Thursday, July 20, 2017

Signalling with Marconi

‘Signalling with Marconi and Parallel-Wire systems to Lavernock Point.’ This is George Kemp’s inauspicious diary entry for 13 December 1897, the day the Italian radio pioneer, Guglielmo Marconi, made telecommunications history. Marconi, who died 80 years ago today, certainly kept notebooks and diaries himself, though they are brief and coded and considered largely inscrutable by biographers. Of more use to biographers, especially those wishing to trace the evolution of Marconi’s technical innovations, are the diaries kept by Kemp, his first assistant and lifelong friend.

Marconi was born in 1874 into a wealthy Bologna family, and, although mostly brought up in Italy, he spent several years living with his Irish/Scottish mother in Bedford, England. As a boy he took a keen interest in physical and electrical science, studying the work of physicists Maxwell and Hertz. Another physicist who was also a neighbour, Augusto Righi, let Marconi attend lectures at the university of Bologna. In 1895, he began experiments at his father’s country estate at Pontecchio, and succeeded in sending wireless signals over a distance of one and a half miles. The following year, he took his apparatus to England where he was introduced to William Preece, engineer-in-chief of the Post Office, and was granted the world’s first patent for a system of wireless telegraphy.

Marconi demonstrated his system successfully in London, on Salisbury Plain and, most significantly, across the Bristol Channel (on 13 May 1897); and later, in July, he formed The Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company Limited. That same year, he gave a demonstration to the Italian Government at Spezia where wireless signals were sent over a distance of twelve miles; and, in 1899, he established wireless communication between France and England across the English Channel. He soon erected permanent wireless stations in several places on the south coast. In 1900, he took out his famous patent No. 7777 for ‘tuned or syntonic telegraphy’ and, on an historic day, 12 December 1901, determined to prove that wireless waves were not affected by the curvature of the Earth, he used his system for transmitting the first wireless signals across the Atlantic between Poldhu, Cornwall, and St. John’s, Newfoundland, a distance of over 2,000 miles. A year later, a transmission from a Marconi station in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, Canada, became the world’s first radio message to cross the Atlantic in the other direction. In 1905, Marconi married Beatrice O’Brien in 1905, and they had three children.

Marconi expanded his company rapidly, developing inventions, and building high-powered stations on both sides of the Atlantic to communicate with ships. In 1904, he established a service of transmitting news to subscribing vessels at sea, and a few years later he launched the first transatlantic commercial service between Glace Bay and Clifden, Ireland. In 1905, he patented his horizontal directional aerial and, in 1912, a ‘timed spark’ system for generating continuous waves. Marconi’s company played a significant role in saving lives after the sinking of the Titanic, a development which brought Marconi himself some fame. He was awarded the Nobel Prize, shared with Professor Karl Braun, in 1909. In 1913, the Marconis moved back to Italy.

In 1914, Marconi was commissioned in the Italian Army as a Lieutenant, and placed in charge of Italy’s military radio service. He was later promoted to Captain, and in 1916 transferred to the Navy in the rank of Commander. He was a member of the Italian government mission to the United States in 1917, and in 1919 was appointed Italian plenipotentiary delegate to the Paris Peace Conference. He was awarded the Italian Military Medal in 1919 in recognition of his war service. Marconi continued to experiment, extending  knowledge and uses of shorter and shorter radio waves. In 1924, his company obtained a contract from the British post office to establish shortwave communication with the countries of the British Commonwealth. In 1927, having had his first marriage annulled, he married Maria Cristina Bezzi-Scali and they had one child.

In 1930, by which time 
Marconi had joined the Italian Fascist party, Benito Mussolini appointed him president of the Royal Academy of Italy, which made Marconi a member of the Fascist Grand Council. He received many honorary doctorates and other international honours and awards, including Honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order in England, and the hereditary title of Marchese in Italy. He died on 20 July 1937, and was given a state funeral. The following day, all BBC transmitters and wireless Post Office transmitters in the British Isles observed two minutes of silence in his honour. Further information is readily available online, not least at Wikipedia, Nobel Prize, Electronics Notes, and Encyclopædia Britannica.

Marconi was an inveterate keeper of notebooks which rarely, it seems, had the character of a private diary. Such notebooks from his teens (and other archival materials) were discovered in the 1990s at Villa Farnesina (which had been the home of the Royal Academy under Marconi’s presidency). Some information on these early notebooks (and photographs) can be found at the Guglielmo Marconi Committee’s website. Although the text is in Italian, Google Translate provides a reasonable text in English. 

Otherwise, there is information in English about Marconi’s adult notebooks/diaries in various biographies. Marc Raboy, in his much-respected and very recent work Marconi: The Man who Networked the World (Oxford University Press, 2016), summarises: ‘Every life has its store of secrets and mysteries, which is perhaps why people get so exercised at the thought of some government agency having access to their phone records or hard drives. Marconi’s diaries hold clues to questions unasked and unanswerable, often hinting at relations and interests that then vanish without a trace. There is a backstory to Marconi’s elusive life that we can only begin to glimpse. He loved recounting and reinventing it, but he also took great care to keep parts of it shrouded in obscurity. He would record meetings and make notes to himself in small leather-bound diaries, but he often used a series of indecipherable codes meaningful only to himself; a word, a name, a single letter, a number or an X. The diaries are inscrutable, strewn with references to people who turn up nowhere else in any of the accounts of his life. One of these ephemeral figures was Betty - whose full name was Marion Elizabeth Jessie Marconi Clover. Marconi would occasionally make a note regarding his children - Degna, Giulio, Gioia. . . and, once in the same breath, Betty Clover. On the surface, what could be more reasonable than taking one’s fourteen-year-old goddaughter to Cartier, London’s finest jewellery dealer (as he recorded doing on January 24,1925), or so it would appear.’

Raboy includes more than a dozen mentions of Marconi’s notebooks/diaries in his index, but, as far as I can tell, he only quotes from the diaries once - and in this context: ‘Marconi also carried around a small pocket diary in those days that he used occasionally for recording experimental notations. The notations are often stripped of any context and not necessarily placed on the pages bearing the dates when they were made. But under December 12, 1901, partly obscured by other notations that he may have made earlier or later, he has written: “Sigs at 12.30 1.1 OX and 2.20,” and on December 13, 1901: “Sigs at 1.38.” These entries are the only ones in ink; the others are in pencil. In later years, Marconi frequently referred to these notations, as well as Kemp’s diary, as evidence of the time and date the signals were received. What is perhaps most unusual is that neither Kemp’s nor Marconi’s diary indicate they felt that anything extraordinary had taken place. The entries are matter-of-fact and unadorned. In later years, they both embellished the story, turning it into drama.’

Kemp - George S. Kemp - was Marconi’s right-hand man for many years. Marconi always considered Kemp his first collaborator and a valued friend; indeed emp was still employed by the Marconi company when he died on January 2, 1933, at the age of seventy-five. Marconi was one of the witnesses to his will. From 1887 to 1932, he kept a diary recording his work with Marconi. The diary is a considered a precious resource for understanding Marconi’s research in the early days, and is referred to and quoted from often in Raboy’s biography.

Similarly, Gerald Garratt has much to say about Kemp in his work (available at GooglebooksThe Early History of Radio: From Faraday to Marconi (Issue 20 of History and Management of Technology Series - Institution of Electrical Engineers, 1994): ‘A name that does not appear in any of the contemporary accounts is that of G. S. Kemp, to whom we are chiefly indebted for the day-to-day account of the Lavernock trials. Kemp had joined the Royal Navy at the age of fifteen and, when he was discharged in 1895 at the age of thirty-eight, he joined the staff of the Post Office as an assistant in the Engineer-in-Chief’s Laboratory. In that capacity, he had been instructed to assist Marconi in the earlier experiments on Salisbury Plain. With the decision to hold the more extensive trials in the Bristol Channel, Kemp was made responsible for transporting and setting up the apparatus at Lavernock and Flat Holme. Following his life-long habit, Kemp recorded brief details of his daily activities in a pocket diary. It is to this diary - and particularly to the expanded and edited versions that Kemp prepared for the Marconi Company in about 1930 - that we are indebted for the details which follow.’

Garratt’s text then continues (I have italicised the entries from Kemp’s diary for clarity):

‘In Kemp’s words, the historic experiments started early:

6 May 1897
‘Left at 8.30 a.m. for Paddington with apparatus for experiments at Cardiff. Arrived at 2.17 p.m. and stowed apparatus in store. Proceeded to Lavernock to see mast and found that a long cable had been fixed, stretching out beyond low-water mark, for the earth connection. Fixed a wire atop the 107 ft pole, 16 strands of aluminium wire. Then returned to Cardiff to make arrangements for transporting apparatus to Flat Holme Island.’

7 May 1897
‘I packed Mr Marconi’s transmitter into a small tug at 6.30 a.m. together with the transmitting and receiving apparatus belonging to Mr Preece’s Parallel- Wire system and transported all to Flat Holme Island. Fixed a wire of 18 strands to top of 110 ft pole and prepared Mr Marconi’s transmitter in a small hut close to mast. Slept at a small house owned by the person in charge of the Cremation House.’

