, 41 Upper Grosvenor Street. I took with me to London the Draft of the College Statutes as revised by the Seniority, at the various preceding sittings. I reported to the Home Secretary, Sir J. Graham, that this revision was in progress, explained to him the general principles on which it had proceeded, and pointed out the few instances in which the privileges of the Crown were concerned, viz. (1.) Visitatorial power, (2.) Power of giving leave of absence, (3.) Power of appointing ten paupers. He informed me that he should lay the draft before the Attorney and Solicitor-General, and at a subsequent interview agreed to do so, while it was still unconfirmed by the Seniors. I also saw the Solicitor-General and the Attorney-General, who agreed to consider the unconfirmed draft; and I explained to them that the College did not expect or wish that they should suggest anything except what concerned the prerogatives of the Crown or the course of Law. For the purpose of consideration, I had two transcripts of the revised Statutes made, for which I paid 11l. 6s. I left one of these and a printed copy of the Statutes with Sir James Graham.’

Finally, here is a long extract from Whewell’s diary concerning a visit by the Duke of Wellington - Leader of the House of Lords in Peel’s government at the time - to Cambridge University.

4 July 1842
‘The Duke of Wellington arrived; his carriage stopped at the Great Gate and then proceeded to St. John’s, where he went to attend the Duke of Northumberland’s levee. He then walked with me to Trinity Lodge, and the Fellows were presented to him by me. He then went again to St. John’s Lodge, and accompanied the Duke of Northumberland to the Senate House. After his return to this Lodge he came into the dining-room, and then he conversed a good deal.

With reference to the news of the Queen having been shot at by Bean, which arrived this morning, he spoke of an attempt made to shoot him at Paris. He had previous information that he was to be shot at. The man tried in vain to find an opportunity in the streets. The Duke had said before the event that the assassin must inevitably make the attempt at his own house. So it turned out. The man placed himself behind a watch-box and fired as the Duke entered his own Porte cochère.

The postilion saw him raise his arm, and urged his horses to a gallop, so that the Duke thought he had knocked down one of the sentries in driving in. I asked him why he had done so, and he told me that a man had fired a pistol at me from a place close by. Mr. M (Mr. Milnes?) reminded the Duke that Napoleon left the man a legacy. “Yes” he said, “Napoleon left him 10,000 francs for trying to rid the world of an aristocrat.”

I spoke of the attempt made to kill the King of Portugal in the last century. “Yes,” he said, “that was under the Marquis de Pombal’s administration. It was one of the circumstances which led to the expulsion of the Jesuits. That event was an evil to Spain and Portugal. It ruined the education of the upper orders. They are now men of no education, no moral and religious education. You never find a well educated nobleman in Spain. Consequently they are regarded with no respect by those of lower rank, and are a worthless set. Nothing can save a country but a moral and religious education of its upper classes.”

He spoke much of the Afghan war. He had always disbelieved the accounts, he said, of the abandonment of Ghuznee. He never could believe that a person put in a command so important could be so destitute of resources as the accounts represented him. “I never could believe that such an officer could say that he was obliged to surrender for want of water, when he was snowed up. I never could believe that he could say that he had left the soldiers’ bayonets in the citadel. There is no more convenient way of disposing of a bayonet than at the end of the musket or in the scabbard by the soldier’s side.”

Speaking further of India, he said, “You have there the blessing of a free press; in that country, in a country quite unfitted for such a thing. You might as well try a free press on the quarter-deck of a man of war.”

Passing the picture of Perceval, he said he was a good debater and always spoke well when he had had previously to explain a measure to a meeting of his friends.

When the Duke had been in this Lodge a few minutes, he wished me to return to St. John’s Lodge, where the Duke of Northumberland was. I tried to detain him by representing that the Chancellor could not possibly go to the Senate House for some time, and that we should see him, and could join him when he passed the College gate. But he was not to be detained, so we walked together. As we went he said, “I came to do honour to the Duke of Northumberland, and I must be on the spot for that purpose. Nothing like being on the spot.”

When he had stayed at the Lodge some time after his return from the Senate House, conversing as above, I proposed to him to go to Magdalen College, where the Master had collected a party of distinguished visitors in the Lodge garden, with a band of music. We went there by the back of the Colleges and through Northampton Street. When we arrived near the gate the Duke asked who was the master of Magdalen, and when I told him Mr. Neville Grenville, he said “Oh, I know him, he officiates sometimes at the Chapel Royal. I usually go to the Chapel Royal. Sometimes I am there alone with the reader. ” Then aside, “Dearly beloved Roger.”

