Thursday, April 30, 2009

The father of NZ geology

Christian Gottlieb Ferdinand Ritter von Hochstetter, a German geologist famous for his work in the Antipodes, was born 180 years ago today. He was one of the leading scientists appointed for an Austrian expedition to circumnavigate the world in the mid-1850s, and made a particular impression in the Antipodes. Both he and at least one of his colleagues kept diaries during the voyage; some extracts from these are available online and in English thanks to Australian and New Zealand websites.

The son of a clergyman and scientist, Hochstetter was born at Esslingen, Germany, 180 years ago today. He was educated at the evangelical seminary in Maulbronn and at the university of Tübingen where he studied geology. In 1852, he joined the staff of the Imperial Geological Survey of Austria and became chief geologist for Bohemia. He was selected, along with a group of other scientists, to take part in the Novara expedition, starting in 1857, which aimed to circumnavigate the world. After visiting South America, Asia and South Africa, the ship’s captain was encouraged to make a diversion to New Zealand to allow scientific examination of the North Island volcanic regions.

While in New Zealand, in 1859, Hochstetter was chosen to make a geological survey of the islands, and remained behind after the Novara sailed for Europe. He returned to Austria the following year, and was appointed professor of mineralogy and geology at the Vienna Polytechnic Institute. The following year he married Georgiana Bengough, the daughter of an Englishman who was director of the Vienna city gasworks. They had four sons and four daughters.

Apart from his teaching work - during which he introduced new teaching practices, built up teaching collections, and led popular fieldwork expeditions - Hochstetter also served as president of the Geographical Society of Vienna from 1866 to 1882. In 1876, he was appointed the first intendant of the Imperial Natural History Museum. Just before his death in 1884, he was granted a hereditary knighthood by the Austrian emperor. Today, he is considered one of the founders of engineering geology. Wikipedia has a short bio, but a more substantial biography can be found in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography.

Indeed New Zealand remembers Hochstetter fondly - calling him the Father of New Zealand Geology. In 1863 he published Neu-Seeland, the first substantial work about New Zealand to appear in the German language. It contains vivid descriptions of his New Zealand travels, geological observations, and encounters with indigenous communities. An English translation appeared in 1867. (Original copies can be found on Abebooks, but cost several hundreds of pounds.)

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Novara in Auckland in December 1858, the Auckland City Libraries organised an Hochstetter exhibition. An online version of the exhibition - called Ferdinand von Hochstetter: Father of New Zealand Geology - can be accessed via the Libraries website. It includes many photographs, and images of documents and maps. But there are also images of Hochstetter’s diary, the one surviving volume of five he wrote during his time in New Zealand.

Hochstetter is also a bit of a historical hero in Australia. Michael Organ, a one-time Green Australian politician and academic, runs a website with substantial information about the Navara expedition, and the work undertaken by the Austrian scientists - including Hochstetter and his colleague Karl Scherzer  - when visiting New South Wales. This site also includes transcripts of a journal kept by Scherzer, and these mention Hochstetter a number of times. Here are two extracts.

23 November 1858
‘Fancy dress ball given by the citizens of Sydney to the Right Worshipful Mayor & Lady Mayoress to reciprocate the ball recently given by the Mayor (reputedly at a cost of £800). The Commodore and all the officers had been invited to attend, and so I went there at about 9 o’clock. The ball took place in the Prince of Wales Theatre. The company was very mixed, there was pushing and shoving. Very few respectable families. Hill was also there. By chance I was introduced to a certain Dr. Berncastle, a local doctor, who looks and behaves like an adventurer. He claimed to have earned the gratitude of the Expedition because he had shown Dr Hochstetter the shortest route to Bathurst! This gentleman made a terrible fool of himself later on which served him right for his arrogance.’

25 November 1858
‘At 6 o’clock in the evening a dinner was given in the German Club by a number of Germans in honour of the presence of an Imperial Austrian warship. The great dining-room was very elegant and decorated in keeping with the occasion. Perhaps about 40 persons took their seats. The customary toasts concluded proceedings: - the Queen! - The Emperor of Austria! - the members of the Austrian Imperial family! To which the Commodore responded with a toast to Prince Albert. Then: - to the Commodore and the officers of the Novara - responded to by the Commodore with a very pretty toast - to the Germans in Australia, responded to - German Science! - to which I replied with a toast to the unity, might and greatness of our common Fatherland - in which I endeavoured to stress that in recent years no German state had, by fusing material and national economic interests, contributed so much to German unity as the new regenerated Austria! Dr. Hochstetter spoke a few very moving words in memory of Leichhardt [a Prussian explorer who had disappeared earlier that year while in northern Australia, and whose expedition inspired Patrick White’s novel Voss], whereupon all those present rose in silence from their seats. This was followed by toasts to Alexander von Humboldt, Sir William Denison, etc. The festivities closed at 11 p.m.’

Michael Organ also provides the only significant extract from Hochstetter’s diary I can find on the internet. It concerns a visit the Novara made to an island - then called Sikyana, now part of the Soloman Islands - in October 1858, and an alleged incident in which the Novara crew robbed the island’s natives of livestock. Organ provides a learned and referenced essay on the incident. It includes a rebuttal of the accusations made by Hochstetter along with quotes from his diary.

Turkish diary in news coup

Turkish newspapers have reported in the last few days that a former commander of the Turkish armed forces, General Hilmi Özkök, has confirmed the existence of a coup plot in 2004. Allegations about such a coup were first made public in 2007 by a newspaper called Nokta which published extracts allegedly from the diary of Admiral Özden Örnek. Last year, The Diary Junction Blog ran two articles on this story when the editor of Nokta was taken to court for publishing the extracts. At the time, the coup allegations were being completely ignored by the authorities.

In 2007 ( The Diary Junction Blog wrote), the newsweekly Nokta (which subsequently closed down) published excerpts from a diary allegedly written by a former navy commander, Özden Örnek. The excerpts gave details of how Turkey narrowly escaped two military coups in 2004. Örnek himself was one of the coup plotters. He denied having written the diary entries and claimed they had been libelously attributed to him. During the course of a legal case against Nokta’s editor-in-chief, Alper Görmü, it was proven by a group of experts that the diaries did originate from Örnek’s computer. Görmü was subsequently acquitted of all charges.

At the time, the English-language newspaper, Today’s Zaman, drew strong conclusions from the case: ‘This acquittal implicitly verified the claims that top-ranking commanders of the army had been involved in attempts to stage coups. However, not even a single investigation has so far been launched against the coup plotters. This incident clearly indicates that even those who attempt stage coups are very well protected. To this day, none of those who have made these attempts have been investigated, despite very clear and open evidence, let alone tried.’

Soon after, however, Turkish prosecutors did begin to look into the alleged coup, referred to as Ergenekon (see Wikipedia), and since then the case has been widely reported in the Turkish newspapers. Yesterday (29 April), Today’s Zaman reported that the prosecutors had secretly traveled to İzmir to take testimony from General Özkök, and the article gave some details: 

‘In response to the prosecution’s question, “Have there been any coup plans during your term?” Özkök said, “Most of what has been detailed in the coup diaries is true. However, there are also sections I do not agree with. For example, Örnek has denied that the diaries belonged to him. If a commander is saying that these don't belong to him, I would respect his statement. However, some of the incidents mentioned there have transpired. I have observed myself that some of our friends in the Turkish Armed Forces felt great distrust and worry regarding the government. There was discord over how to express this unease some commanders felt.” ’

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

St Ogg’s on the Floss

Exactly one and a half centuries ago today, George Eliot was making an entry in her diary about the idea of naming a book St Ogg’s on the Floss. However, by the end of that year, 1859, the title had become The Mill on the Floss. And the novel itself? Well, it was destined to become one of the most loved and enduring of English literary classics.

