Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Gideon Mantell - geologist

Extensive new extracts from the diaries of Gideon Mantell, a 19th century surgeon who was obsessed with geology, have been made freely available online for the first time. Mantell is credited with instigating the scientific study and understanding of dinosaurs. Having lived in nearby Lewes all his life, he moved to Brighton hoping to attract rich patients among those drawn to the Royal Pavilion and its society, but he found the aristocracy more interested in his fossil collection.

Mantell was born in Lewes, Sussex, in 1790, the son of a shoemaker. Partly educated by an uncle, at age 15 he was apprenticed to a surgeon, James Moore, and then trained for a few months at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London. He joined Moore’s practice as a partner, and eventually took it over. In 1816, he married Mary Ann Woodhouse, and they had four children who survived into adulthood.

Mantell spent much time exploring the Weald of Sussex, studying its geology and looking for fossils. In 1822, he published The Fossils of the South Downs, which proved to be the first of a dozen or so books he was to write on geology and palaeontology. In the mid-1820s, he announced the discovery of Iguanodon, an extinct gigantic herbivorous reptile, a genus of, what later would be commonly called, dinosaurs. The fossils were exhibited in his own home. A few years later he discovered a second kind of dinosaur, and confirmed they were land, not amphibian, reptiles.

In 1833, Mantell moved to Brighton and took up a fashionable residence near the Royal Pavilion. Soon, he was besieged with visitors, not wanting his medical skills, but anxoius to view his fossil collection. Before long the house was turned into a public museum; and then in 1838 the collection was bought by the British Museum. That same year Mantell bought a practice in Clapham Common, which soon became a success and allowed him frequent trips to London to attend institutional meetings. He moved again in 1844 to Pimlico, and remained there until his death in 1852. Wikipedia has further biographical information, as does Strangescience.net, and Dinohunters.com.

Mantell was a keen diarist, but when he died the diary manuscripts went to his son in New Zealand, where they were given to the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington. A copy was acquired by the archaeologist Dr Eliot Curwen; and his son E Cecil Curwen then edited it for publication by Oxford University Press in 1940 as The Journal of Gideon Mantell, Surgeon and Geologist.

Now, 70 years later, for the first time, Brighton Royal Pavilion and Museums has made available on its website the parts of Mantell’s journal which were not published in the Curwen edition. These were edited by John Cooper, and permission for their publication was granted by David Colquhoun of the Alexander Turnbull Library.

In his introduction to the new online texts, Cooper explains that, in 1991, when he was Keeper of Geology at the Booth Museum of Natural History in Brighton, he came across a second copy (a modern photocopy) of the typescript of Mantell’s journal, which was subsequently acquired by the Booth Museum. Though Curwen had, of course, cherry-picked the most important and interesting parts of the journal, Cooper found there was enough of interest to warrant transcribing the parts that Curwen had edited out.

At first Cooper was interested in publishing the material in book form, but, as he explains: ‘. . . no company I approached would consider publishing this document. Only one expressed an interest, but for him, it had to be the publication of Mantell’s entire journal, including that published by Curwen, effectively replacing Curwen as the main source. I might have considered this if Curwen’s book was difficult to find, but it is not. And akin to the primacy of Linnean names accorded by their first taxonomist, I did not want to usurp Curwen’s fine work, let alone tackle the huge job of typing all of its contents.’

‘But,’ he continues, ‘we are now in a new age. Publication of work on the internet is commonplace and this avenue of approach can, with a few keystrokes anywhere in the world, result in access to any document that can be made available. Placing this previously unpublished material at public disposal, provides, I trust a useful resource for colleagues and future researchers, and in this format, it remains searchable.’

Here are several extracts from Mantell’s journal - the first is taken from Curwen’s published book, but the rest are from Cooper’s online text, as found on the Brighton & Hove Museums website.

23 November 1824
‘A severe hurricane and occurring at the spring tide, the low tracts along the coast were inundated and considerable damage occasioned thereby. I drove to Brighton and arrived there between one and two, at the time the sea was raging with the greatest violence, the surf dashed over the pier and occasionally hid it from our view. So soon as the water was retired so as to allow of walking on the esplanade, we went to the Pier, which was much damaged by the waves; the railing in many places washed away, and the platform destroyed, so as to render access to the Pier-head difficult and dangerous: however we ventured to the farthest end although every now and then a sea dashed over us, and completely drenched us, but the awful grandeur of the scene more than compensated for the inconvenience of our situation.’

31 July 1827
‘Tuesday - Drove with my dear boy to Brighton Races; visited a menagerie: took tea with Mr Chassereau and returned home early. Dr Hopkins and his lady, from London, visited us yesterday.’

2 May 1833
‘Received a copy of my Geology of the S. East of England from the publishers and am much pleased with the style in which it is brought out. Received on Sunday a beautiful present of polished fossil woods from Dr Henry of Manchester. Yesterday sent a parcel to London - wrote to Earl of Egremont, on behalf of poor Archer the artist, whose painting of the King’s visit to Lewes, is still on his hands; to the great honor! of the loyal and liberal inhabitants of Lewes! What a precious set!’

18 February 1837
‘Lecture at the Old Ship, on the South Downs - pretty good company. On my own account, because the Council were unwilling to take the chance of loss!!! During the last fortnight received a splendid collection of Elephantine and remains from Capt. Cautley, Sub-Himalayah mountains, discoursed on them last Tuesday at the Conversazione - about 6 members of the Institution present.’