The Duke of Wellington went from Magdalen Gardens with the Bishop of London, and returned to Emmanuel to the Vice-Chancellor’s dinner. Here he stayed but a little while and went away before dinner, having determined to sleep at Hatfield. So far as I know he had no dinner till he got there, which must have been near eleven o’clock at night.

I left the dinner at the Vice-Chancellor’s early and came home to receive a few friends at the Lodge.’

Sunday, May 19, 2024

One vast To-Let sign

‘Discussions of the evening. Carter on the partition of Germany: “Partition her? Why, we’re going to rent her out! This country is going to be one vast To-Let sign! Or maybe, after all the bombings are over, she’ll be a deep enough crater simply to allow the sea to rush in. Then we’ll all take occupation furloughs and go fishing.’ This is from the recently-published diary of Melvin Jonah Lasky, a young American GI on his way to serve in Germany after its defeat in WW2. Lasky, who died 20 years ago today, would remain in Europe, and become a well known anti-communist liberal, particularly noted for editing the influential Encounter magazine.

Lasky was born in 1920 in New York City and schooled at City College (where he wrote for the student newspaper), University of Michigan and Columbia University. He worked for the New Leader in New York becoming editor in 1942. Joining the U.S. Army in 1943, he served as an historian and had the opportunity to visit Nazi concentration camps. After the war, he settled in Berlin, quickly establishing himself as a leading intellectual thinker, editing Der Monat from 1948 to 1958, and recording important political events such as the 1953 uprising in East Germany and the 1956 Hungarian revolution.

Lasky strongly opposed the Communist USSR, and helped found the Congress for Cultural Freedom, which funded magazines and conferences opposed to Communism. He also became an advisor to General Lucius D. Clay, the American governor in post-war Berlin. In 1958, he joined Encounter, an Anglo-American intellectual journal, originally associated with the anti-Stalinist left, and published the works of such writers as Lionel Trilling and Jean-Paul Sartre. In the 1960s, it was revealed that the magazine was partly funded by the CIA, and, though the scandal hurt Lasky’s reputation, he continued to run Encounter until its final issue in 1990. 

Lasky was married twice, to Brigitte Lasky (née Newiger) with whom he had two children, and to German novelist Helga Hegewisch Lasky. He was the author of several books, including Utopia and Revolution (1975), On the Barricades, and Off (1989), and The Language of Journalism (2000). He was awarded the distinguished service medal from Berlin in 1995, and, two years later, was named ‘one of the most important Berliners’ by a commission of German historians. He died on 19 May 2004. Further information is available from Wikipedia, The Guardian, and

Lasky kept a diary for a single year - 1945 - while serving in one of the first American divisions that entered Germany after the country’s surrender. He began the diary on 22 January 1945 in Fort Totten, New York, while waiting to be shipped to Europe with the US Army, and concluded it in Frankfurt, Germany, in December. However, the diary was largely forgotten about until it surfaced after Lasky’s death: his assistant Marc Svetov, sorting through papers, found it contained in three neatly stacked ring binders. In time, the diary was duly edited by Charlotte A. Lerg, and published by Berghahn Books in 2022 as The Diary of Lt. Melvin J. Lasky: Into Germany at the End of World War II. Some pages can be sampled at Googlebooks.

According to Berghahn: ‘Lasky’s diary provides a captivating eye-witness account colored by ongoing socio-political debates and his personal background studying Trotskyism. [The book] reproduces the diary’s vivid language as Lasky describes the ideological tensions between the East and West, as well as including critical essays on subjects ranging from Lasky’s life as a transatlantic intellectual, the role of war historians, and the diary as a literary genre.’

‘Written on the verge of the most politically active phase of his life,’ Berg and Maren Roth say in their introduction, ‘Lasky’s 1945 diary illustrates formative moments and reveals personal insights into the mindset of a young man who was convinced of his own intellectual potential, but not quite sure yet how best to put it to use. The diary gives a first glimpse of the political and cultural views he would go on to assert. They emerge from his prewar youth and education, his social milieu, and his political conditioning, mostly in New York City, complemented by the experiences he gathered while serving with the US Army.’

Here are several extracts.