For the next few days, Kemp was busy on the little island, fitting up and testing Marconi’s transmitter and Preece’s parallel-wire system. He had trouble with the insulation of the zinc drum at the top of the mast and with the insulation of the stays. Sparks on the parallel-wire system also caused difficulties whenever he used the Marconi transmitter, but these were only ‘teething troubles’ and by the Wednesday of the following week he was able to record that, ‘The signals transmitted across to Lavernock by Mr Marconi’s transmitter and the Parallel-Wire system were good.’ Insulation, however, was still proving troublesome and his next comment was, ‘As I did not like the insulation of the drum, I sent some of these signals on the aerial which was connected to insulated stays’ - a reminder of the very high voltages encountered in the aerial circuits of the early spark transmitters.

Mention was made above of the two versions of Kemp’s diary: the original contemporary pocket diary (parts of which the owner, Kemp’s son, Leslie, kindly permitted me to photograph some years ago) and the expanded version which Kemp had typed and edited for the Marconi Company in about 1930. The latter version contains an amount of detail to which no reference is made in the original, and while no actual contradictions have been noted, it is difficult to avoid wondering how an old man (he was over seventy at the time) writing more than thirty years after the events could have remembered many of the trivial details he mentions. In the original diary, the events of the time from Monday 10 to Friday 14 May are bracketed together with the single comment, ‘Signalling with Marconi and Parallel-Wire systems to Lavernock Point’, but in the 1930 version the daily events are recorded with considerable detail, for example:

13 May 1897
‘The great day for Flat Holme signals. 1 started at 7 a.m. and fitted a new copper earth wire in lieu of the iron earth. I sent and received good signals on both systems between 12 and 1.45 p.m. The first half hour of V’s were on a paper strip on the inker, the second, ‘so be it, let it be so’, and the third, ‘it is cold here and the wind is up’. This message was posted to the Kaiser by Professor Slaby.

In the afternoon Mr Marconi came over and tried some adjustments; Mr Taylor came with him and did a little transmitting but, as T sent the best sentences between 12 and 2 p.m. I returned to those adjustments and sent them the following:
How are you?   repeated
It is hot   repeated
Marconi   repeated
Go to bed   repeated
Go to Hull   repeated
So be it   repeated
Tea here is good   repeated

Nine similar sentences follow. The tests were resumed the following morning. A motor-driven commutator and a Vrill break were tried, but with no marked improvement on the previous day’s results.

15 May 1897
‘I dismantled the Marconi transmitting apparatus on Flat Holme, leaving it at Penarth, and then arranged for a steamer to Brean Down on Monday.’

Here is the first mention in any of the records of an attempt to transmit right across the Bristol Channel from Lavernock to Brean Down on the Somerset coast. It leaves the impression that it was a sudden, ‘on the spot’ decision, inspired in all probability by the success of the Lavernock-Flat Holme experiments. Preparations continued over the weekend, with Kemp assembling the Marconi transmitter on the top of the cliff at Lavernock. Monday, however, brought bad weather, and Kemp noted that it was too rough for the receiver party to land at Brean Down. Kemp himself remained at Lavernock to operate the transmitter. Just how the receiver party eventually reached Brean Down is not evident from the surviving records. There is no record either of the names of those in the receiver party, or of exactly what they received, but in his contemporary diary Kemp noted on Tuesday, 18 May: ‘Good signals to Brean Down using kite and 300 ft (91.4m) of 4-strand wire’.

In the language of the day, the phrase ‘good signals’ was far from being synonymous with ‘good messages’. In the 1930 version of his diary, Kemp seems to qualify his original comment by saying ‘The engineers reported that they had received signals at Brean Down’. Whether or not the signals were exactly ‘Q5’ (fully readable), it is evident from Gavey’s report that the Post Office officials were impressed with the inherent possibilities of the system. Signals, of sorts, had got across, although it was clear that, in Gavey’s words, ‘There was . . . still much to be desired in order to convert crude appliances into good working devices’. [. . .]

This historic series of experiments across the Bristol Channel came to a close, as Kemp noted the following in his diary:

29 May 1897
‘Packed up and returned to Paddington by the 10.37 p.m. train from Cardiff, arriving at Paddington at 3.30 a.m. on Sunday morning. We stowed all the apparatus in the cloak room.’ ’

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Estonian writer’s secret drawer

Karl Ristikivi, one of the most important Estonian writers of historical novels, died 40 years ago today. He kept a diary for a decade or so, and this was published in 2009 to some local acclaim - one reviewer said his diary resembled a secret drawer. However, Ristikivi remains unknown in Britain, and none of his work, and certainly not his diary, has been translated for publication in English.

Karl Ristikivi was born in 1912 in western Estonia to an unmarried maidservant. He was baptised as a Russian Orthodox, like his mother, with the first name Karp. His childhood was spent on farms where his mother was employed, but in 1927 a rich relative offered to send him to study in Tallinn. He left college in 1932, and took up writing, contributing stories to magazines, and publishing children’s books. This earned him enough money to study (sociology) at the University of Tartu from 1936. He graduated in 1941. Between 1938 and 1942, he published three volumes of his so-called Tallinn Trilogy. In the tumult of the war years, he managed to secure himself a position at the Estonian Bureau in Helsinki, and from there, in 1944, he crossed to neutral Sweden, never to return to his home country.

Domiciled in the Stockholm area, Ristikivi worked for the state health insurance office, writing novels, magazine articles (for the Estonian press) and, occasionally, poems in his spare time. His novels (including three trilogies) were largely set in Europe in different historical time periods. None of these have been translated into English, indeed Ristikivi remains largely untranslated into any language. Further information about his life is not readily available online in English, although Wikipedia does have an entry, and there are articles about him at the Estonian Literary Magazine and Karl Ristikivi Society. There is also an informative thread about him at the World Literature Forum.

In 2009, one of Estonia’s largest publishers, Varrak, brought out a 1,000 page edition of Ristikivi’s diaries: Päevaraamat (1957-1968). The original manuscripts are held at the Baltic Archive, part of the Swedish State Archive in Stockholm. The diaries were edited and annotated by Janika Kronberg, a writer who has been head of the Karl Ristikivi Museum and Director of the Estonian Literary Museum. A review of the book, by Rutt Hinrikus, can be found at the Estonian Literature Centre.

Hinrikus says: ‘As is often true of diaries, Ristikivi’s does not contain the information one would expect, nor does it reveal great secrets. Rather, it corresponds to all the characteristics of the canonical diary: it is monotonous, full of repetitive openings, memory fragments, returns to the same themes. It is unexpectedly circumstantial while also unexpectedly private - a very human document in its moving helplessness. Nevertheless, it is very deliberately written as the diary of a writer, a public figure who belongs to the public sphere. While concealing everything that is deeply personal, information is periodically divulged about conditions surrounding writing, including the writer’s health. The author knows that the diary is a personal document, but he also knows that one day it will be found and read. Otherwise, why would it be composed so thoughtfully? The writer notes the dates and ceremonies that are important to him, and emphasizes the way he recollects the past. He heals past trauma through scriptotherapy, sometimes dramatizing the past in order finally to be freed from it. Daily writing allows him to lighten his heart, and helps him begin writing again. The first-person narrator of Ristikivi’s last work, Rooma päevik (Roman Diary) refers to his diary as a hermit’s monologue. Ristikivi interrupts the fictive monologue of Roman Diary in mid-sentence. Ristikivi’s own writer’s diary, however, resembles a secret drawer. The writer does not hold out the key to the reader, but hands him a secret message directing him to the next hiding place, where yet another secret message awaits him.’

Here are a few entries from Ristikivi’s diary, as translated and found in Hinrikus’s review.

1 August 1957
‘It is a very ordinary day, this day on which I begin my diary. I do not know which attempt this is, nor whether I will get farther with it this time than I did the previous times. But now I have decided to keep it for 10 years. Thus it would replace the newspaper clippings---which I am now finished with—after 10 years of work.

And so, for starters, my coordinates. I am 44 years old and work in the Solna health insurance office/---/This is located diagonally across the street at Rasundavägen 100, and I am sitting under the window.’

12 October 1957
‘I am afraid of people, afraid of illness, afraid of accidents. And unfortunately this is not without reason’

26 November 1959
‘When day dawns and with the coming of the lighter season of the year, these existential fears recede and Ristikivi exerts himself to find a topic that would attract him enough to be able to start writing again. Often the greatest obstacle is not so much the present with its everyday fears and routine, but images from the past that continue to make themselves felt. Just as the writing of history is a dialogue between the present and the past, so also is a diary. Sixteen years ago I left Estonia. I had no real place there, neither do I have one here.’

