Saturday, January 14, 2017

The 1st Earl of Avon

Anthony Eden 1st Earl of Avon, who stood firm with Churchill against appeasement of Hitler and remained the UK’s foreign secretary throughout the war, died 40 years ago today. His political career started young, and he did eventually become Prime Minister when Churchill finally retired, but he soon was forced to resign because of his handling of the Suez crisis. Biographers and historians make good use of his diaries, which cane found with the Avon Papers at the University of Birmingham, but I can find no trace of them ever having been published in their own right.

Eden was born in 1897 in County Durham, the son of a baronet. He was educated at Eton, and, after a distinguished military service record with the army in World War One, he studied studied oriental languages at Christ Church, Oxford. He stood for parliament in the 1922 general election as a Conservative candidate for the Spennymoor constituency, but failed to get elected. In 1923, he married Beatrice Helen Beckett and they had three children, though one died in infancy. After a brief honeymoon, he was selected to stand for Warwick and Leamington in the general election that December, and won, entering Parliament aged only 26.

In 1931, Ramsay MacDonald appointed Eden to his first ministerial post, under-secretary for foreign affairs in the National Government, and then, in 1933, he was appointed Lord Privy Seal (with special responsibility for international relations). Two years later, in 1935, he entered the cabinet, as foreign secretary, for the first time as part of Stanley Baldwin’s third administration. However, when Neville Chamberlain took over as Prime Minister after Baldwin’s resignation, Eden resigned (early 1938) in protest against Chamberlain’s appeasement policy towards Germany and Italy. With the outbreak of war, in 1939, Eden returned to Chamberlain’s government as secretary of state for dominion affairs, and when Churchill became Prime Minister he appointed Eden as secretary of state for war, then as foreign secretary. He remained one of Churchill’s closest confidants through the war (gaining the additional role of Leader of the House of Commons in 1942).

After the Labour Party won the 1945 election, Eden went into opposition as deputy leader of the Conservative Party. It it was not until 1951 that he returned to office as foreign secretary when the Conservatives, with Churchill still as leader, took power. In 1955, when Churchill finally retired, Eden took over as leader, called a general election, which the Conservatives won with an increased majority. Although a very popular figure, Eden lasted less than two years as Prime Minister: his handling of the Suez crisis in 1956 led to his resignation in the early days of 1957, and then from parliament a couple of months later. He was made an earl in 1961, entering the House of Lords as the 1st Earl of Avon. During his retirement, Eden traveled much, and wrote four volumes of memoirs, the last of which, Another World, was particularly well received. He died on 14 January 1977. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, Gov.uk, BBC, The British Empire, Spartacus Educational, or British Pathé.

Eden’s personal and political papers are held by the Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham, and are known as the Avon Papers. They include both political diaries and notebooks and personal diaries. As far as I can tell, however, Eden’s diaries have never been published in their own right. They have, though, been used and quoted by many biographers and historians, mostly rather briefly, for example in: Eden: The Life and Times of Anthony Eden First Earl of Avon, 1897-1977 by D. R Thorpe (Chatto & Windus, 2003); Anthony Eden by Robert Rhodes James (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1986); Searching for Security in a New Europe: The Diplomatic Career of Sir George Russell Clerk by Gerald J. Protheroe (Routledge, 2004) and Churchill’s Cold War: The Politics of Personal Diplomacy by Klaus Larres (Yale University Press, 2002).

David Dutton’s Anthony Eden: A Life and Reputation by David Dutton (Arnold, 1997) includes many quotes from Eden’s diaries, some within the flow of the narrative, but many standing alone, and all of them carefully annotated with a date. Dutton does not, though, provide any overview of the diary material (which I’ve not been unable to find anywhere else either). Interestingly (at least with regard to the value of diaries to biographers), Dutton does make extensive use of diaries kept by many contemporaries of Eden; the following are specifically acknowledged: James Chuter Ede, Hugh Dalton, Robert Bruce Lockhart, Henry Channon, 27th Earl of Crawford, Richard Crossman, Alexander Cadogan, Pierson Dixon, Blanche Dugdale, 1st Earl of Halifax, Harold Macmillan, Oliver Harvey, Cuthbert Headlam, William Clark, Sir John Colville, Hugh Gaitskell, Lord Reith, Beatrice Webb, Maurice Hankey, 1st Baron Moran, Harold Nicolson, Sir Evelyn Shuckburgh, and the 1st Earl of Woolton.

Here are several quotes from Eden’s diaries as found in Dutton’s book. (Square brackets inside the quotes are as used in Dutton’s book.)

27 August 1931
‘[Chamberlain] told me there was a chance I might go to F.O. That he had spoken strongly to Reading [the new Foreign Secretary] and that S.B. had agreed to his doing so. He hoped something would result but S.B. had given away so much to the Liberals it was impossible to say. He - S.B. - apparently greeted my name with more enthusiasm than any other. The F.O. in a national govt, with the S of S in the Upper House is higher than I hoped for and I do not expect that I shall get it.’

26 July 1932
‘He will not fight for his own policy. He expects the Cabinet to find his policy for him. That they will never do. They want to be told. The only result of present procedure is F.O. pushed into the background, which is not good either. . . . Poor Simon is no fighter. Nothing will make him one.’

28 October 1932
‘He has never fought for his own hand . . . The policy is as good as can be expected in the circumstances and it now remains for Simon to go for it. Anyway the ink wells at the F.O. are dry and if the Cabinet will not have it Simon should ask them to send someone else to Geneva.’

23 June 1933
‘Simon told me he could not take questions Monday, would I? ... It eventually transpired that there was a question on bombing that he did not want to answer because he could not express approval of government policy though he has urged me to often enough and has done little enough against it. Not very noble. He added: ‘I shall certainly feel ill again by then. Indeed I feel my illness creeping upon me already. It will certainly be bad on Monday.” Makes one wonder whether the whole thing is not a sham.’

26 March 1935
‘Only thing Hitler wants is Air Pact without limitation. Simon much inclined to bite at this, and to suggest separate conference on this. I had to protest and he gave up the idea. Total result of visit for European settlement very disappointing. Simon toys with idea of letting G. expand eastwards. I am strongly against it. Apart from its dishonesty it would be our turn next.

16 November 1936
‘Van came in and talked somewhat hysterically about this alliance being directed against us and not Russia. I fear that he is not balanced and is in such a continual state of nerves that he will end by making would-be aggressors think the more of us as a possible victim!’

5 January 1937
‘At least we have given nothing away to Italy. It remains to be seen whether what we have gained will prove of any material value. Time alone will show and nothing would be more foolish than openly to attempt to pull Mussolini away from Hitler.’

26 August 1943
‘G[ermany] and J[apan] had been the great restraints upon R[ussia]. We were committed to destroy both. R. would then be immensely powerful ... it might be that I should still see many years of war, perhaps all my life. I admitted that all this might be true but argued that only possible basis for a policy was to try to get on terms with Russia.’

6 June 1944
‘I was accused of trying to break up the government, of stirring up the press on the issue. He said that nothing would induce him to give way, that de Gaulle must go. F.D.R. and he would fight the world. I didn’t lose my temper and I think that I gave as good as I got. Anyway I didn’t budge an inch.’

January 1957
‘Americans would not have moved until all was lost. All through the Canal negotiations Dulles was twisting and wriggling and lying to do nothing.’ (John Foster Dulles:  Dwight Eisenhower’s Secretary of State)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The sweetest fish ever eaten

‘Fried lake trout for breakfast were positively the sweetest fish ever eaten. All the trout on stringers were dead. Have never yet found a way to keep trout alive, short of a tight pen in the water. A fine chorus of white-throated sparrows when the sun came up. Their note sounds like ‘Ah, poor Canada!’ This is from the journals of Aldo Leopold, the great American ecologist/conservationist, born 130 years go today, who introduced and propagated ideas and procedures for sustainability in wildlife and wilderness management.

Leopold was born in Burlington, Iowa, on 11 January 1887, the eldest of four children. He was educated locally, but his father taught him skills of the outdoors, woodcraft and hunting. He attended The Lawrenceville School, New Jersey, and Sheffield Scientific School in preparation for studying a masters at the newly established Yale School of Forestry. After graduating, he joined the U. S. Forest Service and was given his first field assignment in Apache National Forest in southeastern Arizona. He rapidly gained promotion becoming supervisor at Carson National Forest in northern New Mexico in 1911. The same year he launched the Carson Pine Cone newsletter; and the following year he married Estella Bergere with whom he would have five children.

Leopold remained in New Mexico for more than a decade, becoming the Forest Service’s assistant district forester in charge of operations. During this time, he developed the first comprehensive management plan for the Grand Canyon, wrote the Forest Service’s first game and fish handbook, and proposed the Gila Wilderness Area, the first such national wilderness area in the Forest Service system. In 1924, he moved to the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin, becoming an associate director; but, in 1928, he left to conduct game surveys of Midwestern states, funded by the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute.

By the 1930s, Leopold had become the foremost expert on wildlife management, advocating the scientific management of wildlife habitats by both public and private landholders; and, in 1933, he published Game Management, setting out revolutionary principles for sound management of wild areas that had suffered the kind of adverse conditions he had observed during his Midwestern surveys. That same year he was appointed Professor of Game Management in the Agricultural Economics Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the first such professorship in wildlife management.

Thereafter, Leopold was influential in setting up the Wilderness and Wildlife Societies; he was appointed chairman of the Department of Wildlife Management at the University of Wisconsin; he initiated cooperative ventures between farmers and sportsmen to improve habitats; and he served on the Wisconsin State Conservation Department’s game and fisheries committees. He also purchased 80 acres of once-forested land in central Wisconsin, where he put his own theories into practice, and which provided the inspiration and experiences for A Sand County Almanac. He died of a heart attack in 1948 while battling a wild fire on a neighbour’s property. Further information is available from Wikipedia, The Wilderness Net, The Aldo Leopold Foundation, an article in Minding Nature available at Centre for Humans  & Nature, Environmental Education for Kids, or Americans who tell the truth.

