Friday, June 23, 2017

UK-US talks on commercial union

‘Spent the morning at the Embassy [. . .] making final revisions to the text of the joint Anglo-American statement on Commercial Policy, the Agenda Outline (derived from this statement and for communication to the Russians, Chinese and eventually the other United Nations). [. . .] It is clear that each side must now do two things: (i) prepare the way by technical studies to see, for example, which of the tariff formulas are practicable and by what means; (ii) obtain certain major decisions or guidances on policy from their Ministers (on our side particularly on the subject of preferences).’ This is from the rather dry diary (though with touches of humour) kept by James Meade, a Nobel Prize winning British economist born 110 years ago today. The diary documents early discussions between the US and the UK on a future international commercial union, which would lead, in 1947, to 23 nations agreeing the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

Meade was born in Swanage on 23 June 1907, and brought up in Bath, England. He was schooled at Lambrook and Malvern College before entering Oriel College, Oxford in 1926 to study classics; however, he then switched to philosophy, politics and economics. In 1930, he was elected to a fellowship at Hertford College where he taught economics, a relatively new subject at the time. In 1933, he married Margaret Wilson, and they had three children. 

In 1937, Meade joined the Economic Section of the League of Nations in Geneva as editor of the World Economic Survey, but in 1940 returned to England where he worked in the economic section of the War Cabinet Secretariat. There he was joined by Lionel Robbins and John Maynard Keynes; together they tackled economic problems ranging from the rationing system to the pricing policy of nationalised companies. From around 1942, they focused on post-war reconstruction, domestic and international. In particular, Meade was involved in international discussions for a ‘commercial union’, which would lead, in time, to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

In 1947, Meade returned to academic life at the London School of Economics. In the early-mid 1950s, he published his most important contribution to economics, The Theory of International Economic Policy (two volumes). From 1957, he was Professor of Political Economy at the University of Cambridge until his retirement in 1969. Thereafter, he remained at Cambridge, as a senior research fellow of Christ’s College. His many offices and honours included: the chairmanship of an Economic Survey Mission to Mauritius in 1960, presidency of the Royal Economic Society from 1964 to 1966, and chairmanship of a committee of the Institute of Fiscal Studies from 1975 to 1977. In 1977, Meade was awarded, jointly with the Swedish economist Bertil Ohlin, the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics ‘for their pathbreaking contribution to the theory of international trade and international capital movements’. He died in 1995. Further information is available from Wikipedia, the Nobel Prize website, The British Academy, or various obituaries, such as those in The New York Times and The Independent.

For a short period, in the latter part of his time working for the government and while involved in the negotiations for a commercial union, Meade kept a diary. This is now held in the library archives of the London School of Economics. In 1990, it was published (as edited by Susan Howson and Donal Moggridge) by Macmillan Academic and Professional in The Wartime Diaries of Lionel Robbins and James Meade, 1943–45. The book is still in print and available as a hard copy or e-book for around £50 from Amazon or Palgrave. Some pages can be read freely online at Googlebooks. Here are several extracts from Meade’s diary as reproduced in the Palgrave book.

16 September 1943
‘Spent the morning and afternoon working in the Embassy, first on a revision of the Aide-Memoire on Commercial Policy (now to be called the Introductory Note on Commercial Policy) and on the Illustrative Outline. We have altered the order in which the points are to be dealt with - taking Quantitative Import Restrictions, State Trading and Subsidies before Tariffs and Preferences, and ending up with International Institutions. The idea behind this manoeuvre is not to suggest a frontal attack on the American tariff quite so brutally. [. . .] It seems that all is going well from our point of view on procedure. Our ideas that there should be frequent plenary sessions to stress the interdependence of all the subjects, and that the agenda should cover four main topics - namely Money, Investment, Commod and Commercial Policy - were more or less accepted with the reservation that there should at a later stage be two more committees on International action against Unemployment, and International Cartels. [. . .] Before supper I went to a cocktail party at Magowan’s house, at which all (or most) of the American and British delegations were present plus a number of other people from the Embassy etc. I exchanged words in the course of the evening with the Keynes’, the Butlers, R. L. Hall and Margaret Hall (who in a most affected manner declared that she felt like kissing me), Hawkins, Feis, the Pasvolskys, Dennis Robertson, Sir George Sansom (? pre-war commercial attache at Tokyo - at any rate a great authority on Japan and the Far East), and Law. Dennis and I had a talk with Sansom on the problem of low-cost Japanese competition. It was most refreshing to meet a British diplomat who really knew the Far East who held the commonsense view that we should have been generous and liberal in our economic treatment of Japan but adamant with her politically and militarily (except just the opposite). He and Dennis and I are to have dinner together one day to discuss these problems. I had a talk with Law who was most anxious that we should go ahead in an enthusiastic and positive manner to discuss the international implications of post-war unemployment policy. I argued strongly that, in view of the delicate position on the discussion of these problems at home, it really was out of the question that we should give any very positive lead on this subject. What a role to have to play, - to apply the soft pedal on this of all subjects! After the cocktail party I went on to supper with Di to Mrs Wheatcroft (a ‘British Mum’ evacuated with Margaret who works in the Embassy and was a great friend of Margaret’s). The evening consisted in a display of short snippets (none complete) of toy cinema films and a demonstration of chemical experiments (some of which worked) by her son and Billy Hart (aged 12 and 13).’

29 September 1943
‘A morning free from meetings, which I spent at the Embassy clearing up many odd points with Liesching, reading papers etc. I also spoke with Robbins on the subject of the British attitude on the currency problem. He seems to realise clearly that the question whether the Fund deals in national currencies or in Unitas is really of secondary importance. We must not allow there to be a break on such a senseless issue. Had lunch with two men from the State Department, Phelps and Gay, who wished to discuss the problem of state trading. I argued that we should set certain price rules and criteria for state trading which would correspond to the price rules with private enterprise as modified by permitted subsidies and tariffs. After lunch I saw Rasminsky for twenty minutes. He has come from Ottawa to talk with Keynes and others on the currency discussion. He is in exactly the same sense of perplexity as myself. Why must the British fight so on a point which is of so little substance as the monetisation of Unitas? In the afternoon another meeting of the Anglo-American group on commercial policy. First we discussed export taxes and restrictions, on which subject the Americans accepted our suggested rule without any difficulty. Then I introduced the general subject of the formation of the Commercial Union and of its institutions. The Americans are in very much the same mind as ourselves on these issues; but they want it to be made compulsory for members of the Commercial Union not to extend the advantages of membership to non-members. Later I dined with Galbraith and his wife at the Cosmos Club and then went on to their home in Georgetown to talk. He is the ‘relentless’ type of radical, believes that Russia should be permitted to absorb Poland, the Balkans and the whole of Eastern Europe in order to spread the benefits of Communism, that the outlook for American politics is very black because even if the Roosevelt administration wins the next election the liberal New Dealers are now all a crowd of tired, cautious and conservative liberals, etc. I think he may be a little embittered at the punishing experience he had at OPA where there was a witch-hunt against liberal College professors of which he was the main victim. He is off to New York to join the editorial board of Fortune.’

18 October 1943
‘Spent the morning at the Embassy with Liesching and Shackle, making final revisions to the text of the joint Anglo-American statement on Commercial Policy, the Agenda Outline (derived from this statement and for communication to the Russians, Chinese and eventually the other United Nations), and the similar Agenda of the Cartels group. Lunch with Hawkins, Pasvolsky and Liesching at the Cosmos Club, where we discussed future procedure on Commercial Policy. It is clear that each side must now do two things: (i) prepare the way by technical studies to see, for example, which of the tariff formulas are practicable and by what means; (ii) obtain certain major decisions or guidances on policy from their Ministers (on our side particularly on the subject of preferences). Then we shall be prepared to renew our meetings, by next January or February. Meanwhile, and after our next series of meetings, we must decide how to introduce the subject to other nations. For this, it was agreed, the Agenda Outline, posing the questions covered by our joint statement, will be very useful. After Hawkins had left we had some further conversation with Pasvolsky about the extent to which we should in the near future give a lead to the other Europeans and smaller United Nations. Pasvolsky was inclined to argue that when approached by them we should ask them what they wanted instead of telling them what they should do. His reason was mainly that they should not be in a position later if anything went wrong to maintain that they had no responsibility. There is no doubt some force in this; but 1 think that we must nevertheless give a very strong lead. In Commercial Policy in particular these countries just are not in a position to say what they want until they have some idea what the USA and UK are likely to do; and even if they could be persuaded to say what they wanted without knowing what we intended, they would be very likely to say quite the wrong thing, whereas with a little prompting they might quite genuinely be persuaded to ask for the right things. [. . .]

Went to a cocktail party at the Brighton Hotel, at which drinks on a copious scale were provided for the entertainment of the Board of Trade permanent delegation in Washington by us visitors from the Board at home. Miss Dalgleish mixed strong and frequent drinks. The party went through the symptoms of incipient alcohol poisoning, which I observed as an impartial spectator, confining myself to tomato juice. Liesching made a good pep-talk speech telling the Washington delegation what good people they were; and every effort, unsuccessful but only just unsuccessful, was made to get Liesching laid out on the floor. The party broke up and I returned, with Joan Carmichael and Mary Williamson, to a late supper at 2820 N. Street.’

