Monday, October 31, 2016

No escape for Houdini‘s diaries

The great Harry Houdini, Handcuff King, illusionist and magician extraordinaire, died 90 years ago today, on Halloween - not from a failed trick, despite a lifetime of apparently death-defying acts, but from acute appendicitis probably brought on by an unexpected blow to his stomach. Houdini kept interesting and detailed notebooks/diaries for much of his life but, to this day, they remain secret, passed down and closely guarded within the family of Houdini’s friend and lawyer Bernard M. L. Ernst. Most of the diaries have never been published, nor, in recent times, have they been available to any of the myriad of biographers fascinated by Houdini’s life - with the exception of Kenneth Silverman. Indeed, it is Silverman’s notes on the diaries, stored at the Houdini Historical Centre, that are the closest any other biographers have been able to get to the diaries. Surely it’s time for Harry’s own words and thoughts to escape from their prison cell, to be heard at last!

Erik Weisz was born in Budapest in 1874 to a Jewish family, and was one of seven children. In the late 1870s, the family emigrated to the US, where they
changed their name to Weiss (Erik becoming Ehrich) and settled in Appleton, Wisconsin. Aged 9, Ehrich performed as a trapeze artist, but he was also a champion cross-country runner. Still a teenager, he embarked on a career as a magician, taking the name Harry Houdini, and specialising in cards tricks but also working in circuses. He soon found more success with escape acts. While performing with his brother Dash, as The Brothers Houdini on Coney Island, he met a fellow performer, Wilhelmina Beatrice (Bess) Rahner. They married in 1894, and, Bess replaced Dash in the show - often performing their signature act, The Metamorphosis. Though they had no children, Bess remained Houdini’s stage assistant throughout his life.

In 1899, Houdini was taken on by manager Martin Beck who advised him to concentrate on escape acts. He booked him on the Orpheum Circuit, a chain of theatres which included some of the top vaudeville houses in the country. The following year, buoyed by his huge success, Houdini arranged his own tour of Europe, where he spent most of the next five years. He crisscrossed the continent and the UK, winning over large audiences and the media with his escapes, illusions and public challenges - often involving police handcuffs - hence the name Handcuff King - and escaping form prison cells.

On returning to the US in 1905, Houdini bought a seven acre farm in Stamford, Connecticut, as well as a brownstone in then fashionable Harlem where he installed his mother and several brothers. In 1908, he published The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin, claiming it was the first authentic history of magic ever published. In fact, it was an unflattering account of his legendary predecessor Robert-Houdin (after whom he’d taken his own name) in which he aimed to show that most of the tricks that Robert-Houdin had claimed as his own invention were nothing of the sort.

By now, Houdini was creating more and more spectacular acts - the Milk Can Escape and the Suspended Straightjacket Escape, for example - and was soon to become one of the highest paid performers in vaudeville. He was able to perform these escapes, biographers says, thanks to his uncanny strength and his encyclopaedic understanding of locks. The Chinese Water Torture Cell, first performed in 1912, is said to have been the hallmark of his career. Houdini was suspended by his feet and lowered upside-down in a locked glass cabinet filled with water, requiring him to hold his breath for more than three minutes to escape. The act was so daring and such a crowd-pleaser that he continued performing it for the rest of his life.

Houdini’s accrued wealth allowed him to indulge other passions, such as flying - he set out to become the first person to man a controlled power flight over Australia in 1910 - and movie-making (he starred in several films, and produced others). In 1923, he became president of Martinka & Co., the US’s oldest magic company. He wrote several more books, such as Their Methods (1920) and A Magician Among the Spirits (1924); he was president of the Society of American Magicians; and he campaigned vigorously against fraudulent psychic mediums.

Houdini died of peritonitis, secondary to a ruptured appendix, on 31 October 1926 in Detroit. Nine days earlier, two students had visited his dressing room, determined on testing Houdini’s claim that he could withstand any blow to the abdomen if given time to brace himself. The student then hit Houdini several times, under the impression, it is said, that he had braced himself. Houdini went on to perform that night, though was in pain for days. A doctor diagnosed appendicitis, and advised immediate hospitalisation, but Houdini performed again that night. He collapsed before the end of the show, and was taken to hospital; but, by then, his appendix had ruptured. Houdini’s funeral was held five days later in New York with 2,000 mourners. For more biographical information see Wikipedia, The Great Harry Houdini, PBS, or The New York Times obituary. For explanations of ten of Houdini’s greatest illusions see Gizmodo.

Houdini was an avid journal keeper, though no diaries - nor even any substantial extracts - have ever been published. This photo of 
Houdini’s travel diary, 1897–99, in the collection of Dr. Bruce J. Averbook, Cleveland, can be found at New York Social Diary in Jill Krementz’s article on a Houdini exhibition at The Jewish Museum in 2011.

Biographers quote from Houdini’s diaries, sometimes quite extensively, but do so citing several different sources, and never really offering an overall description of their history and current whereabouts. One of the most respected recent biographies, perhaps, is The Secret Life of Houdini by William Kalush and Larry Sloman (Simon & Schuster, 2006 - some pages can read freely at Googlebooks.) The authors make grand claims as to how much data they pored over, how many millions of pages of text were searched, how many libraries and archives they visited, how many Houdini experts they consulted, and so on. Their book is fully annotated, though not in the original printed version - one has to visit The Conjuring Arts Research Center website (a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of magic and its allied arts) to see them. However, there is no bibliography in print or online.

Many chapters, in Kalush and Sloman’s biography contain information drawn from Houdini’s diaries. Trawling through the online list of notes for each chapter one can find two main sources for these: diaries from around 1897-1899 ‘from the collection of Dr. Bruce Averbook’; and diaries from various years as ‘cited by Kenneth Silverman in his notes deposited in the Houdini Historical Centre at the Outagamie Museum, Appleton, Wisconsin’. (There is also a somewhat curious reference to a diary entry by Bess, Houdini’s wife, on a page of Houdini’s last diary kept by the Harry Ransom Centre at the University of Texas.)

Here are two extracts which include quotes from Houdini’s diary from The Secret Life of Houdini, both with Silverman’s notes cited as the source.

1) ‘Houdini was back in the English provinces, breaking all attendance records, but it was trying, grueling work. On December 14 [1903], he was at the Palace in Blackburn, the scene of the dreaded Hodgson contest. “Back to this wretched town,” he wrote in his diary. “Of all the hoodlum towns I ever worked, the gallery is certainly the worst. Had a tough job with a heel named Wilson.” Houdini had been challenged onstage that night by this young man who seemed more intent on making speeches from the stage than testing the Handcuff King. “He would not let me examine his cuff, so after a lot of speech making he wanted to walk off the stage. [Then] I sneaked behind him and tore the cuffs from his grasp and snapped them on myself. Well, you ought to have heard the booing that was my share to obtain . . .” Houdini wrote. “I went into my cabinet and found out that he had deliberately cut away the whole inside of the lock and it was ten minutes ere I had both hands free. Instead of applause once again I was booed. Then I snapped them on to the rods near the footlights and it took Wilson twenty minutes to take them off himself and he had to use three kinds of instruments to do so. He was applauded and I was booed.” ’

2) ‘The [coffin] escape had taken another toll on Houdini, at least that was what he told the reporters. “I was very tired after it was all over and the worry was as bad as the work,” he said. “All the time I was in there I was thinking of death.” In private, he relished the fact that his promoter Paul Keith had managed to spirit him away from the more inquisitive committee members who wanted to examine him after the escape - to a steam room where a search would be superfluous. “Coffin affair a great big success,” Houdini wrote in his diary. “Created more talk than anything I have ever done in Boston. Paul Keith sneaked me into the Turkish bath after show. That is, a committee desired to search me but we fooled them all and Paul grinned for two days.”

And here is a third diary quote, this one only found in the footnotes of The Secret Life of Houdini. ‘Houdini diary entry, November 1909: “Go to Dr. Kolm. Have a bad spot on my derriere cut open, the effects of the strap on straight jacket that runs through crotch. Ought to have it attended to long ago. Glad it’s over. Charges me twelve marks. Very painful to work.” ’

Kenneth Silverman, professor emeritus of English at New York University and a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, has himself produced a book on Houdini, HOODINI!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss (HarperCollins, 1996) with a long subtitle: American Self-Liberator, Europe’s Eclipsing Sensation, World’s Handcuff King & Prison Breaker - Nothing on Earth Can Hold HOUDINI a Prisoner!!! Silverman does include a ‘source guide’, and this explains how he was able to access Houdini’s diaries: ‘Stanley Palm of Brooklyn., New York, gave me unlimited consultation of a scrapbook gathered by Houdini in the 1890s and of Houdini’s first diary (ca. 1878-79) - key items in my account of Houdini’s early career. Most of Houdini’s other diaries - indispensable to writing his biography - are owned by a collector who generously allowed me to read them but wishes to remain anonymous.’ (My own emphasis.)

Here are two extracts from Silverman’s book with direct quotes from the diaries.

