Friday, August 27, 2010

Diary briefs

Lawrence of Arabia’s secret ‘X-flights’ revealed in diary - The Daily Telegraph

Bath historian to research Elizabeth Wynne diaries - BBC

Nurse’s diary reveals Churchill’s ill-humour - Daily Mail

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Mother Teresa’s doubts

Mother Teresa, the famous nun who tended the poor and sick in Kolkata, was born 100 years ago today. She was not known as a diarist but, in 2002, five years after her death, an Italian author published a book with previously unknown diary and letter texts. This material caused media stories round the world because it revealed that Mother Teresa - a symbol of religious belief and the good that can come of it - had had crises of faith!

Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu was born, of Albanian descent, in Macedonia on 26 August 1910. She is said to have heard the call of God strongly from the age of 12; and, at 18, she joined the Sisters of Loreto, an Irish community of nuns. After training for a few months in Dublin, she was sent to India where, in 1931, she took her initial vows as a nun. From then until 1948 she taught at St Mary’s High School in (what was then known as) Calcutta.

Thereafter, having been given permission to leave the convent school, she devoted herself to working in the slums of Calcutta where she began an open-air school. She soon attracted voluntary helpers and financial support, and in late 1950 received Holy See authority to start her own order, The Missionaries of Charity. Over the coming years, the order launched hospices, orphanages and leper houses all over India, and then in many countries around the world.

By the early 1970s, Mother Teresa had become something of an international celebrity, and the Catholic church began to honour her. Pope Paul VI awarded her the first Pope John XXIII Peace Prize, commending her work with the poor, as well as her displays of Christian charity and efforts for peace. Other, international and secular awards followed (including many honorary degrees), not least the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.

By 1996, the humble order started by Mother Teresa less than 50 years earlier was operating over 500 missions in more than 100 countries. But her own health had been poor for some years, having had two heart attacks, pneumonia and malaria. She stepped down as head of Missionaries of Charity in March 1997, and died later the same year. The Catholic Church moved quickly to begin a process of beatification and, in 2003, bestowed on her the title ‘Blessed’. Further steps are being taken towards making her a saint.

Mother Teresa, however, was not universally praised in her later years, with some researchers and commentators finding significant fault in the way her order operated, financially and with regard to neglect and even abuse in some of her orphanages. There is no shortage of biographical information on the internet about Mother Teresa - Wikipedia has a very well referenced biography; a briefer one can be found at the Nobel Prize website; and there’s lots of information at the Mother Teresa of Calcutta Center.

There appear to be no diaries published in English written by Mother Teresa, but there is some evidence that she did keep a diary sometimes. Kathryn Spink, in her Mother Teresa: A Complete Authorized Biography, published by HarperCollins in 1997, quotes some diary texts. Wikipedia reproduces one of these:

‘Our Lord wants me to be a free nun covered with the poverty of the cross. Today I learned a good lesson. The poverty of the poor must be so hard for them. While looking for a home I walked and walked till my arms and legs ached. I thought how much they must ache in body and soul, looking for a home, food and health. Then the comfort of Loreto came to tempt me. ‘You have only to say the word and all that will be yours again,’ the Tempter kept on saying . . . Of free choice, my God, and out of love for you, I desire to remain and do whatever be your Holy will in my regard. I did not let a single tear come.’

Then, in 2001, according to Catholic News, several of Mother Teresa’s letters and diary entries which had been collected by Roman Catholic authorities in Calcutta were published in the Journal of Theological Reflection of the Jesuit-run Vidyajyoti School of Theology in New Delhi. These revealed that she had written in a 1959-1960 spiritual diary, ‘In my soul, I feel just the terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing.’

In 2002, it was announced that some her letters and diaries would be published in an Italian book Il Segreto di Madre Teresa (Mother Teresa’s Secret) by Gaeta Saverio. This led to media articles round the world. The BBC, for example, noted that the secret letters and diaries showed Mother Teresa ‘was haunted by religious doubt’. It quoted several extracts, but these were all from letters.

Five years later, Mother Teresa’s letters to her confessors and superiors appeared in an English volume - Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light - compiled and edited by the Rev Brian Kolodiejchuk and published by Doubleday. According to the book’s blurb: ‘The letters, many of them preserved against her wishes (she had requested that they be destroyed but was overruled by her church), reveal that for the last nearly half-century of her life she felt no presence of God whatsoever.’ For more on this see Time Magazine.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A dose of illness

Today marks twenty years since the death of one Britain’s strangest murderers, Graham Young, a man so obsessed with poisons that he killed and harmed people simply for the sake of experiment. And, while poisoning them, he kept a detailed diary of doses administered and their effects. More recently, a Japanese teenager, inspired by Young, nearly killed her mother, and blogged about the process.