Mary Ann Evans was born at Arbury, Warwickshire, the daughter of a land agent to the Earl of Lonsdale. As a child she was an avid reader. Her mother died when she was still a teenager, and when her father retired in 1841, she went with him to live in Coventry, and kept house. There, she joined a group of intellectuals, including Charles Bray, who were studying the Bible, and became more sceptical about Anglicanism. Her first literary work, Life of Jesus, a translation from German, was published in 1846. After her father’s death in 1849, she travelled on the Continent with the Brays, and moved to London, where she worked as a subeditor for the Westminster Review.

In 1854, she started a relationship with George Henry Lewes, who was married but separated from his wife. They lived together, a situation which caused a social scandal, and travelled abroad on various occasions. Lewes encouraged her to write, and in 1856 she began publishing Scenes of Clerical Life in Blackwood’s Magazine under the pseudonym George Eliot. By 1861, she had published three of her most famous novels: Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss and Silas Marner, although it was to be another ten years before she finished Middlemarch. After Lewes died in 1878, Eliot married John Walter Cross. She died two years later. More biographical information is available at Wikipedia and The Victorian Web.

Subsequently, Cross arranged and edited Eliot’s letters and diaries into what he described as her ‘autobiography (if the term may be permitted)’. This was published by William Blackwood and Sons in 1885 (Harper & Brothers in the US) with the title - George Eliot’s Life as related in her Letters and Journals. The original is available for view at Internet Archive, and a reproduction by BiblioBazaar published in 2008 is partly viewable on Googlebooks. In 2000, Cambridge University Press released an edition of all Eliot’s surviving diaries. It includes, the publisher says, a chronology, introduction, headnotes to each diary, and an annotated index supplying valuable contextual and explanatory information. A few pages can be viewed on Amazon. More links concerning Eliot and her diaries can be found at The Diary Junction.

Here are a few diary/letter extracts from the 1885 edition of George Eliot’s Life as related in her Letters and Journals. They all concern one of Eliot’s most famous books, and the first is dated exactly 150 years ago today.

29 April 1859
‘Finished a story - The Lifted Veil - which I began one morning at Richmond as a resource when my head was too stupid for more important work. Resumed my new novel, of which I am going to rewrite the two first chapters. I shall call it provisionally The Tullivers, for the sake of a title quelconque, or perhaps St Ogg’s on the Floss.’

15 December 1859
‘Blackwood proposes to give me for The Mill on the Floss £2000 for 4000 copies of an edition at 31s. 6d. and after the same rate for any more that may be printed at the same price: £150 for 1000 at 12s.; and £60 for 1000 at 6s. I have accepted.’

3 January 1860 - Letter to John Blackwood
‘We are demurring about the title. Mr Lewes is beginning to prefer The House of Tulliver; or Life on the Floss, to our old notion of Sister Maggie. The Tullivers; or Life on the Floss, has the advantage of slipping easily off the lazy English tongue, but it is after too common a fashion (The NewcomesThe Bertrams,’ &c., &c.) Then there is The Tulliver Family; or, Life on the Floss. Pray meditate and give us your opinion.’

6 January 1860 - Letter to John Blackwood
The Mill on the Floss be it then! The only objections are, that the mill is not strictly on the Floss, being on its small tributary, and that the title is of rather laborious utterance. But I think these objections do not deprive it of its advantage of The Tullivers; or Life on the Floss - the only alternative, so far as we can see. Pray do give the casting-vote.’

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Aurora Quezon’s bomb fuse

It is 60 years to the day that Aurora Quezon, the First Lady of the Philippines from 1935 to 1944, was assassinated en route to open a hospital dedicated to her husband, Manuel Quezon, the country’s first nationally-elected president, who had died of TB five years earlier. And this anniversary seems as good a reason as any to draw attention to The Philippine Diary Project, a freely accessible website with interesting historical material, not least about Aurora.

Wikipedia has a good biography of Aurora Quezon, as does a website run by Manuel L. Quezon III. She was born in 1888, in Baler Province (part of which was renamed Aurora Province in her honour). During the Philippine Revolution, which lasted until 1898, her father was imprisoned by the Spanish, and for a while she was taken in, and taught, by her aunt, Maria Dolores Molina, the mother of her future husband.

In 1911, she went to Manila to study teaching but suffered from poor health. Then, in 1918, she married her first cousin Manuel Luis Quezon. He had become the first President of the Philippine Senate two years earlier, and would remain in that position until 1935 when he was elected President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines. Aurora, meanwhile, involved herself with women’s organizations, such as the girl scouts, and was active in the campaign to give women the right to vote (achieved in 1937).

President Quezon was re-elected in November 1941, but the country was immediately beset with a crisis when Japan invaded the following month. The first couple evacuated, first to Corregidor, an island in Manila Bay, and then, in February, out of the country, making a long journey and only reaching the US in June. Manuel Quezon died of tuberculosis in 1944. Thereafter, Aurora moved to California for a year or so before returning to the Philippines in 1945. There she campaigned actively for Manuel Roxas, who became the first president of an independent Philippine Republic, and she helped launch and run the Philippine National Red Cross.

On 28 April 1949, 60 years ago today, Aurora Quezon was on her way to Baler to inaugurate the Quezon Memorial Hospital. She was travelling with her eldest daughter, Maria Aurora, and her son-in-law, Felipe Buencamino III, in a convoy of 13 vehicles. As they travelled along a mountain road, they were attacked by a group of armed men. All three of them were killed, along with another nine in the party, and ten of the assailants. It was widely believed that the Hukbalahap - the military arm of the Philippines communist party - were responsible. Wikipedia notes that while no Philippine President has ever been assassinated, Aurora Quezon is one of three presidential spouses to have been murdered.

When I first put Aurora Quezon’s name into Google looking for a diary connection, I really didn’t expect to find one. But The Philippine Diary Project emerged very quickly. I think it was set up by Manuel L. Quezon III about a year ago, although this information doesn’t seem to be available on the site itself. The aim of the site is ‘to make diaries of prominent individuals from Philippine history available to the general reader’. About 12 diarists feature on the site at present, some from unpublished works, and some from editions that were either limited, or are no longer in print. As much as possible, the site author says, the diaries are ‘either in the public domain or permission has been given to reproduce them here’.

Here are three entries on the website about Aurora Quezon, all taken from January 1942, just after the start of the Japanese invasion, when she and her husband were on the island of Corregidor. Two are taken from the diary of Felipe Buencamino III, and one from the diary of Diary of General Basilio Valdes, chief of staff of the Philippine Army during the war.

2 January 1942 - Diary of General Basilio Valdes
‘After luncheon the President, Mrs. Quezon and their children were seated in the hospital tunnel [Malinta Tunnel, Corregidor], between laterals 11 & 9 where we were lodged. Two bombs fell on the hill on top of the tunnel, one of them near the main entrance. The whole mountain shook. Suddenly a terrific explosion was heard. A bomb had fallen 20 yards from the kitchen exit of the hospital tunnel. The lights were extinguished as a bomb had hit a generator. As the noise of the explosion was heard, simultaneously with the extinguishing of the lights, someone ordered aloud “everybody lie on the floor”. I did not do it as I thought it was absurd and ridiculous. I went to lateral 11 to get my flashlight from my bed and when I entered it I found the High Commissioner, Mrs. Sayre and his assistants lying on the cement floor. Someone turned on a flashlight. I saw the President, holding Mrs. Quezon moving towards his bed. There they sat. I took my flashlight and rushed back to the main hospital tunnel to see if someone else was been hurt. No one - Thank God! I sat down and waited.’

