Wednesday, September 29, 2010

My dear little girl

Elizabeth Gaskell, a popular writer of socially realistic novels and ghostly short stories, was born 200 years today. For a while, before becoming a novelist, she tried keeping a diary. She wasn’t very good at it, managing only 11 entries in total, over five years. Nevertheless, the diary is an exceptional one, for it focuses exclusively on Gaskell’s observations, thoughts, uncertainties about, and love of, her baby daughter. In over two years of writing for The Diary Junction Blog, I do not recall any one of my 300 articles being about a diarist’s babies or his/her children’s development.

Elizabeth Stevenson was born on 29 September 1810, in Chelsea, the eighth and last of her parents’ children and only the second to survive infancy. Her mother died months after her birth, and baby Elizabeth moved to live with an aunt, Hannah Lumb, in Knutsford, Cheshire. She visited her father, who remarried, rarely, and was sent away to school for a few years, but Knutsford always remained her home.

After her father died in 1826, Elizabeth spent some time in Newcastle upon Tyne at the home of the Rev William Turner, a relation and a famous Unitarian minister who was a founder of the Literary and Philosophical Society. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography says he was humane, generous and eccentric, and ‘undoubtedly influenced her moral, humanitarian, and political outlook’.

In 1830, Elizabeth married William Gaskell, another Unitarian minister, and they set up home in Manchester, then a very depressed town. Her husband’s work drew her into direct contact with the poor, whom she helped in many way. Her first surviving daughter, Marianne, was born in 1834 and she had three more daughters (a son born in 1844 died before he was a year old).

Gaskell may have taken up writing as a relief from the sorry of her son dying, but in any case she completed her first novel in 1847 - Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life - which was published anonymously the following year, to great acclaim. Charles Dickens was impressed with the novel, for its social realism and tight plot, and subsequently published Gaskell’s work - including her next novel, Cranford, and her famed ghost stories - in his magazines, Household Words and All the Year Round.

In 1850, the Gaskells moved to Plymouth Grove, also in Manchester, where their house became the hub of a busy social circle. Visitors included John Ruskin, Mary Howitt, and Charlotte Brontë with whom Gaskell developed a particular friendship. When Brontë died in 1855, her husband urged Gaskell to write her biography, and this was published in 1857. In the 1850s, too, Gaskell started travelling, taking tours to European countries, usually without her husband but accompanied by one of her daughters.

Mrs Gaskell’s last and longest work - Wives and Daughters - was unfinished when she died in 1865 but published the following year. Further biographical information is available on The Gaskell Society website, or at Wikipedia. A detailed entry on Gaskell from the Dictionary of Literary Biography is available online at Tim Clement-Jones’s website.

Long before her first novel, Gaskell was dabbling in writing of various forms, and had had some poetry published. In March 1835, six months after her daughter Marianne was born, she took up writing a diary to record the baby’s growth and development. Even though the last entry is dated more than five years later, there are only 11 dated entries totalling no more than 20 published pages. The diary - a small notebook bound in marbled boards with spine and corner in calf - is held in the Brotherton Library of the University of Leeds. It was first published with the title My Diary in a limited edition of 50 by Clement Shorter in 1923.

Much more recently, in 1996, Keele University Press issued Private Voices - The Diaries of Elizabeth Gaskell and Sophia Holland, edited by J A V Chapple and Anita Wilson. Gaskell’s diary is of interest, Anita Wilson says in her 30 page introduction, ‘as a document of Victorian social history and as a foreshadowing of her development as a novelist.’

Here are some short extracts from most of the 11 dates on which Gaskell sat down to write about her daughter, including the first, which is undated.

‘To my dear little Marianne I shall ‘dedicate’ this book, which, if I should not live to give it her myself, will I trust be reserved for her as a token of her mother’s love, and extreme anxiety in the formation of her little daughter’s character. If that little daughter should in time become a mother herself, she may take an interest in the experience of another; and at any rate she will perhaps like to become acquainted with her character in [its] earliest form. I wish that (if ever she sees this) I could give her the slightest idea of the love and the hope that is bound up in her.’

10 March 1835
‘The day after tomorrow Marianne will be six months old. I wish I had begun my little journal sooner, for (though I should have laughed at the idea twelve months ago) there have been many little indications of disposition &c already; which I can not now remember clearly. I will try and describe her mentally. I should call her remarkably good tempered; though at times she gives way to little bursts of passion or perhaps impatience would be the right name. She is also very firm in her own little way occasionally; what I suppose is obstinacy really, [though] that is so hard a word to apply to one so dear. But in general she is so good that I feel as if could hardly be sufficiently thankful, that the materials put into my hands are so excellent, and beautiful. [. . .]

Then as to her ‘bodily’ qualifications, she has two teeth cut with very little trouble; but I believe the worst are to come. She is very strong in her limbs, though because she is so fat, we do not let her use her ancles at all, and I hope she will be rather late in walking that her little legs may be very firm. I shall find it difficult to damp the energies of the servants in this respect, but I intend that she shall teach herself to walk, & receive no assistance from hands &c She lies down on the floor a good deal, and kicks about; a practice I began very early, and which has done her a great deal of good.