Young was born in North London, in 1947, but his mother died a few months later. After a couple of years with his aunt, the toddler was reunited with his father and new wife Molly. He grew up a peculiar child, according to biographies, anti-social, and reading a lot of sensationalist fiction. As a teenager, he became very focused on chemistry and toxicology, and repeatedly managed to acquire small amounts of poisons from local chemists, ostensibly for school experiments. A fellow school pupil, said to be Young’s first victim, was lucky not to die from a cocktail of poisons he’d administered.

Thereafter, it seems, Young focused on his own family so as to be able better to observe the effects of his poisoning. His elder sister, Winifred, was found to have suffered from belladonna poisoning in 1961, but no action against Graham was taken. The following year Molly, his stepmother, died. Though poisoning was not given as cause of death at the time, it was established later that Graham had been administering antimony over time, and then killed her with thallium. Indeed, he had been poisoning all the family, including himself.

After the death of Molly, Young was sent to a psychiatrist, and then was finally arrested in May 1962. He confessed to attempted murders of his father, sister and friend, though the murder of his stepmother could not be proved because the body had been cremated. He was sentenced to 15 years in Broadmoor Hospital, an institution for mentally unstable criminals, and released after nine.

On his release, in February 1971, Young found work as a store man with a photographic supply firm which used thallium (his references having excluded the cause of his incarceration at Broadmoor). Soon, the foreman grew ill and died, and also a sickness swept through his workplace which was mistakenly blamed on a virus. A second work colleague died before an investigation led to Young’s arrest in November 1971.

Police found thallium in Young’s possession, and a diary in his flat under the bed. Entitled ‘A Student’s and Officer’s Casebook’, it was hand-written in loose-leaf pages, with the names of victims denoted by their initials. It contained a careful record of the doses he had administered, their effects on his victims, and whether he was going to allow them to live or die. At Young’s trial, he pleaded not guilty and claimed the diary was fiction; nevertheless, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. He died in his cell at Parkhurst prison on 22 August 1990 aged only 42.

Several books have been written about Young: Obsessive Poisoner, by his sister Winifred; and St. Albans Poisoner: Life and Crimes of Graham Young by Anthony Holden. A 1995 film - The Young Poisoner’s Handbook - was based on Young’s story. And there is no shortage of information on the internet: Wikipedia, Crime & Investigation Network, or TruTV.

Here are several (undated) extracts from Young’s diary:

‘I have administered a fatal dose of the special compound. . . it seems a shame to condemn such a likeable man to such a horrible end. . . he is doomed to premature decease.’

‘F is now seriously ill. He has developed paralysis and blindness. Even if the blindness is reverse, organic brain disease would render him a husk. From my point of view his death would be a relief. It would remove one more casualty from an already crowded field of battle.

‘It looks like I might be detected. . . I shall have to destroy myself.’

‘Di irritated me yesterday, so I packed her off home with a dose of illness.’

Five years ago this month, and across the other side of the world, a Japanese teenage girl began poisoning her mother, not for any grudge against her, but because she wanted to experiment with thallium. The mother was hospitalised, and in October 2005, the girl was arrested. The family said they did not want her charged, but a family court sent her to reform school. According to a BBC report, based on Japanese newspaper accounts, the girl had been inspired by a book about Young, and had herself kept a blog diary about her mother’s condition.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Seventy wax matches

Wilfrid Scawen Blunt was born 170 years ago today. A famous breeder of Arab horses, a notorious womaniser, and a fierce anti-imperialist, he was also an interesting diarist, though the public had to wait more than 50 years following his death for revelations about his many affairs. A century ago today - the diaries reveal simply - Blunt was celebrating his 70th birthday with family, and being given a cake holding seventy wax matches.

Blunt was born in 1840 into an old Sussex family at Petworth House, but his father died when he was only two, and his mother when he was 15. Thereafter, he was educated at Stonyhurst and Oscott, before entering the diplomatic service aged 18. For more than a decade, he served in several European capitals and South America, adopting a self-styled Byronic image, and taking full advantage of his single status in privileged society. He had love affairs wherever he went, and sometimes published poetry about them.