19 October 1943
‘Spent the morning partly at the Embassy writing notes for our report to ministers on the result of our commercial policy talks, but mainly in sorting papers, arranging money matters, signing declarations about income tax etc. in preparation for our departure. Lunch with Bernstein of the US Treasury, with whom I discussed the prospects of the monetary plans from the point of view of American Congress and public opinion. Bernstein said that they would have the Federal Reserve Board with them and seemed hopeful that they might persuade some of the American bankers that a scheme was essential. Nevertheless he was clearly very impressed by the political opposition which they would have to be prepared to face. I asked him whether he was satisfied with the progress made in the Anglo-American discussions on this subject. He said that he was very satisfied, and that they had never considered that getting agreement with the British would prove any very real obstacle. But he added that he was sorry that tempers had not always been good during the talks. He is still evidently smarting somewhat from Keynes’s ill manners. But he added sweetly that he thought we should not have considered their ideas so sinister as we did, if only they had had a real opportunity to explain the workings of their ideas. (Visions of Bernstein preparing another hundred questions and answers on the Stabilisation Fund!) Went back to the Embassy in the afternoon to work on my notes for our report to ministers on commercial policy. Took Di and Joan Carmichael to supper at the Washington hotel and to the cinema to see Fred Astaire dancing, which is certainly a very pleasing sight.’

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Grandfather’s Rattlesnake diary

Today marks the birth 130 years ago of the eminent British evolutionary biologist Sir Julian Sorell Huxley. Although there is no evidence of him having been a diarist, he did discover a diary written by his grandfather, a biologist who earned the nickname Darwin’s Bulldog, and then edit them for publication just a year or two, in fact, after Darwin’s diary had first been published.

Julian was born in London on 22 June 1887 into the distinguished Huxley family, and grew up at the family home in Surrey where his interest in nature was enlivened by lessons with his grandfather, Thomas Huxley. Julian’s father Leonard was a biographer (Thomas Huxley, Darwin) and editor. Julian was schooled at Eton and entered Balliol Collage, Oxford, in 1905 on a zoology scholarship. His produced important scientific work in various fields: hormones, developmental processes, ornithology, and ethology. When still in his mid-20s, he pioneered a biology department at the newly formed Rice University in Houston, Texas. But, from 1916 to the end of WWI, he served in British Army Intelligence.

In 1919, Huxley married Juliette Baillot who, later wrote an autobiography that revealed Huxley had suffered severe depression on occasions. In 1925, he was appointed professor of zoology at King’s College, London University, though he gave up the chair in 1927 to help H. G. Wells with his three volume Science of Life. Subsequently, he did much travelling, especially in East Africa, taking part in a wide range of scientific and conservation activities. From 1935, and for seven years, he was secretary to the Zoological Society of London, where he focused on reinvigorating London Zoo and Whipsnade Park alongside his writing and research. He became a member of the Royal Society, was the first director general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and was knighted in 1958. In 1961 he cofounded the World Wildlife Fund for Nature. He died in 1975. Further information can be found at Wikipedia,, National Center for Biotechnology Information or New World Encyclopedia.

Among the 50 or so works produced by Huxley that are listed with his Wikipedia entry is T. H. Huxley’s Diary of the Voyage of H.M.S. Rattlesnake, published by Chatto & Windus in 1935. Julian Huxley’s grandfather, Thomas Huxley (1825-1895), had been an eminent biologist in the mid-19th century, and a strong supporter of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Aged only 20, and too young to apply to the Royal College of Surgeons, he joined the Royal Navy and was assigned to H.M.S. Rattlesnake as assistant surgeon. The survey ship soon departed for the Far East, and over a period of four years, Huxley was able to undertake many studies of marine invertebrates, always sending his findings back to England where they were published. On returning to London in 1850, the value of his work was recognised and he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. In 1854, he was appointed professor at the School of Mines in London. His most famous work, published in 1863 (only five years after Origin of Species), was Evidence on Man’s Place in Nature, which is considered to be the first attempt to apply evolution explicitly to the human race. His promotion of Darwin’s ideas earned him the nickname ‘Darwin’s Bulldog’. Further biographical information on Thomas Huxley can be found at Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica or the New World Encyclopedia.

During Thomas Huxley’s time on H.M.S Rattlesnake he kept a diary. He used it occasionally through his own life, 
and as late as 1888, for autobiographical notes, but thereafter it got lost among his many papers. Leonard Huxley, who inherited all his father’s paper from his mother (when she died in 1915), appears never to have found the diary. It was only after Leonard’s death, in 1933, that the papers were finally sorted, to ‘sift the wheat from the very large amount of chaff’ (according to Julian Huxley) that Thomas Huxley’s Rattlesnake diary was found ‘among a group of old household account books’. Julian Huxley took it on himself to edit the text, and to put it into a wider context. He says, in his preface: ‘It is interesting that the publication of this Journal should follow so soon after that of Darwin’s [Diary of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle, edited by Nora Barlow, Cambridge, 1933]. The two greatest British biologists of the nineteenth century each began his career as naturalist on a long voyage of scientific exploration. To both, the experience was of inestimable value, and indeed in Darwin’s case, had it not been for his journey on the Beagle, it is on the cards that The Origin of Species would never have been written.’

And Huxley goes on: ‘But there is a remarkable contrast between the two Diaries. That of Darwin, though revealing the most interesting glimpses of the writer’s character and personality, has as its chief and absorbing interest the growth and development of his ideas on the mutability of species: in it we are assisting at the birth of the Evolution Theory. Huxley, on the other hand, records singularly little about his scientific views in his Journal. [. . .]

But if Huxley’s journal is meagre where Darwin’s is generous, the converse also holds. There can be few other such abundant source-books for studying the growth of a great scientist’s personality. In these pages are revealed the many sides of Huxley’s complex temperament; his struggles with himself, with his fellow-men, with nature; the steps in the organization of his powerful character. Add to this that it was during this voyage that he met and became engaged to his future wife, and that the Diary contains a record of the beginnings of that deep love which endured undimmed throughout his life, and it will be seen that we have here a document of the highest personal interest.

Huxley’s character was indeed as remarkable as his scientific achievements and his literary talent; and I venture to believe that many to whom Huxley the scientist makes no special appeal will find in this Diary a deeply interesting picture of the growth of a great and rare personality.’

Finally, here are a couple of extracts from Thomas Huxley’s journal. (Most of Huxley’s diary entries are long, covering a period of time since his last entry. I have omitted several long paragraphs from the published 22 June entry, as indicated by square brackets with trailing dots. Sometimes the entries are accompanied by the author’s own drawings - such as the one below of Asmodeus.)

22 June 1847
‘Since my last entry we have had quite another sort of thing to the “quiet river”. It has been cold miserable weather with occasional hard close-reefed topsail breezes, and to add to our discomfort the fuel was all of a sudden found to have fallen short some ten days ago. By way of meeting this alarming deficiency the galley fire was put out at twelve every day, and lately there has been no galley fire at all, all cooking being done in the coppers, and the fire in these even put out at 4 p.m. It is astonishing what a difference this makes in one’s small stock of ship’s comforts. No hot grog, tea at half-past three, and other abominations. If the present state of things continues however we shall soon have an end of these things. We are within 200 miles of Van Diemens Land with a glorious 8½ knot breeze and expect to see land to-morrow evening at farthest.

I had one of my melancholy fits this evening and as usual had recourse to my remedy-a good “think” to get rid of it. It took me an hour and a half walking on the poop however to accomplish the cure. Among other thoughts that I thought I sketched out the plan of my next paper, “On the Diphydae and their relations with the Physophoridae”. I have the material all ready and will send it from Sydney. [. . .]

Suppose I finish my account of our trip in Mauritius. I left off where we started, provided with eatables and drinkables and altogether three “proper men”. Away we trudged, full of life and spirits, and I confess that the whole scene, the bright sunlight, the brilliant foliage, the firm earth, so refreshing in its very resistance to the foot of one who has been for weeks reeling at sea, intoxicated me, and I would have readily undertaken to walk to Jericho if required. As it was we put a good ten miles between us and the town before calling a halt. By this time the sun was getting hot, and never was anything so sweet as the water of the little Belle Isle river on whose banks we rested.

But there are seven miles to go and we must not rest here. So on we go, asking our way from the innocent blacknesses who cross our path in the best French we can command, as it turned out to little purpose, for after crossing the Rivière du Tamarin and being quite elated at the prospect of leaving our carriage friends in the lurch, we took the turn to the Black River instead of that to the Cascades. We walk on some way and then inquire of a Frenchman who keeps a sort of wayside auberge for further directions. We get capital vin ordinaire at sixpence a bottle and our good friend, seeing us I suppose look somewhat vexed at having come out of the road, assured us that the Cascade du Tamarin is nothing so very grand - he himself has seen that, but that if we want to see the real beauty of the island we should go on to Chamarelle which is only twelve miles off. We must sleep somewhere, and there is nowhere else to sleep at but the Military Post at Black River from whence it is an easy stage to Chamarelle. Our friend assures us that we need be under no apprehension about a reception as M. le docteur at the Porte is a “tres joli petit docteur”. Could we do else? No, so we agree to go on. [. . .]