Diary briefs

Diaries from the Siege of Leningrad - Harvard University Press, The IndependentMail Online

Journals of L. M. Montgomery - Rock’s Mills Press

Court case over Chiang Kai-shek diaries - Taipei Times

Diaries of flying ace Albert Ball - Leicester Mercury, Daily Mail, Nottingham Post

Diaries of immigrant Japanese businessman - Stanford News

Diary of Jersey Under the Swastika - Youtube, Amazon

Did Soviet spies steal a Canadian PM’s diary? - CTV News

David Sedaris publishes diaries - Little Brown, The Guardian

Langley’s diaries unblocked by court - The Guardian

1,000 Days on the River Kwai - Pen & Sword Books, Amazon

Lost diary of tortured Mexican - New York Historical Society, Times of Israel

Diary clue to lost New Zealand natural wonder - NZ Herald, The Guardian

Child’s diary of abuse by grandmother - Crime Online

Depression diary of suicide student - Oldham Evening Chronicle

Wing commander’s war diary auctioned - Cheffins, Daily Mail

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Miscegenation and lusotropicalism

‘Could this odor really be from a burned black man? I don’t know - but this definitely gave me the chills. I never thought that such horror could be possible at this time in the United States. But it is. Here there is still lynching, killing, and burning of blacks. This is not an isolated incident. It happens often.’ This is from the diary of Gilberto de Mello Freyre, a much respected Brazilian sociologist and the originator of Lusotropicalism, who died 30 years ago today. He kept a diary only when young, and decided to publish it nearly half a century later. One researcher, though, believes Freyre considerably revised the diary entries over time ‘for the sake of impressive self-presentation’.

Freyre was born in 1900 in Recife into an old Brazilian family descending from the first Portuguese colonisers. He started school at a Baptist missionary school run by Americans. This led him to converting from Catholicism to Protestantism, and also to a scholarship at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. After graduating, he enrolled at Columbia University where he studied for a masters in political and social sciences. While at Columbia, he moved away from religion and, influenced by the pioneering anthropologist, Franz Boas, became enthused towards the cultural anthropology of his own country. His thesis, Social life in Brazil in the Mid-Nineteenth Century
, was translated and published in English (see Internet Archive).

After travelling in Europe for a year or so, Freyre returned to Brazil in 1922. He worked as a journalist but also organised the first northeastern regionalist congress in Recife and created a Regionalist Manifesto for the encouragement of local novelists, poets, and artists. In 1927, he was appointed as head of cabinet for Estácio Coimbra, governor of the State of Pernambuco; but with the 1930 revolution, headed by Getúlio Vargas, both Coimbra and Freyre went into exile. Freyre went first to Portugal where he worked as a translator, and then to the US where he travelled and found work as a visiting professor at Stanford.

By 1932, Freyre had returned to Brazil. The following year he published what would become his most famous book Casa-Grande & Senzala (The Masters and the Slaves). Where many Brazilians had been anxious about their lack of identity, he argued that Brazil’s cultural mixture or miscegenation, resulting from immigration and interbreeding, was precisely what made Brazilians distinctive. He was the prime mover in organising the first Congress of Afro-Brazilian Studies with the goal of studying African minorities. In 1936, he was appointed chair in sociology at the University of Brazil; further books followed. 

In 1941, Freyre married Magdalene Guedes Pereira, and they had two children. Following the coup which deposed Vargas, Freyre was elected to the federal Congress, where he contributed to the negotiations on a new constitution. He was instrumental in launching social research institutes, the first of which was established in 1949. A year later, he became director of the Regional Center for Educational Research in Recife, where he promoted policies attentive to Brazil’s diversity. At the invitation of Portugal’s government, he travelled to Portuguese provinces in Africa.

Freyre is particularly remembered for Lusotropicalism, a name he gave to the distinctive character of Portuguese imperialism overseas which, he considered, to have been better than that of other European nations. This was due, he argued,
 to Portugal’s hot, tropical environment and from it having had much experience of previous European empires and cultures. In 1962, he was awarded the Prêmio Machado de Assis of the Academia Brasileira de Letras, one of the most prestigious Brazilian literature awards; he received numerous other awards, both in Brazil and abroad. He died on 18 July 1987. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, a Gilberto Freyre tribute site, or Encyclopaedia Britannica.

In the mid-1970s, Freyre decided to publish a diary he had kept as a young man: Tempo Morto e Outros Tempos: Trechos de um diário de adolescência e primeira mocidade, 1915-1930 (J. Olympio, 1975). A few (undated) extracts in English can be found in Luso-American Literature: Writings by Portuguese-speaking Authors in North America, edited by Robert Henry Moser, Antonio Luciano de Andrade Tosta (Rutgers University Press, 2011), parts of which can be previewed at Googlebooks. The extracts, translated by Jayne Reino, are included in the chapter entitled The Dead Season and Other Occasions.

However, Maria Lucia G. Pallares-Rurke argues - in an essay The Creative Memories of Gilberto Freyre in Literature and Cultural Memory (Brill, 2017) - that the text of Tempo Morto e Outros Tempos ‘was written and rewritten over the years’. Although she quotes other examples of how Freyre adapted past writings ‘for the sake of impressive self-presentation’, her essay focuses on the published diary. Here is part of her argument (taken from Literature and Cultural Memory available online at Googlebooks):

‘In his preface, Freyre noted that the published text was “extremely incomplete”, since the manuscript had been left in an old chest and was eaten “pelo cupim” (by termites). He also claimed that the revision “had been minimal”; respecting the words of the adolescent and the young man that Freyre had been at that time. However, as I discovered, Freyre did not tell the whole truth and Tempo Morto is not so much a diary as an autobiography in the form of a diary. In fact, the text was written and rewritten over the years. In 1948, for instance, 18 years after the text comes to an end, Freyre wrote to his friend, the novelist José Lins do Rego that “I have added various things about you to the diary. It is becoming a book”.

It scarcely seems an exaggeration, then to describe Tempo Morto as a masterpiece of self-presentation or self-fashioning (to employ the now famous phrases of Erving Goffman and Stephen Greenblatt) or, following Coffman’s dramaturgical approach to everyday life, to describe Freyre’s text as a dramatization of his youth - and it is no accident that Tempo Morto was adapted for the theatre in 1981, six years after its publication. As in the case of Yeats and Gandhi, it may be suggested that the text of TM tells us more about the later Freyre who was writing or rewriting it, and perhaps writing with nostalgia about a time long-passed, than about the young man of the years 1915-1930.’

And here are several excerpts from Freyre’s diary as in Tempo Morto e Outros Tempos (taken from Luso-American Literature).

‘Aboard the “Curvelo,” 1918.
I travel full of saudade. But I am also filled with great curiosity: to know what awaits me in the United States. What will my studies be like? How will I adapt to the Yankee lifestyle? It is true that my brother has already paved the way. But though we are brothers, we are not exactly the same. In various respects we are different.

I practice my English with an English family that, unable to return to England, is going to the United States: the Joyces. She’s a widow. The daughter is a pretty young British girl with whom I’ve been conversing a lot along the way.

Mr. J. was a missionary in Bahia, it seems. Or in Espirito Santo. He died from a chigger flea wound. The vermin was poorly removed. The poor Englishman’s foot couldn’t withstand the infection.

I think about the fact that no Brazilians die from chigger fleas. On the contrary: it’s hard to find a Brazilian who hasn’t had chigger fleas as a child. It’s an initiation into becoming Brazilian that few children escape. The vermin enters the foot of the Brazilian child: it installs itself there and begins to itch. It’s extracted with a hot pin, lime is rubbed on the little wound, and that’s all there is to it. The itch does leave behind a certain saudade. But if the foot is that of an Englishman, things can transpire like they did with Mr. J.: infection, fever, delirium, death.

Getting a chigger flea is like having yellow fever on a much smaller scale: it does no harm to a Brazilian but it can be fatal to a foreigner. What a shame for that girl’s poor father.’

‘Waco, 1919.
1 seldom receive any letters from Brazil. One here or there. Almost all of them are from my family. I rarely receive one from a friend. Meanwhile, here, all of the students receive word from their hometown, not only from their families, but also from their friends; numerous letters per week.
Could it be that we Brazilians don’t have a spirit of friendship, but only that of camaraderie? That’s how it seems to me sometimes. It’s safe to say that Brazilians are far from rivaling Americans from the United States in their epistolary friendships. Here, correspondence is something sacred among friends.’

‘Waco, 1919.
I had imagined that Waco’s “black neighborhood” would be some kind of terrible place. But it was even more horrible than I had foreseen. Filthy. Squalid. A disgrace for this philistine civilization that, in the meantime, is sending missionaries to the “pagans” of South America and China, India and Japan. Such missionaries, before crossing the seas, should take care of these domestic horrors. They are violently antichristian.

As a matter of fact, since my first contacts with the United States, I have been losing respect for their Evangelical Christianity. It seems to me that this country needs to be Christianized, evangelized, and purified of its sins, in order to have the right to give lessons about “Romanism” and “papism.”

I have already spoken with various blacks. Bitter people, but resigned. A young black woman approached me. She was pretty, though in no way as alluring as a Brazilian woman of color. “Baylor University?” she asked me. Yes, I responded. We talked a lot. I asked her several questions. One of her female friends became impatient: “Do you boy want jig-jig?” At least that’s what I understood. She was convinced that the only thing that had brought me to that dive was my hunger for a loose woman.’

‘Waco, 1919.
The trip I just made to Dallas was truly macabre. I went with some of Professor Bradbury’s other Biology students to the University Medical School in Dallas. They tell me that the school has the reputation of being, or at least of becoming, one of the best in the United States. Old Brooks is Baylor’s President and the Medical School is the apple of his eye.

We, the Biology, pre-Anthropology students, went to observe how quasi pre-medical students dissect cadavers. The cadavers gave me fewer chills than I had expected. Green. Incredibly green; they seemed like dolls to me. They didn’t give me the impression that they had once been men or women, instead they seemed like dolls that had been made to be studied, examined, and taken apart in extremely white, antiseptic rooms.