8 January 1942 - Diary of Philip Buencamino III
‘Malinta Tunnel. I don’t like this place. Yes, it’s safer and bombproof but the air is damp and stuffy. Give me the cool mountain breezes and the starlit skies of Bataan anytime. . . Corregidor is a wreck. The docks have been bombed and rebombed. The chapel is partially destroyed and nothing remains but the cross and the altar. . .

Mrs. Quezon brought me to President Quezon. The President was wearing a white shirt and white riding pants, a striking contrast to the khaki of the soldiers in the Rock. He was carrying a short whip. He looked thin but smart and snappy. The President said that he was glad to see me fighting for my country. He said: “I was in Bataan too during the revolution as an aide to Gen. Mascardo. I know every nook and corner of that place. I got malaria there too.” . . .

At about noontime, I walked with Nini to the hospital lateral. Then suddenly the lights went out. The tunnel walls began to shake. Japs were dropping 1000 pounders. Air inside tunnel was pressing against the lungs. More bombs dropped. Detonation reverberates louder in tunnel than outside. Nurses started mumbling prayers. Salvos of AA guns shook cement under our feet. Then I saw a flashlight. It was Mrs. Quezon. She was looking for her children. Nini said: “We are here mama.” Mrs. Quezon was afraid Nini and Baby were out in the open and felt relieved. There we were - Mrs. Quezon, Nini and I - cramped between soldiers and laborers who rushed inside the tunnel when the raid started. It was the equality of war. Then came the parade of the wounded. Filipino soldiers were rushed in on stretchers. There were cries of pain. Many were unconscious. I saw Fr. Ortiz giving blessings, hearing last minute confessions. He was here, there, everywhere. I saw an American whose leg was covered with blood being rushed to the medical department. Gen. Valdes who is an expert surgeon was busy assisting the wounded. The raid continued. I tried to remain cool even as the tunnel shook with the detonation of bombs and the firing of AA guns, but inside I was getting afraid. I kept telling myself it is safer in the tunnel, not like in Bataan. But I guess fear is contagious and there something about the tunnel that makes one feel asphyxiated. . .’

21 January 1942 - Diary of Philip Buencamino III
‘Mrs. Quezon is slightly thinner. She says she cannot sleep well at night because her son who sleeps in the upper deck of her bed “moves too much.”

Mrs. Quezon showed great concern over hardships suffered by boys in Bataan. She said she was proud of the great stories of heroism of Filipino troops in Bataan. “The whole world,” she said “is talking about it.”

The President’s wife showed me the fuse of the first bomb dropped by Japs in Baguio on Dec. 8, 1941. “I’m keeping this,” she said in her slow, calm manner, “because this is historical.”

She said she was in Baguio when Japs first bombed Philippines. “We thought the planes flying were U.S.,” she said.

Mrs. Quezon told me to send some of our operatives to Arayat to find out what has happened to her farm. I said there were men in Arayat now looking into the matter.

Mrs. Quezon recounted how she and her family went to Corregidor, how they crossed Manila Bay and how an air-raid signal was sounded in the City when their boat left Manila.

She told me to see her before I leave for Bataan because she had some canned stuff for me.

Mrs. Quezon spends her time in the Rock reading, sewing, visiting some of the sick and praying. I think she prays most of the time. She is a very holy woman.’

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A labile equilibrium

And (following on from Friday’s article) it’s also 120 years since the birth of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Austrian born but one of the most influential figures in British philosophy during the 20th century. He was a bit of a diarist too, with a penchant for coded entries about his private life as well as somewhat existential musings, such as ‘I feel as if my intellect was in a very labile equilibrium.’

The youngest of eight children, Wittgenstein was born on 26 April 1889, exactly 120 years ago, and raised in a rich and intellectual Viennese family. He studied engineering in Berlin and Manchester, but became interested in the foundations of mathematics and pursued philosophical studies with Bertrand Russell and G E Moore at Cambridge. Wittgenstein’s father died in 1913, leaving Wittgenstein independently very wealthy, although he donated some of his inheritance to Austrian artists and writers.

With the onset of war, he volunteered for the Austro-Hungarian army, and saw action on the Russian front and in Italy, where he was taken as a prisoner of war in November 1918. As a soldier he had kept notebooks and these became the basis for Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, a book-length treatise on his picture theory of language which, while still an Italian prisoner, he managed to write and send to Russell in Cambridge. It was not published until 1921, but nevertheless became and remains one of the most important philosophical works of the period.

After the war, Wittgenstein gave away the rest of his fortune to his siblings. According to Wikipedia’s long and detailed biography, he felt that giving money to the poor could only corrupt them further, whereas the rich would not be harmed by it. Having denounced any further need to work on philosophy and having embraced Christianity, he trained as a teacher in Austria, and spent some years working in a village school. Eventually, though, the pull of philosophy, through the Vienna Circle especially which had been so influenced by Tractatus, took him back to Cambridge in 1929.

Thereafter, he developed the idea that there is nothing wrong with ordinary language as it stands, and that many traditional philosophical problems were only illusions brought on by misunderstandings about language and related subjects, thus helping to inspire a second philosophical movement. In 1939, he was appointed chair of philosophy at Cambridge, a position he held until resigning in 1947, although during the war he volunteered as a hospital porter and laboratory assistant. But Wittgenstein was always restless, moving to Norway, or Russia, or Ireland or back to Austria at different times, for different reasons. He died in 1951

Wittgenstein’s diary output appears to have been collated into two parts: the notebooks he wrote during the First World War, and the so-called Koder Diaries from the 1930s. Some information about the former can be found in Ludwig Wittgenstein: Public and Private Occasions, edited by James Carl Klagge and Alfred Nordmann, and published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2003. Some pages are freely available to view on Googlebooks.

It states: ‘On August 8, 1914, Wittgenstein began keeping a diary. On that day he traded a larger manuscript volume for a military uniform, anxiously asking himself whether he would still be able to work. A week later, he suddenly started writing in an illegible code, and yet another week later Wittgenstein divided his diary in two: On left pages he recorded private matters in his secret code, while the pages on the right contained philosophical remarks in normal script.’

These diaries, a footnote explains, were published in two entirely different books: Notebooks of 1914-1916 providing the immediate philosophical background to Tractatus (peak inside at Amazon); and an ‘unauthorised publication’ of the coded entries in Geheime Tagebücher, which ‘arguably offers glimpses of a larger private and spiritual background’. Apparently, according to a website on Jacques Lacan, these diaries reveal that he thought about mathematical problems while masturbating at the front during the First World War. 

The Koder diaries, written in the 1930s in Cambridge and Norway, were first edited by Ilse Somavilla and published in 1997 under the title Denkbewegungen or Movements of Thought. The book mentioned above - Ludwig Wittgenstein: Public and Private Occasions - is, in fact, mostly about these diaries.

A slightly earlier book - Wittgenstein: Biography & Philosophy edited by Klagge and published by Cambridge University Press in 2001 - has an essay by Nordmann entitled The Sleepy Philosopher: How to Read Wittgenstein’s Diaries. A good review of the book, by Juliet Floyd, can be found on the website of Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. She says: ‘Alfred Nordmann’s thoughtful essay warns against the naïve use of Wittgenstein’s diaries as a kind of magical key to the unlocking of his thought, while arguing that the kind of spiritual exercises Wittgenstein works through in them exemplify his philosophical methods.’

