Friday, April 27, 2012

The drollest mushroom

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American philosopher, speaker and essayist, who led the Transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century, died 130 years ago today. Despite his many published collections of essays, and some of poetry, it is his voluminous diaries - full of philosophical musings and thoughts about communing with nature - that are now considered by some to be his most remarkable literary creation.

Emerson was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1803, but his father, a Unitarian minister, died when he was only 8. Aged but 14, Emerson entered Harvard University, paying his way partly through a scholarship and partly by tutoring. He went on to study at Harvard Divinity School. In 1829, he married Ellen Tucker, but she died less than two years later. His grief led him to reconsider his religious beliefs.

Thereafter, Emerson moved to Concord, and spent the next few years studying and traveling in Europe. He married Lydia Jackson in 1835, and they would have four children, though the oldest, Waldo, died young. The following year, Emerson published his first book, Nature, which laid out his belief in Transcendentalism, whereby individuals have knowledge of themselves, through intuition and imagination, that transcends, or goes beyond, what they can see, taste, touch or feel. The publication of Nature is generally considered to be a key moment in the emergence of transcendentalism which then went on to become a major cultural and philosophical movement.

Emerson became a well-known lecturer not only in the US, but also in Europe (he is said to have given more than 1,500 public lectures); and many of his speeches were published. In 1840 Emerson joined with others in launching The Dial, which, for a few years, was the chief publication of the Transcendentalists (and then continued to be published intermittently until the late 1920s). One of the younger early contributors was Henry David Thoreau, another diarist, who lived with Emerson in the early 1840s, and was his most well-known disciple, though he died aged only 44. During the 1850s, Emerson became strongly interested in the anti-slavery movement, and he actively supported war against the South.

By 1867, Emerson’s health was starting to decline, and in 1872, a fire partly destroyed his Concord house, and signalled the end of his busy lecturing schedule. While the house was being rebuilt, he visited Continental Europe and Egypt with his wife and daughter Ellen. By the end of the 1870s, Emerson’s health, and particularly problems with his memory, led him to stop all public appearances. He died on 27 April 1882. Further information is available from RWE, the Transcendentalists’ website, or Wikipedia.

Emerson was a very committed diary writer. However, most of what he jotted down in his journals was intellectual and had a philosophical tone, there is little about his daily practical life. Though a collected edition of his works came out earlier, the diaries had to wait until 1909-1914 when they were published in ten volumes by Houghton Mifflin as Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson. They were edited by Emerson’s son, Dr Edward Waldo Emerson, and grandson, Waldo Emerson Forbes, and are freely available at Internet Archive. Between 1960 and 1982, Harvard University Press brought out a definitive edition - The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson - in 16 volumes.

Much more recently Library of America has abridged Emerson’s diaries into two volumes: Selected Journals 1820–1842 and Selected Journals 1841–1877. This, the publisher says, is the most ample and comprehensive nonspecialist edition of Emerson’s great work ever published - ‘one that retains the original order in which he composed his thoughts and preserves the dramatic range of his unique style in long, uninterrupted passages, but without the daunting critical apparatus of the 16-volume scholarly edition.’ It also calls Emerson’s journals, his ‘most remarkable literary creation.’

Quotations from Emerson’s diaries are widely available on the internet, whether at Wikiquote, the Wisdom Portal (‘where every link leads to learning’), or the Reading Emerson website. Here, though, are a few extracts from the out-of-copyright 1909-1914 Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

17 February 1838
‘My good Henry Thoreau made this else solitary afternoon sunny with his simplicity and clear perception. How comic is simplicity in this double-dealing, quacking world. Everything that boy says makes merry with society, though nothing can be graver than his meaning. I told him he should write out the history of his college life, as Carlyle has his tutoring. We agreed that the seeing the stars through a telescope would be worth all the astronomical lectures. Then he described Mr Quimby’s electrical lecture here, and the experiment of the shock, and added that “college corporations are very blind to the fact that that twinge in the elbow is worth all the lecturing.”

To-night, I walked under the stars through the snow, and stopped and looked at my far sparklers and heard the voice of the wind, so slight and pure and deep, as if it were the sound of the stars themselves revolving.

How much self-reliance it implies to write a true description of any thing, for example, Wordsworth’s picture of skating; that leaning back on your heels and stopping in mid-career. So simple a fact no common man would have trusted himself to detach as a thought.’

19 September 1838.
‘I found in the wood this afternoon the drollest mushroom, tall, stately, pretending, uprearing its vast dome as if to say, “Well I am some thing! Burst, ye beholders! thou luck-beholder! with wonder.” Its dome was a deep yellow ground with fantastic, starlike ornaments richly overwrought; so shabby genteel, so negrofine, the St Peter’s of the beetles and pismires. Such ostentation in petto I never did see. I touched the white column with my stick, it nodded like old Troy, and so eagerly recovered the perpendicular as seemed to plead piteously with me not to burst the fabric of its pride. Shall I confess it? I could almost hear my little Waldo at home begging me, as when I have menaced his little block-house, and the little puff-ball seemed to say, “Don’t, Papa, pull it down!” So, after due admiration of this blister, this cupola of midges, I left the little scaramouch alone in its glory. Good-bye, Vanity, good bye, Nothing! Certainly there is comedy in the Divine Mind when these little vegetable self-conceits front the day as well as Newton or Goethe, with such impressive emptiness.

The greater is the man, the less are books to him. Day by day he lessens the distance between him and his authors, and soon finds very few to whom he can pay so high a compliment as to read them.’

1 January 1839.
‘Adjourned the promised lecture on Genius until Wednesday week, on account of my unaccountable vigils now for four or five nights, which destroy all power of concentration by day for me.’

17 October 1840.
‘A newspaper in a grave and candid tone censures the Dial as having disappointed the good expectation of our lovers of literature. I read the paragraph with much pleasure; for the moment we come to sense and candor I know the success of the Dial is sure. The Dial is poor and low and all unequal to its promise: but that is not for you to say, O Daily Advertiser! but for me. It is now better after your manner than anything else you have; and you do not yet see that it is, and will soon see and extol it. I see with regret that it is still after your manner, and not after mine, and that it is something which you can praise.’

1 January 1841.
‘I begin the year by sending my little book of Essays to the press. What remains to be done to its imperfect chapters I will seek to do justly. I see no reason why we may not write with as much grandeur of spirit as we can serve or suffer. Let the page be filled with the character, not with the skill of the writer.’

18 July 1852
‘Henry Thoreau makes himself characteristically the admirer of the common weeds which have been hoed at by a million farmers all spring and summer and yet have prevailed, and just now come out triumphant over all lands, lanes, pastures, fields, and gardens, such is their pluck and vigor. We have insulted them with low names, too, pig-weed, smart-weed, red-root, lousewort, chickweed. He says that they have fine names, amaranth, ambrosia.’

July 1862
‘I suppose the war does not recommend Slavery to anybody. If it cost ten years of war, and ten to recover the general prosperity, the destruction of Slavery is worth so much. But it does not cost so much time to get well again. How many times France has been a warfield! Every one of her towns has been sacked; the harvest has been a hundred times trampled down by armies. And yet, when you suppose, as after the first Napoleon’s time, that the country must be desolate, a year’s labour, a new harvest, almost the hours of one perfect summer day create prodigious wealth, and repair the damage of ten years of war.

I read with entire complacency that part of the history of art when the new spiritualism set the painters on painting the saints as ugly and inferior men, to hint the indifferency of all circumstance to the divine exuberance, and I remember this with great satisfaction at the photographist s shop.’

24 June 1863
‘In reading Henry Thoreau’s Journal, I am very sensible of the vigor of his constitution. That oaken strength which I noted whenever he walked or worked or surveyed wood lots, the same unhesitating hand with which a field-laborer accosts a piece of work which I should shun as a waste of strength. Henry shows in his literary task. He has muscle, and ventures on and performs feats which I am forced to decline. In reading him, I find the same thought, the same spirit that is in me, but he takes a step beyond, and illustrates by excellent images that which I should have conveyed in a sleepy generality. ‘Tis as if I went into a gymnasium, and saw youths leap, climb, & swing with a force unapproachable, though their feats are only continuations of my initial grapplings and jumps.’