What did give me the chills was the intense smell of burnt flesh that we sensed on our return, as we were passing by a city or village called Waxa-haxie (I believe that is how this complicated name is written; the word is American Indian, I suppose, just like Waco). We were informed with relative simplicity: “It’s a black that the boys have just burned!” Could this be true? Could this odor really be from a burned black man? I don’t know - but this definitely gave me the chills. I never thought that such horror could be possible at this time in the United States. But it is. Here there is still lynching, killing, and burning of blacks. This is not an isolated incident. It happens often.’

‘Montreal, 1921.
There is something that I recognize here, something that I find familiar and similar to Brazil. It must be the Latin allure left behind by the French Catholics, who, to some degree, still resist assimilation to Anglo-Saxon ways and Protestantism. It is a country that welcomes a Neo-Latin from Brazil. The fraternal spirit originates from two influences that were common in the developing civilization of America: the Latin and the Catholic traditions.

At the same time, Canada is a civilization, a people, a landscape, already very influenced by the Anglo-Saxons: at times there is the feeling that one is still within the United States. But it is only an impression.’

‘New York, 1921.
A few days ago, I saw sailors from the Brazilian Navy walking through the snow in Brooklyn. To me, they seemed small and fragile, lacking the physical vigor of authentic sailors. Is it mal de mestiçagem, the malady of racial mixing? Nonetheless, the wise John Casper Branner admired the racial mixture of Brazilians - even those who are not at all athletic or robust - in an article that I requested he write for El Estudiante, a magazine for Latin American students that I co-edit with the Chilean Oscar Gacitua. Branner tells of an occasion when he was traveling by train through the interior of Brazil and the locomotive broke down. There was dismay among the passengers: they wouldn’t be leaving any time soon from that desolate area where the engine had stopped. The engineer didn’t inspire any confidence at all: he was one of those feeble and clumsy mestiçozinhos [diminutive persons of mixed race] that are indistinctly referred to in Brazil also as caboclos [persons of indigenous and European ancestry). Or, in Portuguese that is even more Brazilian, amarelinhos [little yellow fellows]. He was, however, a marvelous mechanic and technician. He fixed the engine in no time. It was as if the engine’s clamour held no mystery for him. For Branner, it wasn’t an isolated case. The mestizo, the cabodo, the amarelinho - perhaps this is the best description of a type that many Brazilians today call the Brazilian Jeca [a rustic type or hick] - is, in fact, intelligent and capable, despite his unfavorable appearance at times.’

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Did cut her owne throte

John Dee, a mathematician, philosopher, alchemist and original fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, was born all of 490 years ago today. He left behind a diary - one of the very earliest English diaries - covering most of the second half of the 16th century. It was first found in the Ashmolean Museum and published in the mid-19th century, but has since been re-edited and re-published several times. Much of what modern historians know about this extraordinary’s man life - including the gruesome fact that his nurse committed suicide - comes from the diary.

Dee was born in London on 13 July 1527. His father was a mercer, and a courtier to Henry VIII, supplying the king with clothes and fabrics. Young Dee attended the Chelmsford Chantry School (now King Edward VI Grammar School) until 1542, and then entered St John’s College, Cambridge. In his last year, 1546, he began to make astronomical observations, that same year he became an original fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, on its founding by Henry VIII. From 1548 to 1551, he travelled to the Continent, staying in Louvain (where he wrote texts on astronomy, and became friends with the geographer Gerardus Mercator), and well as Brussels and Paris (where he gave very popular lectures).

Dee returned to England with a collection of mathematical and astronomical instruments, and soon joined the service of the Earl of Northumberland, when he wrote a work on tides. When the Catholic Queen Mary came to the throne, Dee’s father was among many protestants arrested. He was released but only after being deprived of all his financial assets - assets which Dee had expected to inherit. Subsequently, having apparently come to terms with Catholic society, he proposed to Queen Mary that she build a Royal Library. Although the idea was not taken up, Dee himself began to build his own library. After Mary’s death, in 1558, Dee soon found favour with the Protestant Queen Elizabeth (some historians believe Dee might have been spying for her while Mary was still Queen) to the point of being asked to use his astrological skills to choose a coronation day. He served as her trusted advisor on astrological and scientific matters; and also provided technical assistance for the various global voyages of discovery under way at this time.

Dee spent much time abroad, collecting books for his library (at his mother’s house in Mortlake), and studying the linked subjects of astronomy, astrology, mathematics and magic. By the mid-1560s, he had returned to live with his mother. In 1568, he published Propaedeumata Aphoristica, which he presented to Queen Elizabeth who was so impressed she took maths lessons from Dee to understand it. And two years later, he published his Mathematical Preface (on the central importance of mathematics for other arts and sciences) to Henry Billingsley’s translation of Euclid’s Elements. In time, this would prove to be Dee’s most influential and reprinted work. In 1578, Dee (who had already lost two wives who bore him no children) married Jane Fromand, and together they had eight children. The following year, Dee’s mother gave him her house, and the year after she died.

From the early 1580s, Dee began turning his studies towards the supernatural, especially with the much younger Edward Kelley, a medium he met in 1582. Together they travelled to Poland, at the behest of an impoverished yet popular Polish nobleman, and Bohemia, arranging spiritual conferences and giving magical performances. Kelley was taken on as an alchemist by Emperor Rudolf II, but, after six years, Dee returned to England in financial difficulties. There he found the Mortlake house ransacked, and much of his library and many of his scientific instruments stolen. He tried without success to get compensation for his losses. Queen Elizabeth did approve him for a post in London but this failed to materialise. Eventually, in 1595, he was appointed warden of Manchester College. In 1605, after his wife and several children had died of the plague, he returned to Mortlake, living his final years in poverty, dying himself in 1608. Historians believe that three years later, William Shakespeare based his character of Prospero in The Tempest on Dee. Further biographical information can be found at Wikipedia, MacTutor, or Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Dee’s intermittent, and often brief, diary was first published by the Camden Society in 1842 entitled The Private Diary of Dr John Dee, and The Catalogue of his Library and Manuscripts, as edited by James Orchard Halliwell. The preface explains that the diary was written in ‘a very small illegible hand on the margins of old Almanacs’ and was only discovered ‘a few years ago’ in the library of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. The editor goes on to state: ‘The publication of this Diary will tend perhaps to set Dee’s character in its true light, more than any thing that has yet been printed.’ The text is freely available online in various places, not least Internet Archive. It certainly counts as one of the very earliest of English diaries. More recent editions of the diary include: The Diaries of John Dee, edited by Edward Fenton (Day Books, 1998); Dr. John Dee’s Spiritual Diaries: 1583-1608, A True & Faithful Relation, edited by Stephen Skinner and Meric Casaubozn (Llewellyn Publications, 2012); and John Dee’s Diary, Catalogue of Manuscripts and Selected Letters (various editors, Cambridge University Press, 2013).

Here are several extracts from the 1842 edition (the first includes a gruesome account of how his nurse killed herself).

‘Aug. 5th, Rowland fell into the Tems over hed and eares abowt noone or somewhat after. Aug. 8th, I gave Nurse Barwick six shillings, so she is payd for the half yere due on Weynsday next. Aug. 9th, I payd to Mr. Lee the scholemaster 5s. Aug. 22nd, Ann my nurse had long byn tempted by a wycked spirit: but this day it was evident how she was possessed of him. God is, hath byn, and shall be her protector and deliverer! Amen. Aug. 25th, Anne Frank was sorowfol, well comforted and stayed in God’s mercyes acknowledging. Aug. 26th, at night I anoynted (in the name of Jesus) Ann Frank her brest with the holy oyle. Aug. 30th, in the morning she required to be anoynted, and I did very devowtly prepare myself, and pray for vertue and powr and Christ his blessing of the oyle to the expulsion of the wycked; and then twyse anoynted, the wycked one did resest a while. Sept. 1st, I receyved letters from Sir Edward Kelley by Francis Garland. Sept. 8th, Nurse Anne Frank wold have drowned hirself in my well, but by divine Providence I cam to take her up befor she was overcome of the water. Sept. 23rd, Sonday, T gave Nurse Barwyk six shillings for a monthis wages to ende on Wensday comme a fortnight; Mrs. Stackden was by. Sept. 29th, Nurse Anne Frank most miserably did cut her owne throte, after-none abowt four of the clok, pretending to be in prayer before her keeper, and suddenly and very quickly rising from prayer, and going toward her chamber, as the mayden her keper thowght, but indede straight way down the stayrs into the hall of the other howse, behinde the doore, did that horrible act; and the mayden who wayted on her at the stayr-fote followed her, and missed to fynde her in three or fowr places, tyll at length she hard her rattle in her owne blud.’

