Thursday, December 1, 2016

From playboy to ascetic

Charles de Foucauld, a wealthy playboy who turned to god and then became a monk living like a hermit among the Tuareg people of the Sahara desert, died a century ago today. According to his biographer, René Bazin, he was killed by Arab raiders, the very people for whom ‘he had toiled so hard with body and mind.’ Bazin’s biography relies heavily on diaries kept by Foucauld, right up the weeks before his death, and includes many verbatim extracts.

Charles de Foucauld was born into an aristocratic family in 1858 in Strasbourg, France. He was orphaned as a child and raised by his maternal grandfather, and was destined to inherit the family wealth. He studied at Saint-Cyr Military Academy and Cavalry School of Saumur before joining, in 1880, the 4th Hussars as Sous-Lieutenant and being posted to Algeria. However, his wealth and position had led him to become an amoral young man, living a riotous life. He was also an indisciplined soldier which led him to being censured by his military superiors.

Foucauld was much affected by his experiences of the Sahara Desert, and, after leaving the army in 1882, he set about exploring Morocco disguised as a rabbi. On returning to Paris, he wrote up his travels, with drawings, and the resulting book, Reconnaissance au Maroc, inspired Societé Française de Géographie to award him a gold medal. Subsequently, he became increasingly interested in religion. He undertook a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and, in 1886, converted to Catholicism. A few years later, he joined the Cistercian Trappist order as a monk, first in France and then at Akbès on the Syrian-Turkish border.

But still Foucauld had not found fulfilment. In 1897, he left the monastery to work as gardener and sacristan for the Poor Clare nuns in Nazareth and later in Jerusalem. In 1901, he returned to France, was ordained a priest, and travelled to Béni Abbès, Algeria, near the border with Morocco, intending to found a monastic religious community that offered hospitality to all faiths as well as those with no faith. But he did not manage to attract any adherents, and he came to live a quiet, hermetic life with monastic routines. By the middle of the 1890s, he had moved further away from the French presence, into the mountains in southern Algeria to be with the Tuareg people, in Tamanrasset, where he built a small hermitage. For the next ten years or so he shared the life and hardships of the Tuareg, studying their culture and traditions, and writing a lengthy dictionary of their language (posthumously published in four volumes). He returned to France a couple of times, hoping, but failing, to recruit companions for his hermitage.

With the outbreak of WWI, Germany’s ally Turkey promoted attacks on French outposts in Africa, causing tension in Algeria and Morocco. Foucauld with Tuareg help built a fort to protect the surrounding population; it also served the French military as a stockpile for the arms and ammunition of their local allies. But, in one raid, Foucauld was taken hostage by stranger Arabs, apparently intent on holding him for ransom, but he was shot and died on 1 December 1916. The Hermitary concludes: ‘Charles de Foucauld is a complex historical figure within Catholicism, history, and eremitism. That is to say, he is uniquely modern, and his life was an unconscious striving to attain an ecumenical eremitism, a universal eremitism.’ While, Franciscan Media concludes: ‘The life of Charles de Foucauld was eventually centered on God and was animated by prayer and humble service, which he hoped would draw Muslims to Christ. Those who are inspired by his example, no matter where they live, seek to live their faith humbly yet with deep religious conviction.’ Further information is also available from Wikipedia, Jesus Caritas (biography, video), and Ignatius Insight.

Foucauld’s Reconnaissance au Maroc is largely based on diaries he kept while travelling around the country. This was used much later by Foucault’s friend, René Bazin, along with other diaries, for a biography Foucauld. The biography was subsequently translated into English by Peter Keelan and published as Charles de Foucauld: Hermit and Explorer (Benziger Brothers, 1923). This is freely available at Internet Archive. All the following extracts from Foucauld’s diary are taken from Bazin’s biography; and, after the last extract (16 November 1916) below, I have also included Bazin’s account of Foucauld’s death.

16-17 June 1883
‘In vain do we try to find a way of entering into the Rif: many of the Jews whom we consulted declare that one can only enter by Nemours with the protection of a certain Moroccan sheikh who will perhaps come here in a fortnight or a month, perhaps later; and even this means would be uncertain; they add that it is as difficult in starting from here to cross the Rif as it is easy in setting out from Tetuan, where men of influence can give efficacious recommendations. I do not wish to wait a fortnight or month at Nemours; much better reach Tetuan by sea and begin my journey from there.’

18 June 1883
‘A steamer appears in the roadstead. It is going to Tangier via Gibraltar. I embark on it with Mardochee. Being Jews, we take the lowest class and cross on deck in the company of Israelites and Musulmans. Start at 9 a.m.: pretty bad weather.’

19 June 1883
‘Wake up in the roadstead of Gibraltar. The packet-boat will lie at anchor all day. I land and visit the town; Mardochée remains on board. A young Jew of eighteen who knows Spanish accompanies me; as for me, I know nothing but Arabic. My excursion has a practical aim. On board, the water we are given is filthy; took a large iron pot and brought it back full of water. I walk about for five hours in Gibraltar, pot in hand; I push on to a Spanish village under a mile from the town. Cross the frontier and note the English and Spanish sentinels mount guard only 60 yards apart, the former as well as the latter badly dressed.’

20 June 1883
‘Left Gibraltar at midday; arrived at Tangier at 2.45.’

8 May 1914
‘Began to make a fair copy of the whole Tuareg-French dictionary.’

31 July 1914
‘This evening reached page 385 of the dictionary.’

31 August 1914
‘Reached page 550.’

3 September 1914
‘Express to hand from Fort Motylinski, telling me that Germany has declared war on France, invaded Belgium, attacked Liege. M. de La Roche (commander of the station) starts on the 4th or 5th for Adrar, with all his band. He orders Afegzag to muster a gum, and Musa to come with at least twenty men, into Ahaggar.’

Saw Afegzag; he orders 10 Dag-Rali, 10 Iklam, 10 Aguh-n-Tabli, 10 Ait-Lohen, 10 Kel-Tazulet, to muster immediately; personally, he sets out this evening for Motylinski, where he will be to-morrow morning.’

9 September 1914
‘Received 1,500 cartridges of 1874 for Musa.’

11 September 1914
‘Noon post to hand. Captain de Saint-Léger orders M. de La Roche to remain at Ahaggar with his whole force. I forward the order by express. Bad news; we are retreating all along the frontier, before superior forces. We cannot help Belgium. The Germans occupy Brussels.’

24 September 1914

‘Received news on September 11 from In-Salah and on 3rd from Paris. Always falling back; Government sits at Bordeaux.’

30 September 1914
‘This evening page 700 of the dictionary.’

21 October 1914
‘This is the war for Europe’s independence of Germany. And the way in which the war is carried on shows how necessary it was, how great was Germany’s power, and how it was time to break the yoke before she became still more formidable; it shows by what barbarians Europe was half enslaved, and near becoming completely so, and how necessary it is once for all to deprive of force a nation which uses it so badly and in such an immoral and dangerous way for others. It is Germany and Austria that wanted war, and it is they who deserved to have it made against them, and who, I hope, will receive a blow that will make them unable to do any harm for centuries.’

7 December 1914
‘The Tripoli disturbance has not crossed the frontier. We cannot thank God enough for the numberless favours that He has bestowed on the eldest daughter of His Church; not the least is the fidelity of our colonies. . . .

The confidence of the Tuaregs in me keeps on increasing. The work of the slow preparation for the Gospel is pursued. May the Almighty soon make the hour strike for you to send workers into this part of your field. . . .’

20 February 1915
‘The south of Tripoli is disturbed; Saint-Léger and 200 or 300 soldiers are on the frontier, to prevent bands in revolt against the Italians from breaking into our territory. Only one French adjutant and six or seven native soldiers remain at Fort Motylinski. This adjutant is a capital fellow. We often write to each other, but we rarely see one another; being alone, he cannot leave his post, and I, having a great deal to do, cannot move from here without serious reason. I have not been to Fort Motylinski for two years.’

12 March 1915

‘Like you, I hope that from the great evil of this war will go forth a great blessing to souls - a blessing in France, where the sight of death will inspire serious thoughts, and where the accomplishment of duty in the greatest sacrifices will uplift souls and purify them, bringing them nearer to Him who is the uncreated good, and make them more fit to see the truth and stronger to live in conformity with it; - a blessing to our Allies, who in coming nearer to us come nearer to Catholicism, and whose souls, like ours, are purified by sacrifice - a blessing to our infidel subjects, who, fighting in crowds on our soil, learn to know us and get nearer to us, and whose loyal devotion will stir up the French to work for them more than in the past, and govern them better than in the past.’