1) ‘It became national news when, in Sheffield, Houdini escaped the murderer’s cell that had held Charles Peace - “the greatest criminal that London ever had,” he noted in his diary. “Never saw such crowds.” Hanged in 1879, Peace had worked respectably enough as a picture framer, sent his children to Sunday school, and collected birds. But because of his violent nocturnal burglaries, which had terrified London, he never managed to stay out of jail long. (He tried: once while in custody he jumped, manacled, from the window of a train going fifty miles an hour.) With Houdini inside Peace’s cell, on the second tier, Sheffield police triple-locked the door; they placed Houdini’s clothes in another cell, also triple-locked. To bar his escape further they fastened the iron gate leading to the cell block with a seven-lever lock. Yet five minutes later Houdini stood before the very surprised chief constable, clothed. “This feat has been discribed (sic) in almost every newspaper,” he reported to his diary, pleased with himself. “Makes me one of the most noted foreign performers in England. Every illustrated paper has my portrait.” ’

2) ‘Houdini found not much else in Russia to like. He thought the country’s magical life dead - “only poor magicians, and nothing worth mentioning.” The situation of Russia’s five million Jews shocked and offended him. The same Grand Duke Sergei Aleksandrovich he entertained by swallowing needles had marked his appointment as governor general of Moscow in 1891-1892 by ousting twenty thousand Jews from the city. Houdini had assimilated to Christian America, not only in marrying a Gentile: the meaningful holidays to him were the Fourth of July and Christmas. He had his own brand of Jewish anti-Semitism, too, which could be hard to tell from other varieties. An entry in his 1904 diary reads: “Some Jew tried to get out of the handcuffs to gain the £100. He failed.” Still, even with his stage name he made no secret of his roots: “I never was ashamed to acknowledge that I was a Jew. and never will be.” ’

So, where are the bulk of Houdini’s diaries, the ones Silverman had access to briefly, and which also gave rise to the notes used by Kalush and Sloman? This very question was posted by someone called Roger M on a Genii Forum thread in 2011. Richard Kaufmann provided a reply: ‘The name of the person who owns most of them (a few - very few - are in the hands of magic collectors) has never been made public. He is a descendant of someone who was close to Houdini and is extremely wealthy. He does not need the money, nor does he seem to care that their contents are of interest to many people. One of the few allowed access to them was Ken Silverman while researching his biography on Houdini. As I recall, he was given something like 2 hours to look through them and take notes. So he flipped through them very quickly (there are MANY volumes), talking into a cassette recorder as rapidly as he could. In this way, amazingly, Ken managed to extract most of the best information.’

Earlier this year, Roger M. returned to the thread and posted a link - to the website of Elf Lake Lodge - with further information about the diaries:

‘Owners of the lodge and surrounding 12,000 acres surname is Ernst.
1) Houdini's attorney at his death was Bernard M. L. Ernst, he’s the executor of Houdini's estate.
2) B.M.L. Ernst son was Richard C. Ernst.
3) Richard C. Ernst married Susan Bloomingdale, granddaughter of the stores founder.
4) R.C. and Susan Ernst had a son, John L. Ernst, and also two daughters, Eleanor and Cornelia.
5) John L. Ernst owns Elk Lake Lodge, and (with his sisters) the Houdini diaries.’

Friday, October 28, 2016

The sieges of Limerick

‘This day also the French forces departed for Galway to the great satisfaction not only of the inhabitants, but of all the garrison that remained in town. They remained some time at Galway till ships came to carry them into France, thinking it impossible Limerick should hold out a siege, offering to lay wagers it would be taken in three days.’ This is John Stevens, who died 290 years ago today, writing in a diary about his time as a soldier in Ireland fighting for the Jacobite cause. Although he went on to settle in London and work for many years as a translator (from Spanish and Portuguese) of some distinction, it is his diary, an important primary source about the Jacobite war in Ireland and the sieges of Limerick, for which he is most remembered.

Stevens was born in London, in 1662 or thereabouts, the son of a page to Queen Catherine of Braganza. It is assumed his mother was Spanish. He entered into a military career, and accompanied the Second Earl of Clarendon, when he was made lord lieutenant of Ireland in 1685, to Dublin as one of his gentlemen-at-large. Two years later Stevens was appointed collector of taxes at Welshpool, for an area covering mid-Wales and the borders. As a Catholic and supporter of James II, he was forced to flee after the so-called Glorious Revolution, to France, and then with the Jacobites to Ireland. In Dublin, though penniless, he eventually obtained a commission in Fitzjames’s regiment (James Fitzjames being the illegitimate son of James II) and served in the ensuing Jacobite war in Ireland.

Before long, though, Stevens had taken refuge in Lisbon, Portugal. By 1695, he was back in London, where he settled down to write and make a living translating Portuguese and Spanish texts. Over the next 30 years or so he published over 20 translations, including a revision of Shelton’s version of Don Quixote. He also produced a revised edition of Monasticon Anglicanum, a history of defunct church properties designed to appeal to gentlemen amateurs. From 1712 to 1715, he was editor of the British Mercury. He died on 27 October 1726. Further biographical information can be found at Wikipedia, the out-of-copyright Dictionary of National Biography, or the modern Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (which requires log-in).

Stevens is largely remembered today not so much for the works he published in his own lifetime but for a journal he kept during his military service in Ireland. This was not published until 1912 when Clarendon Press brought out The Journal of John Stevens, containing a brief account of the war in Ireland 1689-1691. The book’s editor, Rev. Robert H. Murray, explains in his long introduction about the diary’s history and its previous use by historians. He also notes that the version he consulted 
(held by the British Library) was not itself the original journal, kept day by day, but one written up from notes that had been. And although the diary is ‘barren of some personal details’, Murray adds, ‘it is a very human document indeed.’  It is plain, he says, that a scholar like the author did not relish his life as a soldier: ‘He is conscious of the mistakes of his generals, of the loss of promotion, of the lack of pay, of the blisters on his feet, and of the hunger in his stomach.’

Stevens’ journal is considered a major primary source of information about the Jacobite war in Ireland, and, in particular, about the sieges of Limerick. See, for example, And So Began the Irish Nation by Brendan Bradshaw; Jacobite Ireland by J. G. Simms; The Williamite Wars in Ireland by John Childs; or Conquest and Resistance: War in Seventeenth-Century Ireland by Pádraig Lenihan. The journal itself is freely available online at Internet Archive or the CELT website hosted by University College Cork. Here are several extracts.

2 July 1690
‘At break of day those few drums there were beat as formally as if we had been a considerable body, but it was only mere form and we scarce the shadows of regiments, the bodies being dispersed and gone. What was left in dismal manner marched as far as Dublin, where when each commanding officer came to view his strength, shame of marching in such case through the city we not long before had filled with expectation of our actions and hopes of gathering part of the scattered herd caused us to halt in the fields without the town. The colours of each regiment being fixed on eminences that all stragglers might know whither to repair, in the space of near three hours each regiment had gathered a small number, the Grand Prior’s as one of the most considerable being then 100 strong. Thus we marched through the skirts of the city, passing over the river at the Bloody Bridge, which is the farthest off in the suburbs, being now only the remains of four regiments, the others being either quite dispersed or gone other ways, we halted again in a field at Kilmainham, a hamlet adjoining to the city. The general opinion was that we were to encamp in the park till such time as our men came up, and what forces had not been in the rout as also the militia should join us, and then either maintain the city, or, if it were judged expedient, give the enemy battle, which gave occasion to some of our small number to steal away into town thinking they might soon be back with us. But about noon we were all undeceived, the other three regiments having orders to march, and ours only left there without any or knowing whence to expect them. Being thus left by all our lieutenant-colonel marched us away, which we did not hold above a quarter of an hour when we were reduced to only twenty men with the colours. On the road we overtook the Lord Kilmallock’s Regiment, which was untouched, being quartered in Dublin when the defeat at the Boyne. The whole day was a continual series of false alarms, the greatest reached us within two miles of the Naas, where Kilmallock’s officers attempting to draw up their men to line the hedges, the confusion and terror of the soldiers who had never seen the enemy was such they were forced in all haste to march away, It was ridiculous to see the brother of the traitor O’Donnell who had the name of lieutenant-colonel reformed in our regiment, pretend to take authority upon him here, and order us to line the hedges, when at that time our whole strength was but six musketeers, eight pikes, four ensigns, and one lieutenant besides myself, to this was that but the day before hopeful regiment reduced, and yet not one of the number killed, unless they perished who were left drunk when we fled which were four or five. For our comfort no enemy was within twenty miles of us, but fear never thinks itself out of danger. We followed Kilmallock’s men with such speed it had been hard for an enemy to overtake us, and that regiment though till then untouched was in such a consternation that when they came to the Naas they were not 100 strong. Here being quite spent with marching two days without rest or food I used my utmost endeavours to persuade O’Donnell, who as I said pretended to act as lieutenant-colonel, to take up quarters for the few men that were left, to refresh them that night, and be the better able to march next morning, but all in vain. The general infection had seized him and he fancied each minute he stayed was to him time lost and an opportunity given to the enemy to gain ground upon us. Therefore following the dictates of his fear he hasted away commanding all to follow him, but necessity pressing more than his usurped authority, I stayed a while in the town with an ensign who had a lame horse, and having refreshed ourselves with bread and drink which was all the town afforded, we followed both on the same lame creature five miles to Kilcullen Bridge, where we could hear no news of our men, though they lay there that night. So inconsiderable was a regiment grown that it could not be heard of in a town where there are not above twenty or thirty houses and but three good ones. Here we took up for the remaining part of the night in a waste house, and rested the best we could till break of day.’

