Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Young Boswell in London

‘It is very curious to think that I have now been in London several weeks without ever enjoying the delightful sex, although I am surrounded with numbers of free-hearted ladies of all kinds.’ This is a young James Boswell - who died 220 years ago today - having just arrived in the capital city writing rather candidly in his diary. Indeed, he kept diaries for most of his life. Two of his travel diaries - one about Corsica and another, with Samuel Johnson, about the Hebrides - were published in his lifetime, and very much helped develop his literary career, which was to culminate with a biography of Johnson. However, most of Boswell’s diaries - including his so-called London Journal - were considered lost for more than a hundred years, and not published until the second half of the 20th century.

Boswell was born in Edinburgh in 1740 into a strict family, his father, Lord Auchinleck, being a lawyer and eventually a senior judge, and his mother a Calvinist. He studied at Edinburgh and Glasgow universities before escaping to London, where he discovered much about society, women, and himself. When his father arrived to fetch him back, he was suffering with gonorrhoea, the first of many bouts he was to contract in his life.

Having come of age, Boswell returned to London in 1762 determined to secure a commission in the foot guards. There he fell in with Andrew Erskine, an army officer, and George Dempster, a young, wealthy, and newly-elected MP from Scotland. Among many others, he met Oliver Goldsmith and the radical politician John Wilkes. Towards the end of his sojourn in the capital, he became firm friends with Samuel Johnson, 30 years his senior. They would meet and spend significant amounts of time together until the end of Johnson’s life in 1784.

Having given up the idea of an army commission, Boswell moved to Utrecht in 1763 to continue studying law, but then embarked on a Grand Tour around Europe. On his way he became more friendly with Wilkes, exiled in Italy, and he met Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who persuaded him of Corsica’s right to liberty from Genoa. This idea underpinned his first successful book - published in 1768 - that gave an account of his experiences on the island, and of his friendship with the independence leader Pasquale Paoli: An Account of Corsica, The Journal of a Tour to That Island, and Memoirs of Pascal Paoli.

Boswell moved back to Edinburgh, where he completed his law studies, and where he went on to practise as an advocate for the best part of two decades. He married his cousin, Margaret Montgomerie, with whom he had two sons and three daughters who survived into adulthood. He also had at least two extramarital children. A couple of years after inheriting the Auchinleck title on the death of his father in 1782, Boswell moved his family to London. He was called to the English bar from the Inner Temple, but rarely practised, preferring to concentrate on his writing.

For several years after the first book on Corsica, Boswell’s only published writings were essays in a periodical called London Journal, under the title The Hypochondriack. However, a year after Johnson’s death, he edited a diary he had kept of a tour he took with Johnson in the Highlands and Western islands of Scotland. Johnson, himself, had already published an account of that tour - Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland - ten years earlier. Whereas Johnson’s writing was generalised and philosophical, Boswell’s diary - The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides - proved to be more entertaining, both anecdotal and gossipy, as well as rich in observant detail.

The Journal of a Tour was a commercial success, foreshadowing Boswell’s future, and now famous, biography - The Life of Samuel Johnson - first published by Charles Dilly in 1791. Gordon Turnbull’s entry for Boswell in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography says The Life ‘remains the most famous biography in any language, one of Western literature’s most germinal achievements: unprecedented in its time in its depth of research and its extensive use of private correspondence and recorded conversation, it sought to dramatize its subject in his authorial greatness and formidable social presence, and at the same time treat him with a profound sympathy and inhabit his inner life.’ (Many editions of this are freely available online at Internet Archive.)

Boswell’s last years are known to have been rather unhappy ones. His wife died in 1789, and though his children loved him dearly, he was unsatisfied with his achievements. He drank excessively and continued to indulge in other vices. Moreover, his eccentricities became increasingly self-indulgent making him a difficult guest. He lived to see a second edition of The Life of Samuel Johnson in 1793, but died on 19 May 1795. Further information is readily available at Wikipedia, NNDB, or Thomas Frandzen’s Boswell website.

Both Boswell’s early published diaries - The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides and An Account of Corsica - can be found online at Internet Archive. It was not until the 20th century that any more diaries came to light. After Boswell’s death, his executors, and then his heirs, considered it prudent to keep his papers secret (because they contained intimate details). They were then kept in the archives at the Auchinleck estate for many years, until they passed from one great grand-daughter to another who, having married Lord Talbot de Malahide, lived at Malahide Castle, north of Dublin. There, in the 1920s, a large stash of Boswell’s private papers was discovered, including diaries. They were bought by the American collector Ralph H. Isham, and are now mostly archived at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The story of how Isham acquired Boswell’s papers and how they were brought to publication is the subject of more than one book.

Boswell’s London Journal, 1762-1763 - the first of many Boswell publications by Yale - was edited by the Boswell scholar, Frederick A. Pottle, and came out in 1950. The publishers (Yale in the US and Heinemann in the UK) did not hold back in their admiration: ‘The Boswell Papers are the largest and most important find of English literary manuscripts ever made;’ and, ‘The incredible fact about Boswell’s London Journal is that it is an entirely new book.’ This is the most famous and popular of Boswell’s published journals. Perhaps because it is the only one that survived expurgation by family members - and is a racy read. Boswell’s comings and goings as a young man (he was only 22) in London are interesting enough, but it is the way he examines his own psyche, and records the dilemmas he finds there, particularly those of a sexual nature, that makes this book so extraordinary for its time. Indeed, this constant self-examination by Boswell of Boswell feels very modern.

Here are several extracts from Boswell’s London Journal.

26 November 1762
‘I was much difficulted about lodgings. A variety I am sure I saw, I dare say fifty. I was amused in this way. At last I fixed in Downing Street, Westminster. I took a lodging up two pair of stairs with the use of a handsome parlour all the forenoon, for which I agreed to pay forty guineas a year [later bargained down to £22], but I took it for a fortnight first, by way of a trial. I also made bargain that I should dine with the family whenever I pleased, at a shilling a time. [. . .] The street was a genteel street, within a few steps of the Parade; near the House of Commons, and very healthful.’

14 December 1762
‘It is very curious to think that I have now been in London several weeks without ever enjoying the delightful sex, although I am surrounded with numbers of free-hearted ladies of all kinds: from the splendid Madam at fifty guineas a night, down to the civil nymph with white-thread stockings who tramps along the Strand and will resign her engaging person to your honour for a pint of wine and a shilling. Manifold are the reasons for this my present wonderful continence. I am upon a plan of economy, and therefore cannot be at the expense of first-rate dames. I have suffered severely from loathsome distemper, and therefore shudder at the thoughts of running any risk of having it again. Besides, the surgeons’ fees in this city come very high. But the greatest reason of all is that fortune, or rather benignant Venus, has smiled upon me and favoured me so far that I have had the most delicious intrigues with women of beauty, sentiment, and spirit, perfectly suited to my romantic genius.’

15 December 1762
‘The enemies of the people of England who would have them considered in the worst light represent them as selfish, beef-eaters, and cruel. In this view I resolved today to be a true-born Old Englishman. I went into the City to Dolly’s Steak-house in Paternoster Row and swallowed my dinner by myself to fulfill [sic] the charge of selfishness; I had a large fat beefsteak to fulfil the charge of beef-eating; and I went at five o’clock to the Royal Cockpit in St James’s Park and saw cock-fighting for about five hours to fulfill [sic] the charge of cruelty.

A beefsteak-house is a most excellent place to dine at. You come in there to a warm, comfortable, large room, where a number of people are sitting at table. You take whatever place you find empty; call for what you like, which you get well and cleverly dressed. You may either chat or not as you like. Nobody minds you, and you pay very reasonably. My dinner (beef, bread and beer and waiter) was only a shilling. The waiters make a great deal of money by these pennies. Indeed, I admire the English for attending to small sums, as many smalls make a great, according to the proverb.

At five I filled my pockets with gingerbread and apples (quite the method), put on my old clothes and laced hat, laid by my watch, purse and pocket-book, and with oaken stick in my hand sallied to the pit. I was too soon there. So I went into a low inn, sat down amongst a parcel of arrant blackguards, and drank some beer. [. . .] I then went to the cockpit, which is a circular room in the middle of which the cocks fight. It is seated round with rows gradually rising. The pit and the seats are all covered with mat. The cocks, nicely cut and dressed and armed with silver heels, are set down and fight with amazing bitterness and resolution. Some of them were quickly dispatched. One pair fought three-quarters of an hour. The uproar and noise of betting is prodigious. A great deal of money made a quick circulation from hand to hand. There was a number of professed gamblers there. An old cunning dog whose face I had seen at Newmarket sat by me a while. I told him I knew nothing of the matter. “Sir,” said he, “you have as good a chance as anybody.” [. . .] I was shocked to see the distraction and anxiety of the betters. I was sorry for the poor cocks. I looked around to see if any of the spectators pitied them when mangled and torn in a most cruel manner, but I could not observe the smallest relenting sign in any countenance. I was therefore not ill pleased to see them endure mental torment. Thus did I complete my true English day, and came home pretty much fatigued and pretty much confounded at the strange turn of this people.’