4 August 1835
‘It seems a very long time since I have written anything about my little darling, and I feel as if I had been negligent about it, only it so difficult to know when to begin or when to stop when talking thinking or writing about her. [. . .]

How all of a woman’s life, at least so it seems to me now, ought to have a reference to the period when she will be fulfilling one of her greatest & highest duties, those of a mother. I feel myself so unknowing, so doubtful about many things in her intellectual & moral treatment already, and what shall I be when she grows older, & asks those puzzling questions that children do? I hope I shall always preserve my present good intentions & sense of my holy trust, and then I must pray, to be forgiven for my errors, & led into a better course.’

4 October 1835
‘I see it is exactly two months since I last wrote in this book, and I hope my little girl is improved both in ‘body & mind’ since then. She suffered a good deal from the changes of weather we have had, and I have found it necessary to leave off milk as an article of diet at present. She lives on broth thickened with arrowroot, & I think this food strengthens her, but she is still a delicate child, and backward in walking.’

5 November 1836
‘There have been times when I have felt, oh! so cast down by her wrongdoing, and as I think I am very easily impressible, I have fancied there must have been some great mismanagement to produce such little obstinate fits, and whole hours of wilfulness. I do not however think that this has been often the case, and when it has, my cooler judgement has been aware of some little circumstance connected with her physical state that has in some measure accounted for it. For instance, she, (like her mother) requires a great deal of sleep.’

9 December 1837
‘I feel quite ashamed to see that more than a year has passed since I last wrote. There have been some sad excuses to be sure. I had very bad health period till my dear little Meta was born, February 5th 1837, and I had hardly recovered my strength when (March 10th) I received a summons to Knutsford. My dearest Aunt Lumb, my more than mother had had a paralytic stroke . . .’

25 March 1838
‘There is a new era in the little life of my dear little girl. Tomorrow she goes to an Infant School. I think I am naturally undecided, or rather perhaps apt to repent my decision when it is too late, but now I am beginning to wonder if I have done right about this darling. There is much to be said on each side . . .’

8 April 1838
‘Just a fortnight ago since I last wrote, and since that time I have had a sad fright about Marianne, on last Friday but one she had an attack of croup about 8 o’clock in the evening. We heard a cough like a dog’s bark. (She had had a cold in her head, and had seemed pale, and languid all day.) We gave her 24 drops of Ipec: wine, and Sam & Mr Partington both came. They said we had done quite rightly, and ordered some calomel powders.’

14 October 1838
‘I wish very much to make Marianne industrious; I am afraid I do not set her a good example. I try to employ her in making candlelighters, pricking pictures, counting out articles &c, but she is soon tired of any one employment. This must be struggled against for I can tell from experience how increasing an error this is.’

28 October 1838
‘She is a most sympathetic little thing. She tries to comfort me if she sees me looking sad, or thinks that anything has happened to discompose me. Her great faults are unaccountable fits of obstinacy; which are I hope diminishing and a want of perseverance and [dependence] upon others as to her occupations and amusements.’

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The French Macdonald

Died all of one hundred and seventy years ago today, did the French Macdonald, or to give him his full title, Étienne Jacques Joseph Macdonald, the first Duc de Tarente. A favourite of Napoleon, Macdonald spent most of his life soldiering around Europe. However, as he approached 60, he decided to visit the homeland of his forefathers - the Western Isles - and while there he kept a diary. This was found recently, and then published in English by The Islands Book Trust.

Although Macdonald was born in the Ardennes, France, in 1765, his father was a native of South Uist one of the Outer Hebrides, and from a Jacobite family loyal to Bonnie Prince Charlie, and dedicated to restoring the exiled Stuart family to the British throne.

In 1785, Macdonald joined the French army. After the outbreak of the French Revolution, he was appointed aide-de-camp to General Charles François Dumouriez, and distinguished himself at the Battle of Jemappes, but when Dumouriez deserted to the Austrians, Macdonald refused to do the same. He rose quickly through the French Revolutionary army ranks, serving in the army of the Rhine and in Italy, where he occupied Rome, and was made governor. Thereafter, in conjunction with another general, Jean Étienne Championnet, he took the Kingdom of Naples, which became known as the Parthenopaean Republic.

In 1800, Macdonald received command of the army in the Helvetic Republic, maintaining communications between the armies of Germany and of Italy, and won Napoleon’s praise for a winter crossing of his army into Italy. On returning to Paris, MacDonald married the widow of General Joubert, and was appointed French ambassador to Denmark, a position he did not hold for long. Caught up in ante-Napoleon intrigues, he was ostracised for some years, and not recalled to active duty until 1809 when Napoleon judged his military talents indispensable.

Soon after being recalled he helped defeat the Austrians at Wagram and was made a Marshal of France, and given the title Duc de Tarente in the Kingdom of Naples. Macdonald continued to serve in Austria, then in Catalonia, and spent some time defending Riga during the Russian campaign. In 1813, during the German campaign, he was ordered to invade Silesia, where he suffered a heavy defeat; another defeat followed at Leipzig which he barely escaped with his life.