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A C Benson’s inner life

Today marks 150 years since the birth of A C Benson, a much respected academic and writer who became master of Magdalene College, Cambridge. Though his outward life may have seemed somewhat shy or retiring his voluminous diaries, when they were published posthumously, revealed him to have a colourful and emotional psyche.

Benson was born on 24 April 1862 at Wellington College in Berkshire, his father Edward White Benson being headmaster of the school at the time, though he would go on to become Archbishop of Canterbury. Arthur Benson was educated at Eton and King’s College, Cambridge, and then went straight back to Eton as a teacher, and stayed until 1903. Thereafter, he was a fellow at Magdalene College, Cambridge, becoming president in 1912 and master in 1915, a post he held until his death in 1925. A little further biographical information is available from Wikipedia, and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Benson was a prolific writer throughout his life, composing fiction, poetry, librettos (including the famous song Land of Hope and Glory), essays and biographies. He was also co-editor of Queen Victoria’s letters, but is now mostly remembered for his diaries. Benson began to keep a regular diary from 1897 and continued until the end of his life. He left behind 180 notebooks, with over four million words. They revealed that the apparently somewhat retiring academic had had a far more tumultuous inner life than an outer one.

The diaries were first edited by Percy Lubbock and published as The Diary of Arthur Christopher Benson by Hutchinson & Co (London) in 1926. According to Lubbock, in his introduction, ‘the familiar grey or purple notebook lay always on [Benson’s] table, close to his hand; and at any free moment of his busy day he would seize it, write in it with incredible swiftness, and bring it up to date with a dozen headlong pages.’ By the end of a month, Lubbock adds, the notebook would be filled from cover to cover and a new one opened.

More recently, in 1981, John Murray published Edwardian Excursions: From the Diaries of A. C. Benson 1898-1904, as selected and edited by David Newsome (who, a year earlier, had also authored a biography - On the Edge of Paradise: A. C. Benson, the Diarist).

Here are several extracts from Lubbock’s edited version of the diaries, showing variously Benson’s hatred of aspects of school life, his tendency to squabble with women friends, and his liking/love of young men.

26 February 1900
‘Monday: hateful day of fierce, arid, consuming work, done, not for the improvement of the boys - indeed, apart from them - but to satisfy my critical colleagues. I go from school to school, with pupils and piles of exercises crammed in. I walked up to Windsor: some gleams of sun. Came down: saw Ainger and Cornish setting off for a walk, a thing they have done at 3:45 on Monday for thirty-five years - if only people would do something different! Ainger walks solidly, religiously, gravely. The boys all coming out of school, by the cannon - one talking to Bowlby with his hat off; they were doing this twenty-six years ago when I was a boy; and here I have been practically ever since, fast bound. I beat against the wires. What an odd poor thing life is - and yet should I be happier free? And that is the poorest thing of all, that the cage, the burrow, the haunt grows so dear. Watched a robin sing in my garden - hard-worked to keep himself fed; I suppose he was born, lived all his life and will die in this privet-hedge. Why should not I be content to do the same? And then it comes over me in a flash that I am nearly forty, and yet don’t feel as if the serious business of life had begun, or as if I had really settled down to a profession - as if that was to come.’

23 June 1906
‘I drove off to Athenaeum. Wrote letters, and went to see the Blake exhibition. Surely people must be cracked who make such a fuss about Blake’s little funny drawings. There is some imagination in them and much quaintness. But the absurd old men with beards likes ferns or carrots - the strange glooms and flames and tornadoes of vapour, the odd, conventional faces, the muscular backs, the attenuated thighs! Blake was a childish spirit who loved his art, and had a curious naive use of both word and line and colour; and some fine simple thoughts about art and life. But he was certainly not ‘all there’ - and to make him out as a kind of supreme painter and poet is simply ridiculous.’

31 January 1907
‘I reflected sadly today how I tended to squabble with my women-friends. Here have I dropped out of all or nearly all my feminine friendships. I never see Lady P., I hear nothing of Countess B. I have lost sight of B. M. I have insulted M. C., alienated Mrs L., shut up Mrs S. - and so on. I have had rows with Howard, but he is more feminine than most of my friends. I think it is a certain bluntness, frankness, coarseness, which does not offend men, but which aggravates women. The thing which has tended to terminate my women-friendships is that at a certain juncture they begin to disapprove and to criticise my course, and to feel a responsibility to say disagreeable things. One ought to take it smilingly and courteously; and one would, if one liked the sex - but I don’t like the sex. Their mental processes are obscure to me; I don’t like their superficial ways; their mixture of emotion with reason. [. . .] I don’t want to excuse myself, because I think it is a vital deficiency in me; but it is so vital and so instinctive that I don’t see how to cure it, and I cannot even frame an effective desire to do so.’

3 June 1925
‘College photograph. I liked my handsome friendly well-mannered young men very much, and felt proud of them. Lunched [. . .] then out with Manning . . . We found a chalk-pit above Harlton [. . .] with a little wood above it, and winding paths and tiny glades - such a little paradise. We wound through it and came out on the wold - the air full of golden sunlight, and a honied breeze, with scents of clover and beans; afar lay Cambridge, very hazy, with smoke going up; down below little quaint house-roofs and orchard-closes, full of buttercup and hemlock. A sweet hour. . .’ [This is one of Benson’s last diary entries since he died two weeks later.]

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Napoleon plays whist

‘Since General Buonaparte’s arrival at St Helena I have been so occupied that I have seen but little of him. . . but in the evenings I understand he has regularly invited himself to join the family party in the house, where he plays at whist with the ladies.’ This is from a diary kept by Sir George Cockburn while he was in charge of Napoleon, in transit to, and residing on, the island of St Helena. Apart from such daily details, the diary is also full of Napoleon’s recollections of various military campaigns. Cockburn, born 240 years ago today, was a highly successul British sailor who rose through the ranks to become Admiral of the Fleet and First Naval Lord.

Cockburn was born on 22 April 1772 in London, the second son of Sir James Cockburn and his second wife Augusta Anne Ayscough. Educated at schools in Marylebone and Margate, he also attended the Royal Navigational School in London. Aged 14, he went to sea, and rose rapidly in the Royal Navy, being promoted to the rank of lieutenant in 1793. He was appointed to the Victory, Lord Hood’s flagship off Toulon, and then to the sloop Speedy, the frigate Meleager under the orders of Captain Nelson, and to the Minerve, a large frigate captured from the French, which was later present at the battle of Cape St Vincent.

In 1803, Cockburn was appointed to the Phaeton, which he commanded for two years in the East Indies, and to the Captain, then to the Pompée, which took him to the West Indies. After taking part in the capture of Flushing in 1809 (part of the otherwise disastrous landing of British forces in the Low Countries), he returned to Britain, and married his cousin Mary Cockburn with whom he had one surviving daughter.

Further promotion to rear-admiral followed service on the Indefatigable around Spain. In 1814, on the Marlborough Cockburn battled against the American militia, cruising along the Chesapeake Bay to seize shipping and raid ports. In 1815, he was summoned back to Europe and given the task of escorting Napoleon, who had been defeated at the Battle of Waterloo, to St Helena. Cockburn remained there for some months as island governor before being relieved. Napoleon, though, would be confined there until his death in 1821.

Cockburn was first elected as a Tory MP in 1818, and remained an MP for different constituencies until 1847 with one long gap in the 1830s. He was knighted in 1815, and elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1820. He served two terms as First Naval Lord (1833-1836 and 1841-1846) and as Commander-in-Chief, North America and West Indies Station between 1832 and 1836. He was appointed a full admiral in 1837. In 1852, he inherited the family baronetcy from his elder brother, before dying a year later. Further biographical information is available from Wikipedia, The History of Parliament, or the book, Cockburn and the British Navy in Transition by Roger Morriss, which is partially viewable on the Amazon website.

There is no evidence that Cockburn regularly kept a diary, but he did keep one for a short period while charged with transporting and looking after the prisoner, Napoléon Bonaparte. A first edition appeared in the US in 1833 (published by Lilly, Wait, Colman and Holden) compiled from the original manuscript in the handwriting of Cockburn’s private secretary. This was titled Buonaparte’s Voyage to St Helena; comprising the diary of Rear Admiral Sir G Cockburn, during his passage from England to St Helena, in 1815.

