Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Virtuous William Lambarde

Some 480 years ago today was born William Lambarde, a learned, virtuous, pious justice of the peace. He wrote several books, including one on Anglo-Saxon law, the first history of any county (Kent), and a diary record of his legal decisions on the Kent county circuit as a justice of the peace.

Lambarde was born in London on 18 October 1536. His father was a draper, as well as an alderman and a sheriff of London, but he died while William was still a minor. When he came of age, though, William was in comfortable circumstances, since he inherited the manor of Westcombe near Greenwich, as well as property in Shoreditch. He studied law and old English, and was called to the bar in 1567.

Lambarde spent the next two decades largely on county administration (starting with his appointment as a commissioner of sewers for Kent), his estates, and scholarship. In 1568, he published a collection of Anglo-Saxon laws, Archaionomia. Two years later he completed his Perambulation of Kent, the first history of a British county; and in 1576, he founded Queen Elizabeth’s College almshouses at Greenwich.

Lambarde served as an MP for Lincoln’s Inn, and a Justice of the Peace for Kent. This latter position led him to write a manual for Justices of Peace which became a standard work on the subject. He also wrote A Discourse Upon the High Courts of Justice in England. Lambarde married twice, and had four children by his second wife. Queen Elizabeth made him Keeper of the Records in the Tower in 1601, but he died shortly thereafter. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required) says he had ‘an unparalleled reputation for learning, piety, civic virtue, and trustworthiness’. Further information is available at Wikipedia, Archives Hub, The History of Parliament.

For the first eight years working as a justice of the peace, Lambarde kept a diary, he called An Ephemeris of the Certifiable Causes of the Peace, in which he recorded out-of sessions activities. These were mainly exercises of the magistrate’s office which needed to be reported to the quarter sessions or to assizes - see Prosecuting Crime in the Renaissance: England, Germany, France by John H. Langbein (The Lawbook Exchange, 2005) at Googlebooks. Lambarde’s diary, Langbein says, preserves mention of numerous examinations and bailments in cases of felony, together with a run of lesser matters, such as summary orders about alehouse keeping and bastardy and bindings over to keep the peace.

The diary itself has been published (by Cornell University Press for The Folger Shakespeare Library in 1962) in William Lambarde and Local Government: His “Ephemeris” and Twenty-nine Charges to Juries and Commissions, as edited by Conyers Read. According to Giles E. Dawson, who provides a preface to the book, ‘The importance of these manuscripts lies in the nature of William Lambarde’s activities and abilities. He was one of the foremost expositors of the Elizabethan judicial system, and for this task he was admirably fitted by training, by the scholarly bent of his mind, perhaps also by his social status among the new gentry sprung from London trade.’ Here are several examples from the diary.

1 April 1582
‘My father-in-law and I bound John Swan of Wrotham to the good behavior, to be kept till Easter 1584, in 20 li., for whom William Lever and Henry Lever of Wrotham, yeomen, did understake, in 10 li. every of them.’

21 May 1583
‘There was holden at Maidstone a special session of the peace for the rogues, where divers were bound and whipped. I have signed a license for Thomas Godfrey to beg till Allhallontide (for his house burnt) within the limits of the Lord Cobham only.’

23 June 1583
‘I bound Francis Whitepaine of Yalding, yeoman, to the peace against Richard Acton of Yalding, clothier, with four manucaptors, by force of a supplicavit out of the Chancery.’

13 July 1583
‘At Cobham Hall my Lord and I licensed Edward Doret of Cobham to keep an alehouse. He was bound, in 20 li., and Thomas Harris and William Waite of Cobham, in 10 li. either of them, as his sureties, with the common condition. The same day we wrote to such of other parishes as occupied lands in Allhallows to contribute after the rate of 2 d. in the pound of their said lands towards the relief of the poor of Allhallows.’

29 August 1586
‘I sent to the gaol Thomas Cockes, late of Strood, tinker, for robbing the house of Alice Fuller, widow, and bound her, in 5 li., to give evidence, etc.’

25 April 1587
‘At the quarter sessions at Maidstone we certified all the said recognizances for peace, alehouses, etc., and delivered in the record of the said riot, etc.’

23 June 1587
‘We of this division sent out towards the Low Countries thirteen men for our part of fifty men allotted to this lathe of Aylesford; given to every one 2 s. press money and to the captain 10 d. for each one towards coat and furniture; the whole shire made out three hundred.’

2 August 1587
‘I bound Nevil Reeve of Aylesford, gentleman, 200 li., with Henry Warcop of the same, gentleman, 100 li., and Richard Reeve of Maidstone, innholder, 100 li., that Nevil shall appear at the next general gaol delivery, etc., and in the meantime be of good port and behavior. It was for the hurting of Thomas Reynes of Burham, yeoman, with a stone, to the peril of death, as it is said, etc. Released by Reynes.’

14 September 1587
‘Mungra Russel, a Scot, charged to beget a woman child upon Rebecca Gore of East Mailing, was by me sent to the gaol for not finding sureties for his good behavior and appearance, etc. Send for old Gore, her father, etc. He is escaped. Send for James Dowle, the borsholder.’

The Diary Junction

Sunday, October 16, 2016

We must not budge

‘On Jerusalem we must not budge. We have to quickly establish a large Jewish settlement there. The same with Hebron. The West Bank must not be returned to Hussein, but its annexation to Israel would mean the addition of one million Arabs, this would present a terrible danger. There’s also a refugee problem in the Gaza Strip.’ This is Ben-Gurion, founder of Israel and the country’s first prime minister, writing during the 1967 Six-Day War in a diary he kept all his adult life. Today marks the 130th anniversary of his birth.

David Gruen was born in Plonsk, Russian Poland, on 16 October 1886. He learned Hebrew in a school run by his father, and while still in his mid-teens led a Zionist group called Ezra. Aged 18, he worked as a teacher in Warsaw, where he joined a Socialist-Zionist movement, Poalei Zion. By 1906, though, Gruen had emigrated to Palestine, where, for several years, he worked as a farmer in various Jewish agricultural settlements. He soon adopted the ancient Hebrew name Ben-Gurion. He helped found the first agricultural workers’ commune in Sejera and to establish the Hashomer (Watchman) defence organisation.

With the start of WWI, Ben-Gurion, considered an alien Russian national, was deported by the Ottoman authorities, to Egypt. He travelled to New York, and thence to many other US cities, on behalf of the Socialist-Zionist cause, trying to raise a pioneer army to fight on Turkey’s side. While in the US, he met and married Paula Munweis, a fellow Poalei Zion activist, and they would have three children. He returned to Israel in the uniform of the Jewish Legion, created as a unit in the British army by Zionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky.

After the war, Ben-Gurion was made the leader of Ahdut HaAvoda, formed after a split in the Poale Zion party. The following year, 1920, the group set up a military organisation, the Haganah, and it helped establish the Histadrut, a general organisation of Hebrew workers. Ben-Gurion, himself, did not return to British-ruled Palestine until 1921, but when he did he was soon elected general secretary of Histadrut. He retained that role until 1935, turning Histadrut into a national instrument for the realisation of Zionism, and in particular for stimulating immigration. In 1930, Ben-Gurion became leader of a new party, Mapai, and, then in 1935, he was made head of the World Zionist Organisation and of the Jewish Agency. During WW2, he led Israel to fight with Britain against the Nazis.

Having led the struggle to establish the state of Israel - agreed by the UN in 1947 - Ben-Gurion became its first prime minister and defence minister in 1948. He took the decision to bring all the country’s armed factions together into a single Israeli army. He then led Mapai to winning the largest number of seats in the Knesset during the first national elections in 1949. Elected prime minister, he remained in that post until 1963, barring two years in the 1950s. He oversaw the establishment of the state’s institutions, presided over various national projects aimed at rapid development (for example, airlifting Jews from Arab countries, the construction of the national water company, rural developments and the establishment of new towns and cities).

In late 1956, Ben-Gurion, frustrated by Egyptian guerrilla attacks on Israel, made a secret agreement with Britain and France to attempt the overthrow of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Israel invaded the Egyptian Sinai, while Britain and France shortly after tried to re-take the Suez Canal which had been seized by Nasser and nationalised. However, the US, the Soviet Union and the UN together forced the three invading countries to withdraw - Ben-Gurion, however, secured the right of free Israeli navigation through the Red Sea. In 1963, he stepped down from office, naming Levi Eshkol as his successor. But, a year later, the two fell out over the handling of the Lavon Affair, a failed covert operation by the Israelis in Egypt. Ben-Gurion left Mapai, and formed a new party Rafi, but it lost the 1965 election against Alignment (formed by a merger of Mapai and Ahdut HaAvoda, and led by Eshkol).

Ben-Gurion, by now 
a much respected elder statesman, continued to be involved in the country’s politics, but he retired in 1970 to live in his modest Kibbutz home. He died in 1973. Sirens sounded across the entire country to mark his death. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Brittanica, Jewish Virtual Library, or Zionism and Israel.

Ben-Gurion kept a professional diary all his adult life, though, as far as I can tell, there have been no published editions in English. However, 
Selwyn Ilan Troen (editor of The Suez-Sinai Crisis 1956: Retrospective and Reappraisal, 1990, Frank Cass) knows the diaries well and has published extracts in English, including a chapter - Ben-Gurion’s Diary: The Suez Sinai Campaign - in the above book. He states in the introduction: ‘The Suez diaries are part of a massive record Ben-Gurion kept from 1900 until nearly the day he died in 1973. Since they were notebooks intended to assist him in his work rather than private or intimate notations, there is almost nothing of a personal nature on himself, his family or his private life. He used the diaries to record his activities including meetings, letters, and conversations, to note what transpired, and to offer commentary, reflection and analysis. During the 1920s and 1930s he even shared them with his colleagues as a means of communication. In order to facilitate their use, he indexed them himself so that he could refer to them for needed information. From time to time he also wrote summaries and short histories of topics that were of interest to him.’