4 March 1839
‘August Received the sum of £4000 from the trustees of the British Museum for my collection. And so passes away the labor of 25 years!!! G. A. MANTELL. But I will begin de novo!’

6 August 1849
‘To the Zoological Gardens in Regent’s Park in the afternoon. The “Reptile House” recently erected, contains many highly interesting specimens. The Rattle Snakes are thriving: a healthy looking Cyclara - Beautiful Lacertae and Hylaeviridae. The bower birds of Australia have begun a bower - but a very shabby one.’

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Diary briefs

The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives - Morgan Library, WNYC Radio

Diary of man starving to death - The Telegraph, Daily Mail

The Lost Diary of an African American Journalist - University Press of Kansas

The diaries of 90 year old Maxine Fuller Weece - Outlook

The Great War diaries of one of Britain’s first black soldiers - The Scotsman

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Pole in America

Today marks 170 years since the death of Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz, a great Polish patriot and writer. Having been active in politics during years of turbulence while Poland was trying to establish itself as a state, he found himself imprisoned, but then exiled himself to the US for several years. Although a regular diarist, only the diaries of his travels in America have been published in English. These are said to be among ‘the earliest and most important documents in the complex, fascinating and still largely unexplored story of American-Polish cultural relations’.

Niemcewicz was born in 1757/58 into a noble family established for generations near Brest in the Lithuanian part of the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. He was educated at the School for Knights in Warsaw, founded by the King, and the only lay school in Poland, before being taken as an assistant by Prince Czartoryski (who later became one of the leading advocates for the Polish national cause). Niemcewicz travelled widely with the Prince; and in addition to writing poetry and travel books, he undertook translations into Polish from French. In 1788, he became deputy in the lower house of the Polish parliament, and was an active member of the Patriotic Party, known for his speaking ability, that pushed through a new constitution in 1791.

Thereafter, Niemcewicz took part in the insurrection of 1794, but was captured at Maciejowice and imprisoned in St Petersburg for two years. On his release, he went first to England and then to the US, where he married and settled. He moved in high circles during this time, and was even a guest of George Washington. In 1807, he returned to live in Poland. Thereafter, he held no public position, and focused on his literary endeavours - his first popular writing success had come in 1790 with the political comedy The Return of the Deputy. His later publications included translations from the English, Polish songs (his famous Historical Songs), and novels such as John of Tenczyn (1825).

In 1831, Niemcewicz travelled to London where, with Napoleon’s son, he tried, unsuccessfully, to win military support for a Polish insurrection against Russia. He spent the last years of his life in Paris, campaigning for Polish freedom. He died on 21 May 1841. Further information is available from Wikipedia and the Virtual Library of Polish Theatre.

Although it seems there are various published versions of Niemcewicz’s diaries, there is only one that has appeared in English, translated/edited by Metchie J E Budka, and published by The Grassman Publishing Company, New Jersey, in 1965: Under Their Vine and Fig Tree. Travels through America in 1797-1799, 1805, with some further account of life in New Jersey.

‘Niemcewicz’s American diaries are one of the earliest and most important documents in the complex, fascinating and still largely unexplored story of American-Polish cultural relations,’ Wiktor Weintraub begins in his Preface. ‘But [they] are interesting also in their own right, outside the framework of American-Polish relations. If there ever existed a perfect extrovert, Niemcewicz was one. He travelled widely, by eighteenth century standards, had tremendous gusto for life and a keen eye for life’s minutiae. Everything interested him: the prices of foodstuffs, the conditions of prisons, specific fauna and flora of particular regions, good, or not so good, looks of ladies - the reader of the diaries would hardly guess that in this respect he was far from being a disinterested observer only - good, or bad, manners of children, the political climate of the country, the state of the roads. Mostly on the move, always intellectually alert, curious about people, he had a great capacity for absorbing data. Thus, the diaries form an amusing, richly detailed, variegated, if not especially deep, chronicle of the American life by the end of the eighteenth century.’

‘Until recently,’ Weintraub continues, ‘only parts of the text of the diaries were known, and the manuscript was considered to be lost. The Polish edition of the whole preserved text, with its French parts in Polish translation, appeared as late as 1959. The work on the present edition was started independently, at an earlier date. . . [Dr Budka’s] translation, for being careful, manages to recapture the easy grace, the abandon of Niemcewicz’s Polish and French jotting, and, thus, enables the reader to enjoy the diaries as good reading stuff.’

Here is one extract in which Niemcewicz meets the American president.