She also compares the two sets of diaries: ‘His diaries from the First World War were composed in unbelievably dire, existentially limiting conditions, surrounded by death and killing. The diaries from the 1930’s were composed in crises years, years during which Wittgenstein turned forty, decided not to marry, emigrated, faced the impact of his decision to earn a philosophical living by his own hand, meditated on his Jewishness, reacted to the reception of his early work, . . and tried to come to terms with his own internal philosophical drive, struggling to clarify and make habitable the philosophical place he had reached by the end of the First World War.’

Here are two quotes from Wittgenstein’s diary embedded in Nordmann’s essay in Wittgenstein: Biography & Philosophy (partly viewable on Googlebooks):

‘At the end of October or early November 1931 Wittgenstein notes: “I can lie like that - or also like that - or best of all, by telling the truth quite sincerely. So I often say to myself.”

Indeed, throughout these diaries Wittgenstein is worried that he might be lying even when saying the truth. It is as if he first allows a thought to occur, then judges whether he has caught himself in a moment of self-deception or self-revelation. As an attempt to write his life or to attain self-knowledge, the diaries are therefore characterised by editorial comments, as are his manuscripts and typescripts.

“Everything or nearly everything I do, these entries included, is tinted by vanity & the best I can do is as it were to separate, to isolate the vanity & do the right thing in spite of it even though it is always watching. I cannot chase it away. Only sometimes is it not present.” ’

Another essay in the same book includes this quote.

31 January 1937
‘I feel as if my intellect was in a very labile equilibrium: so as if a comparatively minor jolt could bring it to snap over. It is like when one sometimes feels close to crying, feels the approaching crying fit. One should then try to breath quite calmly, regularly, deeply until the fity dissipates.’

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Marxist Stafford Cripps

It’s 120 years since the birth of Stafford Cripps, a controversial politician of the far left who became so popular during the Second World War that some thought he might even replace Churchill. His diaries and letters were only released in the 1990s, and those relating to his period as ambassador in Moscow have been published - though not to much acclaim.

Cripps was born in London on 24 April 1889, exactly 120 years ago today. His father was a Member of Parliament (later to become Lord Parmoor), and his mother was the sister of Beatrice Webb (a sociologist and reformer, but also a diarist of some note). Cripps studied at Winchester College and did chemistry at the University of London; later, though, he turned to the law and was called to the bar as a barrister in 1912. During the First World War, he served as an ambulance driver in France and managed a factory producing armaments. After the war, he returned to the law, specialising in patent and compensation cases.

By 1931, Cripps had joined the Labour Party, been appointed Solicitor General, and been elected to Parliament. But his political views moved to the far left, and he soon became an outspoken proponent of Marxist policies. In 1932 he helped found the Socialist League, although five years later he dissolved it rather than face expulsion from the party (Tribune, originally its mouthpiece, however, survives to this day as a respected journal). After the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Cripps campaigned, alongside the Communist Party, for the formation of a Popular Front to prevent the spread of fascism, but his views eventually lead to him being expelled from the Labour Party in 1939 (along with Aneurin Bevan).

When Churchill formed his coalition government in 1940, Cripps was appointed ambassador to the Soviet Union. He remained in Moscow for nearly two years, and then, on returning to England, he found his views on Russia strikingly popular, so much so that at one point he was considered a potential rival to Churchill, even without party backing. Churchill appointed him Lord Privy Seal and brought him into the War Cabinet. He didn’t stay long, though, and ended the war as Minister of Aircraft Production. 

On Cripps’s removal from the War Cabinet, the Spartacus website notes, Hugh Dalton, a Labour Party politician and future Chancellor of the Exchequer, recorded in his diary: ‘He has, I think, been very skilfully played by the PM. He may, of course, be quite good at the Ministry of Aircraft Production, but seldom has anyone’s political stock, having been so outrageously and unjustifiably overvalued, fallen so fast and so far.’

After the war, Cripps’s political views mellowed sufficiently for him to be brought back into the Labour Party and the government. In 1945 Attlee appointed him Minister of Trade, and two years later he replaced Dalton as Chancellor of the Exchequer where his harsh policies helped the country recover from its economic crisis. He resigned in 1950 suffering from ill health, and died in 1952. Considerably more detail about Cripps’s political life can be found on Wikipedia (and the International Vegetarian Union website also has information about Cripps, but focused mainly on his vegetarianism and ill health).

Cripps’s diaries and letters were not released for a long time, not until the 1990s, and Peter Clarke’s biography - The Cripps Version: The Life of Sir Stafford Cripps - published by Allen Lane in 2002, was the first to make use of them. Then, in 2007, Vallentine Mitchell published Stafford Cripps in Moscow 1940-1942: Diaries and Papers edited by Gabriel Gorodetsky. The publisher says the diary not only describes the metamorphosis in Cripps’s political fortune, but bears witness to the dramatic turnabouts of the war and ‘offers candid glimpses of diplomatic life in Moscow’.

An advertisement on the Cummings Centre website explains that the documents selected and annotated by Gorodetsky (a director of the Cummings Centre) are based in the first place on diary-letters written by Cripps while in Moscow (unveiled for the first time), as well on other documents such as excerpts from Lady Cripps’s diary, and a diary which Cripps kept of his fact-finding tour to the Far East and Moscow in winter 1939-40.

I cannot find any news reviews of the book online, but Christian Schlect says this on Amazon.com: ‘The real trouble with this book is that Cripps was a writer with few gifts and no sense of flare. He did not lower himself to make the interesting observation or aside about either people or his surroundings. Cripps complained incessantly about being unappreciated by headquarters. He was obsessed with a post-war world before the actual war being fought was near being won. And, he was the type of man who was easier on Stalin than on Churchill.’

Monday, April 20, 2009

A swarthy old man

One hundred and fifty years ago today Edward Bates, a potential US presidential candidate at the time, began keeping a diary, one he was to carry on writing while serving as Attorney General under Abraham Lincoln and for much of the last decade of his life. Bates’ diary - which is full of interesting entries about politics, society, gardening and literature - is freely available on the internet.

Edward Bates was born in 1793, on the family plantation in Goochland County, Virginia. He served in the war of 1812 against Britain, and then moved to St. Louis, Missouri Territory, to study law. He was admitted to the bar in 1817, and worked as an attorney while also rising through the political ranks in the new state of Missouri. He then served a term in the US House of Representatives (1827-1829) before returning to state politics in the 1830s.

Bates became a prominent member of the Whig Party during the 1840s. When the party broke up, though, he became a Republican. He also became involved in the campaign against slavery, and freed his own slaves. In 1860, Bates was one of the nominations to become the party’s presidential candidate but when it became clear he couldn’t win, he gave his full support to Lincoln, and was subsequently rewarded by being appointed Attorney General.

During his term of office in Lincoln’s administration, Bates opposed military conflict with the Confederacy; and then, during the civil war, he opposed the recruitment of black regiments. Subsequently, Lincoln and Bates disagreed about how the Confederacy should be treated after the war, and Bates resigned in November 1864. He died just over 140 years ago in March 1869. For more on Bates, see Wikipedia or Spartacus.

A diary - or rather notebooks - Bates kept in the last decade of his life was edited by Howard K Beale and published in Volume IV of the Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the year 1930 as The Diary of Edward Bates 1859-1866. This edition is freely available at Internet Archive. More recently, editions have been published by Da Capo Press in 1971 and Read Books in 2007, and these are partly viewable on Googlebooks.

The Preface to The Diary of Edward Bates 1859-1866 explains that it contains the edited contents of five volumes held by the Manuscripts Division of the Library of Congress. The first covers the period from April 1859, when Bates was already seriously discussing the possibility of his nomination for the Presidency, to February 1861, when he was about to depart for Washington to enter Lincoln’s Cabinet. The second contains ‘Notes of Business in Cabinet’ from February 1861 to November 1862. And the last is ‘badly worn and bulging with newspaper clippings and other insertions’. The preface also notes that although Bates kept an earlier diary (from 1846 to 1852), held by the Missouri Historical Society, it was not available for inclusion in this book.

