Friday, December 12, 2014

Diary briefs


Woodland diary of ecological pioneer Charles Elton - British Ecological Society, Phys.org

Diary of Nixon’s chief of staff - The Washington Post, Carolina Public Press

Hungarian doctor’s diary of life during the holocaust - The Washington Post

Diary reveals WW1 love story -  Wales Online

Metadata from digitised WW1 field diaries - BBC

Great War diary extracts - Winston-Salem Journal

Diary of the War by Guy de Pourtalès - Swiss Info, Amazon

The Diary of Annie’s War Extended Edition - Manchester Evening News, Amazon

New Mahatma Gandhi diary - The Times of India

Berlin Wall diary (see also The fall of the Wall) - Sky News

Decoding Livingstone’s lost diary (see also - Livingstone’s invisible writing) - The Smithsonian

Diary of a persistent schoolboy zoologist - The Guardian

Diary of Indian engineer reveals dubious dealings - Mail Online India

Diary entry triggers girlfriend’s murder - IOL News

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Meeting lionesses

‘Every native in the camp, male or female, who was fortunate enough to get a morsel, dressed it and eat [sic] it. They have a thorough conviction that the eating a piece of lion’s flesh strengthens the constitution incalculably, and is a preservative against many particular distempers.’ This is the Francis Rawdon-Hastings, a major political figure in early 19th century English politics, writing in his diary about the hunting and killing of two lionesses during his tenure as Governor-General of India. The diary is of great interest, as much for Rawdon’s intelligent and humane observations of India, as for his explanations of political and military dealings.

Hastings was born 260 years ago today, on 9 December 1754, at Moira, County Down, the son of John Rawdon, 1st Earl of Moira and Elizabeth Hastings, 13th Baroness Hastings. He grew up there and in Dublin, being educated later at Harrow and Oxford, though he never graduated. He joined the British Army in 1771 as an ensign in the 15th Foot, was promoted lieutenant two years later, and then went to North America, where he was commended for fearlessness in 1775 at Bunker Hill. During the Revolutionary War, he worked as aide-de-camp and adjutant to General Henry Clinton. He was promoted lieutenant-colonel in 1778, and appointed adjutant-general to the British forces.

In 1779, Rawdon fell out with Clinton and resigned. Nevertheless, he continued to play a part in the war, raising a corp of Irish volunteers, and serving as a divisional commander. His success at the battle of Hobkirk’s Hill earned him General Cornwallis’s admiration. Severe illness, though, saw him leave America, only for his vessel to be captured by the French. He was released at the end of 1781 thanks to a prisoner exchange. By November of the following year, he had achieved the rank of colonel, and was appointed aide-de-camp to George III. He was also an MP in the Irish Parliament for a couple of years, and was then made Baron Rawdon and took his seat in the House of Lords in 1783. Further positions followed: Fellow of the Royal Society, Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, Grand Master of the Free Masons. In 1789, he took the surname Hastings in accordance with his uncle’s will.

In 1793, Rawdon succeeded his father as Earl of Moira. The following year, he was sent with 7,000 men to Ostend to reinforce the Duke of York and allies in Flanders. In 1803, he was appointed commander-in-chief in Scotland, and in 1804 he married Flora Mure Campbell, countess of Loudoun. They had six children, although one died in infancy. When William Grenville formed the national unity government in 1806, Rawdon was appointed master-general of the ordnance, partly thanks to the patronage of the Prince of Wales. In government, he defended military reform, supported the abolition of the slave trade, and lobbied for help to imprisoned debtors, but resigned his office when the government fell over the issue of Catholic emancipation for Ireland.

In 1810, with the king’s health declining, Rawdon was an advocate for the Prince of Wales regency. Subsequently, he tried to reconcile the regent and opposition leaders, but then himself became estranged from the Prince Regent. In 1812, after Prime Minister Perceval’s assassination, Rawdon was much involved in complicated political negotiations which led to Lord Liverpool succeeding Perceval as Prime Minister (although, at one point Rawdon himself was being considered for the position). Thanks again to the Prince Regent, Rawdon was then made Governor-General of India, arriving in Calcutta in Autumn 1813

Rawdon’s tenure as Governor-General is considered to have been a memorable one: he oversaw victory in the Gurkha War; the final conquest of the Marathas; and the purchase of the island of Singapore. His competent administration, however, ended under a cloud because of an indulgence - not judged as corruption - to a banking house. In 1816, he was created Marquess of Hastings. He returned to England in 1823, was then appointed to the much lesser post of Governor of Malta in 1824, and died two years later while at sea. Further information is available from Wikipedia, NNDB, or Paul David Nelson’s biography available online at Googlebooks.

For around five years, while serving in India, Rawdon kept a detailed diary. This was edited by his daughter, Sophia (Marchioness of Bute), and published in two volumes by Saunders and Otley in 1858, as The Private Journal of the Marquess of Hastings K. G. Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief in India. Both volumes are freely available at Internet Archive (volume 1, volume 2).

The first volume starts with an introduction by Sophia, from which the following paragraphs are taken:

‘This Journal was written for the purpose of recording for His children’s information the principles upon which He acted. It is therefore strictly copied from the original MS., even to the very words; though the changes which are constantly obtaining in our language, tend to throw a look of antiquity and obscurity over what was in Lord Hastings’ time polished English. It is only curtailed as to the voyage, then of six months’ duration, and now so well known that the details would be tedious; and some of the accounts of hunting expeditions are left out, as the too frequent recital of such scenes might prove wearisome to strangers.

It will be observed, that Lord Hastings abruptly concluded His Journal in December, 1818, though His government of India continued to January, 1823. He probably found that it was impossible to keep it with the immense labour of the ordinary duties of His double office, which, Lord William Bentinck, who for some months performed the same, expressed his astonishment that Lord Hastings’ health and strength could stand for so many years. [. . .]

It may be matter of surprise to some that, if worth publishing now, this Journal was not given earlier to the public; but there are many who feel as Walpole did respecting his biography, that personal narrations may come too near a public man’s contemporaries; and till latterly India has not been a source of public interest, inquiry being mainly confined to those connected with the country. Lord Hastings’ daughters have, from these motives therefore, withheld the papers bequeathed to them until now: and the survivor of those “Companions of his Expedition” to whom He affectionately dedicates His Diary, which has been found in the arrangement of the mass of His papers, has only lately decided on the publication of her Father’s “Private Journal,” believing there are still many who will gladly recall in these pages the sentiments they have heard Him express when in life.’

And here are several extracts, including the first from the published volumes, and the last.

11 September 1813 [first entry]
‘Made the land near Sadras at daybreak. Ran along the coasts and anchored in Madras roads about twelve o’clock. The admiral, Sir Samuel Hood, and the staff-officers of the Presidency came aboard to visit me. Soon after the admiral had retired, the Governor-General’s flag (the union at the main topmast-head) was hoisted and was saluted by the admiral’s ship and the other king’s ships in the roads as well as by the fort. At five we left the ship, and landed amid a prodigious concourse of people. The first view was very striking. The notion of population conveyed by the immensity of the crowd, together with the novelty of the dresses and the tranquil demeanour of the individuals amid excessive pressure, marked to one’s perception a state of society altogether different from what we had been accustomed to contemplate. The surf appeared insignificant, and the artifice of the native boatmen (who rowed us in a Massoulah boat) to make it be thought of consequence, was easily seen through. Without doubt it is at times dangerous, as is the case in all tropical countries where there is a flat shore. I repaired through a double line of troops, passing across the fort to the Governor’s house. There the judges and principal officers of the Presidency were introduced to me.’

13 September 1813
‘The Governor came to me after breakfast, and we went in minute detail through the state of the Presidency. I found him not at all easy respecting the dispositions of the army, which he regarded as sullen, though not inclined to immediate outrage. I remarked that such a temper was not surprising when nothing had been done to soothe the dissatisfactions remaining after the late convulsion; since which period the army, conscious of its own anxiety to return to its duty, had been left to feel itself as only resting under an ungracious pardon. It was recommended by me that every opportunity should be seized to cheer the officers and reanimate their honest pride.

Lieutenant-General Abercromby observed that my commissions implied a more continued and active intervention of the Governor-General with the other Presidencies than had hitherto existed; that it was what he had expected; and that the utility of such a connexion was in every view of public interest unquestionable. [. . .]

After the Governor was gone, we had a party of jugglers for the amusement of the children. Their deceptions, though well managed, were not so striking as their skill in balancing and their extraordinary precision in throwing up and catching a number of balls in rapid rotation. For both these last achievements it seems necessary that the attention of the performer should be aided by the cadence of a song which his comrades chant to him with great earnestness. One trick merits investigation. The juggler put a small ball into his mouthy whence
smoke immediately issued. Soon after, he blew out flame strong enough to consume flax at a little distance. The ball must have been of the phosphorous which ignites with moisture. But the retaining it in the month after it was inflamed depends on a secret worthy of being ascertained.

I had some of the staff and other officers to dine with me. Our table was as regularly conducted as if household had been established for a year. I notice this to do justice to the attention and activity of the native servants, by whom alone everything was managed. An equal number of English servants, unaccustomed to act together, could not have been tutored to fulfil their business with similar accuracy.’

14 September 1813
‘Rode out immediately after gun-fire. I observed great numbers of the date-palm, And casually asked if the dates were good. It was answered that the trees here never produced any fruit. Can this be owing to the ignorance of the natives that male palms must be planted among the others to make the latter fruitful? I have spoken on the subject with several of the natives in the course of the morning, as well as with some of the oldest white inhabitants, and none of them had a notion that male palms were requisite for the fecundity of the date-tree. As all the plantations on the Choultry plain have been made within these thirty years, and there is no tree of spontaneous growth in that tract, it is possible that it may have been thought unadvisable to plant a tree which had been remarked as never yielding fruit. The rendering the date-trees in the vicinage of Madras prolific would be a great benefit to numbers of the lower classes; therefore I shall solicit Governor Farquhar to forward to Madras some young male palms from the botanic garden at the Isle of France. The dates which are now consumed in considerable quantity at Madras are all imported from Bussorah.’