15 April 1915
‘Saint-Léger leaves In-Salah, and takes command of another Saharan company, that of Twat. . . . He is replaced by another friend, also very much liked, Captain Duclos, whom I knew there as lieutenant, an officer of great worth and fine character. . . . I constantly see Uksem. Marie asks me if he knits: he knits wonderfully, and all the young people in his encampment and village have begun to knit and crochet under his directions; knitted socks, and crocheted vests and caps. That took a long time, but since his return, thanks to one of his sisters-in-law who set about it with a great deal of good-will, it started, and everybody is beginning it.’

2 August 1915
‘A young negro who knows Ghardaia, the Fathers and Sisters, told me a few days ago: “When the Sisters come here I shall put my wife with them, so that she may learn to weave, and I shall ask to be their gardener.” . . . The time is near when the Sisters will be received by the natives with great gratitude, above all by the settled cultivators. . . . Will God arrange things in such a way as to bring the White Fathers and the White Sisters here?’

7 September 1915
‘To-morrow will be the feast of the nativity of the Blessed Virgin, ten years since my Tamanrasset hermitage was built and I have said Mass in it. I owe much thanksgiving to God for al the graces He has bestowed on me here.’

16 November 1916
‘How good God is to hide the future from us! What a torture life would be were it less unknown to us! and how good He is to make so clearly known to us the heaven thereafter which will follow our earthly time of trial!’


Bazin comments: ‘The writer of these lines had only two weeks to live. He did not know it, but he was ready to receive death any day form the hands of those for whom he had so much prayed, walking so far over the sand and pebbles, suffering o severely from thirst and hear, working so many days and nights, in so much solitude, and for whom, in short, he had toiled so hard with body and mind.’

Further, Bazin sets down the facts about Foucauld’s death from the combined evidence of Paul, a negro servant, and that of another harratin, as they were recorded in two official reports:

‘On December 1, after having served the marabout’s dinner, I went to my zariba, about five hundred yards from there. It was about 7 o’clock, and dark. A short time afterwards, when I had myself finished my meal, two armed Tuaregs sprang into the zariba and said to me: ‘Are you Paul, the marabout’s servant? Why do you hide? Come and see with your own eyes what is happening: follow us! ‘I replied that I was not hiding, and that what was happening was God’s will.

On arriving near the marabout’s house, I perceived the latter seated, his back to the wall, on the right of the door, his hands bound behind his back, looking straight in front of him. We did not exchange a single word. I crouched down as ordered, on the left of the door. Numerous Tuaregs surrounded the marabout; they were speaking and gesticulating, congratulating and blessing the hartani El Madani, who had drawn the marabout into the trap, foretelling a life of delights for him in the other world as a reward for his work. Some other Tuaregs were in the house, going in and coming out, carrying various things found in the interior - rifles, munitions, stores, chegga (cloth), etc. Those who surrounded the marabout pressed him with the following questions: ‘When does the convoy come? Where is it? What is it bringing? Are there any soldiers in the bled? Where are they? Have they set out? Where are the Motylinski soldiers?’ The marabout remained impassible, he did not utter a word. The same questions were then put to me, as well as to another hartani, who was passing in the wady and caught in the meantime.

The whole did not last half an hour. The house was surrounded by sentinels. At this moment one of the sentinels gave the alarm, shouting: ‘Here are the Arabs! Here are the Arabs (the soldiers of Motylinski).’ At these cries, the Tuaregs, with the exception of three, two of whom remained in front of me and the other standing on guard near the marabout, went towards the place whence the cries came. A lively fusillade broke out. The Tuareg who was near the marabout brought the muzzle of his rifle close to the head of the latter and fired. The marabout neither moved nor cried. I did not think he was wounded: it was only a few minutes afterwards that I saw the blood flow, and that the marabout’s body slipped slowly down upon its side. He was dead.’

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Lord and Lady Cavendish

Frederick Charles Cavendish, an English politician and protege of William Gladstone, was born 180 years ago today. He was brutally murdered in Dublin, hours after being appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland. He was only 45. His wife, Lucy Lyttelton, was a niece of Gladstone, and, briefly, served as a Maid of Honour to Queen Victoria. She kept a detailed diary from the age of 13 until the death of her husband, and, naturally, there is much about Lord Cavendish in its pages. A fan of Lucy’s - Denise H who describes herself as an Anglophile in Minnesota - has made the diary freely available online, along with an excellent index.

Cavendish was born on 30 November 1836 at Compton House, a stately home, in Eastbourne, England, the second son of the 7th Duke of Cavendish. He was educated at home and then at Trinity College, Cambridge. He served as a cornet in the Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry Cavalry, before taking a post as private secretary to Lord Granville, who was then Lord President of the Council. He remained in that position from 1859 to 1864. In 1864, he married Lucy Caroline Lyttelton, the second daughter of the 4th Baron Lyttelton, and a niece of William Gladstone’s wife. They would have no children.

In 1865, Cavendish was elected to parliament as a Liberal MP for the Northern Division of the West Riding of Yorkshire. After serving as Gladstone’s private secretary, from July 1872 to August 1873, he became a junior lord of the Treasury until the 1874 election brought the Tories back into power. With Gladstone again PM in 1880, Cavendish was appointed financial secretary to the Treasury, until 1882 when he was offered, and accepted, the post of Chief Secretary to the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland (nominally subordinate to the 
Lord-Lieutenant but effectively government minister in charge of Ireland). He travelled with the Lord-Lieutenant, Earl Spencer, to Dublin on 6 May. Later that same day, he was walking in Phoenix Park with Thomas Henry Burke, the Permanent Under-Secretary, and they were both murdered by Irish nationalists. Subsequently, during the trial of the murderers, it was established that the plot had been against Burke, and that Cavendish was only killed because he was in Burke’s company.

After her husband’s death, Lucy became an increasingly active campaigner for girls’ and women’s education. She was a member of the royal commission on education in 1894 (one of the first women to serve on a royal commission); and she was a long-serving president of the Yorkshire Ladies’ Council of Education (1885-1912). In 1904 she was awarded an honorary degree (Doctor of Laws) at the formal inauguration of Leeds University for ‘notable service to the cause of education’. She died in 1925, but was not forgotten - in 1965, Cambridge University named its first postgraduate college for women after her. Further information can be found at Wikipedia (Lord Cavendish, Lady Cavendish) or the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required, free with UK library card).

Lady Cavendish was an assiduous diarist for the first part of her life, from the age of 13 until the death of her husband. Her diaries were edited by John Bailey (her brother-in-law) and published by John Murray in 1927 as The Diary of Lady Frederick Cavendish. The diary is used as a major resource by Andrea Geddes Poole in her recent book Philanthropy and the Construction of Victorian Women’s Citizenship: Lady Frederick Cavendish and Miss Emma Cons (parts of this can be read online at Googlebooks). Also, a review of the published diary can be read in a 1927 edition of The Spectator.

The diaries, as published, however are all freely available online - at the Lady Lucy Cavendish Diary Blog - thanks to a shy lady, Denise H, who describes herself at ‘just an Anglophile in Minnesota’. The diary records, Denise says, ‘an exciting whirl of the best upper class life of the time both in town and in the country. From crowded London dinner parties to extended stays at the most famous British country manors (Chatsworth, Holker), to travels to the continent and the West Indies, her diary records a life that Anthony Trollope could only imagine.’ Apart from a full index of Lady Cavendish’s diary by date, Denise has also indexed the entries by topics and names. Her site also includes the editor’s introductions to each of the various diary volumes.

Here are several extracts from Lady Cavendish’s diary chosen because they shed light on the life of Lord Cavendish (F. or Fred.). The first includes her mention of her future husband, and another concerns her wedding day; Uncle W, being Gladstone, also appears in these extracts. (FN in square brackets indicate Bailey’s footnotes as inserted into the text by Denise.)

20 November 1862
‘A notable day; I came to Chatsworth chaperoned by At. Y. and Tallee, in default of Papa, who is too busy commissioning, besides he told me he had a romance abt Chatsworth, and wanted to see it in lovely weather, never having been here since ‘39. It is most delightful being again with my Tallee, and we have managed already a quiet sit and a spell of capping verses! I can’t judge of the house yet, only it seems immeasurable. We find the Duke of Devonshire, Ly. Louisa, and Ld. Frederic Cavendish, [FN: This is the first mention of her future husband.] Ld. and Ly. George Cavendish and daughter, Ld. and Ly. Fanny Howard and daughters, Mr. Charles Clifford, Mr. Vyner, etc., all family I fancy. Round game, at which I won 4s.’

11 March 1871
‘My precious Fred sent me a full account [FN: There had been a fire at Holker.]. Something in his dressing-room chimney did the mischief, but he suspected nothing till he was woke about 5 by a loud crash, and looking into the dressing-room, was driven back by suffocating hot smoke. He groped as fast as he could (no possibility of putting any clothes on!) to the other wing, alarmed the house, and set everyone to work saving pictures and books from the rooms below. The Duke and Uncle Richard worked hard, but when F. came down again from an expedition (commanded by the Duke in the advancing dawn!) to get on some borrowed clothes, the drawing-room and library were ungetatable, and alas some good pictures were lost: the Vernet (calm sea), the large Ruysdael, the Van der Cappelle, the Canaletto, and the S. Christopher by either Memling or Albert Dürer; engines came one after another and were efficacious in preventing the fire spreading to the old wing, which however was hardly to be averted except by the providential change of wind at the critical moment when the very doors of communication between the 2 wings were burnt. All is utter ruin of the new wing.’