28 July 1690
‘We continued here. Brigadier Sarsfield marched away with the horse under his command who had quartered in the neighbourhood. At our setting out of Limerick there marched also four pieces of cannon and a body of horse and dragoons, all which took the way of Loughrea for the conveniency of the road which is hard and fit for draught, whereas the way the foot took (as I said before) was unfit for heavy carriages, but being the shorter was judged best for the foot, both for their ease and that they might the sooner relieve Athlone, which was thought to be pressed and in danger and by their coming might be strengthened the better to expect farther relief. But upon the news of the enemies quitting the siege, the foot marched back the easiest though the longest way, and where they could have quarters to refresh them.’

2 August 1690
‘Most of our horse and dragoons, some on the one side of the river some on the other, marched towards Athlone. This day also the French forces departed for Galway to the great satisfaction not only of the inhabitants, but of all the garrison that remained in town. They remained some time at Galway till ships came to carry them into France, thinking it impossible Limerick should hold out a siege, offering to lay wagers it would be taken in three days. Immediately upon their departure His Grace the Duke of Tyrconnel ordered it to be proclaimed that no person should presume to ask above thirty shillings for a pistole, thirty-eight shillings for a guinea and seven and sixpence for a crown in silver, pistoles before being sold for five pounds in brass and silver crowns for thirty or forty shillings. Nay this day the French marched out some of them gave a crown for each silver three-halfpenny piece.’

29 August 1690
‘The enemy’s cannon played as before and enlarged the breach to above forty paces. At the bridge one shot cut both the chains of the drawbridge and did some other damage but not of much moment, because the enemy’s battery had not a full view of it, and their shot came slanting towards one end, yet the passage was very dangerous. The Grand Prior’s detachments were all relieved this afternoon except that where I commanded, which continued in the same place till night, when being relieved we only marched into the street, and having joined the rest of the regiment to the trenches on the south-west side of the town, where we continued all night expecting an attack. The night was extreme cold, dark and rainy and we almost spent for want of rest. For my own particular as appears by this relation I had had none at all for three nights before this and but very little during the whole siege, nor indeed was it possible to have much being upon duty every other day and continually alarmed when we expected to rest. Our cannon and small shot fired the whole night round the walls, and much railing was betwixt our men and the enemies, for we were so closed up on all sides that though the night was stormy we could easily hear one another.’

The Diary Junction

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Virtuous William Lambarde

Some 480 years ago today was born William Lambarde, a learned, virtuous, pious justice of the peace. He wrote several books, including one on Anglo-Saxon law, the first history of any county (Kent), and a diary record of his legal decisions on the Kent county circuit as a justice of the peace.

Lambarde was born in London on 18 October 1536. His father was a draper, as well as an alderman and a sheriff of London, but he died while William was still a minor. When he came of age, though, William was in comfortable circumstances, since he inherited the manor of Westcombe near Greenwich, as well as property in Shoreditch. He studied law and old English, and was called to the bar in 1567.

Lambarde spent the next two decades largely on county administration (starting with his appointment as a commissioner of sewers for Kent), his estates, and scholarship. In 1568, he published a collection of Anglo-Saxon laws, Archaionomia. Two years later he completed his Perambulation of Kent, the first history of a British county; and in 1576, he founded Queen Elizabeth’s College almshouses at Greenwich.

Lambarde served as an MP for Lincoln’s Inn, and a Justice of the Peace for Kent. This latter position led him to write a manual for Justices of Peace which became a standard work on the subject. He also wrote A Discourse Upon the High Courts of Justice in England. Lambarde married twice, and had four children by his second wife. Queen Elizabeth made him Keeper of the Records in the Tower in 1601, but he died shortly thereafter. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required) says he had ‘an unparalleled reputation for learning, piety, civic virtue, and trustworthiness’. Further information is available at Wikipedia, Archives Hub, The History of Parliament.

For the first eight years working as a justice of the peace, Lambarde kept a diary, he called An Ephemeris of the Certifiable Causes of the Peace, in which he recorded out-of sessions activities. These were mainly exercises of the magistrate’s office which needed to be reported to the quarter sessions or to assizes - see Prosecuting Crime in the Renaissance: England, Germany, France by John H. Langbein (The Lawbook Exchange, 2005) at Googlebooks. Lambarde’s diary, Langbein says, preserves mention of numerous examinations and bailments in cases of felony, together with a run of lesser matters, such as summary orders about alehouse keeping and bastardy and bindings over to keep the peace.


The diary itself has been published (by Cornell University Press for The Folger Shakespeare Library in 1962) in William Lambarde and Local Government: His “Ephemeris” and Twenty-nine Charges to Juries and Commissions, as edited by Conyers Read. According to Giles E. Dawson, who provides a preface to the book, ‘The importance of these manuscripts lies in the nature of William Lambarde’s activities and abilities. He was one of the foremost expositors of the Elizabethan judicial system, and for this task he was admirably fitted by training, by the scholarly bent of his mind, perhaps also by his social status among the new gentry sprung from London trade.’ Here are several examples from the diary.

1 April 1582
‘My father-in-law and I bound John Swan of Wrotham to the good behavior, to be kept till Easter 1584, in 20 li., for whom William Lever and Henry Lever of Wrotham, yeomen, did understake, in 10 li. every of them.’

21 May 1583
‘There was holden at Maidstone a special session of the peace for the rogues, where divers were bound and whipped. I have signed a license for Thomas Godfrey to beg till Allhallontide (for his house burnt) within the limits of the Lord Cobham only.’

23 June 1583
‘I bound Francis Whitepaine of Yalding, yeoman, to the peace against Richard Acton of Yalding, clothier, with four manucaptors, by force of a supplicavit out of the Chancery.’

13 July 1583
‘At Cobham Hall my Lord and I licensed Edward Doret of Cobham to keep an alehouse. He was bound, in 20 li., and Thomas Harris and William Waite of Cobham, in 10 li. either of them, as his sureties, with the common condition. The same day we wrote to such of other parishes as occupied lands in Allhallows to contribute after the rate of 2 d. in the pound of their said lands towards the relief of the poor of Allhallows.’

29 August 1586
‘I sent to the gaol Thomas Cockes, late of Strood, tinker, for robbing the house of Alice Fuller, widow, and bound her, in 5 li., to give evidence, etc.’

25 April 1587
‘At the quarter sessions at Maidstone we certified all the said recognizances for peace, alehouses, etc., and delivered in the record of the said riot, etc.’

23 June 1587
‘We of this division sent out towards the Low Countries thirteen men for our part of fifty men allotted to this lathe of Aylesford; given to every one 2 s. press money and to the captain 10 d. for each one towards coat and furniture; the whole shire made out three hundred.’

2 August 1587
‘I bound Nevil Reeve of Aylesford, gentleman, 200 li., with Henry Warcop of the same, gentleman, 100 li., and Richard Reeve of Maidstone, innholder, 100 li., that Nevil shall appear at the next general gaol delivery, etc., and in the meantime be of good port and behavior. It was for the hurting of Thomas Reynes of Burham, yeoman, with a stone, to the peril of death, as it is said, etc. Released by Reynes.’

14 September 1587
‘Mungra Russel, a Scot, charged to beget a woman child upon Rebecca Gore of East Mailing, was by me sent to the gaol for not finding sureties for his good behavior and appearance, etc. Send for old Gore, her father, etc. He is escaped. Send for James Dowle, the borsholder.’

The Diary Junction

Sunday, October 16, 2016

We must not budge

‘On Jerusalem we must not budge. We have to quickly establish a large Jewish settlement there. The same with Hebron. The West Bank must not be returned to Hussein, but its annexation to Israel would mean the addition of one million Arabs, this would present a terrible danger. There’s also a refugee problem in the Gaza Strip.’ This is Ben-Gurion, founder of Israel and the country’s first prime minister, writing during the 1967 Six-Day War in a diary he kept all his adult life. Today marks the 130th anniversary of his birth.

David Gruen was born in Plonsk, Russian Poland, on 16 October 1886. He learned Hebrew in a school run by his father, and while still in his mid-teens led a Zionist group called Ezra. Aged 18, he worked as a teacher in Warsaw, where he joined a Socialist-Zionist movement, Poalei Zion. By 1906, though, Gruen had emigrated to Palestine, where, for several years, he worked as a farmer in various Jewish agricultural settlements. He soon adopted the ancient Hebrew name Ben-Gurion. He helped found the first agricultural workers’ commune in Sejera and to establish the Hashomer (Watchman) defence organisation.

With the start of WWI, Ben-Gurion, considered an alien Russian national, was deported by the Ottoman authorities, to Egypt. He travelled to New York, and thence to many other US cities, on behalf of the Socialist-Zionist cause, trying to raise a pioneer army to fight on Turkey’s side. While in the US, he met and married Paula Munweis, a fellow Poalei Zion activist, and they would have three children. He returned to Israel in the uniform of the Jewish Legion, created as a unit in the British army by Zionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky.