‘Oct. 13th, I exhibited to the Archbishop of Canterbury two bokes of blasphemie against Christ and the Holy Ghoste, desyring him to cause them to be confuted: one was Christian Franken, printed anno 1585 in Poland; the other was of one Sombius against one Carolius, printed at Ingolstad anno 1582 in octavo. Oct. 14th, 15th, a mighty wynde at sowth-west. Oct. 30th, 31st, one of these two dayes I hurt my left shyn against the sharp small end of a wooden rammar abowt four of the clok afternone. Nov. 1st, Mr. Ashly, his wife, and their familie, did com to my howse and remayned ther. They had my mother’s chamber, the mayde’s chamber, and all the other howse. Nov. 9th, Her Majestie’s grant of my supplication for commissioners to comme to me. The Lady Warwik obteyned it. Nov. 22nd, the commissioners from Her Majestie, Mr. Secretary Wolly and Sir Thomas George, cam to Mortlak to my howse. Nov. 28th, to Richard Walkdyne of his wagis 20s. Dec. 1st, a little after none the very vertuous Cowntess of Warwik sent me word very speedily by hir gentleman Mr. Jones from the cowrt at Hampton Cowrt that this day Her Majestie had granted to send me spedily an hundred marks, and that Sir Thomas George had very honorably dealt for me in the cause. Dec. 2nd, Sir Thomas George browght me a hundred marks from her Majestie. Dec. 24th to 31st, at Mr. Lurensey of Tooting all these days, and Newyere’s Day allso, and so cam home by coach (as we went) by Tuesday none, I, my wyfe, Arthur, Kate, &c. Dec. 31st, at Tooting at Mr. R. Luresey his howse; abowt thre of the clok after dynner dyd the Bishop of Laigham serve process uppon me for the nangle, but most unduely.’

‘Aug. 5th, I visited the grammar schole, and fownd great imperfection in all and every of the scholers to my great grief. Aug. 6th, I had a dream after midnight of my working of the philosopher’s stone with other. My dreame was after midnight toward day. Aug. 10th, Eucharistam suscepimus, ego, uxor, filia Katharina, et Maria Nicolls. Aug. 30th, a great tempest of mighty wynde S.W. from 2 tyll 6, with wayne. Sept. 11th, Mr. Holland of Denby, Mr. Gerard of Stopford, Mr. Langley, commissioners from the bishop of Chester, authorized by the bishop of Chester, did call me before them in the church abowt thre of the clok after none, and did deliver to me certayn petitions put up by the fellows against me to answer before the 18th of this month. I answered them all eodem tempore, and yet they gave me leave to write at leiser. Sept. 16th, Mr. Harmer and Mr. Davis, gentlemen of Flyntshire, within four or five myle of Hurden Castell, did viset me. Sept. 29th, I burned before Mr. Nicols, his brother, and Mr. Wortley, all Bartholomew Hikman his untrue actions. Sept. 30th, after the departing of Mr. Francis Nicolls, his dowghter Mistres Mary, his brother Mr. William, Mr. Wortley, at my retume from Deansgate, to the ende whereof I browght them on fote, Mr. Roger Kooke offred and promised his faithfull and diligent care and help, to the best of his skill and powre, in the processes chymicall, and that he will rather do so then to be with any in England; which his promise the Lord blesse and confirm! He told me that Mr. Anthony considered him very liberally and frendely, but he told him that he had promised me. Then he liked in him the fidelity of regarding such his promise.’

The Diary Junction

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Cows in the river

‘I find many strawberries deep in the grass of the meadow near this Hosmer Spring; then proceed on my way with reddened and fragrant fingers, till it gets washed off at new springs. It is always pleasant to go over the bare brow of Lupine Hill and see the river and meadows thence. It is exceedingly sultry this afternoon, and few men are abroad. The cow’s stand up to their bellies in the river, lashing their sides with their tails from time to time.’ This is the great American philosopher naturalist, Henry D. Thoreau, born two centuries ago today, waxing lyrical in his daily journal. Much of the material in all 47 diaries he left behind were published in 1906 in 14 volumes (freely available online). However, a new and fully annotated edition of all the diary material is being published by Princeton University Press, albeit rather slowly. In the interim, however, images of many of the journal manuscripts have been made available online, along with transcripts.

Thoreau was born in Concord, Massachusetts, on 12 July 1817. He studied at Harvard but left with an undistinguished record. On returning to Concord, he and his brother John set up a progressive school. It operated for several years until John, having contracted tetanus from a cut, died in 1842. Some years earlier, in 1837, Thoreau had been introduced to the distinguished poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson who had moved to Concord, and he had allowed Thoreau to use his library. It was Emerson who encouraged young Thoreau in his writing, and who introduced him to other local writers and thinkers, many of whom followed Transcendentalism, a philosophy of finding insight through personal intuition rather than religious doctrine. Some of Thoreau’s first writings appeared in the Transcendentalist magazine, The Dial. In 1841, Thoreau moved into the Emerson house, acting as a caretaker and children’s tutor.

In 1845, with permission from Emerson, Thoreau cut down some trees on Emerson’s land, Walden Pond, and built a timber hut. There he lived for more than two years in a simple manner, occasionally working at his family’s pencil factory or as a land surveyor, but generally devoting his time to philosophical and literary interests, in particular a a memoir about a canoe trip he had taken with his brother John (published in 1849 as A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers). Thoreau returned to Emerson’s house for a couple of years, and then lived in his parent’s house, but the period at Walden Pond was to prove a formative experience for him. In 1854, he published Walden; or, Life in the Woods, in which he recommended simple living in natural surroundings, closely in touch with nature. Though a modest success at the time, the book has since become an American classic.

In his later years, Thoreau became far more focused on botany than on Transcendentalism. He also was outspoken against slavery, and helped with a clandestine network that helped escaped slaves make their way to Canada. He died relatively young, in 1862, of tuberculosis. Further biographical information is readily available online at The Thoreau Society, The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau (the library of University of California, Santa Barbara), The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, The Poetry Foundation, or Wikipedia.

It was on Emerson’s advice that Thoreau, soon after meeting the older man, began keeping a journal. (Indeed, Emerson was also a diarist - see The drollest mushroom with diary extracts by Ralph Waldo Emerson on Thoreau). Thereafter, Thoreau’s journal became something of a life’s work. He left behind 47 volumes. According to the Thoreau Edition website: his ‘Journal that began as a conventional record of ideas, grew into a writer’s notebook, and eventually became the principal imaginative work of his career. The source of much of his published writing, the Journal is also a record of both his interior life and his monumental studies of the natural history of his native Concord.’

Substantial parts of Thoreau’s diary were published by Houghton Mifflin in 1906 as part of the 20 volume edition of The Writings of Henry David Thoreau. The journals - which took up volumes 7-20 - were edited by Bradford Torrey. All volumes are freely available online, at Internet Archive: Volume 7 - 1837-1846Volume 8 - 1850-1851Volume 9 - 1851-1852Volume 10 - 1852-1853Volume 11 - 1853Volume 12 - 1853-1854Volume 13 - 1854-1855Volume 14 - 1955-1956Volume 15 - 1956-1957;  Volume 16 - 1857-1858Volume 17 - 1858-1859Volume 18 - 1859Volume 19 - 1859-1860Volume 20 - 1860-1861). They can also be found online at the Thoreau Institute’s Walden Woods Project (which claims to maintain ‘the preeminent collection of works by and about Henry David Thoreau’).

Meanwhile, The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau (also known as the Princeton Edition or the Thoreau Edition) is slowly compiling a complete annotated edition of all of Thoreau’s writings including 16 printed volumes of the journals. To date, eight volumes have appeared (covering the manuscripts dated from 1837 to 1854), the first in 1981 and the most recent (volume 8) in 2002. Both the manuscripts themselves and their transcripts for all the remaining years, i.e. 1854 to 1861, have been digitised and put online by the Thoreau Edition in advance of the printed volumes. Further information about the process, and links to the manuscripts and transcripts can be found on the website. Here, though, are several extracts from Thoreau’s diary taken from the original Houghton Mifflin edition (plus a screenshot from the Thoreau Edition of the actual manuscript page for the last diary entry below).

11 January 1852
‘What need to travel? There are no sierras equal to the clouds in the sunset sky. And are not these substantial enough? In a low or level country, perchance, the forms of the clouds supply the place of mountains and precipices to the eye, the grosser atmosphere makes a mountainous country in the sky.

The glory of these afternoons, though the sky may be mostly overcast, is in the ineffably clear blue, or else pale greenish-yellow, patches of sky in the west just before sunset. The whole cope of heaven seen at once is never so elysian. Windows to heaven, the heavenward windows of the earth. The end of the day is truly Hesperian.

R. W. E. showed me yesterday a letter from H. Greenough, the sculptor, on architecture, which he liked very much. Greenough’s idea was to make architectural ornaments have a core of truth, a necessity and hence a beauty. All very well, as I told R. W. E., from Greenough’s point of view, but only a little better than the common dilettantism. I was afraid I should say hard things if I said more.

We sometimes find ourselves living fast, - unprofitably and coarsely even, - as we catch ourselves eating our meals in unaccountable haste. But in one sense we cannot five too leisurely. Let me not live as if time was short. Catch the pace of the seasons; have leisure to attend to every phenomenon of nature, and to entertain every thought that comes to you. Let your life be a leisurely progress through the realms of nature, even in guest-quarters.

This reminds me that the old Northman kings did in fact board round a good part of the time, as schoolmasters sometimes with us.