2 February 1874
‘The meeting was in the Keighley Mechanics’ Institute, at 8. The fine big hall was crammed in every corner. F. spoke with rather less effect than at Halifax, confining himself almost entirely to finance, but the people listened famously well, and I enjoyed the sight of their keen, shrewd faces. At first there were symptoms of opposition, from Tory, extreme Radical, and Republican (! ! !) sections, but all this seemed to dwindle away. My proudest time was during the questions, in which my old Fred does certainly excel. He is thoroughly up upon all the subjects and one could see growing respect and confidence in the faces below. Jolly old Mr. Wilson followed suit with unbounded good-will and pluck, but not quite with all the knowledge of the various matters one could wish; occasionally taking wild Radical flights, occasionally coming out rather old Tory than otherwise; but always with straightforwardness and bonhomie. What with F.’s profound earnestness and his humorous hitting, they are a good deal like Tragedy and Comedy. The meeting ended with splendid enthusiasm, and was all but unanimous, barely 6 hands being held up against us.’

7 June 1864
‘Our wedding day. I cannot write about it. I can only look backwards with loving regret, and forward with bright but trembling hope. We were married in Westminster Abbey, by Uncle Billy, and came here [FN: The Duke of Devonshire’s house at Chiswick in which both Fox and Canning died. It is now the property of the Municipality.] about 4 o’clock, into peaceful summer loveliness and the singing of birds.’

31 January 1881
‘A very notable week of Parliamentary events. The “debate” on leave to bring in the Coercion Bill began afresh on Monday, and the House sat for 41 1/2 hours. The Speaker and Dep. Speaker (Dr. Playfair) relieved each other, and the House divided itself as before into relays. On Tues. night F. was to sit up, and to go to bed at 8 on Wednesday morning the 2nd Feb. Instead of which, when he turned up at that hour, he announced that after some breakfast and a tub he was to go back again, as a coup d’état was decided on. The Speaker had gone on patiently calling the wretches to order over and over again, and about midnight the Tories made a dead set at Dr. Playfair, who had taken the Chair, to “name” one of the lot. He wouldn’t do what the Speaker had declined to do, and a bear-garden ensued. The Front Opposition bench all stalked out of the House, and rest took to shouting. Only poor Mr. Childers was on the Government bench at the time; but after a bit Bright came in and made a good speech which quieted them. Meanwhile F. went off in a cab to Devonshire House and pulled unlucky Hartn. out of bed at 1 when he had just got there and was sound asleep. The rest of the night passed peacefully. Very few even of the Government knew what was planned between the Speaker, Uncle W., and Sir Stafford; but some notion of a decisive step impending must have prevailed, for at 9 a.m. the House was pretty full. I hurried matters at home, but couldn’t omit Prayers for any coup d’état! so that I was just in time at 9.30 to be too late. The Speaker took Playfair’s place at 9, and without sitting down made a stately little speech as to the obstructed condition of things, and proceeded to say that under the exceptional circumstances he should call on no member to speak, but should at once call for the division. Biggar, one of the most offensive of the Irish, like a hunched-back toad to look at, who was comfortably expecting to resume his speech (interrupted by Playfair’s leaving the Chair), was thus left high and dry! and, before any of them could say Jack Robinson, the division was taken and leave given to bring in the Coercion Bill, which was immediately read a 1st time. When I got there, a bit of the business was being got thro’ and then came the announcement that the House do adjourn (for only 2 1/2 hours!), received by a worn-out cassé cheer of joy as the hapless M.P.s rushed out of the House and home to bed. We came across Sir Bow-wow Harcourt and Cavendish by Westminster Hall in high feather, Sir Bow-wow saying that it was the 1st time in history that Cavendish had been known to be in bed at 1, and then he was pulled out of it! F. went to bed, but had to be back by 12. Motions for adjournment went on just as if nothing had happened, and so came 6 with no progress made. Uncle W. then gave notice of Anti-Obstruction Resolutions.’

4 November 1881
‘—F. had talks with Uncle W. about his resignation, which he is very seriously contemplating about Easter, on the strength of having carried out all the great foreign matters of policy that he took office to do. The conversation as I have it from F. was pretty much as follows. Uncle W. began by saying that resigning the Chancellorship of the Exchequer would have the great drawback of in a manner binding him to remain on as P.M. for an indefinite time. His reasons for wishing to give it up altogether he then went into.

(I ought to have put in, after his words about the Exchequer, what he then proceeded to say as to his having been called to office. All the special reasons which justified his taking office were at an end or nearly so: the Berlin treaty carried out, Afghanistan evacuated, Transvaal settled, finance put on a satisfactory footing. Two matters that had since arisen no doubt still required his care - the state of Ireland, and Parliamentary Obstruction; but these were, he trusted, in a hopeful way of being settled.)

Never liked the tone even of Sir Robert Peel, when he used to complain of the severity of public service; which, in his (Uncle W.’s) opinion, was fairly requited and not heavier than duty called for. At the same time, he considered that after 50 years of public service it was not well to be obliged to work with the intensity which office now entailed, nor was it desirable to look forward to end one’s days in the contentions necessarily entailed by the office of P.M. In the next place, his position towards the Queen was intolerable to one who throughout life had reverenced her as a constitutional sovereign, inasmuch as he now had to strive daily with her on the side of liberty as opposed to jingoism. In the 3rd place he said it was only fair to Lord Granville and Hartn., who had led the party thro’ difficult and disagreeable times. F. acknowledged the force of all this, but represented the practical impossibility. While he retained his full powers, the country would not let him resign and nobody else could lead. Uncle W. then suggested temporary abstention on his part as meeting these difficulties; though he acknowledged that a retired Minister was inevitably the centre which attracted all discontent.

Subsequently, he mentioned the House of Lords, but said he thought of that with great reluctance. F. replied that to take a peerage was his only possible course if he was bent on retiring; that the country would otherwise always be turning to him and clamouring for him; that in the H. of Commons he could never occupy a 2nd place. Uncle W. laughed and said, “You have indeed put a serious bar in the way of my retiring.” When he spoke of Ld. Granville, F. said he had heard on good authority (which he did not quote - it was a letter from Lord Acton to Mazy) that Ld. G. meant to retire whenever Uncle W. did. At this he was greatly surprised; but said he did fear Ld. G.’s life was not a good one. He spoke of the effects of old age: said he was constantly reminded of Cobden’s remark about Ld. Palmerston - that with age authority was apt to increase as powers of judgment decreased; and quoted the D. of Wellington as another instance of harm done by old men. Nevertheless he was obliged to confess that he had stood the hard work of the last session without harm, and was in perfect force, and better than he had been. Spoke of a former time when he could not sleep on one side without disquiet and bad dreams - was now quite free from that. He tried to make out that Ireland might be quiet and the regulation of the House all settled by Easter. F. thinks there is hardly any chance of this. Within this very week he has given F. to read an able and exhaustive paper (such as might furnish matter for a 3 hours’ speech) on Local Government for the guidance of Mr. Dodson. How could this be launched and then left to others? (F., however, has learnt since that it is to be laid before a special Committee on which Uncle W. will not sit.) The talk ended by his saying he would consult Lord Granville.

The impression F. gathered from the whole conversation was that the thought of retirement was not so much prompted by the personal longing for it (tho’ without doubt it is a vision which refreshes and cheers him to turn to) as by conscientious scruples with regard to Ld. G. and Hartn., and as to his own conviction against old men going on at politics till they drop. He hates making himself the exception. (But N.B. what an exception he is, as a matter of fact!)

The upshot seems to me that he will find it impossible to retire before there is some indication of serious overstrain in him, either mental or bodily. That otherwise, however he might seclude himself he would remain a great power in the country, such as would necessarily hamper his successors. That the only feasible way, supposing his powers anything like what they are at present, would be by taking a peerage. That, unless he should be in real danger of breaking down, it could not be right for him to leave the helm in the present state of politics; nor can the moment be foreseen when it would be right. I think the hope of being able to retire soon will continue to please him; but that he will find it impossible at any given moment except under the above-mentioned conditions. Taking a peerage and continuing to be P.M. might do; but it could hardly be bearable for him to be P.M. with no power over the H. of C. and in a minority in the H. of Lords.’

Monday, November 21, 2016

For one’s great-grandson

‘Feeling much better. I do a Spectator article on keeping diaries, in which I lay down the rule that one should write one’s diary for one’s great-grandson. I think that is a correct rule. The purely private diary becomes too self-centred and morbid. One should have a remote, but not too remote, audience.’ This is Harold Nicolson, one of the greatest of 20th century diarists, born 130 years ago today, musing on the diary form.