8 November 1797
‘Brunswick
I found all the inhabitants of the town busy in preparing the reception and dinner for Mr John Adams, President of the United States. The cool heads, and the methodical manners of these solemn Americans lead them to go about their business of a dinner with the same rules that they use in discussing affairs of State. A committee was appointed to arrange the dinner and a President and a Vice-President to maintain good order at the table and to receive the chief magistrate. Many evenings were spent on arranging this important affair. Finally Mr Adams arrived, but two hours before the appointed time. Nothing was ready. Immediately, the militia, both mounted and on foot, ran about the streets; the authorities put their wigs on askew; the elegants arrived with their shoes half buckled. The cannon fired a half [hour] after Mr Adams was already well warmed at the fire-place. Little by little everyone settled down and took breath. At one o’clock I was presented to Mr Adams. He was sitting, reading a newspaper, facing the fireplace with Mr Malcolm, a young man 20 years old, his private secretary. I saw a dumpy little man dressed wholly in gray, well-powdered hair and a long pigtail. His face appeared to me that of a good and honest man, touched nevertheless with a grain of a malice. He received me civilly, asked me news of Gl Kosciuszko and then Mar. La Fayette. I passed then into a room opposite and I found there the true counterpart of Mr Adams. It was his wife. Small, short and squat, she is accused of a horrible crime. It is said she puts on rouge. What is certain is that if her manner is not the most affable, her mind is well balanced and cultivated. She was accompanied only by a niece and a maidservant.

At two o’clock Cl Neilson, elected President of the whole ceremony, accompanied Gl White and all the citizens entered into the President’s room. Mr Neilson in the name of all the inhabitants read an address conceived in a style filled with expressions of attachment for the Constitution and the leading public officials. Mr Adams read his response, he spoke to some, shook the hand of all, and then he departed. At three o’clock the same ceremony to invite him to go into the dining hall. He made his way there through the ranks of citizens and thirty of the militia in uniform who lined his path. They saluted him by lowering flags. The table was set for 60 people. Rost-beef, turkeys, Pays [pies?], etc, were served in profusion.

In the middle of the dinner Mr Goss, a man 6 feet tall, over 70 years old, tanner by trade and prattler by habit, got up from the other end of the table, came to the side where the President was, displaced Gl White, who was seated beside him, sat down there himself and occupied his attention with the most coarse and silly tales possible. The good President laughed, then considering his enormous height said to him, “You should have been born in the states of the King of Prussia. You would have been the ornament of his guards.” “Would I have been the second in his kingdom, I would not wish to have been born there,” the tanner said to him. “Nor I,” answered the President “would I have been the first.” ’

Friday, May 20, 2011

Browning’s friend Domett

Alfred Domett, a literary man who emigrated to New Zealand and became its prime minister for a short time, was born two centuries ago today. His diary, though not well known, is often quoted as a source of information about his friend, the much more famous poet Robert Browning, and other artists of the time.

Domett was born in Camberwell, Surrey, on 20 May 1811. He studied at St John’s College, Cambridge, but did not finish his degree. After travelling in North America and the West Indies, he returned to study law at Middle Temple before being called to the bar in 1841. He published several volumes of poetry during this period, and contributed to Blackwood’s Magazine. He was a friend of Robert Browning, who wrote a poem (Waring) about him.

In 1842, Domett emigrated to New Zealand where he had purchased some land, and took up farming. He was invited to enter politics after working for a while as editor of the Nelson Examiner. He rose rapidly, being appointed Colonial Secretary for New Munster in 1848, Secretary for the Colony in 1851, and became Prime Minister in 1862 (although he only served in this office for a little over a year). During the rest of the 1860s, he was Secretary for Lands and Registrar-general of lands. He also established the General Assembly Library.

Domett returned to England in 1871 with his wife, Mary George, a widowed schoolteacher whom he had married in 1856. Once back in London he re-established his friendship with Browning, and pursued his literary interests, including publishing more poems, one of which was Ranolf and Amohia. He died in 1887. There is not much biographical information about him available on the internet, though Wikipedia has a short entry, and the ONDB a longer one (subscription or library card log in required).

Domett certainly kept a diary for some periods of his life, and the extant volumes are kept by the British Library. None of this material, though, was published until 1953 when Oxford University Press brought out The Diary of Alfred Domett, 1872-1885, edited by E A Horsman. Another volume appeared two years later, published by University of Western Ontario: The Canadian Journal of Alfred Domett: being an extract from a journal of a tour in Canada, the United States and Jamaica, 1833-1835. This was also edited by Horsman, as well as by Lillian Rea Benson who appears to have been largely responsible for unearthing the travel diary.

Here are a few extracts from The Diary of Alfred Domett, 1872-1885, all to be found on The Victorian Web, except the one for 30 March 1876 which can be found at the Armstrong Browning Library website.

1 April 1873
‘[Thomas] Thornycroft [sculptor of the group representing Agriculture, flanking the Albert Monument, among others] shewed us his studio. His large group of Boadicea with her daughters beside her driving her chariot into battle, with the expression of one of the faces, looking forth into the ‘hurly-burly’ with a kind of daring awe, seemed very fine. Pity they don’t find a place for the group on the top of one of our tame abortive-looking park porticoes or arches not very ‘triumphal’. We saw too the plaister model of his group for a new drinking-fountain in Park Lane; the poet-figures, Shakespeare, Milton & Chaucer by Thornycroft Senr., the gilded Fame surmounting it, by his son.’

10 May 1873
‘Called on the Thornycrofts, Wilton Place. Found Mr T at work on a model of the horse for an equestrian statue of Lord Mayo he had been commissioned to make for Calcutta. He was modelling his horse without sketch or other original as a guide. Said he had made so many he did not require any. When he wanted to study a horse, he used to go & walk in the Park, Rotten Row, where his living models were in plenty.

He never exhibits at the Royal Academy, nor sends his works there as he does not belong to it. Does not care to belong to the Academy now though when he was young it would have been of use to him.