‘It should be noted,’ he adds, ‘that despite his expectation that his diaries would be read by posterity, or perhaps because he was conscious that he was creating a historical document, Ben-Gurion never erased or changed an entry. In all the diaries, the record of any particular day remains a reflection of what engaged Ben-Gurion at the moment.’

The diaries are held by the Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism which says: ‘Ben-Gurion’s diaries are undoubtedly the jewel in the crown of the archives. Ben-Gurion was a prolific writer who kept meticulous records, even copying statistics into his diaries. Their 20,000 pages, written over the course of nearly 70 years, contain invaluable research material that sheds light on the events surrounding the founding of the State and the social trends and minutiae of its development.’

Here are several extracts from Ben-Gurion’s diaries. The first three come from Ilan Troen’s chapter on the diaries in The Suez-Sinai Crisis 1956: Retrospective and Reappraisal. The last (8 June 1967) comes from a paper by Ilan Troen and Zaki Shalom entitled Ben-Gurion’s Diary for the 1967 Six-Day War: An Introduction (found in Israel Studies, Volume 4, Number 2). Square brackets in these extracts are inserts by the editor(s) - except for the single occurrence of  [. . .] which indicates where I have omitted several paragraphs.

27 September 1956
‘This morning we held a consultation - Golda [Meir], [Peretz| Naftali, Pinhas Sapir, Moshe D[ayan] . . . Shimon Peres and myself - regarding the French proposed. . . I made three negative assumptions: (1) We shall not be the ones to open [hostilities]. (2) We shall not participate unless there is British agreement and their agreement must also include our defence against a Jordanian and Iraqi attack. (We on our part will promise not to attack either Jordan or Syria.) (3) That no action will be taken contrary to U.S. opinion and without it being informed. Our final decision will be made here following their return [from France] . . .

Upon the conclusion of the Eden-Selwyn Lloyd talks in Paris with the French Government a communiqué was issued saying that both governments hold the same views as to the steps that must be taken in the present crisis. Have they really reached an agreement on an ‘operation’ and did they also discuss the plan of our participation?. . .

Next Sunday things will become clearer following the departure of our delegation.

Tonight, the last ship bringing French arms is due to arrive. On it are the last 20 Super-Shermans, accessories and ammunition.

Following my disclosure of this ‘military secret’, several weeks ago, the newspaper editors, who were true to their word, were taken today to watch the unloading of this precious ‘merchandise’.’

19 October 1956
‘At eleven, Gilbert, who has just returned from France, came to see me . . . I outlined to him my plan for the Middle East and he agrees with it. In his opinion his government will endeavour to influence Britain to accept my plan, for without England the plan cannot be. In general the plan is: oust Nasser, partition Jordan - [with the] eastern [part] to Iraq - so that it will make peace with Israel thereby enabling the refugees to settle there with the aid of American money. The borders of Lebanon will be reduced and it will become a Christian state. I am not quite clear in regard to what will be done with Syria. Gilbert thinks that [Adib al] Shishakli is the man [to take into consideration] since America trusts him.’

7 November 1956
‘An act of the Devil - I fell sick and was bedridden following the Government approval of my plan, a day before actions in Sinai began. I had an attack of high fever and weakness and even yesterday, Prof. S[hlomo]. Zondak forbade me to go up to Jerusalem to the Knesset. But I could no longer take his advice, since the Knesset had been put off from Monday till today. At eleven o’clock this morning I gave my report of the military actions of the biggest campaign in the history of our people - the campaign to conquer the Sinai Peninsula (including the Gaza Strip). (I could not give an account of the political background of the military operation.)

In bed in Tel-Aviv, I was in constant touch with military head-quarters on the one hand, and with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, on the other. I wasn’t sure whether Eden would keep his part of the arrangement. And though he was twelve hours late - in turning [with the ultimatum] to Egypt as well as in the start of the bombings. I was anxious with fright that Tel-Aviv and the other airports might be bombed - the partners did keep most of their commitments. On two occasions Eisenhower poured out his anger at us - twice before the start of the operation (during mobilization) and twice following our commencing the operation. But by the time we managed to explain to him the reasons for our actions he was informed that the English and the French were also taking action, and in his broadcast to the nation that night - October 31 - he was more moderate towards us.

In the beginning the entire affair seemed like a dream, then a fable and in the end like a night of wonders.

The dispatch with which [Nikolai] Bulganin honored me - if his name hadn’t been signed on it I could have thought it had been written by Hitler. There’s not much difference between these hangmen. It worries me because Soviet arms arc flowing into Syria and we must presume that the arms arc accompanied by ‘Volunteers’.’

8 June 1967
‘M. Shapira came at nine [to my home in Tel-Aviv]. I told him that we’d lost a day, and in these times one day should not be taken lightly. I don’t know if the war is over already, it’s possible there will be complications. We must reinforce the army’s victory by settling the Old City as quickly as possible, both in the deserted areas of the Jewish Quarter and in abandoned Arab houses [in other Quarters]. If the Arabs return, we’ll provide them with homes in the New City [of Jerusalem]. Shapira agrees.

I wanted to discuss this with Moshe Dayan as Defense Minister too, but was told that he’s in Jerusalem. Because I wanted to go inside the Old City, I traveled to Jerusalem. Ezer Weizman and Mordechai Hod came with me. All the way to Jerusalem and in the New City soldiers cheered us. We entered the Old City and headed straight for the Wailing Wall. I noticed that since the Old City has been closed to us [from 1948], buildings were erected next to the Wall. I was surprised that an order hasn’t been given to knock these constructions down. I walked over to the Wall and saw a sign in Arabic and English “el Burak,” as if to announce here is where Muhammad met the angel Elkim. I said that first of all this sign should be removed without damaging the Wall’s stones. One of the soldiers immediately got a stick and began erasing the sign. I couldn’t find Moshe because he’d gone to Hebron, and would return to Tel-Aviv.

I returned to Tel-Aviv; Moshe is still not here. I wanted to see Begin and discuss settling the Old City, I was told he’s in Jerusalem, and might return this evening.

I went to a meeting of Rafi. A large crowd had gathered. Shimon suggested returning to the Labor Party, so that we can oust the Prime Minister. I expressed my doubts that our return to Labor would create a change of government. I don’t know if the war is over, but in the political arena we’re liable to lose what our army has gained for the nation.  [. . .]

I invited [Moshe] Shapira and Begin to come and see me. I told them that it’s not certain if the war will be over tomorrow. At any rate, the international struggle will begin immediately over four issues: the Old City, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and Sinai. On Jerusalem we must not budge. We have to quickly establish a large Jewish settlement there. The same with Hebron. The West Bank must not be returned to Hussein, but its annexation to Israel would mean the addition of one million Arabs, this would present a terrible danger. There’s also a refugee problem in the Gaza Strip. Begin proposed transferring the refugees from Gaza to El- Arish and leaving them there. It’s doubtful if they’d go willingly. He’s also in favor of incorporating all of the West Bank into Israel. I stressed the political struggle awaiting us.’

The Nuremberg ten

Seventy years ago today, on 16th October 1946, ten prominent members of the Nazi regime were executed by hanging in Nuremberg having been found guilty at the International Military Tribunal of crimes against humanity and other offences: Hans Frank, Wilhelm Frick, Alfred Jodl, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Wilhelm Keitel, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Alfred Rosenberg, Fritz Sauckel, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, and Julius Streicher. Four of the top Nazis - Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler and Bormann - had all committed suicide more than a year earlier, and Hermann Göring, tried and found guilty at Nuremberg had been due to be executed with the other ten but managed to suicide the day before.

A few of these prominent Nazis left behind some kind of diary record. The Memoirs of Field-Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, written while Keitel was awaiting execution, has been published - see Amazon. Some information about Jodl’s diary can be found at the Jewish Virtual Library; and extracts from Hans Frank’s diary can be found at the libraries archive website of the University of Connecticut. Alfred Rosenberg’s diary has had an interesting history, as recounted in The Devil’s Diary, though its substance is disappointing in the opinion of The Guardian’s reviewer. Otherwise, I can find no evidence that any other of the ten kept a diary - certainly not Ribbentrop, according to an article in Political Science Quarterly.

Goebbels’ diary is by far the most important and detailed diary kept by a Nazi leader. The Diary Review marked the 70th anniversary of the death of Goebbels last year - see We can conquer the world for more about Goebbels and his diaries. By way of marking the 70th anniversary of the 10 Nuremberg executions, I have returned to Goebbels’ diary, and selected two or three paragraphs about each of the executed Nazis. All extracts are taken from The Goebbels Diaries - translated and edited by Louis P. Lochner, published by Hamish Hamilton, 1948. Generally, the book’s index mentions each person roughly 5-10 times, with the exception of Kaltenbrunner (just once), and Streicher (not at all, except in a note concerning a magazine he published).

Hans Frank, German lawyer and politician (b. 1900)
25 April 1942
‘I had a long talk with Governor General Dr. Frank. He described conditions in the General Government. They are extremely complicated. Dr. Frank and his collaborators have succeeded absolutely in balancing the budget of the General Government. He is already squeezing all sorts of money out there. The food situation, too, has been brought into equilibrium. Frank is convinced that much more could be got out of the General Government. Unfortunately we lack manpower everywhere to carry out tasks like these. He must get along with a minimum of help.’