17 December 1762
‘I mentioned to Sheridan [Thomas Sheridan, actor, and father of Richard Brinsley Sheridan] how difficult it was to be acquainted with people of fashion in London: that they have a reserve and a forbidding shyness to strangers. He accounted for it thus: “The strangers that come here are idle and unemployed; they don’t know what to do, and they are anxious to get acquaintances. Whereas the genteel people, who have lived long in town, have got acquaintances enough; their time is all filled up. And till they find a man particularly worth knowing, they are very backward. But when you once get their friendship, you have them firm to you.” ’

19 January 1763
‘This was a day eagerly expected by [George] Dempster [a young and wealthy, newly-elected MP from Scotland], [Andrew] Erskine [a lieutenant], and I, as it was fixed as the period of our gratifying a whim proposed by me: which was that on the first day of the new tragedy called Elvira’s being acted, we three should walk from the one end of London to the other, dine at Dolly’s, and be in the theatre at night; and as the play would probably be bad, and as Mr David Malloch, the author, who has changed his name to David Mallet, Esq. was an arrant puppy, we determined to exert ourselves in damning it.

I this morning felt the stronger symptoms of the sad distemper, yet I was unwilling to imagine such a thing. However, the severe exercise of today, joined with hearty eating and drinking, I was sure would confirm or remove my suspicions.

We walked up to Hyde Park Corner, from whence we set out at ten. Our spirits were high with the notion of the adventure, and the variety that we met with as we went is amazing. As the Spectator observes, one end of London is like a different country from the other in look and in manners. We eat an excellent breakfast at the Somerset Coffee-house. We turned down Gracechurch Street and went up on the top of London Bridge, from whence we viewed with a pleasing horror the rude and terrible appearance of the river, partly froze up, partly covered with enormous shoals of floating ice which often crashed against each other. [. . .] We went half a mile beyond the turnpike at Whitechapel, which completed our course, and went into a little public house and drank some warm white wine with aromatic spices, pepper and cinnamon. We were pleased with the neat houses upon the road. [. . .] We had some port, and drank damnation to the play and eternal remorse to the author. We then went to the Bedford Coffee-house and had coffee and tea; and just as the doors opened at four o’clock, we sallied into the house, planted ourselves in the middle of the pit, and with oaken cudgels in our hands and shrill-sounding catcalls in our pockets, sat ready prepared, with a generous resentment in our breasts against dullness and impudence, to be the swift ministers of vengeance. [. . .] [The three of them went on to write a highly critical pamphlet about Elvira.]

The evening was passed most cheerfully. When I got home, though, then came sorrow. Too, too plain was Signor Gonorrhoea.’

25 March 1763
‘As I was coming home this night, I felt carnal inclinations raging through my frame. I determined to gratify them. I went to St James’s Park, and, like Sir John Brute [a character from John Vanbrugh’s The Provoked Wife], picked up a whore. For the first time did I engage in armour, which I found but a dull satisfaction. She who submitted to my lusty embraces was a young Shropshire girl, only seventeen, very well-looked, her name Elizabeth Parker. Poor thing, she has a sad time of it!’

3 May 1763
‘I walked up to the Tower in order see Mr Wilkes come out. [Wilkes, a radical journalist and MP, who had been arrested on a general warrant that soon proved inadequate to keep him in prison]. But he was gone. I then thought I should see prisoners of one kind or another, so went to Newgate. I stepped into a sort of court before the cells. They are surely most dismal places. There are three rows of ‘em, four in a row, all above each other. They have double iron windows, and within these, strong iron rails; and in these dark mansions are the unhappy criminals confined. I did not go in, but stood in the court, where were a number of strange blackguard beings with sad countenances, most of them being friends and acquaintances of those under sentence of death. [. . .]

Erskine and I dined at the renowned Donaldon’s, where we were heartily entertained. All this afternoon I felt myself still more melancholy, Newgate being upon my mind like a black cloud.’

4 May 1763
‘My curiosity to see the melancholy spectacle of the executions was so strong that I could not resist it, although I was sensible that I would suffer much from it. In my younger years I had read in the Lives of the Convicts so much about Tyburn that I had a sort of horrid eagerness to be there. [. . .] I got upon a scaffold very near the fatal tree, so that [I] could clearly see all the dismal scene. There was a most prodigious crowd of spectators. I was most terribly shocked, and thrown into a very deep melancholy.’

19 July 1763
‘At eleven I went to St Paul’s Church; walked up to the whispering gallery, which is a most curious thing. I had here the mortification to observe the noble paintings in the ceiling of the Cupola area a good deal damaged by the moisture of winter, I then went up to the roof of the Cupola, and went out upon the leads, and walked around it. I went up to the highest storey of roof. Here I had the immense prospect of London and its environs. London gave me no great idea. I just saw a prodigious group of tiled roofs and narrow lanes opening here and there, for the streets and beauty of the buildings cannot be observed on account of the distance. The Thames and the country around, the beautiful hills of Hampstead and of Highgate looked very fine. And yet I did not feel the same enthusiasm that I have felt some time ago at viewing these rich prospects.’

30 July 1763
‘Mr [Samuel] Johnson and I took a boat and sailed down the silver Thames. I asked him if a knowledge of the Greek and Roman languages was necessary. He said, “By all means; for they who know them have a very great advantage over those who do not. Nay, it is surprising what a difference it makes upon people in the intercourse of life which does not appear to be much connected with it.’

“And yet,” said I “people will go through the world very well and do their business very well without them.”

“Why,” said he, “that may be true where they could not possibly be of any use; for instance, this boy rows us as well without literature as if he could sing the song which Orpheus sung to the Argonauts, who were the first sailors in the world.” He then said to the boy, “What would you give, Sir, to know about the Argonauts?”

“Sir,” he said, “I would give what I have.” The reply pleased Mr Johnson much, and we gave him a double fare.

“Sir,” he said, “a desire of knowledge is the natural feeling of mankind; and every man who is not debauched would give all that he has to get knowledge.”

We landed at the Old Swan and walked to Billingsgate, where we took oars and moved smoothly along the river. We were entertained with the immense number and variety of ships that were lying at anchor. It was a pleasant day, and when we got clear out into the country, we were charmed with the beautiful fields on each side of the river. [. . .]

When we got to Greenwich, I felt great pleasure in being at the place which Mr Johnson celebrates in his London: a Poem. I had the poem in my pocket, and read the passage on the banks of the Thames, and literally “kissed the consecrated earth.” ’

4 August 1763
‘This is now my last day in London before I set out upon my travels, and makes a very important period in my journal. Let me recollect my life since this journal began. Has it not passed like a dream? Yes, but I have been attaining a knowledge of the world. I came to town to go into the Guards. How different is my scheme now! I am upon a less pleasurable but a more rational and lasting plan. Let me pursue it with steadiness and I may be a man of dignity. My mind is strangely agitated. I am happy to think of going upon my travels and seeing the diversity of foreign parts; and yet my feeble mind shrinks somewhat at the idea of leaving Britain in so very short a time from the moment in which I now make this remark. How strange must I feel myself in foreign parts. My mind too is gloomy and dejected at the thoughts of leaving London, where I am so comfortably situated and where I have enjoyed most happiness. However, I shall be the happier for being abroad, as long as I live. Let me be manly. Let me commit myself to the care of my merciful creator.’

The Diary Junction

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Weeds don’t spoil

‘My [90th] birthday. [. . .] It is unusual, I believe, for persons of this age to retain possession of their faculties, or so much of them as I do. The Germans have an uncomplimentary saying : “Weeds don’t spoil” ’. This is Henry Crabb Robinson, one of the most interesting and entertaining of 19th century diarists, who was born 240 years ago today. He trained as a lawyer, but an inheritance left him wealthy enough to pursue a life of cultured leisure. He was a great theatre-goer, knew a lot of literary types - was on very good terms with Wordsworth, for example, with whom he travelled often - and was one of the first to recognise William’s Blake’s genius.

Robinson was born in Bury St Edmunds on 13 May 1775, the son of a tanner. He attended private schools, and was articled to a lawyer in Colchester when 15, and subsequently to another in London. In 1796, he was left an inheritance which allowed him to travel to the Continent frequently. Between 1800 and 1805 he studied in Germany, meeting, among others, Goethe and Schiller. He operated as a war correspondent for The Times for a short while during the Peninsular War, and, on his return to London, finished his legal training and was called to the bar.

Through an old friend, Catherine, who had married the writer and abolitionist Thomas Clarkson, Robinson was introduced into London literary society; and, in time, his own breakfast parties became famous. After retiring in 1828, he continued to take part in public affairs and to travel often. In 1828 he was one of the founding members of London University; and, in 1837, he revisited Italy on a tour with the poet William Wordsworth. He never married, but lived to an old age, dying in 1867. Further biographical information is available from Wikipedia, The Dr Williams’s Centre for Dissenting Studies, the UCL Bloomsbury Project, or Peter Landry’s Bluepete website. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has a good short biography (but requires a login).