Talking with Mrs Thornycroft and praising her beautiful and simple statues of the Queen’s children she said the Queen had had copies of them made to send to several of the Royal Families of Europe. . .’

29 October 1873
‘[John Henry Foley - designer of the Albert Memorial] was very kind and affable and shewed us through his studio. The model of the Statue of Prince Albert for The Hyde Park monument was there. He says when the Queen came to see it, she liked the expression of the face so much that she desired it might not even be touched by him any further, and so, though he had not considered it quite finished he had complied with her request and left it as it was. The statue, to be in bronze gilt, had been so long in execution, because in the hurry to get it done, the molten metal had been poured into the mould before the latter was thoroughly dry, so that the generated steam had exploded and destroyed it. Thus to save a week, they had lost 6 months at least for the extra work required to make a second mould.’

30 March 1876
‘[Alf - Domett’s son] and I going to R Curling’s house to dinner in Princess square, as we were crossing Hereford St, heard someone calling loudy ‘Domett!’ Turned, and Browning came rushing up. Alf’s being a Royal Academy student, made us ask how ‘Pen’ [Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barret Browning only child] was getting on.

‘He has had a wonderful success!’ said Browning. He brought over with him at Xmas a ‘study’ of a priest reading a book. Millais had seen the picture and pronounced ‘the drawing perfect.’

Lehmann [Frederick Lehmann, a wealthy industrialist] expressed a desire to purchase it and offered Pen 150 guineas for it. Pen said ‘It was absurd - it could not be worth so much!’ that he did not wish to sell it, knowing its defects. The other persisted in his offer. ‘Let me wait another year and then I will paint you a picture if you like and if I can,’ said Pen. ‘Then your price will probably be beyond me’ replied Lehmann, ‘I must have this one.’ Browning said Pen was ‘quite wise’ about it and still declined to take so much money, until at last he (Browning) said ‘Pen, don't be a fool - take it as it is offered.’ Then he consented but stipulated that it should not be exhibited - not on account of misgivings as to its merit, whatever he may have entertained, but because the book the priest was represented as reading was a very uncanonical one indeed - certain notorious memoirs of a French Madame - and Pen did not wish to give offence to the many who ‘reverenced priests.’

29 May 1877
‘Went to London Library. A meeting of members was being held up-stairs . . . I stood by the door while Gladstone was speaking near the fire place. Gladstone, a dusky-complexioned spare middle-sized man, with grey hair, thin and straggling; eyes very black and rather bright; earnest expression; with a sort of approach to a slouch in his manner and bearing. He spoke fluently but not at all rapidly; sentences rather winding and long drawn out like honey you must twist the spoon to break off. When he had spoken, an old benevolent looking aquiline-nosed stooping man (the Archbishop of Dublin) made a few remarks, in the course of which, Gladstone quietly took his hat and sloped out stealing close by me to the door.’

5 June 1877
‘Being at the Zoological Gardens, I looked in at the Lecture Room. Huxley was lecturing. A dark-complexioned man, with deepset eyes, prominent forehead and turned-up nose, thick rather coarse hair slightly streaked with grey, parted on one side, and brushed back from his forehead in the middle; lower part of the cheeks a little flabby making a sort of fold overarching the mouth; lips loose and mouth working; fidgety, rather excitable in manner, passing the back of his hand across his nose nervously, but as if from habit, not in the least from diffidence. He spoke in a low conversational tone; taking a snake from a box, handling and describing it; explaining some of the motions of its head and body by pawing with his hand in the air.’

3 May 1883
‘At Edinburgh for my first time! A wonderful place with all that a town should have, in compactness and completeness unmatched - a perfect ideal of a city! Romantic site of hill and vale - fine buildings and monuments mediaeval and modern; palace and castle; antiquated gloomy wynds and closes and lofty houses towering up like cliffs, dotted with windows like loopholes; all teeming with associations, historical, poetical, scientific - national and individual - heroic, tragic, comic, quaint, terrible or humorous; all in their appropriate places, disposed like a scene in a theatre - all as it were within a space to be seen almost at a glance! . . .’

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The literary profession

Yale University Press has just published a first substantial edition of the journals written by Alfred Kazin, one of the most important American literary critics of the 20th century. The journals, the Press says, collectively tell the story of Kazin’s journey from Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood to his position as a dominant figure in twentieth-century cultural life.

Kazin was born in 1915 in Brooklyn to uneducated Yiddish-speaking immigrants, but went on to study at City College of New York. He became a book reviewer for The New Republic, and while still in his 20s, he wrote On Native Grounds, a much-lauded re-interpretation of American literature - a book of literary criticism which read, according to The New York Times, ‘like a passionate communication intended for intelligent, living human beings rather than like a 1940s academic exercise or a 1930s political tract.’

Although there is a published biography of Kazin, there is not much detailed biographical information about him freely available on the internet. Christopher Hawtree, in his review (for The Telegraph) of Alfred Kazin: a Biography, by Richard Cook, says that after publishing On Native Grounds ‘other literary studies progressed as tentatively as his four marriages; affairs distracted him as readily as new ideas did from the book in hand. He found succour and success, however, with three acclaimed autobiographical works. . . A Walker in the City (1951), Starting Out in the Thirties (1965) and New York Jew (1978).’