9 March 1943
‘I related some incidents illustrating conditions in the occupied areas to the Fuehrer, but he already knew most of them. In this connection we happened to talk about the case of the Governor General [of Poland], Dr. Frank. The Fuehrer no longer has any respect for him. I argued with the Fuehrer, however, that he must either replace Frank or restore his authority, for a governor general - in other words, a viceroy - of Poland without authority is of course unthinkable in these critical times. Added to everything else, Frank is unfortunately mixed up in a divorce, about which he is not exactly behaving nobly. The Fuehrer refused to let him get a divorce. This, too, serves to play havoc with the Fuehrer’s relationship to Frank. Nevertheless he wants to receive him within the next few days to determine whether he can still be saved, and if so, to strengthen his authority once more. Frank is not acting very sensibly in this whole situation. He vacillates between brusque outbursts of anger and a sort of spiritual self-mortification. That’s no way, of course, to lead a people. One must have absolute self-assurance, as it is the only thing which can radiate assurance to others.’

28 May 1943
‘Secretary of State Frank received the Government of the Protectorate and revealed the background of the attempt on Heydrich’s life, stressing especially the directives issued by Benes. Undoubtedly this speech will attract great attention in the Protectorate. For obvious reasons we are devoting only a few lines to it in the German press.’

Wilhelm Frick, German lawyer and politician, German Minister of the Interior (b. 1877)
11 February 1942
‘A number of domestic problems demand solution. Administrative reform is under discussion. Frick is trying to inject himself into the work started by Dr. Lammers, but he is only partially successful in this. The Ministry of the Interior as a simplifier of administration is a real joke.’

10 May 1943
‘Frick, who was present at this talk, cut a very poor figure. The centralized administration that he built up is neither approved of nor even appreciated by the Fuehrer. The Fuehrer criticized the Ministry of the Interior so outspokenly that Frick ought to draw certain conclusions. But he is too old and too fond of his office for this.’

Alfred Jodl, German general (b. 1890)
21 September 1943
‘I had a very serious clash with Dr. Dietrich and General Jodl about the Salerno news handouts. They both felt badly compromised. They would like, in all the circumstances, to prevent my reporting this questionable matter to the Fuehrer. I can only refrain from doing so, however, if given binding assurances that incidents of this sort won’t be repeated. I have no mind to let my good name be discredited by the journalistic amateurishness of inferior officers.’

23 September 1943
‘. . . the abilities of Jodl are much greater. He is in fact a very good and solid worker whose excellent general staff training is revealed time and again.’

4 December 1943
‘In Italy the enemy has started new assaults on our front. They have succeeded here and there in making inroads. But considerable reserves of ours are on the march, so that people in the Fuehrer’s G.H.Q. are not worrying about further developments. The operations are chiefly under Jodl’s command. But Jodl does not seem to me any too competent at evaluating a critical military situation. He has so often been wrong in his prognoses that personally I am unable to drop my worries about the southern Italian front.’

Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Austrian SS officer (b. 1903)
14 March 1943
‘S.S. Croup Leader Kaltenbrunncr sent me a general report on enemy sabotage activity during the year 1942. It appears that it was rather over-estimated. While it is true that a number of regrettable events occurred, they did not affect the situation seriously. We can be quite satisfied with developments thus far, considering, after all, that we are now in the fourth year of war.’

Wilhelm Keitel, German field marshal (b. 1882)
9 March 1943
‘The Fuehrer once more gave detailed expression to his opinion of the generals, for whom he has nothing but contempt. Like myself, he thinks you need only imagine these gentlemen in civilian clothes, to lose all respect for them. About Keitel, the Fuehrer can only laugh. The Fuehrer’s experiences with the generals have embittered him beyond measure. He even becomes unfair and condemns decent officers as well en masse. One must therefore soft-pedal rather than resort to a crescendo.’

11 March 1943
‘From a letter from Murr I gather that prominent army officers at home are criticizing the Fuehrer very much. That is low-down and disgusting. Naturally a man like Keitel hasn’t the necessary authority to stop this sort of thing. One can only agree with the Fuehrer’s opinion of the top officers. They aren’t worth a hoot.’

18 March 1943
‘Whenever Goering cannot himself preside over the Council of Ministers for the Defence of the Reich, which is to meet every week, he wants me to be chairman. This is to develop into my becoming his permanent deputy. Lammers would thereby be relieved unostentatiously of his post as deputy to Goering and pushed back into the secretarial position which had always been intended for him. Bormann and Keitel, too, are really nothing but departmental secretaries to the Fuehrer and have no authority to act on their own. They are assuming authority at present because the persons who were given far-reaching powers by the Fuehrer failed to use them.’

Joachim von Ribbentrop, German lieutenant and politician, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany (b. 1893)
2 March 1943
‘Goering also thinks little of Ribbentrop. He referred very critically to our complete and obvious lack of an active foreign policy. He especially blames Ribbentrop for failing to draw Spain over to our side. Franco, of course, is cowardly and irresolute; but German foreign policy ought nevertheless to have found a way to bring him into our camp. Ribbentrop also lacks the elegant touch in handling people. Goering gave me some quite devastating examples by way of illustration. Goering consistently claims that this war is Ribbentrop’s doing, and that he never made any serious attempt to achieve a modus vivendi with England, simply because he has an inferiority complex. But there’s no point in brooding over this today. We must deal with facts and not with the reasons behind them. There will be plenty of time for that after the war.’

14 November 1943
‘I had a heavy set-to with Ribbentrop about our propaganda section in France. Ribbentrop claims that France must be regarded as a foreign country and not as a defeated state because it has a chief of state and a prime minister. Consequently, only the Foreign Office has a right to political activity there. I opposed this standpoint violently and Field Marshal General Keitel joined in my protest. For, after all, we have defeated France and there is a military occupation force in France. The Embassy in Paris is only, so to speak, an outside sub-bureau of the Foreign Office, but it can in no way be considered a diplomatic representation of the Reich in a free and sovereign France. The argument went back and forth. Ribbentrop is trying to solve the situation by a fait accompli, by-passing the Fuehrer. But I shall in no circumstances agree to this. It is amazing with what fanaticism the Foreign Office, and especially Ribbentrop, deal with points of such subsidiary importance.’

30 November 1943
‘I discussed a number of personnel questions with Bormann. He, too, is worried about German foreign policy. Ribbentrop is too rigid to be able to spin his web in this difficult war situation. But I don’t believe the Fuehrer is ready to part company with his Foreign Minister. Yet Ribbentrop would not be able to negotiate either with London or with Moscow were such an eventuality to arise. Both sides consider him too heavily compromised.’

Alfred Rosenberg, Estonian architect and politician (b. 1893)
29 January 1942
‘Rosenberg’s office has worked out a scheme of agrarian reform for the occupied areas which envisages the gradual elimination of the kolhose [collective community farm] and the return of land to private ownership. I expect very much from this scheme when it is brought to the attention of the broad masses of the farmers. If we should be in a position actually to give the farmers land, they would look forward to an eventual return of the Bolsheviks with decidedly mixed feelings.’

6 February 1942
‘Had a minor set-to with Rosenberg about the manner of conducting our ideological celebrations. He knows nothing about organization, that’s why he is monkeying so much with it. I shall hold my own against him, however.’

8 February 1942
‘Rosenberg wrote me a letter stating that he intends to oppose the idea of a fight against the religious denominations. That’s really too funny for words! Now, when we are in a tight pinch, everybody poses as a champion who fights against the very things that he himself started. I suppose the final result will be that those of us who have for years opposed the folly of our pronouncements on the religious question and similar things will be regarded as the real originators of the difficulties resulting from this folly!’

2 March 1943
‘[Goering] has the lowest possible opinion of Rosenberg. Like myself, he is astonished that the Fuehrer continues to stick to him and clothes him with powers which he is incompetent to use. Rosenberg belongs in an ivory tower, not in a ministry that must look after almost a hundred million people. The Fuehrer thought of the Ministry of the East as a guiding and not an administrative instrument when he created it. Rosenberg, following his old inclination to fuss with things which he knows nothing about, has made a gigantic apparatus of it which he is now unable to control.’

Fritz Sauckel, German sailor and politician (b. 1894)
9 March 1943
‘The Fuehrer shares my worries about the carrying through of the 800,000-manpower programme. He has now become rather distrustful of Sauckel, who lacks the ability to carry through in practice the necessary transition process for this programme. He depends too much upon the labour offices, which arc quite unsuitable for this purpose.’

13 April 1943
‘There were some very serious clashes between Sauckel on the one side and Speer and Milch on the other. The meeting was not particularly harmonious. Sauckel had prepared for this meeting whereas Speer and Milch came totally unprepared. They had depended completely on my familiarity with the situation and on my professional knowledge, which, alas, was not available to them. As a result Sauckel had somewhat of an advantage and won the race by default.’

28 April 1943
‘Sauckel has been appointed Reich Plenipotentiary for manpower. When he comes to Berlin the next time I am going to talk to him and outline my wishes. Undoubtedly his strong National Socialist hand will achieve miracles. It should not be difficult to mobilize at least a million additional workers from among the German people; one must merely tackle it energetically and not be scared by the constant difficulties.’

Arthur Seyss-Inquart, Austrian lawyer and politician, 16th Federal Chancellor of Austria (b. 1892)
28 January 1942
‘I am authorizing Seyss-Inquart to open a theatre in the Hague in which opera, comic opera, and drama are to be produced. I do this with one eye weeping and the other laughing for, really, the Dutch don’t deserve such great cultural support. Perhaps they don’t even have the proper appreciation for it. But Seyss-Inquart is very insistent, and after all the Germans in Holland have some right to such a theatre.’

6 March 1943
‘I had a very lengthy talk with Seyss-Inquart. He is an enthusiastic supporter of my policies and has great expectations for them in the occupied areas. He reported that our generals sometimes get weak in the knees. But that, after all, has always been the case with the generals! I can see from this talk that the chances for the success of my political directives are everywhere on the increase.’