Robinson left behind a large amount of papers including the following: brief journals covering the period to 1810, a much fuller home diary (begun in 1811, and continued to within five days of his death - 35 volumes), and a collection of 30 tour journals. The papers were edited by Thomas Sadler and published by Macmillan in 1869 in three volumes as Diary, Reminiscences and Correspondence of Henry Crabb Robinson. And it is thanks largely to these volumes that Robsinson is remembered today, for his diaries are full of important detail about the central figures of the English romantic movement, not only Wordsworth, but Coleridge, Charles Lamb, and William Blake. Of the latter, he was an early admirer, writing in his diary: ‘Shall I call Blake artist, genius, mystic or madman? Probably he is all’. Moreover, his diaries are also prized for their information about the London theatre in the first half of the 19th century (see the Society for Theatre Research’s 1966 volume: The London theatre 1811-1866: Selections from the diary of Henry Crabb Robinson.)

All three volumes of Diary, Reminiscences and Correspondence can be read at Internet Archive (Vol 1, Vol 2, Vol 3). Here are a few extracts.

7 December 1831
‘Brighton. Accompanied [John James] Masquerier [a British painter] to a concert, which afforded me really a great pleasure. I heard Paganini [Niccolò Paganini, an Italian musician and composer]. Having scarcely any sensibility to music, I could not expect great enjoyment from any music, however fine; and, after all, I felt more surprise at the performance than enjoyment. The professional men, I understand, universally think more highly of Paganini than the public do. He is really an object of wonder. His appearance announces something extraordinary. His figure and face amount to caricature. He is a tall slim figure, with limbs which remind one of a spider; his face very thin, his forehead broad, his eyes grey and piercing, with bushy eyebrows; his nose thin and long, his cheeks hollow, and his chin sharp and narrow. His face forms a sort of triangle. His hands the oddest imaginable, fingers of enormous length, and thumbs bending backwards.

It is, perhaps, in a great measure from the length of finger and thumb that his fiddle is also a sort of lute. He came forward and played, from notes, his own compositions. Of the music, as such, I know nothing. The sounds were wonderful. He produced high notes very faint, which resembled the chirruping of birds, and then in an instant, with a startling change, rich and melodious notes, approaching those of the bass viol. It was difficult to believe that this great variety of sounds proceeded from one instrument. The effect was heightened by his extravagant gesticulation and whimsical attitudes. He sometimes played with his fingers, as on a harp, and sometimes struck the cords with his bow, as if it were a drum-stick, sometimes sticking his elbow into his chest, and sometimes flourishing his bow. Oftentimes the sounds were sharp, like those of musical glasses, and only now and then really delicious to my vulgar ear, which is gratified merely by the flute and other melodious instruments, and has little sense of harmony.’

9 June 1833
‘Liverpool. At twelve I got upon an omnibus, and was driven up a steep hill to the place where the steam-carriages start. We travelled in the second class of carriages. There were five carriages linked together, in each of which were placed open seats for the traveller, four and four facing each other; but not all were full; and, besides, there was a close carriage, and also a machine for luggage. The fare was four shillings for the thirty-one miles. Everything went on so rapidly, that I had scarcely the power of observation. The road begins at an excavation through rock, and is to a certain extent insulated from the adjacent country. It is occasionally placed on bridges, and frequently intersected by ordinary roads. Not quite a perfect level is preserved. On setting off there is a slight jolt, arising from the chain catching each carriage, but, once in motion, we proceeded as smoothly as possible. For a minute or two the pace is gentle, and is constantly varying. The machine produces little smoke or steam. First in order is the tall chimney; then the boiler, a barrel-like vessel; then an oblong reservoir of water; then a vehicle for coals; and then comes, of a length infinitely extendible, the train of carriages. If all the seats had been filled, our train would have carried about 150 passengers; but a gentleman assured me at Chester that he went with a thousand persons to Newton fair. There must have been two engines then. I have heard since that two thousand persons and more went to and from the fair that day. But two thousand only, at three shillings each way, would have produced £600! But, after all, the expense is so great, that it is considered uncertain whether the establishment will ultimately remunerate the proprietors. Yet I have heard that it already yields the shareholders a dividend of nine per cent. And Bills have passed for making railroads between London and Birmingham, and Birmingham and Liverpool. What a change will it produce in the intercourse! One conveyance will take between 100 and 200 passengers, and the journey will be made in a forenoon! Of the rapidity of the journey I had better experience on my return; but I may say now, that, stoppages included, it may certainly be made at the rate of twenty miles an hour!

I should have observed before that the most remarkable movements of the journey are those in which trains pass one another. The rapidity is such that there is no recognizing the features of a traveller. On several occasions, the noise of the passing engine was like the whizzing of a rocket. Guards are stationed in the road, holding flags, to give notice to the drivers when to stop. Near Newton, I noticed an inscription recording the memorable death of Huskisson.’

26 December 1836
‘Brighton. This was a remarkable day. So much snow fell, that not a coach either set out for or arrived from London - an incident almost unheard of in this place. Parties were put off and engagements broken without complaint. The Masqueriers, with whom I am staying, expected friends to dinner, but they could not come. Nevertheless, we had here Mr Edmonds, the worthy Scotch schoolmaster, Mr and Mrs Dill, and a Miss Robinson; and, with the assistance of whist, the afternoon went off comfortably enough. Of course, during a part of the day, I was occupied in reading.’

28 December 1836
‘The papers to-day are full of the snow-storm. The ordinary mails were stopped in every part of the country.’

3 May 1850
‘I read early a speech by [Frederick William] Robertson [a charismatic preacher] to the Brighton Working Class Association, in which infidelity of a very dangerous kind had sprung up. His speech shows great practical ability. He managed a difficult subject very ably, but it will not be satisfactory either to the orthodox or the ultra-liberal.

I went to Mr Cookson, who is one of the executors of Mr Wordsworth, and with whom I had an interesting conversation about Wordsworth’s arrangements for the publication of his poems. He has commissioned Dr Christopher Wordsworth to write his Life, a brief Memoir merely illustrative of his poems. And in a paper given to the Doctor, he wrote that his sons, son-in-law, his dear friend Miss Fenwick, Mr Carter, and Mr Robinson, who had travelled with him, “would gladly contribute their aid by communicating any facts within their knowledge.” ’

18 February 1851
‘At Masquerier’s, Brighton. We had calls soon after breakfast. The one to be mentioned was that of [Michael] Faraday, one of the most remarkable men of the day, the very greatest of our discoverers in chemistry, a perfect lecturer in the unaffected simplicity and intelligent clearness of his statement; so that the learned are instructed and the ignorant charmed. His personal character is admirable. When he was young, poor, and altogether unknown, Masquerier was kind to him; and now that he is a great man he does not forget his old friend.’

29 November 1852
‘I went to Robertson’s, and had two hours of interesting chat with him on his position here in the pulpit; also about Lady Byron. He speaks of her as the noblest woman he ever knew.’

17 August 1853
‘Dr King wrote to me, informing me of the death of Robertson, of Brighton. Take him for all in all, the best preacher I ever saw in a pulpit; that is, uniting the greatest number of excellences, originality, piety, freedom of thought, and warmth of love. His style colloquial and very scriptural. He combined light of the intellect with warmth of the affections in a pre-eminent degree.’

13 September 1853
‘Brighton. Dr King called, and in the evening I called by desire on Lady Byron - a call which I enjoyed, and which may have consequences. Recollecting her history, as the widow of the most famous, though not the greatest, poet of England in our day, I felt an interest in going to her; and that interest was greatly heightened when I left her. From all I have heard of her, I consider her one of the best women of the day. Her means and her good will both great. “She lives to do good,” says Dr. King, and I believe this to be true. She wanted my opinion as to the mode of doing justice to Robertson’s memory. She spoke of him as having a better head on matters of business than any one else she ever knew. She said, “I have consulted lawyers on matters of difficulty, but Robertson seemed better able to give me advice. He unravelled everything and explained everything at once as no one else did.” ’

13 May 1865
‘My birthday. To-day I complete my ninetieth year. When people hear of my age, they affect to doubt my veracity, and call me a wonder. It is unusual, I believe, for persons of this age to retain possession of their faculties, or so much of them as I do. The Germans have an uncomplimentary saying : “Weeds don’t spoil.” ’

The Diary Junction

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Tears instead of ink

Sir John Oglander, an aristocrat and politician associated with the Isle of White, died all of 430 years ago today. He is as much remembered for his diaries as he is for the relatively minor administrative and political appointments he held, not least because, having started as account books, they became more personal over time. For example on the death of his beloved son, George, he wrote: ‘With my tears instead of ink I write these last lines.’

Oglander was born at Nunwell, on the eastern side of the Isle of Wight, on 12 May 1585. He was schooled at Winchester, and entered Balliol College, Oxford, for three years but left without a degree. Thereafter, he entered the Middle Temple, though was not called to the bar. He married Frances, the youngest daughter of Sir George More of Losely, and sister to the wife of the poet John Donne. They had four sons and three daughters.