When Napoleon abdicated, in April 1814, Macdonald, loyal to the last, was directed by Napoleon to give his adherence to the new regime, and subsequently served under Louis XVIII, though accepted no posting during Napoleon’s return and the so-called Hundred Days. He was appointed major general of the Royal Guard, and was named to the Legion of Honour. He died on 25 September 1840 - 170 years ago today. See Wikipedia for more information or the International Napoleonic Society website

In 1825, Macdonald travelled to Scotland, the home of his forefathers, and kept a diary on the journey. This was found in the French National Archives not so long ago, and translated from the original French by Jean-Didier Hache. The French Macdonald was published by The Islands Book Trust in 2007, and then reprinted earlier this year. The publisher says: ‘This fascinating document, ignored for generations and containing some very frank observations on people he met from Sir Walter Scott to his MacDonald forebears in the Hebrides, . . gives an intimate account of a vanished society and a unique insight into the fabric of nineteenth century Scotland.’

Ron Ferguson reviewing the original publication for The Press and Journal (and reproduced on Lesley Riddoch’s blog) includes some (undated) extracts. The first is about Walter Scott; and the second is about visiting the caves of Corrodale, where his father had been in hiding with Bonnie Prince Charlie.

‘At 7 o’clock, dinner at MacDonald Buchanan’s, where I meet Sir Walter Scott. He is 55 years old, but looks 60. His face is handsome and fresh, but cold. Head as that of Titus, sparse hair, white, same as the eyebrows; small and witty eyes, height 5 feet and 6 to 7 inches. He limps, from an accident sustained during his youth. We swap a few compliments. He speaks French well. I was told he does not admit to the authorship of any of the books published under his name, and I am advised to speak only vaguely about it.’

‘It is in this cave that I was told an anecdote which I often heard from my father in my youth. The Prince needed a knife, but it had been forgotten. He asked my father to find one. My father pointed out to him the risks of such an errand, but he insisted and made it an order. Thus, in this unfortunate situation, he still acted as if he were the King.’

Marc Horne, writing for The Sunday Times about the reprinted edition last April, also included some extracts.

‘The countryside between Berwick and Dunbar is all even drearier and monotonous than that which we saw at the last stage posts: meagre cultivations, barren slopes and isolated trees which the northern wind has crippled before they could develop.’

‘The apartments [at the palace at Hollyrood] look shabby and the furniture even more so. The view is grim. The guide does not know anything.’

‘Women and girls walk with their bare feet, holding their shoes in their hands even within towns. I have discussed this custom with various people who were equally critical of it.’

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Father of Mormon history

The diaries of the late Leonard J Arrington, known as the ‘Father of Mormon History’, are to be formally opened today when two of his children deliver an annual lecture on Mormon history in Logan, Cache County, Utah. The diary reveals in gritty detail, they say, not just his own ‘adventures’ as a historian for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but the history of many Cache Valley characters. It does not, though, by newspaper accounts dwell on his disappointment when the church decided to close down his era of open and academic research into its history.

The third of eleven children, Arrington was born in Twin Falls, Idaho, in 1917 to parents who were Latter-day Saints and farmers. He studied agricultural science and then agricultural economics at Idaho University, before moving to postgraduate work at the University of North Carolina. In 1942, he married Grace Fort; and during the Second World War, between 1943 and 1946, he served for the US army in North Africa and Italy. He completed a doctorate in economics from the University of North Carolina in 1952, which subsequently led to the publication of his Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-day Saints, 1830-1900. For nearly 30 years, until 1972, he was professor at Utah State University in Logan, and then he was appointed Lemuel H Redd Jr Professor of Western American History at Brigham Young University until 1987, when he retired.

In addition to his university academic career, Arrington was keen on historical associations. He helped establish the Mormon History Association in 1965, serving as its first president. In 1972, he was appointed official Church Historian of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. During his time in this position he opened up the archives, and sponsored the writing of histories in an academic style. Some considered this an idealistic approach, and in 1982 his open era was brought to an end when the church transferred the history division he had created to Brigham Young University. Arrington also launched the Western Historical Quarterly; and he served for short terms as presidents of the Western History Association, the Agricultural History Society, and the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association. He was made a Fellow of the Society of American Historians in 1986.

After Grace died, he remarried to Harriet Horne in 1983. He published a number of books in his life - including The Mormon Experience: a history of the Latter-Day Saints; Brigham Young: American Moses; Adventures of a Church Historian; and History of Idaho - as well as several collections of lectures. He died in early 1999, and in 2002 was posthumously awarded the first annual Lifetime Achievement Award by the John Whitmer Historical Association. Further biographical information is available from Utah State University’s website or Wikipedia.

Today, at the Logan Tabernacle, two of Arrington’s children are delivering the annual Arrington Mormon History Lecture. This will mark the formal opening of an archive at Utah State University - closed for 10 years after his death - with Arrington’s voluminous diaries. Publicity for the lecture says: ‘The diary reveals in gritty detail not just his adventures as a church historian, but the history of many Cache Valley characters. It also provides a treasure-trove of information on his personal trials, triumphs, and disappointments, along with his joys as a friend, father, and scholar. This presentation provides a sampler of stories, hidden deeds, private opinions about public controversies, and insights into a man who was hailed variously as a genius, a dangerous menace, a valiant friend, and a wise father.’