In the book’s preface, the publishers explain: ‘There is another copy of this manuscript in existence, which was, at one period, in the course of publication in England, but considerations, which may be obviously inferred from the character of the production itself, then led to its suppression, and must continue to prevent its appearance from that quarter.’

Indeed, it was not until 50 years later, in 1888, that Cockburn’s journal was published in the UK (by Simpkin, Marshall & Co.) as Extract from a Diary of Rear-Admiral Sir George Cockburn with particular reference to Gen. Napoleon Buonaparte on Passage from England to St Helena, in 1815 on board HMS “Northumberland”.

This version’s preface says: ‘The manuscript, from which this “Extract” has been printed, was found, in his own hand-writing, among the papers of my late father; attached to it being a note, also in his own handwriting, to the effect that it is a reproduction of a copy found at St Helena, in 1824 or 25, among the effects of one who had held an official position as Admiral’s Secretary or Captain’s Clerk on board the “Northumberland” on her voyage to St Helena, where he died, and who had no doubt made it as a matter of pardonable curiosity and satisfaction for himself; and it is now published in the belief that it’s intrinsic interest, as closing a gap in the later career of the great soldier, will be deemed sufficient excuse for it’s seeing the light.’

Both the earlier US edition and the later UK edition are freely available at Internet Archive. Here are two extracts from the start and end of the diary.

7 August 1815
‘On reaching the deck [Buonaparte] said to me, “Here I am, Admiral, at your orders!” He then asked to be introduced to the Captain, then asked the names of the different officers and gentlemen upon deck, asked them in what countries they were born and other questions of such trifling import, and he then went into the cabin with Lord Keith and myself, followed by some of his own people. After I had shown him the cabin I had appropriated for his exclusive use and requested him to sit down in the great cabin, he begged me to cause the Lieutenant of the ship to be introduced to him; as, however, at this time his own followers came to take leave of him, I thought it best to leave him for a little while to himself, and I found soon afterwards advantage was taken of this for him to assume exclusive right to the after, or great cabin. When I therefore had finished my letters I went into it again with some of my officers and desired M. de Bertrand to explain to him that the after cabin must be considered as common to us all, and that the sleeping cabin I had appropriated to him could alone be considered as exclusively his. He received this intimation with submission and good humour and soon afterwards went on deck, where he chatted loosely and good-naturedly with everybody.

At dinner he ate heartily of almost every dish, praised everything and seemed most perfectly contented and reconciled to his fate. He talked with me during dinner much on his Russian Campaign, said he meant only to have refreshed his troops at Moscow for four or five days and then to have marched for Petersburg, but the destruction of Moscow subverted all his projects, and he said nothing could have been more horrible than was that campaign; that for several days together it appeared to him as if he were marching through a sea of fire owing to the constant succession of villages in flames which arose in every direction as far as his eye could reach; that this had been by some attributed to his troops but that it was always done by the natives. Many of his soldiers however, he said, lost their lives by endeavouring to pillage in the midst of the flames. He spoke much of the cold during their disastrous retreat, and stated that one night, after he had quitted the army to return to Paris, an entire half of his Guard were frozen to death.

He also told me in the course of this evening that previous to his going to Elba he had made preparations for having a Navy of 100 sail of the line; that he had established a conscription for the Navy, and that the Toulon Fleet was entirely manned and brought forward by people of this description; that he ordered them positively to get under weigh and manoeuvre every day the weather would permit of it, and to stand out occasionally and to exchange long shots with our ships; that this had been much remonstrated against by those about him and had cost him at first a good deal of money to repair the accidents that occurred from the want of maritime knowledge, such as from the ships getting aboard of each other, splitting their sails, springing their masts, &c., but he found that even these accidents tended to improve the crews and therefore he continued to pay his money and oblige them to continue to exercise. He said he had built his ships at Antwerp in rather too great a hurry, but he spoke highly in praise of the port and said he had already given orders for a similar establishment to have been formed on the Elbe; and had fortune not turned against him he hoped to have sooner or later given us some trouble, even on the seas. He stated that the reason he had over-hurried the ships at Antwerp, before mentioned, was because he was anxious to press forward an expedition from thence against Ireland.

After taking his wine and coffee he took a short walk on deck and afteryards proposed a round game at cards; in compliance with which we played at vingt-un until about half-past ten, won from him about seven or eight napoleons, and he then retired to his bedroom, apparently as much at his ease as if he had belonged to the ship all his life. I afterwards disposed of his whole party for the night, though not without some difficulty; the ladies with their families making it necessary I should provide them with adequate room and accommodation, and yet each other person of the suite asking for and expecting a separate cabin to sleep in and in which to put their things.’

22 October 1815
‘Since General Buonaparte’s arrival at St Helena I have been so occupied that I have seen but little of him. I went with him, however, one day to Longwood, and he seemed tolerably satisfied with it, though with his attendants he has since been complaining a good deal; and having stated to me that he could not bear the crowds which gathered to see him in the town, he has, at his own request been permitted to take up his residence (until Longwood should be completed) at a small house called the Briars, where there is a pretty good garden, and a tolerably large room, detached from the house, of which he has taken possession, and in which and the garden he remains almost all day; but in the evenings I understand he has regularly invited himself to join the family party in the house, where he plays at whist with the ladies of the family for sugar-plums until his usual hour of retiring for the night.’

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Diary briefs

The Modernist Diaries of Emily Holmes Coleman - University of Delaware Press, Amazon

Susan Sontag - Journals and Notebooks - Macmillan, Amazon

Civil war diary donated to Saratoga Springs museum - The Wall Street Journal

Diaries of the Red Cross founder - The Washington Post

Flying with Howard Hughes: Diary of a Co-Pilot - PRWeb, Amazon

Long-lost diary of Hungary’s fascist premier - Haaretz

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

In Turkish/Greek waters

It is 210 years since the birth of George William Frederick Howard, a British politician who went on to become the 7th Earl of Carlisle. A cultured man, he never reached high office, though Prime Minister Palmerston appointed him Lord Lieutenant of Ireland for the last years of his life. From the age of 40 or so, he kept a regular diary, extracts of which were published privately and posthumously by his sister. More interesting, though, is the 7th Earl’s diary of his travels in Greek and Turkish waters.

George Howard was born in London on 18 April 1802. His father, the 6th Earl of Carlisle, was an MP for 25 years, as well as Chief Commissioner for Woods and Forests, Lord Privy Seal, and a Knight of the Garter. George was educated at Eton, and Christ Church, Oxford, where he developed a reputation as a poet and scholar. In 1826 he accompanied his uncle, the Duke of Devonshire, to Russia, to attend the coronation of Tsar Nicholas I.

The same year, 1826, Howard was elected to Parliament for the family seat at Morpeth, and remained an MP for around 15 years, serving in several governmental positions. When he lost his seat, he toured North America for a year. He was again returned to Parliament in 1846 before becoming the 7th Earl and a peer, on the death of his father, in 1848. He was then appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland by Lord Palmerston, a post he held until his death with only one short interval.

Like his father, the 7th Earl was appointed a Knight of the Garter. He never married, and so the estate, Castle Howard, passed to his brother, William, who for more than 40 years was Rector of Londesborough in the East Riding of Yorkshire. Further biographical information is available from Wikipedia or the Web of English History.

The 7th Earl’s first foray into autobiographical writing was with Two Lectures on the Poetry of Pope, and on His Own Travels in America published in 1851 (the record of his travels in America is more of a memoir than a diary). Two volumes of bona fide diaries followed. The first was titled Diary in Turkish and Greek Waters and published by Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans in 1854. A second volume of diary texts 1843-1864 - Extracts from Journals kept by George Howard, earl of Carlisle: selected by his sister, lady Caroline Lascelles - was printed for private circulation only. Both are free to view online: the former at Internet Archive, and the latter at Googlebooks.

Here is the 7th Earl introducing his journey to Turkish and Greek Waters: ‘Having written an account of my visit to the Western World, I propose to myself the like task during my projected travels in the East. It shall again assume the form of a Diary, because my experience of the writings of others convinces me that it is by far more entertaining than any other; it secures the freshness of first impressions for whatever may be recorded; and, although it undoubtedly has the drawback of a tendency to include many details deficient in the importance and dignity due to more professed authorship, it has the countervailing merit of producing a more intimate sense of companionship between the author and reader than can otherwise be obtained. I will also, in like manner, form no pre-pense determination beforehand respecting the future destiny of the pages that are to follow, whether they shall only be shown to friends, published to the world, communicated to their full extent, abridged, condensed into one or more lectures, or kept entirely to myself. They shall reflect the feeling of the moment faithfully and freely; all besides shall be reserved for after consideration.’