The Riviere du Cap rises among the high land towards the centre of the island, thence winds its way as a quiet rivulet, till it reaches Chamarelle, when it precipitates itself over the edge of a huge chasm, sheer down for 350 feet; at the bottom it breaks into rainbows of foam against the rocks and then becomes a dark still pool of many acres in extent, ultimately finding its way to the sea by a fissure in one side of the rocky basin. An old tree overhangs one edge of the precipice and hanging on by this you can look down and see the birds wheeling and soaring below you. A little Asmodeus of a boy, Sewan by name, accompanied us and I made him hang on to the tree for a foreground while I sketched. The sides of the pit are all covered with large trees and the whole aspect of the place conveys to the mind at once the strongest ideas of wildness and of richness. We bathed in the rivulet just above the falls and had a sort of small washing day so as to get rid of any rate the superficial layer of dust with wh. we were enveloped. In the afternoon King and I made another visit to the falls and saw them under a different point of view. At dinner we met the ladies of our host’s family, and I fear that we did not represent the navy creditably in consequence of our imperfect knowledge of French. Chess-playing and conversation whiled away the evening, and we started early on the morrow on our way back to Port Louis, taking a somewhat different course to the way we came.

At noon we were going to bivouac at the bottom of a long avenue wh. led up to a gentleman’s house, but he spying us out came down, and carried us up to lunch with him. M. Butte was not contented with entertaining us in first rate style, but seeing that Brady walked rather lame, he insisted upon his riding on a donkey for some miles, sending a black servant to bring the said donkey back. We reached Port Louis that night at ten, having walked thirty odd miles. Brady was disabled for some days, but the rest of us were ready for anything the next morning. And so ended one of the most pleasant trips I ever had.

Van Diemen’s Land.
The sight of the bold land about S.W. Cape was I may venture to say the most pleasant thing that happened to us in our last cruise, always excepting, by the bye, the jolly face and English tongue of the old pilot who came off to us in Storm Bay. The pilot was a man well to do in the world. He lived on Bruny [?] island and we sent a boat to his farm to get such supplies of firewood, fresh meat, potatoes and other luxuries as he had at hand. Those who went brought back reports about a very nice well-furnished cottage, with piano and the like, and ladylike wife with three or four rosy children. And this in a place where fifty years ago you would have seen nothing but naked savages or kangaroos.

Light winds and calms detained us so that we did not get to anchor in Sullivan’s Cove before the second day after leaving Storm Bay. I got ashore in the jolly-boat before the ship came up to her anchorage, and having done what business I had to do, got before a huge fire in the Ship Inn with McGillivray and there stuck, imbibing considerable quantities of toddy, until ten or eleven o’clock. We were all invited to a ball that evening but it had no charms for me compare with that splendid wood fire.’

15 June 1849
‘Boats out sounding to find us a new anchorage nearer the land. We saw seven or eight canoes with 8-10 men in each, but none of them would come near us. Several however went to the Bramble. I suppose they thought she was smaller and less able to do them harm.

They had some of them the large bushy heads of hair of the Papuans but others were without this distinctive mark and they varied considerably in colour. For the most part they were coppery. The canoes have a single outrigger and a good deal resemble those we saw at Cape York. The sail consists of three sheets of some fibrous substance, and shortening sail is performed by taking down each sheet separately and laying it along the gunnel. The upper end of each sheet has a great many little pennants streaming from it.

The paddles are something like the ace of spades with a long handle. They sail up near to the place they wish to reach, then strike sails, masts and all, and paddle up. The only articles of barter they brought to the Bramble were yams, cocoa-nuts and tortoiseshell. They were very greedy for iron and stole one of the crutches wh. happened to be lying loose on the thwart of a boat astern. Like any dexterous London thieves they passed it from hand to hand and concealed it at the far end of their canoe, and when charged with the theft looked as innocent and impassive as M. de Talleyrand himself could have looked under similar circumstances.

But when from the threatening attitude the Brambles put on they saw it was “no go” they passed the crutch over again and paddled off as hard as they could paddle - more ashamed of the failure than the theft, I fancy.’

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sun Dance as cosmic drama

‘If the word “art” is appropriate here, one could say that the Sun Dance is a powerful work of art; at all events, one can understand why the Red Indians never felt the need to create a great epic or the like. The manner in which they saw and experienced Nature excluded precisely every kind of fine art.’ This is Frithjof Schuon, a Swiss-born philosopher, metaphysician, poet and painter born 110 years ago today, writing in a diary he kept while living for a short while with the Sioux Indians in the United States. His diary and paintings of the Sioux were published together under the title The Feathered Sun.

Schuon was born in Basel, Switzerland, on 18 June 1907. When his father, a German musician, died, his mother took him and his brother to be near her family in Mulhouse, France, where he became a French citizen. Already as a boy he was interested in metaphysical ideas, and particularly the works of René Guénon, a French philosopher and Orientalist with whom he started a long-term correspondence. Schuon also took much pleasure in drawing and painting. After serving in the French army for 18 months, he moved to Paris where he worked as a textile designer and began to study Arabic. In 1832, he travelled to Algeria, where he met Shaykh Ahmad al-Alawi, a Sufi mystic, and was initiated into his order. Further trips to North Africa followed, including one to Egypt where he met Guénon.

Schuon again served in the French army during the Second World War, and was taken prisoner by the Germans. He was granted asylum by the Swiss and took on Swiss nationality. In 1948, he produced one of his most important written works, The Transcendent Unity of Religions, which spells out the metaphysical foundations of his religio perennis (perennial religion) ideas. The following year he married Catherine Feer, the daughter of a Swiss diplomat. Having developed friendly contacts with North American Indians who were visiting Paris in the 1950s, Schuon and his wife went together twice to visit the Plains Indians. During the first visit, the Schuons were officially adopted into the Red Cloud family of the Lakota tribe, a branch of the Sioux nation. Some years later, they were similarly adopted by the Crow medicine man and Sun Dance chief, Thomas Yellowtail.

Schuon continued to write articles and books, as well as to paint. Increasingly, he became known as a spiritual teacher, receiving many visits from religious scholars, and travelling himself widely in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. In 1980, Schuon and his wife emigrated to the US, settling in Bloomington, Indiana. There he continued to write books - such as From the Divine to the Human, To Have a Center, Survey of Metaphysics and Esoterism - all published by the Bloomington-based World Wisdom. He also continued to write poetry, and to give spiritual direction to a community of disciples who had came from all over the world. He died in 1998. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, Frithjof Schuon, or World Wisdom. More about Schuon and his philosophy can also be found in Harry Oldmeadow’s Frithjof Schuon and the Perennial Philosophy (World Wisdom Books, 2010), available online at Googlebooks

There is no evidence that Schuon was a diarist, however he did keep diary-like entries during his 1959 and 1963 visits to the Plains Indians (Sheridan, Wyoming and Yellowstone Park). These were published alongside a series of his paintings in The Feathered Sun: Plains Indians in Art and Philosophy (World Wisdom Books, 1990). According to Oldmeadow, over the years, and without any intention on Schuon’s part, the feathered sun became a symbol for his spiritual message. None of the entries in the published book are dated but they do read as though they were written on a near daily basis. Here are several extracts concerning Schuon’s 1959 trip.

‘We went to a place shaded by trees where there were many Indians singing, drumming and dancing, men and women all in full costume. We met Red Shirt, whose acquaintance we had made in Brussels; he introduced us to a grandson of Red Cloud - the younger one - who then took us both by the hand and led us into the circle of dancers; there he made a short speech in Lakota to introduce us to the Sioux. Then all sang a greeting song and my wife had to join in the dance with them; after this Red Cloud’s grandson (Charles) took us to his elder brother, to whom we presented my painting of the White Buffalo Cow Woman; the old man studied it carefully and after a while remarked that at that time the Pipe was still made from the bone of a deer, there were not yet any Pipes made of wood and stone.’


‘The whole morning I sat beside Chief Red Cloud, (James) the eldest grandson of the great chief. He recounted to me, with many slow gestures, something of the history of his tribe and explained how all the vast land around used to belong to the Lakota, how everything had been taken from them, and how Big Foot’s band had been “rubbed out” at Wounded Knee. When I was alone with him, I communicated to him the essential of what I have to say to the Indians; he nodded in ready agreement, then for a long time we remained silent. At length I said to him - for he intends soon to go to Washington - that one must insist that the Lakotas be given work on their own land, and not somewhere far away. Again we were silent for a long time. All at once he asked for a piece of paper and wrote a few words in Lakota on it; he then told me that he wished to adopt me as his brother and call me Wambali Ohitika (Brave Eagle) and my wife Onpahi Ske Win (Antelope Teeth Woman); antelope teeth, which are very precious for the Indians, correspond to our pearls.

I had to think of Black Elk Speaks, as Chief Red Cloud sat beside me on a grassy rise, with his gray braids and his wide-brimmed black felt hat adorned with beadwork and feathers - as with gestures of the hands he conjured up the old days, and pointing towards the dance ground before us, said: “At that time, there were soldiers everywhere here.”

When we were taken to see Chief Red Cloud for the first time, he more than once cast a searching, penetrating glance at me. Then suddenly he seemed to conceive a great confidence in me; this I could see quite plainly. Once he put on his wonderful leather shirt, adorned with long fringes and embroidered here and in red, and held a fan of eagle feathers in his hand; in his hair he wore a long feather, like his famous grandfather.