After the war, Ben-Gurion was made the leader of Ahdut HaAvoda, formed after a split in the Poale Zion party. The following year, 1920, the group set up a military organisation, the Haganah, and it helped establish the Histadrut, a general organisation of Hebrew workers. Ben-Gurion, himself, did not return to British-ruled Palestine until 1921, but when he did he was soon elected general secretary of Histadrut. He retained that role until 1935, turning Histadrut into a national instrument for the realisation of Zionism, and in particular for stimulating immigration. In 1930, Ben-Gurion became leader of a new party, Mapai, and, then in 1935, he was made head of the World Zionist Organisation and of the Jewish Agency. During WW2, he led Israel to fight with Britain against the Nazis.

Having led the struggle to establish the state of Israel - agreed by the UN in 1947 - Ben-Gurion became its first prime minister and defence minister in 1948. He took the decision to bring all the country’s armed factions together into a single Israeli army. He then led Mapai to winning the largest number of seats in the Knesset during the first national elections in 1949. Elected prime minister, he remained in that post until 1963, barring two years in the 1950s. He oversaw the establishment of the state’s institutions, presided over various national projects aimed at rapid development (for example, airlifting Jews from Arab countries, the construction of the national water company, rural developments and the establishment of new towns and cities).

In late 1956, Ben-Gurion, frustrated by Egyptian guerrilla attacks on Israel, made a secret agreement with Britain and France to attempt the overthrow of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Israel invaded the Egyptian Sinai, while Britain and France shortly after tried to re-take the Suez Canal which had been seized by Nasser and nationalised. However, the US, the Soviet Union and the UN together forced the three invading countries to withdraw - Ben-Gurion, however, secured the right of free Israeli navigation through the Red Sea. In 1963, he stepped down from office, naming Levi Eshkol as his successor. But, a year later, the two fell out over the handling of the Lavon Affair, a failed covert operation by the Israelis in Egypt. Ben-Gurion left Mapai, and formed a new party Rafi, but it lost the 1965 election against Alignment (formed by a merger of Mapai and Ahdut HaAvoda, and led by Eshkol).

Ben-Gurion, by now 
a much respected elder statesman, continued to be involved in the country’s politics, but he retired in 1970 to live in his modest Kibbutz home. He died in 1973. Sirens sounded across the entire country to mark his death. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Brittanica, Jewish Virtual Library, or Zionism and Israel.

Ben-Gurion kept a professional diary all his adult life, though, as far as I can tell, there have been no published editions in English. However, 
Selwyn Ilan Troen (editor of The Suez-Sinai Crisis 1956: Retrospective and Reappraisal, 1990, Frank Cass) knows the diaries well and has published extracts in English, including a chapter - Ben-Gurion’s Diary: The Suez Sinai Campaign - in the above book. He states in the introduction: ‘The Suez diaries are part of a massive record Ben-Gurion kept from 1900 until nearly the day he died in 1973. Since they were notebooks intended to assist him in his work rather than private or intimate notations, there is almost nothing of a personal nature on himself, his family or his private life. He used the diaries to record his activities including meetings, letters, and conversations, to note what transpired, and to offer commentary, reflection and analysis. During the 1920s and 1930s he even shared them with his colleagues as a means of communication. In order to facilitate their use, he indexed them himself so that he could refer to them for needed information. From time to time he also wrote summaries and short histories of topics that were of interest to him.’

‘It should be noted,’ he adds, ‘that despite his expectation that his diaries would be read by posterity, or perhaps because he was conscious that he was creating a historical document, Ben-Gurion never erased or changed an entry. In all the diaries, the record of any particular day remains a reflection of what engaged Ben-Gurion at the moment.’

The diaries are held by the Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism which says: ‘Ben-Gurion’s diaries are undoubtedly the jewel in the crown of the archives. Ben-Gurion was a prolific writer who kept meticulous records, even copying statistics into his diaries. Their 20,000 pages, written over the course of nearly 70 years, contain invaluable research material that sheds light on the events surrounding the founding of the State and the social trends and minutiae of its development.’

Here are several extracts from Ben-Gurion’s diaries. The first three come from Ilan Troen’s chapter on the diaries in The Suez-Sinai Crisis 1956: Retrospective and Reappraisal. The last (8 June 1967) comes from a paper by Ilan Troen and Zaki Shalom entitled Ben-Gurion’s Diary for the 1967 Six-Day War: An Introduction (found in Israel Studies, Volume 4, Number 2). Square brackets in these extracts are inserts by the editor(s) - except for the single occurrence of  [. . .] which indicates where I have omitted several paragraphs.

27 September 1956
‘This morning we held a consultation - Golda [Meir], [Peretz| Naftali, Pinhas Sapir, Moshe D[ayan] . . . Shimon Peres and myself - regarding the French proposed. . . I made three negative assumptions: (1) We shall not be the ones to open [hostilities]. (2) We shall not participate unless there is British agreement and their agreement must also include our defence against a Jordanian and Iraqi attack. (We on our part will promise not to attack either Jordan or Syria.) (3) That no action will be taken contrary to U.S. opinion and without it being informed. Our final decision will be made here following their return [from France] . . .

Upon the conclusion of the Eden-Selwyn Lloyd talks in Paris with the French Government a communiqué was issued saying that both governments hold the same views as to the steps that must be taken in the present crisis. Have they really reached an agreement on an ‘operation’ and did they also discuss the plan of our participation?. . .

Next Sunday things will become clearer following the departure of our delegation.

Tonight, the last ship bringing French arms is due to arrive. On it are the last 20 Super-Shermans, accessories and ammunition.

Following my disclosure of this ‘military secret’, several weeks ago, the newspaper editors, who were true to their word, were taken today to watch the unloading of this precious ‘merchandise’.’

19 October 1956
‘At eleven, Gilbert, who has just returned from France, came to see me . . . I outlined to him my plan for the Middle East and he agrees with it. In his opinion his government will endeavour to influence Britain to accept my plan, for without England the plan cannot be. In general the plan is: oust Nasser, partition Jordan - [with the] eastern [part] to Iraq - so that it will make peace with Israel thereby enabling the refugees to settle there with the aid of American money. The borders of Lebanon will be reduced and it will become a Christian state. I am not quite clear in regard to what will be done with Syria. Gilbert thinks that [Adib al] Shishakli is the man [to take into consideration] since America trusts him.’

7 November 1956
‘An act of the Devil - I fell sick and was bedridden following the Government approval of my plan, a day before actions in Sinai began. I had an attack of high fever and weakness and even yesterday, Prof. S[hlomo]. Zondak forbade me to go up to Jerusalem to the Knesset. But I could no longer take his advice, since the Knesset had been put off from Monday till today. At eleven o’clock this morning I gave my report of the military actions of the biggest campaign in the history of our people - the campaign to conquer the Sinai Peninsula (including the Gaza Strip). (I could not give an account of the political background of the military operation.)

In bed in Tel-Aviv, I was in constant touch with military head-quarters on the one hand, and with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, on the other. I wasn’t sure whether Eden would keep his part of the arrangement. And though he was twelve hours late - in turning [with the ultimatum] to Egypt as well as in the start of the bombings. I was anxious with fright that Tel-Aviv and the other airports might be bombed - the partners did keep most of their commitments. On two occasions Eisenhower poured out his anger at us - twice before the start of the operation (during mobilization) and twice following our commencing the operation. But by the time we managed to explain to him the reasons for our actions he was informed that the English and the French were also taking action, and in his broadcast to the nation that night - October 31 - he was more moderate towards us.

In the beginning the entire affair seemed like a dream, then a fable and in the end like a night of wonders.

The dispatch with which [Nikolai] Bulganin honored me - if his name hadn’t been signed on it I could have thought it had been written by Hitler. There’s not much difference between these hangmen. It worries me because Soviet arms arc flowing into Syria and we must presume that the arms arc accompanied by ‘Volunteers’.’

8 June 1967
‘M. Shapira came at nine [to my home in Tel-Aviv]. I told him that we’d lost a day, and in these times one day should not be taken lightly. I don’t know if the war is over already, it’s possible there will be complications. We must reinforce the army’s victory by settling the Old City as quickly as possible, both in the deserted areas of the Jewish Quarter and in abandoned Arab houses [in other Quarters]. If the Arabs return, we’ll provide them with homes in the New City [of Jerusalem]. Shapira agrees.

I wanted to discuss this with Moshe Dayan as Defense Minister too, but was told that he’s in Jerusalem. Because I wanted to go inside the Old City, I traveled to Jerusalem. Ezer Weizman and Mordechai Hod came with me. All the way to Jerusalem and in the New City soldiers cheered us. We entered the Old City and headed straight for the Wailing Wall. I noticed that since the Old City has been closed to us [from 1948], buildings were erected next to the Wall. I was surprised that an order hasn’t been given to knock these constructions down. I walked over to the Wall and saw a sign in Arabic and English “el Burak,” as if to announce here is where Muhammad met the angel Elkim. I said that first of all this sign should be removed without damaging the Wall’s stones. One of the soldiers immediately got a stick and began erasing the sign. I couldn’t find Moshe because he’d gone to Hebron, and would return to Tel-Aviv.