And here are several extracts from the same tome.

13 June 1853
‘Secured my place in the Danube steam-boat to Constantinople. Went with Lady Westmorland to Count Edmund Zichy’s. He showed us a marvellous collection, principally of old swords, of every age and clime, and of his own splendidly jewelled Hungarian dresses. We went on with him to the imperial treasury, where we saw very fine crown jewels, and various interesting relics both of German and Austrian empires, beginning with the crown of Charlemagne; then to the imperial carriages, dating not quite so far back, but there was one which belonged to Charles V; also to the Manege, which is of very august dimensions; here lately had been held a splendid carousel, or tournament, of which they spoke with great admiration; then to the library, which I imagine must be the finest room north of the Alps; it has priceless manuscripts.

I then went over Prince Lichtenstein’s Palace, which I had heard compared to Stafford House; it has nothing like its staircase, and nothing like its pictures (the prince’s are elsewhere); the ball-room is more brilliant than any room at Stafford House, and there is more lightness, and perhaps not less richness, in the gilding and decoration.

I dined at my hotel, which is renowned for its cookery. I drove afterwards with Lady William in the Prater. It is very pretty, with its green alleys, and park-like glades, and fair visitors; but I think it must generally be very damp. I admire Vienna, on the whole, extremely. In the town itself, the narrow streets, tall houses, and frequent palaces, remind me occasionally of Genoa; while the cheerful faubourg, the broad glacis, with its alleys of chestnut and acacia in fullest blossom, and the fine outlines of hill beyond, make it a very attractive city. I suppose that in the beauty of its environs it surpasses any other capital, again I say, north of the Alps.

We then had ices in the Graben. [. . .] I went with Odo Russell to the Volksgarten, where citizens and soldiers were sitting under trees, listening to the alternate bands of Strauss and a Bohemian regiment; this seems the most attractive point of Vienna life, enjoyment of open air and music. I went still on for one act of the opera Stradella, and finished a full day with listening to some animated details of Austrian history and character.’

19 July 1853
‘I was again very glad to remain quiet during the day. I dined with the officers of the ward-room, who make very pleasant society, and after sunset we went to some theatricals got up by the sailors themselves. They gave us no less than three farces, besides various Ethiopian and comic songs. The theatre was on the main-deck, and, as it was intensely crowded by the crew, not a little hot. I had three sailors sitting between my knees. Happily a hatchway was open just over my head. Some of the actors showed considerable humor; and it was impossible to look round on the manly, jolly audience without hoping that they are not reserved to be mowed down by Russian cannon.’

6 October 1853
‘There was great beauty in the sunrise gilding the long extent of the town of Scio [Chios], as we steamed in front of it this morning. We landed, and walked about with our vice-consul, Signer Yedova, a very hearty and intelligent Italian. The long line and successive terraces of town even yet exhibit an immense proportion of ruins, to attest the massacres perpetrated by the Turks during the Greek revolution in 1822 and 1826; almost the most complete and deplorable that ever occurred. Here, indeed, was one of the exceptional cases to which I have referred; but it cannot be denied, on the other hand, that the circumstances and provocations were also exceptional. The number slaughtered has been computed at from twenty-four thousand to thirty thousand, which exceeds the present population of the island. A large portion of the women and children were sold into slavery; almost every house burned, all the gardens, which had been the especial pride of Scio, destroyed. By a species of reaction, the children of many that escaped have been educated in Europe, and now constitute the most enterprising of the Greek houses in London, Manchester, and the Levant. The doomed island sustained a further loss a few winters ago, when the unusual cold entirely destroyed the orange, lemon, and mastic trees, which supplied a material share of its commerce. There now seems a considerable show of activity both in the town and harbor. The Greek population is about eighteen thousand to eight hundred Turks. There was considerable disappointment at first among the Greeks at not being assigned to the new kingdom of Greece, when it was originally constituted; but it is said now that there is no tendency to excitement among them. They are very industrious, but are reckoned extremely sharp in their dealings. This seems, indeed, the common attribute of the Greek character, and it is supposed to give them no little advantage over our English competition. We set off for Smyrna before noon, and carried thither the wife and daughter of the vice-consul. Madame Vedova has lived twenty-three years at Scio, and complains wofully of its blank and unredeemed solitude. We did not arrive at Smyrna till an hour after sunset, when we made an ineffectual attempt to induce the quarantine authorities to allow the ladies to land. It required some ingenuity to accommodate them for the night. As a sort of compensation to them, the ship’s company got up an impromptu dance, with a solitary but very efficient fiddle; and any friends who may be anxious about my health would have been reassured, if they could have seen me leading off Sir Roger de Coverley, with the vice-consul’s lady.’

9 October 1853
‘We anchored early off the town of Mitylene. The neighborhood, covered with olive groves, had a very luxuriant look, as seen from the ship. After service, which is most creditably performed by the young chaplain, Mr Rogers, we landed, mounted on mules, and rode over a steep ridge of the island, through a continuous grove of olive, mixed with oleander and poplar, and broken by views of the sapphire sea and pale blue mountains of Asia, to Port Oliviero, or Iero, a beautiful inland basin, where navies may anchor, and even manoeuvre, and which is one of the possible destinations of our fleet this winter. There is one point, with a double view of sea on each side, which is most transcendent. I have not generally been very enthusiastic about the beauty of the Aegean islands, there is such a sad deficiency of verdure, and of relief to the gray barren crag; but this old Lesbos is clearly the first in beauty of those which I have as yet seen. We halted at the house of a proprietor in a Greek village; he was a very courteous old man, who told us that he should be very happy, but was in fact made miserable by having six daughters, as, when they married, he was obliged to give each of them a dower of four thousand dollars, a town house and a country house. Some of our officers thought they could not do better than to propose on the spot. An impromptu luncheon was served to us with great nicety and cleanliness. I give its components, poached eggs, an excellent salad of sage and anchovy, olives, pomegranates, melons, water-melons, with, of course, coffee and sweetmeats. We thought there was a good deal of beauty among the islanders, extant specimens of Sapphos and Phaons.’

10 October 1853
‘One more night’s steaming brought us, on the brightest of mornings, to the fleet at Besika Bay. The sight derived additional animation from some two hundred merchantmen, with all their sails up, reflected on the motionless water, to catch the faintest indications of the breeze that might come. I left the Firebrand, which has given me such pleasant conveyance, and transferred myself to my old hospitable quarters in the Britannia; where, I need hardly add, I had the most cordial reception from the kind admiral and his officers. All are waiting with the greatest anxiety for the next directions from England, or summons from Constantinople. They had to-day been just four months in Besika Bay, which they have thought far more than sufficient. There has been a good deal of fever in some ships; not many deaths. Mr. Blunt, the Master in Chancery, uncle to our young friend, Lord Edward Russell, and Lord John Hay, dined with us.’

11 October 1853
‘We all felt considerable excitement this morning as letters from Constantinople made us think it possible that the fleets might be ordered up there immediately. It would have been almost too good fortune to have arrived just in time for such an epoch and such a spectacle. However, the more probable opinion is that the summons will not arrive at soonest before the answer comes from the Russian head-quarters to the Turkish demand for the evacuation of the Principalities within fifteen days. The young prince of Leiningen, nephew to the Queen, who is serving on board this ship as a mid-shipman, dined with the admiral to-day. He is very highly spoken of as entirely unassuming, and most attentive to his duties.’

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Recovering Titanic bodies

It is a century today since the great, and supposedly unsinkable, Titanic hit an iceberg and sank, drowning more than 1500 people. The tragedy has become an iconic event in the history of the 20th century, and, according to a new online exhibition, ‘sails on forever in our collective imagination’. Although there is no evidence of any diary written on the Titanic, there are two written by those on a cable ship dispatched to recover bodies, one of which provides extraordinary and detailed descriptions of the icebergs, floating wreckage and recovery task.