Before night came, we had a long talk with One Feather and his wife. Tradition was dying out everywhere, he said, but there were men who sought to keep it alive. Before the coming of the white man, the Indians had the religion of the Pipe, and this had been brought to them just as the Ten Commandments had been brought to the whites. But with his religion the white man had also introduced the devil. One devil was alcohol, another was money. Christ had been crucified, but the Indians crucified themselves on the cottonwood tree; the cross of Christ had been of oak, whereas the Sun Dance Tree was, precisely, the cottonwood; a cross section through any branch of this tree always showed a golden star.

When One Feather speaks of spiritual things, he becomes a completely different man; he then speaks slowly and softly, becomes solemn, and emphasizes his words with impressive gestures. His tremendous angular and sharply chiseled face, with the triangular eyes, then becomes altogether spiritual.’


‘Second day of the Sun Dance. We are also fasting. In the early morning, before sunrise, we are already in the sacred Lodge. Coming down the road in the half-light of dawn, one can hear from afar the drumming and the powerful singing.

After the greeting of the sun, the fire is allowed to die out; the dancers crouch around the embers, wrapped in their blankets and with heads bowed; they sing four songs, and after each song they blow their eagle-bone whistles four times; four is the sacred number of the Indians, deriving from the Four Directions of space, or the four quarters of the universe. These songs are altogether peaceful, rather like laments, and are sung with a restrained voice.

Today, the second day, the Sun Dance reached its dramatic climax. This second day is the most important one, it is like the heart of the sacred event. Most of the dancers had painted themselves, which gave some of them a ghostly appearance. Their torsos were yellow, and most of them had their faces daubed with white and red spots; a few of the men had encircled their eyes with red, to make it easier to look into the sun; Yellowtail had black zigzag lines on his upper arms. The semicircle where the dancers were was now turned into a closed corridor, roofed over with little fir trees; the white cloth that shut off the corridor from the drummers and the spectators could be raised like a curtain, so that the stakes became visible. It was between these stakes that the painted dancers now stood; then the powerful drumming started up again and the dancers moved forwards and backwards, incessantly blowing their eagle-bone whistles. We sat on the rush-covered ground beside the drummers in a crowd of Indians, both men and women; during the dancing every woman received a spray of willow shoots and waved it up and down, or from side to side, in time with the drumming. At this point sick people came and stood beside the Tree in the center; the medicine man - a Ute - did various things in order to transmit to them the healing blessing of the Tree; he held handfuls of leaves over their heads and stroked them with them, blew upon the sick people, worked on them with a fan of eagle feathers, and did other things of the kind.

The Sun Dance is a cosmic drama, indeed it is a cosmos in itself. It is without beginning and without end: it is the temporal fraction of a timeless and supernatural reality; it is as if it had fallen into time; in it everything becomes timeless, outward happening stands still. The rhythm of the drum is rhythm as such; all is rhythm and center, equilibrium and presence.

If the word “art” is appropriate here, one could say that the Sun Dance is a powerful work of art; at all events, one can understand why the Red Indians never felt the need to create a great epic or the like. The manner in which they saw and experienced Nature excluded precisely every kind of fine art.

In some of the Indians the Sun Dance seems to have become crystallized; it gives them a definitive stamp - it has in a way become congealed in them, or rather, they in it. Or again, it continues to vibrate in them, its rhythm is their life.’

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The tricycle diaries

‘I tricycled over to Peers Court, Stinchcomb and lunched with the Brooke-Hunts, 16 1/2 miles; then on to Hempstead, to a garden party and home by Gloucester, 36 miles in all. I rode Clara’s tricycle and sustained a flying fall in going down a sudden pitch. I was not hurt and enjoyed my day immensely.’ This is from the sometimes amusing and colourful diaries of John Dearman Birchall, a cloth merchant who retired to Gloucester to live the good life as a squire, and who died 120 years ago today. Apart from tricycle expeditions, his diaries, which were edited alongside those of his wife’s by their grandson, tell of farming, fishing, flower shows and garden parties, as well as his work as a magistrate and wider political events.

Birchall was born in Leeds in 1828 into a family of wealthy Quaker merchants. His mother died when he was nine, and an older sister, Eliza, gave him religious instruction and was his closest friend. He was educated at small private schools in York and Croydon. As a young man, he joined a Leeds firm of cloth merchants, and then, in 1853, aged 25, he started his own company. In 1861, he married Clara Jane Brook, having left the Quakers and being baptised into the Church of England. Their daughter, Clara Sophia, was born the following year; but soon after Clara Jane died of consumption, aged but 21.

Birchall’s firm went on to win prizes for its cloth at international exhibitions as far afield as the United States and Australia. In the late 1860s, though, he bought a small estate near Gloucester, Bowden Hall, thus becoming a squire. There he was able to indulge his cultured passions, notably art (he was an occasional patron of the Pre-Raphaelites) and blue-and-white porcelain. However, now some distance from his company, he became less involved in its day-to-day business matters, though he retained the biggest share holding for another two decades. In 1873, he married Emily Jowitt who was only 20, and they had five children. In time, Birchall became a magistrate, an alderman, and ultimately High Sheriff of Gloucestershire. Emily, like Eliza, died tragically young, in 1884. He himself died on 11 June 1897.

There is very little information about Birchall online other than basic details at or Geneagraphie. However, because Dearman and Emily both kept diaries, a good deal more about their life became available in 1983 when Alan Sutton (eventually taken over by The History Press) published The Diary of a Victorian Squire, Extracts from the Diaries and Letters of Dearman & Emily Birchall. The book was edited and put together by David Verey, Birchall’s grandson. A couple of reviews can be found online, at History Today and John Edwards blog. Here are several extracts from Dearman Birchall’s diary as found in Verey’s book.

2 March 1871
‘The entry of the French capital by Germans is the news of the day and the dramatic sitting of the national Assembly at Bordeaux where by a majority of near 3 to 1 they confirmed this iniquitous treaty and deposed the Bonaparte family for ever. These and other striking scenes fill one’s mind to the exclusion of all ordinary topics.’

17 March 1871
‘We had a tremendous frost last night; fortunately my apricots which are all in bloom are well protected.’

28 March 1871
‘I hear that the Hopkinsons have sold Edgeworth to a Kentish gentleman for £40,000.’

19 April 1871
‘London. City in morning. Horticultural Show in the afternoon very charming. The azalias, roses and Veitch’s Stove plants especially the anthuricum Scherzerium with its gorgeous scarlet bloom and spiked centre tongue of rather lighter shade. Evening at Burlington club conversazione. We met Gambier Parry, Millais, Tom Taylor etc. Collection of fayence Urbino ware, Wedgewood, bronzes, Marquis of Westminster’s collection of paintings including Turner’s sketch and Constable’s greatest picture.’

10 August 1872
‘Constant rain. The county near here is dreadfully flooded and accounts are bad from all parts of the country. Potato disease prevails; foot and mouth amongst cattle. The seven milk cows have had it here, and now the sheep have it in their feet, swollen, mattering and maggoty, with the most disgusting stench. The quantity of keep in the park, and the dreadful wet season seem the natural causes. The sheep are sore, without wool and often bleeding in their breasts from lying in wet grass. It is thought they had better continue in the park in the hope of recovery which I suggest might be accelerated by nursing in a dry barn or what not.’

19 August 1872
‘Ann has a letter giving account of poor Cobb’s lamentable suicide in the Barnsley Canal. She had first tried to be run over on the rails. Our cooks have not been fortunate. Mrs Dyson an incurable; Jane died from cancer and now Mrs Cobb committing suicide.’

13 May 1876
‘We dined at the Drummonds. They have had a scare about scarlet fever. The under nurse was taken ill on Thursday and yesterday the doctor recognized it as a mild case of scarlet fever so she was sent to the fever hospital. Nobody was there except Lady Elizabeth. Cecil has heard this afternoon that the Government have very bad news from Turkey and that war is imminent. The outbreak at Salonika is likely to be repeated elsewhere and the mussulman blood is rising; with 7 million soldiers in Europe desiring war, as much as a spark could set such inflammable material on fire.’

23 May 1876
‘Mr Warburg came for one night. Looks well and is in good spirits. He describes the general business as being well managed beyond former precedent (the absence of Mr Webb in America as beneficial). We stand well everywhere abroad. He says the waters of Carlsbad are very efficacious in the cure of severe forms of gout [Dearman’s chief weakness] and that the Grosvenors and Bedfords are never absent. He describes Bohemian scenery in the neighbourhood of Carlsbad as very lovely.’

27 May 1876
‘Margaret left us today (the faithful maid). She was much depressed. We gave her £10 and hope her marriage may prove a happy one.’

10 June 1876
‘Had long conversations with partners. Mr Webb in particular who gave us a most interesting description of his American experiences. No improvement at the Mill. Average this year 86 pieces a week, 2230 pieces value £18,900. Trade getting much flatter. Today we had separate interviews with Cheetham. He first privately told me of his sorrows, father dead, sister insane, brother wretched, uncle unkind, wife ill at Scarborough - fears for her brain. I suggested Oswald spend half his days at the Mill till the end of the year, as a support to Cheetham to make more sympathy between the departments. Webb, Campbell and Oswald agreed to do away with cheviots and confine themselves to certain specified makes - at present with all their patterns they are getting few orders.’

20 May 1881
‘Went to stay at Enderby [the Drummonds]. Garden Party on the Saturday. Two bands and plenty of lawn tennis, and 5 splendid fire balloons. Emily came out in her terracotta aesthetic dress and Clara in her summer costume. No one looked half as nice.’