According to The Salt Lake Tribune, Arrington was ‘Mormonism’s most influential historian of the late 20th century’, and his diary ‘reveals a life imbued with the sense that he was chosen by heaven to help the LDS Church and its people truthfully tell the Mormon story’. However, the diary ‘is not a juicy trove of gossip’ the paper adds, nor does it dwell on the writer’s disappointment with his treatment by the church. Rather, historian Ronald W Walker says, the diary is ‘an annal of the intellectual life. . . [and] an extremely important historical document in terms of life, letters and thought in the 20th century.’

Here is one extract from Arrington’s diary, thanks to the The Salt Lake Tribune article: ‘Our great experiment in church-sponsored history has proven to be, if not a failure, at least not an unqualified success. . . One aspect that will be personally galling to me will be the gibes of my non-Mormon and anti-Mormon friends: ‘I told you so!’ ’

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Matinée Poétique writer

The diaries of the late writer Takehiko Fukunaga have just been released to the media for the first time, according to Japanese newspapers. The diaries, which date from the 1940s, are said to give an insight into his delicate way of depicting human pain and suffering.

Not translated into English, and not well known in Europe, there is very little information about Fukunaga on English-language websites. A listing in Japan Encyclopedia, partly available on Googlebooks, says ‘she’ - even though he was a man! - was born in Fukuoka in 1918. He translated some of Jean-Paul Sartre’s works, and wrote a critique of Paul Gauguin for which he won an award.

A little more information is available from a website called DeadMansBrain which says Fukunaga was fond of French poets such as Mallarmé, Rimbaud, and Lautréamont, but was especially influenced by Baudelaire. With Shin’ichiro Nakamura, Shuichi Kato and others, he formed a literary coterie called Matinée Poétique. And while striving to introduce European literary trends, he wrote experimental novels such as Fudo (Climate) and Meifu (The Nether World). He also wrote detective novels under the pen name Reitaro Kada. In 1972 he won the Japan Literature Grand Prize, for Shi no shima (Death Island). He died in 1979.

The Mainichi Daily News has now reported that three of Fukunaga diaries - written between 1945 and 1947 - have been released to the media for the first time. It claims that they shed light on the roots of his style of writing, one that ‘delicately depicts the pain and the suffering of humans’. The diaries were found by a researcher 10 years ago, but their release was opposed by Yamashita Sumi, Fukunaga’s ex-wife (also known as the poet Akiko Harajo). It is several years, however, since Sumi’s death, and their son, Natsuki Ikezawa, also a poet, has decided to make the documents public; and extracts are being published in Shincho literary magazine.

In his journals, The Mainichi Daily News says, Fukunaga writes about his love for his wife and newborn son, expresses enthusiasm for launching a new literary journal in collaboration with Kato, and describes the chaos of postwar Japan. In other parts of the diaries, though, he writes about the difficulties with his wife and his suffering from tuberculosis. According to literary critic Akimasa Kanno, it is these difficulties that must have allowed him to dig deep into the concepts of love, loneliness and death - the central theme of his literature. ‘The diaries are very important materials,’ he added.

The Mainichi Daily News quotes only a couple of very short extracts: ‘It’s already been 50 days since Natsuki was born. His innocent smiles hold me back’; and ‘I fear my disease. I’m worried about Sumiko, and think about the past and the future.’

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Porfirio Díaz rebels

Today is the 180th anniversary of the birth of Porfirio Díaz, a giant, if somewhat controversial, figure in Mexico’s history. He ruled the country for the best part of 30 years, but most of it as a tyrant, and was only brought down by the Mexican Revolution (which started 100 years ago). Although there are no published diaries (at least in English) written by Díaz, one biography, freely available online, quotes extensively from such diaries. It also worth noting another anniversary - tomorrow - the bicentenary of the start of the Mexican War of Independence.

Descended from both Mixtec Indians and Spaniards, José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz Mori was born on 15 September 1830 in Oaxaca to parents who kept a small inn. However, his father died three years later, and the young Díaz learned carpentry and shoemaking outside of school to help with the family income. At 13, his mother sent him to study for the priesthood, but at 16 he joined a local militia.

He fought with the Mexican army against the US in the mid-1840s, and then, with the encouragement of the Liberal Benito Juárez (who went on to become President in 1858), he studied law for a while. In 1854, he became something of a rebel helping an imprisoned friend, and voting against the President (see below). He went into hiding, but benefited from much support in the Oaxaca region. By 1856, he had been promoted to captain in the state national guard. Subsequently, he had a distinguished military career, fighting in the War of Reform and then against the French in the 1860s.

After returning to Oaxaca, he again became dissatisfied with the governing regime and led protests and then an unsuccessful revolt in 1876. He fled to the US but returned six months later to roundly defeat the government at the Battle of Tecoac. In May 1877, he was elected President. Díaz’s first term in office was noted for his efforts at building a power base and his suppressing of revolts. Having supported a no re-election policy earlier, though, Díaz decided not to stand for a second term himself, but instead hand-picked his successor. It was a period of administrative confusion, and Mexicans re-elected Díaz to the Presidency again in 1884. Thereafter, he didn’t relinquish power for a quarter of a century. Encyclopaedia Britannica says during this time he ‘produced an orderly and systematic government with a military spirit. He successfully consolidated the nation by what many referred to as a centralised tyranny.’