Nicolson was born on 21 November 1886, in Tehran, part of Persia at the time. He  spent much of his youth either abroad, where his diplomat father was posted, or at the Irish estates of his mother’s relatives. He was educated at a preparatory school, The Grange, then Wellington College and Balliol College, Oxford. After a period in France, improving his languages, he joined the diplomatic service, being posted to Madrid briefly and then Constantinople. He married Victoria Mary (Vita) Sackville-West in 1913, and in 1915 they brought Long Barn, a semi-derelict medieval farmstead in Kent where they would live for 15 years before moving to Sissinghurst.

With the outbreak of war, Nicolson was recalled to the Foreign Office; and through the war years he was mostly occupied on matters relating to neutral powers. He was one of the chief draftsmen of the Balfour declaration, which committed Britain to supporting a Jewish homeland in Palestine. In the war’s aftermath, Nicolson was attached to the British delegation at the Paris Peace Conference, where he served on a number of Balkan committees. He established a reputation for analysis and sound judgement. Subsequently, he was appointed private secretary to Sir Eric Drummond, the first secretary-general of the League of Nations, but within months had been recalled to London. He went on to be involved mostly in Middle East issues.

By this time, Nicolson had embarked on a parallel career, writing biographies of literary figures, including of Paul Verlaine, Tennyson, Byron and Swinburne. His civil service career, though, did not proceed smoothly. Having been promoted to First Secretary and then Counsellor, he was posted to Tehran as Chargé d'affaires, but was recalled in 1927 and demoted for criticising his minister. Another posting, to Berlin, followed, and another promotion, but in 1929 he resigned. He worked at the Evening Standard briefly, and edited Action, a newspaper put out by Oswald Mosely’s New Party. He also stood, unsuccessfully, as an MP for the party in the 1931 General Election. Soon after Moseley formed his fascist party Nicolson ceased to support him, and, thereafter, always regretted his earlier involvement.

In 1935, Nicolson stood for Parliament, successfully this time, as a National Labour Party member (for Leicester West). He remained an MP for ten years, when he lost his seat. He was never an especially remarkable politician, though he was well-respected as a back-bencher for his knowledge of foreign affairs. He was, however, a talented writer and journalist. Because of the remarkable relationship with his wife (which was very close while allowing affairs with same-sex lovers) and the fact that he moved in high political circles and was intimate with the Bloomsbury Group, he had plenty to observe and write about. With Vita, he developed one of the country’s most famous gardens at Sissinghurst (now run by the National Trust). He was appointed Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in 1953, as a reward for writing the official biography of George V. Vita died in 1962, and Nicolson in 1968. Further biographical information is available from Wikipedia, Spartacus, Mantex, or the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required).

As a young man, Nicolson kept a diary intermittently, and a little bit more regularly during the Paris Peace Conference. This latter he later edited for publication by Constable as Peacemaking (1933). However, he did not start to keep a regular daily diary until 1 January 1930; from then on, he kept it continuously for over 30 years, until 1964, amassing some three million words. According to his son, Nigel Nicolson, editor of the diaries, he would type up the previous day’s diary entry every morning after breakfast using both sides of loose sheets of quarto paper. The sheets were then filed and stored in a steel cabinet at Sissinghurst, never to be re-read or shown to anyone until Nigel, in the 1960s, suggested editing them for publication. Collins brought out a first volume - Diaries and Letters 1930-39 - in 1966; a second volume - Diaries and Letters 1939-45 - in 1967; and, posthumously, a third volume - Diaries and Letters 1945-1966 - in 1968.

Although Nicolson is well-remembered for his relationship with Sackville-West and their Sissinghurst garden, his enduring literary legacy, without doubt, is the diaries. Since the three-volume edition in the 1960s, there have been various further editions and collections some of which have included pre-1930 diary material. In 2009, Faber Finds republished the original 1960s editions - see Of war and of sowing.

A few years earlier, though, in a 2004, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (a publisher set up by Nigel Nicolson but sold to Orion in 1991) had published a one volume edition, Diaries and Letters 1907-1964 (some pages can be read at Amazon). In an editorial note, Nigel Nicolson observes that still only one twentieth part of all his father’s diaries had ever been published. And then, at the start of his introduction, he explains why he thinks the diaries have been so acclaimed over the years: ‘First, he had led a very active life in diplomacy, politics and literature, and knew, some intimately, the leading figures in all three professions. Therefore his diaries and letters form a record of considerable value to historians and biographers. Secondly, he had unusual powers of observation and recollection, specially of conversations. He recorded not just what people said, but their tone of voice, their gestures, their clothes, possessions and houses, all clues to their characters.’

Here are several extracts taken form the original 1960s volumes.

31 January 1932
‘There is a dead and drowned mouse in the lily-pool. I feel like that mouse - static, obese and decaying. Viti is calm, comforting and considerate. And yet (for have I not been reading a batch of insulting press-cuttings?) life is a drab and dreary thing. I had a great chance. I have missed it. I have made a fool of myself in every respect.

Surely there was a time I might have trod
The sunlit heights, and from life’s dissonance
Struck one clear chord to reach the ears of God?
[Oscar Wilde lines]

Very glum. Discuss finance. Viti keeps on saying that we have got enough to go on with. But when one goes into it, that enough represents only two months. I must get a job. Yet all the jobs which pay humiliate. And the decent jobs do not pay. Come back to Long Barn. Arrange my books sadly. Weigh myself sadly. Have put on eight pounds. Feel ashamed of myself, my attainments, and my character. Am I a serious person at all? Vita thinks I could make £2,000 by writing a novel. I don’t. The discrepancy between these two theories causes me some distress of mind.’

30 January 1936
‘Dr Broadbent has telephoned to say that B.M. [Lady Sackville] cannot live through the day. Vita goes down by the 12 noon train and I promise to follow as soon as I have put off all my engagements. Reach Brighton at 2 p.m. and go to White Lodge. Go straight up to B. M.’s room and find that she has died some three minutes before, quite painlessly and without recovering consciousness. Take Vita into the other room. Rhind [Lady Sackville’s secretary] is much upset but behaves well. The solicitor arrives and also the priest. The latter is disgusting and refuses to have a service over B.M. if she is to be cremated. She has left a pathetic little typewritten notice saying that she was to be cremated and the ashes flung into the sea. Vita is much harassed and shattered, but inwardly, I think, relieved.’

28th December 1941
‘Feeling much better. I do a Spectator article on keeping diaries, in which I lay down the rule that one should write one’s diary for one’s great-grandson. I think that is a correct rule. The purely private diary becomes too self-centred and morbid. One should have a remote, but not too remote, audience.

The Russians continue to nibble at the German lines. In Libya we are ‘mopping up’, but it is not clear what has really happened. The public seem to have lost all interest in Libya.

26 December 1942
‘A cold slate-grey day. I write an article on Parliament in 1942. I weed the lime-border in the afternoon. Viti is at work on her poem The Garden. She is finding it very difficult, and alternates between depression and elation.

Darlan has been assassinated by a Frenchman with an Italian mother. Giraud says he hopes de Gaulle will join him.’

26 December 1943
‘We go over to Long Barn. I walk sadly in the damp fog thinking of all the happy days of youth passed among those poplars and meadows. Fifteen years was Long Barn my dear home, and now it is to be sold to a film magnate called Soskin. It is looking very pretty. Viti and I rather sadly measure furniture to see what we shall take to Sissinghurst. Afterwards the refugee children sing carols for us. [Long Barn was used during the war for displaced children.]

I feel depressed by the war and the coming revolution and the loss of my past life and values. Even Europe, which I knew and loved well, has ceased to be important. Les Scythes ont conquis le monde.’

21 November 1946
‘I reach the age of sixty. I talk at Chatham House on ‘Peacemaking, 1919 and 1946’. It goes very well. There are many questions - all sensible. I then return to the Travellers and have a drink with Victor Cunard and Moley Sargent. I come back with Victor, who has taken a house immediately opposite this bloody tenement.

I return across the road, conscious of my sixty years. Until about five years ago I detected no decline at all in physical vigour and felt as young as I did at thirty. In the last five years, however, I am conscious that my physical powers are on the decline. I am getting slightly deaf. Intellectually I observe no decline: I can write with the same facility, which is perhaps a fault. I do not notice that my curiosity, my interests or my powers of enjoyment and amusement have declined at all. What is sad about becoming sixty is that one loses all sense of adventure. It is unlikely now that the impossible will happen. I am very well aware, moreover, that I have not achieved either in the literary or the political world that status which my talents and hard work might seem to justify. In literature, the explanation is simple: although hard-working, I am not intelligent enough to write better than I do. In politics, it has been due partly to lack of push and even of courage, and partly to a combination of unfortunate events (Mosley, National Labour, my being identified with the Ministry of Information at a bad time, and so on). There was a moment in 1938 when it looked as if I had a political future, but that moment passed. I failed to seize it.