I returned to Tel-Aviv; Moshe is still not here. I wanted to see Begin and discuss settling the Old City, I was told he’s in Jerusalem, and might return this evening.

I went to a meeting of Rafi. A large crowd had gathered. Shimon suggested returning to the Labor Party, so that we can oust the Prime Minister. I expressed my doubts that our return to Labor would create a change of government. I don’t know if the war is over, but in the political arena we’re liable to lose what our army has gained for the nation.  [. . .]

I invited [Moshe] Shapira and Begin to come and see me. I told them that it’s not certain if the war will be over tomorrow. At any rate, the international struggle will begin immediately over four issues: the Old City, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and Sinai. On Jerusalem we must not budge. We have to quickly establish a large Jewish settlement there. The same with Hebron. The West Bank must not be returned to Hussein, but its annexation to Israel would mean the addition of one million Arabs, this would present a terrible danger. There’s also a refugee problem in the Gaza Strip. Begin proposed transferring the refugees from Gaza to El- Arish and leaving them there. It’s doubtful if they’d go willingly. He’s also in favor of incorporating all of the West Bank into Israel. I stressed the political struggle awaiting us.’

The Nuremberg ten

Seventy years ago today, on 16th October 1946, ten prominent members of the Nazi regime were executed by hanging in Nuremberg having been found guilty at the International Military Tribunal of crimes against humanity and other offences: Hans Frank, Wilhelm Frick, Alfred Jodl, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Wilhelm Keitel, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Alfred Rosenberg, Fritz Sauckel, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, and Julius Streicher. Four of the top Nazis - Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler and Bormann - had all committed suicide more than a year earlier, and Hermann Göring, tried and found guilty at Nuremberg, had been due to be executed with the other ten but managed to suicide the day before.

A few of these prominent Nazis left behind some kind of diary record. The Memoirs of Field-Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, written while Keitel was awaiting execution, has been published - see Amazon. Some information about Jodl’s diary can be found at the Jewish Virtual Library; and extracts from Hans Frank’s diary can be found at the libraries archive website of the University of Connecticut. Alfred Rosenberg’s diary has had an interesting history, as recounted in The Devil’s Diary, though its substance is disappointing in the opinion of The Guardian’s reviewer. Otherwise, I can find no evidence that any other of the ten kept a diary - certainly not Ribbentrop, according to an article in Political Science Quarterly.

Goebbels’ diary is by far the most important and detailed diary kept by a Nazi leader. The Diary Review marked the 70th anniversary of the death of Goebbels last year - see We can conquer the world for more about Goebbels and his diaries. By way of marking the 70th anniversary of the 10 Nuremberg executions, I have returned to Goebbels’ diary, and selected two or three paragraphs about each of the executed Nazis. All extracts are taken from The Goebbels Diaries - translated and edited by Louis P. Lochner, published by Hamish Hamilton, 1948. Generally, the book’s index mentions each person roughly 5-10 times, with the exception of Kaltenbrunner (just once), and Streicher (not at all, except in a note concerning a magazine he published).

Hans Frank, German lawyer and politician (b. 1900)
25 April 1942
‘I had a long talk with Governor General Dr. Frank. He described conditions in the General Government. They are extremely complicated. Dr. Frank and his collaborators have succeeded absolutely in balancing the budget of the General Government. He is already squeezing all sorts of money out there. The food situation, too, has been brought into equilibrium. Frank is convinced that much more could be got out of the General Government. Unfortunately we lack manpower everywhere to carry out tasks like these. He must get along with a minimum of help.’

9 March 1943
‘I related some incidents illustrating conditions in the occupied areas to the Fuehrer, but he already knew most of them. In this connection we happened to talk about the case of the Governor General [of Poland], Dr. Frank. The Fuehrer no longer has any respect for him. I argued with the Fuehrer, however, that he must either replace Frank or restore his authority, for a governor general - in other words, a viceroy - of Poland without authority is of course unthinkable in these critical times. Added to everything else, Frank is unfortunately mixed up in a divorce, about which he is not exactly behaving nobly. The Fuehrer refused to let him get a divorce. This, too, serves to play havoc with the Fuehrer’s relationship to Frank. Nevertheless he wants to receive him within the next few days to determine whether he can still be saved, and if so, to strengthen his authority once more. Frank is not acting very sensibly in this whole situation. He vacillates between brusque outbursts of anger and a sort of spiritual self-mortification. That’s no way, of course, to lead a people. One must have absolute self-assurance, as it is the only thing which can radiate assurance to others.’

28 May 1943
‘Secretary of State Frank received the Government of the Protectorate and revealed the background of the attempt on Heydrich’s life, stressing especially the directives issued by Benes. Undoubtedly this speech will attract great attention in the Protectorate. For obvious reasons we are devoting only a few lines to it in the German press.’

Wilhelm Frick, German lawyer and politician, German Minister of the Interior (b. 1877)
11 February 1942
‘A number of domestic problems demand solution. Administrative reform is under discussion. Frick is trying to inject himself into the work started by Dr. Lammers, but he is only partially successful in this. The Ministry of the Interior as a simplifier of administration is a real joke.’

10 May 1943
‘Frick, who was present at this talk, cut a very poor figure. The centralized administration that he built up is neither approved of nor even appreciated by the Fuehrer. The Fuehrer criticized the Ministry of the Interior so outspokenly that Frick ought to draw certain conclusions. But he is too old and too fond of his office for this.’

Alfred Jodl, German general (b. 1890)
21 September 1943
‘I had a very serious clash with Dr. Dietrich and General Jodl about the Salerno news handouts. They both felt badly compromised. They would like, in all the circumstances, to prevent my reporting this questionable matter to the Fuehrer. I can only refrain from doing so, however, if given binding assurances that incidents of this sort won’t be repeated. I have no mind to let my good name be discredited by the journalistic amateurishness of inferior officers.’

23 September 1943
‘. . . the abilities of Jodl are much greater. He is in fact a very good and solid worker whose excellent general staff training is revealed time and again.’

4 December 1943
‘In Italy the enemy has started new assaults on our front. They have succeeded here and there in making inroads. But considerable reserves of ours are on the march, so that people in the Fuehrer’s G.H.Q. are not worrying about further developments. The operations are chiefly under Jodl’s command. But Jodl does not seem to me any too competent at evaluating a critical military situation. He has so often been wrong in his prognoses that personally I am unable to drop my worries about the southern Italian front.’

Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Austrian SS officer (b. 1903)
14 March 1943
‘S.S. Croup Leader Kaltenbrunncr sent me a general report on enemy sabotage activity during the year 1942. It appears that it was rather over-estimated. While it is true that a number of regrettable events occurred, they did not affect the situation seriously. We can be quite satisfied with developments thus far, considering, after all, that we are now in the fourth year of war.’

Wilhelm Keitel, German field marshal (b. 1882)
9 March 1943
‘The Fuehrer once more gave detailed expression to his opinion of the generals, for whom he has nothing but contempt. Like myself, he thinks you need only imagine these gentlemen in civilian clothes, to lose all respect for them. About Keitel, the Fuehrer can only laugh. The Fuehrer’s experiences with the generals have embittered him beyond measure. He even becomes unfair and condemns decent officers as well en masse. One must therefore soft-pedal rather than resort to a crescendo.’

11 March 1943
‘From a letter from Murr I gather that prominent army officers at home are criticizing the Fuehrer very much. That is low-down and disgusting. Naturally a man like Keitel hasn’t the necessary authority to stop this sort of thing. One can only agree with the Fuehrer’s opinion of the top officers. They aren’t worth a hoot.’

18 March 1943
‘Whenever Goering cannot himself preside over the Council of Ministers for the Defence of the Reich, which is to meet every week, he wants me to be chairman. This is to develop into my becoming his permanent deputy. Lammers would thereby be relieved unostentatiously of his post as deputy to Goering and pushed back into the secretarial position which had always been intended for him. Bormann and Keitel, too, are really nothing but departmental secretaries to the Fuehrer and have no authority to act on their own. They are assuming authority at present because the persons who were given far-reaching powers by the Fuehrer failed to use them.’

Joachim von Ribbentrop, German lieutenant and politician, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany (b. 1893)
2 March 1943
‘Goering also thinks little of Ribbentrop. He referred very critically to our complete and obvious lack of an active foreign policy. He especially blames Ribbentrop for failing to draw Spain over to our side. Franco, of course, is cowardly and irresolute; but German foreign policy ought nevertheless to have found a way to bring him into our camp. Ribbentrop also lacks the elegant touch in handling people. Goering gave me some quite devastating examples by way of illustration. Goering consistently claims that this war is Ribbentrop’s doing, and that he never made any serious attempt to achieve a modus vivendi with England, simply because he has an inferiority complex. But there’s no point in brooding over this today. We must deal with facts and not with the reasons behind them. There will be plenty of time for that after the war.’