In 1996, Kazin was awarded the first Truman Capote Lifetime Achievement Award for literary criticism. He died two years later - see The Independent or The New York Times for obituaries.

For most of his life Kazin kept a diary, and though he planned to release parts of it during his lifetime, no volume appeared until 1996 when HarperCollins published A Lifetime Burning in Every Moment - From the Journals of Alfred Kazin. ‘Written with the vividness and power of first-rate fiction,’ HarperCollins says, ‘it brings to life the great artists and thinkers who shaped the times, including Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud and Hannah Arendt, and shares Kazin’s insights on politics, literature, Jewish life after the Holocaust and American society. It is an immensely rich and resonant memoir from an observer whose eloquence can imbue each moment lived with a lifetime of thought and passion.’

Now, another 15 years later, Yale University Press has published Alfred Kazin’s Journals - ‘judiciously’ selected and edited by Kazin’s biographer Richard Cook. The publisher’s promotional material states: ‘To Kazin the daily entry was a psychological and spiritual act. To read through these entries is to reexperience history as a series of daily discoveries by an alert, adventurous, if often mercurial intelligence. It is also to encounter an array of interesting and notable personalities. Sketches of friends, mistresses, family figures, and other intellectuals are woven in with commentary on Kazin’s childhood, early religious interests, problems with parents, bouts of loneliness, dealings with publishers, and thoughts on the Holocaust. The journals also highlight his engagement with the political and cultural debates of the decades through which he lived. He wrestles with communism, cultural nationalism, liberalism, existentialism, Israel, modernism, and much more.’

Cook himself explains this about Kazin’s diaries on The American Scholar website: ‘Since high school he had been writing almost daily in a private journal that he had hoped to publish. He never did, though he published a memoir, A Lifetime Burning in Every Moment, based loosely on a few dozen undated and heavily edited entries. Why the journals or a substantial selection of entries never appeared is unclear. Other projects apparently intervened, and Kazin eventually despaired of working his way through the “pile-up of words,” 7,000 pages, amassed during 65 years of journal keeping.’

A generous number of extracts from the new book are available on the same website.

3 May 1945
‘Interview with T S Eliot, at his offices (Faber & Faber). Eliot now, if I calculate correctly, must be 57; face has aged and relaxed greatly, so that one’s first impression of him physically is of a rather tired kindness as opposed to the otherworldliness & hauteur of his early pictures. He was extremely kind, gentle, spoke very slowly and hesitatingly, livened up a bit when I pushed the conversation on to literary topics (at first, because of my official business, he spoke a little about popular education and his own experiences teaching for the WEA and LCC). He looks like a very sensitive question mark - long, winding, and bent; gives the impression that his sensibility is in his long curling nose and astonishing hands. I was so afraid that he would be standoffish or just reluctant that I spoke more than I wanted to, just to keep the conversation going. He said things which just verged on “you Americans,” but I grinned when he spoke of Truman and Missouri and he grinned back. . .’

6 October 1952
‘The literary profession - what a misnomer, what a horror. This very profession (of faith!) to which I entrust my life (for by that I mean my thinking) is also a mad scramble for social prestige and a job. So that at every point (but obviously most on Sunday night, before the treadmill gets me back) I oscillate between the native purity, the relative selflessness of my inner thought - and this splintery, tormented, boring, boring attempt to get things by my profession - my name on this list, my bank account full. The profession which by its incarnated incarnation the nullity of egotism, serves (how often!) only our egotism.

What a monster it is, then, this being not a writer, a thought-bearer, but a WRITER quoted on the jackets of the latest books, much sought-after by summer workshops, an object of mystery, a perpetual mode of unbelief, to the vulgar - “And do you write under your own name?” As if most us wrote for any purpose other than publicizing our own name!

No name, no writer.’

26 April 1972
‘Met Isaac Bashevis Singer in the Braniff waiting room at Laguardia. [. . .] He makes an impression on all around him even when they are not exactly sure who or what he is. His bags (which he insisted on carrying at all times) were crammed with mss. in large manila envelopes. He writes on loose pages torn out of school exercise books, and said, among other wonderful things, that the Jews hypnotize the outsiders & then get hated when they themselves desert “their” cause (i.e., first Christianity & then Marxism). He brightened up (without the help of any strong meat or drink whatsoever) at dinner, became positively pixieish at times. The essential solitude of the man, a kind of genial indifference to the world while happily tasting its money, prizes, etc. (his only recreation is travel) was very noticeable. It no longer matters where he is; he does not believe in anything outside his creative mind & fancies. . .’

Monday, May 9, 2011

The friends of liberty

Joseph Hunter, a little remembered Yorkshire antiquarian, died 150 years ago today. He started to keep a diary with some determination - perhaps to follow the example of Ralph Thoresby, another antiquarian who lived a century earlier - but doesn’t seem to have continued keeping it for long. Nevertheless, it provides some illuminating detail for those who study the history of reading.

Hunter was born in 1783 in Sheffield, the son of a cutler. Educated at Attercliffe, he later studied theology at New College in York, becoming a Presbyterian minister in Bath in 1809. He married Mary, daughter of Francis Hayward, and they had six children, of whom three sons and a daughter survived Hunter himself. A long-term interest in antiquarian studies led him to be appointed, in 1833, a sub-commissioner of the Records Commission to London. Five years later, he became an Assistant Keeper of the Public Records. He wrote much on history and archaeology.