In 1869, Blunt left government office, and married Lady Anne Noel, Byron’s granddaughter in fact. Within a couple of years, he had inherited family estates, not least the one at Crabbet Park. In 1873, Anne gave birth to Judith, their only child who survived past infancy. The Blunts travelled frequently, and lived much in the Middle East, often moving around on horseback together. With pure bred Arab stallions imported from the Middle East, they set up a stud farm at Crabbet Park which would become internationally famous, and survive nearly a century. Wikipedia says ‘at least 90% of all Arabian horses alive today trace their pedigrees in one or more lines to Crabbet horses’.

Aged around 40, Blunt started to become increasingly outspoken on international issues, taking a firm anti-imperialist stance, opposing British rule in Egypt, and British policy in the Sudan and sympathising with Muslim aspirations. He propagated his ideas in books such as The Future of Islam and Ideas about India. In 1888, he even served a term in prison for championing Irish home rule and defying the then Irish chief secretary, Arthur Balfour. (Later on, it is said, Blunt was to get his revenge on Balfour by seducing and making pregnant his own cousin, Mary Elcho, who happened to be a very close friend and confidant of Balfour.)

Blunt’s high-handed ways and constant infidelities (several of them long-term and with society women), however, eventually led, in 1906, to an acrimonious separation from his wife. Blunt claimed they had been reconciled by the time of her death in 1917, but afterwards there was a bitter lawsuit over the ownership of the stud which Blunt eventually lost to Judith, his daughter. His own death came in 1922. There is more biographical information at Wikipedia, The Fitzwilliam Museum website, and Aisha Bewley’s website on Islamic topics.

Among his various talents, Blunt was also a diarist of some repute. My Diaries: Being a Personal Narrative of Events 1888-1914 was published in two volumes just before his death in 1921 by Martin Secker. But earlier, he had used extracts from his diaries in political books such as The Secret Occupation of Egypt (1907), India under Lord Ripon (1909), and Gordon at Khartoum (1911). However, some of his diary material also contained highly personal revelations - particularly about his affairs - and this was not opened to the public (by The Fitzwilliam Museum which holds the manuscripts) until 50 years after his death, in 1972. Thereafter, in 1979, Weidenfeld & Nicolson published Elizabeth Longford’s biography - A Pilgrimage of Passion - based on the full range of his diaries.

Here is the very first diary entry in India under Ripon - A Private Diary published by T Fisher Unwin, London, in 1909, the full text of which is available at Internet Archive. George Robinson, 1st Marquess of Ripon (born at 10 Downing Street, the second son of Prime Minister Frederick John Robinson) held many government posts, but was Viceroy of India from 1880 to 1884

12 September 1883
‘Left home by the 10 o’clock train, and spent the day in London. A letter had come from Eddy Hamilton by the morning’s post asking to see me before I went abroad, and I went to Downing Street at one o’clock, Mr Gladstone is away yachting, and Eddy is acting Prime Minister, and a very great man. I had not been to Downing Street since last year - just upon a year ago - when I went to ask for Arabi’s life. Eddy was extremely amiable this time, and asked me what I was going to do in the East. I told him my plans exactly - that I was going first to Egypt, and should call on Baring and, if I found him favourably disposed, should propose to him a restoration of the National Party, but if he would not listen I should go on to Ceylon and India; that I could not do anything in Egypt without Baring’s countenance, for the people would not dare to come to speak to me; but, if Baring would help, I thought I could get the Nationalist leaders elected at the elections - all depended on the action of our officials.

Also as to India - that I had no intention of exciting to rebellion; that I should go first to Lord Ripon, then to Lyall, and afterwards to the provinces; that the subjects I wished principally to study were the financial condition of the country, that is to say, to find out whether our administration was really ruining India, and to ascertain the views of the natives with regard to Home Rule. Of both these plans Eddy seemed to approve, said that Baring would be sure to wish to see me, and listen to all I had to say, and, though he did not commit himself to anything very definite about the rest, did not disapprove. With regard to India, he said he would write to Primrose, Lord Ripon’s private secretary, to show me all attention; so on the whole I am highly satisfied with my visit.

I had some talk with Eddy about Randolph Churchill. He said that my connection with him in Egyptian affairs did me harm, but I don’t believe that, and I look upon Churchill as quite as serious a politician as the rest with whom I have had to deal. On Egypt I think he is sincere, because he has an American wife, and the Americans have always sympathized with freedom there. I believe, too, that he is at a turning point in his character, and means to have done with mere random fighting, and we both agreed that he has a career before him. For my own part I like Churchill. He does not affect any high principles, but he acts squarely.’