Julius Streicher, German journalist and politician (b. 1887)
5 January 1942
‘The Fuehrer sent word to me that he does not desire the circulation of the Stuermer reduced or that it should cease publication altogether. I am very happy about this decision. The Fuehrer stands by his old Party members and fellow fighters and won’t let occasional trouble and differences affect him. Because he is so loyal to his co-workers, they, in turn, are equally faithful to him.’
[Note: ‘The Stuermer was a pornographic anti-Semitic weekly published by Streicher. [. . .] Streicher’s debaucheries and graft became so scandalous that Hitler had finally to relieve him of his Gauleiter job. But he permitted him to continue publication of the Stuermer. All over Germany there were glass-covered bulletin boards for exhibiting the current editions of this publication. Parents protested vigorously that their children were being corrupted by reading filthy articles and seeing the pornographic cartoons in The Streamer.’]

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Bassompierre in London

The dashing nobleman, François de Bassompierre, a one-time favourite of King Henry IV of France who later fell out with Cardinal Richelieu, died 370 years ago today. He is remembered largely because he left behind a memoir of his life, and several volumes of diaries written while on diplomatic missions - one of which, kept during his stay in London, has been translated into English.

François de Bassompierre was born in 1579 into an aristocratic family at the Château de Haroué in Lorraine (now France). He was educated with his brothers in Bavaria and Italy, and, in 1598, was introduced to the court of King Henry IV of France, where he became a favourite of the king. As a young man, he was involved in various military campaigns: in Savoy in 1600, and in Hungary in 1603 against the Turks. He assisted Marie de’ Medici, queen mother, against the nobles in 1620, and helped the king against Huguenot risings (for which he was made a Marshal of France), and during the siege of La Rochelle in 1628. He was sent to raise troops in Switzerland when Louis XIII marched against Savoy in 1629.

Bassompierre also served, at various times, as a diplomat. In 1621, he went to Madrid to settle a dispute concerning the seizure of the Valtelline forts by Spain. In 1625, he was dispatched to Switzerland, and a year later to London, to secure the retention of the Catholic ecclesiastics and attendants of Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I of England. Bassompierre was secretly married to Louise Marguerite, widow of François, prince de Conti, and friend of Marie de’ Medici. She bore him one son (but he also had another, illegitimate son). Louise Marguerite’s hostility to Cardinal Richelieu, however, led to Bassompierre being imprisoned from 1631 until after Richelieu’s death in 1643. Although his status was restored, he died a few years later, on 12 October 1646. Wikipedia and Encyclopaedia Britannica have, more or less, the same biographical information, both drawn from the out-of-copyright 1911 edition of Encyclopædia Britannica.

Bassompierre is largely remembered because he left behind a memoir of his life, first published in Cologne in 1665, but many times since then - see Internet Archive. He also published diary accounts of his diplomatic missions to Spain, Switzerland and England, but only the latter has been published in English (John Murray, 1819, translated by John Wilson Croker) - as Memoirs of the Embassy of the Marshal de Bassompierre to the Court of England in 1626. This, too, is freely available at Internet Archive. Here are several extracts.

15 October 1626
‘Thursday the 15th, on which the Earl of Britswater came with the king’s coaches to fetch me to Hampton Court; then the duke shewed me into a gallery, where the king was waiting for me, who gave me a long audience and well disputed. He put himself into a great passion, and I, without losing my respect to him, replied to him in such wise, that, at last, yielding him something, he conceded a great deal to me. I witnessed there an instance of great boldness, not to say impudence, of the Duke of Boukinkam, which was, that when he saw us the most warmed, he ran up suddenly and threw himself between the king and me, saying, “I am come to keep the peace between you two.” Upon which I took off my hat, and as long as he staid with us I would not put it on again, notwithstanding all the intreaties of the king and of himself to do so; but when he went I put it on without the king’s desiring me. When I had done, and that the duke could speak to me, he asked me why I would not put on my hat  while he was by, and that I did so, so freely, when he was gone. I answered that I had done it to do him honour, because he was not covered and that I should have been, which I could not suffer; for which he was much pleased with me, and often mentioned it in my praise. But I had also another reason for doing so, which was, that it was no longer an audience, but a private conversation, since he had interrupted us, by coming in, as a third, upon us. After my last audience was over, the king brought me through several galleries to the queen’s apartments, where he left me, and I her, after a long conversation; and I was brought back to London by the same Earl of Britswater.’

16 October 1626
‘Friday, the 16th, I was to see the Earl of Holland sick at Inhimthort. The king and queen returned to London. M. de Soubise came to see me. Afterwards the duke sent to beg of me to come to Sommerset, where we were more than two hours disputing about our business.’

17 October 1626
‘Saturday, the 17th, I went to make my bow to the queen at Withal, and to give her an account of my conference of the day before with the duke.’

18 October 1626
‘Sunday the 18th. I was visited by the secretary, Couvai, who came to speak to me from the king.’

20 October 1626
‘Tuesday, 20. Viscount Hamelton (Wenbleton) and Goring came to dine with me. After dinner I was heard at the council, and on my return the Venetian ambassador came to visit me.’

21 October 1626
‘Wednesday, 21st. I wrote a despatch to the King (of France). I was to see the queen, and afterwards to confer with the duke in Sommerset (House).’

22 October 1626
‘Thursday, 22d. I was in the morning to see the ambassador of Danemark. The duke, with the Earls of Carlile and Holland and Montaigne, came to dine with me; I  saw, en passant, the ambassador of the States on business, then I was to the queen’s, and that evening at Madame D’Estranges.’

23 October 1626
‘Friday, 23d. I was to see the Earl of Carlile and the Venetian ambassador.’

24 October 1626
‘Saturday, 24th. I was to see the queen where the king came, with whom she pick’d a quarrel. The king took me to his chamber, and talked a great deal with me, making me complaints of the queen, his wife.’

25 October 1626
‘Sunday, 25. The Earls of Pembrac and Montgomery came to see me, then I went for the duke, whom I took to the queen’s, who made his peace with her; which I had brought about with infinite trouble. The king came in afterwards, and he also was reconciled with her, and caressed her very much - thanked me for having reconciled the duke and his wife - then took me to his chamber, where he  showed me his jewels, which are very fine.’

26 October 1626
‘Monday, 26th. I was, in the morning to see the ambassador of Danemark; after dinner I went to the queen at Sommerset, and fell out with her.’

27 October 1626
‘Tuesday, 27th. The Duke, the Earls of Dorset, Carlile, Holland, Montaigu, and Goring, came to dine with me. I went afterwards to see the Earl of Pembroc and Carleton. In the evening I had a courrier from France.’

28 October 1626
‘Wednesday, 28th. I was at Withal in the morning to speak with the duke and Secretary Couvai, because the king was going to Hampton-Court. After dinner I went to see the queen at Sommerset, with whom I made it up. In the evening the duke and Earl of Holland took me to sup at Antonio Porter’s, who was entertaining Dom Augustin Fiesco, Marquis of Piennes, the Chevallier de Jars, and Gabellin. After supper we had music.’

29 October 1626
‘Thursday, 29th. In the morning I had visits from the Earl of Holland and the Earl of Carlile. After dinner I went to see the ambassador of Holland.’

30 October 1626
‘Friday, the 30th. I was to see the queen at Sommerset, and the duke at Valinfort. The resident of the king of Bohemia came to sup with me.’

31 October 1626
‘Saturday, last day of October. The ambassador of Danemark came to see me, and afterwards I came to see Madame D’Etrange.’

1 November 1626
‘Sunday, the 1st of November, and All Saints Day. I performed my devotions, and afterwards was to see the Duchess of Lennox and Secretary Couvai. A council was held to-day for my business.’

Monday, October 10, 2016

Walking on thin ice

Happy birthday David Kim Hempleman-Adams, 60 today and still on board Northabout, in the final stages of his voyage to circumnavigate the North Pole anticlockwise. One of the world’s great modern adventurers, Hempleman-Adams was the first person to reach the Geographic and Magnetic North and South Poles as well as to have climbed the highest peaks in all seven continents. His 1998 book about reaching the North Pole - Walking on Thin Ice - is based on diary entries written during the expedition.

Hempleman was born in Swindon, Wiltshire, England on 10 October 1956. After the divorce of his parents, he moved with his mother to Stoney Littleton near Bath; and, when she remarried, he took his stepfather’s surname Adams. He studied at Manchester and at Bristol Polytechnic, and joined his father’s chemical manufacturing business. In time, he became the company’s managing director, and later sold it. He retains non-executive business interests in the industry. He is married to Claire, they live near Bath, and have three daughters.

Hempleman-Adams interest in expeditioning began through the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. In 1984, he was the first person to complete successfully a solo expedition to the Magnetic North Pole; and in 1992 he led the first team to walk unsupported to the Geomagnetic North Pole. He continued to notch up various notable firsts. In January 1996, he became the first Briton to walk solo and unsupported to the South Pole, and in February he sailed to the South Magnetic Pole becoming the first person do both feats in the same year. In 1998, he and his Norwegian partner Rune Gjeldnes walked unsupported to the North Pole. The achievement meant Hempleman-Adams had become the first person to complete the so-called True Adventurer’s Grand Slam (i.e. to reach the North and South Poles, the North and South Magnetic Poles, and climb the seven summits). The same year, he was awarded an OBE.

In the noughties, Hempleman-Adams turned his attention skyward, in 2003, becoming the first person to cross the Atlantic Ocean in an open wicker basket rozier balloon; and the following year, he and co-pilot Lorne White flew a single engine Cessna from Cape Columbia in the north of Canada to Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America. In 2007, he broke the altitude record for a small-sized hot air balloon record, ascending to 9,906 meters over Alberta, Canada. He has also won the Gordon Bennett and Americas Challenge Balloon Races. In 2016 - at the current time - he is undertaking the Polar Ocean Challenge - an attempt to be the first British yacht to sail around the Arctic Ocean in one summer season. See Wikipedia, Guide to Swindon, or World Biography for more information.