On its maiden voyage in 1912 the White Star Liner RMS (Royal Mail Ship) Titanic, the largest ship afloat in the world at the time, hit an iceberg at 23:40 ship’s time on 14 April 1912, and within three hours had sunk (at 2:20 or 5:20 GMT). RMS Carpathia arrived on the scene in response to earlier distress calls, at around 4:00, and carried 710 people to New York, Titanic’s original destination. 1,517 passengers and crew lost their lives. Two cable ships (MacKay-Bennett and Minia), based at Halifax, Canada, were dispatched quickly to the site, and recovered many of the bodies.

The loss of the Titanic has become one of the most iconic events of the 20th century. There have been numerous books and films about the ship, not least a German propaganda film in 1943, the 1953 movie with Clifton Webb, Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Wagner, and the hugely successful 1997 movie with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. The ship’s wreck was discovered in 1985, and has since been revisited by explorers, scientists, film-makers, tourists and salvagers. There is no shortage of information about all things Titanic online - try Wikipedia, Titanic.com, encyclopedia titanica, or National Museums Northern Ireland.

Despite the exploitative and no-stone-unturned nature of the Titanic remembrance industry, there is no evidence - at least that I can find on the internet - of any diary having survived the tragedy. There is the heart-rending story of the seven year old Douglas Spedden who survived the ship’s sinking only to die two years later after being hit by a car - see the Titanic Stories website. Douglas’s mother, Daisy, was accustomed to keeping a diary on her travels, but the surviving ‘diary’, which is widely referred to on Titanic websites, was written by her later as a children’s story. Douglas was captured in a famous photograph which can be viewed on the Titanic Photographs website.

There are other fictional diary accounts - see Amazon for more on The Diary of Margaret Ann Brady, or CanLit for The Titanic Diary of Dorothy Wilton. More significantly, there are published memoirs - like "Titanic" Survivor: The Memoirs of Violet Jessop Stewardess, published by The History Press - and many testimonies, such as can be found on the Titanic Inquiry Project website. These latter are well synthesised in a new book from Bloomsbury by Nic Compton - Titanic on Trial: The Night the Titanic Sank, Told Through the Testimonies of Her Passengers and Crew - some of which can be read on the Amazon website.

Like Douglas Spedden, Father Thomas Byles is a well-known name from the Titanic passenger list. He was travelling to New York City to officiate at the wedding of his younger brother William. The Father Byles website includes the following diary extracts written by a friend of his, Father Patrick McKenna, safely on dry land in Southend-on-Sea.

10 April 1912
Titanic White Star S. S. largest & most luxurious ocean palace yet built, left Southampton with 1300 passengers & 900 crew.’

15 April 1912
‘News that she collided with Iceberg. Foundered 400 miles from Sable Island off Newfoundland. 860 persons mostly wom + childr. = saved in lifeboats, & about 1500 drowned (in two miles deep) including several millionaires: Awful news confirmed Apl. 16th. Disaster on night of April 14th.

Heroic behavior of Fr. Byles. He said Mass on Sunday 14th for 3' cl. passengers & preached “as in danger of being lost in shipwreck men require & grasp lifebelt to save themselves, so in danger of being lost in spiritual shipwreck in time of temptation we require & should use spiritual lifebelt in shape of prayer & sacraments to save soul.” Fr. Byles twiced warned of danger & offered place in boat by sailor. He refused saying his duty was to stay and to minister to others. He heard confessions & gave absolution & said Rosary & sank. Victim to duty & conscience!’

Perhaps the most interesting bona fide diaries linked to the tragedy are those written by Clifford Crease, mechanic, and Frederick A Hamilton, cable engineer, on board the cable ship MacKay-Bennett dispatched from Halifax to recover the bodies.

Crease’s diary has only recently been made available - in its original form and with transcripts - on the internet thanks to Nova Scotia Archives as part of an online exhibition to commemorate the 100 years anniversary. ‘The loss of the RMS Titanic is one of the landmark events of the early 20th century,’ the exhibition notes say, and ‘although the great liner lies at the bottom of the North Atlantic, she sails on forever in our collective imagination. We are proud to make this small contribution towards perpetuating the memory of those who died in Titanic’s catastrophic end.’

Hamilton’s diary is held by Royal Museums Greenwich (with the text available thanks to encyclopedia titanica).

Diary of Clifford Crease
17 April 1912
‘Left Halifax at twelve thirty eight PM for to recover bodies from wreck of White Star Line Steam ship Titanic, which was lost at sea by striking an Iceberg in 41.16n 50.14W and sank in four hours.’

18 April 1912
‘Steaming towards wreck.’

19 April 1912
‘Steaming towards wreck.’

20 April 1912
‘Steaming towards wreck passed by several Icebergs. Arrived at spot where ship went down at seven fifteen and lay too all night till day - light. A large Iceberg about four miles from ship suppose to be the one Titanic struck lots of wreckage floating about, four bodies passed by through the night, and picked up later on.’

21 April 1912
‘Fine weather started to pick up bodies at six AM and continued all day till five thirty PM. Recovered fifty one bodies, forty six men four women and one baby. Burried twenty four men at sea at eight fifteen PM. Rev Canon Hinds in attendance also Ships Company. Bodies in good state but badly bruised by being knocked about in the water.’

22 April 1912
‘Weather fine picked up twenty six bodies eighteeen men, seven women and one boy. Burried at sea; six women and nine men at eight fifteen PM.’

23 April 1912
‘Weather fine picked up one hundred and twenty eight bodies one hundred and twenty seven men and one woman. Stopped Allan Liner Sardinian for canvas etc to wrap up bodies. Did not bury any to day.’

24 April 1912
‘Weather foggy did not pick up any bodies but burried seventy seven bodies at twelve forty five PM three at a time.’

25 April 1912
‘Weather fine picked up eighty seven bodies eighty four men and three women did not burry any to day.’

26 April 1912
‘Weather fine picked up fourteen bodies up till noon when the Cable Ship Minia arrived at one AM to relieve us and we started for Halifax.’

27 April 1912
‘Steaming towards Halifax.’

28 April 1912
‘Weather rough going at half speed towards Halifax.’

29 April 1912
‘Weather still rough going at slow speed towards Halifax.’

30 April 1912
‘Arrived at Halifax at nine twenty and hauled up along side of the Dock Yard Wharf and landed one hundred and ninety bodies which were taken up to the Mayflower Curling Rink for identification.’

Diary of Frederick Hamilton
17 April 1912
‘Having taken in a supply of ice and a large number of coffins, cast off from the Wharf en route for the position of the “Titanic” disaster. The Reverend Canon Hind of “All Saints” Cathedral, Halifax is accompanying the expedition, we also have an expert Embalmer on board. Cold and clear weather.’

19 April 1912
‘The fine weather which has prevailed until now, has turned to rain and fog. We spoke to the “Royal Edward” by wireless to-day, she lay east of us, and reported icebergs, and growlers (lumps of ice, some of considerable size). At 6.p.m. the fog very dense, lowered cutter and picked up an Allan Line lifebelt.’

20 April 1912
‘Strong south-westily breeze, beam swell and lumpy sea. French liner “Rochambeau” near us last night, reported icebergs, and the “Royal Edward” reported one thirty miles east of the “Titanic”s” position. The “Rhine” passed us this afternoon, and reported having seen icebergs, wreckage and bodies, at 5.50.p.m. The “Bremen” passed near us, she reported having seen, one hour and a half before, bodies etc. This means about twenty five miles to the east. 7.p.m. A large iceberg, faintly discernible to our north, we are now very near the area were lie the ruins of so many human hopes and prayers. The Embalmer becomes more and more cheerful as we approach the scene of his future professional activities, to-morrow will be a good day for him. The temperature of the sea at noon today was 57N, by 4.p.m. it was 32N.’