After residing for a while in Winchester with his father, Oglander moved to take up residence at the old family home in Nunwell, aiming to live a life, he wrote, of ‘ardent and unbroken devotion to the public service’. Little is known of that life, however, until around 1620 (though he was knighted in 1615 by James I). From 1620 to 1624, he acted as deputy governor of Portsmouth, before selling the position and returning to the Isle of Wight to be deputy governor there instead.

In 1625, Oglander was elected to Parliament as member for Yarmouth. He held other appointments, such as High Sheriff of Hampshire in the late 1630s. With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642, Oglander - a true Royalist - found himself imprisoned, firstly for a short time, and then for three years. Later, he helped Charles I while on the Isle of Wight, but, as the king became confined at Carisbrooke Castle so it became dangerous for his friends, such as Oglander, to continue their support for him. Oglander was arrested one more time, in 1651, but was released within weeks. He died in 1655, a man broken by the war, his estate having been diminished and having lost his wife and a son. Further biographical information can be found at Wikipedia, the History of Parliament website, or The Gentry.

For much of his life Oglander kept ‘Bookes of Accoumpts’ in which he wrote down his business affairs. However, over time they became more diary-like with entries of a personal nature. The diaries are considered valuable, particularly with regard to the history of the Isle of the White. Indeed, during Oglander’s lifetime he copied out some parts for use by his friend Sir Richard Worsley, who was then compiling what would be published in 1781 as The History of the Isle of Wight. Later, in 1888, the notebooks were also used by W. H. Long for his book The Oglander Memoirs.

It was not until 1936, however, that Oglander’s diary was published in its own right as A Royalist’s Notebook - The Commonplace Book of Sir John Oglander Kt of Nunwell, transcribed and edited by Francis Bamford (Constable, 1936). Cecil Faber Aspinall-Oglander says in his introduction: ‘The numerous tattered volumes of faded manuscripts from which this book has been compiled have lain for three hundred years in the house where Sir John Oglander wrote them in the days of James I and Charles I, their slumber only disturbed by the reverent fingers of his descendants in search of information. And here indeed their slumber might have continued had it not been for Mr. Bamford asking my wife’s permission to look through the Nunwell papers in search of local colour for a historical novel on which he was then engaged.’

Bamford’s book divides Oglander’s writings into various chapters, viz: His observations 1622-1639; His observations 1642-1652; His neighbours; His rules for husbandry; Some of his recipes; Some of his accounts; His advice to his descendants. Here are a few samples from the first chapter (the language has been modernised by Bamford).

‘The 20th February, 1626, I put into the pond by Whitefield House 200 young carp.’

‘May the 30th, 1627. On Wednesday in the afternoon on Granger, captain of a small man-of-war belonging to Mr. James of Portsmouth, being on the south side of the Island, spied a fleet of Hollanders of 22 sail, whereof Sir Lawrence Reoll was Admiral. He presently took them for Spaniards and came into the Island, sent intelligence to Sir Edward Dennys that he had espied a fleet of Spaniards at sea, the copy of which letter is in my box. Whereupon Sir Edward sent the very letter to Portsmouth, whither when it came, a Wednesday by 4 of the clock, the town rose all in arms and apprehended as much fear as if an enemy had been at the gates. Higham, Master Gunner, hasted away post with this intelligence to my Lord Steward, which came to the Council and my Lord Duke’s knowledge by 2 the same night. He presently commanded down all the colonels to their charges: hither came Brett and Spry by Friday morning. The Duke himself posted to the Downs, vowing he would not stay but would fight them with those ships that were then ready.’

‘King Charles came into our Island the 20th of June 1627, being Wednesday. He came ashore at Ryde, where only myself was to attend him: he was landed by 9 in the morning, sooner than the gentlemen expected. We had notice of it but the night before, yet I took such order of it that my coach was there, and some 40 horses. I waited on him from Ryde to Arreton Down and was his guide. On the Down, he saw Sir Alexander Brett’s regiment train, which was the motive that brought him over. I had the honour to kiss His Majesty’s hand, being presented unto him by the Lord Chamberlain, and at his going away again, which was about 3: all the gentlemen with myself had the like honour. [. . .]

His Majesty neither ate nor drank in our Island. On our complaint unto him, he promised we should have Sandham Castle repaired (which I showed afar off unto him, together with the consequences thereof), a fort of St Helens, munitions for our country, and 10 or 20 ships of his to be still resident in Portsmouth Harbour. So much, and so happy we, if performed.’

‘On the 8th of December, 1631, my shepherd’s wife, Good Greenwood, going to my windmill with a gust coming from thence, she went so near to the vanes of the mill that one of them took her in the head and beat out her brains. She was a very good woman and had been nurse to my son William, and dry nurse to most of my other children.’

‘Here is set down the most sorrowful story that was ever written by the hand of a distressed father. On the 21st of July, 1632, being at Newport [. . .] the Mayor, Sir Richard Dillington and Sir Edward Dennys came unto me and told me of a flying report, brought by a bark off Weymouth lately come from Caen, that my eldest son George, that was then at Caen, was very sick - if not dead.

Let those judge, who have had a hopeful young son aged 22 years, well brought up and learned in all the arts, dutiful, wise, sober, discreet and given to no vice, but tall, handsome, judicious and understanding - yea, far above the capacity of his young years, what a case I was in and how deeply stricken, insomuch as I had much ado to get home.

With my tears instead of ink I write these last lines. O George, my beloved George, is dead and with him most of my terrestrial comforts, although I acknowledge I have good and dutiful sons left. He died of the smallpox at Caen in Normandy, the 11th of July, 1632. Only with my tears and a foul pen was this written.’

The Diary Junction

Friday, May 8, 2015

Victory in Europe Day

It’s the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day, or VE Day, marking the end of the Second World War in Europe. The act of military surrender was signed by Germany on 7 May 1945, and the following day, 8 May, was declared a holiday. More than a million people spilled out onto the streets in the UK, crowds filling parts of central London. See the BBC, Wikipedia, The Royal British Legion, World War II Today for more about VE Day, and the commemorative events taking place today.

Here, though, to remember VE Day first hand, as it were, are several diary entries written on the day.

Tony Simmonds, teenager, Brighton
8 May 1945
‘VICTORY IN EUROPE DAY - I was at work - when I came back from lunch at 2 pm I found everyone in a hustle and bustle. The Manager said we were going to get out by 3.30. We did. Even then we had time to rush out to hear Churchill’s speech at 3 o’clock and a fine speech it was too.

We all knew something would happen in the evening and it did. It came right up to my fullest expectations. I just can’t describe the scene. I was alone most of the time and spent almost five hours around the Clock Tower. People just went mad - dancing, singing, chanting, shouting - the crowd just surged this way and that - The Academy, the Odeon and the Regent were all floodlit for the first time in almost six years - fire crackers, flares and even pre-war ‘jumpers’ were thrown about the streets - even into busses - all policemen ‘had their eyes shut’.

I left at just after 11 pm leaving behind me a riot going on outside the Regent - where a drunken sailor was protesting against a charge of 10/6d for a dance in the Regent Dance Hall. What a day - I shall never forget it for the rest of my life.

Our house is decorated up - four flags - a shield and red, white & blue streamers. Even Mrs Guild next door has her standard flying. As for the town itself - well I never knew there were so many flags manufactured. My bike has a big rosette and streamers on its handlebars.’

Source: Brighton in Diaries by Paul K Lyons (History Press, 2011); also the My Brighton and Hove website.

***

Joan Strange, young woman, Worthing
8 May 1945
‘It’s come at last. I woke up at 7 am to hear the sound of Mother wrestling with the flags (rather moth-eaten and patched, relics of Queen Victoria’s jubilee!). But we weren’t the first in the road after all as we were when Mussolini was captured in July 1943. The weather’s been good for the first of the two VE holidays. It’s been a queer sort of day, the highlights being the Prime Minister’s short broadcast at 3pm and the King’s at 9 pm. . . Hostilities cease officially at one minute past midnight tonight when it’s hoped that any fighting against the Russians will cease. Mother and I listened in to the thrilling broadcasts on the European victory. There were services in all churches and cinemas at 12 pm today.’

Source: Despatches from the Home Front, The War Diaries of Joan Strange 1939-1945 (Monarch Publications, 1989); also the West Sussex County Council website.

***

Vera Brittain, writer, London
8 May 1945
‘Felt disinclined to hear a “Victory” service so went to the little meeting of the London Mission at Kingsway Hall to hear Donald Soper give a really inspiring address on thanksgiving, penitence and dedication. After lunch again went back to Whitehall determined to end this War near Westminster as I ended the last. Flags now everywhere; ‘planes flying over crowds; bells ringing; mounted policemen moving back a throng which grew immense between 2.0 & 3.0; yet sense of anti-climax persisted in contrast with spontaneity of Armistice Day 1918; it was all so formal & “arranged”.