22 January 1945, Fort Totten, New York
‘What do I know? What have I learned? So many volumes, so much carefully contrived experience (even rash exposure to events and “life”), and here I remain, desperately unable to live with myself, incapable of ordering my memories and responses, and shaping my ambitions. I spent the day nervously in the reading room of the library here, I must have fingered with a hopeless and frantic hunger a hundred volumes. But there was nothing for me, not a page I could read, not a sentence I really wanted. There was a Walter Pater miscellany, and I glanced at some phrases on Pascal - “the spectacle of the religious history of the human soul.”. . . No, that is what I do not understand! I looked at McGiffert’s study on Christian theology, but “Love” and “God” were empty, without meaning. Oh, if I could only comprehend them, take all the great words seriously, patiently, how deeply convenient it would be! - there would be an end to weakness, faltering heart and mind. “Spirituality,” and all the supporting strength of classic historic traditions, could be my sanctuary. I could be strong again . . . I turned to a volume on history - “the critical consciousness of civilization about its own past.” Yes, yes! But what does all my once precise and finicky awareness of Sumer and Akkad and the Gracchi and Innocent and Peter Waldo and Cromwell mean for me now? Paltry, vague, irrelevant memories. . . I picked up Gide’s Travels, Cohen’s Logic, some things of Maugham, a novel by Wolfe, Melville’s Billy Budd, a tale by Edna Ferber. . . I must be mad, or ill. Why am I torturing myself? I am lost and despairing. Is there nowhere a page for me - a paragraph, a word, to teach me to live with myself, with my boredom, with my alienation, with my mediocrity? For the first time in my life, I think, I am alone and bereft. My old formulas are gone and useless. I do now know how to be happy.’

13 February 1945, Lunéville
‘If the confusion and incompetence of the history-recorders reflects the actual situation of the history-makers then the chaos of the battlefield is reaching new depths. I can’t seem to be able to find anybody who knows what he is doing. Policies are unclarified, procedures are botched, and the method and theory of the historical section absurd. The Colonel took a morning recently to restate functions and objectives. After an hour or so, Mooney asked permission to make a comment. “Sir, that’s all very well and good, but - ” and he hesitated only a moment, “but frankly - I don’t know whether to shit or go blind!” 

Which just about sums it up. As someone remarked today, the historian-in-chief is “an insurance salesman. . . And the only trouble is, we’re not selling insurance!” A few minutes later the Colonel came through. He tossed a few hasty glances at the oddly occupied office. “I think some of you people ought to find out the unit of measure around here,” he said. “It’s hours, not days! Every goddammed thing takes days, days!” And he left. Some time later: “How many pages have you done today?” The number was apparently negligible and inadequate, and he stormed. “Let’s get the output up! For Christ’s sake, if research takes up seventy-five percent of your time, cut research out! Just write, and then everything will be speeding along!” Mooney, Eggers, and Gottlieb (the current “bird-dog” staff) all tell me they were introduced to their units with - “I don’t know anything about this son-of-a-bitch. I don’t know who he is, what he can do. But I’m leaving him here, and see that he’s kept busy. I don’t want him laying around, fucking off!” The poor fate of a combat historian! There they were out in the cold of winter, sleeping with the men in holes and dugouts, worried about the Rundstedt offensive. And then a call would come through. It was the Colonel. “Eggers? Is that you? Come on in! I’ve been searching all over for you. Come on in. . . I want to send you out again.” Notes are accumulating. Nobody has time to prepare any manuscripts. A bird-dog’s life indeed!

“Have you read much of eighteenth-century literature?” Dyer asked this afternoon, turning aside from his records and maps. “Then you know Gibbon, of course. You know the more I go on with all this, the more I find myself writing like Gibbon. I read my own prose, and there it all is, the Ciceronian periods, the great Latin eloquence. Why, this page here - the Sixth Corps assault on Montélimar - why, mutatis mutandis, it might be a brilliant purple passage on the vices of some Roman emperor. . .” He shook his own head in acquiescence and went back to his records and maps.’

14 February 1945, Lunéville
‘A fine sunny afternoon. On the ground the pools of mud have dried into damp soft earth. In the street little pink-cheeked French children are playing, clomping along the cobblestones in their wooden shoes, singing and shouting un, deux, trois, quatre. . . Above, the air is busy with the ceaseless drone of planes. The sun has shown itself, and the land and the people look fair again, and somewhere not far away bombs are tearing apart an enemy.’