A Sand County Almanac, Leopold’s most famous book and one that is considered a landmark in US conservation, was edited by his son Luna and not published until the year after his death. A few years later, in 1953, Luna also edited some of his father’s diaries which were published by Oxford University Press Inc (New York) as Round River, From the Journals of Aldo Leopold (available to preview at Googlebooks). In fact, Leopold was an inveterate keeper of journals, all (or certainly most) of which are held today in The Aldo Leopold Archives at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries.

The Aldo Leopold Archives places Leopold’s diaries and journals into three groups: United States Forest Service Diaries and Miscellaneous, 1899-1927; Hunting Journals, 1917-1945; Shack Journals, 1935-1948. Many of the Archives’ holdings have been digitalised including the diaries and journals, so all can be freely read online - although only in the original handwritten text, i.e. there are no transcriptions available on the Aldo Leopold Archives website.

Here are several extracts from Round River. (I have placed a screenshot, taken from the Aldo Leopold Archives website, of part of the diary entry for 27 November 1926 next to the text as found transcribed in Round River.)

15 June 1924
‘Fried lake trout for breakfast were positively the sweetest fish ever eaten.

All the trout on stringers were dead. Have never yet found a way to keep trout alive, short of a tight pen in the water.

A fine chorus of white-throated sparrows when the sun came up. Their note sounds like ‘Ah, poor Canada!’ Thank the Lord for country as poor as this.

We had a laundering and sewing bee around camp. Then explored the lake and found tomorrow’s portage into Trout Lake. Trolled to the sand beach, where we found fresh moose tracks and had a fine but brief swim, the water being cold. Coming back to camp we photographed the mallard nest. The nest consisted of a hollow pushed into the dry litter under the overhanging branches of a little spruce. It had a perfect circle of a rim consisting of the gray down of the hen. The behavior of the hen was entirely different when approached from the water instead of the land - from the land she played cripple, whereas from the water she sprang directly into the air and hardly quacked. Only eight eggs and nest full.

While we were boiling tea for lunch, Starker caught another trout. After a nap all round we engaged in the very serious occupation of catching perch minnows to be used as bait for the evening fishing. Later I made Starker a bow of white cedar. In the evening we caught a few trout, one of which we had for supper. It was a female and had pink flesh, whereas the previous ones had white flesh. Only small fish were caught on first casts, indicating that big ones get used to a spoon and no longer get excited about it. The first three minnows also drew bites, but later minnows wouldn’t work.

Carl and I learned something while casting in a bay behind camp. The water was covered with willow cotton, which gummed up the line and the ferrules so as to make casting nearly impossible.

At dark a solitary loon serenaded us with his lonesome call, which Fritz imitates very well. This call seems to prevail at night, while the laughing call is used during the day. Carl remembers the laughing call at night, however, on the trip we made to Drummond Island with Dad about 1905.

The Lord did well when he put the loon and his music into this lonesome land.’

27 November 1926
‘Arrived Van Buren 9 a.m. and hit the river at 10:30. A fine sunny morning. The river is very fast for a mile or so below town, then calms down somewhat. About noon we had our first excitement when 30 mallards came up the river and began to circle the timber a hundred yards to our left, settling down in a little backwater. We sneaked them, only I going all the way. I got within 30 yards but got only one on the rise; alibi: dark background and brush. They circled and came over us. Everybody missed; alibi: too far. Just as we were leaving five came back, but seeing our boat they went on. We landed again to wait when eight got out unexpectedly below us, one big drake passing within easy range of Carl and me. Alibi: none. We named this Bungle Bay.’

6 December 1926
‘Our last day of hunting. All shaved in the hope of improving our shooting a bit. It is cool and cloudy.

Tried the quail above camp on the west bank. Found the canebrake covey and did a little better with them, getting three. Hunted a lot of new country that looked ideal but found no birds. Saw a large flock of doves but couldn’t get near them. Coming back I unexpectedly flushed a big mallard drake out of the head of the buck brush lake. I shot through some saplings at him but failed to connect. This is the first mallard we have seen since leaving the cove camp.

In the afternoon we crossed the river and while we were cutting mistletoe for the girls, Flick put up a beautiful covey out of the tinkleweeds but nobody had a loaded gun. We got two, however, out of a belated rise and later a couple of scatters.

Next hunted some lovely ragweed patches to the south and found a nice covey. Had a hard time finding them again because we overestimated the distance they flew. Finally got them out. Carl put five right over Fritz and me and we scored four clean misses overhead as they pitched down into the cane. Later we retrieved our reputation a bit by killing some singles.

It now began to rain and we regretfully left the whistling birds behind us as we hit for camp.’

8 November 1929
‘A bright fine morning. Up in dark at 4 a.m. and when sun came out started dolling up camp. We are under a big spreading alligator juniper on the edge of a pretty park full of fine grama grass. It is 200 yards down to Evans’ stock tank for water. There is enough oak and juniper wood within 200 yards of camp to furnish the U. S. Army, only they wouldn’t appreciate its fine qualities.

In the afternoon we de-horned a big dead juniper only 50 yards from camp and piled up half a cord of fragrant wood - also brought in some oak. Also started the sourdough and other similar ceremonies, including a pot of beans. Dined on beans and cornbread in a fall of snow which started in the middle of the afternoon and by bedtime was two inches deep. This will make fine prospecting for deer tomorrow. Had music in our snug dry camp after dinner while all the rest of the world outside was white and cold.’

27 December 1937
‘Floyd took us over the Perdita Mesa and back down Turkey Ridge. Saw one buck near the Chocolate Drop but few other deer. Much turkey sign on the hogback leading up to Perdita from the west and also a good deal of deer sign on the north rim of the mesa bordering Smoke Canyon. No shots with either bow or gun.’

28 December 1937
‘Explored the Crack Canyon region for the first time. Saw a large number of deer and the country looks very workable. No turkey sign.’

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Adieu to my youth

‘Pretty cold this morning but we must get the carriage repaired, which broke down last night about 12 oclock. Managed to get to the polling place about an hour and half before it closed. This is my birthday, it is now 21 years since I came into this world. “Adieu to my youth - ” ’ This is Sandford Fleming, the great Scots-Canadian railway engineer, born 190 years go today, who created the idea of a standard worldwide time. Although he kept a diary for most of his life, he rarely wrote more than a few words each day. A selection of his youthful diary entries - considered rather ‘laconic and factual’ - were published in 2009, but, according to one critic, shed more light on that period in Canadian history than on the great engineer to be.

Fleming was born on 7 January 1827 in Kirkcaldy, Scotland. Aged 14, he was apprenticed to a prominent Fifeshire surveyor and assisted in tracking new railway lines between Edinburgh, Perth and Dundee. In 1845, he and an elder brother emigrated to Canada; their parents followed a little later. After dallying in various colonial Canadian cities, such as Montreal and Ottawa, the brothers settled in Peterborough lodging with a cousin.

Fleming moved to Toronto, where he worked with a printing company while looking to further his engineering career, through securing his surveyor’s qualification and by taking on various commissions. He was also involved in founding the Canadian Institute, and is credited with designing Canada’s first postage stamp, costing three pennies and depicting a beaver, now the national animal of Canada. Fleming married Ann Jean Hall, daughter of the county’s sheriff, in 1855, and they had six children.

From 1852 onwards, Fleming took a prominent part in the development of railways in Upper Canada; from 1855 to 1863 he was chief engineer of the Northern Railway. In 1863, the colonial government of Nova Scotia appointed him chief railway engineer and charged him with construction of a line from Truro to Pictou. On refusing to entertain high bids for small contracts, he resigned his position and carried out the work as a contractor rather than a civil servant. In 1867 or so, he was appointed by the new dominion government to the post of engineer-in-chief of the Inter-Colonial Railway, a position he would hold until its completion in 1876.

Meanwhile, in 1871, the construction of a Canadian Pacific Railway had been made part of the bargain by which British Columbia was induced to enter the new dominion, and Fleming was appointed the project’s engineer-in-chief. The following year, he headed an expedition to find a practicable route. In 1880, with over 600 miles of railway completed and most of the engineering difficulties overcome, the government decided to form an agreement with the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, handing over the project - together with vast subsidies of land and money - to the new commercial company. The privatisation was a severe blow to Fleming, who was effectively dismissed. However, a few years later he became a director of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

From 1880, Fleming was chancellor of Queen’s University in Kingston, a position he retained until his death. Apart from remaining involved in various commercial projects, he continued to devote himself to Canadian and Imperial problems, such as the unification of time reckoning throughout the world (and, indeed, is credited with inventing the ideal of unification and time zones), and the construction of a state-owned system of telegraphs throughout the British empire. He was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1897. His final years were spent mostly at his house in Halifax. He died in 1915, leaving the house and its 95 acres to the city, an area now known as Sir Sandford Fleming Park. Further information on Fleming can be found at Wikipedia, Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Web Exhibits, Atlas of Alberta Railways, and Queen’s University.

The 190th anniversary of Fleming’s birth is being commemorated today with a so-called Google doodle - and this in turn has led to sudden spurt of attention by the media to the great (and largely forgotten in the UK until now) Scottish engineer - see The Telegraph, The Independent, India Today, or The Sun. Not so forgotten in Canada: in 2009, the Toronto-based publisher, Dundurn, brought out Sir Sandford Fleming - His Early Diaries, 1845-1853 by Jean Murray Cole (which can be previewed at Googlebooks). According to Cole, Fleming began his lifelong habit of keeping a journal in Scotland on 1 January 1845, just seven days before his 18th birthday. Her book contains the early journals (1845-1853) which, she says, ‘give a vivid picture of Fleming’s development and maturing as he sought to make a place for himself in the competitive atmosphere of Canada West in the 1840 and 1850s.’