In his introduction to the diary, Beale talks of it as being important in terms of politics, local and national, and social history: Bates ‘was interested in the minutiae of life’ such as ‘the weather, his garden, his servants, his financial dealings, the cost of a watch, his changes from summer to winter clothing, repairs on the outbuildings’. Plus, Beale says, one of the most interesting features of the diary is ‘the breadth of reading and familiarity with works of literature and history that it reveals’.

Here is the start of the very first entry in The Diary of Edward Bates 1859-1866, dated 20 April 1859, exactly 150 years ago today: ‘Today was published in St Louis papers (copied from the New York Tribune) a recent letter of mine to the Whig Committee of New York, in answer to their call upon me for my views and opinions on the politics of the country, and the signs of the times.’ And there follows the text of the long letter, and much about Bates’ politics.

A week or so later on 29 April, he wrote this in his diary: ‘This is the anniversary of my arrival in St Louis, 45 years ago April 29, 1814. Then, I was a ruddy youth, of 20, now I am a swarthy old man of 65, with a grey beard, and a head beginning to grow bald. In that lapse of time, I have witnessed mighty changes in population, locomotion, commerce and the arts; and the change is still going on, with a growing impetus. And every year adds to the relative importance of the Central position of St Louis. Already, it is the focal point of the great Valley, and, in course of time, will become the seat of Empire in North America. I will soon sink into oblivion, but St Louis the village in which I studied law will become the seat of wealth and power the ruling city of the continent.’

And here is the entry from 15 April 1865, the day of Lincoln’s assassination (see also earlier article Lincoln and Fanny Seward for another diary entry of the same day).

‘This morning we have the astounding news, by various telegrams that last night President Lincoln was murdered in a public Theatre, in Washington! and that the assassin escaped, in the stupid amazement of the crowd, by leaping from the box to the stage and disappearing behind the scenes. One account says that as the assassin ran across the stage, brandishing a knife, he exclamimed [sic] ‘I am avenged sic semper tyr[&]nnis’. Sic semper tyrannis is the motto on the shield of Virginia and this may give a clue to the unravelling of a great conspiracy, for this assassination is not the act of one man; but only one scene of a great drama.

Also that about the same hour, Mr. Seward, being ill in bed, was assailed by another (or the same) assassin, and received several stabs, but it is not yet known whether or no they are mortal !

It is also said that two of his sons (in attendance on a/c of his sickness his severe hurt - lately, at Eichmond) were dangerously wounded by the assassin : Fred : W Asst. Secy, was knocked down by a billet, over [the] head; and Major S paymaster, U. S. A. was severely stabbed.

This day was appointed by authority, for displays of rejoicing and thanksgiving over the recent great victories of the national arms. I presume it is turned into a day of mourning.

We will thank God as heartily, for the solid benefits derived by the nation, from those great achievements, but at such a time, any boistrous display of joy would be contrary to good feeling and good taste.

I shall abstain from all ostentacious [sic] displ[a]y of exuberant emotion, for besides a deep sense of the calamity which the nation has sustained, my private feelings are deeply moved by the sudden murder of my chief, with and under whom I have served the country, through many difficult and trying scenes, and always with mutual sentiments of respect and friendship. I mourn his fall, both for the country and for myself.’

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Perfect order that prevails

Alexis de Tocqueville died 150 years ago today. Alexis de who? A Frenchman of noble birth, he travelled to the United States while still a young man to investigate the penal system there, and on his return to France wrote a seminal two volume text on democracy in America. While on his travels, though, he also kept a diary which was published in English 50 years ago.

The internet has plenty of biographical information about Tocqueville. Wikipedia’s article is detailed and well referenced but awkwardly written; the entry in the Catholic Encyclopaedia is shorter, but notes a reference to him as ‘only half Catholic’; and a French culture department website, fully accessible in English, dedicated to the man with articles and photographs is very informative. But simplest to read is the Gradesaver website (though I’m not sure if the text originates on that site or elsewhere).

Tocqueville was born in 1805 in Paris to descendants of a noble Norman family, and was tutored privately before attending college in Metz, and studying law in Paris. His family secured him a position as an apprentice judge in Versailles, where he stayed for several years learning about the law, but also becoming increasing liberal and developing a belief in the inevitable decline of the aristocracy. Then came the July Revolution of 1830 in which Charles X abdicated and Louis-Philippe acceded to the throne, which resulted in Tocqueville’s family losing position and influence. Tocqueville himself, though, saw France moving towards more democracy, and was keen to learn how such a system was working in the United States.

In 1831, have secured an official commission from the French government to investigate the American penal system, Tocqueville (then aged only 25) and his friend Gustave de Beaumont (28) sailed for the New World. They travelled for nine months touring, going west to Michigan and south to New Orleans, but spending most of their time in Boston, New York and Philadelphia. As they travelled, they interviewed influential and prominent people, and recorded their thoughts and observations on the social and political institutions they found, not only the prisons. On returning to France, they wrote their report on the US penitentiary system which received wide acclaim.

More importantly, Tocqueville also wrote De la démocratie en Amérique which was published in two volumes (1835 and 1840). This was translated into English, with the title Democracy in America, and soon became very popular in Europe and America. It is still studied and referred to today - see Wikipedia - as ‘a classic work of political science, social science, and history’. (The full text is widely available on the internet, see Googlebooks for example.) The book helped establish Tocqueville’s reputation as a political thinker, and earned him admission to the Académie des sciences morales et politiques and the French Academy. Until his death, 150 years ago today on 16 April 1859, he played a significant part in French politics, and travelled to collect more information for his ideas and books.

During their fact-finding journey to the United States, both Tocqueville and Beaumont wrote many letters and kept diaries, but only Tocqueville’s diary survives. This was printed as part of his Œuvres Complètes, by Gallimard in Paris, and then translated into English in 1959 (perhaps to mark the 100th anniversary of Tocqueville’s death) and published as Journey to America by Faber and Faber and Yale University Press. Second hand copies are available through Abebooks. However, much of the text is also available online thanks to a website hosted by C-SPAN (a non-profit company created by the US cable television industry as a public service).

Here is one entry from Tocqueville’s diary about Independence Day in 1831.

4 July 1831
Ceremony of 4th July. Mixture of impressions, some funny, some very serious. Militia on foot and on horse, speeches swollen with rhetoric, jug of water on platform, hymn to liberty in church. Something of the French spirit.

Perfect order that prevails. Silence. No police. Authority nowhere. Festival of the people. Marshal of the day without restrictive power, and obeyed, free classification of industries, public prayer, presence of the flag and of old soldiers. Real emotion.

Departure from Albany in the night of 4th July. Valley of the Mohawk. Hills not high. Wooded the whole way up. A part of the valley wooded too. In general the whole country has the look of a wood in which clearings have been made. Much resemblance to Lower Normandy. Every sign of a new country. Man still making clearly ineffective efforts to master the forest. Tilled fields covered with shoots of trees; trunks in the middle of the corn.

Nature vigorous and savage. Mixture in the same field of bushes and trees of a thousand different species, plants sown by man and various self-sown weeds. Brooks on all sides. New country peopled by an old people. Nothing untamed but the ground; dwellings clean and well cared for; shops in the middle of the forest; newspapers in isolated cabins. The women well turned out.

Not a trace of the Indians, the Mohawks, the most admired and the bravest of the confederate tribes of the Iroquois.