Ar 3.0 Churchill’s voice duly announced the end of the War & after silence the crowds cheered. Typically he ended with the words “Advance Britannia!” & introduced no phrase of constructive hope for a better society which renounces war. Caught a glimpse of him standing in his car as he went from Downing St. to the H. of Commons surrounded by cheering crowds, waving his hat, with the usual cigar & self-satisfied expression.

Walked half the way home for tea with Mother, thinking how strange it was that, though this time I have kept (so far) all my private world which last time I had totally lost, not one of them is here, & again I experience the end of a European war half-exasperated & half-saddened by the triviality of her preoccupations in contrast to the immensity of world events.

Dined at Rembrandt with J. von R., talked to her till past 11 p.m., when we walked to Sloane Avenue & looked at partially flood-lit buildings & a display of searchlights half-obscured by a cloudy sky; saw it from the roof of the flat. Left her at S. Kensington station & walked home with the War officially (at 1 minute past midnight) as well as actually over in Europe. Bonfires in St Luke’s Churchyard & elsewhere; Chelsea Town Hall floodlit; people in streets, but everything orderly & controlled.’

Source: Wartime Chronicle - Vera Brittain’s Diary 1939-1945 (Victor Gollancz, 1989). See also The Diary Junction.

***

Naomi Mitchison, writer, London
8 May 1945
‘Then we went off to Piccadilly Circus [. . .]. We had lunch at the Café [Royal) at 12.45. It wasn’t very full or decorated, nor did the people look special in any way. But when we got out there was quite a crowd. The children had wanted to go to the Zoo but Pic Circ seemed better, so we wandered along slowly, looking on. A number of other people were doing the same thing, in fact almost everyone was tired and wanting to look rather than do. They were sitting when possible, lots of them on the steps of St Martin’s. Most people were wearing bright coloured clothes, lots of them red white and blue in some form (I was wearing my kilt and blouse, much too hot, as I found). Most women had lipstick and a kind of put on smile but all but the very young looked very tired when they stopped actually smiling. [. . .]

Dick wanted to book a place at the Ivy but it was shut; we tried to get ballet tickets but there was none. We walked down to the Temple where a few people were happily resting on the benches in the gardens. It was amazing how the half blitzed trees had sprouted again. [. . .] After dinner we walked back down to Pic Circ again. There were a lot more drunks and broken bottles than earlier, and a few people crying or having hysterics or collapsing, and a lot of ambulances. But still most people were looking on; there was a man doing antics on one of the roofs but he didn’t fall off. People were sitting all along the pavements, no general dancing. We wandered round, looking for a pub, as Jack was longing for a beer. My feet were getting very sore indeed so that I could hardly think of anything else. I was also very tired after my journey. Americans (and perhaps others but one always blames the poor Yanks!) were throwing crackers which weren’t altogether popular. Jack and I always jumped. [. . .]

In The Doves there was nobody we knew. People were singing but (just like everywhere else) with the minimum of tune. I think mostly There’ll always be an England and Roll out the Barrel . . . Val came in just before midnight and we went on the roof and looked at the searchlights whirling round and reflected beautifully in the river. Then we listened to the midnight news and went to bed.’

Source: Among you taking notes . . . The Wartime Diary of Naomi Mitchison 1939-1945 (Oxford University Press, 1986). See also The Diary Junction and The Diary Review - Ordinary people.

***

Frances Partridge, writer, Newbury
8 May 1945
‘At three o’clock Churchill delivered the promised announcement. Afterwards we drove to Newbury to get the other Inkpen [village west of Newbury] children from school. Every cottage had a few flags hung out, and in most of them a dummy-like figure of an old person could be seen at an upper window. Near Newbury we had a narrow escape from a drunken lorry-driver veering from side to side of the road - he made the V-sign as we passed. Bicyclists were hurrying in to Newbury dressed in their best; little girls wore satin blouses and red, white and blue bows in their hair.’

Source: A Pacifist’s War - Diaries 1939-1945 (Phoenix, 1999). See also The Diary Junction.



Friday, May 1, 2015

We can conquer the world

‘Beginning with Lublin, the Jews in the General Government [Poland] are now being evacuated eastward. The procedure is a pretty barbaric one and not to be described here more definitely. Not much will remain of the Jews. On the whole it can be said that about 60 per cent of them will have to be liquidated whereas only about 40 per cent can be used for forced labor.’ This is Joseph Goebbels writing in his diary in 1942, not long after the Nazis had formulated their Final Solution policy. Goebbels committed suicide 70 years ago today, the day after Hitler and his wife (see He loves me so much); but, unlike Hitler, Goebbels went to some lengths to preserve an historical record of his life - 75,000 pages of his diaries.

Goebbels was born in 1897 into a Catholic family at Rheydt, an industrial town in the Ruhr district. From early childhood he suffered a deformation in his right leg and wore a brace and special shoe, which left him with a limp. At the start of World War I he volunteered for military service, but was rejected. He studied at universities in Bonn, Berlin and Heidelberg (where he was awarded a PhD), and then worked as a journalist, and tried to write novels and plays.

Goebbels joined the Nazi party in 1924, and became allied with Gregor Strasser, Nazi organiser in northern Germany. He came to the attention of Hitler, who gave him a private audience in April 1926, and then appointed him a party leader for the region of Berlin. He soon discovered his talent for propaganda, writing tracts such as The Second Revolution and Lenin or Hitler, and launching the Nazi newspaper Der Angriff (The Attack). In 1928, he was elected to the Reichstag (one of only 10 Nazis), and the following year he became the Nazi party propaganda chief. In 1931, he marred Magda Ritschel, and they would have six children. However, Goebbels was an inveterate womaniser, and was known to have had many affairs.

Goebbels played a key role in successive election campaigns, and was instrumental in seeing Hitler elected leader in 1933. Goebbels, himself, was made minister for propaganda and national enlightenment, a position he then held until his death. He worked assiduously to centralise and control all aspects of German and cultural life, not only the press, but the media, the performing arts, literature, etc, purging them of Jews, socialists, homosexuals and liberals. At the same time, he ensured a development of high culture, such as Wagner’s operas, and plenty of light entertainment for the masses. Once war began in September 1939, his influence over domestic policy strengthened, and, increasingly, with Hitler appearing in public less, he became the face and the voice of the Nazi regime. As a dedicated anti-Semite, Goebbels was strongly linked to the Nazi Final Solution policy, and, especially, the deportation of Jews from Berlin.

In the final stages of the war, Hitler, before killing himself, appointed Goebbels Chancellor of Germany, but it was empty gesture, since a day later - on 1 May - Goebbels and his wife killed themselves, having already murdered their six children. Further biographical information on Goebbels can be freely obtained online at Wikipedia, the Jewish Virtual Library, or from the pages of Doctor Goebbels: His Life and Death by Roger Manvell and Heinrich Fraenkel available at Googlebooks.

Goebbels began to keep a diary in 1923, shortly before his 27th birthday, while unemployed. Most of his early entries were about a young woman with whom he was having a turbulent relationship (and whom, in fact, had given him the diary). According to biographers, the diary quickly became a kind of therapy for the troubled young man. Apparently, these early diary entries show little interest in politics, and there is no mention of Hitler or the Nazi movement until the following year. i.e. after Goebbels first met Hitler in July 1925.

In 1934, the year after Hitler had become Chancellor and appointed Goebbels a minister, Goebbels published an edited version of his diaries for propaganda purposes: Vom Kaiserhof zur Reichskanzlei. Eine historische Darstellung in Tagebuchblättern (From the Kaiserhof to the Reich Chancellery: A Historical Account from the Pages of a Diary). This was translated into English in 1938 and published by Hurst and Blackett as My Part in Germany’s Fight.

Wikipedia has a full entry on Goebbels’ diaries, and their history. Goebbels filled 20 hand-written volumes until 1941, and then - fully aware of their historical value - had them stored in underground vaults at the Reichsbank in Berlin. Thereafter, he dictated his entries to a stenographer, who typed up corrected versions. In 1944, he ordered all his diaries to be copied for safekeeping, and a special darkroom was created at his apartment for the diaries to be transferred to microfilm, a recent invention. The boxes of glass plates containing the microfilmed diaries were buried at Potsdam; and the original handwritten/ typed diaries were stored in the Reich Chancellery. Goebbels made his last entry on 10 April 1945.

Some of the original diaries survived the aftermath of the war - a complicated story involving ex-President Herbert Hoover and Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent Louis P. Lochner. (For more on this see Andrew Hamilton’s excellent article in Counter-Currents Publishing). These diaries were edited and translated by Lochner and first published in English in 1948 by Doubleday (New York) and Hamish Hamilton (London) in 1948 as The Goebbels Diaries, 1942-1943. Hamilton notes: ‘An instant bestseller upon its release, the book was serialized in newspapers and magazines and became a Book-of-the-Month Club selection. The Hoover faction and Doubleday, however, were forced to surrender most of their profits to the Office of Alien Property and destroy 30,000 copies of the book still in stock. The original sheaf of 7,000 transcribed pages was, however, deposited at the Hoover Library at Stanford, where it remains today.’