Michael Peterman, a past professor of English at Trent University, begins his foreword to the diaries as follows: ‘It is with great pleasure that I write this Foreword to Sir Sandford Fleming: The Early Diaries. As the Chair of the Publications Committee of the Peterborough Historical Society for the past fifteen years, I have shared with my fellow committee members a commitment to see this project shaped and realized. It began as an idea in the mid-1990s, spurred on by Jean Murray Cole, who had studied Fleming’s life and admired his diaries in their home at Library and Archives Canada. We felt then that an annotated and accurate transcript of young Sandford’s early diaries would make a useful and informative addition to the record of life in pre-Confederation Canada. It would provide a view of the colony through the eyes of a young and ambitious Scottish immigrant as he struggled to make a place for himself in a new land, to find satisfying work for his talents, and to develop his professional interests. Laconic and factual as the diary entries often are, they take us into the texture of Fleming’s brave new world and alert us to the kind of community he had to deal with as he sought to make a career and place for himself. To him, Canada was “a marvellous world” and a ‘‘goodly land.” ’

Richard White, reviewing the diaries in The Canadian Historical Review (Volume 91, Number 3, September 2010), agrees with Peterman’s assessment that the laconic, factual nature of the entries leave rather a lot unsaid: ‘The problem is that the diaries say so little. They are brief daily entries that simply note the main activities of the day. Some are very short - ‘Christmas. Out sleighing. Good dinner at the Drs’ (25 December 1845), ‘At Timson’s yesterday. Very severe frost. Drawing class evening’ (13 Februaray 1849), ‘Preparing paper and diagrams for Saturday evening’ (20 March 1851). Others are more substantial - ‘Intended going over to the Island to set back meridian but wind blowing & exceedingly cold, called on Lieut de Moleyers who thinks that I had better finish my drawing of Gloucester Bay immediately while the weather is rough & attend to this afterward’ (19 January 1852). Such entries do reveal details that researchers of early engineering and surveying techniques might find useful, but they are still very short, rarely more than four or five lines of printed text, and they leave much unsaid. The months and years go by without much of Fleming’s character being revealed. One has the sense that almost anyone could have written these entries.’

However, White does not believe they are quite so valuable in providing a forecast of the man to come: ‘In time, though, the numerous mundane facts and details begin shaping into a sketchy picture of Fleming, and perhaps the most striking quality that emerges is how resourceful and capable a man he was. He arrived in Canada with several valuable skills - drawing, drafting, surveying, engraving - and he used them all to make a living. He pursued every opportunity, and every job he did seems to have brought him some recognition, and often the opportunity to do the same again. The entries also reveal a strong commitment to work. A large map of Toronto, which he surveyed, drew, and engraved in association with the Toronto printers Scobie & Balfour, was a multi-year project, on which he seems to have persevered with extraordinary tenacity. All in all, Fleming emerges as the essential self-made man who established himself through his own competence and effort. One gets glimpses of his humbleness too. In one of his few reflective entries Fleming looks back and marvels that ‘a poor boy came to this country 8½ years ago with his brother’ (6 September 1953) and that he is now so respected and financially secure. The entries are slim, to be sure, and the editor’s concluding claim that the diary offers ‘a clear forecast of the accomplishments of his later years’ overstates the matter, but something of the man emerges, no doubt.’

Nevertheless, White believes there might be value in the picture that the diaries draw of the period: ‘These hundreds of mundane details, taken together, also reveal something of the world Fleming inhabited - that intriguing period from the late 1840s to the 1850s that was such a critical moment in the modernization of English Canada - and although the editor makes little mention of this it could well be as important as what the diary says about Fleming.’

Here are several extracts from Sir Sandford Fleming - His Early Diaries, 1845-1853.

1 January 1845
‘I went to bed for the last time in the year 1844 at 11 oclock, and rose at ½ past 7 on new years day. Almost everyone you met said “good new year to ye” &c. Happy to say I saw noone drunk except a carter boy who I believed pretended more than anything else. I finished a sketch of ‘Ravenscraig Castle’ in the morning which Mr Crawford was to make arrangements with Mr Lizars about the engraving of it. Began in the evening to draw on stone Kirkcaldy harbour to be lithographed by Mr Bryson. My present wish is to write a sort of diary so that I can put down anything particular that happens or is of utility to recollect.’

January 1848
‘How strange it sounds, but it will soon be familiar to us. Poor 1847 is dead, is now numbered with the past, and all our deeds and actions, evil or good are sealed. Yes sealed with the great seal of time. Let us form a good resolution to live the lives of honest men, let us learn the way to do good, and walk upright. If it should be for no other purpose than to honour our Father and Mother dear, to comfort them in their old age. Surely we could not see their grey hair go with sorrow to the grave.’

1 January 1848
‘Last night David, Ann & I were at a wedding. The party were very merry, finished about 3 A.M. and most of us went to finish at another party. It is enough to say we got to bed about 7 oclock and got up about eleven. David and I called upon several friends during the day, being the usual custom.’

3 January 1848
‘At work again, engraving a view of St Peters Church, Cobourg. It is very tedious work. Would rather be in the country chopping. It may be so but one is never content with their present condition.’

4 January 1848
Again at St Peters in the forenoon, but think it as well to give it up, in the mean time, as it is not likely that I shall make a good job of it when my mind does not go along with it.’

5 January 1848
‘Today I have commenced to design a Town Hall for the Town of Cobourg, as I promised when I was down last. It may never be of any pecuniary advantage to me but it is practice and they may probably take my unsold plans of Cobourg, as a sort of remuneration for me.’

6 January 1848
‘In the forenoon today I have been engaged sketching out a plan for the Town Hall at Cobourg. Afternoon I volunteered my services to take out two voters to the Township of Scott about 50 miles from Toronto. We started about 5 oclock P.M. and slept in Buffalo robes at the village of Stouffville 30 miles out.’

7 January 1848
‘Pretty cold this morning but we must get the carriage repaired, which broke down last night about 12 oclock. Managed to get to the polling place about an hour and half before it closed. This is my birthday, it is now 21 years since I came into this world. “Adieu to my youth - ” ’

8 January 1848
‘Winter morning - snowing. Started for Toronto, our ride was through the bush, only one house for about 10 miles. Arrived at Newmarket where the Hon Robert Baldwin is here with his party, they having defeated our friend Mr. Scobie by 260 majority. Went up to Sharon and saw David Willson & Temple.’

10 January 1848
‘Sunday is omitted in this Diary. It being near one before getting home I did not get up till near church time. Poor Mr. Russell confectioner was burnt out yesterday morning at 4 oclock. Lost all but the lives of his family. Today I have commenced at Scobie & Balfour again.’

11 January 1848
‘The balance of the 1st Quarters rent is due today amounting to £3.10. £1.10 being paid on taking the house. Reed 10/ from Scobie & Balfour to make up the balance. Mr. Holland promised to give me 4 dollars for making a plan for Mr Bethune.’

12 January 1848
‘Little Mr Buchan, Scobie & Balfour engraver had been drunk last night and cant work today. Silly fellow to spend his time and money, and breaking his constitution. Can it be possible that I shall be a drunkard; surely not. Paid the Jew £3/10 the Quarter rent.’

14 January 1848
‘The weather is unusually mild, it rained almost all day. In the evening a fire broke out in Yonge Street in a wooden house, but owing to the rain and the plentiful supply of water in the ditches, the fire was prevented from going farther.

15 January 1848
‘Last evening I saw along with Cochrane the sculptor, some plaster casts that have just been brought to town for the Society of Arts. There is some good things among them. Went over to John Buchans last night, he was just getting better from being drunk poor fellow. He has kept sober a long time now.’

17 January 1848
‘Today is Handsel Monday, if all is well there will be great merry makings at  Haugh Mills. Reed from Scobie & Balfour £2/10 paid Father £2/5. Last Wednesday I got from David 7 dollars to help pay the rent which with the other two makes 9 dollars I gave my Father that time & owe David $7. Engaged at Scobies just now making a title to the Newcastle & Colborne map. There is a vast deal of work at it, but shall try to make a good job.’

19 January 1848
‘In the afternoon today my Father, David, Mr Pollock & I went out to the Humber Mills about 16 miles out, to see them, they are to let or sell. It is a pretty place, a flour mill with two runs of stones just finished and a good saw mill with plenty of pine.’

26 January 1848
‘I have been thinking for some time that, the charcoal light of the magnetic battery might be brought to some practical use. I only require one experiment, but it would be an expensive one for me unless I could meet with a powerful battery, but I dont think there is one in Canada. It is to try if more than one light can be formed with one set of wires by masking the connection and interposing charcoal points. If this is the case, we have a good and cheap substitute for Gas, would give a much better light, and at least could be easily adapted to lighting streets or churches just by having a wire like the Telegraph ones, with a charcoal apparatus here & there. Worth trying.’

Monday, January 2, 2017

My knees felt like macaroni

‘Sat around again and filmed the ending of Juliet, where I had to execute sixteen fouettés six times from different angles - that makes ninety-six fouettés. Afterward my knees felt like macaroni.’ This is Zorina Gray, a forgotten Broadway and Hollywood legend born exactly a century ago today, writing in a diary she kept when only 20 years old but already a star.