Road infernal. Carriage without springs and with curtains.

Calmness of the Americans about all these annoyances; they seem to put up with them as necessary and passing ills.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A jolly double tricycle ride

Due to be published today, perhaps, by Liverpool University Press is The Diary of Elizabeth Lee - ‘a rare firsthand account of adolescent life in Victorian Britain’. There is not much advanced information about the book from the publishers, however the diary has already been used as source material by one of its editors for an academic paper on the history of transport technologies - not least the double tricycle.

Elizabeth Lee was born into a large middle class family in Birkenhead in 1867. Her father was a draper and gentleman’s outfitter. For about 10 years - from 1884, when she was 16, to 1892 - Elizabeth kept a diary. This has been edited by Colin G. Pooley and Richard Lawton (geography professors at Lancaster and Liverpool universities respectively) with Siân Pooley a research student, and is being published by Liverpool University Press as Growing up on Merseyside in the Late Nineteenth Century - The Diary of Elizabeth Lee.

According to the Liverpool University Press website, the book is due to be published in April 2009 (priced at £50). But according to Amazon.co.uk, it should have been released in December 2008 (yet it’s still not available). However, Amazon.com has the publishing date set for today, 15 April 2009. None of those three websites has much information about the diary. The blurb on Amazon says: ‘There have been a number of diaries published relating to ‘ordinary’ people, but most accounts were written as life histories, late in life, by people who eventually gained some degree of fame or prominence in society. This very rare firsthand account provides a unique insight into adolescent life in Victorian Britain.’

There is, however, more information about Lee’s diary available on the internet in a paper, written by Pooley and two colleagues, presented to the Alternative Mobility Futures conference at Lancaster University in January 2004 - The impact of new transport technologies on intra-urban mobility: a view from the past. In this paper, the authors draw on three main sources: individual diaries, oral history interviews and archival evidence. The first of these is, essentially, Elizabeth Lee’s diary which, the authors say, seems ‘to be a remarkably frank and artless account of the everyday life of a middle class adolescent girl in late-Victorian England’.

The focus of the paper is entirely on transport. Here’s an excerpt: ‘Bicycles (and tricycles thought to be more appropriate for women) were a relatively new transport innovation in the 1880s. They gained rapid popularity for leisure amongst those that could afford a bicycle, but did not achieve widespread use as an everyday means of transport until the 1920s. Elizabeth did not own a bicycle, though her brothers did and they undertook long rides (for instance from Birkenhead to Manchester). The novelty of the bicycle and tricycle is noted in her diary, with bikes mostly used for leisure activities. Although she knew both men and women from her circle of friends who rode bicycles, Elizabeth never learned to ride during the period of her diary, and she notes only one occasion when she is given a ride on a double tricycle. Like driving, it was a form of individualized transport from which she was excluded, probably by her gender and class.’

And here are a few transport-related extracts from Elizabeth’s diary (the Mersey Railway Tunnel was officially opened on 20 January 1886):

1 February 1886
‘Fine day. The railway under the Tunnel was opened for traffic today and I went to L’pool by it. I went up in the ‘lift’ when I got to L’pool and there was such a frightful crush to get it. Had a good look round L’pool and came back by train. Such a lot of gentleman in the station. It was so jolly but I got nearly squashed to death.’

3 August 1886
‘Baked today. Mr. Rimmington and J. Carless came up tonight on a double tricycle and they gave me such a jolly ride on it up and down the road.’

27 April 1888
‘Tonight Mr. Bragg took me to a ball at the City Hall, Liverpool. Mr. Rimmington took Miss Homes. Of course we all went together. Enjoyed myself immensely. We caught the 4.a.m. boat and came home (all the lot of us) in a hansom (which is only made for two).’

10 July 1892
‘Lovely day. Mr. Young called and had a row with him. Went to Kirk Braddam with Tom F. It is quite a sight to see, they have an open-air service. Drove in gig with Tom thro’ Peel to Glen Maye. Loveliest place I ever saw. I drove home all the way and round the Prom. the Scotchman saw me etc. people did look, as it is quite an uncommon thing to see a lady driving. Percy, C. Needham and I went down to see Tom off by 12.pm boat. So sorry he’s gone (to Glasgow).’

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A run-of-the-mill book

Today is the 70th anniversary of the publication of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Although it went on to win the Pulitzer Prize, and to be cited by the Swedish Academy when awarding Steinbeck the Nobel Prize, Steinbeck himself confided in his diary that he thought it ‘just a run-of-the-mill book’.

Born in 1902, the third of four children, Steinbeck grew up in Salinas, California, and studied at the local school and Stanford University. He took various jobs to support himself, but dropped out of university, and then worked on a freighter heading for the east coast. Less than a year later, he returned to California on another steamer. His first novel, Cup of Gold, was published in 1929. He moved to San Francisco, and married Carol Henning in 1930, but then he and Carol moved to his family’s cottage in Pacific Grove, about 100 miles further south.

During the Depression the couple lived largely on what they could grow or catch in the sea. Steinbeck, though, travelled around the area and wrote about what he saw. His most famous novels were written in the 1930s, novels such as Tortilla Flat, Of Mice and Men and, in 1939, The Grapes of Wrath - which won the Pulitzer Prize the following year. 

In the early 1940s, Steinbeck divorced Henning, moved to New York, and married Gwyndolyn Conger. For a short while, he worked as a war correspondent in Europe for The Herald Tribune. Gwyndolyn and Steinbeck had two sons, Thomas and John, but were divorced in 1948. The same year he moved back to Pacific Grove, where he wrote East of Eden. In 1950, Steinbeck married his third wife, Elaine Scott, and lived in various places. In 1962, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

In awarding the Nobel Prize, the Swedish Academy’s Anders Österling picked out The Grapes of Wrath for special mention: ‘. . . The way had now been paved for the great work that is principally associated with Steinbeck’s name, the epic chronicle The Grapes of Wrath. This is the story of the emigration to California which was forced upon a group of people from Oklahoma through unemployment and abuse of power. This tragic episode in the social history of the United States inspired in Steinbeck a poignant description of the experiences of one particular farmer and his family during their endless, heartbreaking journey to a new home.’

It is 70 years ago today that the book was first published by Viking Press in New York - the title page only says April 1939 (see the Pulitzer Prize First Edition Collecting Guide), but several websites refer to the specific date as 14 April 1939. The BBC, for example, has a story on the anniversary. It says the book was released on that day because it was the fourth anniversary of Black Sunday, ‘when the worst dust storm in recent American history had rolled across the Great Plains blotting out the sun and later depositing airborne topsoil 1,000 miles east in Washington DC’. (First editions of the book are available, but at a price of something betweeen $10,000 and $30,000 - see Abebooks)

One half century later, and 20 years ago today, Viking Press published a new edition of the ‘great work’, but also a diary that Steinbeck had kept while writing it: Working Days - The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath 1938-1941, edited by Robert DeMott.

The New York Times was much impressed, although it thought Working Days was ‘less interesting as an explanation of The Grapes of Wrath’ than ‘as a portrait of a writer possessed’. Steinbeck, it noted, had ‘rather little to say about the content of his book’, rather that he felt it necessary to prove himself worthy, ‘that to do so he must not only write well but also discipline himself to work on schedule, and that somehow he was failing in both respects.’ The review concluded: ‘. . . the sense one gets from reading Working Days is of a writer in a heightened state of consciousness taking possession of a gift. . . To read the novel now along with the journal he kept with it is to be lifted ever so briefly into the presence of something inexplicable and magic.’