14 November 1943
‘I had a heavy set-to with Ribbentrop about our propaganda section in France. Ribbentrop claims that France must be regarded as a foreign country and not as a defeated state because it has a chief of state and a prime minister. Consequently, only the Foreign Office has a right to political activity there. I opposed this standpoint violently and Field Marshal General Keitel joined in my protest. For, after all, we have defeated France and there is a military occupation force in France. The Embassy in Paris is only, so to speak, an outside sub-bureau of the Foreign Office, but it can in no way be considered a diplomatic representation of the Reich in a free and sovereign France. The argument went back and forth. Ribbentrop is trying to solve the situation by a fait accompli, by-passing the Fuehrer. But I shall in no circumstances agree to this. It is amazing with what fanaticism the Foreign Office, and especially Ribbentrop, deal with points of such subsidiary importance.’

30 November 1943
‘I discussed a number of personnel questions with Bormann. He, too, is worried about German foreign policy. Ribbentrop is too rigid to be able to spin his web in this difficult war situation. But I don’t believe the Fuehrer is ready to part company with his Foreign Minister. Yet Ribbentrop would not be able to negotiate either with London or with Moscow were such an eventuality to arise. Both sides consider him too heavily compromised.’

Alfred Rosenberg, Estonian architect and politician (b. 1893)
29 January 1942
‘Rosenberg’s office has worked out a scheme of agrarian reform for the occupied areas which envisages the gradual elimination of the kolhose [collective community farm] and the return of land to private ownership. I expect very much from this scheme when it is brought to the attention of the broad masses of the farmers. If we should be in a position actually to give the farmers land, they would look forward to an eventual return of the Bolsheviks with decidedly mixed feelings.’

6 February 1942
‘Had a minor set-to with Rosenberg about the manner of conducting our ideological celebrations. He knows nothing about organization, that’s why he is monkeying so much with it. I shall hold my own against him, however.’

8 February 1942
‘Rosenberg wrote me a letter stating that he intends to oppose the idea of a fight against the religious denominations. That’s really too funny for words! Now, when we are in a tight pinch, everybody poses as a champion who fights against the very things that he himself started. I suppose the final result will be that those of us who have for years opposed the folly of our pronouncements on the religious question and similar things will be regarded as the real originators of the difficulties resulting from this folly!’

2 March 1943
‘[Goering] has the lowest possible opinion of Rosenberg. Like myself, he is astonished that the Fuehrer continues to stick to him and clothes him with powers which he is incompetent to use. Rosenberg belongs in an ivory tower, not in a ministry that must look after almost a hundred million people. The Fuehrer thought of the Ministry of the East as a guiding and not an administrative instrument when he created it. Rosenberg, following his old inclination to fuss with things which he knows nothing about, has made a gigantic apparatus of it which he is now unable to control.’

Fritz Sauckel, German sailor and politician (b. 1894)
9 March 1943
‘The Fuehrer shares my worries about the carrying through of the 800,000-manpower programme. He has now become rather distrustful of Sauckel, who lacks the ability to carry through in practice the necessary transition process for this programme. He depends too much upon the labour offices, which arc quite unsuitable for this purpose.’

13 April 1943
‘There were some very serious clashes between Sauckel on the one side and Speer and Milch on the other. The meeting was not particularly harmonious. Sauckel had prepared for this meeting whereas Speer and Milch came totally unprepared. They had depended completely on my familiarity with the situation and on my professional knowledge, which, alas, was not available to them. As a result Sauckel had somewhat of an advantage and won the race by default.’

28 April 1943
‘Sauckel has been appointed Reich Plenipotentiary for manpower. When he comes to Berlin the next time I am going to talk to him and outline my wishes. Undoubtedly his strong National Socialist hand will achieve miracles. It should not be difficult to mobilize at least a million additional workers from among the German people; one must merely tackle it energetically and not be scared by the constant difficulties.’

Arthur Seyss-Inquart, Austrian lawyer and politician, 16th Federal Chancellor of Austria (b. 1892)
28 January 1942
‘I am authorizing Seyss-Inquart to open a theatre in the Hague in which opera, comic opera, and drama are to be produced. I do this with one eye weeping and the other laughing for, really, the Dutch don’t deserve such great cultural support. Perhaps they don’t even have the proper appreciation for it. But Seyss-Inquart is very insistent, and after all the Germans in Holland have some right to such a theatre.’

6 March 1943
‘I had a very lengthy talk with Seyss-Inquart. He is an enthusiastic supporter of my policies and has great expectations for them in the occupied areas. He reported that our generals sometimes get weak in the knees. But that, after all, has always been the case with the generals! I can see from this talk that the chances for the success of my political directives are everywhere on the increase.’

Julius Streicher, German journalist and politician (b. 1887)
5 January 1942
‘The Fuehrer sent word to me that he does not desire the circulation of the Stuermer reduced or that it should cease publication altogether. I am very happy about this decision. The Fuehrer stands by his old Party members and fellow fighters and won’t let occasional trouble and differences affect him. Because he is so loyal to his co-workers, they, in turn, are equally faithful to him.’
[Note: ‘The Stuermer was a pornographic anti-Semitic weekly published by Streicher. [. . .] Streicher’s debaucheries and graft became so scandalous that Hitler had finally to relieve him of his Gauleiter job. But he permitted him to continue publication of the Stuermer. All over Germany there were glass-covered bulletin boards for exhibiting the current editions of this publication. Parents protested vigorously that their children were being corrupted by reading filthy articles and seeing the pornographic cartoons in The Streamer.’]

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Bassompierre in London

The dashing nobleman, François de Bassompierre, a one-time favourite of King Henry IV of France who later fell out with Cardinal Richelieu, died 370 years ago today. He is remembered largely because he left behind a memoir of his life, and several volumes of diaries written while on diplomatic missions - one of which, kept during his stay in London, has been translated into English.

François de Bassompierre was born in 1579 into an aristocratic family at the Château de Haroué in Lorraine (now France). He was educated with his brothers in Bavaria and Italy, and, in 1598, was introduced to the court of King Henry IV of France, where he became a favourite of the king. As a young man, he was involved in various military campaigns: in Savoy in 1600, and in Hungary in 1603 against the Turks. He assisted Marie de’ Medici, queen mother, against the nobles in 1620, and helped the king against Huguenot risings (for which he was made a Marshal of France), and during the siege of La Rochelle in 1628. He was sent to raise troops in Switzerland when Louis XIII marched against Savoy in 1629.

Bassompierre also served, at various times, as a diplomat. In 1621, he went to Madrid to settle a dispute concerning the seizure of the Valtelline forts by Spain. In 1625, he was dispatched to Switzerland, and a year later to London, to secure the retention of the Catholic ecclesiastics and attendants of Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I of England. Bassompierre was secretly married to Louise Marguerite, widow of François, prince de Conti, and friend of Marie de’ Medici. She bore him one son (but he also had another, illegitimate son). Louise Marguerite’s hostility to Cardinal Richelieu, however, led to Bassompierre being imprisoned from 1631 until after Richelieu’s death in 1643. Although his status was restored, he died a few years later, on 12 October 1646. Wikipedia and Encyclopaedia Britannica have, more or less, the same biographical information, both drawn from the out-of-copyright 1911 edition of Encyclopædia Britannica.

Bassompierre is largely remembered because he left behind a memoir of his life, first published in Cologne in 1665, but many times since then - see Internet Archive. He also published diary accounts of his diplomatic missions to Spain, Switzerland and England, but only the latter has been published in English (John Murray, 1819, translated by John Wilson Croker) - as Memoirs of the Embassy of the Marshal de Bassompierre to the Court of England in 1626. This, too, is freely available at Internet Archive. Here are several extracts.

15 October 1626
‘Thursday the 15th, on which the Earl of Britswater came with the king’s coaches to fetch me to Hampton Court; then the duke shewed me into a gallery, where the king was waiting for me, who gave me a long audience and well disputed. He put himself into a great passion, and I, without losing my respect to him, replied to him in such wise, that, at last, yielding him something, he conceded a great deal to me. I witnessed there an instance of great boldness, not to say impudence, of the Duke of Boukinkam, which was, that when he saw us the most warmed, he ran up suddenly and threw himself between the king and me, saying, “I am come to keep the peace between you two.” Upon which I took off my hat, and as long as he staid with us I would not put it on again, notwithstanding all the intreaties of the king and of himself to do so; but when he went I put it on without the king’s desiring me. When I had done, and that the duke could speak to me, he asked me why I would not put on my hat  while he was by, and that I did so, so freely, when he was gone. I answered that I had done it to do him honour, because he was not covered and that I should have been, which I could not suffer; for which he was much pleased with me, and often mentioned it in my praise. But I had also another reason for doing so, which was, that it was no longer an audience, but a private conversation, since he had interrupted us, by coming in, as a third, upon us. After my last audience was over, the king brought me through several galleries to the queen’s apartments, where he left me, and I her, after a long conversation; and I was brought back to London by the same Earl of Britswater.’

16 October 1626
‘Friday, the 16th, I was to see the Earl of Holland sick at Inhimthort. The king and queen returned to London. M. de Soubise came to see me. Afterwards the duke sent to beg of me to come to Sommerset, where we were more than two hours disputing about our business.’