Eva Brigitta Hartwig was born in Berlin on 2 January 1917 to a German father and Norwegian mother, both professional singers. Brought up in Kristiansund, 100km or so west of Trondheim in Norway, she debuted as a dancer at the Festiviteten, Norway’s oldest opera house in Haugesund. She moved to Berlin where she was trained to dance by Olga Preobrajenska and Nicholas Legat. At age 12, she was spotted by Max Reinhardt, who cast her in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Tales of Hoffman, and then took her to London. A performance at the Gaiety Theatre won her an invitation to join the  Les Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo in 1933; soon after, she adopted the stage name of Vera Zorina.

Léonide Massine, the company’s main choreographer, cast Zorina in lead roles, for ballets such as La Boutique Fantasque, Le Beau Danube and Les Presages. Despite being only 18, she also became involved intimately with Massine and his wife in a ménage à trois. She left the company in 1936 to star in a London production of On Your Toes. She came under the influence of the choreographer George Balanchine, who was beginning to write all her roles, and married him in 1938. By this time she was dividing her time between Broadway (I Married An Angel, Louisiana Purchase) and Hollywood (The Goldwyn Follies, On Your Toes).

Zorina divorced Balanchine in 1946, and married Goddard Lieberson, president of Columbia Records. They had two sons. She tried to return to ballet but with limited success. In 1948, she took the lead role in the first American performance of Arthur Honegger’s Joan of Arc at the Stake, and went on to repeat the same role many times. In 1954, she played in a Broadway revival of On Your Toes. She and Lieberson had an apartment in Manhattan, and a ranch in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She was, for some years, director of operatic productions in Santa Fe, and, in the 1970s, was also director of the Norwegian Opera. 
Lieberson died in 1977, and in 1991 Zorina married the harpsichordist Paul Wolfe. She died in 2003. A little further information is available from Wikipedia, or from various newspaper obituaries, such as The Guardian, The Independent, or The New York Times.

In 1986, the American publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux brought out Vera Zorina’s only book, her autobiography, simply titled Zorina. I don’t believe it has ever been reprinted, but second-hand copies are readily available at Abebooks, some even signed. In it, Zorina refers to a diary: ‘If I had not found the proverbial trunk, which had been stored in dusty cellars and somehow survived nearly fifty years, I would not have believed what I read in the diaries I kept from 1934. First of all, they were all in German, which I thought I had ceased to speak and write long before 1938 - the last year I kept a detailed daily diary. Perhaps I used my Kindersprache as a form of code - after all, it was a language no one else spoke in the Ballet Russe. I wrote not only in my Kindersprache but very often in typical Berlin slang, which like all slang is untranslatable. I have left the entries in their simplistic, teenage form because it would be false to translate them otherwise.’ She then quotes liberally from those diaries - here are some extracts.

12 October 1936
‘In the evening at Positano I looked over to the Isola dei Galli, where I had spent my vacation the year before with Massine. It lay far in the distance - like a part of my life - such a beautiful place, like a rough, craggy diamond in the sea. It could have been - I tried not to think about it.

Our leisurely Italian sojourn was at times troubled, because I was anxiously awaiting news about On Your Toes.’

13 October 1936
‘Called London because I hadn’t heard a word from [my agent], which drove me to despair - but understood very little. Afternoon tea with Mrs. Frost, sister of Lord Grimstorp, who owns the Villa Cimbrone. She herself has a perilously situated villa, which is built against a cliff. When you stand on the balcony to admire the magnificent view, it is best to keep your eyes on the distance because below you is an absolute chasm!’

1 November 1936
‘Made the acquaintance of Igor Markevitch, who is slightly mad, and who reminds me of Kyra Nijinsky in temperament. What is even stranger is that he knows her and said that Kyra has long, blond curls, which I find crazy, and that she expects a child!’

15 January 1937
‘Rehearsal at 11. Read through the play again. Then Jack Donahue and I rehearsed, because he will play Morosine, my temperamental partner. Tried out the Zenobia ballet - not bad - he is very strong.’

17 January 1937
‘Rehearsal also today (Sunday) and buttermilkday. Love rehearsing the ballet. I very much hope Donahue will be good. Afterward went through the whole play - it’s beginning to get some shape.’

19 January 1937
‘First rehearsal on the stage of the Palace Theatre. All the chorus people sat in the audience - got my first “laughs” from the dialogue - it’s such fun. In the evening, saw the second act of Gisèle at Sadler’s Wells with Margot Fonteyn - very good, but not as good as Markova. Nijinska was there with Pat [Dolin]. Very sweet to me - also lots of fans from Covent Garden.’

20 January 1937
‘At 10, practiced the pas de deux for an hour with Donahue - went very well - then in the Gaiety Theatre all day. Everything goes so well I’m almost afraid, I have so much fun - tried on costumes.’

22 January 1937
‘Rehearsal at 11 - before that, looked at costumes - now tired but happy at home. I find Jack Whiting very, very nice and sympathetic. I know I always have to have something “romantic” in the theater and he is exactly right for the role. Jack Donahue is nice - but too nice - also right for Morosine, so I can play my scenes better. Today the blue foxes for my costume were chosen.’

24 January 1937
‘Buttermilkday - rehearsals only in the afternoon - everybody was wonderful to me. Mrs. Whiting and Wiman -  I would say almost too much praise. In the evening, Abarbanell came for dinner and we worked afterward together - then played Halma for hours.’

31 January 1937
‘Buttermilkday - slept badly. Had nightmares [English] before I went to sleep because of the show. Everybody expects and predicts such a success for me that it scares me. Otherwise, rehearsals at the Gaiety - Jack Donahue’s waistband broke in the middle of the adagio so that he stood there nearly naked among the howling chorus girls.’

1 February 1937
‘Raced around the whole day - in the morning, in the Gaiety right through the show. Then to Annello [ballet shoes] - then Vega [shoes] - then more dress costumes - then Scala Theatre - then Nathan’s [costumes], and then Palace rehearsals - have a very beautiful star dressing room next to the stage - my own dresser, telephone, etc. All my “dresses” are wonderful - especially the Schiaparelli evening dress and the costume with the blue fox! The ballet costumes absolutely sweet and the striptease girl with hair like Garbo - but still very choruslike à la “burlesque girl”! It was so exciting to be again in full makeup! Dear God, if I’m not a success - what then? Because I have everything, beautiful costumes, a role just made for me - and, in spite of all the running around, I’m not even tired!’

2 February 1937
‘First dress rehearsal. Went quite well - I personally was very dissatisfied - didn't act as well as I have - danced dreadfully badly - and anyhow it was so peculiar in the bedroom scene - had to kiss Jack Whiting, which I found so embarrassing - have no idea after all how to kiss on the stage.’

3 February 1937
‘It was very exciting this afternoon - the public was present and liked it a lot. They died of laughter over Olive Blackney, who is such a marvelous comedienne. All my scenes went very well until the change from the striptease girl into the ballet costume, but Zenobia went without a hitch, which gives me a lot of confidence. Wiman and Henson were so sweet to me - one can’t imagine it - Henson: “I am so happy to have worked with you - and always keep your head as small as it is now.” Received long, long letter from Louis Shurr with big prospects for Hollywood.’

4 February 1937
‘Again dress rehearsal - but went for myself only, so la-la - Douglas Fairbanks was there and Pat Dolin came later - but that didn’t help, either. I’m glad that the premiere is finally tomorrow - this tension is unbearable.’

5 February 1937
‘What a day - but first things first. Slept late - then played all the rumba records [apparently that was soothing!]. Mama and I went nearly mad from nerves. Then I went to church - truly, God was with me yesterday. Then to the doctor and hairdresser, then into the blue Schiap cape and to the theater. My dressing room was filled with flowers, telegrams, costumes, and a thousand things - Doris [my dresser] found everything so glamorous, which pleased me the most - then Toi-Toi’s for good luck, and suddenly I was on stage singing “Ochi chornye.” Everything went the way I hoped - every little thing. The success was enormous - people poured into my dressing room. I simply couldn’t speak - everything trembled in me. Violet Tree said she had seen Bernhardt, and even against that she thought I was wonderful - oh my! People whom I didn’t know congratulated me. In the Savoy Grill, big applause - then to Leslie Henson’s, more people. The most beautiful day of my life. My mamile and I sat holding each other by the hand like two children. Everything was really like a dream - so beautiful - (and more), My God, what an evening - flowers - people - congratulations - Wiman - Henson - Fairbanks - Cochran - Asher - hundreds of people, and I was honored at the Savoy Grill!!!’

6 February 1937
‘Today Saturday. The reviews are fabulous. All kinds of people call to congratulate - my bathtub is an ocean of flowers. Very good performance. A man came from Fox films and wants to make a test.’

7 February 1937
‘Sunday. Slept and slept. Wrote letters - read reviews - all good. Someone rang and asked me for an interview. “It doesn’t suit me very well today, but maybe tomorrow?” - that’s Zorina! Then I went to church, where I felt overwhelmed by happiness, joy, gratitude for all that God has given me.’

9 February 1937
‘Took photos the whole day in the theater until 4:30. In the evening, big party in the Café de Paris for Wiman and Lina - so sad that they had to leave already - but the party was divine. Wiman absolutely wants me to come to New York for him and a new show.’

16 August 1937
‘Mama has bought a horse! You would think we are rich as Croesus. She is in seventh heaven. The horse is a thoroughbred and sweet - rode him in the afternoon and Balanchine watched. In the evening George and I went to the recording session of Alfred Newman, and I became angry because George whispered in my car, “What awful music,” and then said to Newman, “Very good.” Saw the test for Romeo and Juliet - adagio was beautiful, but the costume for jazz section awful.’