Now how much do I mind all this? I have no desire for office or power in any sense. I know quite honestly that if I were offered the Embassy in Paris or Rome, I should hesitate to accept, not only because Viti would hate it, but because I have no wish to be prominent and grand. But of course I am disappointed by my literary ill-success. Nor do I quite relish the idea that my reputation rests not so much upon my political or literary work, as upon my journalistic and broadcasting work. I regret all this quite faintly. I see, on the other hand, a long life behind me, dashed with sunshine and gay with every colour. And to have three people in my life such as Viti and Ben and Nigel is something greater than all material success. For if happiness is in fact the aim of life, then assuredly I have had forty years of happiness, from the day when as a little boy I walked down to the station at Wellington College with a surge of freedom in my heart. Since that hour of liberation I have had a wonderful succession of delights and interests. For which I thank my destiny.’

The Diary Junction

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The king of Hawaii in Japan

King Kalakaua, the last reigning king of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi, was born 180 years ago today. He was a colourful character who tried to re-introduce some of the old customs, but he was also forward-looking, negotiating trade deals with the US. In the middle of his reign, he took a nine month fact-finding trip around the world, visiting many countries, and, while in Japan, kept a diary. It was a 100 years or so before this was discovered, and written about in the Hawaiian Journal of History.

David Laʻamea Kamanakapuʻu Mahinulani Nalōiaʻehuokalani Lumialani Kalākaua was born on the Hawaiian island of Oahu on 16 November 1836, the second surviving son of the High Chief Caesar Kaluaiku Kapaʻakea and high chiefess Analea Keohokalole. By Hawaiian custom, the infant was adopted by the chiefess Haaheo Kaniu, who took him to the court of King Kamehameha III on the island of Maui. When Kalakaua was four, he returned to Oahu to begin his education at the Royal School.

Kalakaua studied law from the age of 16, but never completed his studies because of his military duties and being appointed to various government positions - in the Department of the Interior and as Postmaster General. In late 1863, he married Kapiʻolani. Although it was a low-key ceremony, he was criticised for holding it during the mourning period for King Kamehameha IV.

When Kamehameha V died in 1872 without having designated an heir, Kalakaua fought an election held to determine his successor but lost to Prince William Charles Lunalilo. Two years later Lunalilo also died without naming a successor. Kalakaua then won the subsequent election against Queen Emma, Kamehameha IV’s widow. However, when supporters of the queen rioted, King Kalakaua asked for the help of US and British troops then in harbour.

Later that year, Kalakaua toured the country’s islands, and then he travelled to the US to finalise a reciprocity treaty. This removed the tariff on some Hawaiian products, particularly sugar, which led to a period of prosperity. Kalakaua tried to restore the ancient Hawaiian social order and helped revive traditional customs, such as hula. He also built himself a luxurious home, the Iolani Palace (now said to be the only royal residence anywhere in the United States).

In 1881, Kalakaua embarked on an innovative fact-finding trip around the world, keen to see how other countries were ruled and how they dealt with immigration, and so as to improve Hawaii’s foreign relations. During his nine month absence, his sister and heir, Princess Liliʻuokalani, ruled as regent. He visited San Francisco, then Japan and China, Burma, India, Egypt and several European countries. By the mid-1880s, however, he was facing growing political unrest from some monarchists wanting to replace Kalakaua with his sister, and from many others wanting to end the monarchy and join with the United States.

In 1887, a group called the Hawaiian League assembled an armed force strong enough to demand the king sign a new constitution (the so-called Bayonet Constitution). This severely restricted his powers, and effectively put an end to the monarchy. He died a few years later, in 1991, while on a visit to the US. Further biographical information can be found at Wikipedia, Hawaii History, Hawaii for Visitors, and The Samurai Archives.

There is no evidence that Kalakaua was a diarist by nature, but during his voyage around the world, he did keep a diary for a short time while in Japan. This was discovered in the 1970s by Masaji Marumoto, a lawyer and community leader in Hawaii, in the Bishop Museum library, Honolulu. And, on the basis of the diary, he wrote a paper for the Hawaiian Journal of History (Volume 10, 1976) entitled Vignette of Early Hawaii-Japan Relations: Highlights of King Kalakaua’s Sojourn in Japan on His Trip around the World as Recorded in His Personal Diary. This is freely available on the University of Hawaii community website, and contains several extracts from the diary. Also freely available - at Internet Archive - is Around the World with a King, published in 1904, which contains an account of the entire trip as written by William N. Armstrong, Kalakaua’s Attorney General and companion on the journey.

According to Marumoto, the diary covers the first 48 pages of a notebook containing 100 letter-size pages, and, at the time of his discovery, had not been mentioned or referred to in any existing histories of Hawaii. Apparently, he says, it lay in the archives of the museum for many years unnoticed and unread. Marumoto explains that in Kalakaua’s diary he ‘described in detail his meetings with Emperor Mutsuhito and the Empress at officially scheduled functions; the numerous courtesies extended to him by Prince Higashifushimi Yoshiaki and other members of the Emperor’s reception committee; the military parade given in his honor; and the visits to the printing office, arsenal, paper factory, naval academy, civil engineering school, and other places of interest.’

Marumoto also observes: ‘In a sense, Kalakaua’s diary is a tourist’s diary. However, it is more than that. In it Kalakaua emerges as an educated man with catholic knowledge of human affairs, a monarch thoroughly versed in royal etiquette and comfortably at home with his peer, and a man deeply affected by kindnesses extended to him.’ He concludes his paper with this: ‘The events which are recorded in Kalakaua’s diary did not bring about any result of lasting consequence. They merely added some romantic touch, and thus provided a fascinating and intriguing vignette, to early Hawaii-Japan relations.’ Here are several extracts from Kalakaua’s diary as found in Marmot’s paper.

4 March 1881
‘We arrived in Yokohama at 8 a.m. March 4th 1881. Having had a passage of 24 days from San Francisco weather heavy most of the way. . . . The harbor was studded with vessels of different nationalities War and Merchant vessels. . . . Those having saluting batteries fired 21 guns each Japanese Russian and French. Two Japanese Officers in uniform boarded the Oceanica waited for the arrival of the Admiral. Then came Mr. R. W. Irwin Acting Hawaiian Consul General with Mr. D. W. Stevens Secretary to the American Legation immediately followed. . . . After breakfast Mr. Irwin announced the arrival of Commissioners from the Emperor to receive us and after the presentation of the members consisting of Junii Hachisuka Ex Daimio, Mr. Ishabashi Secretary Foreign Department Vice Governor Isogi of Kanagawa and Admiral Natamuta of the Imp. Jap. Navy we left the ship amid the hearty cheers of the Officers Passengers and Crew of the ‘Oceanica’. The Admiral’s launch conveying us to the Admiralty Office Landing, where we were met by other Deputations sent by the Emperor to receive us. . . . On landing, a Detachment of soldiers and marines paid the usual honors, the Marine Band playing the Kamehameha Hymn or Hawaiian National Anthem. After a short detention of an hour in receiving the presentations of the Naval Officers of the Japanese fleet in the harbor, we drove to the Emperor’s Marine Resident Junii Hachisuka escorting us in the first carriage and the others of the party following in the second and third carriages.

At 11 1/2 a.m. His Imperial Highness Prince Higashifushiminomiya arrived, welcoming us in the name of the Emperor as his guest. Arrangements was [sic] then made for our reception by the Emperor of Japan to take place the next day Saturday the 5th.’

7 March 1881
‘Early at 9 1/2 H. I. H. escorted us to the Arsenal. General Oyama Gan General Murata were presented and with them we were lead to the various departments. Guns of the most improved patterns were orderly placed on racks in tiers from the ground to the Sealing as well as the upper second story. We went through the machinery, gun & cartridge Rooms and small gun factories, where they were making a new gun of their own invention. The piece was somewhat similar to the Hotchkiss American small arm and the test of the Arm showed great precision with low trajectory. . . . The breech lock is simple containing but 5 pieces to the whole mechanism.’

13 March 1881
‘The Prince received us in the front entrance of the Building and conducted us to a side room on the left or East Room on the second story. On a small table was placed a floral cushing of white jassimin flowers and the word ALOHA inscribed in the center in large letters made of the Red Cherry blossom. When this rare and precious token of friendship met my eyes, a thrill of gratefulness penetrated my whole frame and only restrained the emotion by the faint exclamation how beautiful.

Within the door, H. I. H. Princess Higashifushiminomiya advanced to welcome us and led me to a sofa near the fire, bade me to sit, she seating herself on my left. Trays of warm tea and cordials were placed before us and through the medium of the interpretation of Mrs. Uyeno the conversation alluding to the inclemency of the weather and other topics, she arose to allow Princess Fushiminomiya and Princess Kitashirakawa to be presented. When Luncheon was announced she arose and offering myself lead her to the table. . . . I sat on Princess left and Prince Fushiminomiya opposite.