17 October 1626
‘Saturday, the 17th, I went to make my bow to the queen at Withal, and to give her an account of my conference of the day before with the duke.’

18 October 1626
‘Sunday the 18th. I was visited by the secretary, Couvai, who came to speak to me from the king.’

20 October 1626
‘Tuesday, 20. Viscount Hamelton (Wenbleton) and Goring came to dine with me. After dinner I was heard at the council, and on my return the Venetian ambassador came to visit me.’

21 October 1626
‘Wednesday, 21st. I wrote a despatch to the King (of France). I was to see the queen, and afterwards to confer with the duke in Sommerset (House).’

22 October 1626
‘Thursday, 22d. I was in the morning to see the ambassador of Danemark. The duke, with the Earls of Carlile and Holland and Montaigne, came to dine with me; I  saw, en passant, the ambassador of the States on business, then I was to the queen’s, and that evening at Madame D’Estranges.’

23 October 1626
‘Friday, 23d. I was to see the Earl of Carlile and the Venetian ambassador.’

24 October 1626
‘Saturday, 24th. I was to see the queen where the king came, with whom she pick’d a quarrel. The king took me to his chamber, and talked a great deal with me, making me complaints of the queen, his wife.’

25 October 1626
‘Sunday, 25. The Earls of Pembrac and Montgomery came to see me, then I went for the duke, whom I took to the queen’s, who made his peace with her; which I had brought about with infinite trouble. The king came in afterwards, and he also was reconciled with her, and caressed her very much - thanked me for having reconciled the duke and his wife - then took me to his chamber, where he  showed me his jewels, which are very fine.’

26 October 1626
‘Monday, 26th. I was, in the morning to see the ambassador of Danemark; after dinner I went to the queen at Sommerset, and fell out with her.’

27 October 1626
‘Tuesday, 27th. The Duke, the Earls of Dorset, Carlile, Holland, Montaigu, and Goring, came to dine with me. I went afterwards to see the Earl of Pembroc and Carleton. In the evening I had a courrier from France.’

28 October 1626
‘Wednesday, 28th. I was at Withal in the morning to speak with the duke and Secretary Couvai, because the king was going to Hampton-Court. After dinner I went to see the queen at Sommerset, with whom I made it up. In the evening the duke and Earl of Holland took me to sup at Antonio Porter’s, who was entertaining Dom Augustin Fiesco, Marquis of Piennes, the Chevallier de Jars, and Gabellin. After supper we had music.’

29 October 1626
‘Thursday, 29th. In the morning I had visits from the Earl of Holland and the Earl of Carlile. After dinner I went to see the ambassador of Holland.’

30 October 1626
‘Friday, the 30th. I was to see the queen at Sommerset, and the duke at Valinfort. The resident of the king of Bohemia came to sup with me.’

31 October 1626
‘Saturday, last day of October. The ambassador of Danemark came to see me, and afterwards I came to see Madame D’Etrange.’

1 November 1626
‘Sunday, the 1st of November, and All Saints Day. I performed my devotions, and afterwards was to see the Duchess of Lennox and Secretary Couvai. A council was held to-day for my business.’

Monday, October 10, 2016

Walking on thin ice

Happy birthday David Kim Hempleman-Adams, 60 today and still on board Northabout, in the final stages of his voyage to circumnavigate the North Pole anticlockwise. One of the world’s great modern adventurers, Hempleman-Adams was the first person to reach the Geographic and Magnetic North and South Poles as well as to have climbed the highest peaks in all seven continents. His 1998 book about reaching the North Pole - Walking on Thin Ice - is based on diary entries written during the expedition.

Hempleman was born in Swindon, Wiltshire, England on 10 October 1956. After the divorce of his parents, he moved with his mother to Stoney Littleton near Bath; and, when she remarried, he took his stepfather’s surname Adams. He studied at Manchester and at Bristol Polytechnic, and joined his father’s chemical manufacturing business. In time, he became the company’s managing director, and later sold it. He retains non-executive business interests in the industry. He is married to Claire, they live near Bath, and have three daughters.

Hempleman-Adams interest in expeditioning began through the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. In 1984, he was the first person to complete successfully a solo expedition to the Magnetic North Pole; and in 1992 he led the first team to walk unsupported to the Geomagnetic North Pole. He continued to notch up various notable firsts. In January 1996, he became the first Briton to walk solo and unsupported to the South Pole, and in February he sailed to the South Magnetic Pole becoming the first person do both feats in the same year. In 1998, he and his Norwegian partner Rune Gjeldnes walked unsupported to the North Pole. The achievement meant Hempleman-Adams had become the first person to complete the so-called True Adventurer’s Grand Slam (i.e. to reach the North and South Poles, the North and South Magnetic Poles, and climb the seven summits). The same year, he was awarded an OBE.

In the noughties, Hempleman-Adams turned his attention skyward, in 2003, becoming the first person to cross the Atlantic Ocean in an open wicker basket rozier balloon; and the following year, he and co-pilot Lorne White flew a single engine Cessna from Cape Columbia in the north of Canada to Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America. In 2007, he broke the altitude record for a small-sized hot air balloon record, ascending to 9,906 meters over Alberta, Canada. He has also won the Gordon Bennett and Americas Challenge Balloon Races. In 2016 - at the current time - he is undertaking the Polar Ocean Challenge - an attempt to be the first British yacht to sail around the Arctic Ocean in one summer season. See Wikipedia, Guide to Swindon, or World Biography for more information.

Hempleman-Adams has written or co-authored several books. The first - A race against time: British North Geomagnetic Pole Expedition 1992 - was published in 1993. Then came Toughing It Out: the adventures of a Polar explorer and mountaineer in 1997, and, in 1998, Walking on Thin Ice (written in collaboration with Robert Uhlig) published by Orion (in association with Telegraph Books). This latter is based on Hempleman-Adams’ diary of the expedition. Here are extracts from two entries.

17 March 1998
‘We need to get to 84°10' North as soon as possible and get the airline companies lined up for an immediate resupply. I have decided that we might as well go for a resupply as soon as possible, while we know the weather is clear. Our fuel will run out in two days and the last thing we want is to spend three or four days hanging around waiting for the plane to come in. There is no point in having a resupply before we reach 84°10' North. We will have heavy sledges again after stocking up on new food rations, so if the resupply comes in any earlier it will defeat its whole purpose.

I budgeted for fifteen days on the first leg, but did not think for a moment we would be so far north by them. According to my initial plan we were scheduled to reach 84° 10' on day twenty-four, so we are ahead by around ten days. It is a delicate balance: every mile further north is nearer the Pole before the thaw starts, but the further north we go the more the air companies will charge us for the resupply. We will need to move very fast on the second leg to reach 86° 30', another 150 miles, by 15 April. This next third of the trip will be critical.

Our immediate concern is to start looking for a pan for the plane to land on, not an easy feat in the ice conditions we have encountered so far. I really thought the rubble would have ended by now and we would be on a succession of long, wide ice pans, interrupted by the occasional pressure ridge. The ice this year is different to any other I have experienced and my plans are in danger of being shot down.

Even today we do not encounter a single sizeable pan. It is bitterly cold with rubble all the way. It is staggering how we manage to cover six miles with our skis on and off every few minutes. In some spots it takes both of us to lift one sledge through the rubble. For over an hour it is one forty-foot ridge after another. It’s a very heavy workout, like doing six hours in the gym; we are really pushing it and I have to grit my teeth and dig deep.

I have a huge frostbite blister on my thumb and my toe is still causing me problems, made worse by the backbreaking conditions. I have now discovered that I also have some small spots of frostbite on my knee, brought on by kneeling down whenever I need to take off my skis, which in these conditions is frequently. My boot is still damaged and is secured to my ski by a length of wire. If my bindings were able to hold my boot I would normally simply push my ski pole down on the binding to release my boot; now I have to kneel down on one knee, pull up the clip and take the wire off the back of the boot. This tedious process makes my hands and left knee very cold, and I have to repeat it when we get to the other side of the rubble or pressure ridge.

We are in the middle of all this crap and I am worried about finding a landing strip - it seems ridiculous. Tonight I will radio for a resupply for tomorrow and hope we can find a landing strip in the meantime. It is a dangerous gamble because we will still have to pay for the flight if the plane has to turn back. [. . .]

At the end of the day we have covered six miles, extremely good considering it was the worst rubble so far on this expedition, and we are only a mile short of 84° 10' North. Last year we would have been happy to manage two miles in such conditions.’

12 April 1998
‘It is Easter Sunday and once again for both of us it is a wrench being away from home. All our thoughts are with our families. It is at times like these - birthdays, anniversaries and family holidays - that the homesickness is most acute. I must strive to be at home for more of them next year. ‘My mama and papa will be out skiing on the fjord right now,’ Rune says. ‘I would like to be there, but I have something else to do.’

We are two and a third miles behind schedule and wake up an hour late. It is the first time we have overslept on the trip, and we cannot understand why. Outside it is a beautiful day, there is not a cloud in the sky, and we have high hopes of a good mileage today.