27 May 1881
‘Drawing lesson from Mr Watson, perspective mostly but to-day he brought a cast of an ornament for me to do in chalk with view to improving myself in light and shade. Emily has lessons in Spanish. In afternoon I went to Ealing to see a procession of tricyclist clubs, Gloucester and many London ones. We saw examples of the Special Salvo, Otto, Cheylesmore, Meteor, Humber, Devon, Tom Tit and Omnicycle.’

1 June 1881
‘Emily had her first At Home, 4-7. Great success. 80 people came. Afterwards we went to the (aesthetic) Opera Patience; the love-sick maidens most charming, jokes amusing, airs lively. The children have measles.’

13 June 1881
‘I went to Bowden. The house had not even got one coat of paint all over it. Best bedroom begun papering. Ordered stables to be colourwashed. Called on dear old Mr Jones. He said, “I shall be under the sod before you come down again. I am very happy.” I tried to encourage him thinking the pain he complained of in his chest was partly indigestion. Mrs Jones told me he was sinking; but I could scarcely credit it. I only stayed 10 minutes as he soon fatigued. The next day Mr Jones died aged 84. It will be a great loss. His end was peaceful without pain. He dozed away and the time when his spirit fled was not marked or even noticed by those who had the privilege of being present. May we be sustained by as robust a faith when our end comes.’

25 July 1883
‘Emily and I to Gloucester and back on tricycles. Clara Armitage left. She is not yet 20 years old, and reminds me of Clara’s mother - her bright complexion and open face please all who have made her acquaintance.’

27 July 1883
‘Splendid day. To Thornbury Castle with the Archaeologists. We went by rail to Charfield and drove thence. Country lovely. Mr. Stafford and Lady Rachel Howard invited us to tea.’

28 July 1883
‘Superb day for our Garden Party which went off brilliantly. 200 people here, Probyns, Gambier Parrys, De Ferrieres, Guises, Bells, Gibbonses, etc. Violet and Lindaraja in Russian costumes made sensation. It was the finest day since we returned home. Dawes Band played.’

4 August 1883
‘We had the Upton Feast before us on the Bench. A man called Page was fined 10/- and expenses 27/6 for being drunk and assaulting the police whom he struck and kicked; Middlecote 5/- for being drunk. The evidence showed a disorderly and disreputable gathering.’

5 August 1883
‘Last week 13 gallons of milk came in per day. Mrs Warner made 20 lbs of butter in the week; we sold 8 lbs and used about 12. She says that 30 quarts of milk per day are ample for all our requirements - it is getting wasted for want of vessels. Mr Gray proposes that Mrs Keylove shall make the excess milk into butter and sell it.’

9 August 1883
‘Excellent Village Flower Show of fruit and flowers but the afternoon was stormy and the garden muddy and soaked. We had 68, all our neighbours, to tea in the hall.’

11 August 1883
‘Emily and I went to Whiteholme [Mary Birchall’s] picking up Florence in Leeds on the way, for the grouse shooting.’

13 August 1883
‘We joined the Townhead party on the moors, Edward Birchall, Charles Armitage etc. It was very warm and fatiguing. I never saw half as many birds before. We shot 49 1/2 brace.’

23 August 1883
‘I tricycled over to Peers Court, Stinchcomb and lunched with the Brooke-Hunts, 16 1/2 miles; then on to Hempstead, to a garden party and home by Gloucester, 36 miles in all. I rode Clara’s tricycle and sustained a flying fall in going down a sudden pitch. I was not hurt and enjoyed my day immensely.’

16 September 1885
‘Tricycled to Upleadon. The Grays commence their departure on Saturday. The place looks very nice. I then went on to Huntley to call on the Ackers. The house struck me as looking very dull and uninteresting. [This was by S.S. Teulon, and would probably not compare very favourably with Prinknash.] Ackers says how bad everything is. He cannot get an offer for Prinknash and has to keep it up, and cannot sell the Prinknash herd of shorthorns. He has now the three houses and is going to give up butler and footman and keep waiting maids. I had been 32 1/2 miles.’

22 September 1885
‘Sale of Mr. Hobbs’s stock at Park Farm; very bad prices realized. Things are now probably lower than for 20 years. The season has been good and stock is plentiful, importations continuing the prices continually fell. The horses brought exceptionally bad figures. I bought a colt for £13.15.0. Mr Davis purchased sheep and horses. He looked very wild. I believe Mr Hobbs would have remained at Park Farm if Mr Davis had given him a sensible reduction from his rent of £500 p.a.’

29 June 1885
‘Fishmonger had caught a sturgeon this morning at Awre, 9 ft. long, weight 260 lbs. It was still breathing when I saw it.’

24 August 1885
‘Garden Party at the Doringtons at Lypiatt Park. We took the Greens and enjoyed a very pleasant expedition. It took us nearly two hours with barouche going by Stroud - a mistake - returning Miserden way; it was a most superb day and the company numbered over 200, all the best people in the county, and the Greens were much struck with the beauty of the place and agreeable party and the picturesque country.’

25 August 1885
‘Garden Party at Hardwicke 3.30 - 7. A smaller party than yesterday. Mr Baker was walking about and seemed very cheerful. The garden looked in nice order; but the grass plot much cracked from the unusual drought which has prevailed for at least a couple of months.’

The Diary Junction

Thursday, June 1, 2017

In want of a winter coat

‘I have had a disappointment. I had hoped to buy 2 middle sized blankets, to have them dyed violet, to make a warm winter coat, but the person who proposed to sell them, now wants to keep them for herself. Everybody is having blankets dyed, as there are no more stuffs for making clothes. [. . .] I am sadly in want of something warm for winter; three years ago one didn’t dream of providing for 1917, nor of the possibility of the war lasting so long.’ This is from an unusual diary kept a century ago by Mary Thorp, a family governess in occupied Brussels, during the First World War. The diary, as researched by two American academics - Sophie De Schaepdrijver and Tommy M. Proctor - is being published today, for the first time, by Oxford University Press with the title An English Governess in the Great War.

Mary, the first of four children, was born on New Year’s Day 1864 to Thomas and Annette Thorp, a lower middle class London family. Thomas was a cabriolet proprietor, and had first been married to Annette’s sister, also called Mary, who had died young - there were several older children from that marriage. In the early 1870s, Thomas took his family to live in Bruges, Belgium, possibly because of friction with his older sons (at least one of whom showed resentment towards their father’s second marriage), or possibly so that Annette could find work as teacher. At the time, Bruges had a thriving ex-pat English community. Although Mary did spend some time in London and in the United States staying with well-off relations, she spent most of her life in Belgium.

In 1887, Thorp took her first job as a governess, in the Ghent region, probably because her parents were under financial pressure and she needed to earn her own living. The following year, she took a position with another family, near Bruges. By 1910, she was employed by a very wealthy family in Brussels (headed by Paul Wittouck, owner of the largest sugar refinery in the country) to educate three brothers aged, initially, between 6 and 10. Over time, she became more than a governess, but also a domestic authority within the household; and she also confidently socialised with her employers’ friends and visitors. Even after the deaths of Wittouck (1917) and his wife (1928) she was still registered as living with the family. Thorp herself died in 1945.

These details about Mary Thorp and her life have been uncovered by two history professors - Sophie De Schaepdrijver (Pennsylvania State University) and Tommy M. Proctor (Utah State University). Both of them had been using an anonymous diary, kept at In Flanders Fields Museum in Ieper, Belgium, for their First World War research, and became intrigued enough by its detail and richness to want to find out more about the author. The academics consulted population and foreign registers which led them to the name Mary Thorp. Further research helped them piece together aspects of her life. They have since edited the diary, and, today, Oxford University Press in the US is publishing it in hardback as An English Governess in the Great War. (Several pages can be read online at Googlebooks or Amazon).

In their relatively short introduction, the authors explain how it would have been dangerous to keep a diary in German-occupied Belgium, hence why Thorp failed to put her own name in any of the five manuscript diaries. Keeping a diary, they add, was Thorp’s way ‘to try and make sense of the war and to express where she stood; what she hoped for, whom she felt responsible for, and what she felt to be her calling.’ They go on to claim that ‘the diary’s length, the time period it covers, and its richness of themes all give it particular value to historians interested in the history of the First World War “from below”.’

An English Governess in the Great War is handsomely produced, complete with a few photographs, a comprehensive index, many contextual notes and a bibliography. The diary reads very eloquently, as Thorp switches between writing of her domestic concerns, significant dinner guests and their news, anecdotes heard from friends, and her own observations of what is happening around her in Brussels. By far the bulk of the diary, though, is taken up with her own reporting of, and thoughts on, news that she hears or reads about the war across Europe. Her style is informal, warm, intelligent, and gives one the sense of being in her company, and glad of the conversation. She is often quizzical with herself (‘To think we have been to bed & got up thirteen hundred times since the war began!!! & how much longer???’). Also, sometimes, she identifies confidentially with the British war effort by using the ’we’ form (‘Why can’t we prevent the Boches seizing those mail boats!’), although more often ‘we’ is used to group herself among those suffering from the Boche occupation of Brussels.

With thanks to Oxford University Press, here are several extracts from Thorp’s diary.