28 August 1937
‘The whole day on the set - tried on clothes, shoes, sandals, ballet shoes, stockings, tights, etc. - then all we did was the balcony scene and the kiss between Romeo and Juliet. We were both so nervous that our lips trembled. Dinner with George. He showed me his techni-film - excellent. [Balanchine had his own camera and made his own film during our actual filming on the set.] Then we talked and talked - he is so dear.’

29 August 1937
‘Sunday. George fetched me at three to go to Goldwyn for one of those Sundays. In the evening Goldwyn screened Broadway Melody with Eleanor Powell, and I was so surprised when he got up at the end and said, “It has no warmth, no charm, and, Balanchine, I want you to do for Zorina one or two minutes real ballet because I believe in it now after seeing this” - finally, finally, after weeks Goldwyn has come around.’

31 August 1937
‘Sat around again and filmed the ending of Juliet, where I had to execute sixteen fouettés six times from different angles - that makes ninety-six fouettés. Afterward my knees felt like macaroni.’

1 September 1937
‘Shooting had to stop today because Bill Dollar has a rash and they are afraid I might catch it - no rehearsal. Had dinner with George in the Café Lamaze. Then we went to his place and somehow we had a quarrel because he told me about his girlfriends. Of course it was my fault, because I wanted to know; then everything became very dramatic and I never wanted to see him again. My rimmel [mascara] began to run and it burned terribly, and I went home, ate ice cream, and felt fat as a barrel.’

2 September 1937
‘George called as if nothing had happened - we should go and try on wigs. He came and was very sweet - I was still “dramatic.” But he told me a funny Goldwyn anecdote: Goldwyn was absolutely thrilled by Traviata. He kept congratulating our conductor, Al Newman, over and over again, and after endless explosions of joy he said to Newman, “Do me a favor, congratulate Eddie Powell on the orchestration!” Mr. Verdi would be so pleased.’

Christian Daniel Rauch

Today marks the 240th anniversary of the birth of Christian Daniel Rauch, the most important German sculptor of the 19th century, and yet barely known of in the English-speaking world - he’s not even mentioned in modern editions of Encyclopaedia Britannica (print or online). The only readily available source of information about Rauch is a late 19th century biography of Rauch, free to download at Internet Archive, which also contains many references to the diary he kept, both as a young man and a very old one.

Rauch was born at Arolsen in the Principality of Waldeck in the Holy Roman Empire on 2 January 1777. His father was employed at the court of Prince Frederick II of Hesse. From the age of 18, Christian was apprenticed to the court sculptors, in Arolsen (now Bad Arolsen) and Cassel (now Kassel). After the death of his father and older brother, he moved to Berlin where he found employment as groom of the chamber in the court of Frederick William III. Continuing to sculpt in his spare time, he came under the influence of Johann Gottfried Schadow. In 1802, he exhibited Sleeping Endymion.

After surprising Rauch at work one day, Queen Louise (Frederick’s wife) sent him to study at the Prussian Academy of Art; and, in 1804, Count Sandrecky sponsored him to continue his studies in Rome, where he stayed for six years. There he was befriended by Wilhelm von Humboldt, Antonio Canova and Bertel Thorvaldsen, and it was there that he produced a life-size bust of Queen Louise in marble. Back in Berlin, he was commissioned to sculpt another likeness of Louise, this time a representation of her in a sleeping position. It was placed in the mausoleum in the grounds of Charlottenburg, a city close to the west of Berlin. Subsequently, he created a similar statue which was placed in the Sanssouci Park at Potsdam.

By this time, Rauch had become famous and much in demand for public statues, some very large: Bülow and Scharnhorst at Berlin, Blücher at Breslau, Maximilian at Munich, Francke at Halle, Dürer at Nuremberg, Luther at Wittenberg, and the grand-duke Paul Frederick at Schwerin. In 1824 alone, he is said to have produced 70 busts. In 1830, he began collaborating with the architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel to build a colossal equestrian monument in Berlin in honour of Frederick the Great (who had died nearly 50 years earlier). The monument was inaugurated with great pomp in 1851, and, according to the 1911 version of Encyclopædia Britannica (there is no mention of him in modern editions of the encyclopaedia), it was regarded as ‘one of the masterpieces of modern sculpture’ (though, obviously, ‘modern’ sculpture has come a long way since then).

Rauch was much feted and honoured during his later years, but continued to work, producing a statue of Kant for Königsberg and a statue of Thaer for Berlin, before dying in 1857 while still working on a statue of Moses. There is very little information in English about Rauch online, other than at Wikipedia, which itself has taken information from the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article. The only substantial source of biographical information about Rauch in English is probably the 1893 biography by Friedrich Eggers - Life Of Christian Daniel Rauch - published by Lee & Shepard in Boston. Modern print-on-demand editions are readily available, but it is also free to download from Internet Archive.

Eggers’ biography is also the only English-language source of information about Rauch’s diaries. Eggers refers to, and quotes from, Rauch’s diary regularly throughout his biography, usually without any exact date. Here are some extracts from the biography selected because they mention Rauch’s diaries.

‘The young traveller had already begun to keep a diary, as he continued to do all his life, but it was usually more a record of observations and facts than of feelings; but as he started on this eventful journey he looked back over his youthful life and made these notes in pencil.

“I left Schwalbach with peculiar reflections. I was here in March, 1793, at the beginning of the second campaign of Prussia against the French. I met my brother on the march hither near Wickert, and made the march to that place with him; slept one night there, and then, having seen my brother less than twenty-four hours, I travelled back in storm and snow over Wiesbaden to my parents. I was then a little more than sixteen years old, and beginning to learn sculpture. The future lay in the dark distance before me. All was expectation: this tumult of strife before me, never before seen; the crowds of discontented people; the devastation of war, then incomprehensible to me; the throng of people, which formed like lines on foot and horseback on all the roads, amazed me. One saw this scene from every hill, the fearful Mainz always before the eyes. All this made me sick, although I was sound in body. At Wiesbaden, where I slept the next night, I became homesick, and I hurried with all my force towards home, where my parents and friends expected and received me. Perhaps I tell this little digression without connection, but it escaped me without my will, and my last word was ‘reflections.’

With these I left this morning the misty Schwalbach, which brought back again all the ideas and wishes with which I then travelled this way; and I now compared them, thanking Heaven and blessing my parents that what I longed for eleven years before (it always seemed to me as if my innermost wishes would be gratified, but I could not count upon it then) was brought to me in all its fulness at this moment, when I was hastening to glorious Rome, - my goal, the goal of all men who love the noble, especially the goal of artists and poets. I have the joy of which hundreds are worthy, and yet they cannot reach it.

Grateful and happy, I stood upon the height and looked over the broad Rhine valley. The Rhine streams through this beautiful meadow about green islands which seem made for his pastime, or as if he made them himself. Above, perhaps in the region of Mannheim, one sees it in a long stripe as it bounds the horizon, and through this distant opening it seems to rush towards one. Mainz has something fearful to me, it lies so big, so strongly fortified there, watching the Rhine; there is something commanding in this part of the landscape. The cathedral, the castle, the specially large buildings, have a decided blood-red color, and this is fearfully mirrored in the water. The long bridge of seven hundred and thirty paces appears from the road like a little string of pearls binding both shores together.” ’

***

‘Rauch’s diary has preserved for us a most interesting and precious record of his experiences and thoughts.

At Ludwigsburg he first saw a monument of Dannecker’s, and soon afterwards became acquainted with him. He speaks thus of the now world-renowned Ariadne: “Dannecker has modelled a life-sized nude Ariadne riding on a tiger; she is so boldly outstretched that, while taming this wild beast, she seems to be pleasantly carried along with it!”

He shows in his journal the keenest sensibility to the beautiful natural scenery of the Rhine, and no less to the interesting historic associations, as well as the rare objects of scientific interest, like the beautiful crystals. Always and everywhere he had his eyes open, and was never weary of observation and study.’

***

‘During the last year of his life Rauch’s diary contains frequent notices of meetings with his friend Alexander von Humboldt, who survived him a year and a half.’

***

‘On the first of September, Rauch, with his daughter Agnes and her husband, went to Donaustauf. In the afternoon they went to the Walhalla. Here they were received by the builder Estner, who had kept charge of the work for fifteen years; and the splendid bronze doors were opened to them. Rauch says in his diary: “I found the six statues on their stagings near the place of erection, all freed from the boxes, and not injured in the least. The impression of the whole on us was above all magnificent, such as was never seen; the novelty and beauty of the materials, the finished work, praising alike the builder and the architect, such as has never been accomplished in Germany in any time.” ’

***

‘Rauch at this time took a warm interest in the development of German painting. When the frescos of the museum were unveiled in 1844, he wrote in his diary: “I never experienced such a powerful impression from a work of art as from this. God bless the artists and princes through whom arise such genuine works of art for the joy and satisfaction of the present and the future!” ’

***

‘He writes in his diary only: “Towards evening, in the company of Bunsen and Dr. Meyer, the private physician to his highness Prince Albert, I visited the first wonder-works of antique sculpture at the British Museum, the Elgin marbles, taking but flying notice of the other art treasures.” His friends seem to have done their duty most thoroughly in showing him all the sights of London, including also visits to Oxford and the Isle of Wight, where he saw Prince Albert, Queen Victoria, and Barclay’s brewery.’

***

‘The king rewarded Rauch’s loyal affection with every mark of confidence and honor. Rauch notes in his diary of May 31, 1842: “Morning, six o’clock. To my great surprise, and without the least suspicion, I received through the general-order commission the insignia and the order of the statute of peace, ‘pour le mérite,’ from his majesty the king.” ’

***

‘He notes in his diary the names of many titled visitors to his atelier, sometimes with an affectionate word of comment; but dearest of all to him are the visits of artists, among which that of the Nestor of sculpture, Thorwaldsen, is especially welcome.’