20 April 1945
‘Friday. Some fragmentary details of the push across the Rhine from Ludwigshafen seemed to me especially interesting, and at least a momentary flight from the routine fantasies of military gossip and political prejudice. Mannheim was in ruins, and the roads to Heidelberg from the river area and south from Karlsruhe were frantic refugee escape-lines. The city of Heidelberg itself was almost bulging. Peace-time population of eighty-six thousand; and now it held more than one hundred ten thousand. Heidelberg had become the sanctuary of the Rhine. (There were only about two thousand displaced persons, mostly French.) The people, according to all early observers, appeared to be well-fed, and the town was in all respects normal. The shops and the banks were open, the university was intact (guarded now to protect against looters), and except for the railroad yards the whole city with its historic buildings was undamaged. The Neckar was quiet, and some communications had been established, for little rowboats were coming over and back from shore to shore. Several hundred bodies were still lying around, soldiers and civilians killed in the streetfighting of several days before. The burgomaster, and this was a point I had missed in my own rather hasty “reconnaissance,” had been in office since 1929. He was a Nazi party member. His explanation was, of course, that it had been required of him in order to continue in office. And the Army accepted him as such. In the by now terribly familiar pattern the basic intention was to remove him, but he would be of service temporarily, for he was “not sufficiently prominent in the Nazi hierarchy to warrant his immediate displacement!” To be sure, he had refused to submit lists of prominent Nazis and locations of Nazi property. But he could help keep “order” and “administration” for the time being. On these hollow and lazy phrases all purpose is lost. The removal of the Nazis, summarily, unconditionally, could have become the consistent symbol of the end of the old order. In each town, village, county, everything but the memory of Party power could have been eradicated. Instead, spurious reasons of military and official expediency dictate compromises, blurring and distorting the clean break which would have proved constructive and vivifying. Once again victors and victims alike are prisoners of the machinery of evil. And our real deep helplessness suggests itself at least to me in every detail of the conquest and the occupation. Each report is a conspicuous unwitting exercise in the tragic ironies and paradoxes of the War. “All churches were required, under the Nazi regime, to submit copies of sermons to be delivered. Pastors and priests are continuing this practice.” “The local prison was almost destroyed. However, one cell block, containing about eighty cells, has been cleaned up. It is considerably damaged and without windowglass, but it will serve to accommodate about 150 persons.” “Concentration-camp situation reports were made out and the individual inmates’ questionnaires were left to be filled out by the inmates. The camp was being administered by three of the inmates who had imprisoned the German guards and taken over the management when the camp fell into Allied hands. The three were an Englishman, a Frenchman, and a Belgian. The prison was running so smoothly that it was determined not to make any changes. . .’’ The Imitation of Art by Life is no idle intellectual fancy, but is literal and terrifying: the whole war begins to unfold as an ingenious adaptation of Franz Kafka!

Discussions of the evening. Carter on the partition of Germany: “Partition her? Why, we’re going to rent her out! This country is going to be one vast To-Let sign! Or maybe, after all the bombings are over, she’ll be a deep enough crater simply to allow the sea to rush in. Then we’ll all take occupation furloughs and go fishing. Every now and then something’ll bite and up we come with a Heidelberger, nice and fat and Aryan, or a Frankfurter. . . Looks as if we’re in for one good deal after another! Imagine! Nothing to do but fish and swim in Mare Nostrum. . .” And Mooney, once again, on Bates Fabrics, bedroom furnishings, and problems of advertising and merchandising ladies-ready-to-wear.’

Sunday, May 12, 2024

A city in handcuffs

‘There was a drama involving two alleged Chinese dissidents who can’t be kept in Hong Kong but have been denied entry to the UK. This had all the makings of a nasty political incident. I hoped the Canadians might be prepared to take the two women. What was absolutely clear was that we can’t send them back to mainland China.’ This is from the diaries that Chris Patten - turning 80 today - kept for five years while Governor of Hong Kong. In his foreword to the diaries, published only recently, he talks of ‘the brutal and authoritarian communist regime which now holds a city I love in its handcuffs’.

Patten was born on 12 May 1944, in Cleveleys, Lancashire, the only son of Charles Patten, a jazz drummer, and Joan, a teacher. He was raised in London, where he attended primary school before securing a scholarship to St. Benedict’s School, Ealing, a Catholic independent school. He went on to study history at Balliol College, Oxford. He joined the Conservative Research Department in 1966, and was seconded to the Cabinet Office in 1970 where he worked as personal assistant and political secretary to Lord Carrington and Lord Whitelaw during their terms as Chairmen of the Conservative Party. In 1974 he was appointed the youngest ever Director of the Conservative Research Department. That same year, he married Lavender Thornton, a barrister, with whom he would have three daughters.