13 November 1916
‘I took a kilo of smuggled butter (12 fs) to Lena [Ford] this afternoon, they hadn’t been able to get any for a long time. I lunched next to the Secretary of the Swedish legatiorn, back from Stockholm, through Berlin, ten days ago. On leaving the station at Berlin, he saw women mending the roads, & pulling down sewer pipes. He was 2 days in Berlin, & could not obtain at his (good) hotel, meat, eggs, milk, butter or sugar. He had to live on fish, rice & potatoes. He says everyone in Sweden believes in our victory.’

13 March 1917
‘This afternoon we had a German soldier & an officer in the house to “see what they could still discover” in the way of copper & other metal. They were inoffensive, didn’t come into the rooms, except at no. 20, in the apartments of the married servants (concierges, Jean, chauffeur) & into the kitchen. They took some notes, so will probably send for certain things. I hear 485 frs were paid for the metal sent them by Mr W, but they “make a perquisition” nevertheless. It seems they photographed the people carrying their metal to the Luxembourg station; it will probably appear in their illustrated papers as: “The Belgians are so poor, they run to sell us their copper ware”!’

28 March 1917
‘Saw a poor English woman to-day who can’t do without her tea - she pays it 3 frs 75 the 100 grammes, so 37 frs 50 the kilo, but only a hundred grammes at a time. Another English family who can’t!! go to the Alimentation pays the same for a franc’s worth of tea at a time & 9 frs the kilo for sugar, when they can get any (smuggled) from shops! My bottles of tea strained off when we have taken ours, have great success; it means better quality & great saving to those poor women. All the people of the American legation are leaving, in a few days, for Le Havre via Switzerland. Weather still so cold & no coal to be had anywhere.’

13 May 1917
’24 years to-day I sailed for N.Y. We are having very hot, sultry weather. Went to La Fougeraie in the little cart, garden & all vegetation simply perfect, what a difference with 3 weeks ago when we were still there, & snow had only ceased three days before. I heard the cannon quite plainly all the time, a continual rumble, & it had been so all night. God grant there may soon be something decisive! . . . Pity for our brave men on land & on sea, near & far, for the latter are terribly out of the “lime-light.” ’

30 August 1917
‘I have had a disappointment. I had hoped to buy 2 middle sized blankets, to have them dyed violet, to make a warm winter coat, but the person who proposed to sell them, now wants to keep them for herself. Everybody is having blankets dyed, as there are no more stuffs for making clothes. At Antwerp the Boches (who are already taking the wool of the mattresses) have forbidden to have blankets dyed; in view of taking them themselves, & it is greatly feared that it will very soon [be] forbidden here. I am sadly in want of something warm for winter; three years ago one didn’t dream of providing for 1917, nor of the possibility of the war lasting so long.’

17 September 1917
‘Our servant Charles went yesterday to Enghien to get some “precious potatoes;” only had to pay his brother-in-law 1 fr a kilo, lucky man! He says that tram is crammed with potato smugglers, about 30 tons are brought in by it every night, the Germans soldiers who are supposed to search the people let them down very easily & often say “what do we care about potatoes, we know we are doomed to be killed.” On the tram last night, 2 G soldiers, trying to desert, dressed as civilians, were caught. Round about Enghien many desert. Recently, two offered someone 200 frs each for an old suit of clothes, no matter how ragged, to get away in, but the bribed man did not accept - the penalties in such cases are immense, & many people object to the chance of being shot.

I hope & pray the rumours of peace may be realised - people are suffering too much . . .’

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Dust all day like a fog

‘Bus at 8 on stomachs empty save for peanuts. Good seats and smuggled luggage. Bloody driver. Second bus constantly en panne. A Chinese attached to it savagely beaten up by Jap with starting handle. Lovely mountain passes. Hunting boxes in firs. A little snow. New untouched road. One concrete bridge made. No work going on elsewhere. Soup at Lungwha, where there is a good yamen, bright colours, much mistletoe. Dust all day like a fog.’ This is from an early travel diary kept by Peter Fleming, born 110 years ago today, on one of his several trips to Asia, and China in particular. Although his travel and historical books were best sellers in the mid-20th century, he is not well remembered today, unlike his famous brother Ian.

Fleming was born on the last day of May in 1907, one of four brothers. His father was a barrister and Member of Parliament, but he was killed in action in 1917. Peter was schooled at Eton, and often spent weekends with his grandparents at Nettlebed, Oxfordshire. He studied at Christ Church, Oxford, where he became president of the drama society and editor of Isis. He graduated in 1929 with a first-class degree in English. After a short period with the family firm in New York, and an expedition to Guatemala, he returned to London where, in 1931, he became assistant literary editor for The Spectator. Soon after, though he was given leave to attend an Institute of Pacific Relations conference, involving travel across Russia and China. In 1932, he joined a hair-brained expedition to Brazil, supposedly in search of a missing explorer, and persuaded The Times to take him on as an unpaid special correspondent. The journey led to his first book - Brazilian Adventure (1933) - which was well received in the UK and the US.

Two further journeys to Asia followed. After the first - during which he achieved an interview with Chaing Kai-shek (see also Chiang Kai-shek’s diaries) - he published One’s Company (1934). The second journey undertaken on foot and ponies with a Swiss traveller Ella Maillart and which took seven months, led to his 1936 book News from Tartary. In 1935, Fleming married Celia Johnson - an actress who would later become famous for her role in Brief Encounter (1945). They had three children. In 1936, he joined the staff of The Times, and subsequently travelled, with Johnson, to report on the Sino-Japanese War. During the Second World War, he served with the Grenadier Guards, but was seconded to intelligence duties, in Norway, Egypt, Greece and Burma.

After the war, Fleming settled at Merrimoles, a house he had built near his grandparents’ old home at Nettlebed, and in the middle of a large estate inherited from an uncle. There he continued to write for The Times and he contributed a column for The Spectator signed under the pseudnym Strix. Several historical books followed, as did his involvement with the running of Reading University. After the death of his brother, Ian, in 1964, he joined the board of Glidrose, which was managing the literary rights of the James Bond novels. Peter Fleming died in 1971. Further information is available from Wikipedia, University of Reading, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required) or the British Resistance Archive.

Peter Fleming appears to have been an intermittent diarist. Duff Hart-Davis refers often to Fleming’s diary in the biography of his godfather (see Googlebooks); and the University of Reading lists a number of diary manuscripts in its Fleming archive. However, the only diary extracts that Fleming himself prepared for print were in 1952, when his friend Rupert Hart-Davis (Duff’s father), a publisher, brought out A Forgotten Journey. This was reprinted in 2009, by Tauris Parke, as To Peking: A Forgotten Journey from Moscow to Manchuria (available to preview at Googlebooks). Here are several extracts taken from the 1952 edition.

6 September 1934
‘At 10 o’clock we set out for a kolhoz [collective farm]. It was a biggish village lying in flat but slightly rolling country. The white Ukrainian houses with thatched roofs and tiny unopenable windows looked very pleasant in the sunshine. We were soon taken in charge by the local party secretary, a tough, insular young man, the power in that place. We tasted their honey and prodded their pigs and Mogs drove one of their buggies. The farm produces mostly vegetables. 20% of its produce is sold at a nominal price to the Government, the rest in the open market. Fertiliser supplied by the Government had had a good effect. There was a small land tax. The most interesting thing was the degree of kulakism allowed now. Everyone had his own garden or allotment and was allowed to keep pigs or cows, though no one as it happened had more than two or three of either; potatoes were 3 kopeks per kg. to the Government, 50 in the open market; 70% of the workers were women. We saw rather polite children eating bortsch in the crêche, and the cooperative store, which sold almost nothing except vodka, matches, and very shoddy clothes. Almost all the houses had the radio. In the one we went into the walls were prettily painted; Kaganovitch [then, and up to the time of going to press, a member of the Politburo] shared the wall with an ikon. Everything reasonably clean. We lunched in their eating-place off bortsch, black bread, potatoes, tomatoes, and melons.

When we got back George and I went over some flats with an architect, who said that the work done to his designs was about 30% unsatisfactory. Architects have a pretty free hand here. The flats all seemed to me good: light and spacious and cheap. In the first there was a man, a pre-war Bolshevik, who had done 13 years’ solitary confinement but conspicuously possessed a sense of humour. He had his shackles hanging up in his bedroom. Then there was one belonging to an architect with some rather amusing pictures done by the tenant; it was refreshing to find evidence of some sort of taste somewhere. He had Robinson Crusoe on his bookshelf. I heard some children exclaiming at it in a shop yesterday; it is in brisk demand here. Then there was another poorer flat, but still quite adequate.

After that we went to the races, which turned out to be trotting races. They were fairly well attended and there was some primitive system of betting. But not much enthusiasm. The jockeys were fantastic mid-Victorian figures, and had great difficulty in preventing the scratch horses from galloping, which they are allowed to do for only four strides. The jockeys are professionals, but the horses amateurs from the farms, which race against each other.

We were to have flown to Rostov tomorrow, but the wind is considered too high. So we must catch a train at 3 a.m.

It didn’t of course turn up till 4, and proved to be without the advertised dining car. We boarded it stupid with fatigue, after wandering about the streets for a long time. They were empty save for a certain number of indefinite night-watchmen sitting on chairs in front of doors. There was also an old man who suddenly stooped, picked up a fragment of newspaper from the gutter, and put it on a window sill. I thought he was going to roll a cigarette, but he produced instead a little bird from his pocket and wrapped it up in the paper. It had hit the telegraph wires and cut its head. He was very sorry for it, but I don’t know what good the newspaper was. The head waiter at the hotel was a romantic figure, an effective ex-prospector, ex-East Side waiter, ex-stage dancer in U.S.A. The depression had driven him back to Russia. Got to sleep about 5 in the morning.’