After his death - on 9 May 1861 - a large number of his manuscripts became the property of the British Museum, the most important of which is a volume of some 650 pages completely filled with pedigrees of families based in Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Cheshire, and Lancashire. Wikipedia and the website of St Mary’s Parish Church, Ecclesfield, have short biographies.

Early on in his life, when only 23, Hunter decided to become a diarist, but he left behind less than a year’s worth of entries. Arthur Ponsonby, author of English Diaries, describes Hunter’s diary thus:

‘He notes the lectures he attends, the people with whom he has conversations and to whom he writes letters, sermons he hears, the establishment of ‘a society of literary conversations’ where they have a debate on a universal language; an attack of a severe cold (‘believe t’is epedemic and what is called influenza’) a tea-party where the conversation is ‘merest chit chat and scandal,’ etc. It would almost seem as if he were settling down to be a diarist when he begins describing people, for instance George Dyer, ‘a strange quizz, such a rough head of hair was never seen, but an entertaining fellow, takes snuff to wean himself from smoking.’ But after recording immense lists of books he is reading he breaks into a sort of shorthand just to give the division of the day, every hour of which is occupied in the study of Greek, Hebrew, mathematics, etc. and on September 20 he leaves off for good.’

Stephen Colclough, however, in his essay entitled Readers: Books and Biography contained within A companion to The History of the book edited by Simon Eliot and Jonathon Rose (published by Blackwell in 2007) makes good use of Hunter’s diary. Here are several paragraphs from his essay (available at Googlebooks).

‘. . . Institutions of reading (such as subscription libraries) helped to shape individual reading practices by encouraging the public discussion of texts. Several readers who were members of such institutions left records of their readings. The diaries of one such reader, Joseph Hunter, reveal that it was possible for a member of such an institution to interpret text in ways that were fundamentally opposed to the rules that governed their reading community.

During the late 1790s, Hunter was a member of the Surrey Street Library in Sheffield, Yorkshire. Surrey Street was a subscription library owned by its members. Members were charged an annual fee of one guinea, and both they and the books that they ordered had to pass the scrutiny of the library committee to be admitted. As Hunter records, he made frequent trips to the library to borrow a wide range of texts, including novels and magazines. The Analytical Review was a particular favourite, and he made notes on its contents and read texts, such as Robinson’s The Causes and Consequences of English Wars (1798), reviewed in its pages. However, in the autumn of 1798 the committee decided to remove many of the texts associated with the contemporary radical movement from its shelves. As Hunter noted on October 31, 1798: ‘[I] brought the 2nd number of the Anti-Jacobin Review & Magazine, which is got into the Surry Street Library instead of the Analytical which they have turned out. It is a most virulent attack upon all the friends of liberty or jacobins, as they are pleased to stile them; it is ornamented with caricature prints’.

Conservative writers viewed the Analytical as an important source of opposition to the war that Britain was fighting against France in the 1790s. . . The library committee may well have excluded the Analytical because it wanted to disassociate itself from opposition to the war against France, but the effect on Hunter was to make him aware of his own position as a member of an audience that was under attack. He is referring to himself as one of the ‘the friends of liberty’ in this passage from the diary, and it is from this position that he completed an oppositional, or resisting, reading of the contents of the Anti-Jacobin.

As this example suggest, Hunter’s diaries provide an important account of both the range of his reading (which included everything from ephemera to novels) and of the variety of strategies that he used to make sense of the texts. He even noted the presence of posters for political meetings in the streets and that he had seen men reading seditious periodicals at work. Such autobiographical documents are an important source of information about how texts were used. They provide vital evidence about reading as an everyday practice (sometimes passive, sometimes, as in his reading of the Anti-Jacobin, resisting) that cannot be recovered from inert sources such as publisher’s records. Hunter’s diary records that he was exceptionally well read in contemporary texts, but he was also exposed to older texts which he borrowed from his guardian or bought second-hand.’

Finally, it is also worth noting that Hunter edited and prepared for publication the diaries of Ralph Thoresby, another northern antiquarian who was born more than century earlier than himself. (See The Diary Junction for details.)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Royal wedding - Prussian style

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the death of Sir George Jackson, a 19th century diplomat of quiet distinction. Though little-remembered today, his diaries and letters were edited by his wife (a slightly better-remembered author) and published not long after his death. Typically, the diaries describe his diplomatic life. One interesting entry focuses on the marriage of Prince William to Princess Amelia - a royal wedding, Prussian style.

Jackson was born in 1785, the youngest son of Dr Thomas Jackson, one of the canons of the Abbey of Westminster at the time, and subsequently canon residentiary of St Paul’s. Although initially destined to follow his father into the church, he went instead, in 1801, to Paris. There he acted as unpaid attache to his much older brother, Francis, who had been appointed minister during negotiations that were to lead to the Treaty of Amiens (and a temporary halt in the ongoing war between France and Britain).

In 1805, during his brother’s temporary absence, George Jackson was presented at the Prussian court as charge d’affaires. The following year, he was sent to north Germany to oversee a renewal in friendly relations with Prussia, and, in 1807-1808, he helped with the negotiations and ratification of a new treaty with the Kingdom of Prussia. He was subsequently appointed as one of the secretaries of legation in the mission to the Spanish Junta.