During the years Díaz ruled Mexico, known as the Porfiriato, foreign investment was strongly encouraged, and led to much new infrastructure and enterprise. However, the wealth created in these decades was not fairly distributed with most of it going abroad or into the hands of very few rich Mexicans. By 16 September 1910, the date usually given for the start of the Mexican Revolution, the economy had declined, and national revenues were sinking. Moreover, rural poverty, strikes and discontent were endemic. Díaz finally resigned in May 1911, and went into exile in France, where he died in 1915. He married twice, and had three children. For more biographical information see Latin America Studies or Wikipedia.

Although there’s no trace of any published diaries in English, there is one biography of Díaz, by Ethel Tweedie (often referred to as Mrs Alec Tweedie), published in 1906 which, apparently, makes extensive use of Díaz’s diaries. Ethel Tweedie was rather an extraordinary woman who travelled widely and found a ready market for her jolly travel books such as Girl’s Ride in Iceland (1889), A Winter Jaunt to Norway (1894) and Through Finland in Carts (1897). Journeying further away, she went to China, Russia, the US and spent considerable time in Mexico, where she became friendly with Díaz’s wife who helped win her husband’s endorsement for a biography.

This was published in 1906 by John Lane Company in New York as The Maker of Modern Mexico, Porfirio Díaz, and by Hurst and Blackett in London as Porfirio Díaz, Seven Times President of Mexico. Both (identical) versions are freely available at Internet Archive.

Tweedie says in her introduction that ‘General Díaz honoured me by handing over long extracts from his diaries’, and ‘no part of this diary has hitherto been published’. Somewhat obsequiously, she also says this: ‘That President Díaz was the greatest man of the nineteenth century is a strong assertion, but those who read these pages will, I hope, think so too.’

Unfortunately, in her biography, Tweedie never gives any dates for the many ‘diary’ extracts she quotes. Also, many of the extracts read as though they were written in retrospect. Nevertheless, here are some of those ‘diary’ extracts.

In 1854, Don Marcos Pérez, a former teacher of Díaz, was arrested and imprisoned in a turret of the Convent of Santo Domingo in Oaxaca. Díaz explains how, aided by his brother Félix, he managed to enter his friend’s cell:

‘The window was closed, and in the upper part of the solid shutters were two small openings, each with an iron cross in the centre. In the door of the turret was a small wicket, rather lower than the full height of a man, through which the sentinel, stooping down, could from time to time watch his captive. There was a second outer door, and in the passage between the two were the sentinel and a corporal. This second door was, like the first, closed and locked. The guard consisted of fifty men, under a captain and a superior officer. All were perfectly sure that the prisoner could not effect an escape, for his cell had only the one door and the windows. When I had been lowered by a rope to the window and the sentinel showed himself at the little wicket, I had to stoop down, sliding below the sill as far as possible so as not to be seen. Thus I hung, suspended by the rope which my brother Félix held from the top of the roof. In spite of many difficulties and dangers, we succeeded on three separate nights in speaking with Don Marcos Pérez.’

Having been able to communicate with Pérez, Tweedie says, Díaz was then able to help obtain his freedom.

In that same year, in 1854, Antonio López de Santa Anna (General Santa Anna) was in the last of his eleven terms of office. He had become an army cadet in 1810, just a few months before the War of Independence - generally considered to have started on 16 September. He first became President in 1833. Here is Díaz explaining how he came to oppose the President that year.

‘The dictatorial, retrograde politics of General Santa Anna, and his persecution of the Liberals, occasioned a reaction in the country . . . The Revolution was headed by General Don Juan Alvarez, a full-blooded Indian, who was one of the few leaders of the War of Independence still surviving. Soon after its inception Santa Anna, imitating the example of Louis Napoleon - whom he flattered himself he resembled in more ways than one - sought to obtain a demonstration in his favour, and ordered a popular vote to be taken which should decide who should exercise the supreme Dictatorship.

I was filling the post of Professor of Law, when the Director of the Institute . . . called all the professors together on the 1st of December, 1854, to vote in a body for Santa Anna. I refused, thinking that during the voting there would be some scandalous incident which would justify recourse to arms, and hoping that I might perhaps find an opportunity to be of use. This, however, was impossible, since the Government had posted, a strong guard of troops in the plaza, and had even brought up cannon. I went to the porch of the Palace where the votes were being taken.

General Don Ignacio Martinez Pinillos, who was Governor and Military Commander of the State of Oaxaca - or Department, as it was then called - was presiding at the poll within the Palace.

The head of the division in which I lived, Don Serapio Maldonado, presented himself, saying that he voted on behalf of various individuals who were residents in his division for the continuance in power as Supreme Dictator of General Santa Anna. Then it was I appealed to the President myself to discount my vote from the number, because I did not wish to exercise the right of voting.

At that moment the academical body of the Institute arrived, and all the professors voted in favour of Santa Anna, and gave their respective signatures to the roll.