But as for Greenough, I felt as if it was dilettantism, and he was such a reformer in architecture as Channing in social matters. He began at the cornice. It was only how to put a core of truth within the ornaments, that every sugar-plum might in fact have an almond or carroway seed in it, and not how the inhabitant, the in-dweller, might be true and let the ornaments take care of themselves. He seemed to me to lean over the cornice and timidly whisper this half truth to the rude indwellers, who really knew it more interiorly than he. What of architectural beauty I now see, I know has gradually grown from within outward, out of the character and necessities of the indweller and builder, without even a thought for mere ornament, but an unconscious nobleness and truthfulness of character and life; and whatever additional beauty of this kind is destined to be produced will be preceded and accompanied, aye, created, by a like unconscious beauty of life. One of the most beautiful buildings in this country is a logger’s hut in the woods, and equally beautiful will be the citizen’s suburban box, when the life of the indweller shall be as simple and as agreeable to the imagination, and there is as little straining after effect in the style of his dwelling. Much it concerns a man, forsooth, how a few sticks are slanted under him or over him, what colors are daubed upon his box! One man says, in his despair, “Take up a handful of the earth at your feet, and paint your house that color!” What an abundance of leisure he must have on his hands! An enterprise to improve the style of cottage architecture! Grow your own house, I say. Build it after an Orphean fashion. When R. W. E. and Greenough have got a few blocks finished and advertised, I will look at them. When they have got my ornaments ready I will wear them. What do you take up a handful of dirt for? Why don’t you paint your house with your blood? with your sweat? Thin not the paint with spirits of turpentine. There’s a deal of nonsense abroad.

The question is not where did the traveller go? what places did he see? - it would be difficult to choose between places - but who was the traveller? how did he travel? how genuine an experience did he get? For travelling is, in the main, like as if you stayed at home, and then the question is how do you live and conduct yourself at home? What I mean is that it might be hard to decide whether I would travel to Lake Superior, or Labrador, or Florida. Perhaps none would be worth the while, if I went by the usual mode. But if I travel in a simple, primitive, original manner, standing in a truer relation to men and nature, travel away from the old and commonplace, get some honest experience of life, if only out of my feet and homesickness, then it becomes less important whither I go or how far. I so see the world from a new and more commanding point of view. Perhaps it is easier to live a true and natural life while travelling,  as one can move about less awkwardly than he can stand still.’

24 February 1857
‘A fine spring morning. The ground is almost completely bare again. There has been a frost in the night. Now, at 8.30, it is melted and wets my feet like a dew. The water on the meadow this still, bright morning is smooth as in April. I am surprised to hear the strain of a song sparrow from the riverside, and as I cross from the causeway to the hill, thinking of the bluebird, I that instant hear one’s note from deep in the softened air. It is already 40°, and by noon is between 50° and 60°. As the day advances I hear more bluebirds and see their azure flakes settling on the fence-posts. Their short, rich, crispy warble curls through the air. Its grain now lies parallel to the curve of the bluebird’s warble, like boards of the same lot. It seems to be one of those early springs of which we have heard but have never experienced. Perhaps they are fabulous. I have seen the probings of skunks for a week or more. I now see where one has pawed out the worm-dust or other chankings from a hole in base of a walnut and torn open the fungi, etc., there, exploring for grubs or insects. They are very busy these nights.

If I should make the least concession, my friend would spurn me. I am obeying his law as well as my own.

Where is the actual friend you love ? Ask from what hill the rainbow’s arch springs! It adorns and crowns the earth.

Our friends are our kindred, of our species. There are very few of our species on the globe.

Between me and my friend what unfathomable distance! All mankind, like motes and insects, are between us.

If mv friend says in his mind, I will never see you again, I translate it of necessity into ever. That is its definition in Love’s lexicon.

Those whom we can love, we can hate; to others we are indifferent.

P. M. - To Walden. The railroad in the Deep Cut is dry as in spring, almost dusty. The best of the sand foliage is already gone. I walk without a greatcoat. A chickadee with its winter lisp flits over, and I think it is time to hear its phebe note, and that instant it pipes it forth. Walden is still covered with thick ice, though melted a foot from the shore.

The French (in the Jesuit Relations) say fil de l’eau for that part of the current of a river in which any floating thing would be carried, generally about equidistant from the two banks. It is a convenient expression, for which I think we have no equivalent.’

Get my boat out the cellar.

12 July 1857
‘To Equisetum hyemale.

Those little minnows, a third or half inch long or more, which I catch when bathing, hovering over open sandy spaces, as here at Clamshell, appear to be little shiners. When left dry on my hand, they can toss themselves three or four inches with a spring of their tails, and so often get into the water again. Small as they are, it is rather difficult to catch them, they dodge your hands so fast.

I drink at every cooler spring in my walk these afternoons and love to eye the bottom there, with its pebbly caddis-cases, or its white worms, or perchance a luxurious frog cooling himself next my nose. Sometimes the farmer, foreseeing haying, has been prudent enough to sink a tub in one, which secures a clear deep space. It would be worth the while, methinks, to make a map of the town with all the good springs on it, indicating whether they were cool, perennial, copious, pleasantly located, etc. The farmer is wont to celebrate the virtues of some one on his own farm above all others. Some cool rills in the meadows should be remembered also, for some such in deep, cold, grassy meadows are as cold as springs. I have sometimes drank warm or foul water, not knowing such cold streams were at hand. By many a spring I know where to look for the dipper or glass which some mower has left. When a spring has been allowed to fill up, to be muddied by cattle, or, being exposed to the sun by cutting down the trees and bushes, to dry up, it affects me sadly, like an institution going to decay. Sometimes I see, on one side the tub, - the tub overhung with various wild plants and flowers, its edge almost completely concealed even from the searching eye, - the white sand freshly cast up where the spring is bubbling in. Often I sit patiently by the spring I have cleaned out and deepened with my hands, and see the foul water rapidly dissipated like a curling vapor and giving place to the cool and clear. Sometimes I can look a yard or more into a crevice under a rock, toward the sources of a spring in a hillside, and see it come cool and copious with incessant murmuring down to the light. There are few more refreshing sights in hot weather.

I find many strawberries deep in the grass of the meadow near this Hosmer Spring; then proceed on my way with reddened and fragrant fingers, till it gets washed off at new springs. It is always pleasant to go over the bare brow of Lupine Hill and see the river and meadows thence. It is exceedingly sultry this afternoon, and few men are abroad. The cow’s stand up to their bellies in the river, lashing their sides with their tails from time to time.

A strong and wholesome fragrance now from the vegetation as I go by overgrown paths through the swamp west of Nut Meadow. Equisetum hyemale has been out a good while; is mostly effete, but some open yet. Some have several flower-spikes on the sides near the top, but most one at top, of the last year’s plant. This year’s shoots a foot high, more or less. All the Pyrola secunda I can find is out of bloom. The Chimaphila umbellata flower-buds make a very pretty umbel, of half a dozen small purple balls surmounted by a green calyx. They contrast prettily with the glossy green leaves.
A song sparrow’s nest in a small clump of alder, two feet from ground! Three or four eggs.

I hear the occasional link note from the earliest bobolinks of the season, - a day or two.’

19 August 1860
‘Examine now more at length that smooth, turnip-scented brassica which is a pest in some grain-fields. Formerly in Stow’s land; this year in Warren’s, on the Walden road. To-day I see it in Minot Pratt’s, with the wild radish, which is a paler yellow and a rougher plant. I thought it before the B. campestris, but Persoon puts that under brassicas with siliquis tetraedris, which this is not, but, for aught that appears, it agrees with his B. Napus, closely allied, i. e. wild rape. Elliot speaks of this as introduced here. Vide Patent Office Report for 1853 and “Vegetable Kingdom,” page 179. The B. campestris also is called rape.

Leersia (cut-grass) abundantly out, apparently several days.’

Monday, July 3, 2017

Discovering Pitcairn Island

Pitcairn Island, in the Southern Pacific Ocean, was first discovered by Europeans 250 years ago today thanks to one of a series of circumnavigation expeditions undertaken by the British Royal Navy. Captain Philip Carteret, a naval officer in charge of the Swallow, was sailing west across the Southern Pacific Ocean when one of his crew spied ‘a great rock rising out of the sea’. A first hand account of the discovery can be found in Carteret’s diary - published in 1773.

Carteret was born in 1733 on the island of Jersey, but joined the Royal Navy aged 14 or so. He served first as an officer’s servant, and then in 1755 passed his officer’s examination. In 1761, he inherited the family estate on Jersey but continued serving with the navy. From 1764, he served as lieutenant on the frigate Dolphin under Captain John Byron during his circumnavigation of the world. On returning to Britain, he was given his own command, the Swallow, which was ordered to sail with Dolphin on a second circumnavigation in search of a southern continent. However, after several months, the two vessels became separated.

Carteret proceeded west through the Pacific discovering Pitcairn Island and the Carteret Islands (named after him) as well as a new archipelago inside Saint George’s Channel to be named Duke of York Islands; he is also credited with rediscovering the Solomon Islands and the Fernández Islands first sighted by Spaniards two centuries earlier. On his return to Jersey, he became involved in local politics. He married Mary Rachel Silvester in 1772, and they had five children, four of whom survived into adulthood. His requests for a new ship fell on deaf ears at the admiralty, until 1779 when he took charge of HMS Endymion, and sailed it to the West Indies. There, however, he was paid off and displaced as captain; petitions for another ship were unsuccessful. He retired in 1794 with the rank of rear-admiral, and died in 1796. Further information is available at Wikipedia,, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required), or Captain Carteret and the Voyage of the Swallow by H. G. Mowat (which can be previewed at Googlebooks).