7 September 1934
‘Started at 10 for a big agricultural implement factory. Here work appeared to be proceeding rather spasmodically, under conditions which are very enlightened on paper. The things that interested me most were that 43% of the workers are women; that each shock brigade, controlled by its own brigadier, pillories bad workers by name with bad caricatures on its notice-board - another echo of the Moscow Park stuff; that every worker’s rest period of an hour is preceded by 5 minutes compulsory P.T.; that Shock Workers have a silly little banner on their bit of machinery. Chiefly, in fact, the Montessorian atmosphere. In the club library questions and answers were posted on the notice-board. One was, “Where can I study man’s struggle for existence?” The answer was “Fill up a form and in the meantime read these books.” Another was “Why no books by Jules Verne, Mayne Reid, and Fenimore Cooper?” The answer was that Verne was all to the good, but Cooper and Reid misrepresented American exploitation of the indigenes and were chauvinistic and imperialistic. We saw also workers’ flats and a closed shop, where white bread was selling for 60 kopeks instead of 10 roubles and meat for 3 roubles instead of 9. Had the usual dilatory lunch, then George went to interview a judge while Mogs and I sat in a public garden and read and talked.

Then we all went on the Don in a motor boat with the director of Intourist, an insufferable young American-educated candidate for the Communist party. This is holding a purge tomorrow, and he is therefore aggressively orthodox. He also seems unhappy here. We bathed in shallow black mud, very nice though I spiked my foot on a fish bone and lost a cuff link. The sky was lovely coming back. I had a glass of sour wine with Boris, who told me he got 60 roubles an hour for coaching actors who had to play the part of foreigners - e.g. Cooper in Tempo. There is a lot of money to be made in the theatre, and it seems to hold a pretty high position in cultural life.

After dinner we went to a cinema, probably the worst I have ever seen. It began with a black blurred picture of salvage work in the Black Sea, devoid of interest or comprehensibility. Then there was a fearful comedy, sooty and prehistoric. We walked out.’

1 December 1934
‘Wasted the morning waiting for Tumanov the detective, who had promised to take us round the opium dens. Met Yankovsky from N. Korea, who had some wonderful hunting photographs and was nice. Also the Vremya journalist, who seemed perplexed about Roerich having been run out. Also the Red railway worker, who said he was going to stay in Harbin but that 80% of the others were going back: a very vague man. The nice desk man, having applied for a rise on 40 dollars, is going after 9 years to turn porter in the hopes of earning more. The Italian consul turned up, a charming droll with an eyeglass and an inexhaustible fund of anecdotes. We bought some presents for Debedeev’s family and had an enormous lunch with Bryner and his kind wife, talking till dusk about Kolchak, whose betrayal Bryner’s brother, then in British uniform as a liaison officer, knew all about; and about Roerich and about Kaspe. Then K. saw the doctor and was forced to go to bed, and I wrote some letters and gave them to Lady Muriel Paget, who was going through on the express and seemed very nice and effective. She had one amusing rumour about Mme. Chiang. A local journalist turned up, a truculent and gloomy man, possibly drunk. He blamed Chambon over the Kaspe business.’

19 December 1934
‘Bus at 8 on stomachs empty save for peanuts. Good seats and smuggled luggage. Bloody driver. Second bus constantly en panne. A Chinese attached to it savagely beaten up by Jap with starting handle. Lovely mountain passes. Hunting boxes in firs. A little snow. New untouched road. One concrete bridge made. No work going on elsewhere. Soup at Lungwha, where there is a good yamen, bright colours, much mistletoe. Dust all day like a fog. Took streets too fast. Carts on ice. Camels. Suddenly came on Chengteh. First the club-shaped rock, then Tashi Lumpo (now fronted with Manchukuo barracks), then palace pagoda. Gave names and ages to Military Mission man, then walked through busier fuller [than on my last visit in 1933] streets to Conard, who was delightful and lodged us in luxury. The sad Lewisohn also there, leaving tomorrow. In clover, but police on our trail.’

16 December 1934
‘Good Chinese breakfast with Chow. First meal since light lunch yesterday. Drove to bus station (one pagoda, one big Jap restaurant). Via Mission. Saw Mrs. B_, drawn mouth, sandy, bad with Chow. Bus starts late. Slow, uneven journey, delayed by breakdowns of truck. Mountains and donkeys. Sweet cakes at one halt. Peanuts and Manchus at another. One man has a little owl in a cage. Boy holds new-born calf by its tail. All stare. Soldiers in bus friendly. Fat Jap hits Chinese for no great cause. Lovely blue at twilight. Pass long bulbous caravan of donkeys, mules, and ponies carrying cotton. Alternately sleepy and exalted. Thick with dust.’

Monday, May 29, 2017

JFK‘s diary strikes gold

‘These Leftists are filled with bitterness, and I am not sure how deeply the tradition of tolerance in England is ingrained in these bitter and discontented spirits.’ ‘For too long a time now England has been divided into the two nations [. . .] the rich and the poor. The Labor Party will stay in for a long time if the conservative wing of that party [. . .] remain in office. But if the radical group like Laski [professor of economics and chairman of the Labour Party], Shinwell and Cripps become the dominating influence [. . .] there will be a reaction and the Conservatives will come once again to power.’ This is none other than John F. Kennedy - born a century ago today - writing in a diary he kept for a few months while working as a reporter in Europe in the aftermath of the WWII. It is the only diary ever kept by the famous US president, and recently sold at auction in Boston for over $700,000, three times its pre-auction estimate.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born on 29 May 1917, in Brookline, Massachusetts, into a large prominent Irish Catholic family with strong links to the political and banking worlds. After a privileged education interrupted by frequent illnesses, he graduated from Harvard University in 1940. In particular, his thesis on why Britain was so unprepared to fight Germany - researched during a visit to the UK where his father was US ambassador - was particularly well received. Indeed, he decided to publish it as a book, Why England Slept, which sold more than 80,000 copies. He joined the US Navy, and during the war commanded small torpedo boats in the Pacific, earning a medal for non-combat heroism.

After the war, Kennedy worked briefly as a journalist before deciding to enter politics. On the back of his war record and family money, he won a Boston working class seat for the Democrats in the House of Representatives (1947-1952). Then, in 1953, he challenged a Republican incumbent for his seat in the Senate, and narrowly won (despite the Republicans gaining control in both houses). He did this partly thanks to family money, and a highly methodical and efficient campaign, but also through the force of his personality, considered dignified, intelligent an uncondescending. That same year, he married Jacqueline Bouvier, and they would have three children. While recuperating from surgery, he wrote a another book, Profiles in Courage, which won the 1957 Pulitzer Prize for biography.

In the 1960 general election, Kennedy beat Richard Nixon by a very narrow margin, and in 1961 he became the country’s 35th president, the second youngest in American history, and the first Catholic. His short term as president was characterised by the launch of the Peace Corps, a civil rights bill, and Cold War crises, particularly with Cuba. In one of the most infamous events of modern history, he was assassinated on 21 November 1963 by Lee Harvey Oswald (see JFK’s assassin in Moscow). Further biographical information on JFK is readily available across the internet: see Wikipedia,, The White House, JFK Presidential Library and Museum, and American National Biography Online.

For a few months during 1945, when in San Francisco for the first UN conference and then on tour in post-war Europe for Hearst newspapers, Kennedy kept a diary - the only one he ever wrote - on loose leaf pages held together in a Trussel binder. Later, he gave it to one of his research assistants, Deirdre Henderson. However, it was not until 1995 that Henderson edited the diary and allowed it to be published (by Regnery Publishing) as Prelude to Leadership: The European Diary of John F. Kennedy. The book - which is available to preview online at Googlebooks - contains a lengthy introduction by Hugh Sidey (a long-serving Washington bureau chief for Time magazine), and a short preface by Henderson herself in which she excuses the long delay in publication as being ‘a matter of personal circumstances’.  

Earlier this year, however, in the run-up the Kennedy’s centenary, Henderson put the original diary up for sale through RR Auction. The US auction house produced a glossy 76-page brochure promoting the diary (itself only 61 pages!), including many extracts, historical photographs and contexts, and images of the (mostly typed) original pages. This brochure is freely available online at RR Auction (as are images of the entire diary). The forthcoming sale garnered worldwide publicity - see, for example, Fox News, The Independent, the BBC, or - almost as though the diary’s contents were being revealed for the first time. The pre-auction estimate price of $200,000 was tripled on the day of the sale, 26 May, with the lot selling to Joseph Alsop (a JFK collector) for an astonishing $718,750. The diary’s new owner is the nephew of Joseph Alsop V and the son of Stewart Alsop, two brothers who were influential columnists during the Kennedy presidency. (See Fox News or the Daily Mail for further details.)