Here is one diary quote (thanks to The New York Times article) as he was nearing the end of writing the novel: ‘I have very grave doubts sometimes. I don’t want this to seem hurried. It must be just as slow and measured as the rest but I am sure of one thing - it isn’t the great book I had hoped it would be. It’s just a run-of-the-mill book. And the awful thing is that it is absolutely the best I can do. Now to work on it.’

Other ‘journals’ of Steinbeck were also published - see The Diary Junction. Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters was published in 1969, a year after Steinbeck’s death. The title tries to have it both ways but, in fact, this is a series of letters, rather than a diary, addressed to Pascal Covici. Sea of Cortez: A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research documents a six-week marine specimen-collecting expedition Steinbeck made in 1940 in the Gulf of California (also known as the Sea of Cortez), with his friend, the marine biologist Ed Ricketts. And then there’s Travels with Charley: In Search of America which records a road trip Steinbeck took with his dog (a poodle) around the United States in 1960.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Ether, a gorilla, and poppies

‘Mr Gorilla though ill and unacclimatized (having been in Liverpool only 24 hours) cost 250 pounds.’ Harvey Cushing, an American neurosurgeon born 140 years ago today, wrote these words in his diary while still a young man and working in England. He is remembered because Cushing’s disease was named after him, but also because he was a pioneer in teaching neurosurgery, as well as being a Pulitzer Prize winning author.

Cushing was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on 8 April 1869, the son and grandson of physicians. He graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1895. After an internship at Massachusetts General Hospital, he studied surgery under William Stewart Halsted at Johns Hopkins Hospital, in Baltimore, where he returned to work after several years of living overseas. In 1902, he married Katharine Stone Crowell and they had five children. 

In 1912, Cushing was appointed professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, remaining there for two decades, but for war service in Europe with the US Army Medical Corps. From 1933, he was Sterling Professor of neurology at Yale University School of Medicine. He died in 1939.

Cushing is particularly remembered for being the first to describe a type of obesity of the face and trunk, caused by a malfunction of the pituitary gland, now known as Cushing’s disease or syndrome. But he also developed many of the basic surgical techniques for operating on the brain, and was considered the world’s leading teacher of neurosurgeons in the first decades of the 20th century. Wikipedia lists several other achievements including the use of x-rays to diagnose brain tumors, and the introduction to North America of blood pressure measurement.

However, Cushing was also an accomplished writer. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1926 for a biography of Sir William Osler, a Canadian physician sometimes described as the father of modern medicine. And, for a quarter of a century, he wrote diaries. Two of these found their way into print: From a Surgeon’s Journal: 1915-1918 published by Little, Brown & Company in 1936; and A Visit to Le Puy-en-Velay published by The Rowfant Club in 1944. First editions of this latter book, which only had a small print run but contain some fine sketches, fetch several hundred pounds each - see Abebooks.

Extracts from both published works and the unpublished diaries can be found online in Elizabeth Thomson’s 1950 biography Harvey Cushing - Surgeon, Author, Artist - which is available at Internet Archive. Thomson explains how, early in 1893, possibly on New Year’s day, Cushing began to keep a journal: ‘In a small diary which had been a Christmas gift, he began to jot down the principal happenings of his days, and here, rather than in his letters, was recorded his complete absorption in his work - here also were revealed moments of uncertainty and inadequacy that rarely found their way into the cheerful notes he sent to his father and mother. ‘Still working over the poisons. Contemplate taking some myself,’ and ‘HARD luck again etherizing. . . . Dr P. must think I’m a clumsy dunce.’

Here is a short collection of Cushing’s diary entries over the next few months, as described by Thomson: ‘On Friday, January 13, he noted in his diary: ‘Encysted hydrocele . . . with Dr Porter - A K Stone assisted. Promised later to help in a bandaging course with policemen.’ On the 14th: ‘Big operating day. Etherized well but don’t seem to hit it off with the house officers.’ On the 16th: ‘Etherized 3-4 times and pretty poorly. Couldn’t study in evening and went to bed early. I fear for the Chemistry exam.’ And again in March, ‘Etherized this noon for Dr Porter who removed a dermoid cyst from a young girl’s neck. Beautiful operation. Assisted him till Alex came.’ On the 30th: ‘Shattuck told an old hypochondriac to remember the Eleventh Commandment - ‘Fret not thy Gizzard’ & forget all the others if necessary.’ On the 30th: ‘Walked out to park with Codman. Saw first robin . . . Bandaging class with policemen.’ ’

In 1900, Cushing sailed for Europe, and from the day he landed in Liverpool until his departure over twelve months later, he kept a detailed diary, much of it medical. This diary also records his reactions to people (‘often astute but often impatiently critical’ says Thomson) and places, but it does not mention any current affairs (such as the Boer War, the Boxer Rebellion, or even the death of Queen Victoria). Here is one entry from 1901 (a trephine is a surgical instrument with a cylindrical blade): ‘It does not come within the realm of everyday experience to be called upon to trephine a gorilla. This happened to me yesterday the day before an orang-outang and the day before that I saw Sherrington do a chimpanzee. Experimentation on a large scale certainly and expensive. Mr Gorilla though ill and unacclimatized (having been in Liverpool only 24 hours) cost 250 pounds.’

A couple of quotes out of Cushing’s From a Surgeon’s Journal: 1915-1918 can also be found on a web page hosted by the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum (in Bradon, Canada). The page explains how the poppy flower came to be used as a symbol for those who died in the wars, and quotes the famous poem - In Flanders Field - by the Canadian poet and surgeon John McCrae which starts: ‘In Flanders fields the poppies blow; Between the crosses, row on row, . .’ And then it also quotes Cushing who wrote about McCrae in his diary.

28 January 1918
‘I saw poor Jack McCrae . . . last night - the last time. A bright flame rapidly burning out. He died early this morning . . . Never strong, he gave his all with the Canadian Artillery during the prolonged second battle of Ypres and after at which time he wrote his imperishable verses. Since those frightful days he has never been his old gay and companionable self, but has rather sought solitude. A soldier from top to toe - how he would have hated to die in bed . . .

They will bury him tomorrow. Some of the older members of the McGill Unit who still remain here were scouring the fields this afternoon to try and find some chance winter poppies to put on his grave - to remind him of Flanders, where he would have preferred to lie . . .’

29 January 1918
‘We saw him buried this afternoon at the cemetery on the hillside at Wimereux with military honors - a tribute to Canada as well as to him. . . A company of North Staffords and many Royal Army Medical Corps orderlies and Canadian sisters headed the procession - then ‘Bonfire’ . . . with his master’s boots reversed over the saddle - then the rest of us . . . the Staffords, from their reversed arms, fix bayonets, and instead of firing over the grave, as in time of peace, stand at salute during the Last Post with its final wailing note which brings a lump to our throats - and so we leave him.’

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Pole at last!!!

‘The Pole at last!!! The dream prize of 3 centuries, my dream & ambition for 23 yeas.’ So wrote Robert E Peary, an officer in the US Navy and one of the great arctic explorers, in his diary exactly 100 years ago today. His claim, though, of being the first to reach the North Pole has been the source of considerable controversy.

Peary was born in Cresson, Pennsylvania, in 1856 but lived in Maine following the death of his father. He studied engineering at Bowdoin College, and, after graduating in 1877, worked as a county surveyor for several years before being commissioned in the US Navy as a civil engineer. He was sent to Nicaragua to survey a ship canal, but his interests turned increasingly towards the Arctic.

In 1886, Peary, with his associate Matthew Henson, travelled inland from Disko Bay over the Greenland ice sheet for 100 miles; and in 1891 he returned with his wife (Jo) and several other companions, including Dr Frederick Cook. During this trip, he sledged over 1,000 miles to northeast Greenland, found evidence of Greenland’s island status, and studied the ways of an isolated Eskimo tribe, which helped him on subsequent expeditions. 