Further extracts appeared in print over the years. In 1962, came The Early Goebbels Diaries: the journals of Joseph Goebbels from 1923-1926 (edited by Helmut Heiber, translated by Oliver Watson, published by Praeger, New York; Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London). In 1978, came The Goebbels Diaries: the last days as edited Hugh Trevor-Roper (one of the central characters in the Hitler diary debacle - see Dacre’s non-fake diaries) and translated by Richard Barry (published by Putnam, New York; Secker and Warburg, London).

Controversy surrounded the publication in 1982 of The Goebbels Diaries: 1939–1941, as translated and edited by Fred Taylor (Hamish Hamilton, 1982; Putnam, New York). According to New York Magazine, the diary material was bought ‘from an unidentified German source in a shadowy deal in London’, and, ‘while no one is claiming the book is a forgery its story is one of publishing practices that seem, at the very least, sloppy and misleading to readers.’ The article goes on to explain how the diary pages may well have been doctored in an effort to tailor history from a Russian perspective.

Meanwhile, the 1,600 glass plates of microfilm buried at Potsdam had been discovered by the Soviets and shipped to Moscow, where they sat unopened for decades - until discovered by a German historian, Elke Fröhlich, in 1992. Then, over 15 years (1993-2008), Fröhlich and others edited the entire collection on behalf of the Institut für Zeitgeschichte, with the support of the National Archives Service of Russia. They were published in a definitive edition of 29 volumes (each one about 500 pages) by K. G. Saur Verlag as Die Tagebücher von Joseph Goebbels, Teil I Aufzeichnungen 1923-1941. It has been estimated that despite the various English editions of the Goebbels diaries, only about 10% of the total, now published in German, has actually appeared in English.

A few extracts in English from Goebbels’ diaries can be found online. Most of the following are taken from PBS’s website The Man Behind Hitler, but a couple (those from 1942) are taken from The Nizkor Project website (which has filtered out only those entries concerned with the fate of the Jews.)

4 July 1924
‘We need a firm hand in Germany. Let’s put an end to all the experiments and empty words, and start getting down to serious work. Throw out the Jews, who refuse to become real Germans. Give them a good beating too. Germany is yearning for an individual, a man - as the earth yearns for rain in the summer.’

17 July 1924
‘I’m so despondent about everything. Everything I try goes totally wrong. There’s no escape from this hole here. I feel drained. So far, I still haven’t found a real purpose in life. Sometimes, I’m afraid to get out of bed in the morning. There’s nothing to get up for.’

13 April 1926
‘. . . I learned that Hitler had phoned. He wanted to welcome us, and in fifteen minutes he was there. Tall, healthy and vigorous. I like him. He puts us to shame with his kindness. We met. We asked questions. He gave brilliant replies. I love him. . . I can accept this firebrand as my leader. I bow to his superiority, I acknowledge his political genius!’

16 June 1926
‘Hitler is still the same dear comrade. You can’t help liking him as a person. And he has a stupendous mind. As a speaker he has constructed a wonderful harmony of gesture, facial expression and spoken word. The born motivator! With him, we can conquer the world. Give him his head, and he will shake the corrupt Republic to its foundations.’

26 October 1928
‘I have no friends and no wife. I seem to be going through a major spiritual crisis. I still have the same old problems with my foot, which gives me incessant pain and discomfort. And then there are the rumours, to the effect that I am homosexual. Agitators are trying to break up our movement, and I’m constantly tied up in minor squabbles. It’s enough to make you weep!’

15 September 1930
‘I am shaking with excitement. The first election results. Fantastic. Jubilation everywhere, an incredible success. It’s stunning. The bourgeois parties have been smashed. So far we have 103 seats. That’s a tenfold increase. I would never have expected it. The mood of enthusiasm reminds me of 1914, when war broke out. Things will get pretty hot in the months ahead. The Communists did well, but we are the second-largest party.’

31 January 1933
‘We’ve made it. We’ve set up shop in Wilhelmstrasse. Hitler is chancellor. It’s like a fairy tale come true! He deserved it. Wonderful euphoria. People were going mad below. . . A new beginning! An explosion of popular energy. Bigger and bigger crowds. I spoke on the radio, to every German station. “We are immensely happy,” I said.’

11 May 1933
‘Worked until late at home. In the evening, I gave a speech outside the opera house, in front of the bonfire while the filthy, trashy books were being burned by the students. I was at the top of my form. Huge crowds. Superb summer weather began today.’

20 June 1936
‘Yesterday: Schwanenwerder. We were waiting for Max Schmeling’s fight with Joe Louis. We were on tenterhooks the whole evening with Schmeling’s wife. We told each other stories, laughed and cheered. . . In round twelve, Schmeling knocked out the Negro. Fantastic, a dramatic, thrilling fight. Schmeling fought for Germany and won. The white man prevailed over the black, and the white man was German. I didn’t get to bed until five.’

23 October 1940
‘Churchill has issued an appeal to the people of France: impudent, offensive and bristling with hypocrisy. A revolting, fat beast. I drafted a speech with a sharp, withering response. If we don’t answer them, the English will continue to draw strength from their illusions.’

10 December 1940
‘Yesterday: A glorious day in Berlin. We are two hours late. Very heavy air raid on London. Some 600,000 kilograms. Entire districts of the city engulfed in flames. Only one aircraft lost. A really fine show. London is playing things down, but the American reports are strong and vivid. Nice to hear. The previous day they were talking about a decline in our offensive capability.’

24 June 1941
‘Sixteen hundred feet of newsreel from the start of our Russian campaign. Some of our new weapons are shown - huge monstrosities that smash to pieces everything in their way. The divine judgement of history is being passed on the Soviet Union.’

27 March 1942
‘Beginning with Lublin, the Jews in the General Government [Poland] are now being evacuated eastward. The procedure is a pretty barbaric one and not to be described here more definitely. Not much will remain of the Jews. On the whole it can be said that about 60 per cent of them will have to be liquidated whereas only about 40 per cent can be used for forced labor. The former Gauleiter of Vienna, who is to carry this measure through, is doing it with considerable circumspection and according to a method that does not attract too much attention. A judgment is being visited upon the Jews that, while barbaric, is fully deserved by them. The prophesy which the Fuehrer made about them for having brought on a new world war is beginning to come true in a most terrible manner. One must not be sentimental in these matters. If we did not fight the Jews, they would destroy us. It’s a life-and-death struggle between the Aryan race and the Jewish bacillus. No other government and no other regime would have the strength for such a global solution of this question. Here, too, the Fuehrer is the undismayed champion of a radical solution necessitated by conditions and therefore inexorable. Fortunately a whole series of possibilities presents itself for us in wartime that would be denied us in peacetime. We shall have to profit by this.

The ghettoes that will be emptied in the cities of the General Government now will be refilled with Jews thrown out of the Reich. This process is to be repeated from time to time. There is nothing funny in it for the Jews, and the fact that Jewry’s representatives in England and America are today organizing and sponsoring the war against Germany must be paid for dearly by its representatives in Europe - and that’s only right.’

13 December 1942
‘The question of Jewish persecution in Europe is being given top news priority by the English and the Americans. . . At bottom, however, I believe both the English and the Americans are happy that we are exterminating the Jewish riff-raff. But the Jews will go on and on and turn the heat on the British-American press. We won’t even discuss this theme publicly, but instead I give orders to start an atrocity campaign against the English on their treatment of Colonials. Efforts are under way to declare Rome an open city, so that it won’t be bombarded. The Pope is studying the question of air raids on Italian cities and seems to be exerting pressure on the English to spare at least certain districts. The declarations issued by the Vatican on this question are extremely clever and cannot but win favor for the Pope, at least in Italy. But the Italians are willing to accept any help offered them in this painful situation. The Italians are extremely lax in the treatment of Jews. They protect the Italian Jews both in Tunis and in occupied France and won’t permit their being drafted for work or compelled to wear the Star of David. This shows once again that Fascism does not really dare to get down to fundamentals, but is very superficial regarding most important problems. The Jewish question is causing us a lot of trouble. Everywhere, even among our allies, the Jews have friends to help them, which is a proof that they are still playing an important role even in the Axis camp. All the more are they shorn of power within Germany itself.’

3 April 1945
‘At the daily briefing conferences the Luftwaffe comes in for the sharpest criticism from the Führer. Day after day Göring has to listen without being in the position to demur at all. Colonel-General Stumpff, for instance, refused to subordinate himself to Kesselring for the new operations planned in the West. The Führer called him sharply to order saying that the relative positions of Kesselring and Stumpff were similar to those of him and Schaub. In the West, of course, it is now and for the immediate future a continuous process of muddling through. We are in the most critical and dangerous phase of this war and one sometimes has the impression that the German people, fighting at the height of the war crisis, has broken out in a sweat impossible for the non-expert to distinguish as the precursor of death or recovery.’