When the Roast were brought in His Imperial Highness Prince Higashi arose and proposed my health in a most cordial manner. In arising to reply I was so choked with emotion that I hardly could speak, but in a broken sentence thanked him for his kindness.’

Diary briefs

Flaubert’s travel diary sells for €537,880 - Sotheby’sThe Guardian

WWI nurse’s diary sold for £11,200 - Hansons, Daily Mail

The Roy Strong Diaries 1988-2003 - Orion Books, Daily Mail

Diary of a Wartime Affair - PenguinThe Telegraph

The Civil War Diary of Gideon Welles - University of Illinois Press (see also Internet Archive)

The Diaries of Vivienne Westwood - Serpent’s Taili-D

Lil Wayne’s Gone ’Til November - Blink PublishingVultureGQThe New Yorker

The diaries of Ivan Serov - The New York TimesWorld Jewish CongressThe Times of Israel

Diary evidence in Libya HIV scandal - Expatica

Diaries of Indian scientist go online -  The Times of India

POW diary donated to Holocaust museum - Chicago Tribune

Ascension diary from 1726 - British Journal of Photography

Uk refuses to hand over Casement diaries - Independent.ie

Himmler’s war diaries to be published - Deutsche Welle, Daily Mail

Eva Hesse’s diaries - Yale University Press, The Art Newspaper

The Girl Guide who met Hitler - Bridport News, The Telegraph

Teenage diary used in prosecution - Wales Online, Elite Daily

New Kawaguchi diary found - The Asahi Shimbun

Asbestos concerns of Parliament engineer - The Telegraph

The Dutch Anne Frank - The Times of Israel, Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Legal battle over diary of air stewardess - Daily Mail

Diaries of spy and JFK assassination - Regnery Publishing, Daily Mail

Friday, November 4, 2016

Ackerley and his women

‘Today Queenie bit my hand. I do believe she was horrified as soon as the accident occurred. She grovelled on the pavement before I had rebuked her; no doubt she both tasted and smelt the blood that was dripping from my hand. I was angry and upset and gave her a number of cuts from the lead. [. . .] Indeed, she loves me so much, it must have been dreadful for her to have hurt me.’ This is the celebrated mid-20th century English writer, J. R. Ackerley - born 120 years ago today - writing in his diary about his dog, who he counted as one of his three women (the others being his sister and an aunt) and his closest friend for 15 years!

Ackerley was born 4 November 1896, the second son of a fruit merchant and an actress he met in Paris. The couple, who also had a daughter, did not, apparently, set up home together until 1903, in London, and did not marry until 1919. Joe was educated at public school in Fleetwood, Lancashire, and his study at Cambridge was interrupted by service in WWI as an officer in the 8th battalion of the East Surrey regiment. He was wounded twice, and imprisoned by the Germans, but assigned to an internment camp in neutral Switzerland, which is where, biographers say, he first acknowledged his homosexuality. His older brother, Peter, was killed just before the end of the war.

After leaving Cambridge with a poor degree, Ackerley moved to London, wrote poetry, saw his play - The Prisoner of War - produced, and came into contact with other literary figures, not least E. M. Forster who became a close friend. Indeed, it was Forster who helped arrange for Ackerley to work for five months in India as secretary to the Maharaja of Chhatarpur. His experiences there, tinged by a dislike for several Anglo-Indians, fuelled his comic memoir, Hindoo Holiday. Back in London, in 1928, he joined the nascent British Broadcasting Corporation to work in the Talks department; and, in 1935, became editor of the Corporation’s publication The Listener, a position he held until 1959. During this time, he is credited with championing many young writers, including Philip Larkin, W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender and Christopher Isherwood.

In his early 30s, Ackerley discovered that his recently-deceased father had led a double life, supporting another household with several children. He subsequently took over financial responsibility for his sister, Nancy, and for an elderly aunt, Bunny. He, himself, lived an openly homosexual life, paying male prostitutes, and never finding a long-term relationship. Aged around 50, he acquired an Alsatian named Queenie, a pet that became his primary companion for the next 15 years; the day she died he called the saddest of his life. His later years at the BBC are when he wrote his most well-known books: My Dog Tulip (1956), We Think the World of You (1960), and My Father and Myself published posthumously 
(1968). He died in 1967. Further information is available at Wikipedia, Gay History and Literature, The New Yorker, and Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Ackerley clearly had a tendency to keep a diary. Hindoo Holiday presents as a journal, albeit a well-worked one - ‘as perfectly constructed as A Passage to India’ for Eliot Weinberger, and, posthumously, in 1982, Hutchinson published My Sister and Myself - The Diaries of J. R. Ackerley, as edited by Francis King. Hindoo Holiday has never been out of print for long, although it was not until 2000 that an edition edited by Weinberger, by the New York Review of Books (see a few pages at Amazon), revealed the full, unedited text for the first time in English (ironically, an Indian edition had done this earlier, restoring cuts made to the original about the Maharajah’s sexual preferences).

In his introduction to My Sister and Myself, King explains how, when his friend Ackerley died, he left him a large brown paper parcel with 17 small notebooks and five larger notebooks without any instructions as to what to do with them. After Ackerley’s sister, Nancy, had also died, King edited the diaries (all from the smaller notebooks) to be published as My Sister and Myself (the title echoing Ackerley’s own memoir, My Father and Myself). In preparing the book, King says that most of the entries he omitted were about Queenie, his walks on Putney Heath, and travels around London. ‘What I have concentrated on in this selection is the extraordinary relationship between Joe and what he would call, in the tones of a sultan speaking of his often refractory harem, “my women”: meaning by that not merely Nancy and his ancient, twice-married Aunt Bunny, but also the Alsatian bitch.’

‘At the time covered by these diaries,’ King summarises, ‘Joe’s and Nancy’s symbiosis was a ghastly caricature of the kind of marriage, devoid of sex, that is held together merely by feelings of obligation, pity and guilt. But, as in many marriages, the two participants, exhausted by their conflicts, eventually reached an understanding and even mutually helpful modus vivendi.’ Here are several extracts from
 My Sister and Myself.

30 September 1948
‘Today Queenie bit my hand. I do believe she was horrified as soon as the accident occurred. She grovelled on the pavement before I had rebuked her; no doubt she both tasted and smelt the blood that was dripping from my hand. I was angry and upset and gave her a number of cuts from the lead. Then I took her back to the flat so that I could bathe and bandage the wound. She went straight down the passage into my dark bedroom and stayed there, not coming out again for some time, which she would ordinarily have done, hearing me moving about (in search of bandages, scissors, etc.) outside. It was only when I had finished attending to my wound and, feeling slightly faint, sat down for a moment on the stool in the bathroom to rest, that she came in, looking very unhappy, and, gently putting her front paws on my lap, rose up, smelt my face and then licked it. I petted her and said it didn't matter. I felt awfully sorry I'd hit her. After that I took her down the towing path a short way, so that she could do her shits. There were dogs about so I put her on the lead, but they followed us back to my front door, Queenie barking at them and then looking up into my face as though to say, ‘That’s what you want, isn’t it?’ Indeed, she loves me so much, it must have been dreadful for her to have hurt me.’

14 February 1949
‘A dreadful, dreadful week of worry and self-torment. I have not been able to sleep at night without aspirins, and only patchily then. It has gradually emerged, from phone conversations with Brodie, that Nancy’s present condition is little better than that of a lunatic, that she can hardly walk or hold her water, has gone quite out of her mind. She is having this electrical convulsion treatment. Dr Brodie would not let me see her; he told me that he would send me word when I might go if I would keep in touch with him.

Alas, in my guilty mind, I see what happened as surely as though I had deliberately willed it to come to pass. She has been accusing me lately of never being the same, as always being different whenever she sees me; and of course it is true. I am deeply attached to her, my sister, in my way, and in emergencies, when I am deeply touched by her, or frightened for her, as when I took my letter down to Worthing after Haywards Heath, or burst into tears in Worthing Hospital, or saw her, so gentle and sweet in Chichester, I can love her and am ready to do or promise anything. But then I leave her, and remember the past, and become worried and anxious, and see, for instance, old Bunny, quietly and uncomplainingly packing up her gear to go and live elsewhere, and my consideration and affection or feeling turn elsewhere, or simply withdraws, and Nancy sees it going, and feels it gone.’