15 September1813
‘Went, as soon as it was light, to the fort, in order to inspect the works and to enable myself to judge of the system of exterior fortification proposed for the black town. The drawings had been shown to me the day before by Major-General Trapaud, the chief engineer. Fort St. George is a very respectable fortress, such as ought to sustain a long siege could a regular army sit down before it. Everything was in excellent condition. The water in the tanks, of which there is six months’ supply for 10,000 men, is remarkably transparent and sweet, though it is said to have been in the tanks above thirty years. This resource is necessary, lest an enemy should discover and cut off the pipes by which water is brought to the Port from a considerable distance.

At eleven I received the visit of the Nawab, who came in great state, and dressed out with a profusion of jewels. I met him at the door, and, on his stepping from his carriage, embraced him, according to the etiquette, four times, giving three embraces to each of the three sons and the nephew whom he introduced to me. I led him upstairs, our arms being over each other’s shoulders, while I gave my left arm to the eldest son.’

16 September 1813
‘Set out at dawn of day to review on the open ground in front of the fort the troops stationed at Madras. Very heavy rain had fallen in the night, accompanied by much lightning, during which the jackals were loudly clamorous in our garden. As those animals are rather useful in destroying minor vermin and carrion, they meet with little annoyance from either whites or natives. The morning was fine; the ground had been improved by the wet. The line consisted of the King’s 89th regiment, five battalions of sepoys, and a rifle corps, and the Governor’s bodyguard. They were in perfectly good order. Their deploying from column and changes of front were done with great regularity and precision. I seized this opportunity to address to the whole of the Madras army an order calculated to cheer its feelings and awaken its confidence.’

17 January 1815
‘Although we were told that all the country parallel to the march we had to make this day, was so devoid of cover as to afford no prospect of meeting a lion, the knowledge that we were after this day to enter a country so highly cultivated as to preclude the possibility of finding them, made us resolve not to throw away even the poor chance which we still had. At about seven miles wide of our road, two curious hills, apparently composed of loose blocks of stone, arose from the plain. We thought there might be cover about their bases, but there was not any on the side which we approached. [. . .] About six miles ahead of us, there appeared trees which we supposed to be a thicket. We resolved to push for it. In our way we fell in with some large herds of cattle. The men attending them, of the tribe of Jhaats, informed us that the trees to which we were steering only surrounded a village, but that they could show us, at about two miles from where we then were, a place where there was great probability of our finding a lion. They told us that they had of late often seen two, which had carried off many of their cows.

It is extraordinary how little apprehension these people have of the lion. They say it never wantonly attacks a man; so that if it gets enough of other food, and they do not provoke it, they are not terrified at seeing it prowling about. Then they always say to you, if it be my destiny to be eaten by a lion, no care of mine will prevent it; he will come and take me out of my bed. Leaving the cattle under the charge of some boys, three or four men went to show the place where they thought it likely our game should be found.

There never was a more promising spot. It was a dell, which ran from the back of the first hill, and it was full of long grass and thorns. We beat it with the utmost care, refraining from firing at other animals, which continually started up before us, but found no lion. We then returned to the herds. I this day remarked what I had indeed observed on many former occasions, what a fine lace of men, the Sikhs and Jhaats are. They are not bulky, but they are tall and energetic. Their step is firm and elastic; their countenances frank, confident, and manly; and their address has much natural politeness. I had noticed the same appearance in the Rohillas and Patans, but with less of cheerful air than what I observe in the Sikhs. More active, brave, and sturdy follows can nowhere be found than these tribes present. [. . .]

More from the principle of leaving nothing untried than from the supposition that there was any chance of finding a lion there, we directed our course through the thorns. When we had got nearly to the further end, two lionesses started up before us. Some ineffectual shots were fired, and both the animals took to the plain. One, at which both my rifles missed fire, gained a little ravine at some distance, which we took for granted must yield her a secure escape. The other afforded us a curious spectacle.

There was so little expectation of our finding a lion there, that one of Skinner’s Irregular horsemen (a party of whom attended us at a distance) was riding up to the thorns to deliver a letter which had been sent after me. The lioness made a dash at him, though her distance from him was considerable. He made off with all the speed to which his spurs could rouse the horse. The lioness coursed him fairly in the open plain, and gained so much upon him as to give us extreme uneasiness. At length, by the time he had reached a little rising ground, his horse got into his rate, and the lioness found she could not overtake him. She then turned round the point of the hill over which he had gone straight. Just at that moment, all the herdsmen who had followed us called to us, and said that the first lioness had come back into the thorns. We had no difficulty in finding her. The gentleman who first stumbled on her wounded her. Though she was much crippled by the shots, when I met her, on turning round a bush, she made a gallant run at my elephant. I, luckily, hit her in the head, and she fell immediately. At that moment the screams of the herdsmen made us turn round, and we beheld the other lioness galloping through the midst of them to regain the cover. Though she passed close to three or four she did not attempt to strike at any of them, but hastened to take refuge in the longest and best covered bush that the place afforded. [. . .]

Just as I got round, the lioness darted out, and  springing at the elephant on which Mr. Shakespear was riding, fixed her talons in each of its ears while she vigorously assailed its forehead with her teeth. The violent exertions of the elephant to get rid of this troublesome appendage put into confusion all the elephants that were near, and prevented help being given. But it had a still worse effect; for in one of its ungovernable efforts, the elephant threw Mr. Shakespear out of the howdah. Luckily, he fell on a bush, so that he was not hurt, yet he rolled to the ground, and there lay exposed. Two of Skinner’s horsemen seeing his situation most gallantly drew their sabres and galloped forward to protect him. At the same instant the lioness was thrown off, but happily on the side opposite to that where Mr. Shakespear lay. On recovering herself, her attention was attracted by the haunches of an elephant which had wheeled round through fear close to her. She seized it, and tore the inside of both its thighs dreadfully. There was now, however, an opportunity of firing at her, and she received three or four wounds. Checked by these, she retired into the bush. [. . .] My elephant soon reached the place; and I saw her lying exhausted. She roused herself and attempted to come towards me; but I believe the effort would have been vain had I not given her another shot, which was instantly decisive. It was with great difficulty that we brought to our camp, at Great Bhowannee, the elephant whose thighs had been so lacerated.’

18 January 1815
‘Our lionesses were measured last night; one was nine feet four inches from the nose to the tip of the tail; the other two inches less. In such a measurement the tail of the lion furnishes less than that of the tiger to the general amount. Anxious interest, as had been the case on a former occasion, was made with our servants for a bit of the flesh, though it should be of the size of a hazel-nut. Every native in the camp, male or female, who was fortunate enough to get a morsel, dressed it and eat it. They have a thorough conviction that the eating a piece of lion’s flesh strengthens the constitution incalculably, and is a preservative against many particular distempers. This superstition does not apply to tiger’s flesh, though the whiskers and claws of that animal are considered as very potent for bewitching people.’

13 December 1818 [last entry]
‘We have had accounts of the Rajah of Jyepore’s death. Two of his wives and two female slaves burned themselves on the funeral pile with his body. I am conscious that such a circumstance does not occasion here those painful and revolted feelings which would arise in one’s mind were one removed to the distance of England from the scene. It is not that the frequency of the occurrence causes apathy, but here one sees in this disgusting and barbarous custom relations with a variety of particulars in the forms of society, which though almost impossible to be detailed, take off from the strangeness of the procedure. A blind ignorance, which makes the poor victim credit all that is told her by the Brahmin, is the cause more immediately influential. The Brahmin urges this sacrifice from superstition and attachment to habits; but it is to be apprehended that he is often bribed to exert himself in overcoming the fears of the hapless woman; because the family of the deceased husband save by the immolation of the widow the third of the defunct’s property, which would otherwise go to her. The miserable condition to which a woman is reduced when left childless at the death of her husband forcibly aids the inculcations of the Brahmin. She is, as to estimation and treatment, reduced below the rank of the meanest servant. She cannot marry again; she has no chance of enjoying society; she must not even, though she have money, set up an independent establishment for herself; and her own paternal or maternal family have, with the usual absence of all affectionate ties among these people, altogether cast her off from the hour of her first repairing to her husband’s roof. Despair, therefore, conspires with bigotry and enthusiasm to make her take a step reconciled to the contemplation of women in this country from their earliest youth; while the absolute incapacity of such an uninformed mind as hers to have any distinct sense of the pangs she must undergo promotes the obstinacy of her resolution.’

The Diary Junction

Friday, November 28, 2014

Bright in the sun

Matsuo Bashō, the great Japanese master of haiku poetry, died 320 years ago today. In his late 30s, having grown tired of fame, he started on a series of journeys, by foot, through his country. While travelling, he wrote about his experiences in poetical form, and then edited and published his writings. The most famous of his books - which is sometimes referred to as a travel diary or journal - is Oku no Hosomichi, or The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

Bashō was born in Ueno, in Iga Province, near Kyoto, in 1644, the son of a low-ranking samurai. He worked for a local lord who, like him, was interested in poetry. By 1664, Bashō’s poems were being published. When his master died, he abandoned his status as a serving warrior and moved to Edo (now Tokyo) where he became recognised as a master of haiku, and attracted many followers. Bashō reacted to his fame, and turned to Zen meditation for solace. He is known to have lived much of his life in a series of huts, and to have made several long journeys on foot. He died on 28 November 1694 according some web sources. For a little further information in English see Wikipedia, National Geographic, or The Poetry Foundation.