The Diary Junction

Thursday, April 30, 2015

He loves me so much

Seventy years ago today, Adolf and Eva Hitler - married just 40 hours earlier - committed suicide in the so-called Führerbunker, Berlin - Adolf by shooting himself and Eva by biting into a cyanide capsule. Hitler, himself, left behind no diaries, although 60 volumes, purportedly by Hitler but later established as fakes, emerged in 1983, creating a huge media furore - see The Diary Review. Eva, maiden name Braun, though, did leave behind some diary material - 22 pages of a journal kept in 1935. Although the authenticity of this document has been questioned, Braun’s biographers have generally used it as a key source.

Eva Braun was born in Munich in 1912, the middle daughter of three, to a school teacher and his seamstress wife. She was educated at a Catholic lyceum, and then, for a year, at a business school in a convent. Aged 17, she was employed by Heinrich Hoffmann, the official photographer for the Nazi Party, working as a shop assistant and sales clerk. In October 1929, Hitler visited Hoffman’s shop, and was introduced to the young Eva. Thereafter, a furtive love affair developed between the two.

However, Eva eventually came to find the liaison so difficult and frustrating that she attempted suicide (by gunshot) in the autumn of 1932. Heike B. Görtemaker, author of Eva Braun: Life with Hitler (Allen Lane, 2011, translated from the German original by Damion Searls), says ‘although precise details remain unknown, witnesses and historians agree that Eva Braun felt abandoned and calculatedly acted to make the perpetually absent Hitler notice her, and to tie him more closely to her.’ 
Görtemaker notes that Hitler’s step niece, Geli Raubal, with whom he was living at the time, had committed suicide just a year earlier. Braun undertook a further suicide attempt, this time with pills, in 1935, again because she felt Hitler was not paying her enough attention.

Although her relationship with Hitler remained secret beyond his inner circle, Braun continued to advance her status, in that Hitler provided various residences for her: an apartment, then a villa, in Munich, where Eva lived with her sisters, an apartment at the Reich Chancellery in Berlin, and accommodation at Berghof, near Berchtesgaden, whenever Hitler was there. She attended the Nuremburg rally for the first time in 1935; and, increasingly, she took photographs and films of the inner circle which she was able to sell to Hoffman. In time, Braun was given the nominal role of Hitler’s private secretary which allowed her to visit the Chancellery without comment.

In early April 1945, Braun journeyed from Munich to Berlin, to join Hitler in the Führerbunker, an air-raid shelter and bunker complex near the Chancellery. By this time, the Soviet army was already making major advances on the city. On 22 April Hitler declared the war lost, and announced he would stay in Berlin until the end, and then kill himself. During the night of 28-29 April, he and Eva were married, as witnessed by Joseph Goebbels and Martin Bormann. During the morning of 30 April, Hitler was advised that their situation in Berlin was now hopeless - ammunition was running out, and the Soviets were closing in. At 3:30pm, witnesses heard a gunshot, and within a few minutes Mr and Mrs Hitler were found dead. Adolf had shot himself in the head, and Eva had bitten into a cyanide capsule. The bodies were burned, and, a few days later, the charred remains were found by the Russians and buried secretly in Magdeburg, along with the bodies of Goebbels and his wife and children.

Further information on Eva can be found at Wikipedia, a Danish fan site run by Louis Bülow, or in reviews of Görtemaker’s biography (at The New York Times, Der Speigel, or The Guardian). However, as Görtemaker notes, it is very difficult to reconstruct a full and accurate picture of Eva’s life and of her relationship with Hitler. This is partly because of the obsessive way Hitler kept the affair hidden, and partly because so few original sources - letters in particular - have survived. Görtemaker goes to some lengths, indeed, to describe the efforts that have been made to find letters that may or may not have been hidden/destroyed by Eva or her sister. In any case, 
Görtemaker explains that, in the context of so little information, ‘only’ a 22-page diary fragment in Eva Braun’s papers, written in old-style German handwriting, ‘sheds light on the character of their relationship’. Although she acknowledges that the document’s authorship remains controversial, she trusts it sufficiently to analyse and interpret its contents thoroughly.

The 22-page diary fragment is held by the National Archives, Washington D. C., with other Braun papers. I am not sure when it first appeared in English, though Nerin E. Gun includes it in his Eva Braun: Hitler’s Mistress, published in German in 1968, then in English in 1969 (Leslie Frewin). Several extracts can be found online at Bülow’s Eva Braun
website (from where the following extracts have been taken).

18 February 1935
‘Yesterday he came quite unexpectedly, and we had a delightful evening.

The nicest thing is that he is thinking of taking me from the shop and - but I had better not get excited about it yet - he may give me a little house. I simply must not let myself think about it. It would be marvelous. I wouldn’t have to open the door to our “beloved customers,” and go on being a shopgirl. Dear God, grant that this may really happen not in some far-off time, but soon. [. . .]

I am so infinitely happy that he loves me so much, and I pray that it will always be like this. It won’t be my fault if he ever stops loving me.

I am so terribly unhappy that I cannot write to him. These notes must serve as the receptacle of my lamentations.

He came on Saturday. Saturday evening there was the Town Ball. Frau Schwarz gave me a box, so I absolutely had to go after I had accepted. Well, I spent a few wonderfully delightful hours with him until 12 o’clock and then with his permission I spent two hours at the ball.

On Sunday he promised I could see him. I telephoned to the Osteria and left a message with Werlin to say that I was waiting to hear from him. He simply went off to Feldafing, and refused Hoffmann’s invitation to coffee and dinner. I suppose there are two sides to every question. Perhaps he wanted to be alone with Dr. G., who was here, but he should have let me know. At Hoffmann’s I felt I was sitting on hot coals, expecting him to arrive every moment.

In the end we went to the railroad station, as he suddenly decided he would have to go. We were just in time to see the last lights of the train disappearing. Once again Hoffmann left the house too late, and so I couldn’t even say good-bye to him. Perhaps I am taking too dark a view, I hope I am, but he is not coming again for another two weeks. Until then I’ll be miserable and restless. I don’t know why he should be angry with me. Perhaps it is because of the ball, but he did give his permission.

I am racking my brains to find out why he left without saying good-bye to me.

The Hoffmanns have given me a ticket for the Venetian Night this evening, but I am not going. I am much too miserable.’

28 May 1935
‘I have just sent him the crucial letter. Question: will he attach any importance to it?

We’ll see. If I don’t get an answer before this evening, I’ll take 25 pills and gently fall asleep into another world.

He has so often told me he is madly in love with me, but what does that mean when I haven’t had a good word from him in three months?

So he has had a head full of politics all this time, but surely it is time he relaxed a little. What happened last year? Didn’t Roehm and Italy give him a lot of problems, but in spite of all that he found time for me.

Maybe the present situation is incomparably more difficult for him, nevertheless a few kind words conveyed through the Hoffmanns would not have greatly distracted him.

I am afraid there is something behind it all. I am not to blame. Absolutely not.

Maybe it is another woman, not the Valkyrie - that would be hard to believe. But there are so many other women.

Is there any other explanation? I can’t find it.

God, I am afraid he won’t give me his answer today. If only somebody would help me - it is all so terribly depressing.

Perhaps my letter reached him at an inopportune moment. Perhaps I should not have written. Anyway, the uncertainty is more terrible than a sudden ending of it all.

I have made up my mind to take 35 pills this time, and it will be “dead certain.” If only he would let someone call.” ’

It is worth noting that as far back as 1949 a book appeared entitled The Diary of Eva Braun. This was edited by Alan F. Bartlett, and published by Aldus (republished by Spectrum in 2000). It was based on a typed manuscript, covering the years 1937-1944, that was given, apparently, by Eva Braun to Luis Trenker, a film-maker. Some discussion of this book can be found at the Axis History Forum. However, whereas biographers appear to take the 1935 diary fragment seriously, they rarely - if ever - mention the Bartlett book.

Finally, there is another - and major - diary source for information about Eva Braun - the published diaries of Joseph Goebbels. He committed suicide, with his wife, (after killing all six of his children), a day after the Hitlers, on 1 May 1945. Extracts from Goebbels’s diaries have already appeared in The Diary Review - see The Reichstag on fire - but more will follow tomorrow, on the 70th anniversary of his death.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

How bloody corrupt

In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the end of the 1984-1985 miners’ strike in the UK, the Mirror, a daily newspaper, recently published extracts from the diary of John Lowe, a miner who spent his entire working life in the industry, but who only became politicised during that famous coal industry dispute.

Lowe was born in Whiston, Yorkshire, in 1931, spending his early childhood year there, and then in Danesmoor, Derbyshire. He left school at 14, and went to work at the Clay Cross Companies coking plant and then at the Parkhouse Colliery. In 1953, he married Elsie, and they would have two sons and three daughters.

In the early 1960s, Lowe moved to work at the Rufford Colliery in Nottinghamshire, and a few years later moved to Clipstone Colliery. After 40 years a miner, 30 years of which were at the coalface, he was made redundant in 1987. Thereafter, he suffered from various physical ailments which restricted his mobility in retirement. He died in 2005.