And here is a diary extract from exactly a century ago today (taken from My Diaries: Being a Personal Narrative of Events 1888-1914)

17 August 1910
‘My birthday of seventy, which I am spending at Clouds [a country house designed by Philip Webb and built 25 or so years earlier for the Wyndhams, in Wiltshire, to whom Blunt was related], a long and delightful day; also and on this I pride myself, I was able with my cup and ball to catch it on the point nine times out of twelve, which shows that my eyesight is not failing. In the evening we had the traditional birthday cake with the children, lighting it up with seventy wax matches. Guy’s boys amuse me. George, a boy of sixteen, still at Wellington School, but has grown a slight moustache and affects the way of a young man. He is very good-looking, and spends most of his time with the servants in the pantry and the housekeeper’s room, where he talks nonsense to the maids and helps footmen to clean the knives, smoking a briar pipe with twist tobacco, the most horrible stuff. Upstairs he has a fine assurance with pronounced opinions, as a man of the world. He is to go into the Foreign Office, and seems to have an amusing career before him. Dick, the younger, is of a strict scaramouch type, cleverer but less good-looking. [Dick Wyndham was the father of Joan Wyndham, a noted 20th century diarist who died recently in 2007]. Olivia is an audaciously pretty girl of thirteen, also with a career of pleasure before her, ready for all possible wickedness in a wicked world. They spent the day making a grand pic-nic with the servants and governesses to Pertwood on the Downs, where they had sack and three-legged races and all sorts of boisterous fun, of which Dick, who dined at table, gave us a naive account.’

Friday, August 13, 2010

Florence’s lost diaries

Today marks the centenary of the death one of Britain’s greatest heroines - Florence Nightingale, the Lady of the Lamp. She was also a lady of the diary, at least as a young woman. Ten years ago, one of her journals turned up, anonymously by post, to Claydon House, where Nightingale frequently stayed; and one of Florence’s biographers, Hugh Small, believes there are several more lost journals waiting to be discovered.

Nightingale was born in 1820, in Florence and named after the city, to an upper class British family. As a young woman, she shocked her family by spurning offers of marriage in order to become a nurse (which she believed God had called her to do), though her studies were initially blocked by her parents. While in Rome in 1847, she met and became friends with the British politician Sydney Herbert, who would later be instrumental in her career. In 1850, she entered an institution in Kaiserswerth, Germany, to train, and three years later was appointed superintendent of the Insitution for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen in London.

The following year, in 1854 during the Crimea War, Nightingale was put in charge of nursing in military hospitals at Scutari, Turkey. There she set about starting to deal with appalling conditions of crowding, insanitation, and lack of basic necessities, as well as the hostility of local doctors. Not immediately, but within a year, she had managed to significantly reduce the death rates, though this may have been largely due to a Sanitary Commission, she had called for from Britain, which flushed out the sewers and improved the ventilation.

During her time at Scutari, she made three trips to the Crimea itself, was dangerously ill for a while, and was eventually given jurisdiction over all the army military hospitals. A report in The Times about her work led to the nickname ‘Lady of the Lamp’. However, even today there is still controversy over whether her own theories as to the causes of the high death rates at the time were correct.

On her return to England in 1856, Nightingale campaigned for, and achieved, a Royal Commission on the Health of the Army. By this time she believed most soldiers in hospital were killed by poor living conditions, and was a strong advocate of improved sanitary living conditions. While still in Turkey, public interest in her work had led to the launch of a public fund which, by 1860, had sufficient funds to help Nightingale set up a training school for nurses at St Thomas’ Hospital (now part of King’s College, London). Around this time, she also wrote and published, Notes on Nursing, which sold well to the profession and to the public, and is now considered a classic introduction to nursing.

From 1857 onwards, Nightingale was intermittently bedridden and suffered from depression, though she continued to campaign for social reform, introducing trained nurses into workhouses, for example, and pioneering work in the field of hospital planning. In 1883, she was awarded the Royal Red Cross by Queen Victoria, and in 1907, she was the first woman to be awarded the Order of Merit. She died 100 years ago today, on 13 August 2010. For more biographical information see Wikipedia, the new Florence Nightingale Museum (in London) website, or the Victorian Web.