***

‘In his diary he gives an account of the festivities of his seventieth birthday, January 1, 1847. After giving a full account of the music, speeches, etc., he wrote, “This was the most beautiful day of my life;” and adds, to complete his felicity he had the hope of his daughter’s family being reunited to him in Berlin. We have seen how sad was the fulfilment of this hope.’

***

‘Rauch kept his eightieth anniversary quietly with his beloved daughter Agnes, and in the evening had a great feast with his pupils and workmen. Rietschel came to the feast, and modelled his friend’s bust. His diary, faithfully kept, gives us brief notes of his last year of life. It contains affectionate mention of his old friends Humboldt and Rietschel; speaks of social enjoyments and kind attentions from the king, and of short excursions for health and pleasure. On the fourteenth of October his diary closes.’

Monday, December 26, 2016

Touring the Lake District

‘Our farmer was himself the man, that last year plundered the eagle’s eyrie; all the dale are up in arms on such an occasion, for they lose abundance of lambs yearly, not to mention hares, partridges, grouse, &c. He was let down from the cliff in ropes to the shelf of the rock on which the nest was built, the people above shouting and hollowing to fright the old birds, which flew screaming round, but did not dare to attack him.’ This is from a short diary kept by Thomas Gray, a classics scholar and poet born 300 years ago today, while travelling in the English Lake District. His diary descriptions of the Lakes, written to send as letters to a friend, were so popular that they were reprinted many times, not least as an appendix in early guide books for the area.

Gray was born in London on 26 December 1716, the only child of his parents - a milliner and a scrivener - to survive infancy. In 1725, he was admitted to Eton College, where two brothers of his mother worked as assistant masters - indeed he lived with one of his uncles rather than at the college. While at Eton, Gray developed a literary bent, and he became good friends with Horace Walpole, Richard West and Thomas Ashton. He entered Peterhouse, Cambridge, in 1734, but, bored with academic life, set out, in 1734, on a Grand Tour with Walpole. However, the friends eventually fell out, and Gray returned to London in 1741, where his father died soon after.

Gray renewed his friendship with West, and resumed work on a tragedy, Agrippina, begun in Paris, as well as other poetical works, When West died, aged only 25, Gray’s sadness inspired an emotional outpouring of poems such as Ode to Adversity and Sonnet on the Death of Richard West. In 1742, he moved back to Cambridge to complete his studies. By the time he achieved a degree in civil law, he had no need to earn an income by practising. He remained at Cambridge, indulging his passion for the classics, studying Greek history and literature in particular, becoming a Fellow, first of Peterhouse, and later of Pembroke College.

In 1745, Gray was reconciled with Walpole, and this helped reinvigorate Gray’s interest in writing, partly because of his friend’s encouragement but also thanks to his publishing activities. Around 1750, Gray completed his most famous poem, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, begun nearly a decade earlier in a church graveyard. Despite being published anonymously, Elegy was a literary sensation and Gray’s authorship was soon uncovered. In 1757, Gray was offered, but refused, the post of Poet Laureate. During the 1760s, he took to travelling to different parts of Britain, and in 1768, he was made professor of history and modern languages. He died in 1771. Further information is available from the Thomas Gray Archive, Wikipedia, Luminarium, and The Poetry Foundation.

Gray was not a diarist. However, during one of his tours in the 1860s, to the Lake District, he kept diary-like notes which he then copied in letters to his friend Dr. Thomas Wharton (who, but for sickness would have accompanied him on the tour). The letters were first published posthumously with some of his poems in 1775 as The Poems of Mr. Gray to which are prefixed Memoirs of his Life and Writings by W. A. Mason (freely available at Internet Archive or the Thomas Gray Archive). The journal was several times reprinted, and from 1780 was included as an appendix to Thomas West’s popular A Guide to the Lakes. The letters/journal can also be found in The Works of Thomas Gray - Volume IV (Pickering, 1836). However, in 2001, Liverpool University Press published the diary/letters for the first time alone, and in a modern edition called Thomas Gray’s Journal of His Visit to the Lake District in 1769, with a life, commentary and historical background. More information about, and some examples from, the journal can be found at Norton Anthology of English Literature and Lancaster University’s Mapping the Lakes website.

The following extract is taken from an 1820 edition of The Poems and Letters of Thomas Gray: With Memoirs of His Life and Writings by William Mason (available at Internet Archive).

3 October 1769
‘A heavenly day; rose at seven and walked out under the conduct of my landlord to Borrowdale; the grass was covered with a hoarfrost, which soon melted and exhaled in a thin bluish smoke; crossed the meadows, obliquely catching a diversity of views among the hills over the lake and islands, and changing prospect at every ten paces. Left Cockshut (which we formerly mounted) and Castle-hill, a loftier and more rugged hill behind me, and drew near the foot of Wallacrag, whose bare and rocky brow cut perpendicularly down about four hundred feet (as I guess, though the people called it much more) awfully overlooks the way. Our path here tends to the left, and the ground gently rising and covered with a glade of scattering trees and bushes on the very margin of the water, opens both ways the most delicious view that my eyes ever beheld; opposite are the thick woods of Lord Egremont and Newland-valley, with green and smiling fields embosomed in the dark cliffs; to the left the jaws of Bonrowdale, with that turbulent chaos of mountain behind mountain, rolled in confusion; beneath you, and stretching far away to the right, the shining purity of the lake reflecting rocks, woods, fields, and inverted tops of hills, just ruffled by the breeze, enough to shew it is alive, with the white buildings of Keswick, Crosthwaite Church, and Skiddaw for a back ground at a distance. Behind you the magnificent heights of Walla-crag: here the glass played its part divinely, the place is called Carf-close-reeds; and I chose to set down these barbarous names, that any body may inquire on the place, and easily find the particular station that I mean. This scene continues to Barrowgate; and a little farther, passing a brook called Barrow-beck, we entered Borrowdale: the crags named Lawdoor-banks begin now to impend terribly over your way, and more terribly when you hear that three years since an immense mass of rock tumbled at once from the brow and barred all access to the dale (for this is the only road) till they could work their way through it. Luckily no one was passing at the time of this fall; but down the side of the mountain, and far into the lake, lie dispersed the huge fragments of this ruin in all shapes and in all directions: something farther we turned aside into a coppice, ascending a little in front of Lawdoor water-fall; the height appeared to be about two hundred feet, the quantity of water not great, though (these three days excepted) it had rained daily in the hills for near two months before; but then the stream was nobly broken, leaping from rock to rock, and foaming with fury. On one side a towering crag dial spired up to equal, if not overtop the neighbouring cliffs (this lay all in shade and darkness): on the other hand a rounder broader projecting hill shagged with wood, and illuminated by the sun, which glanced sideways on the upper part of the cataract. The force of the water wearing a deep channel in the ground, hurries away to join the lake. We descended again and passed the stream over a rude bridge. Soon after we came under Gowdar-crag, a hill more formidable to the eye, and to the apprehension, than that of Lawdoor; the rocks at top deep-cloven perpendicularly, by the rains, hanging loose and nodding forwards, seem just starting from their base in shivers. The whole way down and the road on both sides is strewed with piles of the fragments strangely thrown across each other, and of a dreadful bulk: the place reminds me of those passes in the Alps, where the guides tell you to move on with speed, and say nothing, least the agitation of air should loosen the snows above, and bring down a mass that would overwhelm a caravan. I took their counsel here and hastened on in silence.

Non ragioniam di lor, ma guarda, e passa!
The hills here are clothed all up their steep sides with oak, ash, birch, holly, &c. some of it has been cut forty years ago, some within these eight years; yet all is sprung again, green, flourishing, and tall, for its age, in a place where no soil appears but the staring rock, and where a man could scarce stand upright: here we met a civil young farmer overseeing his reapers (for it is now oat harvest) who conducted us to a neat white house in the village of Grange, which is built on a rising ground in the midst of a valley; round it the mountains form an awful amphitheatre, and through it obliquely runs the Derwent clear as glass, and shewing under its bridge every trout that passes. Beside the village rises a round eminence of rock covered entirely with old trees, and over that more proudly towers Castle-crag, invested also with wood on its sides, and bearing on its naked top some traces of a fort said to be Roman. By the side of this hill, which almost blocks up the way, the valley turns to the left, and contracts its dimensions till there is hardly any road but the rocky bed of the river. The wood of the mountains increases, and their summits grow loftier to the eye, and of more fantastic forms; among them appear Eagle’s-cliff, Dove’s-nest, Whitedale-pike, &c. celebrated names in the annals of Keswick. The dale opens about four miles higher till you come to Sea-whaite (where lies the way mounting the hills to the right that leads to the Wadd-mines); all farther access is here barred to prying mortals, only there is a little path winding over the fells, and for some weeks in the year passable to the dalesmen; but the mountains know well that these innocent people will not reveal the mysteries of their ancient kingdom, “the reign of Chaos and Old Night:” only I learned that this dreadful road, dividing again, leads one branch to Ravenglas, and the other to Hawkshead.

For me I, went no farther than the farmer’s (better than four miles from Keswick) at Grange; his mother and he brought us butter that Siserah would have jumped at, though not in a lordly dish, bowls of milk, thin oaten-cakes, and ale; and we had carried a cold tongue thither with us. Our farmer was himself the man, that last year plundered the eagle’s eyrie; all the dale are up in arms on such an occasion, for they lose abundance of lambs yearly, not to mention hares, partridges, grouse, &c. He was let down from the cliff in ropes to the shelf of the rock on which the nest was built, the people above shouting and hollowing to fright the old birds, which flew screaming round, but did not dare to attack him. He brought off the eaglet (for there is rarely more than one) and an addle egg. The nest was roundish, and more than a yard over, made of twigs twisted together. Seldom a year passes but they take the brood or eggs, and sometimes they shoot one, sometimes the other, parent; but the surviver has always found a mate (probably in Ireland) and they breed near the old place. By his description I learn, that this species is the Erne the vulture Albicilla of Linneeus, in his last edition, (but in your’s Falco Albicilla) so consult him and Pennant about it.