Later, Jackson was posted to the headquarters of the allied armies in Germany throughout the campaigns of 1813-1814; finally entering Paris with the allies. On the return of the King of Prussia to Berlin, he was charge d’affaires to that court, remaining until 1816, when he was appointed to St Petersburg. Subsequently, he was sent to Madrid, and, from 1823 to 1827, he was posted to Washington, as commissioner, under the first article of the Treaty of Ghent, for the settlement of American claims.

After several years in Sierra Leone, as Commissary Judge, he was appointed, in 1832 (the year he was knighted), Chief Commissioner for the convention on the abolition of the African slave trade. This took him first to Rio Janeiro, until 1841, then to Surinam, and, from 1845, to St Paul de Loanda. He retired in 1859, having married only three years earlier; and he died at Boulogne-sur-Mer on 2 May 1861. There is very little information about Jackson online, not even a Wikipedia article - although there is one about his wife, Catherine, who went on to become author.

After Jackson’s death, Catherine edited her husband’s diaries and letters from when he was still a young man in the early days of his diplomatic career. These were published in 1872 by Richard Bentley in two volumes as The Diaries and Letters of Sir George Jackson K C H - From the Peace of Amiens to the Battle of Talavara. A year later, two more volumes were published: The Bath Archives - A Further Selection from the Diaries and Letters of Sir George Jackson K C H from 1809 to 1916.

Lady Jackson says in her introduction to the first volume: ‘The great interest taken by Mr G Jackson in public affairs, from the very outset of his career, and the especial advantage he possessed of a thorough diplomatic training, under his brother - a man of considerable talent, and distinction in his profession - give to the observations and opinions contained in the diaries and letters of this young attache, a certain value, as outlines of the events of the above-named period, which are traced, it is thought, with sufficient firmness to convey a fairly correct notion of the scenes depicted and the characters portrayed.’

Here is one long extract from Jackson’s diary (available at Internet Archive) about a Prince William getting married - though the royal family is Prussian, and the wedding took place in Berlin.

13 January 1804
‘Yesterday, the marriage of Prince William and the Princess Amelia took place at the palace. The royal diadem was placed on the head of the bride by the queen mother, in the presence of the royal family. They then went in procession to the state rooms, fitted up by Frederick I, and where all royal marriages are performed.

The prince, in the uniform of a Prussian general, with the princess, dressed in white satin and silver - four maids of honour bearing her train - walked first; the king, with the queen mother; the queen, with Prince Henry, and eight other royal couples followed. Each was preceded by gentlemen of their respective courts, and followed by their chief officers, with the maids of honour attending the royal ladies.

The procession passed through the old court chapel and the gallery - two hundred feet in length - to the White Hall, in which are the statues, in white marble, of the old electors.

Here the Court chaplain, M Sack, was waiting, under a canopy of red velvet, to perform the marriage ceremony. All the royal family, with the exception of the queen mother - for whom a velvet-covered chair was provided - stood in a half circle round the bride and bridegroom; the rest of the company formed a second half circle outside the royal one.

At the moment when the rings were exchanged, a signal was given, and the twenty-four cannon before the palace were fired in succession three times.

The Court then proceeded to the card-room, where the newly-married couple sat down to whist with the king and the queen mother. The Queen, Prince Henry, the bride’s mother - the Landgravine of Hesse - and the Prince of Orange, formed another table; the rest of the company made up four others. When they had finished their rubber, they adjourned to the state-room, and the royal party took supper; which was served on gold plate, and under a canopy of red velvet. During the repast a band of music was stationed in the silver orchestra. This orchestra is, in fact, only plated; the original one was of solid silver, but at the commencement of the Seven Years’ War, the Great Frederick, finding his coffers rather empty, melted it down for crowns, and supplied its place with the present one.

The meats served to the royal table were cut up by Generals Elsna and Beville - standing - and were afterwards distributed, or handed round, by the marshal, and officers of the Court, les grandes maƮtresses, and maids of honour. These menial offices are performed by them only on such exceptional occasions, and their duties end when the royal party have drunk their first glass, which, according to court etiquette, is always immediately after the first course is served. Their distinguished attendants then retire to take supper also, with the rest of the company, at adjoining tables. There were five of those extra tables, each presided over by a person of high rank.

Supper ended, they returned to the White Hall, and the ministers of state, each with a fourfold burning torch of white wax in his hand, assembled near the throne to await the arrival of the Court to commence the Fackel dance, with which the marriage ceremony concludes; a custom observed only at this Court, and supposed to have been originally intended to represent the Court of Hymen conducting the new-married pair to the nuptial chamber.

As soon as the royal party entered, the trumpets and kettle-drums of the king’s Garde du Corps, and the regiment of Gendarmes, struck up a sort of polonaise. The grand marshal, with his long black wand, led off first. The ministers, with their flaming torches, followed. Then came the prince and his wife, and the four maids of honour bearing the train. Slowly marching towards the royalties, ranged in a circle round the throne, the princess left the arm of her husband, and advancing towards the king, curtseyed profoundly, thus inviting him to make the first tour with her. This over, the same ceremony was gone through with all the princes, according to the order observed in the marriage procession. The prince then commenced his tours, first with the queen mother, then the queen, and all the princesses in succession; the ministers, with their hymeneal torches, preceding each couple. To some of the festive torch-bearers these numerous tours seemed to be tours de force they were hardly equal to; and they must surely have succumbed if Providence had not spared them the minuets with which they at first were threatened. But at length the tours were ended; and the royal bride and bridegroom were then escorted to their apartments to undress; the former by the queen mother and the other royal ladies, the latter by the king and princes.