While on his travels, Bashō kept a kind of diary, usually in poem form, about his experiences, and then, on returning to Edo, he edited and published these writings. The most famous of these books, sometimes called travel diaries, is Oku no Hosomichi, or The Narrow Road to the Deep North (or Interior), written near the end of his life following his 1689-1691 trip to the northerly interior region known as Oku. More details on this work can be found at Wikipedia, along with some extracts.
 It was translated by Nobuyuki Yuasa and published by Penguin Classics in 1966 as The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches (see Googlebooks or Amazon). The Narrow Road to the Deep North can be accessed freely online at this website.

Here is an extract from the introduction, and two extracts from the work itself (the latter being the last in the book).


‘In the imagination of the people at least, the North was largely an unexplored territory, and it represented for Bashō all the mystery there was in the universe. In other words, the Narrow Road to the Deep North was life itself for Bashō, and he travelled through it as anyone would travel through the short span of his life here - seeking a vision of eternity in the things that are, by their own very nature, destined to perish.’

‘On the first day of April, I climbed Mount Nikko to do homage to the holiest of the shrines upon it. This mountain used to be called Nikko. When the high priest Kukai built a temple upon it, however, he changed the name to Nikko, which means the bright beams of the sun. Kukai must have had the power to see a thousand years into the future, for the mountain is now the seat of the most sacred of all shrines, and its benevolent power prevails throughout the land, embracing the entire people, like the bright beams of the sun. To say more about the shrine would be to violate its holiness.
It was with awe
That I beheld
Fresh leaves, green leaves,
Bright in the sun.
[. . .]
After climbing two hundred yards or so from the shrine, I came to a waterfall, which came pouring out of a hollow in the ridge and tumbled down into the dark green pool below in a huge leap of several hundred feet. The rocks of the waterfall were so carved out that we could see it from behind, though hidden ourselves in a craggy cave. Hence its nickname, See-from-behind.
Silent while in a cave
I watched a waterfall
For the first of
The summer observances.’

‘September the sixth, however, I left for the Ise Shrine, though the fatigue of the long journey was still with me, for I wanted to see the dedication of a new shrine there. As I stepped into a boat, I wrote:
As firmly cemented clam-shells
Fall apart in autumn
So I must take to the road again
Farewell, my friends.’

Finally, it is worth noting that for some of the time during his trip through Oku, Bashō was accompanied by his disciple, Kawai Sora, who kept a conventional journal. According to Wikipedia, the presence of the diary had been known about in the past, but was re-discovered and published by Yasusaburo Yamamoto in 1943; and then, in 1978, it was designated an Important Cultural Properties of Japan. Unlike Bashō’s diary, Sora Nikki (Sora Diary) does not include emotional language, but focuses on dates and places, thus providing an essential companion for those studying Bashō life and works.

The Diary Junction

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Went to see P.M. (in bed)

‘Found P.M. had sent a rather silly telegram to Stalin. Cancelled it (or held it up) and rang up A. He agreed and I sent him down some modifications and additions.’ This is Alexander Cadogan - born 130 years ago today and one of the UK’s most outstanding civil servants of the 20th century - writing candidly in his diary about his day-to-day work, advising Prime Minister Churchill and Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden (A) during the height of the Second World War.

Cadogan was born into an aristocratic family on 25 November 1884. He studied at Eton (under Arthur Benson - see also A C Benson’s inner life) and Balliol College, Oxford; and he began his working life as a civil servant in 1908. In 1912, he married Lady Theodosia Louisa Augusta Acheson, and they had four children. After being posted to Vienna in 1913, he was temporarily in charge of the British embassy when news of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (see also The Archduke’s travels) came in from the consul at Sarajevo. He returned to London a few weeks later, once Britain had declared war on Austria-Hungary.

For 20 years, Cadogan rose up the diplomatic ladder in the Foreign Office, heading a small, but influential, League of Nations section. Between 1933 and 1936, Cadogan was posted to Peking, where he established a good relationship with Chiang Kai-shek (see also Chiang Kai-shek’s diaries). Against his own inclination, he was obliged to enact a British policy towards China that was compromised by its need to stay friendly with Japan, a country that had growing military and political ambitions in China. In 1935, Cadogan’s legation was upgraded to an embassy, and he was promoted to ambassador. However, the following year, the foreign secretary, Anthony Eden, invited him back to London to become deputy under-secretary in the Foreign Office. By 1938 Cadogan had been made permanent under-secretary - the highest ranking civil servant in the Foreign Office.

Cadogan assumed an increasingly important role through the Second World War with both Winston Churchill and Eden relying on his advice and efficient administration. At one point, it was even rumoured he himself might be appointed foreign secretary. After the war, he was appointed the first Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the United Nations, a position he retained until 1950. Subsequently, he served as chairman of the governors of the British Broadcasting Corporation until 1957. He died in 1968. Cadogan was widely respected for his ability, character, and experience, and he enjoyed much prestige in diplomatic circles, though never became a public figure as such. He was admitted to the Privy Council in 1946, and appointed to the Order of Merit in 1951. Further information is available from Wikipedia, the Cadogan Family Archive, or The Peerage.

Cadogan kept a regular diary from the beginning of 1933 to the last year of his life. It was first edited by David Dilks and published in 1971 by Cassell & Company as The Diaries of Sir Alexander Cadogan, OM, 1938-1945. The fact that Cadogan had kept a diary was known for a good 20 years prior to this: various authors - not least Winston Churchill - used a few extracts in their own publications. But only one author had seen the full manuscript before then - Sir Llewellyn Woodward who compiled the official history of British foreign policy in the Second World War.

There is every reason, Dilks says in his introduction, to believe that Sir Alec Cadogan’s diary reflects faithfully his official advice, although the language and style are different. It would be easy but most misleading, he continues, to conclude that the diary somehow represents the ‘real man’: ‘It reflects a part of him - the dry wit, quick grip of essentials, intense practicality and lack of illusions - but distorts other features; for whereas a reader of the Diary might imagine Cadogan to have lived in a fever of irritability, most people who saw him at work day by day believed him to personify calm, moderation and common sense.’

The diary was a place, David Dilks explains, where Cadogan could express himself without restraint, ‘a comforting outlet in a life of excessive burden and business’. He was only rarely reflective in the diary, not given to self-examination; and nor did he make any attempt to be literary: ‘a telegraphic style saved precious minutes’. Until 1947, when Cadogan began to type, each entry was handwritten, usually after dinner or when he had finished the evening’s boxes.

13 February 1942
‘German battle-cruisers eluded us and must be home by now. Another blow. Poor Winston must be in a state.’

15 February 1942
‘Winston broadcast at 9. Announced fall of Singapore. His broadcast not very good - rather apologetic and I think Parliament will take it as an attempt to appeal over their heads to the country - to avoid parliamentary criticism.’

28 February 1942
‘Found P.M. had sent a rather silly telegram to Stalin. Cancelled it (or held it up) and rang up A [Anthony Eden, Foreign Secretary]. He agreed and I sent him down some modifications and additions.’

3 March 1942
‘10.45 meeting with A. and others about this wretched message to Stalin. P.M. evidently reacted strongly last night against our alterations. I still say that it’s worse that nothing to send the P.M.’s original draft painting a black picture with a hint of blacker to come. But A. evidently thinks he can’t over-persuade P.M. . . . Department produced yet two more drafts of P.M. message as a result of our meeting this morning. I can do no more - I am confused by drafts: there are now at least five. If the P.M. accepts any it will be the one nearest to his original. Heard later from Ismay that A. had approved both the new drafts! I don’t know what that means, as they were quite different! Fact is P.M. is in a sour mood - ill, I think - and frightens anyone - including A. I quite sympathise with them!’

4 April 1944
‘Several of the more disreputable papers canvass my appointment as S. of S. - deprecating it. I most cordially agree with them! Jim Thomas tells me it’s been going all round the Lobbies, on the grounds that that is what P.M. wants - so that he should have complete control of F.A., I suppose! He may have toyed with the idea, but it’s a bad one.’

10 April 1944
‘Went to ‘Something for the Boys’ at the Coliseum. An American musical show, slick without being tuneful, well-drilled and quite uninteresting. There was one good tune. The rest was jazz, which all sounds alike to me - a pulsating noise, such as one hears when one has run upstairs too fast . . . Shall have an awful fortnight with the P.M. in charge [of the F.O.], complicated by Stettinius [US Under-Secretary of State], but hope to get through.’

17 July 1944
‘Not much doing in the morning. 4.45 talk with A. and others about Turkey. In view of Soviet (and U.S.) attitude, I think we must press them to declare war. But there are many considerations against. 5.30 Cabinet, which is becoming more and more rambling, disorderly and voluble. News not bad, but not v. good. What are we doing in Normandy - with 1,229,000 men and a mass of material (255,000 vehicles! Over a million tons of stores!) Maybe we have plan. There is no inkling of it. Cabinet agreed we must go for the Turks coming into war. I slipped away at 8.10! Cabinet having several other items to take. P.M. is evidently ageing, and the rambling talk is frightful. Whatever little the Cabinet settled would have been settled in 7 mins. under Neville Chamberlain.’

1 December 1944
‘Went to see P.M. (in bed) with Alexander, Lyttelton and Bevin, about Italian prisoners. P.M., who looked a bit ruffled, said ‘Excuse me receiving you like this, but this is the morning after the night before.’! He must have had a hell of a birthday party!’