Patten was elected as Member of Parliament for Bath in 1979, a seat he held until 1992. He rose quickly, holding many and various different offices: Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office in 1983; Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science in 1985; Minister for Overseas Development at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in 1986; and Secretary of State for the Environment in 1989. Having been appointed to the Privy Council in 1989, he became a Companion of Honour in 1998. Also, from 1990, under Prime Minister John Major, he was Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Chairman of the Conservative Party. He guided the Party to an unexpected electoral victory in 1992, but lost his own seat.

Patten then accepted an appointment as Governor of Hong Kong, from 1992 to 1997, overseeing the return of Hong Kong to China. Thereafter, he was Chairman of the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland set up under the Good Friday Peace Agreement, which reported in 1999. From 1999 to 2004, he served as European Commissioner for External Relations, and in January 2005 he entered the House of Lords. In 2003, he was elected Chancellor of the University of Oxford, but is due to retire this year. Other posts include: Co-Chair of the UK-India Round Table in 2006; and Chairman of the BBC Trust from 2011 to 2014. He was appointed Knight Companion of the Order of the Garter in April 2023 by King Charles III. Further information is readily available at Wikipedia, Oxford University, or the BBC

Patten has published a few books, at irregular intervals, mostly on world affairs, but also of an autobiographical nature including, most recently, The Hong Kong Diaries (Allen Lane, 2022). In his foreword (see below), he explains how and why he decided to publish the diaries; he also mentions his wife’s ‘meticulously kept diaries’ and their plans to leave their diaries to the Bodleian Library to be made publicly available ‘warts and all’.

In the last paragraph of the foreword, Patten says: ‘I have not used any material from government archives, neither those kept at Kew nor those which reside separately with other colonial papers. Nor have I used any private correspondence. I have from time to time borrowed the description of events from the meticulously kept diary of my wife, Lavender, and occasionally have cross-checked dates and events with her accounts. We both intend to give our original diaries - in my own case principally the transcription of tape recordings and the large exercise books in which I wrote down every evening what was happening during the last part of my governorship - to the Bodleian Library in Oxford and ask that they should be made available, warts and all, to scholars who wish to read them. In some places the text has been reformulated for publication and to cope with the reduction of the total day-by-day diary by several hundred thousand words. I have not excised passages where occasionally my frustration may, with hindsight, have got the better of me, since they are a true reflection of the tensions that from time to time surfaced as we navigated an unprecedented series of events. But looking back now there is nothing material that I would have done differently. My only self-censorship has been to avoid the use of names from time to time, particularly those of people who are still in Hong Kong and might suffer because of the brutal and authoritarian communist regime which now holds a city I love in its handcuffs.’

Here are several extracts from The Hong Kong Diaries.

14 April 1992
‘News of the possibility of my going to Hong Kong has leaked, I suspect because one or two of my friends have been so noisily advocating my remaining in British politics. The story has rapidly turned into the suggestion that a short break that Lavender and I are planning to take with Alice in France over the Easter weekend is intended to be my time to reflect on whether or not to head east. Truth to tell, Lavender and I have pretty well made up our minds already.’

10 September 1992
‘There was a drama involving two alleged Chinese dissidents who can’t be kept in Hong Kong but have been denied entry to the UK. This had all the makings of a nasty political incident. I hoped the Canadians might be prepared to take the two women. What was absolutely clear was that we can’t send them back to mainland China. But we seemed to be making progress on the issue of the new terminal, thanks to some very neat footwork by the senior civil servant involved, Anson Chan. She found an ingenious formula which met some of my requirements about openness and competition while guarding against any lack of competitiveness in the running of the terminal and port as a whole. She has many of the things that I like about civil servants - she’s decisive, smart, talks straight to me and is prepared to take on tough assignments. My team think she is terrific, together with Michael Sze, that she’s the best of the local civil servants - and since most of them are very good that is high praise.’

17 September 1992
‘Day after day we go round and round the wretched airport with the Chinese side buggering us about in increasingly imaginative ways. We put forward some new proposals reducing the amount of borrowing that is required and increasing the equity injection by using the money made from the sale of land along the new rail route to invest in the whole project. It’s a perfectly reasonable approach - it builds on China’s own proposals; it cuts the overall cost of the airport; it means that we will not have to channel resources from other public-spending programmes. But it didn’t get a very good public reception, partly because some of the British press suggested that it is a kowtow and the pro-Beijing papers attacked us because it isn’t exactly what the Chinese side have pressed for, whatever they may have been saying this morning. So much for the understanding which Li Peng signed with John Major.’