After returning from his expedition in the Swallow, Carteret gave his journal of the expedition to John Hawkesworth who published it in 1773 in the first of the three volumes entitled: An Account of the Voyages Undertaken by the Order of His Present Majesty for Making Discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere, and Successively Performed by Commodore Byron, Captain Wallis, Captain Carteret, and Captain Cook, in the Dolphin, the Swallow, and the Endeavour: Drawn up from the Journals which were kept by the Several Commanders, and from the Papers of Joseph Banks, Esq. This is freely available online at Internet Archive.

Carteret was so aggrieved at changes made by Hawkesworth to his manuscript that he prepared his own version. However, this manuscript languished through the centuries, and was in a private collection in Sydney in the mid-20th century when Helen Wallis edited it for the Hakluyt SocietyCarteret’s Voyage Round the World, 1766-1769 was published in two volumes in 1965. The following extract, however, on the first sighting of Pitcairn Island comes from the 1773 Hawkesworth edition.

3 July 1767
‘We continued our course westward till the evening of Thursday the 2d of July, when we discovered land to the northward of us. Upon approaching it the next day, it appeared like a great rock rising out of the sea: it was not more than five miles in circumference, and seemed to be uninhabited; it was, however, covered with trees, and we saw a small stream of fresh water running down one side of it. I would have landed upon it, but the surf, which at this season broke upon it with great violence, rendered it impossible. I got soundings on the west side of it, at somewhat less than a mile from the shore, in twenty-five fathom, with a bottom of coral and sand; and it is probable that in fine summer weather landing here may not only be practicable but easy. We saw a great number of sea birds hovering about it, at somewhat less than a mile from the shore, and the sea here seemed to have fish. It lies in latitude 20° 2’ S., longitude 133° 21’ W. and about a thousand leagues to the westward of the continent of America. It is so high that we saw it at the distance of more than fifteen leagues, and it having been discovered by a young gentleman, son to Major Pitcairn of the marines, who was unfortunately lost in the Aurora, we called it PITCAIRN’S ISLAND.

While we were in the neighbourhood of this island, the weather was extremely tempestuous, with long rolling billows from the southward, larger and higher than any I had seen before. The winds were variable, but blew chiefly from the S. S. W.  W. and W. N. W. We had very seldom a gale to the eastward, so that we were prevented from keeping in a high south latitude, and were continually driving to the northward.’

Since it’s discovery Pitcairn Island has had a chequered history. In 1790, it was populated by mutineers from the Bounty and several native Tahitians (most islanders today remain their descendants). Nearly 20 years were to pass before the island was visited by another vessel. The group of islands became a British colony in 1838. The population peaked at over 200 in the 1930s, and is around 50 today. In 2004, several men, including the mayor, were convicted of sexual offences against children, since when restrictions on children visiting have remained in place.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Lead in the mountains

‘Passed Stonecyplus an old bachelor who they say knows where there is lead in the mountain near but will give no account of it. Left my wagon at Dyck Jones, and went on a couple of miles further to John Lipps and then up the creek a mile and a half further to see some black lead. Found a little in the granite rocks but none of any value.’ This is from a short diary kept by Elisha  Mitchell, an American professor and geologist. He died 160 years ago today, while trying to establish the height of Black Dome which was later renamed in his honour as Mount Mitchell.

Mitchell was born in Washington, Connecticut, in 1793, the eldest son of a farmer. He studied at Yale, and, after teaching for a while on Long Island, returned to Yale as a tutor. In 1817, he took over the chair of mathematics and natural philosophy at the University of North Carolina (UNC). In 1819, he married Maria Sybil North, and they had five children that survived into adulthood. In 1821, he was ordained as a presbyterian minister. In 1825, when still only in his early 30s, he became professor of chemistry, mineralogy and geology at UNC. In parallel, he worked as the state surveyor, making many geological and botanical excursions. He was the first to establish that the mountains of North Carolina were the highest east of the Rockies. While on an expedition to Black Dome (now Mount Mitchell), trying to establish its exact height as the largest peak in the range, he was overwhelmed by a storm and died - on 27 June 1857. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, North Carolina Digital History, or Documenting the American South.

UNC holds a collection of Mitchell papers including: ‘Mitchell’s diary, 1813-1816, begun at Yale and kept irregularly while he was teaching at various places in the North, containing mainly religious reflections and slight personal comment; his private notebook, 1818-1847, containing miscellaneous comments on mathematics, musicology, electricity, the natural sciences, and history, and personal accounts and notes on reading and letters received; [and] Mitchell’s journal, letter book, and account book, 1818-1842.’ Mitchell also kept a short diary in July 1828 - the only one, in fact, to have been published, i.e. by UNC in 1905 as part of the James Sprunt Historical Monograph Series. The short book - Diary of a Geological Tour by Dr. Elisha Mitchell in 1827 and 1828 - which includes an introduction and notes by Kemp P. Battle can be read freely online at Internet Archive or New River Notes.

Although Mitchell’s record is called a ‘diary’ it is written, in fact, as a series of letters describing his experiences over the previous few days. And, though 1887 is included in the title, there is only one entry from December that year, and all other entries are dated July 1827. Battle notes in his introduction: ‘The letters, while containing allusions of a personal and family nature, were evidently intended to be material for a report or an article for a scientific journal.’ Here is part of one extract.

20 July 1828
‘Tuesday morning. Rode up to see Gen. Stokes and Col. Wellborn. Their father-in-law Hugh Montgomery owned one of the finest plantations on the river. They married sisters, and this plantations was divided among them. Stokes is considerably the oldest. They have not formerly agreed very well but are said to be on good terms now. Wellborn is nearest to town - only two miles off. Called on him. He offered me breakfast - whiskey and then feeding of my horse, but I declined them all. Showed me some minerals and I went on to Gen. Stokes’ two miles farther. What Wellborn’s real character is I cannot make out. He has been a member of the Baptist church and will now allow no swearing about him. He left the church under the idea that he was unfit to remain in it. He seems to have a religious paroxysm. He is a candidate, a furious Jacksonite and a prompt bold man. At Gen. Stokes’ I was treated with great kindness. I used to wonder why he was so much put forward in the state but it now appears. He is a very pleasant man of good sense. His wife appears much younger than himself. He was born 20 or 30 miles above Petersburg in Virginia and was a sailor in his youth. In his family he has been exceedingly unfortunate - perhaps this is not the proper word. He has been a great card player and is at present a great swearer himself so that we may conjecture what their education has been. In addition to this I suspect some defect in the moral and physical constitution of the young men themselves. One, Hugh M. Was educated at Chapel Hill and is now a lawyer in Morgantown. He is said to possess respectable talents but is intemperate. I was told of his reformation as I passed through Morganton last year. As we were conversing freely about his children I told him I had understood that Hugh had reformed. He said he had hoped so - had sent him on his circuit with Judge Donnell with high expectations but on his return he staid at Morganton instead of coming home and he knew but feared to ask for what. Another son is a midshipman, a third is at West Point and I gathered from his father not succeeding very well, a fourth is at home. I told him I intended to give my children the best education in my power and then if they did not succeed, not to permit it to trouble me - he said I could not help it - and I suppose he was right. He gave me some information respecting the running the line first by Strother and Co.65 to painted rock and then by himself, Dr. Caldwell, and others along the great Smoky mountains. After dinner rode out to see Michals Forge and Ore Bank; the Forge (not yet completed) is the only one in the county. The ore bank is 2 or 3 miles off; the ores appear to be tolerably good though not of the first quality and has been manufactured into iron pretty extensively at Beard’s Forge in Burke. There seems to be a series of beds of iron, one lying on this side of the Brushey Mountains, on one of the spurs of which Michals ore Bank is extending like everything else in this country from N. E. To S. West; returned to town - and took tea at Major Finley’s where I saw Col. Patterson and his wife - granddaughter of Gen. Lenoir.

Wednesday Morning. The repairs of my wagon not being yet completed I did not start till about eleven. In the meantime walked out to see the Wilkesboro mineral spring. ‘Tis only some water that oozes through some earth and leaves that has been brought down the road, and that it contains perhaps a little iron has little to recommend it besides its dirty nauseous taste. Started at eleven with Dr. McKenzie and passed up the river, found the rocks mostly Gneiss the whole day and indeed throughout this whole excursion; found iron on the road 6 miles from town in white flint rock. Near Millers when we crossed the river McKenzie told me there was a bank of Porcelain clay; I did not visit it. Passed Stonecyplus an old bachelor who they say knows where there is lead in the mountain near but will give no account of it. Left my wagon at Dyck Jones, and went on a couple of miles further to John Lipps and then up the creek a mile and a half further to see some black lead. Found a little in the granite rocks but none of any value. Was told by Lipps of the garnet on the lands of ___ Church, his father-in-law, who lives just under the Blue Ridge. Returned to Jones’s and got an excellent cup of coffee. Anderson Mitchell and another Lipps came in with specimens chiefly from flat Knob amongst which I found rich characterized Sappare or Kyanite.