Hempleman-Adams has written or co-authored several books. The first - A race against time: British North Geomagnetic Pole Expedition 1992 - was published in 1993. Then came Toughing It Out: the adventures of a Polar explorer and mountaineer in 1997, and, in 1998, Walking on Thin Ice (written in collaboration with Robert Uhlig) published by Orion (in association with Telegraph Books). This latter is based on Hempleman-Adams’ diary of the expedition. Here are extracts from two entries.

17 March 1998
‘We need to get to 84°10' North as soon as possible and get the airline companies lined up for an immediate resupply. I have decided that we might as well go for a resupply as soon as possible, while we know the weather is clear. Our fuel will run out in two days and the last thing we want is to spend three or four days hanging around waiting for the plane to come in. There is no point in having a resupply before we reach 84°10' North. We will have heavy sledges again after stocking up on new food rations, so if the resupply comes in any earlier it will defeat its whole purpose.

I budgeted for fifteen days on the first leg, but did not think for a moment we would be so far north by them. According to my initial plan we were scheduled to reach 84° 10' on day twenty-four, so we are ahead by around ten days. It is a delicate balance: every mile further north is nearer the Pole before the thaw starts, but the further north we go the more the air companies will charge us for the resupply. We will need to move very fast on the second leg to reach 86° 30', another 150 miles, by 15 April. This next third of the trip will be critical.

Our immediate concern is to start looking for a pan for the plane to land on, not an easy feat in the ice conditions we have encountered so far. I really thought the rubble would have ended by now and we would be on a succession of long, wide ice pans, interrupted by the occasional pressure ridge. The ice this year is different to any other I have experienced and my plans are in danger of being shot down.

Even today we do not encounter a single sizeable pan. It is bitterly cold with rubble all the way. It is staggering how we manage to cover six miles with our skis on and off every few minutes. In some spots it takes both of us to lift one sledge through the rubble. For over an hour it is one forty-foot ridge after another. It’s a very heavy workout, like doing six hours in the gym; we are really pushing it and I have to grit my teeth and dig deep.

I have a huge frostbite blister on my thumb and my toe is still causing me problems, made worse by the backbreaking conditions. I have now discovered that I also have some small spots of frostbite on my knee, brought on by kneeling down whenever I need to take off my skis, which in these conditions is frequently. My boot is still damaged and is secured to my ski by a length of wire. If my bindings were able to hold my boot I would normally simply push my ski pole down on the binding to release my boot; now I have to kneel down on one knee, pull up the clip and take the wire off the back of the boot. This tedious process makes my hands and left knee very cold, and I have to repeat it when we get to the other side of the rubble or pressure ridge.

We are in the middle of all this crap and I am worried about finding a landing strip - it seems ridiculous. Tonight I will radio for a resupply for tomorrow and hope we can find a landing strip in the meantime. It is a dangerous gamble because we will still have to pay for the flight if the plane has to turn back. [. . .]

At the end of the day we have covered six miles, extremely good considering it was the worst rubble so far on this expedition, and we are only a mile short of 84° 10' North. Last year we would have been happy to manage two miles in such conditions.’

12 April 1998
‘It is Easter Sunday and once again for both of us it is a wrench being away from home. All our thoughts are with our families. It is at times like these - birthdays, anniversaries and family holidays - that the homesickness is most acute. I must strive to be at home for more of them next year. ‘My mama and papa will be out skiing on the fjord right now,’ Rune says. ‘I would like to be there, but I have something else to do.’

We are two and a third miles behind schedule and wake up an hour late. It is the first time we have overslept on the trip, and we cannot understand why. Outside it is a beautiful day, there is not a cloud in the sky, and we have high hopes of a good mileage today.

Almost immediately things go wrong. First the wind picks up and it becomes much colder, then the bindings on my skis, which were mounted in the wrong place, begin to work themselves loose. Whoever fitted the bindings to the skis did not use enough glue, or the glue resin is losing its adhesion in the cold. Every time I stop I have to take off the ski and tighten the screw. It is a tedious business.

We come to our first open lead after only half an hour and walk west until we find a crossing place. Unfortunately it is not a straightforward crossing. Instead of one simple route across we have to negotiate several stretches of open water and leap from one rubble island to another, using them like giant stepping-stones. I am about two thirds of the way across with another fifteen feet to go when Rune starts to drift away from me on an island of rubble that is only nine or ten square feet in area. The danger becomes more acute when the rubble island I am standing on starts to sink. I am very scared, even more than when I fell in the water as I am out of Rune’s reach and it will be very difficult for him to rescue me from his island of equally precarious ice. I make a jump for Rune’s floe and get my foot wet, but he pulls me to safety. We then cross some porridgy steel-ice to the far side of the lead. I am mightily relieved not to have fallen in.

Within half a mile we come to another lead, so this time we walk west to find a crossing-point. We cross the lead and head east, only to meet another lead after one mile. We then turn south, find a crossing and head northwards again, but within a couple of hundred metres there is yet another lead. These leads are sending us on a wild goose chase. There seems little hope of making any headway northwards. We are walking at sea level and cannot see more than about a quarter of a mile ahead, so it is very difficult to see where the leads lie. I reckon we must have crossed around 500 of them so far.

To make matters worse, we both feel ill. I am swallowing pain-killers like smarties to cope with my back pain and Rune’s navigation is off today. He does not know whether it is the compass that is playing up or his solar navigation, but we will have to sort it out tonight.

By the time we pitch camp we are two miles behind schedule and have managed only six miles to 87° 06' 40" North and 71° 00' 25" West. It is a shame as I had hoped we could do as well as yesterday, but luck was against us today. Maybe we shouldn’t have been walking on Easter Sunday. Rune agrees with me and rustles up a special Easter dinner of lobster pate, sent to us on the resupply by Thierry, and an Easter egg for pudding.

We have a radio schedule with John who tells us that the Girls on Top are having problems after they lost their tent in high winds, and they need to be rescued. All round a terribly depressing day.’

The poet’s destiny

The power of Poetry alone redeems the world, and reunites the blind, confused and fragmentary elements of universal experience within the circle of significance. The supreme task: that of synthesis. How to invoke the welding flame? Ideally, the poet’s destiny is the most glorious of all. And in a period such as the Present, when death and the diabolic are manifest on every side, most difficult of all.’ This is from the diary of David Gascoyne, an English poet embedded in the surrealist movement, who was born 100 years ago today. A precocious and talented writer, he was friends with many other literary and artistic talents, but never quite managed to fulfil his own early promise.

Gascoyne was born on 10 October 1916, at Harrow, north of London, and educated at Salisbury Cathedral School and Regent Street Polytechnic, London, where he met George Barker. When only 16, his first collection of poetry - Roman Balcony and Other Poems - was published. The following year, his novel Opening Day was also published. Further poetry collections followed, and these helped establish him as one of most original voices of the 1930s. When still only 21, he wrote A Short Survey of Surrealism which was published with a cover by Max Ernst. He was involved in organising the London International Surrealist Exhibition with Roland Penrose and Herbert Read.

Gascoyne spent much of his 20s angst-ridden and trying come to terms with his homosexuality. He was an active anti-fascist, involving himself in the Spanish Civil War. He lived in France for long periods, becoming friends with many artists and writers, such Salvador Dali, Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller. He became increasingly well known, not only as a poet but as a translator of French surrealist literature, publishing widely in books and magazines. After the war, he again lived in France, and continued writing and publishing poems, although without the fervour of previous years, and never really fulfilling his early promise to be a great poet.

Suffering from depression, Gascoyne returned to England, and to his parents’ house on the Isle of Wight. The death of his father caused further psychological difficulties. In 1975, he married Judy Lewis, a nurse he had met while in hospital, and recovered some of his writing ability. In 1996, he was made a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture for his lifelong services to French literature. He died in 2001. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, The Poetry Archive, Critique Magazine, or Marcus’s fansite, and in obituaries at the The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian.

Enitharmon Press first published Gascoyne’s Paris Journal 1937-1939, with a preface by Lawrence Durrell, in 1978. A second volume came out in 1980 called Journal 1936-1937: Death of an Explorer. Subsequently, his Collected Journals 1936-42 was also published. The following selection of extracts comes from the first of the series, the Paris Journal.

18 March 1938
Lutte et Destin
What I have suffered during the last week is too intricate to be put into words: it all seemed to crystallize today - tonight, above all, when I was walking down the Champs Elysees after leaving Kay, and the cold spring moon, and the lights, and the budding leaves on the trees, were all blurred because of the tears of self-pity swimming in my eyes. [. . .]

And then at lunch-time, at the Durrells, when we were arguing, futilely, about war and war-resistance, Miller said: ‘Yes, Durrell’s probably right; because he’s a man, if ever there was one, who’s so strongly favoured by Fortune, that even if he were fighting in the front line, he could be pretty certain of coming through without a scratch. But you’re not like that; you ask for trouble; your destiny can only be a tragic one . . .’

Faced by acute financial crisis, spent the afternoon trying to think of a way to get to England until the time to go to Switzerland. Kay having bravely volunteered to get me a return-ticket, I have now worked out a plan for the immediate future, but it’s not a very comforting one ..

In the bathroom of Kay’s hotel apartment, washing my hands, struck by a sudden indescribable desolation while listening to her cross-channel telephone conversation, in the other room, with Freddie ‘Do you love me? Yes, but’ (shouting) ‘Do you LOVE ME? - SAME HERE!’ Standing in one of the basins was an enormous bouquet of daffodils and narcissi that he had had sent to her. (I had never thought that I should one day reach the point when the spectacle of other people’s happiness would arouse only bitterness in me. And when they don’t even realise their own happiness!)