21 April 1912
‘Two icebergs now clearly in sight, the nearest is over a hundred feet high at the tallest peak, and an impressive sight, a solid mass of ice, against which the sea dashes furiously, throwing up geyser like columns of foam, high over the topmost summit, smothering the great mass at times completely in a cascade of spume as it pours over the snow and breaks into feathery crests on the polished surface of the berg, causing the whole ice-mountain, which glints like a fairy building, to oscillate twenty to thirty feet from the vertical. The ocean is strewn with a litter of woodwork, chairs, and bodies, and there are several growlers about, all more or less dangerous, as they are often hidden in the swell. The cutter lowered, and work commenced and kept up continuously all day, picking up bodies. Hauling the soaked remains in saturated clothing over the side of the cutter is no light task. Fifty one we have taken on board today, two children, three women, and forty-six men, and still the sea seems strewn. With the exception of ourselves, the bosum bird is the only living creature here. 5.p.m. The two bergs are now in transit, the heavy swell has been rolling all day, must be a gale somewhere. 8.p.m. The tolling of the bell summoned all hands to the forecastle where thirty bodies are ready to be committed to the deep, each carefully weighed and carefully sewn up in canvas. It is a weird scene, this gathering. The crescent moon is shedding a faint light on us, as the ship lays wallowing in the great rollers. The funeral service is conducted by the Reverent Canon Hind, for nearly an hour the words For as must as it hath pleased - ‘we therefore commit his body to the deep’ are repeated and at each interval comes, splash! as the weighted body plunges into the sea, there to sink to a depth of about two miles. Splash, splash, splash.’

22 April 1912
‘We steamed close past the iceberg today, and endeavoured to photograph it, but rain is falling and we do not think the results will be satisfactory. We are now standing eastwards amongst great quantities of wreckage. Cutter lowered to examine a lifeboat, but it is too smashed to tell anything, even the name is not visible. All round is splintered woodwork, cabin fittings, mahogany fronts of drawers, carvings, all wrenched away from their fastenings, deck chairs, and then more bodies. Some of these are fifteen miles distant from those picked up yesterday. 8.p.m. Another burial service. April 23rd Icebergs and growlers still in sight. Both cutters busy all day recovering bodies, rain and fog all the afternoon, fog at times very dense. 7.p.m. The “Allen Line” boat “Sardinia” stopped near us and took despatches from our cutter. The fog had lifted slightly, but shut down denser than ever, soon after she had signalled ‘good-night’ on her flash light.’

24 April 1912
‘Still dense fog prevailing, rendering further operations with the boats almost impossible. We hear that the “Sardinia” is waiting some thirty miles away. Noon. Another burial service held, and seventy seven bodies follow the other. The hoarse tone of the steam whistle reverberating through the mist, the dripping rigging, and the ghostly sea, the heaps of dead, and the hard weather-beaten faces of the crew, whose harsh voices join sympathetically in the hymn tunefully rendered by Canon Hind, all combine to make a strange task stranger. Cold, wet, miserable and comfortless, all hands balance themselves against the heavy rolling of the ship as she lurches to the Atlantic swell, and even the most hardened must reflect on the hopes and fears, the dismay and despair, of those whose nearest and dearest, support and pride, have been wrenched from them by this tragedy.’

26 April 1912
‘The “Minea” joined us today in the work of recovery, and lays two miles westwards of us. Her first find, was we hear, the body of Mr. Hayes, the President of the Grand Trunk. At noon we steamed up to her, and sent the cutter over for material, and soon after set our course for Halifax. The total number of bodies picked up by us is three hundred and five, one hundred and sixteen have been buried at sea. A large amount of money and jewels has been recovered, the identification of most of the bodies has been established, and details set out for publication. It has been an ardous task for those who have had to overhaul and attend to the remains, the searching, numbering, and identifying of each body, depositing the property found on each in a bag marked with a number corresponding to that attached to the corpse, the sewing up in canvas and securing of weights, entailed prolonged and patient labour. The Embalmer is the only man to whom the work is pleasant, I might add without undue exaggeration, enjoyable, for to him it is a labour of love, and the pride of doing a job well.’

30 April 1912
‘Took Pilot on board off Devils Island, and are now proceeding up Halifax Harbour. Crowds of people throng the wharves, tops of houses, and the streets. Flags on ships and buildings all half mast. Quarantine and other officials came on board near Georges Island, after which ship stood in to the Navy Yard, and hauled in alongside. Elaborate arrangement have been made for the reception of the bodies now ready for landing. 10.a.m. Transferring of remains to shore has begun. A continuous procession of hearses conveys the bodies to the Mayflower Rink. It is a curious reflection, that when on February 12th, we picked up the waterlogged schooner “Caledonia” and returned to Halifax to land her crew of six, these men walked ashore unnoticed, and two lines in the Daily Paper was sufficient to note the fact that they had been saved. While today with not one life to show, thousands come to see the landing, and the papers burst out into blazing headlines.’

A man with qualities

The Austrian author, Robert Musil, died 70 years ago today. His most famous work and one of the masterpieces of 20th century European literature - The Man Without Qualities - preoccupied him for much of the latter part of his life, but even so was never completed. He was an inveterate keeper of notebooks, only a few of which, though, read like conventional diaries.

Musil was born in Klagenfurt, Austria, in 1880, the only son of an engineering professor. He studied at a military academy and then moved to Vienna university where his father taught. Later in his 20s, though, he went to study philosophy and psychology in Berlin. His first novel, published in 1906 (later translated as Confusions of Young Torless), was a great success.

In 1911, Musil married Martha Marcovaldi, an older Jewish woman who had already been married and had children. From that same year until 1914 he worked as a librarian in Vienna. During the war he served in the Austrian army. After being hospitalised in 1916, he edited an army newspaper, and, subsequently, worked in the defence ministry until he was made redundant in the 1920s. Thereafter, he became a full-time writer, achieving some success with plays.

While trying to write what he hoped would become his masterpiece, The Man Without Qualities, Musil fell into financial difficulties; and, in 1929, he suffered a mental breakdown. The first parts of Qualities were first published in the early 1930s (but not in English until the late 1950s and early 1960s). He moved again to Berlin in the early 1930s, and then back to Vienna. In 1938, he and his wife fled to Switzerland, where they settled in Geneva. He died on 15 April 1942. For further biographical information see Wikipedia, Kirjasto, or Jerry van Beers’ website on Musil.

Musil kept notebooks for much of his life, but most of these are not recognisably diaries. They were first edited by Adolf Frisé and published in their original German in the early 1980s by Rowohlt (Hamburg). An English translation by Philip Payne followed in 1998 (Basic Books, New York) entitled simply Diaries, 1899-1941.

The chapters in the published book relate to individual notebooks kept by Musil, the highest numbered one being 35 - but there are not 35 notebooks included in Diaries, nor are they all in numerical order. Furthermore, the notebooks rarely reveal material that looks or reads like a conventional diary. There are some dated entries in some of the notebooks, but, for the most part, the contents resemble a writer’s notes not a diary. According to Mark Mirsky, who wrote an introduction for the English edition, the diaries are ‘angry, at times pathetic, but always thinking, aware, vulnerable’ and, through them, thus, ‘Musil lets us approach him’.

November 1913.
‘Waiting: I look at my work. It is motionless; as if of stone. Not without meaning, but the sentences do not move. I have two hours, in round terms, before I can leave. Every fifth minute I look at the clock; it is always less, not than I had estimated but than I hope - as if by some miracle - it will be. I see for the first time the furniture in my room standing quietly there. This way is different from the way one sees five points as a five in a game of cards. The table, the two chairs, the sofa, the cupboard. This is what it must be like for people without ideas when their day’s work is done. An excess of joyful expectation rises in me. An excess of joy like the end of the day on 24 December before everything gets under way.

Someone is whistling on the street, someone says something, goes on by. Many sounds come at the same moment; someone is speaking, in the upper storey someone is playing the piano; the telephone is ringing. (While I write this down, time tears past.)’

2 April 1905
‘Today I’m beginning a diary; I do not usually keep one but I feel a distinct need to do so now. After four years of diffusion it will give me the opportunity to find that line of spiritual development again that I consider to be properly mine. . . I shall try to carry forward into it “banners from a battle that has never been fought.” Thoughts from that time of great upheaval are to be re-examined, sorted through and developed. One or other of my scattered notes is to be taken up in this process but only when it captures my attention again.’

6 January 1930
‘Since the start of the year I’ve been wanting to write things down. Aim: to record how my 50th year of life turns out! But also, in a quite aimless fashion, to record facts. I have become too abstract and would like to use this method to help me retrain as a narrator by paying attention to the circumstances of everyday life.’