When this was done the Licentiate Don Francisco S. de Enciso, who was Professor of Civil Law, asked me if I was fully determined not to vote. I answered in the same terms in which I had excused myself to General Martfnez Pinillos, saying that voting was a right which I was free to exercise or not.

‘Yes,’ answered Enciso, ‘and one does not vote when one is afraid!’

‘This reproach burnt into me like fire, and made me seize the pen which was again proffered me. Pushing my way between the electors I passed up the room and recorded my vote, not for Santa Anna, but in favour of General Don Juan Alvarez, who figured as chief of the Revolutionary movement of Ayutla.’

This unexpected incident, Tweedie says, aroused general consternation and uproar. In the excitement of the moment young Diaz passed out of the voting hall unobserved, and disappeared in the crowd in the plaza of Oaxaca. Orders were immediately issued for his pursuit and arrest. In the meantime he had grasped a rifle, mounted his horse, and, accompanied by another resolute companion, got away, riding down those who would have barred his passage.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Cowboys and indians

Hamlin Garland, an American realist writer who went west to observe cowboys and indians for real so as to make his fiction more authentic, was born 150 years ago today. He is better remembered, however, for a series of memoirs which he wrote later in life. A large collection of his diaries are held by the Huntington Library but were judged, all of half a century ago, to shed little new light on the man or his work; nevertheless a few interesting extracts are available online.

Hamlin Garland was born on 14 September 1860 in West Salem, Wisconsin, and lived on various Midwestern farms before settling in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1884 to pursue a career in writing. A first success came with Main-Travelled Roads, a collection of short stories, published in 1891. He then moved to Chicago where he lectured on literary topics. Encyclopedia of World Biography explains that Garland ‘augmented local-color writing by the new naturalistic techniques that combined realism with a sense of the individual's overwhelming struggle against a hostile environment.’

Garland’s manifesto on American literature, Crumbling Idols, in which he argued for an art that was truthful, humanitarian, and rooted in a specific locale, was followed in 1895 by a novel, Rose of Dutcher’s Coolly, about a young woman who rebels against the drudgery of farm life and goes to Chicago to pursue her talent for literature. In the mid-1890s, he began visiting the American West, observing cowboys and the mountain scenery alike, as well as American Indians, taking copious notes for later use in his fiction. He also travelled to the Yukon to witness the Klondike Gold Rush, which inspired his 1899 novel, The Trail of the Gold Seekers.

That same year, Garland married Zulime Taft, the sister of the sculptor Laredo Taft, and they had two daughters. A series of novels about the West followed, the most successful of which was The Captain of the Gray-Horse Troop. In 1915, Garland moved to New York, where his writing turned more autobiographical. A Son of the Middle Border, which appeared serially before being brought out in book form in 1917, was much praised at the time; and its sequel, A Daughter of the Middle Border, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1922. Further volumes of family history and memoir followed. He spent his final years living in Hollywood, California, writing about his interest in psychic phenomena. He died in 1940. More biographical information is available at Wikipedia, or a website hosted by University of North Carolina Wilmington.

For more than four decades until his death, Garland kept diaries. These are held by the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, which published a volume of extracts, edited by Donald Pizer, in 1968. Before then, John F Higgins wrote about them for the Wisconsin Magazine of History Archives. His article - A Man from the Middle Border: Hamlin Garland’s Diaries - is available online and contains a few quotes from the diaries.

Overall, Higgins judges that there is ‘a literary falseness and lack of genuine candour’ in most of Garland’s entries. He says: ‘The descriptions of celebrities like Joseph Conrad and John Barrymore, or of promising younger men like Robert Frost, have the stiffness of old daguerreotypes. Even more unfortunate, the diaries contain only the most cursory references to Garland’s own literary work, usually just the bare record that he had worked on a manuscript for so many hours. Nor did Garland reveal much directly about his inner life.’

Here are a few extracts quoted by Higgins.

26 November 1900
‘This marks an epoch in my life, . . I am forty years of age and my mother has passed out of my physical life. For eleven years she has been a burden I have delighted to bear. I did much for her - I should have done more.’

Glimpses of Garland’s father run through the diary, Higgins says. On a morning in October 1914 he was found by his sons dead, lying on the floor of a barn.
21-22 October 1914
‘This ends a good man’s life - a soldier and a pioneer. . . For fifty years his clarion voice has rung in my ears - and now it is silenced forever.’

3 March 1935
‘Every faithful married couple must go through what we are now going through - seeing our partners growing old and gray and inert from day to day while we look hopelessly on.’

19 June 1927
‘We took a ride in our new Dodge Sedan and felt elated - almost rich and we rolled along on our balloon tires. As we came and went we looked like the illustrations in magazines.’

Garland dined with Herbert Hoover at the White House, Higgins says, shortly after the stock market crash.
16 November 1929
‘[Hoover] looked ill, weary and worried. . . I contrasted him with Roosevelt who never allowed work or worry to interfere with his resilient joy in a dinner.’

According to Higgins, the later diaries report a melancholy series of strokes, heart attacks and funerals; nevertheless, Garland’s response to old age is ‘the most personal and moving part of the diaries.’