We went out and had a rather gloomy dinner, overshadowed by the horror of the Barcelona air-raids, news of trouble on the Polish-Lithuanian frontier, and the general foulness of the European outlook. Afterwards, went to see Garbo in ‘Marie Waleska’, which did nothing to calm one’s emotions. When we came out, I was feeling so wretchedly lonely that what I wanted more than anything was a long talk with Kay and a certain amount of human sympathy. But no, she was resolutely determined to go immediately back to bed; and though she must have vaguely sensed how I was feeling, this only seemed to have the effect of making her shut herself off completely. ‘Now don’t go and do anything queer’, she said, as I was saying good-night at the door of her hotel - I don’t know why, unless my expression was strange. (She meant, I suppose, don’t go and get picked up by anybody.) Walked away alone, at the end of my tether. ‘Le pauvre jeune homme’, said somebody in a group I passed in the Champs Elysees. Violent resentment of self-pity at gratuitous pity from outside.’

20 May 1938
It is raining today. Bent stayed with me here last night again, but he has gone to the atelier now, and I am alone.

I have done no work since I returned to Paris. I have been entirely consumed by the intensity of the experience of Bent. Today I wanted to produce a poem; but I have not yet recovered enough force. I see the Light, beyond, but I cannot reach it; I know the Voice is always speaking, but I cannot hear the words.

To be alone; to make the sacrifice. I wish to become an Instrument, but I am suspended. Will the Energy return? How can I attain the power that would enable me to speak what I know?

Flesh, spirit. ‘Le combat spirituel est aussi brutal que la bataille d’hommes.’ All states reside in me, but they are unresolved. All I can do is wait. I still have faith; I shall always believe that there is another plane. I also know that in order to be able to reach it and to speak of it, one must lose everything, and be destroyed: I am trying to prepare myself to accept loss and destruction, even to desire them.

The power of Poetry alone redeems the world, and reunites the blind, confused and fragmentary elements of universal experience within the circle of significance. The supreme task: that of synthesis. How to invoke the welding flame? Ideally, the poet’s destiny is the most glorious of all. And in a period such as the Present, when death and the diabolic are manifest on every side, most difficult of all.

11 September 1938
Last Monday, recommenced work on ‘Son of the Evening’. [. . .] The other day, conceived the plan of a new novel: ‘The Anointed’, but I suppose I shall have to try to finish the other one first. ‘On n’ecrit pas les livres qu’on veut’, as one of the Goncourt remarked. One needs tremendous determination to do creative work of any sort in a world so disordered and uncertain as the world today. Crise de la politique, crise de l’homme, crise de l’esprit ...

1 November 1939 [this is the last entry in Paris Journal]
And here (for the time being, at any rate), I close this journal. It has served its purpose. The most profound of the many intuitions I have recorded in it have all come ‘true’. The ploughing and the sowing have borne harvest. My life has passed on to another plane.

I am full of a great wonder and astonishment, and of exaltation. The world is very deep, the War is horrifying; yet the Future of this Century has begun to burn with an extraordinary, unseen and secret radiance, which I feel I can no longer speak of here, since it has become my task to proclaim it to those to whom it has not yet appeared May I be granted the grace not to fail or become discouraged before the purpose and responsibility of a new life.

Diary Junction

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Looking for a snowbow

Benjamin Banneker, a free black American who not only worked his own tobacco farm but was a self-taught astronomer and mathematician, died 210 years ago today. He is remembered today for a series of almanacs he wrote in the 1790s - an extraordinary achievement for a black man at the time - and for writing to Thomas Jefferson about racial equality and the abolition of slavery. He kept a diary as well as astronomical notebooks, but all of his personal papers - barring one journal - were destroyed in a fire soon after his death. The surviving journal shows that Banneker was not only mathematical, philosophical and self-analytical, but he was a keen observer of nature. Several entries record dreams, in another he writes about the periodic cycle of locusts, and in another he jokes about looking for a snowbow.

Banneker was born in 1731, in Baltimore County, Maryland. His parents were black, and his father was a freed slave. Some biographers believe that his grandmother, on his mother’s side, may have purchased his grandfather, then a slave, set him free, and then married him. Aged 6, Banneker was named on the deed of his family’s 100-acre tobacco farm in the Patapsco River valley, where he lived for most of his life. In his teens, a Quaker, Peter Heinrichs, lent him books, and provided rudimentary teaching. Somehow he learned to read, write, to play several musical instruments, and in his early 20s he crafted a wooden clock by observing the mechanics of a pocket watch. His father died in 1759.

A decade or so later, the Ellicott family - also Quakers - moved into the area, and began building mills along the Patapsco. Banneker supplied the workers with food, studied the workings of the mills, and became friendly with several of the Ellicotts. In 1788 - in his mid-40s - he began to study astronomy with books and instruments borrowed from George Ellicott, who was also interested in the subject. In 1791, at the invitation of George’s cousin Major Andrew Ellicott, Banneker joined, for a few months, a surveying team that was setting the boundaries for the new federal capital.

By 1792, Banneker had become so knowledgeable that he felt able to write and publish an astronomical almanac based on his own painstakingly-calculated ephemeris and which included solar and lunar eclipse predictions - Benjamin Banneker’s Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia Almanac and Ephemeris, for the Year of Our Lord, 1792. It sold well, and quickly went into a second edition. Annual almanacs followed each year until 1797.

Banneker was well aware of his unusual position as a black man contributing to the sciences, and he used his almanacs to further his political views on the abolition of slavery and racial equality. He also engaged in a correspondence with Thomas Jefferson, who himself owned many slaves, and would soon become the third President of the US. Banneker never married. In his last years, he sold much of his farmland to the Ellicotts, but continued to live in his log cabin, where he died in 1806. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, PBS, or Bio.com, and from a Memoir of Benjamin Banneker by John Latrobe.

On the day of Banneker’s funeral, a fire, of unknown origin, burned the cabin, destroying many of his belongings and papers, including most of his journals and notebooks. However, one astronomical journal, a day book and a few papers survived. These were left to George Ellicott, and by the mid-19th century had been deposited with Maryland Historical Society (MdHS) where they were bound together. Subsequently, the bound copy was returned to the Ellicotts, and remained hidden until 1987, when it was again given to the MdHS. Some extracts from this can be found in Latrobe’s memoir about Banneker - as follows:

‘Besides his aptitude for mechanics,’ Latrobe writes, ‘and his ability as a mathematician, Banneker was an acute observer, whose active mind was constantly receiving impulses from what was taking place around him. Many instances of this are to be found in the record of his calculations, which he seems to have used occasionally as a common-place book. For instance, under date of the 27th August, 1797, he writes: “Standing at my door I heard the discharge of a gun, and in four or five seconds of time, after the discharge, the small shot came rattling about me, one or two of which struck the house; which plainly demonstrates that the velocity of sound is greater than that of a cannon bullet.” It must have been a philosophic mind, which observing the fact as here stated, drew from it the correct conclusion, and then recorded it in appropriate terms as a simple and beautiful illustration of the law of nature, with which, in all probability, he first became acquainted through its means.

Again on the 23d December, 1790, he writes: “About 3 o’clock, A.M. I heard the sound and felt the shock like unto heavy thunder. I went out but could not observe any cloud above the horizon. I therefore conclude it must be a great earthquake in some part of the globe.” A similar conclusion from the same facts was drawn by a greater man than Banneker near eighteen hundred years before, and recorded to be commented on in after ages.

Nor was Banneker’s observation confined to matters of a philosophical character. There is evidence in the memoranda of his record book that natural history was equally interesting to him. The following, independent of its connection with the subject of our memoir, possesses general interest as an authentic statement by an eye-witness of a curious fact in entomology. In April, 1800, he writes: “The first great locust year that T can remember was 1749. I was then about seventeen years of age, when thousands of them came and were creeping up the trees and bushes. I then imagined they came to eat and destroy the fruit of the earth, and would occasion a famine in the land. I therefore began to kill and destroy them, but soon saw that my labour was in vain, and therefore gave over my pretension. Again in the year 1766, which is seventeen years after their first appearance, they made a second, and appeared to me to be full as numerous as the first. I then, being about thirty-four years of age, had more sense than to endeavour to destroy them, knowing they were not so pernicious to the fruit of the earth as I imagined they would be. Again in the year 1783, which was seventeen years since their second appearance to me, they made their third; and they may be expected again in the year 1800, which is seventeen years since their third appearance to me. So that if I may venture to express it, their periodical return is seventeen years: but they, like the comets, make but a short stay with us. The female has a sting in her tail as sharp and hard as a thorn, with which she perforates the branches of the trees, and in the holes lays eggs. The branch soon dies and falls. Then the egg, by some occult cause immerges a great depth into the earth, and there continues for the space of seventeen years as aforesaid.” [. . .]

The last extract we shall make from the record book is one which indicates a relish for the beautiful in nature, as well by his undertaking to record a description of what he saw, as by the language which he uses. The extract is from the last pages of the book, when he was in his seventy-first year. His writing is still distinct, but the letters have lost their firmness, and shew that his hand trembled as it held the pen.

“1803, Feb. 2d. In the morning part of the day, there arose a very dark cloud, followed by snow and hail, a flash of lightning and loud thunder crack; and then the storm abated until afternoon, when another cloud arose at the same point, viz: the north-west, with a beautiful shower of snow. But what beautified the snow was the brightness of the sun, which was near setting at the time. I looked for the rainbow, or rather snowbow, but I think the snow was of too dense a nature to exhibit the representation of the bow in the cloud.” ’

The MdHS blog, Underbelly, gives a brief description of Banneker’s journal: ‘
Some of the more remarkable pages in this ledger show graphic projections for solar and lunar eclipses. In addition to these formulas there are also practical descriptions of how Banneker obtained the geocentric latitudes of planets, the movements of stars, and the different quarters of the moon in every day language. This journal is much more than a mathematical ledger though - its contents give a much fuller glimpse of who Banneker was as a person. It is interspersed with accounts of his day-to-day life, including descriptions of his interactions with his neighbors and friends the Ellicotts, close encounters with armed intruders on his property, descriptions of the a brood of 17-year cicada from 1749, and the most notable section, a copy of the correspondence between Benjamin Banneker and Thomas Jefferson. But in this writer’s opinion, the most unique contents of the journal are Banneker’s detailed descriptions of the dreams and nightmares that woke him in the night. A transcription of his mysterious dream accounts appear below in chronological order.’