24 February 1945
‘3.15 walked into Green Park. Spent about 5 mins watching a baseball match. It’s the silliest - and the dullest - game I’ve ever seen. I’d sooner play dominoes with mangold wurzels. Back at the F.O. about 4. Yellow crocuses well out, some purple in flower and a few white. Forsythia just showing yellow. Not too much work. Home at 7.’

The Diary Junction

Saturday, November 15, 2014

I pray increase my estate

Robert Woodford, a Northamptonshire lawyer, died all of 360 years ago today. He would surely have been forgotten had it not been for one of his diaries surviving down the centuries through the family, and then finding its way to an Oxford University archive. In print for the first time in 2012, its publisher makes some grand claims: it provides a ‘unique insight into the puritan psyche and way of life’; and it is ‘a fascinating source for the study of opposition to the Personal Rule of Charles I’.

Robert Woodford was born in 1606 in Northamptonshire, and educated at Brixworth School. He became a provincial lawyer, and married Hannah Haunch in 1635. They had many children, only a few of whom survived childhood. In 1636, he was elected steward of Northampton. He died on 15 November 1654. There is very little further biographical information available online about Woodford, except at Stephen Butt’s Woodforde Family website.

However, Woodford is remembered today because he kept a diary which was passed down through the family for centuries. In 1970, Oliver Heighes Woodforde donated it to New College, Oxford. The diary begins in August 1637 and ends in August 1641, and appears to be the sole survivor of several other, possibly four-year, diaries. It contains 588 pages with approximately 89,000 words. The Diary of Robert Woodford 1637-1641, edited by John Fielding (Camden Fifth Series, Volume 42), was published by Cambridge University Press for The Royal Historical Society in 2012. However, it’s a bit pricey at over £40!

Here is the publisher’s blurb: ‘Woodford’s diary, here published in full for the first time with an introduction, provides a unique insight into the puritan psyche and way of life. Woodford is remarkable for the consistency of his worldview, interpreting all experience through the spectacles of godly predestinarianism. His journal is a fascinating source for the study of opposition to the Personal Rule of Charles I and its importance in the formation of Civil War allegiance, demonstrating that the Popish Plot version of politics, held by parliamentary opposition leaders in the 1620s, had by the 1630s been adopted by provincial people from the lower classes. Woodford went further than some of his contemporaries in taking the view that, even before the outbreak of the Bishops’ Wars, government policies had discredited episcopacy and cast grave doubt on the king's religious soundness. Conversely, he regarded parliament as the seat of virtue and potential saviour of the nation.’

A note inside the diary states: ‘who ever finds this booke (if lost) I pray be sparinge in looking into it, & send it to Robte Woodford at Northampton.’

20 August 1637 [first entry]
‘I prayed alone and I and my deare wife prayed in private this morninge to beseech the Lord for his blessing uppon the sacrament of Baptisme to our poore child this that the inward grace might goe a longe with the outward signe &, and that the Lord would make it an Instrument of some service to him in his Church in time to come and a Comfort to us the parents and surely the Lord hath heard us in m[er]cye we prayed not to be hindred in our sanctifcacon of his Sabath this day & to order Conveniences &. Mr ffisher preached in the morninge, but my hart somewhat heavy Lord p[ar]don my dulnes.’

26 September 1637
‘I would give some present to new Mr Maior but want some money. Lord I pray thee increase my estate in thy due time for the Lords sake Amen.’

10 October 1637
‘my wives breasts sore still with chopping [cracks in skin]. I pray unto the Lord for cure in his time my Clyent Some came to me with this P[ro]vidence’

16 October 1637
‘I was with Mr Bullivant at the George & dranke some wormewood beare, & with Mr Rushworth I was very ill after I had supped oh Lord p[ar]don my fayling & make me very watchfull for the Lords sake Amen.’

7 June 1638
‘The small pox are much in London, but the sicknesse at a very Low ebbe blessed be god though they come hether from many p[ar]tes of the Country that are infected.’

8 June 1638
‘The towne very full of people. Mr Robins fayles to pay me money.’

9 June 1638
‘The Lord doth graciously carry me on through diffcultyes: he is with me in the fire & in the water blessed be his name.’

23 October 1638
‘my deare child is still very sick, but the Lord is able to recover her, I now pr[e]pare for my Journey into the Country to morrow, & prayed for my Comfortable arrival at North[amp]ton & for favor in the eyes of the Maior & Bayleifes there & for presrvacon from the devouringe pestilence’

According to the Woodforde family website: ‘Many members of the Woodforde family have written about their history, from Robert Woodforde in Leicestershire in the 15th Century to the owner of this website in the 21st Century, constituting over five hundred year's of literary work. [. . .] Almost every generation has left diaries. These include Robert Woodforde, the 17th Century puritan of Northamptonshire, his son Dr Samuel Woodforde the Divine and founder of the Royal Society, and of course the Revd James Woodforde [author of Diary of a Country Parson].

The Diary Junction

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Diary briefs


US Civil War diary decoded  - New York State Military Museum, Saratogian News

Joan River’s diaries for book? - Popcrush

Stephen Fry’s diaries for book - Contact Music

Three witnesses - WWII diaries - website, Aiken Standard

Diaries of an officer in the war of Yemen - Ahram online

WWI diaries of Rudolf Binding - The Guardian

First Anzac convoy from Albany - ABC News

Hans Fallada’s prison diary - Polity Press, Amazon

Hans Gál’s prison diary - Toccata Press, Amazon

Friday, October 31, 2014

If I die a violent death

It is 30 years to the day since Indira Gandhi, a major figure in the National Congress Party and India’s third prime minister, was assassinated by her own Sikh bodyguards. There is scant evidence available online that she was a diarist, although one or two sources do refer to a diary. One of her senior aids, B. N. Tandon, kept a daily diary for nearly two years so as to document a political crisis; it reveals a rather unflattering portrait of his boss. Meanwhile, India’s recently elected Bharatiya Janata Party has chosen to downplay Gandhi’s memory on this significant anniversary of her death.

Indira Nehru was born in Allahabad in 1917. Her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, led India’s political struggle for independence from British rule, and became the first prime minister of the Dominion (and later Republic) of India. He was often away, and her mother was frequently bed-ridden. Indira was educated mostly at home, although at times also in Switzerland, before attending Viswa Bharati University in Shantiniketan, and then Oxford University. She left Oxford before completing her studies. While in Europe, she became better acquainted with Feroze Gandhi (unrelated to Mahatma Gandhi), whom she had known from Allahabad, and who was studying at the London School of Economics. They married in 1942 according to Hindu rituals, and against the wishes of Indira’s father, and had two sons, Rajiv and Sanjay.

In the 1950s, Indira Gandhi served her father unofficially as a personal assistant during his tenure as prime minister. After his death, in 1964, she was elected to the Rajya Sabha (upper house), and Lal Bahadur Shastri, who had succeeded her father as prime minister, gave her a place in his cabinet. And when he died abruptly, the Congress Party sought a docile successor, and appointed Gandhi; but she proved anything but docile, surprising her father’s old colleagues by sacking high-level officials and leading with a strong hand. She brought about great change in agricultural policy which improved the lot of her country’s poor, and, for a time, was hailed as a hero. In 1971, she intervened in the Pakistan Civil War, in support of East Pakistan, and was influential in the creation of an independent Bangladesh.

Increasingly, Gandhi ruled with an authoritarian hand, and corruption was rife within her administration. She was found guilty of a minor infraction, and then there were demands for her resignation. Gandhi responded by calling for a state of emergency which allowed her more central control, in particular of states ruled by opposition parties. In 1977, though, her popularity slumped, and the Congress Party lost an election. Subsequent efforts by opponents to bring her to trial only served to gain her more support, and in 1980 she won a landslide election. That same year, her son Sanjay, who had been serving as chief political adviser, died in a plane crash. Thereafter, Indira’s younger son, Rajiv, took over as Indira’s heir apparent. (He would become prime minister on the death of his mother, and then be assassinated himself in 1991.)

In the new term of office, Gandhi was preoccupied by efforts to resolve political problems in the state of Punjab. In an attempt to crush the secessionist movement of Sikh militants, led by Jarnail Singh Bindranwale, she ordered an assault upon the holiest Sikh shrine in Amritsar, the Golden Temple. ‘Operation Bluestar’, as it was called, in June 1984, led to the death of Bindranwale and many civilians, and caused damage to the sacred Golden Temple itself. Many Sikhs bitterly resented Gandhi for the attack, and she was assassinated by two of her own Sikh bodyguards on 31 October 1984. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, Cultural India, a New York Times obituary, a Guardian review of a modern biography, the BBC, or a Googlebooks preview of Mother India: A Political Biography of Indira Gandhi by Pranay Gupte.

I have not been able to find online any definitive information that Indira Gandhi kept a diary, but there are a couple of sources which imply that she did at different times. Pupul Jayakar, in her biography (published first by Viking, New Delhi, in 1992), quotes several entries from Gandhi’s childhood diary, (although they appear as though they might have been taken from an agenda rather than a journal). She says that 12 year old Indira was angry at being denied active participation in the freedom struggle by Congress and so set about, with vigour and determination, to form her own children’s brigade, the Vanar Sena (army of monkeys): ‘Indira’s diary, written neatly in a tiny scrap book, indicates her precise down-to-earth mind - adult in its planning and concerns, with an understanding that it is the little things that make great events possible, an astonishing state of mind for a twelve-year-old child.’

6 September 1930
‘Papu’s interview at 10:00 A.M.
Meeting of the Students’ Working Committee at 12:30
Meet Gupta about Vanar Sena’s work in different wards.
Katra Vanar Sena’s meeting at Katra Ashram at 6.00 P.M. to 9.00 P.M.
Drill and meeting of Vanar Sena & Bal Sangh at Swaraj Bhawan at 5.00 P.M.’