21 Jan 1938
‘Is anything gained by long life? . . . Is it anything to brag about? Is it not a progressively bad habit?’

18 July 1939
‘[My body] is not only a poor fumbling, tremulous machine, it is a decaying mass of flesh and bone. It needs constant care to prevent its being a nuisance to others. It stinks, it sheds its hair. It itches, aches and burns. It constantly sloughs its skin. It sweats, wrinkles and cracks. It was a poor contrivance at the beginning - it is now a burden.’

28 February 1940
‘No man’s biography is complete without a record of his moments of doubt and despair.’

Garland suffered a cerebral hemorrhage the following day, and died a few days after that.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Diary Briefs

Kim Bong-ho - a Korean diarist for 60 years - JoongAng Daily

New collection of Mullin diaries - The Guardian, Daily Mail, Profile Books

Meek’s Cutoff - film partly based on diaries of women on the Oregon Trail - Reuters

Lindsay Lohan’s father denies selling her diaries! - The National Ledger, CBS

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The might of genius

William Holman Hunt, one of the most prominent members of the 19th century Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood of painters, died a century ago today. His artistic development was much influenced by religion and travelling in the Holy Land. On his first trip there, he kept a journal which, although not published, is sometimes discussed in biographical texts. However, the diary of another painter, Ford Madox Brown, closely associated with the Brotherhood, has been published, and it refers to Hunt, as well as his talent, in glowing terms.

Hunt was born in 1827, in the City of London, his father being warehouseman for a cotton spinning and threadmaking company. As a teenager, he had various clerical jobs around the City, but he was also painting when he could. In 1844, he was given a permit to paint in the National Gallery, which is where he met John Everett Millais, who encouraged him to apply for the Royal Academy Schools, and who became a life-long friend. While at the Royal Academy, Hunt was strongly influenced by the writing of John Ruskin, the art critic.

In 1848, Hunt became friends with Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and at the end of August moved out of a studio he shared with his teacher, Ford Madox Brown, to share one with Hunt. By the end of the same year, Rossetti and Hunt with Millais had formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Initially, Hunt’s works did not find favour with the public, but his popularity increased when, in 1854, Ruskin championed a work called The Light of the World. Also in 1854, Hunt left for a long journey to Syria and Palestine in search of accurate topographical and ethnographical material for further religious works. There he painted The Scapegoat, a solitary animal on the shores of the Dead Sea.

In 1865 Hunt married Fanny Waugh, and the following year they left England to go East, but a cholera outbreak led them to settle for a while in Florence, where Fanny gave birth to a son, Cyril Benoni, before dying of a fever. Thereafter, Hunt returned to London, but often travelled to Florence, and took several other extended trips to Jerusasalem, latterly with his second wife, Edith (Fanny’s sister). The Triumph of the Innocents, May Morning on Magdalen Tower, and The Miracle of the Sacred Tower are among the more important of his later works. His eyesight began to fail in the late 1890s, after which he worked more enthusiastically on an autobiography, which was published in 1905. He died on 7 September 1910.

Although Hunt was not a committed diarist, he did write two journals during his journey to the Middle East in the mid-1850s - one about 250 pages long covering much of the year 1855, and the other only about 16 pages while painting The Scapegoat. These are held by The John Rylands University Library in Manchester, and are occasionally quoted in biographical texts about Hunt. Deanna Victoria Mason discusses Hunt’s journals in her PHd thesis for Queen’s University, Ontario, (which is available online) - The Perennial Dramas of the East - Representations of the Middle East in the Writing and Art of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt.

And Liverpool Museum’s website says this about The Scapegoat (held by the Lady Lever Art Gallery): ‘In the Book of Leviticus (which is quoted on the frame) the goat is said to bear the iniquities into a land that was not inhabited. Hunt chose to set his goat in a landscape of quite hideous desolation - it is the shore of the Dead Sea at Osdoom with the mountains of Edom in the distance. In his diary Hunt described this setting as ‘a scene of beautifully arranged horrible wilderness’ and he saw the Dead Sea as a ‘horrible figure of sin’, believing as did many at this time that it was the original site of the city of Sodom.’

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (subscription or library card required) quotes a short extract from Hunt’s diary dated November 1854: ‘I regard my occupation as somewhat akin to that of the priests.’ The Persian Carpet guide has this: ‘On his first visit to Jerusalem, 1854-6, Hunt had rented a house inside the city gates. In his diary writing of 7th April 1855 he wrote about his visit to the Dome of the Rock, and professed himself ‘fairly overwhelmed with the solemn beauty’ of the interior. ‘All is sombre, so that at first one can scarcely make out the design - a circle of graceful pillars supporting the dome and an octagonal space without. The inner circle is shut in with a screen and is entered by ascending two or three steps: here one is shown the extensive surface of the natural rock where Abraham offered Isaac on which the Temple was erected.’

One important source of information about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood is The Diary of Ford Madox Brown, edited by Virginia Surtees and first published in 1981 by Yale University Press. Brown is best known for historical/biblical paintings and frescoes, including a series of 12 murals for Manchester Town Hall - see The Diary Junction for a little more information. Here are a few extracts from his diary about Hunt.