We returned leisurely home the way we came; but saw a new landscape; the features indeed were the same in part, but many new ones were disclosed by the mid-day sun, and the tints were entirely changed: take notice this was the best, or perhaps the only day for going up Skiddaw, but I thought it better employed; it was perfectly serene, and hot as midsummer.

In the evening I walked alone down to the lake by the side of Crow-park after sunset, and saw the solemn colouring of night draw on, the last gleam of sunshine fading away on the hill-tops, the deep serene of the waters, and the long shadows of the mountains thrown across them, till they nearly touched the hithermost shore. At a distance were heard the murmurs of many waterfalls, not audible in the day-time; I wished for the moon, but she was dark to me and silent.

Hid in her vacant interlunar cave.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

No larking or slacking

‘The work consists of the following duties: Searching incoming workers for matches, cigarettes spirits etc. in pockets, baskets etc.; Searching outgoing workers for stolen property; Keeping guard at the gate and allowing no one to enter without a pass [. . .] Patrolling to see that no one is larking or slacking.’ Written exactly 100 years ago today, this extract is from the diaries of Gabrielle West, employed as a cook and then as a policewoman on the Home Front during the First World War. The diaries have been edited by her great niece, Avalon Weston (also in the photograph), and are newly published by Pen & Sword Books, as Menus, Munitions & Keeping the Peace.

West was born in 1890, the youngest of five children, at a boys school in Bournemouth, England. The school had originally been set up by her grandfather, and was than managed by her father, Reverend George West. She remained there until the age of 17, until the family moved to Selsley where her father became the vicar. While her elder siblings all established careers, she remained at the vicarage, helping her mother with the Sunday school and by visiting the sick, and assisting her father with his parish work. She and her mother were members of the Red Cross in Cheltenham, and it was through the Red Cross that Gabrielle (known as Bobby) became involved in the war effort.

West found paid positions in the canteens of the Farnborough Royal Aircraft Factory and then at the Woolwich Arsenal. She failed a mental arithmetic test required to drive a horse-drawn bread van for J. Lyons, but was among the first women enrolled in the police, and spent the rest of the war looking after the girls in various munitions factories. After the war, she tended to work as a carer for one relative or another. She never married, and lived to be 100.

In 1979, West donated diaries she had kept during the Great War to the Imperial War Museum (IWM). In 2005, Alexander Street Press, an electronic academic database publisher, produced World War I Diary of Miss G. West, as part of an e-book series - British and Irish women’s letters and diaries. A decade later, the BBC and a co-producer, having trawled through a 1,000 or more journals and collections of letters, chose West to be one of 14 main characters in its Great War Diaries series, broadcast during 2014 (in eight episodes).

The airing of the series on the BBC brought West to the attention of Avalon Weston, West’s oldest living descendant and thus owner of the diaries’ copyright. Weston discovered that, 
on donating the diaries, her great-aunt (aged 89 at the time) had given two interviews to the IWM. Weston proceeded to produce a typescript, and discovered that the diaries were, in fact, copies of long letters, posted at regular intervals, to her brother, who had gone to work in the Indian Education Service in Bengal, and who she much missed.

Weston went on to produce a book, just published by Pen & Sword Books as Menus, Munitions and Keeping the Peace: The Home Front Diaries of Gabrielle West 1914 - 1917. As well as the diaries/letters it includes a generous collection of photographs that Weston found stored with various relatives, a number of sketches by West taken from the diaries, and a foreword by IWM’s Antony Richards. Here are several extracts - with thanks to Pen & Sword Books.

8 January 1916
‘Not a very cheerful outlook when I first arrived. Miss B. was to have met me at the station, but was not there, and by some mistake I eventually got out at North Camp instead of South Famborough, so that was a nice 2 miles to bicycle to our lodgings. I had with me a despatch case, fibre trunk, camp bed, mattress and a hamper, also Rip [her dog]. I had to leave all except Rip and the despatch case and arrange for the rest to be returned to South Famborough. Did a melancholy 3 miles peddling through the mud, with Rip tailing disconsolately behind. Several airplanes flew low across the road, and each time Rip squatted flat in the road petrified and refused to come on. As the road was full of traffic, it gave me several bad spasms.

At last I arrived at ‘Ye Olde Farm House’, as it is called, and was told Miss B. had not been able to meet me, but would I go down to the factory to see her. So I splashed back to the factory. Here I was met at the gates by an armed sentry who refused flatly to let me in. I went round to the other gate and was held up by a policeman. Returned to first gate and found a baker’s cart also trying frantically to get to ‘the new canteen’. We were told there was no new canteen, and we ought to have passes and he wasn’t going to let strange people into the factory etc. However, by the simple process of just ‘remaining’ until he got tired of the look of us, we were let in.

Then I had to find the canteen. No one had ever heard of it and it was rather like hunting a needle in a haystack - you are told it is near the head office and you find they are talking of the men’s canteen. Then you are told to turn left when you get to the oil store and you have to find out which is the oil store. Then you are told, ‘It’s no good going that way, the mud is too deep, you’d better go round by V department and then do the sleeper road till you get to the machine shop etc. Well, after a bit I arrived at the end of a long series of planks, which led across a huge morass to a wee little wooden hut, but there was no Miss Buckpitt, so I had to go away and come back later.

This time I found a very forlorn looking figure sitting on a box in the empty canteen, no table, no chairs, pots or pans, no cupboards or shelves only three tiny gas stoves, Miss Buckpitt and the box, and at the far end two men slowly and solemnly washing the floor. They had only bucket, one piece of soap and one flannel between them so their progress was not exactly rapid. The equipment was supposed to be on the road, so we sat and waited for its arrival. It turned up at about 7.30 and we worked like slaves the rest of the evening till nearly ten, unpacking and putting it in order. As the canteen was to open on Monday, there wasn’t much time to waste.’

20 December 1916
‘Here we are in Chester. Very nice rooms, very nice landlady, very nice place and very nice work.

There are three shifts: 5.30 am to 2.00 pm, 2.00 pm to 11.00 pm and 10.00 pm to 6.00 am. We do afternoon and morning alternately, with an occasional night, but night work doesn’t come very often as only two people do that at a time, whereas there are eight or nine by day. The factory is about 5 miles from Chester and you go by train. On the morning shift you have to rise at 4.00 am. Horrid! Still, you get the afternoon to yourself, and as the work is not too hard you aren’t too exhausted to enjoy yourself, as at Woolwich.

The work consists of the following duties:
Searching incoming workers for matches, cigarettes spirits etc. in pockets, baskets etc.
Searching outgoing workers for stolen property.
Keeping guard at the gate and allowing no one to enter without a pass.
Conducting stray visitors round and dealing with new workers, lost passes, lost clock cards etc.
Keeping order in the clocking shed. Locking and unlocking it.
Keeping the office where clerks etc. sign on and off, enquiries are made, visitors passes visa’d and entered etc.
Patrolling to see that no one is larking or slacking.

We take turns at all these various jobs, none of which were taught us during training. We have two hours off for meals, so life is not too strenuous.

Chester is a lovely old town of half-timbered houses, a fine cathedral, a very interesting old church and also a complete city wall you can walk all the way round, about 3 miles. The river is good for boating, so in the summer I shall try and learn how to row properly. Do you remember how Joan and I used to splash round at Tewksbury and Evesham, and how you scandalized the neighbourhood by paddling a canoe a la the university with its head in the air?’

5 January 1917
‘Marching orders again! This time, instead of giving or getting notice, we have been promoted. Buckie to sub-inspector and me to sergeant. We both go to Pembrey in South Wales in three days’ time.

But I must say a little more about this place. The factory is occupied making the following: Sulphuric acid, Nitric acid, Oleum, Guncotton, TNT. The result is the most terrific collection of stinks, or ‘fumes’, to put it less baldly, that you could possibly imagine. For patrolling purposes it is divided into four areas:
1. The Grills, consisting of five sulphur burners, acid coolers, platinizing plant etc. The burners each have forty furnaces, twenty doors on either side. Occasionally for cleaning purposes, ‘the blowers are taken off’. Exactly what that means, I don’t know, but the result is most fascinating. [. . . ]
2. Guncotton. The first few times you go round you think. ‘What an interesting place’, and are just brimming over with questions. Then one joyous day you are taken round by the sergeant and told exactly what everything is for and how everything is done. The next time or two, you are quite happy trotting round new constables and airing all your recently acquired knowledge. After a bit, they know as much as you do, or they think they do. After that, the guncotton ceases to interest you and the evil smell from the guncotton retorts becomes more noticeable.
3. The TNT stinks; no other word describes it - an evil, sickly chokey smell that makes you cough until you feel sick. But even the TNT is not so absolutely suffocating and overwhelming as the:
4. Middle Section. Here sulphuric is turned into nitric, and nitric into oleum. The air is filled with white fumes and yellow fumes and brown fumes. The particles of acid land on your face and make you nearly mad with a feeling like pins and needles, only more so, and they land on your clothes and make brown spots all over them, and they rot your hankies so that they come back from the laundry in rags, and they get up your nose and down your throat and into your eyes so that you are blind and speechless by the time you escape.

All over the place, there are, to cheer you on your way, notices telling you what to do if anyone swallows brown fumes: If concerned, give an emetic; If blue in the face, apply artificial respiration, and if necessary, oxygen.

Being quite sure you have swallowed numberless brown fumes, this is distinctly cheering. Each time you leave Middle Section, you feel like Dante returning from Hell.’