8 September 1930
‘Boycott week Programme for Vanar Sena.
The whole week Prbahat Pheris - 6-8 A.M.
Procession starting at Khadi Bhandar at 5:30 P.M.
Meeting at Purshottam Das Park.’

13 September 1930
‘Strike in schools on behalf of Jatindra Das
Procession and meeting.’

Jayakar quotes also from other diaries, notably the prison diary kept by Gandhi’s father Jawaharlal Nehru (more about which can be read in Sankar Ghose’s biography available to preview at Googlebooks).

Then there are also the prophetic words Gandhi wrote on the day before her death which are widely quoted on the internet, and which some sources say were culled from her diary (see Facts on File). However, an article in India Today about the memorial at her old office, 1 Safdarjung Road, states that these words were found among her private papers.

30 October 1984
‘If I die a violent death as some fear and a few are plotting, I know the violence will be in the thought and the action of the assassins and not in my dying; for no hate is dark enough to overshadow the extent of my love for my people and my country and no force strong enough to divert me from my purpose and my endeavour to take this country forward.’

Finally, it is worth noting that Bishan Narain Tandon, a senior official in Indira Gandhi’s office kept a diary for 20 months, during a period of political crisis. This diary was published in two parts, by Konark Publishers, as PMO Diary-I: Prelude to the Emergency (2002) and PMO Diary-II: The Emergency (2006). According to Konark, ‘the reader gets an accurate and fascinating glimpse into the persona of Indira Gandhi as well as her working style.’ But reviews of the diary, such as one at India Today and another at Current News, show it reveals a rather unflattering portrait of Gandhi.

Perhaps - I’ve no idea in truth - Tandon’s diary has helped undermine the memory of Gandhi. Many Indian-sourced media articles in the last few days, reporting on the 30th anniversary of her assassination, have drawn attention to how the Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People’s Party), which took over government from the National Congress Party earlier this year, has been downplaying Indira Gandhi’s legacy in favour of (Sardar or Chief) Vallabhbhai Patel, who was another leader of the Congress Party, and deputy prime minister under Jawaharlal Nehru. See: India Today - Congress cries foul on Indira Gandhi being ‘sidelined’; The Times of India - [Prime Minister] Modi hails Sardar Patel, links Indira Gandhi’s death anniversary to 1984 riots; and Wall Street Journal blog - Is Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Eclipsing Indira Gandhi?.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Amply rewarded

It is 70 years since the death of Princess Beatrice, a constant companion to her mother Queen Victoria while she was alive, and a great great grandmother to the current King of Spain, Felipe VI. Beatrice did not keep a diary herself, as far as I know, but Queen Victoria was a committed diarist: very soon after Beatrice’s birth, the Queen wrote of being ‘amply rewarded’ for the ‘very long wearisome time’. Moreover, it was Beatrice who edited Queen Victoria’s journals, a huge task that took her decades to complete, and she did so faithfully to the letter of her mother’s instructions. Towards the end of her life, Beatrice also translated into English, and edited, diaries kept by her German great grandmother.

Beatrice, the fifth daughter and youngest of nine children born to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, was born at Buckingham Palace in 1857. The birth caused controversy, according to Matthew Dennison, author of The Last Princess: The Devoted Life of Queen Victoria’s Youngest Daughter (see review at The Guardian website), when it was announced that Queen Victoria would seek relief from the pains of delivery through the use of chloroform - the practice being dangerous to mother and child and frowned upon by the Church of England and the medical authorities. Two weeks after the birth (on 29 April), Queen Victoria wrote in her journal (freely available online here) about her newborn:

‘Till today I have been prevented from writing in my Journal, & I resume it today with feelings of the deepest, gratitude towards an All Merciful Father in Heaven who has preserved me, & restored me almost completely to health & strength. I have felt better & stronger this time, than I have ever done before. How I also thank God for granting us such a dear, pretty girl, which I so much wished for! She came into the world at 2 o’clock on the 14th, having caused me a very long wearisome time. I was amply rewarded, & forgot all I had gone through, when I heard dearest Albert say “it is a very fine child, & a girl!” & it was as inexpressible joy to me. My beloved ones love and devotion, & the way he helped in so many little ways, was unbounded. Mrs Lilley being old, & having been so ill last year, I had an assistant monthly Nurse, Mrs Innocent to help her. Dr Lucock & Dr Snow attended me. After I had some sleep, Mama & Feodore came in for a moment to see me. Albert had to go at 4 to the Council, & wished dear Aunt Gloucester. He brought Vicky in, to wish me good night - We have to settled that the Baby should be named, Beatrice>, Victoria, Feodore>. Beatrice, is a lovely name, meaning Blessed, & was borne by 3 English Princesses. Dear Mama, Vicky & Fritz & Feodore, are to be the sponsors. - Have done remarkably well all the time. - After the first days saw all the Children, & Vicky has often been reading to me, Mama, & Feodore, also constantly coming in & out. [. . .]

Occupied in choosing various things including little caps, &c - for the dear little new born one, who is such a pretty plump, flourishing child, promising to be very like Arthur, with fine large blue eyes, marked nose, pretty little mouth & very fine skin.’

From birth, Beatrice became a favoured child of her parents. Through much of her childhood she was referred to as ‘Baby’. Queen Victoria came to rely on her increasingly, for emotional and practical support, especially after the deaths of her mother and then of Albert in 1861, and from 1871 when the last of Beatrice’s older sisters married. At times, the Queen even dictated her private journal to Beatrice. Despite her mother’s reluctance to let Beatrice go, she did, eventually, in 1885, agree to her marrying Prince Henry of Battenberg, a morganatic descendant of the Grand Ducal House of Hesse, on the condition that the couple made their home with the Queen.

Beatrice and Henry had four children between 1886 and 1891, but Henry found domestic/royal life too monotonous and yearned for more employment. The Queen made him governor of the Isle of Wight in 1889, and, in time, consented to him joining an expedition fighting in the Fourth Anglo-Ashanti war (in present day Ghana). However, he contracted Malaria, and died in 1896. Beatrice continued to serve her mother, who gave her Henry’s job as Isle of White governor, as well as apartments of her own at Kensington Palace. On the death of the Queen in 1901, Beatrice was devastated; and, thereafter, not being close to her brother, the new King Edward VII, she played less of a role in public affairs

The marriage of Beatrice’s daughter, Princess Ena, to King Alfonso XIII of Spain in 1906 caused some controversy as it entailed her converting to Catholicism, against the wishes of Edward VII. The marriage, moreover, was to transmit Beatrice’s haemophilia gene to the Spanish dynasty. Felipe IV, who succeeded to the Spanish throne in June 1914, is her great great grandson. In 1917, George V’s policy of divesting the royal family of its German associations led the family to change its name of Battenberg to Mountbatten. Beatrice died on 26 October 1944; further biographical information is available at Wikipedia, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, or The Royal Forums.

Queen Victoria left all her private journals to Beatrice, with instructions to edit or destroy any passages which appeared unsuitable for posterity. This involved her in transcribing the journals in her own hand, into 111 volumes, and destroying most of the originals. A few extracts from the diaries were published in the Queen’s lifetime - see The crown hurt me - and, in 2012, the Royal Family published 40,000 pages of the diary online as part of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations - see Victoria’s diaries online. Wikipedia has a separate entry for Queen Victoria’s diaries, although the fullest and most accurate information is on the Queen Victoria Journal website itself. Although, there are, in fact, four different versions of the journal, three of these versions only cover a few years, and it is Princess Beatrice’s 111 hand-written volumes that provide the vast bulk of what remains of Queen Victoria’s diaries. Thus, it is Beatrice who must have edited the above extract about her own birth!

Towards the end of her life Beatrice turned her hand to another ancestor’s diaries, those kept by Queen Victoria’s maternal grandmother, Augusta, duchess of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. She translated these from the German, and they were published in 1941 by John Murray as In Napoleonic Days. Here is part of Beatrice’s own introduction to the book, and a few extracts, including the first and the last two.

‘The King having kindly given me his permission to translate for publication some extracts from my Great-Grandmother’s Diary, I hope this small effort and venture of mine may be of some interest to the public and ultimately benefit the funds of various War Charities. [. . .] Her original diary is in the family archives in Windsor Castle and, so far, the extracts from it have only been printed in German for private circulation. The curious similarity between the days of the Napoleonic wars and our own times has led me to think this Diary might appeal to some readers, interested in that period. The record is very simply told and contains many references to the Duchess’s family and the part they played in her life, but these could not be easily eliminated without spoiling the impression given by her graphic descriptions of the times in which she lived, in the Germany of that day so very different from present-day Germany.’

2 April 1806
‘The moon shines cold and bright in a cloudless sky. The mild breath of Spring has given way to cold biting east winds. It seems as if nature has allied itself with humanity to destroy all thoughts of happiness. There are nothing but storms in the atmosphere and amongst men. Poor Germany, what will thy fate yet be, given over to the caprices of a despot, who recognises no law but his own will, who sets no limit to his own lust for power, and to whom all means are justifiable to gratify this passion.

Soon to be under the yoke of an arrogant, grasping people, what future can my poor devastated country expect, she who once in olden days, defied the Roman Eagle! When the short shameful war broke out, I foresaw a dark future, but now that war has ended so disastrously my heart is filled with a nameless dread. Slowly and heavily the storm is creeping over Saxony. I wonder where I shall finish these entries and in what place I shall lay my weary head to rest, after life’s storms have passed over me?’