Ten years ago, a diary written by Florence Nightingale suddenly turned up - anonymously in the post - at Claydon House, Buckinghamshire - see the BBC report. This is now a National Trust museum, but is where her sister lived having married into the Verney family, the owners of the house, and where Florence herself often stayed. The diary had details of her eight-month journey across Egypt, France, Greece, Italy and Austria, ending in Berlin in 1850, but contained only mundane details. More interesting diary details had already been published in Florence Nightingale in Egypt and Greece: Her Diary and “Visions” (State University of New York Press, 1997). The author, Michael Calabria, provides extensive notes and interpretations of the relatively sparse material. Some of this book is viewable at Googlebooks.

Here is the first entry of that diary.

January 1850
Thebes
1. Tuesday
6½ Wrote home
8½ Temple Luxor
10 Wrote home; breakfast; stood on poop.
12 Left - read to [Selina] Wilkinson & Martineau (Carnac)
4 Dined on deck - read Survey of Thebes & sat on deck
6¼ slept
8½ supper
9½ washing & dreaming
10½ bed

Hugh Small, author of Florence Nightingale, Avenging Angel, runs a website with many learned articles on the heroine. Earlier this year he published one on her diaries. It lists those of her papers which could be considered diary-like: a ‘commonplace book’ from 1836 with only facts and figures from her studies; a set of private notes on personal matters, dated between 1845 and 1860; the diary (as above) transcribed by Michael Calabria; a set of letters and travel descriptions for her family which formed the basis of Letters from Egypt: A Journey on the Nile; and the 1850 diary sent to Claydon in 2000.

However, Small then says: ‘If you were to judge from the above, you would conclude that Nightingale did not often keep a diary during her first 34 years. But there is very strong evidence that the above list covers only a small fraction of the diaries that she left behind at her death.’ He points to a 1931 biography by Ida O’Malley - Florence Nightingale 1820-1856, A Study of her Life down to the End of the Crimean War.

O’Malley refers to several diary sources that have not been quoted directly by any writer since: an autobiographical text in French by Florence as a child in 1828-1830; journals for the following periods 1828-1831, 1837-1839, 1849-1850; and notes, fragments of diaries etc from 1845 onwards. And, according to Small’s analysis, the whereabouts of these papers is unknown. He concludes his article: ‘So keep your eyes open. We can only hope that in some neglected storeroom or attic there will one day be found a bundle of notebooks tied with ribbon, the little volume on top being a lined exercise book with pages 8½ inches high by 7 inches wide covered with large childish script: La Vie de Florence Rossignol, Première Volume.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Of Edinburgh and Glasgow

‘Edinburgh is by no means a despicable town.’ So thought Elizabeth Percy, Duchess of Northumberland, according to her diary entry 250 years ago today. A few days later, though, she was judging Glasgow a much better place - ‘by far the finest Town I ever saw.’

Elizabeth, born in 1716, was the only daughter of General Algernon Seymour, 7th Duke of Somerset, and his wife, Frances. She married Sir Hugh Smithson in 1740 and they had two sons. Ten years later, on her father’s death, she inherited his barony of Percy and her husband inherited his earldom of Northumberland. Together, the couple began improving their estates and great houses - Alnwick Castle, Syon House, and Northumberland House. Elizabeth’s entertainments, especially at Northumberland House, with the best musicians, were famous at the time; she was also a patron of leading painters and craftsmen.

In 1761, Elizabeth became a Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Charlotte, a post she held until 1770. However, she appears to have fallen from favour, possibly because of her custom of going about with a larger retinue of footmen than Her Majesty herself, for which the Queen is said to have indirectly reprimanded her. Thereafter, she travelled extensively in Britain and on the Continent, keeping a diary for much of the time. She died in 1776, and her eldest son, Hugh, succeeded to become the 2nd Duke of Northumberland. Wikipedia has a short biographical entry.

Her diaries were first edited by James Greig and published by Hodder and Stoughton, London, in 1926 as The Diaries of a Duchess. The book includes a foreword by Alan Percy, the 8th Duke of Northumberland. According to Harriet Blodgett, author of the Duchess’s entry for the Oxford National Dictionary of Biography (subscription required, or library card access) the diaries reveal ‘a personality fascinated not only by pomp and show - through its detailed descriptions of ceremonies, dress, and jewels - but also by exciting calamities like disastrous explosions, mob hysteria and rioting, and romantic elopements with social inferiors.’

Here is the Duchess writing about visits to Edinburgh and Glasgow.