In 2011, Wharncliffe Books (part of Pen & Sword Books) published the diary of John Lowe as If Spirit Alone Won Battles: The 1984-1985 Miners’ Strike in Nottinghamshire. It was edited by Jonathan Symcox, Lowe’s grandson, with a foreword by Dennis Skinner, a well-known and outspoken left-wing Member of Parliament. Son of a miner himself, Skinner was a strong supporter of the National Union of Mineworkers strike, in 1984, against Prime Minister Thatcher’s plan to close coal mines. The stand-off between the Conservative government and the miners came to be dubbed as ‘the most bitter industrial dispute in British history’ - see Wikipedia.

Last month, on 2 March, the Mirror published a series of extracts from the diary to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the end of the 1984-1985 miner’s strike (on 3 March 1985) that had so divided the country. The Mirror noted: ‘Despite never having been a political activist, the Clipstone picket manager kept a detailed diary throughout the dispute. It captures the moments of frustration, pride, desperation and drudgery of that critical time. It details the booking of buses to transport pickets, instructions to them if they were arrested or stopped by police and the coded lists for the flying pickets which were changed every day to stay one step ahead.’


The following extracts are taken from the Mirror article, but further extracts from Lowe’s book can be found at the Miner’s Advice website.

2 January 1985
‘Back to the grind with the alarm set for 4.15am. We must be bloody crackers. Seven of us turned up for the first picket and we were disappointed to find only one policeman on duty, the idle swines.’

3 January 1985
‘Tried this afternoon to talk to some of the afternoon shift – as distasteful as it feels, it’s the only fresh tack left open to us. One of the lads talked for fifteen minutes and was really sick of it – he would only promise to think about rejoining us and to talk to his wife. If we could get two or three out again, it would really boost the lads; unfortunately it would take a bloody miracle.

Board and media campaign getting into gear now, with figures of six hundred returns given for the last two days. F***** liars!’

21 January 1985
‘Nationally, men are returning to work and this is very sad. They are not going back because the cause is wrong; after all this time the poor buggers are being forced back by all sorts of reasons: debt, a lack of money, food and fuel, and domestic and personal problems. Two of ours lost this week.

The case of the Transits in Mansfield: our initial findings were a ‘scab van’ picking up in Pleasley and going on towards Clowne, and police patrol cars patrolling the supposedly closed office block near the dole office, which showed signs of activity with many lights on inside and three wire-mesh Transits still in the closed-off yard. We then found that the vans were certainly driving into Yorkshire and taking part in the ‘scab runs’ there, with police escorts all the way – but that Notts men were not taking part.

What surprised us was that the drivers were Yorkshiremen, some of them from the pit villages they were driving to: I was very saddened to think that such treachery could be enacted by working class people against what were, perhaps, members of their own families.’

23 February 1985
‘Used the last of our coal today. We’ve been lucky right through, managing to get the odd bag given and burning it sparingly with logs; our good neighbour has helped out us and others and we owe him gratitude.

The kids on holiday in Belgium are due home this evening; another set are due to go to France shortly and at Easter yet another lot go to Amsterdam. We must never forget our brothers over the Channel.

The Board are offering an immediate advance of £100 to those returning now. How bloody corrupt are they prepared to be.’

Although few and far between, there are other published diaries by miners. Pen & Sword have published, for example, The Miners’ Strike Day by Day, the diary of Arthur Wakefield, and Yorkshire’s Flying Pickets based on the diary of Bruce Wilson, both edited by Brian Elliott.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Diary briefs

Eldon Chester’s farm life diary - Fort Madison Daily Democrat

Ronnie Wood to publish teen diaries - The Guardian, NME

John Dunbar’s Egypt war diaries - Lake Macquarie City Library, ABC Newcastle

Londoner’s WW2 diary found - The Mirror

Frontline Medic - Gallipoli, Somme, Ypres - Helion & Company, The Edinburgh Reporter

Vancouver nurses WWI diaries - Vancouver Courier

Diaries of Gateshead theatre founder - The Journal

Zadie Smith on life writing - Rookie

Wartime Diary of a Liverpool Girl - Tumblr blog, Liverpool Echo

‘Rare’ captain’s diary sold at auction - Hansons

Senator Bumpers diary on Clintons - Mother Jones

Ongoingness: The End of a Diary - Sarah Manguso, The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Guardian

Danish emigrant’s Lusitania diary - Iowa Public Radio

Alex Salmond’s referendum diary - The Scotsman, The Conversation

A Russian Arctic Convoy Diary 1942 - Fonthill Media, The Edinburgh Reporter

The Diaries of Charles M. Houston - Missoulian

Cathedral handyman’s diary details robberies - The Telegraph

Diaries that helped convict paedophile - Manchester Evening NewsDaily Mail

Corruption arrests thanks to Chinese diary - Epoch Times

Diary evidence in Ottawa fraud trial - Huffington Post, Vancouver Observer

Monday, April 6, 2015

My heart beats faster

Seventy years ago today Kim Malthe-Bruun, a brave young Dane, only 21 years of age, was executed by the Nazis for being involved with the Danish resistance movement. Soon after his death, his mother published some of Kim’s writings, including letters and diary material written during his incarceration. In one moving piece, written just a month before his death, he writes about feeling no fear while his heart beats faster every time someone stops outside his door.

Kim Malthe-Bruun was born in Fort Saskatchewan, near Edmonton, Canada, in 1923. His mother, Vibeke, originally from Denmark, decided to move back home with Kim, then nine years old, and his younger sister. When still young he signed up with the merchant navy, and then, after the German occupation of Denmark, he joined the Danish resistance. In 1944, he was arrested by the Germans for being involved in the shipping of weapons from Sweden to Denmark. He was tortured, and then, on 6 April 1945, he was executed. A little further information is available from Wikipedia or The Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Florida.

After the war, Vibeke edited a selection of her son’s diary-like letters, some written when he was still a seaman and some written from prison, as well as diary material found hidden in the Copenhagen prison. These were published by Thaning & Appel soon after Kim’s death. They received a wider audience when, in 1955, Random House published a translation (by Gerry Bothmer) into English titled Heroic Heart: The diary and letters of Kim Malthe-Bruun 1941-1945. More recently, in 1996, substantial excerpts from Kim’s diary appeared in Children in the Holocaust and World War II: Their Secret Diaries by Laurel Holliday (Simon and Schuster). Much of this latter - which was reissued in 2014 - is available to read online at Googlebooks (and is the source of the extract below).

In general, Kim’s published letters are diary-like, factual, about his daily life, trials and tribulations, but the following text (3 March 1945) was found, after the German capitulation, in Vestre prison. It was written in microscopic writing on the back of a letter Kim had received toward the end of February 1945. Around this period, it is known that Kim was being tortured and, at least once, was sent back to his cell in an unconscious state.

3 March 1945
‘Yesterday I was sitting at the table. I looked at my hands in amazement. They were trembling. I thought about it for a moment. There are some things which produce a purely physical reaction. Suddenly, as I was sitting here, I was possessed by the desire to draw something. I got up and started to sketch on the wall. I was fascinated and became more and more absorbed. Under my hand suddenly appeared a farmer, standing by a barbed-wire fence. I sat down, got up and made some changes, sat down again and felt much better. All day I worked on it. There were so many things which I couldn’t make come out the way I wanted them to. I studied it, stretched my imagination to the utmost and was suddenly completely exhausted. I erased all of it and since then even the idea of drawing makes me sick.

I’ve been thinking about this strange experience a good deal. Right afterwards I had such a wonderful feeling of relief, a sense of having won a victory and such intense happiness that I felt quite numb. It seemed as if body and soul became separated, one in a wild and soaring freedom beyond the reach of the world, and the other doubled up in a horrible cramp which held it to the earth. I suddenly realized how terrifically strong I am (but perhaps I only tried to talk myself into this). When the body and soul rejoined forces, it was as if all the joys of the world were right there for me. But it was as with so many stimulants; when the effect wore off the reaction set in. I saw that my hands were shaking, something had given inside. It was as if there had been a short circuit in the roots of my heart which drained it of all strength. I was like a man hungry for pleasure and consumed by desire. But still I was calm and in better spirits than ever before.

Although I feel no fear, my heart beats faster every time someone stops outside my door. It’s a physical reaction.

Strange, but I don’t feel any resentment or hatred at all. Something happened to my body, which is only the body of an adolescent, and it reacted as such, but my mind was elsewhere. It was aware of the small creatures who were busying themselves with my body, but it was in a world of its own and too engrossed to pay much attention to them.

I’ve learned something by being alone. It is as if I’d reached rock bottom in myself, which usually can’t be seen for all the layers of egotism, conceit, love, and all the ups and downs of daily life. It is this which makes me feel as if I’d had a short circuit within me. When I’m with the other people, their interests, their conversation, act as a balm, covering the rock bottom in myself with a warm compress. When I’m alone, it is as if layers of skin were being scraped away. Your mind is not at ease, you can’t concentrate on reading, the spirit as well as the body must keep pacing up and down. I suddenly understood what insanity must be, but I knew that this was like everything else which has happened to me, and in a couple of days I’ll be myself again.’


The Diary Junction