8 February 1930
‘Art has to have an immediate effect! This is one of the most dangerous prejudices. Yet it remains a goal that one constantly tries to achieve. After all, it wouldn’t be difficult to analyze what is required of something to have an immediate effect. The most difficult thing about this is somewhat like a meeting. The immediate impression that some people give is that of peace, sublimity, etc., and this is what is demanded of art. People want to be won over from the very first word, etc. This is not completely unjustified but leads to neglect of books that are demonic, Titanic, (unpleasant) and so forth.’

9 March 1930
‘Yesterday evening I had the following train of thought: I’m correcting a passage in the proofs, get stuck, and note down around 5 variants, none of which pleases me. After a walk, the whole thing - which has already upset me - seems a matter of no consequence, and I feel I’ll probably find the right course without difficulty. The same experience, writ large, when one sets aside a completed piece of work for a few weeks. It is evident that one then looks down upon the work, as it were, from on high. What is the psychological significance of this?

In emotional terms, it means freedom from ambivalence. One had started to be uncertain, beset with a host of little vacillations that eventually made a disproportionate impression - very similar to hesitating for too long before going along a dangerous path. One has, so to speak, subjected the situation to emotional overload. One frees oneself by renouncing the situation?

But it appears that an intellectual process takes effect in the same sort of way. An insight that eluded one in the course of the day may come during the night; or, generally, the way a reflection “sits itself down and sorts itself out.” This even seems to be something physiological, for the same thing happens when one learns new movements. In other words switch the brain to a state of rest; introduce spells of relaxation according to the Kogerer method; take one’s mind off things? But at which point? Make oneself indifferent. Clearly this only works when one has come halfway to achieving something.’

26 August 1930
‘This evening I finished [proofreading] the manuscript of Vol. I [of The Man Without Qualities]’.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The spiceless diaries

Michael Spicer, an archetypal Tory Toff and leader of the influential 1922 Committee for nearly a decade, has just published diaries covering his 35-year political career. Reviewers says the new book gives a well-placed insider’s view of the Thatcher years, and of how the Maastricht rebels, of which Spicer was one, seriously challenged John Major’s government. The Spectator, though, says the diaries lack ‘colourful phrase or telling detail’ and are ‘comically unilluminating’.

Spicer was born in Bath, into an army family, and was educated at private school before studying economics at Cambridge. He worked as a financial journalist on Fleet Street, and then, from the mid-1960s to 1980, in economics research. In 1967, he married Patricia Ann Hunter (they have three children). A year earlier, he had first stood for election to Parliament. He failed then and in 1970 as well, before being elected at the 1974 general election. He represented South Worcestershire until 1997 when the constituency was abolished, and then West Worcestershire until his retirement in 2010.

After the Conservative Party came into power in 1979, Spicer was appointed a Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Department of Trade; from 1984, he was a junior minister in the Department of Transport and the Department of Energy, before being promoted in 1990 to Minister of State at the Department of Environment. However, that same year, he lost his ministerial position with the ousting of Thatcher.

Spicer also served in various other roles: deputy chairman of the Conservative Party; chairman of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee in the House of Commons; and, between 2001 and 2010, chairman of the 1922 committee (which, among other things, presides over the election of party leaders). He was knighted in 1996, and given a peerage in 2010 (Baron Spicer of Cropthorne). Further biographical information can be found at Wikipedia or the BBC; and some information on his voting records and expenses claims is available on the They Work For You website.

Biteback Publishing has just published The Spicer Diaries. It says of Spicer that he is ‘one of the most talented and influential Conservative politicians of his generation’. It advertises the new book with quotes from Michael Dobbs, Julian Fellowes and Ann Widdecombe. ‘Michael Spicer is the sort of politician who helps bring a fresh shine to the concept of public service,’ says Dobbs, ‘these diaries are filled with wit, insight and honesty.’ Widdecombe adds that Spicer is a writer and diarist of ‘consummate skill’ and that the book is ‘a rare gem of a political diary’. Fellowes says: ‘Only an informed citizen can explain a strange country, and Michael Spicer treats us to an expert’s view not just of the intrigues and rivalries and hilarities of the Thatcher years, but of that more than strange and endlessly fascinating country called Parliament.’

Andrew Gimson in The Spectator, however, explains that Spicer ‘is too honourable to be a brilliant diarist and that the diaries read like the history of a regiment written by one of its most loyal officers.’ Elsewhere in the review, he notes that Spicer ‘seldom records the colourful phrase or telling detail which would bring a scene alive’ and that he is ‘comically unilluminating’.

The most spicy bit of news The Daily Telegraph - which published substantial extracts from The Spicer Diaries in March - could find in the book was about Baroness Thatcher and how she had confided in Spicer that she would not have gone into politics if she had ‘had her time over again’ because of what it had done to her family. The newspaper says ‘the book gives a well-placed insider’s view of the Thatcher years, including the Falklands War, the Brighton Bomb and her departure in 1990 when she was hounded out of office by her own party.’

Peter Stanford, after interviewing Spicer - the ‘Tory Toff’ - for the Telegraph says of the diary: ‘It is perfectly turned, often witty, and revealing of three significant chapters in the recent history of the Conservative Party - his “short, intense time” around the 1983 election as Margaret Thatcher’s parliamentary private secretary; his central role among the Maastricht rebels who did so much to destabilise John Major’s government in the 1990s; and his chairmanship of the 1922 Committee when, in nine years in the 2000s, he oversaw an unprecedented three leadership elections that finally produced an election winner in David Cameron.’

Two sets of extracts - 1982-1990 and 1991-1997 - from The Spicer Diaries can be read on The Daily Telegraph website.

20 December 1982
‘Stood in for CP [Cecil Parkinson] at Conservative Central Office party. Main job was to introduce PM to everyone. She was tired and therefore relaxed and at her most personable. For once got on rather well with her. She actually touched my arm at one point! CP, however, still furious with her performance at Cabinet. She had complained he was taking a week’s holiday over Christmas – skiing – whereas she claimed to be working herself the whole time. Drive down to Chequers with CP for election planning meeting. PM in abrasive form. Clearly does not want a general election until 1984. Sit next to PM at lunch at her request. Why me? Answer: earlier in the day it had been decided that I should replace Ian Gow [Thatcher’s PPS] on her tours round the country when he is in his constituency. Norman Tebbit [Employment Secretary] very much around; he is a favourite. He kept on warning me that unemployment would be the clinching issue. He sat on her other side.’

24 April 1989
‘Lunch at Downing Street with PM. Rather a relaxed atmosphere. At one point she exclaims, “Much to my horror I learnt from my hairdresser that all her sprays were foreign. I said I didn’t want anything but an English spray on my hair.” She is in one of her most protectionist moods.’

20 June 1995
‘Richard Ryder (government chief whip) comes up to me in the lobby. Despite his entreaties, PM will not see me. What this means is that trust has broken down between PM and a large section of his party. The end must be nigh for him; things can’t go on much longer like this - and it may be for the best now if he goes quickly. He may have decided to go already.’

22 June 1995
‘Major’s letter of resignation read out at the 1922 Committee; stand by for a week in which everyone lies through his teeth.’

Monday, April 2, 2012

Falklands War diaries

Today is the 30th anniversary of Argentina’s invasion of the British territory of the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas in Spanish). The UK responded by sending a military force which recaptured the islands in under three months. Several diaries written by those involved in the conflict have been published or are available on the internet. Most recently, Viking has brought out Down South: A Falklands War Diary by Chris Parry.

The war began on 2 April 1982, when Argentina invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands, a territory it had been claiming sovereignty over since the 19th century. The acting president General Leopoldo Galtieri calculated the invasion would bring him popularity at a time when the country was suffering from an economic crisis and widespread civil unrest.

Very quickly, the British sent an expeditionary force to retake the islands. After short but fierce sea and air battles, they landed at San Carlos Water (also known as Bomb Alley), on the west coast of East Falkland. A land campaign then followed with the British eventually surrounding the capital Port Stanley on 11 June. The Argentine forces surrendered on 14 June.

The war’s death toll included 255 British and 649 Argentine military personnel, and three civilian Falklanders. Within days, Galtieri was removed from power. He subsequently spent some time in prison for mismanagement of the Falklands War, but was pardoned in 1989. In the UK, the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the ruling Conservative Party gained in popularity as a result of the success of the Falklands campaign.