14 March 1949
‘Graylingwell again yesterday. And I was astounded by the improvement which Nancy showed since I last saw her. She walked in, not altogether steadily, but by herself and sat with me, and conversed in a comparatively sensible way. Though still vague in many respects, she was now in possession of much of her mind. She asked for some money, complained about the food, and seemed to expect to be able to come and join me quite soon. Some of her luggage, she said, was missing, and she was concerned about that. She asked after my health, and seemed to take an interest in my replies. Her head was still too heavy for her neck and hung forward rather, but she was altogether, excepting for a cold, a well woman compared with what she had been before. She had even written me a letter, which I had not then got, but have since received - uncertain in writing, and rather rambling in thought, but wonderfully encouraging. She said she was having insulin now every day except weekends. I asked her if she had had electrical treatment too; she said no, not to her knowledge.

Oh dear. What was it that sent her down and out at the Acre? What thought, what anxiety, what revulsion - if any? And when her mind is able soon to embrace once more all the problems of her life, will she come up against that thought, that anxiety again, and fade out once more? At the moment there seems no reason why she should not be with me in a week or two - as Dr Brodie prophesied.’

19 September 1949
‘I see there is a correspondence between tapeworms and my sister - perhaps women generally. Tapeworms are two or three yards long and composed of segments. A well-grown worm may consist of 800-900 segments. Each of these segments is hermaphrodite, and though it is not certain how fertilization occurs, it must sometimes be incestuous. A ripe segment, ready to fall off the end of the worm, contains 30,000-40,000 eggs, each already developed into a little six-hooked embryo and protected by a shell.

To the worm’s monstrous body is attached a blind and mouthless head no bigger than a pin’s, by a neck as thin as sewing cotton. But how aggressive it is, grappling itself to the wall of its host’s gut by four strong muscular suckers, and a circle of rose-thorn hooks to make doubly sure. What chance has one to get rid of a thing like that? As it lives a long time - probably its length of life is only limited by the death of the host. One man was known to keep the same tapeworm for thirty-five years. It is stubborn, resisting all attempts to get rid of it; even if you manage to get rid of the main body, the head remains and soon grows a new one, inch by inch. However, it takes no holidays, and Nancy is going off for one on Wednesday for three weeks. Bunny comes to take her place.’

4 March 1950
‘Never a dull moment, I think to myself when I look back over four years with Queenie. What a rare thing to be able to say of any relationship.

That is why one is never free from anxiety and fear. Life is so insecure. Happiness is so insecure. At any moment, some disaster. Now, travelling to Notts., I look at my watch and say, “She’s having a fine walk on Wimbledon Common with Nancy.” Then I think, Perhaps at this very moment she has been run over and is screaming in her death agony.

Georges [DuthuitJ said of dogs: “How sad and frustrating for them: never quite able to say, to convey, what they wish and try to convey.” Georges also said, about women: “Each one believes herself to be the centre of the cosmos.” ’


The Diary Junction

Such shoals of flying fish

Today marks the 410th anniversary of the baptism of Sir Thomas Herbert, an English traveller, historian and courtier who looked after Charles I in prison, remaining with him until his execution. As a young man, he was appointed to an English diplomatic mission to Persia but, after the mission leaders died, he and the rest of the party made their way home slowly through various Asian and African countries. Herbert published a diary of his travels with some success, and subsequently issued further and much expanded editions.

Herbert was born into an old Yorkshire family, and was baptised on 4 November 1606. He studied at both Oxford and Cambridge, and was chosen to join Charles I’s trading mission to Persia under Sir Dodmore Cotton. The embassy (1627-1630) was considered something of a failure, since both its leaders fell sick and died. The rest of the party return home by way of other countries in Asia and on the coast of Africa. Subsequently, Herbert visited France before returning to court in the summer of 1631. He became friends with Sir Walter Alexander, a gentleman usher to the king, and married his daughter, Lucy. He published a first edition of the diary of his travels in 1634, entitled A Relation of some yeares travaile, begunne Anno 1626; but he then expanded this in 1638 under the title Some Yeares Travels into Divers Parts of Asia and Afrique.

The new earl of Pembroke, Philip Herbert, introduced Thomas Herbert to Charles I, who promised him a significant position, but when the Civil War broke out in 1742, Thomas Herbert followed Pembroke into the parliamentarian camp. In 1644 parliament appointed him a commissioner to the earl of Essex’s army and later to the New Model Army. But in early 1647, he was made attendant to the imprisoned Charles I, being one of the few parliamentarians the king was content to have serve him. He stayed with Charles until his execution in 1649, and then served in Ireland, in various positions, and was rewarded with a knighthood by Cromwell in 1658.

With the restoration of Charles II as king, in 1660, Herbert accepted a general pardon and returned to London, where he was created a baronet for his service to Charles I (his Cromwellian knighthood having dissipated). Herbert’s wife died in 1671 - they had four surviving children - and he married Elizabeth Cutler the following year. In his latter years, he continued expanding and reissuing editions of Some Yeares Travels, and writing other books. He died in 1682. Further information is available from Wikipedia or Encyclopaedia Iranica, the Dictionary of National Biography or the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required).

By the time Herbert published the second edition of his travel diary - Some Yeares Travels into Divers Parts of Asia and Afrique - it had been considerably expanded as demonstrated by its subtitle: Describing especially the two famous Empires, the Persian and Great Mogull: weaved with the History of these later Times; Also, many rich and spacious Kingdomes in the Orientall India, and other parts of Asia; Together with the Adjacent Iles; Severally relating the Religion, Language, Qualities, Customes, Habit, Descent, Fashions, and other Observations touching them; With a revivall of the first Discoverer of America. Further editions, and expansions, followed throughout Herbert’s life. The book, which is generously illustrated with many line drawings, is freely available at Internet Archive, although the language - with f (long s) rather than s - is awkward to read. Here are a couple of sample images from the 1638 work.







Monday, October 31, 2016

No escape for Houdini‘s diaries

The great Harry Houdini, Handcuff King, illusionist and magician extraordinaire, died 90 years ago today, on Halloween - not from a failed trick, despite a lifetime of apparently death-defying acts, but from acute appendicitis probably brought on by an unexpected blow to his stomach. Houdini kept interesting and detailed notebooks/diaries for much of his life but, to this day, they remain secret, passed down and closely guarded within the family of Houdini’s friend and lawyer Bernard M. L. Ernst. Most of the diaries have never been published, nor, in recent times, have they been available to any of the myriad of biographers fascinated by Houdini’s life - with the exception of Kenneth Silverman. Indeed, it is Silverman’s notes on the diaries, stored at the Houdini Historical Centre, that are the closest any other biographers have been able to get to the diaries. Surely it’s time for Harry’s own words and thoughts to escape from their prison cell, to be heard at last!

Erik Weisz was born in Budapest in 1874 to a Jewish family, and was one of seven children. In the late 1870s, the family emigrated to the US, where they
changed their name to Weiss (Erik becoming Ehrich) and settled in Appleton, Wisconsin. Aged 9, Ehrich performed as a trapeze artist, but he was also a champion cross-country runner. Still a teenager, he embarked on a career as a magician, taking the name Harry Houdini, and specialising in cards tricks but also working in circuses. He soon found more success with escape acts. While performing with his brother Dash, as The Brothers Houdini on Coney Island, he met a fellow performer, Wilhelmina Beatrice (Bess) Rahner. They married in 1894, and, Bess replaced Dash in the show - often performing their signature act, The Metamorphosis. Though they had no children, Bess remained Houdini’s stage assistant throughout his life.

In 1899, Houdini was taken on by manager Martin Beck who advised him to concentrate on escape acts. He booked him on the Orpheum Circuit, a chain of theatres which included some of the top vaudeville houses in the country. The following year, buoyed by his huge success, Houdini arranged his own tour of Europe, where he spent most of the next five years. He crisscrossed the continent and the UK, winning over large audiences and the media with his escapes, illusions and public challenges - often involving police handcuffs - hence the name Handcuff King - and escaping form prison cells.

On returning to the US in 1905, Houdini bought a seven acre farm in Stamford, Connecticut, as well as a brownstone in then fashionable Harlem where he installed his mother and several brothers. In 1908, he published The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin, claiming it was the first authentic history of magic ever published. In fact, it was an unflattering account of his legendary predecessor Robert-Houdin (after whom he’d taken his own name) in which he aimed to show that most of the tricks that Robert-Houdin had claimed as his own invention were nothing of the sort.

By now, Houdini was creating more and more spectacular acts - the Milk Can Escape and the Suspended Straightjacket Escape, for example - and was soon to become one of the highest paid performers in vaudeville. He was able to perform these escapes, biographers says, thanks to his uncanny strength and his encyclopaedic understanding of locks. The Chinese Water Torture Cell, first performed in 1912, is said to have been the hallmark of his career. Houdini was suspended by his feet and lowered upside-down in a locked glass cabinet filled with water, requiring him to hold his breath for more than three minutes to escape. The act was so daring and such a crowd-pleaser that he continued performing it for the rest of his life.