19 February 1997
‘Rumours again that Deng is dead. Bob has phoned our embassy in Beijing, who report that there are no signs of an imminent Deng-Mao celestial meeting - no extra police on the streets, no solemn music on the radio. One of our senior officials, whom I invested with the CBE a few months ago, has suggested that, since a message for the disabled in our lifts is not yet available in Cantonese, we should stop the English message. We also had a good district visit to Sham Shui Po in Kowloon. It’s an old working-class area with a host of economic, housing and environmental problems. I’d been here last on an unpublicized visit to look at some black spots and I returned to the same block of really bad private housing that I looked at before. It’s been tidied up a bit and the tenants are disarmingly grateful. But the conditions are still pretty awful. I climb up onto the roof and look across rooftops of similar buildings, covered in illegal shacks as though a raggle-taggle army had camped out on Kowloon’s skyline. This is a long way from the marbled halls in mid-levels. Hardly surprisingly this district is a hotbed of political activism. The social problems find their safety valve in politics, petitioning, demonstrating, arguing - all pretty peacefully. When I see the problems in a place like this, it makes me realize how much Hong Kong needs another blast of social progress. I’d like to be building on what I started in 1992, which in some areas has only touched the surface of peoples’ lives. I ran into a good-natured demo on the way into a shopping mall and I disarmed them by handing out the traditional New Year lai see packets. There is a mad scramble to get one of the little red envelopes, banners dropping as hands reach out for the packets. Edward heard a photographer on his mobile phone talking to his newsdesk. ‘Did you get good photos of the demo?’ he was asked. ‘No - he started handing out bloody presents.’ 

23 June 1997
‘It’s a ‘lasts of everything’ week. And planning and organization for the farewell, the departure and the launching of the SAR government are becoming ever more demanding and even more frenetic. Chinese secretiveness and bureaucratic incompetence risk throwing everything into chaos. The Chinese are still producing lists of guests whom they want invited to events. Their plans for the arrival of senior leaders change by the day, but they seem to have given up on the idea of the vast yacht. What a mess. Our team of officials is working literally around the clock and are all dog-tired. The weather is awful, leaden skies, rolls of thunder and swampy heat. At Exco, the main issue was about de-registering a company called Rex, which is involved in weapons proliferation, especially chemical weapons. It’s plainly a front for the main Chinese arms dealer and manufacture, Noninco. The papers have all come through for this decision to be taken this week, and I’m also being pressed to close down an Iranian bank which has been funding the proliferation exercise along with the Bank of China. I’m prepared to act against the company even though it is so late in the day. But to hit the bank, which has local creditors, risks provoking an nth-hour bank run that would look to the Chinese like a final British ‘petty trick’. We can fire a shot across their bows, setting the government on course to close them down later if they don’t give satisfactory answers to our questions. It will be an interesting test of the new SAR government’s resolve to protect Hong Kong’s reputation as a reliable partner in the strategic trade field.’

Saturday, May 11, 2024

Rhinoceros, who are you?

‘I, Dali, deep in a constant introspection and a meticulous analysis of my smallest thoughts, have just discovered that, without realising it, I have painted nothing but rhinoceros horns all my life.’ This is from Diary of a Genius by Salvador Dalí, the Spanish artist, famous for his surrealist paintings and eccentric looks/behaviour. Today marks the 120th anniversary of his birth.

Dalí was born in Figueres, northeast Spain, on 11 May 1904, the son of a well-known notary. He showed artistic talent from an early age, and went to study at the Royal Academy in Madrid, although he was expelled twice and never took his final exams. However, he did become friends with the great Spanish dramatist and poet, Federico García Lorca, and the film-maker Luis Buñuel, with whom he collaborated on several avant-garde projects.

In 1928, Dalí moved to Paris where he met Picasso and Miro, and, in particular, André Breton, with whom he formed a group of surrealists. Some of his most famous surrealist works date from this period - The Spectre of Sex Appeal and The Persistence of Memory for example. Also in Paris, in 1929, he met Helena Diakonova, known as Gala, a Russian immigrant who would become his model, partner and business manager.