The blog then quotes a few extracts, as follows:

5 December 1791
‘On the night of the fifth of December 1791, Being a deep Sleep, I dreamed that I was in a public Company, one of them demanded of me the limits of Rassanah Crandolph’s Soul had to display itself in, after it departed from her Body and taken its flight. In answer I desired that he show me the place of Beginning “thinking it like making a Survey of the Land.” He replied I cannot inform you but there is a man about three days journey from Hence that is able to satisfy your demand, I forthwith went to the man and requested of him to inform me place of beginning of the limits that Rasannah Crandolph’s soul had to display itself in, after the Seperation from her Body; who gave me answer, the Vernal Equinox, When I returned I found the Company together and I was able to Solve their Doubts by giving them the following answer Quincunx.’

13 December 1797
‘I Dreamed I saw some thing passing by my door to and fro, and when I attempted to go to the door, it would vanish and reapted [?] it twice or thrice, at length I let in the infernal Spirit and he told me that he had been concerned with a woman by the name of Beckey Freeman (I never heard the name as I remember) by some means we fell into a Skirmish, and I threw him behind the fire and endeavored to burn him up but all in vain- I know not what became of him but he was an ill formed being- Some part of him in Shape of a man, but hairy as a beast, his feet was circular or rather globular and did not exceed an inch and a half in diameter, but while I held him in the fire he said something respecting he was able to stand it, but I forget his words. B. Banneker’

24 April 1802
‘I dreamed I had a fawn or young deer; whose hair was white and like unto lamb’s wool , and all parts about it beautiful to behold. Then I said to myself I will set this little captive at liberty, but I will first clip the tips of his ear that I may know him if I should see him again. Then taking a pair of shears and cutting off the tip of one ear, and he cried like unto a child hath the pain which grieved him very much altho then I did not attempt to cut the other but was very sorry for that I had done I got him at liberty and he ran a considerable distance then he stopped and he looked back at me I advanced toward him, and he came and met me and I took a lock of wool from my garment and wiped the blood of wound which I had made on him (which sorely affected me) I took him in my arms and brought him home and hold him on my knees, he asked the Woman if she had any trust and she answered him in the affirmative and gave him Some, which he began to eat and then asked for milk in a cup She said the dog had got the cup with milk in it under the house but there is milk in the cupboard.

My dream left me. B. Banneker.’

24 April 1802
‘Being weary holing for corn, I laid down on my bed and fell into a deep sleep and dreamed I had a child in my arms and was viewing the back part of its head where it had been sore, and I found it was healed with a hole through the skin and Skull bone and came out at forehead, that I could see very distinctly through the child’s head the hole being large enough to receive an ordinary finger – I called some woman to see the strange sight, and she put her spectacles on and Saw it, and she asked me if I had previously lanced that place in the Child’s head, I answered in the affirmative.

N.B. the Child is well as any other.’

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Václav Havel as diarist

Václav Havel, the Czech political dissident and human rights activist who became his country’s first president in the post-Communist era, would have been 80 today. He was also a playwright of some distinction, and, as a young man, used his plays to criticise the Soviet-backed regime. A few years before his death, he published a memoir which included a diary he kept during 2005; and more recently the Václav Havel Library in Prague has announced the discovery of a diary Havel kept while in prison during 1977.

Havel was born in Prague on 5 October 1936 into an intellectual and wealthy family, though that wealth was stripped away after WW2 by the Communist regime. Disallowed from studying humanities because of his bourgeois background, he worked as a lab technician before enrolling in the economics faculty as the Czech Technical University, though he dropped out after two years. Following military service in the late 1950s, he found work as a stagehand for the Prague theatrical company, and soon began writing plays, such as The Garden Party (Zahradní slavnost) and The Memo (Vyrozumění). At the same time, he became an active member of the writers’ union, though his political aims were not so much to remove the prevailing Communist regime but to change it. In 1964, he married Olga Šplíchalová.

By 1968, Havel had risen to the position of resident playwright at the Theatre on the Balustrade. He made a brief trip to US, for a production of The Memo in New York, which established his international reputation. Back home, he was a prominent supporter of the liberal reforms taking place that year (known as the Prague Spring). But with Operation Danube and the Soviet clampdown in August, Havel’s plays were banned and his passport confiscated. He moved to live in the countryside where he maintained his political activities, largely on behalf of human rights in the country, being a co-founder of Charter 77, and continued writing plays. In 1978, he wrote one of his most well-known essays - The Power of the Powerless - which foresaw that opposition could eventually prevail against the totalitarian state. It was secretly but widely circulated at the time in Czechoslovakia and other Warsaw Pact countries. He was repeatedly arrested in the 1970s and 1980s, serving four years in prison, but resisted pressure to emigrate.

In late 1989, Havel, by then leader of Civic Forum, emerged as one of the leaders of the Velvet Revolution. By unanimous vote of the Federal Assembly in December, he was elected President; and the following year, in the first free national elections for over 40 years, he won a sweeping victory for Civic Forum and its Slovak counterpart Public Against Violence. He stepped down in 1992 because of tensions between the Czechs and the Slovaks, not wishing to preside over the country’s break-up, but was reelected as president of the Czech Republic in early 1993. His wife died in 1996, and the same year he was diagnosed with cancer, and underwent lung-removal surgery. He was re-elected president in 1998, though by this time, with most power vested in the prime minister’s office not the presidency, and many domestic controversies, he was more popular abroad than at home. He stepped down in 2003, by which time he had married Dagmar Veškrnová, a flamboyant actress who had once been filmed in the role of a topless vampire.

Havel turned to writing, producing a new play in 2008, which was enthusiastically received, and writing a memoir of his time as president. Paul Wilson translated the latter, which was published in English, also in 2008, by Portobello Books under the title, To the Castle and Back. He died in 2011, having received, from the early 1990s onwards, many state honours and many international awards. Further information is available online at the official Havel website, Wikipedia, Václav Havel Library, or Radio Prague, and from many obituaries, for example the BBC, The Guardian, The New York Times and The Telegraph.

Although Havel was not a committed diarist, or so it seems, he did keep a diary at different times in his life. Earlier this year, Radio Prague broadcast an interview with Michael Žantovský, the head of the Václav Havel Library, about some previously ‘unknown diaries’ kept by Havel when jailed in 1977. Žantovský explained that the library had decided to publish the diaries in their entirety as a facsimile (i.e. not retyped) because they ‘make a very interesting graphic’ alongside explanatory essays by experts. He also gave some information about the diaries:

‘The entries were written between January and July 1977 when the Charter 77 human rights initiative was launched and spearheaded by Václav Havel as spokesman and 14 days later he ended up in detention and then pre-trial custody where he spent the next four months. And he started making notes into a very ordinary scheduling diary which existed at the time and this disappeared after he was released in subsequent years and was only discovered in the garage of a close friend of his by the grandson of the friend, when his grandfather died and he was clearing up his papers.’

Otherwise, Havel also kept a diary during 2005 while working on his memoir, To the Castle and Back. The book is made up of three elements: substantial extracts from dated memos to his staff during his time in office as president, answers to a series of interview questions, and sometimes lengthy extracts from his 2005 diary - see below for two such extracts. (The book can also be previewed freely online at Amazon and Googlebooks.)

29 April 2005
‘I have been to two more “political dinners” at Madeleine’s; many important people were there, such as the former secretary of defense William Cohen; the director of PBS, Mrs. Pat Mitchell; Senator Barbara Mikulski; the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, Mrs. Nancy Pelosi; the deputy secretary of state, Mr. Nicholas Bums; and many others. Many of them I had met on earlier occasions, others I had once been introduced to, but I had forgotten those earlier encounters. Madeleine, once again, moderated the discussion wonderfully; it was lively and spontaneous and exhausting, naturally. I had the constant feeling that I was speaking of things about which these people knew more than I did, and moreover I was doing so in a language I don’t know very well. Now that it’s over I’m glad I did it, and I’m grateful to Madeleine.

It’s paradoxical: every evening I meet with the most important people here, and then, during the day, I run afoul of banal American red tape. Yesterday, for example, we had to return our rental car and then turn right around and rent it again, even though we’d already paid for another month. I understand the thing itself - it’s an accounting matter. What I don’t understand is why the transaction consumed almost an entire, valuable American day. Standing at the window where all this took place, and where more and more complications kept surfacing, I found it hard not to lose my temper. My Czech pistoleer often uses a trick I don’t much like: he reveals who I am - if I’m not recognized, that is. But in this democratic country, favoritism is out of favor, and so the results are always the same: great delight that they’ve met me, great astonishment that I, of all people, have turned up here, of all places - and then an immediate return to the original situation. It doesn’t speed things up by even a minute. That was yesterday. I barely had time to change for dinner at Madeleine’s.

But that wasn’t the end of it; two unpleasant things happened this morning. The first was something I knew was bound to happen, that is, our Barnabas, Mr. Edler, was nowhere to be found, and so they wouldn’t let us into our parking spot. (Later the director of the Kluge Center had to sort things out himself at the entrance.) And the second thing was something I could not have known would happen, and which says something about the state of my memory. At the entrance to the library, where they put my bag through a scanner, they discovered a metal kitchen knife in it, which is not allowed. I expressed surprise and denied it, of course, because I’d completely forgotten that I’d put the knife in my bag that morning so I could spread jam on my roll. They searched the bag and I was caught red-handed. There was nothing to do but hope I wouldn’t be arrested, then go outside and toss the knife in the garbage. (Fortunately it was not made of silver.) I felt very silly.