Three years later he made a first, but unsuccessful, attempt to reach the North Pole. Other trips to the Arctic followed, some to collect meteoric iron, some to reconnoitre a route to the Pole, and, in 1905, another unsuccessful attempt on the Pole itself (using, for the first time, the Roosevelt, a ship constructed to his specifications).

Then, in 1908, Peary launched a third attempt. He wintered near Cape Sheridan on Ellesmere Island. Early in March 1909, he set off from Cape Columbia with 24 men, 19 sledges, and 133 dogs northward. During the final stage of the trek, he was accompanied only by Henson and four Eskimo companions. On 6 April, exactly 100 years ago today, he claimed to have reached the Pole for the first time in man’s history.

Peary’s diary, which has been transcribed and made available online by Douglas R Davies, a navigation researcher, reads as follows: ‘The Pole at last!!! The prize of 3 centuries, my dream & ambition for 23 yeas. Mine at last. I cannot bring myself to realize it. It is all all seems so simple & common place, as Bartlett said ‘just like every day.’ I wish Jo could be here with me to share my feelings. I have drunk her health & that of the kids from the Benedictine flask she sent me.’

(In his book The North Pole, which has an introduction by Theodore Roosevelt and is freely available online at Internet Archive, Peary uses this same quote from his diary but without the exclamation marks or the spelling mistake!)

The New York Times put the story on its front page, and quoted a cable it had received from Peary: ‘I have the pole, April sixth. Expect arrive Chateau Bay, September seventh. Secure control wire for me there and arrange expedite transmission big story.’ But the newspaper also referred to a claim that had been made by Peary’s ex-companion Dr Frederick Cook that, in fact, he had reached ‘the top of the world’ earlier - a claim that undermined Peary’s achievement at the time, but which was later proved false.

Cook’s unfortunate deception apart, Peary’s claim to have reached the North Pole has been subject to much critical analysis, and remains controversial to this day. One weakness of Peary’s assertion arises from the fact that the final party of six did not include anyone trained in navigation, and another stems from inconsistencies about the speeds Peary appeared to have achieved. Wikipedia gives a summary of the ongoing controversies, while Davies’ website, which is devoted to Peary, has a lengthy essay titled The Peary Controversy - Origins and Recent Developments.

Wikipedia also summarises an article by Larry Schweikart in The Historian which looks at the evidence provided by Peary’s diary (not opened to the public until 1986). Schweikart reported ‘that the writing was consistent throughout (giving no evidence of post-expedition alteration); that there were consistent pemican and other stains on all pages; and that all evidence pointed to the fact that Peary’s observations were made on the spot he claimed.’

Here is more from Peary’s diary (thanks to Davies’ website) from the day before he reached the Pole.

Monday 5 April
‘Over the 89th!! Started early last evening. The march a duplicate of previous one as to weather & going. temp at starting -35˚. Sledges appeared to haul a little easier, dog on trot much of the time. Last two hours on young ice of a north & south lead they were often galloping. 10 hours. 25 miles or more. Great.

A 50 yd lead open when I reached it moved enough by time sledges came up to let us cross. Still this biting cold, the face burning for hours. (like the Inland Ice),

The natives complain of it & at every camp are fixing fixing their clothes about the face, waist, knees & wrist. They complain of their noses, which I never knew them to do before. it is keen & bitter as frozen steel. Light air from S during first of march, veering to E & freshening as we camp. Another dog expended here. Tomorrow if ice & weather permit, I shall make a long march, ‘boil the kettle’ midway, & try to make up the 5 miles lost on the 3rd.

We have been very fortunate with the leads so far, but I am in constant & increasing dread of encountering an uncrossable one. Six weeks today since I left the Roosevelt.’

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A ticking off at Westminster

The diaries of John Rae, headmaster of Westminster School in the 1970s and 1980s, are being published tomorrow (2 April) by London-based Short Books under the title The Old Boys’ Network. Short Books says they capture the spirit of the times, and of a man at the very heart of things - with humour, passion and a refreshing honesty.

John Malcolm Rae was born in 1931, the son of a radiologist, and educated at Bishop’s Stortford College (a public school in Hertfordshire) and Cambridge. As a young man, he excelled at sport, especially swimming and rugby. He went straight into teaching, training in Edinburgh. His first job was at Harrow, where he taught as an assistant master until being appointed headmaster of Taunton School in 1966. By 1970, though, he had moved to head Westminster School, where he stayed until 1986. In the subsequent two decades, before his death in 2006, he remained active, giving lectures, and holding various directorships (Laura Ashley Foundation, The Observer, Portman Group). He also wrote books, fiction and non-fiction.

These brief facts, though, say nothing of Rae’s ambitious, charismatic and controversial personality. The Times obituary begins: ‘He understood how boarding schools had to adapt to the changing expectations of a generation of parents new to independent schools. The process was sometimes painful, and with his strong personality he became a controversial figure. Some acknowledged that he brought necessary innovation, especially on co-education; but others were uncomfortable with his forthrightness, his flair for publicity and his ambition.’

The Guardian called him a ‘brilliant headmaster who was inspirational, outspoken and happy to court controversy’. But Jim Cogan, writing in The Independent, says this: ‘Working as John Rae’s deputy was exciting, rewarding and good fun. But I was lucky. Others in the Common Room found him aloof and distant - a weakness which he was well aware of, and which predated his time as a headmaster.’

During 14 of his 16 years at Westminster, Rae kept a diary, which is due to be published tomorrow (2 April) by Short Books as The Old Boys’ Network: A Headmaster’s Diaries 1970-1986. The diaries chronicle, Short Books says, ‘everything from dinners with prime ministers, to drugs and sex scandals, and more than a smattering of extraordinary and demanding pupils and parents', and this makes 'for an often shocking and unputdownable read’. The diaries capture, the publisher adds, ‘the spirit of the times, and of a man at the very heart of things - with humour, passion and a refreshing honesty’.

In fact, the book is already available - see Amazon. Moreover, it is being serialised on BBC Radio Four (read by Tim Pigott-Smith); and The Telegraph has published a substantial set of extracts (nearly 3,000 words), here are three of them.

10 July 1973
‘After lunch, I see the parents of a sixth-former who has received very bad reports. They blame the school because they saw their son pass the entrance exam and start at Westminster with such bright-eyed enthusiasm, only to drift away into a non-academic, guitar-playing world. I suspect the truth is rather different. They sent their son to a tutor to get him up to the standard of the entrance exam, and this private intense tuition produced an illusion of ability that soon faded once these special circumstances were withdrawn. Subsequently, the boy has been out of his depth.’

19 April 1976
‘To Winchester for an unpublicised meeting of eight major public schools: Eton, Winchester, Westminster, Harrow, Rubgy, Charterhouse, Shrewsbury and Marlborough. We dine in the warden’s lodgings and before and after dinner we talk about the threats to the future of our schools at a time of rising fees, falling numbers and political hostility. We agree that whatever happens, we eight will act in concert. The unspoken agenda is that our schools must survive even if other independent schools go to the wall.’

22 June 1978
‘I am woken at 2am by footsteps on the roof. I find two 14-year-old boys clambering along in the semi-darkness. I say, ‘good evening’, and they, only mildly surprised to see me, say: ‘Sorry, Sir’. I tell them that roof-climbing is dangerous and that they must come down through the headmaster’s house and report to me in the morning. I admire their enterprise - it is what schoolboys should do sometime before they grow up, but they need a ticking off just the same.’