Houdini’s accrued wealth allowed him to indulge other passions, such as flying - he set out to become the first person to man a controlled power flight over Australia in 1910 - and movie-making (he starred in several films, and produced others). In 1923, he became president of Martinka & Co., the US’s oldest magic company. He wrote several more books, such as Their Methods (1920) and A Magician Among the Spirits (1924); he was president of the Society of American Magicians; and he campaigned vigorously against fraudulent psychic mediums.

Houdini died of peritonitis, secondary to a ruptured appendix, on 31 October 1926 in Detroit. Nine days earlier, two students had visited his dressing room, determined on testing Houdini’s claim that he could withstand any blow to the abdomen if given time to brace himself. The student then hit Houdini several times, under the impression, it is said, that he had braced himself. Houdini went on to perform that night, though was in pain for days. A doctor diagnosed appendicitis, and advised immediate hospitalisation, but Houdini performed again that night. He collapsed before the end of the show, and was taken to hospital; but, by then, his appendix had ruptured. Houdini’s funeral was held five days later in New York with 2,000 mourners. For more biographical information see Wikipedia, The Great Harry Houdini, PBS, or The New York Times obituary. For explanations of ten of Houdini’s greatest illusions see Gizmodo.

Houdini was an avid journal keeper, though no diaries - nor even any substantial extracts - have ever been published. This photo of 
Houdini’s travel diary, 1897–99, in the collection of Dr. Bruce J. Averbook, Cleveland, can be found at New York Social Diary in Jill Krementz’s article on a Houdini exhibition at The Jewish Museum in 2011.

Biographers quote from Houdini’s diaries, sometimes quite extensively, but do so citing several different sources, and never really offering an overall description of their history and current whereabouts. One of the most respected recent biographies, perhaps, is The Secret Life of Houdini by William Kalush and Larry Sloman (Simon & Schuster, 2006 - some pages can read freely at Googlebooks.) The authors make grand claims as to how much data they pored over, how many millions of pages of text were searched, how many libraries and archives they visited, how many Houdini experts they consulted, and so on. Their book is fully annotated, though not in the original printed version - one has to visit The Conjuring Arts Research Center website (a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of magic and its allied arts) to see them. However, there is no bibliography in print or online.

Many chapters, in Kalush and Sloman’s biography contain information drawn from Houdini’s diaries. Trawling through the online list of notes for each chapter one can find two main sources for these: diaries from around 1897-1899 ‘from the collection of Dr. Bruce Averbook’; and diaries from various years as ‘cited by Kenneth Silverman in his notes deposited in the Houdini Historical Centre at the Outagamie Museum, Appleton, Wisconsin’. (There is also a somewhat curious reference to a diary entry by Bess, Houdini’s wife, on a page of Houdini’s last diary kept by the Harry Ransom Centre at the University of Texas.)

Here are two extracts which include quotes from Houdini’s diary from The Secret Life of Houdini, both with Silverman’s notes cited as the source.

1) ‘Houdini was back in the English provinces, breaking all attendance records, but it was trying, grueling work. On December 14 [1903], he was at the Palace in Blackburn, the scene of the dreaded Hodgson contest. “Back to this wretched town,” he wrote in his diary. “Of all the hoodlum towns I ever worked, the gallery is certainly the worst. Had a tough job with a heel named Wilson.” Houdini had been challenged onstage that night by this young man who seemed more intent on making speeches from the stage than testing the Handcuff King. “He would not let me examine his cuff, so after a lot of speech making he wanted to walk off the stage. [Then] I sneaked behind him and tore the cuffs from his grasp and snapped them on myself. Well, you ought to have heard the booing that was my share to obtain . . .” Houdini wrote. “I went into my cabinet and found out that he had deliberately cut away the whole inside of the lock and it was ten minutes ere I had both hands free. Instead of applause once again I was booed. Then I snapped them on to the rods near the footlights and it took Wilson twenty minutes to take them off himself and he had to use three kinds of instruments to do so. He was applauded and I was booed.” ’

2) ‘The [coffin] escape had taken another toll on Houdini, at least that was what he told the reporters. “I was very tired after it was all over and the worry was as bad as the work,” he said. “All the time I was in there I was thinking of death.” In private, he relished the fact that his promoter Paul Keith had managed to spirit him away from the more inquisitive committee members who wanted to examine him after the escape - to a steam room where a search would be superfluous. “Coffin affair a great big success,” Houdini wrote in his diary. “Created more talk than anything I have ever done in Boston. Paul Keith sneaked me into the Turkish bath after show. That is, a committee desired to search me but we fooled them all and Paul grinned for two days.”

And here is a third diary quote, this one only found in the footnotes of The Secret Life of Houdini. ‘Houdini diary entry, November 1909: “Go to Dr. Kolm. Have a bad spot on my derriere cut open, the effects of the strap on straight jacket that runs through crotch. Ought to have it attended to long ago. Glad it’s over. Charges me twelve marks. Very painful to work.” ’

Kenneth Silverman, professor emeritus of English at New York University and a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, has himself produced a book on Houdini, HOODINI!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss (HarperCollins, 1996) with a long subtitle: American Self-Liberator, Europe’s Eclipsing Sensation, World’s Handcuff King & Prison Breaker - Nothing on Earth Can Hold HOUDINI a Prisoner!!! Silverman does include a ‘source guide’, and this explains how he was able to access Houdini’s diaries: ‘Stanley Palm of Brooklyn., New York, gave me unlimited consultation of a scrapbook gathered by Houdini in the 1890s and of Houdini’s first diary (ca. 1878-79) - key items in my account of Houdini’s early career. Most of Houdini’s other diaries - indispensable to writing his biography - are owned by a collector who generously allowed me to read them but wishes to remain anonymous.’ (My own emphasis.)

Here are two extracts from Silverman’s book with direct quotes from the diaries.

1) ‘It became national news when, in Sheffield, Houdini escaped the murderer’s cell that had held Charles Peace - “the greatest criminal that London ever had,” he noted in his diary. “Never saw such crowds.” Hanged in 1879, Peace had worked respectably enough as a picture framer, sent his children to Sunday school, and collected birds. But because of his violent nocturnal burglaries, which had terrified London, he never managed to stay out of jail long. (He tried: once while in custody he jumped, manacled, from the window of a train going fifty miles an hour.) With Houdini inside Peace’s cell, on the second tier, Sheffield police triple-locked the door; they placed Houdini’s clothes in another cell, also triple-locked. To bar his escape further they fastened the iron gate leading to the cell block with a seven-lever lock. Yet five minutes later Houdini stood before the very surprised chief constable, clothed. “This feat has been discribed (sic) in almost every newspaper,” he reported to his diary, pleased with himself. “Makes me one of the most noted foreign performers in England. Every illustrated paper has my portrait.” ’

2) ‘Houdini found not much else in Russia to like. He thought the country’s magical life dead - “only poor magicians, and nothing worth mentioning.” The situation of Russia’s five million Jews shocked and offended him. The same Grand Duke Sergei Aleksandrovich he entertained by swallowing needles had marked his appointment as governor general of Moscow in 1891-1892 by ousting twenty thousand Jews from the city. Houdini had assimilated to Christian America, not only in marrying a Gentile: the meaningful holidays to him were the Fourth of July and Christmas. He had his own brand of Jewish anti-Semitism, too, which could be hard to tell from other varieties. An entry in his 1904 diary reads: “Some Jew tried to get out of the handcuffs to gain the £100. He failed.” Still, even with his stage name he made no secret of his roots: “I never was ashamed to acknowledge that I was a Jew. and never will be.” ’

So, where are the bulk of Houdini’s diaries, the ones Silverman had access to briefly, and which also gave rise to the notes used by Kalush and Sloman? This very question was posted by someone called Roger M on a Genii Forum thread in 2011. Richard Kaufmann provided a reply: ‘The name of the person who owns most of them (a few - very few - are in the hands of magic collectors) has never been made public. He is a descendant of someone who was close to Houdini and is extremely wealthy. He does not need the money, nor does he seem to care that their contents are of interest to many people. One of the few allowed access to them was Ken Silverman while researching his biography on Houdini. As I recall, he was given something like 2 hours to look through them and take notes. So he flipped through them very quickly (there are MANY volumes), talking into a cassette recorder as rapidly as he could. In this way, amazingly, Ken managed to extract most of the best information.’

Earlier this year, Roger M. returned to the thread and posted a link - to the website of Elf Lake Lodge - with further information about the diaries:

‘Owners of the lodge and surrounding 12,000 acres surname is Ernst.
1) Houdini's attorney at his death was Bernard M. L. Ernst, he’s the executor of Houdini's estate.
2) B.M.L. Ernst son was Richard C. Ernst.
3) Richard C. Ernst married Susan Bloomingdale, granddaughter of the stores founder.
4) R.C. and Susan Ernst had a son, John L. Ernst, and also two daughters, Eleanor and Cornelia.
5) John L. Ernst owns Elk Lake Lodge, and (with his sisters) the Houdini diaries.’