During the Second World War, Dalí and Gala lived in the US, with Dalí not only painting but contributing to other artistic fields, such as cinema, theatre and ballet. He became something of a darling in high society, and famous men and women commissioned him to paint their portraits. While in the US, he wrote The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí. In 1948, the couple returned to Europe, spending time either at their residence in Port Lligat, Spain, or in Paris.

In the post war period, Dalí became more interested in history and science, and these subjects formed the themes of many of his later works such as Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. During the 1970s, he created and inaugurated the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres, which houses a large collection of his works. He died in 1989. Further biographical information is available from Wikipedia, the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation, or a New York Times review of the definitive biography - The Shameful Life of Salvador Dalí - by Ian Gibson.

Dalí was not much of a bona fide diarist. A fragment of a diary survives from his adolescence. This was privately printed by Stratford Press in a limited edition for the Reynolds Morse Foundation in 1962, and entitled A Dalí Journal: Impressions and Private Memories of Salvador Dalí - January, 1920. The ‘Salvador Dalí Book Collector’, who runs a blog on Dalí books, is underwhelmed: ‘Here, we find a rather pedestrian Dalí whose time is spent at school, hanging with friends, flirting with girls . . . just an average teenage boy.’

Much later, however, Dalí employed the diary form for what became the second volume of his autobiography. This was first published in France in 1963 as Journal d’un génie, then translated into English by Richard Howard for publication by Doubleday in the US and Hutchinson in the UK as Diary of a Genius. The French writer Michel Déon helped Dalí prepare this book, and provided a forward and notes, also translated by Howard for the first English edition.

‘Dali’, says Déon in his forward, ‘has jotted down helter-skelter his thoughts, his torments as a painter thirsting for perfection, his love for his wife, the story of his extraordinary encounters, his ideas about aesthetics, morality. philosophy, biology. [. . .] This diary is a monument erected by Salvador Dali to his own glory. It is entirely lacking in modesty, it has, on the other hand, a burning sincerity. The author lays bare his secrets with brazen insolence, unbridled humour, sparkling extravagance.’ Here are a few extracts.

15 July 1952
‘Once more I thank Sigmund Freud and proclaim louder than ever his great truths. I, Dali, deep in a constant introspection and a meticulous analysis of my smallest thoughts, have just discovered that, without realising it, I have painted nothing but rhinoceros horns all my life. At the age of ten, a grasshopper-child, I already said my prayers on all fours before a table made of rhinoceros horn. Yes, to me it was already a rhinoceros! I take another look at my paintings and I am stupefied with the amount of rhinoceros my work contains. Even my famous bread [1945 painting] is already a rhino horn, delicately resting in a basket. Now I understand my enthusiasm the day Arturo Lopez presented me with my famous rhinoceros-horn walking stick. As soon as I became its owner, it produced in me a completely irrational illusion. I attached myself to it with an incredible fetishism, amounting to obsession, to such an extent that I once struck a barber in New York, when by mistake he almost broke it by lowering too quickly the revolving chair on which I had gently put it down. Furiously, I struck at his shoulder hard with my stick to punish him, but of course I immediately gave him a very big tip so that he would not get angry. Rhinoceros, rhinoceros, who are you?’

18 July 1952
‘Even though my Assumption is making substantial and glorious progress, it frightens me to see that already it is the 18th of July. Every day time flies faster, and though I live from one ten minutes to the next, savouring them one by one and transforming the quarters of an hour into battles won, into feats and spiritual victories, all of which are equally memorable, the weeks run by and I struggle to cling with an even more vital completeness to each fragment of my precious and beloved time.

Suddenly Rosita comes in with breakfast and brings me a piece of news that throws me into a joyous ecstasy. Tomorrow will be the 19th of July, and that is the date on which Monsieur and Madame arrived from Paris last year. I give an hysterical yell: “So, I haven’t arrived yet! I haven’t arrived. Not before tomorrow will I come to Port Ligat. This time last year, I hadn’t even started my Christ! And now before I’ve so much as come here, my Assumption is almost on its feet, pointing to heaven!”

I run straight to my studio and work till I am ready to drop, cheating and taking advantage of not being there yet so as to have as much as possible already done at the moment of my arrival. All Port Ligat has heard that I am yet there, and in the evening, when I come down for supper, little Juan calls out, as gay as can be: “Señor Dali is coming tomorrow night! Señor Dali is coming tomorrow night!”