8 August 1760
‘Abbey of Holyrood House. My morning visitors were . . . We walk’d all over the Palace from some of the Windows you have a view of Arthur Seat an immense Rock, wch Ly Milton told me her Grandfather remembered it all cover’d with wood, but it is now entirely bare. The Apartments are very fine, I think fully equal to Hampton Court in some of them are hung up some pictures (he having no rooms of his own large enough to contain them) of Lord Mortons [James Douglas, Lord Clerk Regiser, and trustee of the British Museum] wch he bought in France of the Battles of Alexr. said to be Copys of the Famous Ones by Le Brun [French painter] himself. The Gallery is 130ft long & furnish’d with ye portraits of all the Kings of Scotland including James ye 6 (the 1st of England). I went also to see Mary Q of Scots Bedchamber (a very small one it is) from whence David Rizzio was drag’d out & stabb’d in the Ante Room, where is some of his Blood which they cannot get wash’d out. When we had view’d the Abbey we went to the Parliament House & saw the Lords of Session sitting. We then saw the Court of Exchequer & by taking ye Ld Chief Baron’s [? chair] empower’d myself to dispose of all the Treasure of Scotland.

Edinburgh is by no means a despicable town. It is extreamly populous its Inhabitants are suppose to exceed 50,000. The Lanes may for ought I know be dirty, but the principal streets are by no means so they are spacious and well paved. It is a Mile from the Abbey to the Castle, but divided by the Nether Bow Port which is a very handsome Gate. The lower part is the Cannon Gate & the upper the High Street. Considering how many Familys perhaps live in a house & that the City is very ill supplied with Water it is surprising to see it so neat as it is. The most extraordinary sight is the height of the Houses. I myself having counted one of thirteen storys high the shops being painted on the outside with whatever the indweller sells. Land about this City letts from 3:10 to 4l per Acre, the figure of 4 which see on many houses denotes a Merchant. It is not by the Laws of the Police permitted to any One to sell anything in Edinburgh before 8 O’Clock in the morning. I went next to the Castle which seem to be impregnable from its situation which is on a high Rock, the view from it is very fine. One see the Dean, the charming Firth of Forth, Leith, Inch Keith, Herriot’s Hospital, a noble regular Gothic Building, The Hills of Fife & those above Stirling.’

12 August
‘Glasgow . . . is extreamly large & well paved & most magnificently built. It is by far the finest Town I ever saw. It is very populous, its Inhabitants being computed at 36,000. Both the people & the Town are remarkably clean & neat & the former handsomer than any I saw in the Lowlands. We had a very good Inn here.

We were visited by ye Ld Provost & all the Magistrates & the Commg Officer. We walk’d to see the flax Manufacture. Then we went to the University where we were joyned by all the Professors &c. We saw the Pictures & afterwards the Boys painting & the Library which is a good plain Room. We then went to Foulis’s Shop where we recd an Express from Ld Warkworth, informing us of the Battle of Warbourg & his safety. We then adjourned to the Town Hall with Ld Provost, Magistrates, Professors, Scholars, Officers &c where a parson said a very long Grace to ye drink.

A thousand Toasts were drank & my Lord was made a freeman of the City. The Town Hall is a very Noble Room it is 54 Feet long & 27 broad & high. The Chimney piece wch was made at London is a very fine One of Statuary Marble with 2 entire figures of Women. We came back to ye Inn where Mr Campbell the Advocate & we had for Supper a Bird I had never seen before call’d the Tormachin [Ptarmigan]. It is a kind of Moor fowle, White on the back, of a very highest flavour. They feed on the Tops of the very highest Rocks far above where the heather grows.

Commerce & Arts flourish much in Glasgow. Their chief Exports are Linen, Herrings & Tobacco, & their Imports French, Spanish, Portuguese & Madeira Wines & Rum. They have not yet got the Art of adulterating their Wines, so have them all in perfection. Madeira sells for 36 S/- the Pipe. Turtle is no more unknown to the Magistrates of Glasgow than to the Aldermen of London. The Sabbath is very strictly observ’d here, insomuch that the Post is not permitted to come in till Evening Service is over, nor are people suffered to walk out, & Civilizers go about to all the Houses to see that no Business or Amusements are carried on, & not a soul, except going to or from Church, is ever seen on the Streets on a Sunday. All the people here seem very industrious.’

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Earthquakes in Florence

Exactly half a millennium ago today, Florence suffered two earthquakes in the morning, and another in the afternoon; two more came the next day. Indeed, 1510 was a bad year for the town, with thunderbolts, fever, fires and murders. We know all this thanks to Luca Landucci, a chemist but, more importantly, a diarist - one of Europe’s earliest.