Almost immediately things go wrong. First the wind picks up and it becomes much colder, then the bindings on my skis, which were mounted in the wrong place, begin to work themselves loose. Whoever fitted the bindings to the skis did not use enough glue, or the glue resin is losing its adhesion in the cold. Every time I stop I have to take off the ski and tighten the screw. It is a tedious business.

We come to our first open lead after only half an hour and walk west until we find a crossing place. Unfortunately it is not a straightforward crossing. Instead of one simple route across we have to negotiate several stretches of open water and leap from one rubble island to another, using them like giant stepping-stones. I am about two thirds of the way across with another fifteen feet to go when Rune starts to drift away from me on an island of rubble that is only nine or ten square feet in area. The danger becomes more acute when the rubble island I am standing on starts to sink. I am very scared, even more than when I fell in the water as I am out of Rune’s reach and it will be very difficult for him to rescue me from his island of equally precarious ice. I make a jump for Rune’s floe and get my foot wet, but he pulls me to safety. We then cross some porridgy steel-ice to the far side of the lead. I am mightily relieved not to have fallen in.

Within half a mile we come to another lead, so this time we walk west to find a crossing-point. We cross the lead and head east, only to meet another lead after one mile. We then turn south, find a crossing and head northwards again, but within a couple of hundred metres there is yet another lead. These leads are sending us on a wild goose chase. There seems little hope of making any headway northwards. We are walking at sea level and cannot see more than about a quarter of a mile ahead, so it is very difficult to see where the leads lie. I reckon we must have crossed around 500 of them so far.

To make matters worse, we both feel ill. I am swallowing pain-killers like smarties to cope with my back pain and Rune’s navigation is off today. He does not know whether it is the compass that is playing up or his solar navigation, but we will have to sort it out tonight.

By the time we pitch camp we are two miles behind schedule and have managed only six miles to 87° 06' 40" North and 71° 00' 25" West. It is a shame as I had hoped we could do as well as yesterday, but luck was against us today. Maybe we shouldn’t have been walking on Easter Sunday. Rune agrees with me and rustles up a special Easter dinner of lobster pate, sent to us on the resupply by Thierry, and an Easter egg for pudding.

We have a radio schedule with John who tells us that the Girls on Top are having problems after they lost their tent in high winds, and they need to be rescued. All round a terribly depressing day.’

The poet’s destiny

The power of Poetry alone redeems the world, and reunites the blind, confused and fragmentary elements of universal experience within the circle of significance. The supreme task: that of synthesis. How to invoke the welding flame? Ideally, the poet’s destiny is the most glorious of all. And in a period such as the Present, when death and the diabolic are manifest on every side, most difficult of all.’ This is from the diary of David Gascoyne, an English poet embedded in the surrealist movement, who was born 100 years ago today. A precocious and talented writer, he was friends with many other literary and artistic talents, but never quite managed to fulfil his own early promise.

Gascoyne was born on 10 October 1916, at Harrow, north of London, and educated at Salisbury Cathedral School and Regent Street Polytechnic, London, where he met George Barker. When only 16, his first collection of poetry - Roman Balcony and Other Poems - was published. The following year, his novel Opening Day was also published. Further poetry collections followed, and these helped establish him as one of most original voices of the 1930s. When still only 21, he wrote A Short Survey of Surrealism which was published with a cover by Max Ernst. He was involved in organising the London International Surrealist Exhibition with Roland Penrose and Herbert Read.

Gascoyne spent much of his 20s angst-ridden and trying come to terms with his homosexuality. He was an active anti-fascist, involving himself in the Spanish Civil War. He lived in France for long periods, becoming friends with many artists and writers, such Salvador Dali, Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller. He became increasingly well known, not only as a poet but as a translator of French surrealist literature, publishing widely in books and magazines. After the war, he again lived in France, and continued writing and publishing poems, although without the fervour of previous years, and never really fulfilling his early promise to be a great poet.

Suffering from depression, Gascoyne returned to England, and to his parents’ house on the Isle of Wight. The death of his father caused further psychological difficulties. In 1975, he married Judy Lewis, a nurse he had met while in hospital, and recovered some of his writing ability. In 1996, he was made a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture for his lifelong services to French literature. He died in 2001. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, The Poetry Archive, Critique Magazine, or Marcus’s fansite, and in obituaries at the The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian.

Enitharmon Press first published Gascoyne’s Paris Journal 1937-1939, with a preface by Lawrence Durrell, in 1978. A second volume came out in 1980 called Journal 1936-1937: Death of an Explorer. Subsequently, his Collected Journals 1936-42 was also published. The following selection of extracts comes from the first of the series, the Paris Journal.

18 March 1938
‘Lutte et Destin
What I have suffered during the last week is too intricate to be put into words: it all seemed to crystallize today - tonight, above all, when I was walking down the Champs Elysees after leaving Kay, and the cold spring moon, and the lights, and the budding leaves on the trees, were all blurred because of the tears of self-pity swimming in my eyes. [. . .]

And then at lunch-time, at the Durrells, when we were arguing, futilely, about war and war-resistance, Miller said: ‘Yes, Durrell’s probably right; because he’s a man, if ever there was one, who’s so strongly favoured by Fortune, that even if he were fighting in the front line, he could be pretty certain of coming through without a scratch. But you’re not like that; you ask for trouble; your destiny can only be a tragic one . . .’

Faced by acute financial crisis, spent the afternoon trying to think of a way to get to England until the time to go to Switzerland. Kay having bravely volunteered to get me a return-ticket, I have now worked out a plan for the immediate future, but it’s not a very comforting one ..

In the bathroom of Kay’s hotel apartment, washing my hands, struck by a sudden indescribable desolation while listening to her cross-channel telephone conversation, in the other room, with Freddie ‘Do you love me? Yes, but’ (shouting) ‘Do you LOVE ME? - SAME HERE!’ Standing in one of the basins was an enormous bouquet of daffodils and narcissi that he had had sent to her. (I had never thought that I should one day reach the point when the spectacle of other people’s happiness would arouse only bitterness in me. And when they don’t even realise their own happiness!)

We went out and had a rather gloomy dinner, overshadowed by the horror of the Barcelona air-raids, news of trouble on the Polish-Lithuanian frontier, and the general foulness of the European outlook. Afterwards, went to see Garbo in ‘Marie Waleska’, which did nothing to calm one’s emotions. When we came out, I was feeling so wretchedly lonely that what I wanted more than anything was a long talk with Kay and a certain amount of human sympathy. But no, she was resolutely determined to go immediately back to bed; and though she must have vaguely sensed how I was feeling, this only seemed to have the effect of making her shut herself off completely. ‘Now don’t go and do anything queer’, she said, as I was saying good-night at the door of her hotel - I don’t know why, unless my expression was strange. (She meant, I suppose, don’t go and get picked up by anybody.) Walked away alone, at the end of my tether. ‘Le pauvre jeune homme’, said somebody in a group I passed in the Champs Elysees. Violent resentment of self-pity at gratuitous pity from outside.’

20 May 1938
‘It is raining today. Bent stayed with me here last night again, but he has gone to the atelier now, and I am alone.

I have done no work since I returned to Paris. I have been entirely consumed by the intensity of the experience of Bent. Today I wanted to produce a poem; but I have not yet recovered enough force. I see the Light, beyond, but I cannot reach it; I know the Voice is always speaking, but I cannot hear the words.

To be alone; to make the sacrifice. I wish to become an Instrument, but I am suspended. Will the Energy return? How can I attain the power that would enable me to speak what I know?

Flesh, spirit. ‘Le combat spirituel est aussi brutal que la bataille d’hommes.’ All states reside in me, but they are unresolved. All I can do is wait. I still have faith; I shall always believe that there is another plane. I also know that in order to be able to reach it and to speak of it, one must lose everything, and be destroyed: I am trying to prepare myself to accept loss and destruction, even to desire them.

The power of Poetry alone redeems the world, and reunites the blind, confused and fragmentary elements of universal experience within the circle of significance. The supreme task: that of synthesis. How to invoke the welding flame? Ideally, the poet’s destiny is the most glorious of all. And in a period such as the Present, when death and the diabolic are manifest on every side, most difficult of all.’

11 September 1938
‘Last Monday, recommenced work on ‘Son of the Evening’. [. . .] The other day, conceived the plan of a new novel: ‘The Anointed’, but I suppose I shall have to try to finish the other one first. ‘On n’ecrit pas les livres qu’on veut’, as one of the Goncourt remarked. One needs tremendous determination to do creative work of any sort in a world so disordered and uncertain as the world today. Crise de la politique, crise de l’homme, crise de l’esprit ...

1 November 1939 [this is the last entry in Paris Journal]
And here (for the time being, at any rate), I close this journal. It has served its purpose. The most profound of the many intuitions I have recorded in it have all come ‘true’. The ploughing and the sowing have borne harvest. My life has passed on to another plane.

I am full of a great wonder and astonishment, and of exaltation. The world is very deep, the War is horrifying; yet the Future of this Century has begun to burn with an extraordinary, unseen and secret radiance, which I feel I can no longer speak of here, since it has become my task to proclaim it to those to whom it has not yet appeared May I be granted the grace not to fail or become discouraged before the purpose and responsibility of a new life.’

The Diary Junction