I often can’t understand Americans when they speak, especially black Americans, and this is the source of many other embarrassing moments. Yesterday, for example, a young black man who was with me in the elevator told me how much he admired me and asked me for my autograph. Then he mumbled something I didn’t catch, though it was evidently a question. For the sake of simplicity, I replied, “Yes.” As soon as I’d spoken, I realized that he was asking me if I had written The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I couldn’t very well change my answer, and there was no escaping, so I had to remain in a state of embarrassment until the moment of liberation when our elevator arrived at the right floor. A truly Kunderian situation.’

28 November 2005
‘For the whole of September and October I never stopped. Yet what did I actually do? I visited several European countries, had a lot of meetings and visits and discussions, and made countless speeches - and all at a time of year when I’m usually under the weather. I’m quite surprised that I survived it all without any damage to my health. I’m at Hradecek once more, but there’s a lot of snow here now and the trees are beautifully cloaked in white. I’m really like a hermit here. (Hradecek is off by itself and my only neighbor is my friend Andrej Krob, who has a cottage nearby, but he’s not there now.) Yesterday I watched a thriller on television and then I realized that for the first time in my life I felt afraid here. The very thought that I might suddenly glimpse the movement of a human shadow gave me goose bumps and heart palpitations. I stopped getting the newspapers a while ago, and my news comes from television. I read the papers only when I happen across one. The last time that happened was several days ago on the plane from Budapest, when I discovered I was the subject of a scandal. The Czech media are up in arms because I have apparently supported our new prime minister. The whole thing obviously started a while ago, when he invited me for coffee, and as we were leaving we were waylaid by a journalist who asked me how I’d have gotten along with the current prime minister if I were still president. I said I thought we’d hit it off. By that I meant that I would not have been having constant public squabbles with the prime minister over how to interpret the constitution, as our current president does. I should have expressed myself more precisely or concretely, but still, why there should have been a controversy or even a scandal over this, I have no idea. But obviously I can’t understand everything.’

A monster to devour me

Mary Astor, a Hollywood star of many films but best known for her role in The Maltese Falcon, was also a writer of some talent. However, her habit of keeping of a diary, with details of many affairs, led to a huge scandal in the 1930s, and nearly ruined her life. Liveright has just published a cute paperback about the scandal - Mary Astor’s Purple Diary - humorously written and lavishly illustrated by the well-known American cartoonist Edward Sorel. The book’s title might lead one to believe it contains Astor’s diary, but, in fact, there are very few verbatim extracts: after causing such a scandal, the diary was locked up, and later destroyed. Astor, herself, wrote of the diary that it had become ‘a monster that threatened to devour me.’

Lucile Vasconcellos Langhanke was born in Quincy, Illinois, in 1906. Her German-born father was a teacher of German, and her mother, with a Portuguese background, was a drama teacher. As a teenager, Lucile sent photographs of herself to magazine beauty contests; and, aged 15, her father moved the family to New York City in the hope of finding work for Lucile in the moving pictures. She was taken on by Harry Durant of Famous Players-Lasky, her named changed to Mary Astor by Lasky himself, and a contract with Paramount Pictures secured. She played several small roles, and then with her parents, moved to Hollywood.

Astor was spotted by John Barrymore, and was loaned to Warner Bros, to star with him in Beau Brummell. The two became involved, though they found it difficult to further their relationship given how strictly Astor’s parents controlled her movements and her income. Indeed, Astor’s father was so physically and psychologically abusive that she tried running away from home when 19, a move which resulted in her winning some freedoms and her own bank account. When her Paramount contract ended, she moved to Warner, and then to Fox, where she earned nearly $4,000 a week. In 1928, she married the director Kenneth Hawks and the couple moved into a house above Beverley Hills.

With voice training and singing lessons, Astor managed the transition from silent movies to talkies, but when Hawks was killed in a plane crash in 1930, she suffered a serious depression. She was treated by Dr. Franklyn Thorpe, whom she married in June 1931. In August the following year, Astor gave birth to a daughter, Marylyn (in Honolulu). She starred with Clarke and Jean Harlow in MGM’s Red Dust, before signing again with Warner. In 1933, she took a break from the film world and travelled to New York, where she met, and fell in love with, the playwright George S. Kaufman.

In 1935, Astor was drawn into a nasty dispute with her husband. Thorpe had found her diary - with details of many affairs - and threatened to ruin her career with it unless she agreed to a divorce under his terms, including handing over their house and most of her money, and giving him legal custody over their daughter (although mother and daughter remained living together). However, once divorced, Astor decided to sue for custody. Astor’s lawyer managed to get the diary excluded from court, but, nevertheless, Thorpe leaked parts (exaggerating some) to the media which created a public frenzy embroiling anyone referred to in the quoted extracts. The case was settled out of court, with custody of Marilyn being awarded to her mother in school months, and to her father for weekends and vacations. The diary was sealed away - declared pornography by the court - under the terms of the settlement, and, many years, later destroyed.

The scandal caused little harm to Astor’s career. She went on making many films, though, as time wore on, she was given less substantial roles. She married twice more, to Manuel de Campo (with whom she had a son) and Thomas Wheelock, divorcing after five years each time. She had always drunk a lot, but, by the late 1940s, was sometimes admitting herself to sanitariums for alcoholics, and, at other times, seeking religious salvation. She debuted for television in the early 1950s, and took on more theatre work. In 1959, she published My Story: An Autobiography which became a bestseller. A decade later, she wrote another successful autobiographical work, and then turned her hand to a few novels. After travelling around the world in 1964, she filmed a last scene with her friend Bette Davis - making a total of 109 movies during a 45 year career. She died in 1987. See Wikipedia, IMDB, The New York Times obituary or Encyclopaedia Britannica for further biographical information.

Much of Astor’s story is detailed in a new paperback from Liveright called Mary Astor’s Purple Diary by Edward Sorel. Sorel is well known in the US as a cartoonist and illustrator. Now in his late 80s, he confesses, he has had a near-lifelong affair with Astor, or at least Astor’s story. He had just married for the second time, and moved into an apartment in Manhattan, when he found, under the old linoleum, newspapers dating from 1936 with sensational headlines about the Astor diary scandal. For half a century, he promised himself that he would write a book about Astor, but ‘deadlines always got in the way’.

Through the book, Sorel interweaves, often humorously, some elements of his own story believing they resonate with Astor’s life, or because, at least, they go some way to explaining his mild obsession with the film star. Nevertheless, the book’s focus is very much on the trial and the way Astor’s diary was used, and misused. The work is richly illustrated throughout with Sorel’s own full-colour cartoons (‘
ribald and rapturous art’ according to the publisher’s blurb). Despite the title, there are very few verbatim extracts from the diary. Although some of the few extracts are taken from My Story: An Autobiography (Doubleday, 1959 - see here for a copy online), it is far from clear where the rest of Sorel’s information comes from (no references, no bibliography).

For example, here, in the following paragraph (found on page 84), it seems Sorel has good access to the diary’s contents: ‘Mary’s diary entries describing her days and nights with George during the first year of their affair read like the breathless gushing of a teenager who has run away from home. At some point even Mary seemed to tumble to the silliness of her romantic certainties. In a later moment of rueful self-analysis she wrote, “How I’ve ever been able to write all those things I don’t know. . .  ‘Love of My Life’ - ‘Enduring,’ ‘Sense of Something Important’ - Piffle! Could write in detail about this last trip and seeing George - about the ecstasy contained in a few beautiful hours, but if I did I’d laugh myself sick - I’ve said it all before - I’ve felt it all before. . . Does this happen over and over and over again? If it does it’s all a lousy trick. Am I going to keep on forever thinking this is it? What the hell is it and what do I want?”

Presumably, Sorel culled much of his information about the diary, including extracts, from contemporaneous newspaper reports (such as those he’d once found under the lino), and possibly from Kenneth Anger’s infamous Hollywood Babylon. This latter was first published in French in 1959. Its first US edition in 1965 was banned, and not republished for ten years. It contained details of many sordid scandals, as well as a chapter on Mary Astor (Diary in Blue) with extracts from her diary (a few pages can be viewed online at Amazon, and see also this blog).

Here, though, are most of the rest of the very few extracts from Astor’s diary that Sorel quotes verbatim.

5 May 1926
‘We seem like a tinder to flame up any moment.’

June 1931
‘It’s a beautiful June night, with the moon riding high - and the bridegroom never said a word.’

1 October 1933
‘I am still in a haze - nice rosy glow. It is beautiful, glorious - and I hope it’s my last love - can’t top it with anything in my experience - nor do I want to.’

January 1934
‘I did meet a man, professional,, somewhat older and rather well-to-do, only his first initial is G. and I fell like a ton of bricks - as only I can fall - it was just one of those things. . .  that was six months ago and it’s still good - we write to each other often, about every two weeks - flowers and telegrams for Christmas and New Years; once when Franklyn was away he called me long distance and we talked for half an hour - his last letter finished with “Think of me my darling, because I certainly think of you.” ’

And, finally, here are two paragraphs from Astor’s autobiography in which she writes about her diary keeping habit: ‘I had kept a diary for years and I had realized for some time that it might be used in a divorce action. The diary revealed not only all the details of my own life from the period of Russell Bradbury to the present, but it also revealed much that I knew about other people. The lives of many people would be affected. I finally decided that the best thing to do was to submit to divorce on Franklyn’s terms. Marylyn and I moved to Tower Road - Franklyn wanted only her legal custody and he got an uncontested divorce in 1935.

When people asked me, “Why on earth did you keep a diary? How could you be so foolish?” it was much too complicated and too simple to explain. I’m not sure I could have explained it even to myself then. But now I think I can better understand my motives. I kept a diary because my mother had kept one in identical ledger volumes. I wanted to talk about my own activities and my opinions of other people and the things they did. I wanted the assurance of individuality and reality and substance that the diary gave me. The diary was a consolation and a reassurance. But when it was no longer in my possession it was suddenly transformed into a monster that threatened to devour me and my friends, and, worst of all, Marylyn.’