Gabrielle West’s diaries also figure in the National Archives online exhibition - Women and the First World War - with photos of pages from the diaries and transcripts.

Monday, December 19, 2016

To every historian’s despair

Today marks the 110th anniversary of the birth of Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet leader who did much to build up his country’s nuclear arms and its control over the Warsaw Pact countries. He was a rather vain man, who had himself awarded many medals in later life. His diaries also reveal the extent of his vanity, for they are full of detail about his hair, weight, clothes etc. But they also show, according to one modern writer ‘a total lack of intellectual and spiritual interests’ - ‘to every historian’s despair’.

Brezhnev was born on 19 December 1906 in Kamianske, Ukraine, to a metalworker and his wife. He studied at the metallurgical institute in Dniprodzerzhynsk (now Kamianske). In 1928, he married Viktoria Petrovna, and they had two children. After graduating in 1935, he worked as an engineer and director of a technical school, but also he began to hold positions in the local branch of the Communist party. Having survived Stalin’s various purges, in 1939, he was appointed Party Secretary in Dnipropetrovsk, and put in charge of the city’s defence industries.

During the Second World War, Brezhnev served as a political commissar in the Red Army, progressing steadily to become a major general in 1943, and head of the political commissars on the Ukrainian front. On leaving the army in 1946, he returned to high level party positions, gaining national prominence in 1950 when elected as first secretary of the Central Committee of the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. Two years later he was in Moscow, serving under Stalin in the powerful Secretariat of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

With Stalin’s death in 1953, and Nikita Khrushchev’s rise to First Secretary of the Central Committee, Brezhnev was sidelined, and posted to lower positions, first in the ministry of defence and then in the Central Committee of the Kazakh Republic. However, his administrative skills won him a recall to Moscow and membership of the Politburo. In 1960, he was promoted to the post of Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, nominally head of state. In 1964, he resigned that post to become Kruschev’s assistant as Second Secretary. By this time, however, having been loyal to Khrushchev, Brezhnev had begun to side with those criticising his leadership, and may even have led to plot to remove him. Brezhnev took over as First Secretary (subsequently General Secretary) of the Communist Party later that same year.

Brezhnev’s early years as head of the Soviet Union were characterised by collective leadership: he left many affairs of state to colleagues, Aleksey Kosygin and Nikolay Podgorny, while he took charge of measures to control dissidence, through the Soviet Union, and travelled extensively aiming for more solidarity among the Union’s republics and its partners in East Europe. However, when Czechoslovakia tried to liberalise its Communist system in 1968, Brezhnev developed what became known as the Brezhnev Doctrine, justifying the invasion of Czechoslovakia by its Warsaw Pact partners. His leadership, in fact, would later be characterised by a massive build-up of nuclear arms, at a great cost to the country’s economy.

During the 1970s, Brezhnev sought to ease tensions with the West, especially the United States, while, at the same time, consolidating his own power base at home, diminishing the effect of collective leadership. He negotiated various weapons agreements with the US, culminating
 with SALT II in 1979 - although the US chose not to ratify it because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In his latter years, Brezhnev’s vanity led to a growing personality cult (he was obsessed with being awarded medals); and there was a marked deterioration in his health. By early 1982, he was rarely appearing in public, and was no more than a figurehead with decisions being made in the Politburo without his presence. He died in November that year. Further information is available form Wikipedia, Encyclopedia of World Biography, Encyclopædia Britannica, Spartacus, or Country Studies (Library of Congress).

Although Brezhnev kept diaries, there have been no published editions in English (possibly not in Russian either). Their existence first came to light in the 1990s when Dmitri Volkogonov, a Russian historian who had been head of the Soviet military’s psychological warfare department, published extracts in a Russian magazine called Top Secret. The US magazine, Newsweek, ran a brief item about that article, which is worth quoting in full:

‘BREZHNEV: DIARY OF A DULLARD
BOMBS, SHMOMBS . . . what’s for lunch? Such were the thoughts that drove the leader of the Evil Empire at the height of the cold war. A newly published diary underlines the astonishingly pedestrian mind of Leonid Brezhnev, the burly Soviet leader derided by Russians for his senility and corruption. “Was home at the dacha. Had lunch - borscht with fresh cabbage. Rested in the yard, finished reading material. Watched hockey game - USSR-Sweden, 4-2,” Brezhnev recorded on April 10, 1977, just days after Moscow rejected an important U.S. arms-control proposal. Then came the most exciting part: “Watched evening news. Had dinner, went to bed.” Is it more - or less - scary to learn what the Soviet leader was really like? While Brezhnev faithfully recorded the monthly changes in his weight (ranging from 179 to 182 pounds), policy matters received only fleeting attention. “Talked to [Supreme Soviet Chairman Nikolai] Podgorny about soccer and hockey and a little bit about the constitution,” Brezhnev recorded months before a new Soviet Constitution was passed in 1977. The combined talents of Woody Allen and Nikolai Gogol probably couldn’t have produced a less significant historical document. The diary marks such high points of Brezhnev’s final years as a hunting trip on which he “killed 34 geese,” a visit to the circus and a game of dominoes with Podgorny. A more typical entry reads, “I didn't go anywhere. No one called. In the morning I had my hair cut, shaved and washed my hair.” Says historian Dmitry Volkogonov, who published excerpts from the diary in Top Secret weekly: “When I read this I was sorry for Brezhnev, but I was sorrier for the great nation he led.” ’

Volkogonov also makes mention of Brezhnev’s diaries in his biography of Lenin. This was translated into English, edited by Harold Shukman and published by The Free Press in 1994 as Lenin: A New Biography. Brezhnev wrote his diary every day, Volkogonov says, between ten and twenty lines, in a flowing, sweeping hand. And he gives a series of examples, as follows:

10 April 1077
‘Was at the dacha, had lunch. Borshch made with fresh cabbage Rested went outside read some papers. Watched hockey USR Sweden - USR won 4-2. Watched “programme vremya [Time]” Had dinner - sleep.’

21 January 1977
‘Rested at home for first half of the day lunched at home. Weight 85.200 Second half worked in Kremlin Signed PB [Politburo] minutes of 20 January. Bogolyubov reported . . .’

16 February 1977
‘Work at the house.’

18 March 1977
‘Exercise. Then talked to Chernenko. Then with C[omrades] Gromyko A.A., Andropov Ustinov - we read materials about Vance’s visit - Rang Pavlov G.S. on cost [next word started and crossed out] Read all kinds of material with Galya Dorishina Went to the circus.’

13 April 1977
‘Morning usual domestic chores. They took blood from a vein From 11 o’clock conversation with Daoud Question of one-to-one meeting dropped Had good rest - (lunch) Worked with Doroshina.’

14 April 1977
‘At home - Tolya washed my hair Weight 86.700 Talks with Podgorny about presenting me with Koms, card Presentation of Komsomol card No. 1 speech by Tyazhelnikov my speech Galya read serial from ‘pravda’ on limitation of strategic arms Who are the authors of this material Lunch and rest 2.30-4.10’

15 April 1977
‘Zavidovo 4 ducks - 33rd wild boar - 21- dragged’

22 April 1977
’86.400 Five o’clock meeting devoted to his [Lenin’s] birthday Talked with Grishin Gromyko Chernenko Doroshina

23-24 April 1977
‘Days off’

3 May 1977
‘Weight - 85.300. Talk with Ryabenko. Talk on phone with Storozhev? I know what he wants. Talk with Chernenko K.U.-? About PB agenda Tailors - gave the grey suit, got the leather double-breasted casual jacket Rang Yu.V. Andropov - he came and we chatted Worked with Doroshina’

3 June 1977
‘Received Chernenko - signed minutes worked with Galya Doroshina Rest - flew to Zavidovo - 5 boars.’

Volkogonov’s text (in the Lenin biography) continues: ‘And so it goes on [. . .] The diary meanders in this way for hundreds of pages. [. . .] The important point is that the Leninist system of the monopoly of power facilitated and even favoured the promotion of colourless, mediocre and semi-literate people, whose intellectual potential was only half-developed. Everyone knew it, and it suited almost everyone.’ He concludes: ‘Brezhnev’s pathetic diary only arouses one’s pity for the country.’

More recently, other writers have echoed Volkogonov’s assessment of Brezhnev’s diaries. Edwin Bacon, in his essay Reconsidering Brezhnev (found in Brezhnev Reconsidered, edited by Edwin Bacon and Mark Sandle, published by Palsgrave Macmillan in 2002), says: ‘The late Russian historian Dmitrii Volkogonov had access to the diaries of Leonid Brezhnev in the 1990s, and notes the mundanity of their content, and Brezhnev’s apparent obsession with minor, personal issues, rather than the great issues of state.’ Bacon quotes two extracts form Brezhnev’s diaries:

16 May 1976
‘Went nowhere - rang no one, likewise no one me - haircut, shaved and washed hair in the morning. Walked a bit during the day, then watched Central Army lose to Spartak (the lads played well) . . . 7 August. 19th day of holiday. Swam in sea 1.30 - massage pool 30 minutes. Washed head - with children’s soap . . .’

16 June 1977
’86.00 [kilograms]. 10 a.m. Supreme Soviet session. Appointment of Com. Brezhnev as chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet (a lot of congratulations).’

And, finally, Vladislav M. Zubok in his book A Failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold War from Stalin to Gorbachev (University of North Carolina Press, 2009), states: ‘Along with many young Communists of the 1930s, Brezhnev acquired the habit of keeping a diary to raise his intellectual level. The diary’s content, however, reveals a total lack of intellectual and spiritual interests. To every historian’s despair, Brezhnev recorded mostly routine and banal events of his private life.’