And Gala looks at me with an expression of protective love which so far only Leonardo has been able to paint, and it so happens that the fifth centenary of Leonardo’s birth is tomorrow.

In spite of all my stratagem to savour the last moments of my absence with an intoxicating intensity, here I am, finally home in Port Ligat. And so happy!’

1 May 1953
‘I spent the winter in New York as usual, enjoying enormous success in everything I did. We have been in Port Ligat a month, and today, on the same date as last year, I decide to resume my diary. I inaugurate the Dalinian May the first by working frenetically, as I am urged to do by a sweet creative anguish. My moustache has never been so long. My entire body is encased in my clothing. Only my moustache shows.’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 11 May 2014.

Friday, May 3, 2024

Diary of a Harvard president

‘William Bosson having bin formerly Expelled the College for fornication, this day (as well as one before) offer’d his humble Confession & Petition to the Corporation requesting that he might be restored to his Standing in the College.’ This is from the otherwise rather spare diaries kept by John Leverett during his time as president of Harvard College. He died three centuries ago today, and is said to have brought ‘vigor, integrity, and devotion to the presidency’ in the early 18th century.

Leverett was born in 1662, in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of an attorney, and grandson of John Leverett the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He was educated at Boston Latin School and then at Harvard College, where he obtained a Bachelor of Arts in 1680 and a Master of Arts in 1683. Thereafter he was resident fellow at Harvard, and co-managed the College while its President was in England for four years (1688-1692). In 1697, he married Margaret Rogers Berry, daughter of a former Harvard College president. They had nine children, although six died in infancy. 

Leverett served the Province of Massachusetts Bay (formed in 1691) in various positions, as a justice of the peace (1699), a judge in the Court of Admiralty (1705), a justice of the Superior Court (1702-1708), judge of Probate Court for Middlesex County in Cambridge (1702–1708), legislator (1696-1702) and Speaker of the Colonial Massachusetts House of Representatives (1700-1702). He was also a provincial councillor for eastern Maine (1706-1708). Moreover, he acted as an Indian commissioner from Massachusetts during Queen Anne’s War (1701-1713). 

From 1708, Leverett was President of Harvard College, and, in 1714, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. When his wife died in 1720, he married Sarah Crisp Harris. He, himself, died on 3 May 1724. Harvard University provides this assessment: ‘John Leverett was noted for being a widely cultivated and broad-minded person. His experience as lawyer, jurist, and politician helped maintain Harvard College's standing during his critical years as president. Leverett brought vigor, integrity, and devotion to the Harvard presidency.’ Further information is also available at Wikipedia.

Leverett kept a diary of sorts during his years as President of Harvard College - from 28 October 1707 to 23 August 1723. This, along with other Leverett papers, are held by Harvard University Archives. A description of the diaries can be found on the university website, as can photographs of the transcriptions for every page of the diary. However, most entries in Leverett’s diary are little more than a record of his interaction with members of the Corporation and Board of Overseers, including descriptions of Corporation and Overseers meetings and votes taken. Many pages are simple lists of intermittent dates with single sentences of the type: ‘Osgood’s for Leonard’s’ and ‘Brattle for Bridgham’s’. Other pages contain texts which read more like committee minutes. Occasionally, there are some passages (see below) in which Leverett records happenings in a more diary like manner - but it’s hard to find them as there do not appear to be any navigation tools.

Here are two extracts (complete with mis-spellings).

28 March 1709
‘I set out for New-York being in joynt Commission from the Government with Major Winthrop to Congratulate the Arrival of my Lord Lovelace, and treat upon the Defence of our ffrontiers, and concert measures for the carrying on the Warr against the French & Indians of Canada, and to Induce the Government of N York to lay aside their neutrality, and joyn with this Province against the Comon Enemy to her Majesty’s Interests in America.’

24 May 1723
’Whereas at the Last Corporation-meeting the Consideration of filling up the Vacancy in the Corporation was refer’d to this Meeting: The President desired the Fellows to bring in their Votes for a fellow of the Corporation, the Votes being given in, Mr Professor Wigglesworth was Unanimously Chosen Fellow of the Corporation.

William Bosson having bin formerly Expelled the College for fornication, this day (as well as one before) offer’d his humble Confession & Petition to the Corporation requesting that he might be restored to his Standing in the College; there was exhibited also a Testimonial from the reverend Mr Walters of Roxbury in favour of him. It is therefore Voted that on reading and Owning his Confession publickly in the College Hall he be restored.’