Not much is known, though, about Landucci personally, other than that he lived in Florence, was trained as a bookkeeper and ran a small chemist’s shop. His diary, which begins in 1450, focuses on the cycle of daily events, which seem to have been much affected not only by plague but by raids and sieges on Florence.

Landucci’s diary entries cease on his death in 1516, but the published version of the diary also contains additional diary entries to 1542 made by an anonymous writer. It was translated into English in 1927 by Alice de Rosen and published by J M Dent as A Florentine Diary from 1450-1516.

Wikipedia has a little more information, and The Diary Junction has a few links to websites with extracts from the diary, including The Society for Medieval Military History and Uppsala University. Here are a series of entries, not hitherto available online, from the year 1510, including one from 500 years ago today (give or take calendar differences!)

11 June 1510
‘A thunderbolt fell at San Donnino, killing a father and son, and two other children of his were frightened out of their wits and had fallen ill.

At this time a girl was found drowned in a well, and it was never discovered who she was, no one seeming to know her; and there seemed no one in all the country round who had lost anyone.’

19 June 1510
‘The festaiuoli of San Giovanni (directors of the festivities) published a proclamation that no shops were to be opened from the 20th June till San Giovanni was over, without their permission, on pain of a fine of 25 lire; and those who received permission had to pay, some two grossi and some three or four. This was very hard upon the poor, because the proclamation said that it was not meant for the wool mercers, nor the silk mercers, nor the bankers; therefore it was considered an injustice and a mean and infamous thing to force the artisans to be idle.

At this time there was an epidemic of influenza, with a cough and fever, in Florence and all through Italy. Almost everyone suffered from it; the fever lasted four or five days, and was called in Florence the male del tiro (shooting complaint). The reason of this was that amongst all sorts of celebrations on the day of San Giovanni, the first consisted in jousting in the Piazza, that is to say, a number of men-at-arms, fully armed with lances as if they were on a field of battle, were made to perform feats of arms; then a man walked on a tight-rope; and lastly they hunted a bull. It was extremely hot that day, and then it poured with rain, which soaked everyone who was out of doors. A great number of raised seats had been made, and the whole of Florence was there, and many foreigner besides; and people having got wet when they were so heated is supposed to have caused the influenza.’

7 August 1510
‘There were two earthquakes at 6 in the morning, and at 7 came a third; and the next night there were two more at the same hour of the night. We heard that in the country round Bologna there had been such a severe storm of wind that it destroyed many houses. Think of the consequences to the fruit! At this time the foundations and pavement of the Ponte a Rubiconte were renewed.’

24 September 1510
‘The Pope reached Bologna.’

26 September 1510
‘Two cardinals came to Florence - no, three cardinals - who were going to Bologna to the Pope. They lodged at Santa Croce.’

30 September 1510
‘Two more cardinals came, on their way to Bologna. They lodged at the Servi.’

17 October 1510
‘They left here, and went in the direction of Pisa and Lucca, to cross into France and not to go to the Pope, being French and somewhat in fear of the Pope, besides not wishing to insult the king.

During these days it was said that the King of France was coming to Bologna with two armies, to besiege the Pope, so that the Pope was supposed to have misgivings. It was also said that he thought of living in Florence.

And then the King of France came, and advanced as far as Bologna, escorted by the sons of Messer Giovanni, who believed that the people would rise at their instigation; but there was not a movement, so that if the Pope had wished, he might have defeated the king when he first began to retire, before he withdrew to a considerable distance. Thus the Holy Father had no longer any misgivings, and expected to have Ferrara without delay.’

2 November 1510
‘The following accident occurred at the Ponte Rubiconte: They were rebuilding the wall between the Porticciuola and the bridge, and as there was plenty of water, about 12 braccia, the gravel and lime were brought by river in certain little boats. On these boats they had made a platform, and whilst some 25 men were carrying the gravel on to the little platform by the side of the wall, and were approaching it, the said boats filled with water, from the great weight, and drew down the platform and the men, so that three or four men were drowned. They afterwards used a large vessel with a platform. I saw some of the men drawn out of the water.’

4 December 1510
‘The apothecary’s shop at Canto de’ Tornaquinci, kept by the sons of Gampiero, apothecary at San Felice, was burnt down; the site belonged to Cardinal Rucellai. It was completely destroyed, nothing being left except a few copper utensils, which were found under the ashes quite spoilt; the walls were razed to the ground.’