Thursday Morning. Crossed over through a barren country to the river which we had left and then up the river to Gen. Jones where we arrived about noon or a little after. It is not difficult to account for the deterioration of the “Range” of which people are continually complaining in this part of the country. Two causes operate in the production of this effect. 1. Since the country has been cleared and plantations laid out it will not answer to burn the woods as formerly for fear of destroying the fences and the consequence is that the small undergrowth is not destroyed as it used to be - the woods become thicker and not like an orchard as they are in the indian country - and thus herbage of all kinds being shaded does not grow and flourish. 2. Of the different kinds of herbage those suited to the sustenance of cattle as the pea-vine and natural grasses are fast devoured and both become less vigorous in their growth and are prevented from going to seed whilst the contrary effect is produced upon the bitter unpalatable weeds. Thus our woods become thick also and shady and the little herbage they produce is not fitted to the sustenance of cattle. Passed Gen. Lenoir’s (Old Fort Defiance) and stopped at the house of his son-in-law Gen. Jones to dinner. The Gen. out electioneering. A man of wealth - has two sons one at Hillsboro with Mr. Bingham and the younger with Mr. Gay. His daughters all married, two of them at table - one recently wedded to Lawyer Henry of Greenville, district S. Co. originally a Yankee? and a well enough man, the other - the youngest stole a march upon her parents and married her cousin Larkin Jones described to me by McKenzie as the smartest young man that has been raised in Wilkes. After his marriage was raised into favour and went on last winter to attend the medical lectures at Philadelphia and the agitation produced by the sudden and unexpected return of her husband at night caused a miscarriage from which she is still feeble. After a thunderstorm, occurring whilst we were at dinner, was over, obtained a horse and rode accompanied by a son of Catlett, the General’s brother, to Gidding’s old place to see some ore said to be there - the distance 10 miles. For two or three miles the country was tolerably open but the hills afterwards closed in upon us and we wound our way beneath them beside the river bank and were finally obliged to cross one or two pretty considerable ridges in order to reach our place of destination. A ride of this kind to one accustomed to the monotonous sameness of the Low Country is pleasant and agreeable and would have been highly so to me but for a shower that fell. Giddings old place, now occupied by three men by the name of Harrison - a father and his three sons, is a fine sample of what is called in the mountains as a Cove. The Yadkin is here a brawling mountain stream and the mountain instead of coming up close to it recedes so as to leave a handsome plantation of level land along its banks. Here is a fine peach and apple orchard and as pleasant a spot but for its situation as is to be found in the country. But the only access to it is by a trail or foot-path leading over a mountain ridge. Tis a very valley of Wyoming - the place for a person to retire to, who has been illtreated by the world and is disgusted with it - the place for him to retire to and not be happy. I recommend it as a retreat to Lawyer Henry - telling him how finely he could shoot bears for his wife to eat and get fine skins to warm her - the orchard would also furnish fine whiskey for her as well as the field the best of wheat and he could present the whole to her as the product of his own labor and a testimonial of his love. But he did not seem to approve the plan. We did not leave the place before sun-down and had then to wind our way over the hills and down the river ten miles but it was a fine moon-light night. We reached home after the family had all retired to rest but found a good supper ready for us.’

The Diary Junction

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Tarkovsky father and son

Arseny Tarkovsky, born 110 years ago today, was a prominent Soviet poet and translator, but he was also the father of the internationally famous film-maker Andrei Tarkovsky. Andrei left behind personal diaries covering the 1970s and 1980s which often mention his father and their sometimes strained relationship.

Tarkovsky was born on 25 June 1907  in Elisavetgrad, then part of Russia now Kropyvnytskyi in central Ukraine. His father was a bank clerk, but also an actor and revolutionary. In 1921, after the civil war in Ukraine and the establishment of Soviet power, Arseny and several friends published a poem critical of Lenin. They were arrested but Tarkovsky managed to escape. He is said to have wandered around Ukraine trying several trades; but other sources have him simply moving to Moscow in 1923 to live with his father’s sister. From the mid-1920s, he worked for Gudok, a newspaper for railroad workers, but was also studying literature. From 1931, he worked for a radio station, and from around 1933 began translating poetry. During the Second World War, he volunteered as a war correspondent, but then served as a soldier. He was wounded in 1943, and contracted gangrene which led to one leg being amputated.

After the war, Tarkovsky was due to have his first book of poems published but at the last minute it was blocked for political reasons. For nearly a decade, his poetry remained unpublished. Instead, he worked at translating poetry from Turkmen, Georgian, Armenian and Arabic, sometimes travelling abroad. As a young man he had married Maria Ivanova Vishnyakova, and they had had two children, Andrei and Marina, but after the war they divorced. Tarkovsky married twice more, to Antonina Alexandrovna Bokhonova and then to Tatyana Ozerskaya. 

Tarkovsky’s first book of poems -  Before Snow  - was published in 1962, and more collections followed every few years. In the early 1980s, he went to Italy to work with his son, Andrei, a film maker, on Nostalgia, but he disagreed with Andrei’s decision not to return to the Soviet Union. Tarkovsky died in 1989, three years after the death of Andrei. Although there is plenty of information online in English about Andrei Tarkovsky, there is very little about his father. However, there is a little at Wikipedia, The Culturum and the Russia Info Centre; and more can be gleaned from an English translation of the Russian Wikipedia entry on Andrei.

Arseny Tarkovsky is mentioned fairly frequently in his son’s diaries. These were translated from the Russian into English by Kitty Hunter-Blair and published in 1994 by Faber and Faber: Time Within Time: The Diaries 1970-1986 by Andrei Tarkovsky. The whole book is freely available to read online at Monoskop. Here are several extracts in which Andrei reflects on his father, Arseny.

12 September 1970
‘I haven’t seen my father for ages. The longer I don’t see him the more depressing and alarming it becomes to go to him. It’s patently clear that I have a complex about my parents. I don’t feel adult when I’m with them. And I don’t think they consider me adult either. Our relations are somehow tortured, complicated, unspoken. It’s not straightforward, any of it. I love them dearly, but I’ve never felt at ease with them, or their equal. I think they’re shy of me too, even though they love me. [. . .]

All the same, I must go and see my father before I leave for Japan. It’s a torment for him too, our relationship being as it is. I know that for certain. I just can’t imagine how things would develop if I were the one to break the ice. And it’s so difficult. Perhaps I should write a letter? But a letter won’t decide anything. Afterwards we would meet and both pretend the letter had never happened. It’s a kind of Dostoievskyism, or Dolgorukyism. We all love each other and are shy, afraid of one another. For some reason it’s far easier for me to relate to total strangers . . .

Now I shall go to bed and read Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game. I’ve been tracking it down for ages, and today, at last, it has actually reached me. How scared I am of funerals. Even when my grandmother was being buried it was frightening. Not because she had died, but because I was surrounded by people who were expressing their feelings. I can’t bear seeing people express their feelings, even sincere ones. I find it intolerable when my nearest and dearest give expression to their feelings. I remember my father and I were standing by the church, waiting for the moment when we could take grandmother’s coffin away (the service and burial were in different places) and my father said (it doesn’t matter what it was about), ‘Good is passive. And evil is active.’ [. . .]

I remember when I was still quite small and was visiting my father in Party (!) Street, Uncle Leva (I think it was) appeared. My father was sitting on the sofa wrapped in a blanket, I suppose he was unwell. Uncle Leva stopped in the doorway and said, ‘You know, Arseniy, Maria Danilovna has died.’

My father sat there for a moment, not taking it in, then he half turned away and started to cry. He looked terribly unhappy and alone, sitting on the sofa in a blanket. Maria Danilovna was my paternal grandmother. My father hardly ever saw her. He seemed somehow ill at ease as well. Perhaps it runs in the family, anyhow on my father’s side? Or maybe I’m mistaken about my father and grandmother Maria Danilovna. They may have had a quite different sort of relationship from my mother and me. My mother has sometimes said that Arseniy only ever thought about himself, that he was an egoist. I don’t know whether she’s right or not. She’d have every right to say that I’m an egoist, too. I must be. But I do love my mother, and my father, and Marina, and Senka. Only a stupor comes over me and I can’t utter my feelings. My love is not active, somehow. Probably all I want is to be left in peace, even forgotten. I don’t want to count on their love, nor do I demand anything from them, apart from freedom. But there is no freedom, nor will there be. Then they blame me for Ira, I can feel that. They love her, normally and simply. I’m not jealous, only I don’t want them to torment me and think I’m a saint. I’m not a saint and I’m not an angel.

What I am is an egoist, who is afraid more than anything else in the world of pain suffered by those he loves.

I’m going to go and read Hesse.’

17 November 1970
‘My father has had a heart attack. He categorically refuses to go into hospital - he’s got a thing about hospitals altogether. He doesn’t want to see the doctor. And there he is with his aneurysm!

I think he has a contract - or if he hasn’t got it yet he will any minute now - for another book. Marvellous. I so want him to write more poetry now. Only - God grant him health.’

24 March 1979
Someone asked my father, ‘What do you think of Pasternak?’ He said, ‘I have always felt as I might of a woman - adoration one moment, hatred the next, now admiration, now contempt.’

6 June 1981
‘Father rang. He is in Moscow, and Tyapa and I are going to see him tomorrow. Just like me (or rather, the other way round) he has those spasms in the head which stop him seeing properly. Does that mean it is hereditary?’