The 30th anniversary of the start of the war was commemorated in Britain with a service of remembrance at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire (see BBC). Prime Minister David Cameron issued a statement saying: ‘Today is a day for commemoration and reflection: a day to remember all those who lost their lives in the conflict - the members of our armed forces, as well as the Argentinian personnel who died.’ But he also reiterated Britain’s commitment to uphold the right of the Falkland Islanders to determine their own future. Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner also reiterated her country’s claim to the islands.

A raft of new books about the conflict is being published in the first half of 2012 to coincide with the anniversary - see Amazon for a listing. At least one of these, published by Viking, purports to be a diary: Down South: A Falklands War Diary by Chris Parry, an officer on a Wessex III helicopter on HMS Antrim. For a review see The Scotsman.

‘Within days,’ the book’s blurb says, ‘Parry and his crew were trying to land SAS members on the formidable Fortuna Glacier in a near white-out. Buffeted by storm-force winds and driving snowstorms, they managed to disembark the men - only to be forced to return the following day when it was clear they couldn’t survive the extremely hostile conditions. A few days later a sombre Parry was releasing the depth charges which disabled an Argentinian sub lurking in the freezing waters of South Georgia. He went on to take part in the landings at San Carlos and experience the intensity of Bomb Alley.’

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Five years ago in 2007, coinciding with the 25th anniversary, Maritime Books published The Red and Green Life Machine by Rick Jolly. This was billed as ‘the amazing story of a very British band of Brothers who met M.A.S.H in the Falkland Islands war of 1982’. A lot about this book can be read here. Although called a diary and although based around dated texts, it is clear that this text was written in retrospect (the dated entries often include information that could only have been known about later).

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Also in 2007, the BBC’s website published a Falklands war diary. This was by Tony Groom, a diver in the Royal Navy’s bomb and mine disposal team, who had just turned 23 when he was sent to the Falklands. Here is one extract.

30 May 1982
‘Went to sea in the middle of the night, woke up expecting to be in Bomb Alley. Gone to do an RAS (replenishment at sea) with RFAs [Royal Fleet Auxiliaries] and join up with the Invincible and Exeter.

Nice to be away from Bomb Alley, we thought, we’ll get a restful night’s sleep. Well, that’s what we thought anyway.

About 0100, I was half way up the vehicle ramp, on my way to the helo pad. Three rockets flew overhead. They make a deafening noise. I and everyone else hit the deck, waiting for the bang, it didn’t come. [. . .] The rockets were ours fired from the bridge; they exploded in a pattern around us and dropped millions of pieces of silver paper. [. . .]

About 2145, some of the ship’s company was watching Dirty Harry Crazy Larry on film. Those bloody rockets went off again. It worked again, everyone dived under the tables. This time Exocet had been fired toward the three ships, when two miles away, this thing picks out its own targets. Action stations, anti-flash, close all red openings etc. One of us was to be hit.

After the Standard had fired its Exocet, the Exeter shot her down with sea dart. Then the arrow opened up with her four to five guns on the missile and two or more sea darts were fired from Exeter. One of them hit the Exocet, both claim it of course. All this was done by Radar of course. Of course, of course!

The two Skyhawkers that exoceted the Standard were chased off by Harriers. It’s weird, sat waiting to hear either a bang or something over the tannoy. You can see fright in people.

We’ve decided we prefer Bomb Alley. At least we know what to expect and you can swim to the shore if need be. Exocet frightens me more, I think. Out here, we have sweep stakes on, that it’ll be Exocet or torpedo tonight.

Bomb Alley in the morning. What a thing to look forward to.

On a big downer all day, tooth has stopped me from talking, to everyone else’s delight, I’m sure. Hacked off with it all and can see no quick end. Home please!

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There are various other Falkland War diaries freely available on the internet. The Royal Air Force website offers two. The first is the No 1 (Fighter) Squadron Operation Corporate Diary. This operation, the RAF says, ‘was the Harrier’s first war, and the fact that the squadron and its aircraft flew from a Royal Navy aircraft carrier alongside Sea Harriers of the Fleet Air Arm was testament to the versatility of the Harrier and the flexibility of it’s pilots’.

The second is by Squadron Leader Mel James, Commander of the Vulcan Engineering Detachment on Ascension Island. This diary, the RAF says, is reproduced exactly as written by James in order to best communicate the situation of the personnel found themselves in on arrival on Ascension Island. The ground crew engineering team maintained the Vulcans used in the Black Buck operations, and this, ‘as will be seen from these pages, was no easy task, with spares and equipment in short supply and the detachment being at the end of a long and protracted supply line’.

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A much zippier read (though with poor spelling) is provided by Neil Randall of 29 Commando Regiment who also put his diary online to mark the 25th anniversary five years ago. This does read, mostly, as if it were written at the time, i.e as a daily diary, but there are sections that could only have been added at a later (as in, ‘I still don’t know what it was but I can still smell it from time to time’).

30 May 1982
‘We moved down to goose Green through the battlefields of the day before, there was little or no cover for the advancing forces. As we approach some areas it seemed like there were discarded water proofs & ponchos laying around, it soon became clear that they were in fact the bodies of the dead Argie defenders. We could see first hand the effect our fire had on the guys in uncovered trenches “poor buggers stood no chance, why the f..... didn’t they get some over head cover on the trenches?” “I for one am glad they didn’t we might still be here trying to move the buggers, think of the blood split on both sides then!”

On the approach to the settlement Rick called the gun to a halt to grab himself a souvenir, he’d spotted a helmet laying beside a trench so he leap over and gleefully picked it up waving his prize in the air. He didn’t at first notice something sliding from it until bits hit him on the shoulder, it appeared that part of the previous owner were still inside. Needless to say Rick’s prize was quickly discarded.

It was a bloody cold night & we woke to a blanket of snow everywhere and a strange smell hanging over us, I still don’t know what it was but I can still smell it from time to time. We got to look around the devastation at the settlement, it looked like the Argies had no regard for sanitary conditions they seemed to have squatted anywhere. “We could’ve left them to it, if we hadn’t invaded the dirty sods would’ve died of dysentery all we’d had to do would’ve been send in the Pioneer corps to clean the place up.” I said.

The airfield was covered in small arms & ammunition lined up in rows where the soldiers had stood when they grounded them & walked into captivity. The locals were pleased to see us, they had been locked in the village hall for the past 30 days without any knowledge of what was happening.’

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Finally, here is Peter Green who was with the Royal Navy on HMS Yarmouth. He says: ‘What follows are extracts taken from the diary I started whilst onboard HMS Yarmouth in Gibraltar when we first heard the Falkland Islands had been invaded. It contains records made at the time, my own notes, notes given to me by various members of the ship’s company, newpaper reports, memorabilia and personal photographs of those one hundred and nineteen days.’

1 May 1982
‘0700-0900 Vulcans bomb Stanley airport.
1040 Action stations
1043 2 Mirage 230° - 95 miles
1044 launched 2 SHAR
1057 CAP
1106 Air Yellow
1135 Exocet released 260° - 100 miles
1142 The Exocet reaches its maximum range without doing any damage to us
1216 Air yellow
1300 270° closing fast enemy
1304 Mix up - friendly helicopters
1308 Air yellow
1325 Super Entendards 245° - 180 miles outward bound
1410 Air red; during this time YARMOUTH and BRILLIANT are to the North of East Falkland doing an ASW whilst ARROW, ALACRITY and GLAMORGAN are to the South of the Islands doing an NGS.
1412 235° - 130 miles
1425 Air yellow
1500 Air red 200° - 200 miles
1543 Splashed one aircraft, two dropped their bombs and scattered
1557 245° - 100 miles
1612 240° - 26 miles
1613 Airborne engagement
1739 275° - 100 miles
1811 Action mortar
1820 Bearing 188° torpedo HE
1832 Mortar fired
1845 Mortar fired
1847 Mortar fired
1915 Periscope sighted
1940 One Mirage ditches
1953 150° - 9 miles patrol boats
1956 Surface red
2008 3 Canberras in the area
2011 Depth charges dropped
2100 Action mortar
2123 Mortar fired
2123 Air yellow
2153 Fall out - our first day at war.’

For a peek at the diary of the captain of HMS Yarmouth see the vessel’s own website.