15 August 1806
‘At last the terrible blow has fallen which wrecks the German Constitution! Francis II has laid down the German Imperial Crown. In spite of the flaws of the old regime it surely is better than what we are going to be given in its stead. The ancient national oak, with its mouldering trunk and weather-beaten branches in which Wotan’s eagle has for 1000 years had its eyrie, cannot be expected to stem the present tide of events.’

28 September 1806
‘A false rumour last night that a French Cavalry Brigade was approaching, caused great distress in the town and deprived us of sleep. It was “much ado about nothing.” But I wonder if these disturbers of the peace may not some day unexpectedly descend on us?’

10 October 1806
‘Merciful God, what terrible times we have lived through! The grim memories of these days of bloodshed will never leave me. Already at [half past eight] my niece sent for me. Her corner room overlooked on the one side Wladbergen, through which the road from Coburg passes. On the left, shots were falling at intervals, as well as in and around the little village of Garnsdorf, at the foot of the hills, where the Prussian Jagers were posted. The ground above the forest was also being occasionally shelled. Prussien Batteries were stationed in the fields near the high road to Rudolstadt, and on the road itself, Fusiliers.

Towards 8 o’clock Prince Louis Ferdinand arrived on the scene, rapidly followed by Horse Artillery and 2 Saxon Infantry Regiments. In the distance their fine band could be heard, and lastly our brace Saxon Hussars came by, at a quick trot.

Prince Louis Ferdinand accompanied by his ADCs reviewed all the Troops, his brave, debonnaire appearance creating a general sense of confidence.

One could see the enemy coming down the hills, and hear the tramping of the Infantry and the sound of bugles. The whole scene of bloodshed lay spread out before us. The fire of Prussian Battery was incessant, but the French guns seldom came into action. Their Cavalry emerged from the forest and streamed along in a never-ending and terrifying procession.’

1 October 1821
‘I must somehow have caught a chill on my drive back from Ebersdorf, and feel very unwell. I have such pains in my limbs, that I am afraid I must be feverish.’

3 October 1821
‘I had such pains in my head and palpitations of the heart this morning that I could not help being alarmed about myself, but it passed off, and we were able to lunch in the little Casino at the foot of the old tower, the Ebersdorf family joining us.’

Sunday, October 19, 2014

N. tinkering with diaries

It is half a century since the death of Nettie Palmer, one of Australia’s most well known literary figures of the 20th century. She and her husband, Vance, were very active supporters of Australian writers, and promotors of Australian literature. In their 50s, and at their own expense, they published a diary - or more accurately an anthology in journal form - called Fourteen Years. Although initially only 500 copies were printed, the book came to be seen as a unique record of Australian culture between the wars, and has been much studied, and reprinted.

Nettie was born in Bendigo, Victoria, the niece of Henry Bournes Higgins, a leading Victorian political figure and later a federal minister and justice of the High Court of Australia. She studied education at the University of Melbourne, and literature in Germany and France. In 1908, she met Vance Palmer, and they married in London in 1914. With the outbreak of war, they returned to Australia, and campaigned against conscription.

The Palmers lived in the fishing village of Caloundra, Queensland, and had two daughters - Aileen and Helen. They focused mostly on their writing, short stories, poetry and journalism. In 1924, Nettie published an academic study of Australian literature, and, in 1931, a biography of her uncle, Higgins. In the mid-1930s, the Palmers travelled to Europe, but before returning to Australia, one of their daughters, Aileen, joined the International Brigades in Spain.

By the time of the Second World War, neither Vance nor Nettie were in the best of health, but they continued their literary endeavours. Nettie, in particular, became one of Australia’s foremost literary critics, and was a great champion of Australian literature. Aileen suffered a mental breakdown in 1948, and Vance was attacked as a communist ‘fellow traveller’ in the 1950s. Nettie died on 19 October 1964. Further biographical information is available at the Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Library of Australia, and Wikipedia.

According to Robin Lucas, who studied Nettie Palmer at the University of Melbourne, she ’was an indefatigable and life-long diary and notebook-keeper’. A fragment of an early European diary can be found on the university’s website. Information on her ‘Commonplace book’ 1907-1936 can be found at the National Library of Australia. However, Palmer herself published, in 1948, a book of diary entries, and called it Fourteen Years: extracts from a private journal. This book has become a classic of Australian literature, and was republished in 1988 by the University of Queensland Press in Nettie Palmer: Her private journal Fourteen Years, poems, reviews and literary essays (edited by Vivian Smith). This latter tome - all 550 pages of it - is freely available as a pdf at UQP’s ‘institutional digital repository’.

Also freely available online are various texts by Robin Lucas about Fourteen Years - a masters thesis and an article entitled A Fine Ruddy Mess for the La Trobe Journal. Lucas argues that, although the original book was published under the Meanjin Press imprint (based in Melbourne), it was effectively self-published with the Palmers paying the production and other costs for the initial print run of 500. She explains how the whole process involved ‘confusion and frayed tempers’, hence the title of the La Trobe article. Lucas also notes that Fourteen Years was not so much a straightforward diary, but that it was ‘compiled from a miscellany of sources: work diaries, notebooks, letters, articles and family memories’. Prior to publication, both Nettie and Vance had worked on the book since 1945.

Vivian Smith, in her introduction to Nettie Palmer, says: ‘There is no other work quite like Fourteen Years in Australian writing and it is a text that has gained increasing importance for historians and those interested in the development of Australian culture between the wars.’ She explains how Fourteen Years is ‘in part a reconstruction, and in part a highly selective reassembling of original materials’; and she then provides some extracts from Palmer’s pocket diary for 1947 to illustrate the process that had been involved in assembling the book. Here are a few of those extracts:

2 Sept 1947
‘V. let N. read through some Notes. Decided time now come to sort them out into 8 period-places (Caloimdra, Kalorama, Barcelona, Melbourne, etc.). Need folders for what material I had here by now. Each folder has at least something, some a great deal already in it.’

3 September 1947
‘V. looked through N.’s file of rejected printed articles and advised on keeping only a few. Notes already done are enough on general literary subjects: those need interweaving with more personal ones. Drew up a list of names that must be included in some way practising writers and their purposes. Must get some characteristic phrases and appearances for each from appropriate periods. V. began re-reading old family diaries V. had bought for me, 1934, fitting in with some literary notes on visitors: Pfeffer, Ravitch, Huebner. But need to follow our own writers now - it’s just a matter of sorting more than writing.’

4 September 1947
‘N. tinkering with diaries and fitting persons in like mosaic. N.B. must write some of it . . .’

8 September 1947
‘Did notes. V. says too warm, too much informed after the event, on Len Mann at Kalorama 1933. Found phrases of his in old diary. Moral: keep good diaries with people’s phrases in them.’

4 October 1947
‘N. finishing note on Masefield in Melbourne; begin one on E.T. Brown . . . . Our worst years were 1937-39, when we were entangled in politics to no avail. We knew what was coming and no one would believe us except some fanatics who believed everything in advance. We knew too many people, for insufficient reasons.’

13 October 1947
‘Grey day. V. planning to begin on London and N. sat down to it after breakfast without doing a stint of housework first, and wrote two London pieces in the morning: on Shelley Wang and Christina Stead (and her husband). Tried to do Ogden too, but got wrecked on his learning.’

Fourteen Years, Smith says, is best looked on as an anthology in journal form. It is divided into eight sections which correspond to the main places in which the Palmers lived for varying lengths of time during this period: Caloundra 1925-29; Melbourne 1929-32; Green Island 1932; Kalorama 1932-35; Paris 1935; London 1935-36; Barcelona 1936; and Melbourne 1936-39.

Here then are several extracts from Fourteen Years itself.

20 September 1925
‘Early this morning, we watched a man on a ridge behind Mrs. T.’s house lassooing the branch of a tree with a length of rope. What was he doing? Stretching a clothes-line? But why so high up, and on that slope?

Here in South Queensland, life moves lightly and intimately; you’re always looking out of doors at this sunny end of winter. From the narrow shelf of the front veranda, there’s the bush sloping towards the ocean in one direction, and towards the Passage with its wide water in another. Along the western skyline stand the unbelievable Glasshouses. Then from the back windows, you look across the open ridges to forest country. You see the casual events of your neighbours’ lives, especially when you sit at breakfast in the open sun.

You see dreamily, and often without understanding. That clothes-line? I met Mrs. T. at the end of the morning while we both waited for our mail at the lighthouse post-office. She was bubbling kindly: ‘My son-in-law from town’s just fixed a radio aerial, and the crystal set he’s brought is clear as can be. Would you come in this evening and hear it? It’s the first wireless set in Caloundra.’

This evening we went along in the moonlight. In Mrs. T.’s open lounge there must have been sixty visitors. Fishermen and their women; lighthouse-keeper and ex-keeper, wives and families. Children sucking large black humbugs solemnly. And in the place of honour, the new miracle of communication, the wireless. (The son-in-law was a self-effacing showman. At eight o’clock, and before we noticed the instrument was turned on, came heavy strokes - the Post Office clock, Sydney: ‘as if they were right in the room,’ sighed someone voluptuously). Then came a weather report: squally, we heard, as the calm moon listened in with amusement.

What next? Some ‘music’ so nondescript that people mostly relapsed into friendly talk while it lasted - as if it were real-life music. So far no statics or interference. The son-in-law muttered technicalities to the few eager youths who could lap up his learning. A speech is announced on the air: ‘it’s a lecture on Christian Science,’ says the son-in-law. For five minutes of it, everyone listens; even the children with their still-revolving jaws. It’s so wonderful to have any opinion conveyed whole, like eggs by plane from Sydney. Then people begin asking one another questions. Can everything be caught up by wireless? Could you use it like a listening telescope and direct it to a cathedral service or a trade union meeting? No? Well, who decides what you’ll have? It all comes so clear it might be important some day.