22 December 1510
‘A plot was discovered against the Gonfaloniere, a certain man called Prinzivalle having intended to murder him. He was the son of Luigi della Stuffa, of Bologna, and it was said that he had proposed three ways of killing Soderini; first, to murder him in the Council-chamber; secondly, in his own room; and, thirdly, when he went out. A woman discovered this, and it was imparted to Filippo Strozzi, who as soon as he heard of it, went immediately to warn the Signoria; and they sent for Luigi della Stufa, the man’s father, and detained him in the Palagio.’

Friday, August 6, 2010

Dr Fuller’s infusion

Three centuries ago today, a country lawyer called Timothy Burrell, began taking a new system of ‘bitter infusion and stomachie wine’. A month later, he switched to Dr Cox’s infusion, and a month later, he was back on Dr Fuller’s potions. Such details, spare but fascinating, are to be found in a journal and account book which Burrell kept for over 20 years, and which is in print thanks to The Sussex Archaeological Society, and freely available online thanks to Googlebooks.

Timothy, born in 1643, in Cuckfield, Sussex, was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, before being called to the bar. He practised law in London, but then returned to Cuckfield, where he lived at Ockenden House. He married three times, and the third wife died giving birth to his only child, a daughter in 1696. He, himself died in 1717.

For over 20 years, from 1693 to 1714, Burrell kept a journal and account book, and this surfaced in the mid-19th century, when it was edited and annotated by Robert Willis Blencowe for Sussex archaeological collections relating to the history and antiquities of the county, Volume 3, published by The Sussex Archaeological Society in 1850. The journal - which contains entries in Latin and Greek as well as small sketches - relates entirely to domestic matters, and mostly to the cost of things. The full text is freely available at Internet Archive thanks to Googlebooks.

Here is one entry concerning the costs of a funeral from 1708, and most of the entries for the year 1710, including the one from exactly three centuries ago today. (The quoted translations from Latin are provided as footnotes in the Sussex archaeological collections.)

9 January 1708
‘These are the funeral charges on the internment of my dear sister Jane Burrell, who died on the 16th January, 1708. To G Wood, for crape and worsted for the shroud, £1 6s, and for making it, 8s; for making and nayling the coffin, £2 2s; for bays to line it, 11s, and cloth to cover it, £1 6s; for black crape, hatbands, gloves, 6s; favour knots, wine, and use of pall, £15 1s.

To Mr Middleton, for sermon, £2 3s. To the clerk and sexton, for the passing bell and grace, 2s 6d. To Mr Daw, for his bill for charges for commission and probate of the will, £2 9s. The total expenses were £35 9s 6d.’

26 March 1710
‘Two bushels of wheat which I sent to John Sturt the miller, weighed 124lbs sack and all; there were brought back 111lbs, so that 13lbs were wanting.

To John Lord, to buy stockings, 1s 6d; for 2 neck-cloths, 4s 6d; breeches and drink, 5s.

I pay’d the saddler for John Coachman falling drunk of his box, when he was driving to Glynde, in part of his wages, £1 7s 6d.’

22 May 1710
[Original in Latin: ‘Maria Christiana Goring came, a most welcome guest; she went away the 26th of June.’]

2 June 1710
‘For the things bought by my sister for my daughter at London I paid £37 13s. For a scarlet camlet cloake, £3 9s.’

25 June 1710
‘I paid to Nanny West for her wages, due at Lady day, £1 10s, besides 10s to Dr White, and 27s to Fishenden the apothecary.’

6 August 1710
[Original in Latin: ‘I began Doctor Fuller’s system of bitter infusion and stomachie wine.’]

8 September 1710
[Original in Latin: ‘I tried that of Dr Cox.’]

10 October 1710
[Original in Latin: ‘I began a new system of Dr Fuller’s, on Monday, after 12 o’clock in the forenoon.

To Anne Chaloner, an old maid and poor, the daughter of my nurse, I gave 2s 6d.’]

Diary briefs

Did Austria’s Haider take money from Gaddafi - Associated Press, Daily Mail

Virago Modern Classics acquires world rights to Anne Lister’s diaries - The Bookseller

Final moments of Nazi Himmler revealed in soldier’s war diary - Daily Mail, The Sun

Diary clue to famous bird artist’s first published illustration - Science Daily, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Museum acquires diaries from Modoc Indian War - The Oregonian