In its pre-auction publicity, RR Auction stated: ‘It is rare that a manuscript of such importance comes to the attention of the auction world. Discovered in a call from its long-time owner, Kennedy’s research assistant Deirdre Henderson, it is of great significance as the only diary JFK ever wrote. We here at RR Auction have become one of the preeminent auction houses for Kennedy documents and are proud to bring this little-known diary to the attention of our collectors in the United States and throughout the world. After the end of the war in 1945, Ambassador Kennedy arranged for his son to work for the Hearst newspapers. This allowed the young veteran to attend the opening session of the United Nations in San Francisco in May and then travel abroad to cover post-war Europe. JFK followed Prime Minister Churchill throughout England during his reelection campaign. He traveled to Ireland, then to the Potsdam Conference in Germany with Navy Secretary James Forrestal. This diary is not a travel log. It is his personal observations of what he saw and perceptions of what would happen in the post-war world. Our name. RR Auction, stands for “Rare” and “Remarkable.” The 1945 diary of John F. Kennedy is rare because there is nothing comparable. Remarkable for the hidden story shown, his insightful views and predictions of the world around him at an early age - sixteen years later America’s 35th President.’

Here are several extracts from JFK’s diary (literally worth far more than than their weight in gold!).

21 June 1945
‘Tonight it looks like Labor and a good thing it will be for the cause of free enterprise. The problems are so large that it is right that Labor, which has been nipping at the heels of private enterprise in England for the last twenty-five years, should be faced with the responsibility of making good on its promises.

D_ maintains that free enterprise is the losing cause. Capitalism is on the way out - although many Englishmen feel that this is not applicable to England with its great democratic tradition and dislike of interference with the individual.

I should think that they might be right in prosperous times, but when times go bad, as they must inevitably, it will be then that controls will be clamped on - and then the only question will be the extent to which they are tightened.
Socialism is inefficient; I will never believe differently, but you can feed people in a socialistic state, and that may be what will insure its eventual success.

Mr. Roosevelt has contributed greatly to the end of Capitalism in our own country, although he would probably argue the point at some length. He has done this, not through the laws which he sponsored or were passed during his Presidency, but rather through the emphasis he put on rights rather than responsibilities - through promises like, for example, his glib and completely impossible campaign promise of 1944 of 60,000,000 jobs.

He must have known that it was an impossibility to ever implement this promise, and it will hang as a sword over the head of a Capitalistic system - a system that will be discredited by its inability to make that promise good.’

29 June 1945
‘Kathleen and I went down this afternoon to Eastbourne in southern England to Compton Place. Eastbourne is a small village and Compton Place is in the center of it, though for its quietness it might be in the middle of a large forest.

Its owner, the Duke of Devonshire, is an eighteenth-century story book Duke in his beliefs - if not in his appearance. He believes in the Divine Right of Dukes, and in fairness, he is fully conscious of his obligations - most of which consist of furnishing the people of England with a statesman of mediocre ability but outstanding integrity.

Datid Ormsby-Gore maintains that in providing the latter service the Aristocracy, especially the country squires, really earn their sometimes extremely comfortable keep.

The Duke was a good friend of Neville Chamberlain. He went on several fishing trips with him, but he said that he could never understand Chamberlain’s idea of confiscating part of his land providing some “compensation” was made by the State. “But,” said the Duke, “what compensation can there be by handing over my property to a middle-class official who can’t administer it half as well.” And there you have the social philosophy of Edward, tenth Duke of Devonshire.

He had a number of interesting stories. One was about Lady Violet Bonham-Carter, daughter of Herbert Asquith, former Prime Minister. Lady Violet had a great habit of bringing her face gradually closer and closer to the subject of her conversation until finally only several inches separated her from the recipient of her remarks. Duff-Cooper, Ambassador to France, finally became so infuriated with this habit that, at a dinner party, he suddenly picked up a potato with his fork and dashed it into her mouth saying, “Excuse me, I thought it was mine.”

He was interesting on the subject of Nepal - an independent country from which the famous Ghurka warriors come. Great Britain was unable to conquer this principality so since the nineteenth-century conquest they have lived in peace with the Maharaja in close alliance.

The Ghurka soldier - crack troops - are mercenaries, who, being Moslems and therefore unable to cross the sea, have to go through an elaborate purification process before being allowed to enter their country after their tour of duty is complete. Part of this purification process consists of bathing in cow urine and eating some cow manure.

As far as India on the whole, the Duke (Undersecretary of State for Colonies) sees little hope for the future - due to the terrific hostility of the Moslems and the Hindu’s on the one hand and the completely mystic and debasing position of the 30 million “Untouchables” on the other. It is a poor foundation on which to build a democracy. 
He admits, however, that England would also suffer if she were cut off completely from India, but the commercial lies are steadily becoming weakened by the growth of Indian heavy industry and the influx of the goods of other countries.

In the Levant, France had been consistently warned. It was France’s traditional policy of domination of this part of the middle East which was carried out at a time when French prestige and power was too weak to successfully carry it through.

Although the Duke is an anachronism with hardly the adaptability necessary to meet the changing tides of present day, he does have great integrity and lives simply with simple pleasures. He has a high sense of noblesse oblige, and it comes sincerely for him. He believes that Labor will win an overwhelming victory. He is the only Conservative that I have heard state this view. His wife, grand-daughter of Lord Salisbury, Prime Minister of England, is a woman of intense personal charm and complete selflessness.’

30 June 1945
‘General Eisenhower has taken a great hold on the hearts of all the British people ... At the fall of Tunis in Africa back in 1943, a parade was held of all the forces that had brought the African campaign to a successful conclusion. As the crack Eighth Army filed past, the Desert Rats, the Highland Division, the South Africans - all experienced and excellent troops - Eisenhower, as the supreme Commanding Officer, took the salute. He was heard to say after the Eighth had marched past, “To think that I, a boy from Abilene, Kansas, am the Commander of troops like those!” He never lost that humble way and therefore easily won the hearts of those with whom he worked. [. . .]

Churchill in his book ‘World Crisis’ brings out the same point - the terrific slaughter of the field officers of the British Army - two or three times higher than the Germans. They were always on the defensive in the dark days of ’15, ’16, and ’17, and they paid most heavily. The British lost one million of a population of forty million; the French, one million five hundred thousand of a population of thirty-eight million; and the Germans, one million five hundred thousand of a population of seventy million. This tremendous slaughter had its effect on British policy in the 30s when Chamberlain and Baldwin could not bring themselves to subject the young men of Britain to the same horrible slaughter again.’

1 July 1945
‘I had dinner with William Douglas-Home, former Captain in the British army, third son of Earl of Home, cashiered and sentenced to a year in jail for refusal to fire on __ at LeHavre. He is quite confident that his day will come after his disgrace has passed, and he quotes Lord Beaverbrook to the effect that some day he will be Prime Minister to England. Like Disraeli he is extremely confident. He feels that by insisting on the doctrine of “Unconditional Surrender” instead of allowing Germany and Russia both to remain of equal strength, we made it possible for Russia to obtain that very dominance that we fought Germany to prevent her having. He feels that we had a great opportunity for a balance of power policy.

For my own part, I think that only time can tell whether he was right, but I doubt that William Home will ever meet much success because people distrust those who go against convention. And furthermore, prowess in war is still deeply respected. The day of the conscientious objector is not yet at hand.’

2 July 1945
‘The great danger in movements to the Left is that the protagonists of the movement are so wrapped up with the end that the means becomes secondary and things like opposition have to be dispensed with as they obstruct the common good. When one sees the iron hand with which the Trade Unions are governed, the whips cracked, the obligatory fee of the Trade Union’s Political representatives in Parliament, you wonder about the liberalism of the Left. They must be most careful. To maintain Dictatorships of the Left or Right are equally abhorrent no matter what their doctrine or how great their efficiency.’

3 July 1945
‘I attended a political rally this evening at which Professor Harold Laski, Chairman of the Executive Council of the Labor Party and erstwhile Professor at the London School of Economics, spoke ... Odd this strain that runs through these radicals of the Left. It is that spirit which builds dictatorships as has been shown in Russia. I wonder whether dictatorship of the Left could ever get control in England, a country with such great democratic tradition.

These Leftists are filled with bitterness, and I am not sure how deeply the tradition of tolerance in England is ingrained in these bitter and discontented spirits. I think that unquestionably, from my talk with Laski, that he and others like him smart not so much from the economic inequality’ but from the social.’

27 July 1945
‘The overwhelming victory of the Left was a surprise to everyone. It is important in assaying this election to decide how much of the victory was due to a ‘time for a change’ vote which would have voted against any government in power, whether Right or Left, and how much was due to real Socialistic strength.

My own opinion is that it was about 40 per cent due to dissatisfaction with conditions over which the government had no great control but from which they must bear responsibility - 20 per cent due to a belief in Socialism as the only solution to the multifarious problems England must face - and the remaining 40 per cent due to a class feeling - i.e.; that it was time ‘the working man’ had a chance.

For too long a time now England has been divided into the two nations as Disraeli called them - the rich and the poor. The Labor Party will stay in for a long time if the conservative wing of that party men like Attlee and Bevin remain in office.

But if the radical group like Laski, Shinwell and Cripps become the dominating influence in the party, there will be a reaction and the Conservatives will come once again to power. In my own opinion Attlee will remain in office for the next year and a half, but if there is much dissatisfaction, which there may be, he will go; and as a sop to the radical Left wing, Morrison or Bevin will take over. Labor is laboring under the great disadvantage of having made promises to numerous groups whose aims are completely incompatible. The Conservatives may pick up some of these votes, at least those of the middle class when conditions make it impossible for Labor to implement many of its promises.’