The Sydney clock struck the hour again. The children had sucked away their issue of humbugs. Time to thank Mrs T. and her son-in-law and go home. We drifted in the moonlight along the strip of rough road. There stood that other aerial mast, the lighthouse, mild winds humming in its flagpole ropes. Its light blinked regularly against the moon, that supreme mistress of communication. Long before wireless, the light was: long before the light, the moon. What was it Andrew Tripcony said yesterday, as patriarchal fisherman in these parts: ‘Th’ moon’s useful; y’ always know the tides by her. Quarterflood over the Bar at moonrise. Same at moonset.’

Will the wireless ever catch up with such established guides of mankind?’

19 March 1931
‘For a long time I’ve been paying, in casual articles and notes, my humble tribute to Edmund Wilson as the most penetrating critic in the modem literary world - the Anglo-Saxon one at any rate - and yesterday an unlooked-for response came from him in the form of a signed copy of his new book ‘Axel’s Castle.’ I’ve found it hard to keep my mind from it ever since. It has all the brilliant clarity of his occasional critiques, together with the thematic backbone you expect from a book - in this case the idea that the six writers he chooses as significant figures in the literature of today are guided, like Axel, by a will toward refusal.

The six figures are Yeats, Eliot, Joyce, Gertude Stein, Proust and Paul Valéry. At first you are a little surprised at the choice of names, but Edmund Wilson shows how certain socially-minded writers before the war - Shaw, Wells, Bennett, Anatole France - have lost credit, while his half-dozen have gained by producing masterpieces in isolation, almost secretly.

These books revealed new discoveries, artistic, metaphysical, psychological; they mapped the labyrinths of the human consciousness; they made one conceive the world in a new way. What wonder then that for those who survived the war these writers should have become heroes and leaders?’

7 April 1932

‘THIS island, now we’re here, is a flat oval of jungle-covered coral sand (almost forty acres, they say) on the inner edge of the Great Reef. Not even eight feet above sea-level, it’s protected from the outer seas by an irregular circling reef that encloses a lagoon - shallow enough to wade through when the tide’s out, but deep enough to float a small fleet when the tide rushes back again through the narrow opening. There’s always five or six feet of water at the end of the long ricketty jetty that gives a berth to the Cairns launch bringing the Sunday crowd of holidaymakers - and our supplies and mail. Our camp is on the sheltered side of the island, looking toward the mainland. Sometimes at high tide the water softly laps the roots of the great trees that lean over our tent and down over the beach.

Before I came here I’d imagined the Barrier Reef as a great wall running along the line of the coast - a rampart of pure coral rising from the depths. Now, looking out from our knob on its edge, it seems a straggling assortment of honeycomb reefs in all stages of growth, varied by fragments of sunken mainland, such as the great hump of Fitzroy Island to the south. Our island is one of the coral cays that have come to maturity. It has fully emerged from the sea, collected its cover of humus, created a beautiful safe jungle in which you can lie unaware of the sea, though never fifty yards from the beach.

This gleaming little forest of vines and evergreens can seem at times even more wonderful than the coral reef itself. There’s a gentleness about it - no thorns, poisonous reptiles, stinging insects. Instead, there are the unafraid birds - tiny silver-eyes, ground-pigeons with lustrous wings of dark-green - and the bright, flickering butterflies, all seemingly sure of being in some forest fastness.’

The Diary Junction

Washed out exoticism

‘If in a hundred years we have not established contact with some other planet (but we will), or, next best, with the earth’s interior, humanity is finished.’ This dramatic prophesy was made by Henri Michaux, a Belgian-born experimental writer and artist, in a diary he kept while on a trip to Ecuador in the late 1920s. He died 30 years ago today, but is remembered as much for his books on mescaline as for his poetry and painting.

Michaux was born in Namur, Belgium, in 1899, the son of a Catholic lawyer, and raised in Brussels, being educated at a Jesuit school. He planned to join the priesthood, but, after a religious crisis, took up medicine before dropping his studies altogether in favour of a life at sea in the French merchant navy. He travelled widely in Europe, in the Americas, and in Asia. He was inspired to write by reading the poetry of Comte de Lautréamont, and attracted some attention with his poems Qui je fus (Who I was) in 1927. Through meeting artists such as Paul Klee and Max Ernst in Paris, he also took up painting and held his first one-man exhibition at the Librairie-Galerie de la Pléiade in 1937. In time, he took up residence in Paris, and became a French citizen.

In 1941, the French writer, André Gide published a study that made Michaux’s poetry popular for a while. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, ‘Michaux’s view of the human condition is bleak; his poems emphasize the impossibility of making sense of life as it impinges on the individual. Against the futility of real life, Michaux sets the richness of his imagination, and the contradictions of his surrealistic images serve as a foil to the absurdity of existence.’

Following the death of his wife in a fire in 1948, Michaux began experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs; and in the 1950s published several books dealing with his experiences of taking mescaline. His painting at this time was also affected by these experiences. A large exhibition of his works was held at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels in 1957; and a retrospective was organised in Frankfurt/Main in 1959. In 1966, he published the autobiographical Les grandes épreuves de l’esprit et les innombrables petites, translated into English in the 1970s as The Major Ordeals of the Mind and the Countless Minor Ones (Secker and Warburg). Michaux died on 19 October 1984. Further, somewhat scanty, information can be found at Kirjasto, Wikipedia, the Poetry Foundation, the Tate, Art Directory, and Moma; and there is an interesting article on Michaux by the Mexican writer, Octavio Paz, freely available at The Guardian.

Early on in his travels, Michaux tried out the diary form on a trip to Ecuador, and this became one of his earliest published works - in 1929. It was reissued in 1968, and then translated by Robin Magowan and published in English with the title Ecuador: a travel journal. Some of this can be read freely at Googlebooks, otherwise secondhand copies can be bought for around £15 at Abebooks. Here are a couple of extracts.

22 January 1928
[After Panama] ‘The sea resolves all difficulties. It brings on few. It’s a lot like us. It lacks the earth’s hard, pulseless heart, and, be it ever so prompt to drown, we have only to take against this eventuality reasonable precautions for it to be once again our friend, quite brotherly, and understanding us perfectly.

It does not offer us these unmatched spectacles wherein the earth excels (provided we journey a few hundred miles), spectacles that make utter strangers of us, as if we were newly born and unhappy.

Who knows one sea knows the sea. Its anger, like ours. Its inner life, like ours. What is more, it does not like the earth offer in a single vista thousands of independent, different, and personal points - trees, rocks, flowers.

To the Ancients these personal points were not negligible, and it was My Lord Rock, Madam River. The professors, after the Jews and Christians, ruined all that.

Who can speak fittingly of a grove?’

1 February 1928
‘No, I have already said it elsewhere. This earth has had all the exoticism washed out of it. If in a hundred years we have not established contact with some other planet (but we will), or, next best, with the earth’s interior, humanity is finished. There is no longer a means of living, we explode, we go to war, we perpetrate evil of all sorts; we are, in a word, incapable of remaining any longer on this rind. We are in mortal pain; both from the dimensions as they now stand, and from the lack of any future dimension to which we can turn, now that our tour of the earth has been done to death. (These opinions, I know, are quite sufficient to have me looked down upon as a mind of the fourth order.) ’

Mid-February
‘A countryside or foreign city may be set apart as much by what it lacks as by what is uniquely its own. One explanation is this: as you can say about a work of art, ‘Oh, that’s very lovely, but it’s not alive, there are too many vital details left out’; in the same way you cannot wholeheartedly accept a new town, and if the trip there takes too little time, nothing remains and you end up exclaiming, ‘This trip passed like a dream.’ Exoticism has played a trick on us.

Despite the three weeks or so I have been here, Quito does not yet seem to me completely real, with that kind of naturalness and homogeneity a city we know well has (however varied its aspects may be to a stranger). What I miss in a foreign scene - and I am saying foreign - is never grandeur, but smallness.

Let’s examine my impressions calmly, then, and I will tell you what I miss in both Quito and its surrounding countryside. I miss pushcarts, pine trees, ants. There is not one tree (aside form the eucalyptus), not a single click of wooden wheels, no cart of any description, or cats during the day (by the way, the wheel was not invented by the Incas).’

The Diary Junction

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Autobiographical items

Dannie Abse, the Welsh doctor, poet and occasional diarist, has died aged 91. In fact, he died just two days before I finally got married - though I’ve known my new wife, Hat, for seven years, and we have two children together. I never met Abse, but there are one or two rather amazing links between him, Hat and I. He was best mates with my father, Frederic, in the 1950s, before Frederic abandoned his family to emigrate to the US. Decades later, long before I met Hat, Abse was friends with her father, Giles Gordon. Indeed, both our fathers, (Hat’s and mine) are mentioned in Abse’s first published book of ‘journals’ - journals, for him, being a collection of ‘autobiographical items’. Latterly, Abse lived in the same road as my mother, and they would walk their dogs in Childs Hill Park, and nod ‘hello’, in some faint acknowledgement of their social connection half a century earlier.

Abse was born in Cardiff, youngest of four children in a Jewish family. His father part-owned and ran cinemas. He studied medicine, briefly at the University of Wales, and then, in London, at Westminster Hospital and King’s College, becoming a specialist chest physician. During the latter part of the war he volunteered with other medical students to help, but was not sent abroad. He published his first book of poetry in the late 1940s, and in 1951, he was called up for National Service. That same year, he married Joan Mercer, a librarian at the time for the Financial Times, and an art historian. They moved to live in Hodford Road, Golder’s Green, north London, and had three children.