31 August 1848
‘Set to work about 12 till 2 & from 3 till 4 at the architecture. Rosetti called with Hunt, a clever young man.’

16 January 1855
‘Yesterday [Thomas] Seddon came back after 20 months of absence, looking thinner & genteeler than ever & in high spirits. I went with him to Kentishtown leaving my work just begun. His pictures are cruelly P.R.B.’d. I was very sorry to see he had made less than no progress. . . Hunt, he tells me, gave him no advice at all, he has been prepossessed against him I fear, it is a great pity. There is no better hearted fellow living nor a truer gentleman.’

15 March 1856
‘Up late, to work about 1 till half past 3 then to see [Alfred] Stevens & Hunt & [Henry] Holliday. Stevens picture a progress evidently. Hunts are without doubt the finest he has done yet. The Christ & Mary in the temple is one of the grandest works of modern times & the lantern maker also is a lovely little work, but ill drawn. Hunt as at last decided against private exhibiting again so that is all knocked at head after so much jaw on his part about it.’

19 May 1856
‘. . . to the R.A. Went over it all, catalogue in hand from No. 1 to the End. Very little good, only 3 historical works & they not good. . . Hunt & Millais unrivalled, except by [James Clarke] Hook how for colour, indescribable charm, is pre-eminent even to hugging him in ones arms. A perfect poem is each of his little pictures. Millais’ look ten times better than in his room owing to contrast with the surrounding badness. Hunts Scape goat requires to be seen to be believed in & only then can it be understood how by the might of genius out of an old goat & some saline incrustations can be made one of the most tragic & impressive works in the annals of art.’

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

For a few cattle

One hundred and ten years ago today, a young Tasmanian soldier, John Hutton Bisdee, serving in the Boer War, risked his life to carry an officer out of danger, and thus became the first Tasmanian to be awarded a Victoria Cross. His diaries, along with other Bisdee family papers, are held at the Archives Office of Tasmania, and contain a vivid account of the day he became a hero.

John Hutton Bisdee was born in 1869 at Hutton Park, Melton Mowbray, Tasmania. He was schooled in Hobart, and then worked on his father’s property until 1900, when he enlisted in the 1st Tasmanian Imperial Bushmen’s Contingent to serve in the South African War.

Soon after arriving in the Transvaal, Bisdee was one of an advanced scouting party ambushed. Six out of the party of eight were hit, and the horse of one of the wounded officers broke away and bolted. Still under fire, and in an exposed position, Bisdee dismounted, lifted the wounded officer onto his own horse so as to carry him out of danger. This action led to him being the first Tasmanian awarded the Victoria Cross.

Subsequently, Bisdee had a lung infection and was invalided home; but after recovering he returned to the war in March 1901, this time with a commission as a lieutenant in the 2nd Tasmanian Imperial Bushmen’s Contingent and served until the end of the war. He later served as a Lieutenant Colonel in the First World War, during which he was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, and was Mentioned in Despatches. He died in early 1930. There is a little more information available at Wikipedia, and Archives of Tasmania.

A significant collection of papers once belonging to the Bisdee family - John Hutton Bisdee’s grandfather first sailed to the Antipodes in 1820 - are now held by the Archives Office of Tasmania. These include a journal written by the grandfather during his voyage, and three diaries written by Bisdee between 1898 and 1901, mostly during the Boer War. The National Boer War Memorial Association (Australia) has chosen one entry in particular for its website, because it describes the action which led to Bisdee being awarded the Victoria Cross (although, clearly, at least one part of the text has been added subsequently!).

1 September 1900
‘Twenty of us sent on patrol in the afternoon under Captain Brooke and Lieutenant Wylly to secure some cattle. Had a terrible experience, which I shall never forget. We were led through a narrow neck into a veritable death trap. I cannot understand how the officers did not realise the danger. This neck led into a sort of basin with steep rocky hills rising in front. They opened fire on our five advance guardsmen at short range, and upon all of us, and how we got away at all is most wonderful. As it was we had four wounded. Wylly slightly, and Sergeant G. Shaw and Willoughby and Corporal E.S. Brown rather worse, and G.H. Brown very seriously, and the guide also seriously wounded. The two latter fell into the hands of the Boers, and we fear that they are in a critical state. The others are being attended to by the ambulance. The bullets came round us as thick as hail, and exploded with loud report as they struck. Captain Brook was unhorsed. I gave him mine, running alongside myself, as he received a slight wound in the leg.

Corporal E.S. Brown's horse was shot, and Wylly gave him his horse, as he was wounded in the lower leg, the Boer pellet lodging in a coin he had in a small leather purse in his puttees. The family still has the purse and coin - with a deep concavity in it.

Groom then picked up Wylly on his horse, and we rode for our lives. Two men Clarke and Blackaby lost their horses (Clarke gave his to Willoughby), but managed to evade the Boers, and arrived in camp late. Walters horse was shot and, he stopping with G.H. Brown was captured by the Boers, who let him go to report upon E.S. Brown's case, and send an ambulance in. Altogether it has been a terrible experience, and seems so utterly foolhardy to go into such a place without scouts well out in front and good supports behind. All for the sake of a few cattle.’