When the princess was supposed to be in bed, the company assembled in the ante-room to receive from her grande maĆ®tresse small pieces of embroidered riband, representing her royal highness’s garter.

Thus ended this royal wedding, which put me in mind of an old drama, got up with new scenery, dresses, processions, banquets, trumpets, kettle- drums, &c, &c.

We take our share of the general fuss, and celebrate the happy event by a ball on the 18th.’

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Great Exhibition

Today marks the 160th anniversary of the opening, by Queen Victoria, of the Great Exhibition held in Hyde Park, London, in 1851. It was the first international expo of its type, and was notable, among other things, for being housed in the Crystal Palace. Prince Albert was much involved in planning the exhibition, and the Queen, in her diary entry for the opening day, applauds him highly for the exhibition’s success.

The Great Exhibition, officially called the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations, took place in Hyde Park, London, from 1 May to 15 October 1851. Prince Albert was heavily involved with the organisation, as was Henry Cole, a civil servant and inventor best known for introducing Christmas cards.

In the late 1840s, Cole, with Prince Albert’s backing, won a royal charter for the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, and organised several exhibitions for celebrating modern industrial technology. Soon, though, he perceived the possibility of opening a future exhibition to international participants. Queen Victoria approved a Royal Commission, under the presidency of Prince Albert, to manage such a project for 1851.

The Crystal Palace, designed by Joseph Paxton drawing on his experience of building greenhouses for the sixth Duke of Devonshire, was constructed to house the exhibition. (It was later moved to Sydenham in south London, an area which became known as Crystal Palace. The building itself, though, was destroyed by fire in 1936.) Some six million people visited the Great Exhibition and it was deemed a huge success, not least financially with the profits being used to found the now-famous Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum.

Here is an extract from Queen Victoria’s diary for the day of the opening (freely available on the Official Website of The British Monarchy). (See also The crown hurt me.)

1 May 1851
‘This day is one of the greatest and most glorious days of our lives, with which, to my pride and joy the name of my dearly beloved Albert is forever associated! It is a day which makes my heart swell with thankfulness ... The Park presented a wonderful spectacle, crowds streaming though it - carriages and troops passing, quite like the Coronation Day, and for me, the same anxiety. The day was bright, and all bustle and excitement. At half past 11, the whole procession in 9 state carriages was set in motion. Vicky and Bertie were in our carriage. Vicky was dressed in lace over white satin, with a small wreath of pink wild roses, in her hair, and looked very nice. Bertie was in full Highland dress. The Green Park and Hyde Park were one mass of densely crowded human beings, in the highest good humour and most enthusiastic. I never saw Hyde Park look as it did, being filled with crowds as far as the eye could reach. A little rain fell, just as we started; but before we neared the Crystal Palace, the sun shone and gleamed upon the gigantic edifice, upon which the flags of every nation were flying.

We drove up Rotten Row and got out of our carriages at the entrance on that side. The glimpse through the iron gates of the Transept, the moving palms and flowers, the myriads of people filling the galleries and seats around, together with the flourish of trumpets, as we entered the building, gave a sensation I shall never forget, and I felt much moved ... In a few seconds we proceeded, Albert leading me having Vicky at his hand, and Bertie holding mine. The sight as we came to the centre where the steps and chair (on which I did not sit) was placed, facing the beautiful crystal fountain was magic and impressive. The tremendous cheering, the joy expressed in every face, the vastness of the building, with all its decorations and exhibits, the sound of the organ (with 200 instruments and 600 voices, which seemed nothing), and my beloved Husband the creator of this great ‘Peace Festival’, uniting the industry and arts of all nations of the earth, all this, was indeed moving, and a day to live forever. God bless my dearest Albert, and my dear Country which has shown itself so great today ... The Nave was full of people, which had not been intended and deafening cheers and waving of handkerchiefs, continued the whole time of our long walk from one end of the building, to the other. Every face was bright, and smiling, and many even had tears in their eyes ... One could of course see nothing, but what was high up in the Nave, and nothing in the Courts. The organs were but little heard, but the Military Band, at one end, had a very fine effect ...

We returned to our place and Albert told Lord Breadalbane to declare the Exhibition opened, which he did in a loud voice saying “Her Majesty commands me to declare the Exhibition opened”, when there was a flourish of trumpets, followed by immense cheering. Everyone was astounded and delighted. The return was equally satisfactory - the crowd most enthusiastic and perfect order kept. We reached the Palace at 20 minutes past 1 and went out on the balcony, being loudly cheered. That we felt happy and thankful, - I need not say - proud of all that had passed and of my beloved one’s success. Dearest Albert’s name is for ever immortalised and the absurd reports of dangers of every kind and sort, set about by a set of people, - the ‘soi-disant’ fashionables and the most violent protectionists - are silenced. It is therefore doubly satisfactory that all should have gone off so well, and without the slightest accident or mishap.’