By this time, Abse was part of the London poetry scene, giving poetry readings, and being likened to his fellow Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, though he soon brushed off the latter’s overwrought style. A second collection of poems followed, and then his first autobiographical novel Ash on a Young Man’s Sleeve (1954) brought him some early literary success. Many other poems, readings, books followed, as he managed to live life as a celebrated poet at the same time as pursuing a medical career.

In 2005, Joan was killed in a car accident, and Abse himself suffered injuries. He continued to write, and, in 2012, he accepted a CBE for services to poetry and literature, saying, at the time, that many people more left-wing than he had taken the award. He died just over two weeks ago, on 28 September. Wikipedia has a short biography, but there are also several detailed obituaries online, at The Telegraph, for example, The Guardian, the BBC and The British Council. There are several older interviews and articles by Gerald Isaaman, ex editor of the Ham and High, for Camden New Journal. And there is a Dannie Abse website, with information about his books.

My mother, Barbara Lyons, who died in 2007, also lived on Hodford Road, and would often see Abse in Childs Hill Park as they walked their dogs. I don’t think they ever talked, but they would nod a greeting as they passed, in some vague way acknowledging that they had known each other in the 1950s. Indeed, according to my father, Frederic Goldsmith, Dannie was one of his best friends in those days. They were both part of a group of musicians, artists, writers, German refugees (Frederic had arrived in London as a child in the 30s, his family escaping from Hitler’s Nazi Germany) that would meet in The Cosmo, on Finchley Road. Also part of that group was: Peter the Girl, now in her mid-90s, who was a friend of my parents, and remains a friend of mine to this day: Uncle Bondy, who took us on holiday to his primitive villa in Bandol, France, at least once: and Peter Vansittart who married my aunt, Johnnie.

Around the time Dannie was getting married, Frederic met my mother, and I was born the following year. The marriage between my parents didn’t last long - in contrast to Dannie’s which lasted a lifetime and very happily so, according to all reports. Frederic, the cad, ran off to the US, not to return for 20 years. And when he did return to London, he thought it would be funny, in an ‘old times’ sort of way, to show up at Dannie’s house in the middle of the night. But Dannie didn’t find it funny, and, effectively, rejected his old friend. Peter the Girl, out of loyalty to Frederic, never forgave Abse for that - indeed she called me the day after he died to remind me of the story. Ironically, I was out of the country when Frederic made that visit to London - ironic because every year through my childhood he had written to me saying he would come visit soon!

Fast forwarding, to the year 2007, Frederic long since dead, and my mother just gone too, I met and fell in love with Harriet Gordon (often known as Hat). Her parents, too, had died in recent years: Giles Gordon, literary agent, and Margaret Gordon, children’s book illustrator. It turned out that her father had been Dannie Abse’s agent, and friend, for many years. Hat and I moved in together, and have two children now. Along the way, we wrote to Dannie, thinking he might be intrigued by the coincidence. He wrote back, saying that is one ‘helluva coincidence’, or rather ‘a heaven of a coincidence.’

I feel justified in contributing a piece on Dannie here, to The Diary Review, because he published several books which were either compilations of diary extracts and/or were given the title ‘journals’. In fact, in his first collection of ‘journal’ pieces - Journals from the Ant-Heap (1986) - Abse mentions both my father and Hat’s father, but in very different contexts. The so-called journal entries, though, were written to order, on Gerald Isaaman’s suggestion for a column in the Ham and High (see below), and are only dated by month. Similar kinds of later autobiographical notes were put together with Journals from the Ant-Heap in a single volume called Intermittent Journals.

Here is Abse’s explanation of how he came to publish Journals from the Ant-Heap.

‘Gerald Isaaman, the editor of a local newspaper in London, the Hampstead and Highgate Express, affectionately known as the Ham and High, is a great admirer of George Orwell. In December 1983, recalling Orwell’s once lively column for Tribune entitled ‘As I Please’, he decided that, during 1984, he would like a similar series to grace the pages of the Ham and High.

George Orwell, alas, was not available. So he cast around other writers, shortlisting a number of them, no doubt alphabetically, for soon he telephoned me. I could not mimic Orwell. I could only write my own kind of prose. Gerald did not seem to mind and I agreed to offer him a fortnightly autobiographical column for one year only. He was to call my non-Orwellian ‘As I Please’ ‘ABSE’s 1984’. He proved to be an ideal editor. He only occasionally made suggestions and never changed my copy.

In March 1985 it was suggested to me that I protract my journal so that it could be published in book form. I could continue writing it, of course, as I pleased, and more importantly, when I pleased. I cannot pretend that I have not enjoyed conjugating occasional autobiographical items while I have been based in London or in South Wales. And I hope they will amuse like-minded readers. They are not private diary entries but were written, as all journalism is, as a public secret.’

Abse dedicated Journals from the Ant-Heap ‘To Margaret and Giles Gordon’ (Hat’s parents); and here is one extract from the book, in which Abse reflects on the Cosmo days, and mentions Frederic/Fred, my father - approximately 20 years before Hat and I were to meet.

March-April 1986
‘We decided to dine out to celebrate the arrival of an advance copy of my new book of poems, As the Bloody Horse. We chose to eat at The Cosmo in Swiss Cottage. Joan and I had not visited that Viennese café for years but suddenly, in nostalgic mood, we wanted to make a return journey to 1949. In the post-war years, when I was a medical student, instead of studying in my ‘digs’ in Aberdare Gardens, NW6, [. . .] I often spent an evening gossiping and arguing with other Cosmo habitués.

Because of the refugees who had come to live in small rooms scattered across Swiss Cottage, this area had become a corner of Vienna with a distinct café life. Soon, young British writers, artists, musicians and burglars, joined the refugees and found the party-going, cigarette-smoking laden atmosphere of The Cosmo congenial. Generally Joan - then Joan Mercer - and I sat in the annexe over one cup of coffee all night but there were occasions when the annexe was too full and its occupants overflowed into the large main restaurant where they had laid white linen table-cloths over the tables in order to encourage their clientele to eat something!

It was to the main restaurant that we now repaired. It had hardly changed. There was something old-fashioned about the place, something outmoded, as if the clock had stopped not so much in 1949 but in pre-war Vienna. [. . .] It was odd to gaze around the restaurant and observe not one person known to us. Where were the novelists, youthful once more, Peter Brent, Bernice Rubens, Peter Vansittart? Where the sculptor, Bill Turnbull? Would not Emanuel Litvonoff, Cherry Marshall and Rudi Nassauer come in at any minute? Was Ivor M in jail again? Were Keith Sawbridge, Fred Goldsmith and Old Bondy next door in the annexe arguing the toss? I recalled Jack Ashman, somewhat manic, and Theodore Bikel with his guitar - and the prettier faces of Penny, Noa, Betty, Jacky, Peter the Girl, Nina Shelley. I looked out of the window. Across the road where once had stood the elegant facades of fire-blitzed houses reigned instead W. H. Smith and MacDonalds.

Soon Joan and I were talking about the most remarkable ghost of The Cosmo, Elias Canetti. Canetti, some twenty years older than us, used to insist we called him Canetti, not Elias, since he did not care for his first name.  [. . .] Canetti would sit in The Cosmo regularly, often with pen in hand. When questioned on what he was writing he made it clear that it was a masterpiece. He had been working, he told us, on a book about Crowds and Power for more than a decade. When asked when he would publish it he quite seriously commented that there was plenty of time, that he did not wish to make the mistake Freud had done - contradict himself. ‘I have to be sure,’ he would say passionately. If ever a man believed he would one day receive the Nobel Prize for Literature that man was Elias Canetti. And he was right.’

After Joan’s death, Abse’s output was, understandably, focused on his grief. Apart from poems, he also published a diary - The Presence (Hutchinson, 2007) - he had kept in the year after the tragedy, and this turned out to be more of bona-fide kind of diary, kept day-by-day, than anything he had published hitherto. The blurb describes it as ‘both a record of present grief and a portrait of a marriage that lasted more than fifty years’. ‘It is an extraordinary document,’ the publisher says, ‘painful but celebratory, funny yet often tragic, bursting with joy as well as sorrow and full of a deep understanding of what it means to be human.’ Here are a few lines from the first extract.

22 September 2005
‘The past survives however much one tries to drive it down and away from one’s consciousness. It rears up provoked by something overheard or a scene, a place, an object, a tune, a scent even. It is inescapable. But I think how I must count my blessings, though it would have been better if Joan not I had been the one who had crawled out of that capsized car. She would have been much more self-sufficient. Count your blessings, son, my mother used to say. A cliché. At times of stress, clichés, family sayings, proverbs, are drawn to the mind like a magnet. I do count my blessings: at night, though I don’t sleep well, I am unable to lie on my right side now that the stress-fractures of the right thoracic cage have healed; the scar on my chin and neck are hardly visible; my left thumb, though oddly angled, is less troublesome and it is no bad thing that I’ve lost a stone in weight. Presumably the latter is due as much to my increased metabolic rate as it is to the lack of Joan’s tempting and nutritious cooking. At least I hope I haven’t developed an over-active thyroid. I take my pulse and note it is raised though not alarmingly so. Do I write all this down as an aide-mémoire for my future self?’

Finally, I turn to my own diaries, and find but one significant mention of Abse - yet another synchronous connection.

30 May 1977
‘Who is Dannie Abse? Yesterday evening my mother showed me a book of his poems, an old friend of Frederic, I was told, before I was born. A poem ‘Epithalium’ [this should be ‘Epithalamium’ - a poem for the bride on her way to the marital chamber] was pointed out - ‘Today I married my white lady in a barley field’. This evening I walk in to Pentameters because I have nothing else to do. The man himself is reading tonight. I am anxious to meet him.’