Sunday, December 10, 2017

Great grief and distress

Ezra Stiles, an 18th century American pastor who did much to modernise Yale College in its early years, was born 290 years ago today. He had eight children by his first wife who died tragically young, leading Stiles to write in his daily diary ‘It is a day of great Grief & Distress, such I never before knew.’ His diary provides a valuable first hand testimony of society at that time, but particularly of the Revolutionary War and late 18th century developments in education.

Stiles was born on 10 December 1727 in North Haven, Connecticut. His mother, daughter of a poet pastor, died days after his birth, and he was brought up by his pastor father and a stepmother. He studied theology at Yale, and was ordained in 1749. He taught at Yale until 1755 when he became pastor of the Second Congregational Church in Newport. He also acted as Librarian of the Redwood Library and Athenaeum. In 1757, he married Elizabeth Hubbard, daughter of a physician. They had eight children. In 1764, he helped establish the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (now Brown University) by contributing to the drafting of its charter and by serving with 35 others as a founding trustee. Elizabeth died in 1775, and the following year, with the start of the American Revolutionary War, and Newport harbour being full of British warships, Stiles and his children left Rhode Island for Dighton, Massachusetts.

After a year of preaching in and around Dighton, Stiles accepted the pastorship of the First Congregational Church of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. But, shortly after, he was offered the presidency of Yale College. Despite some doubts as to his qualifications for the role, he accepted, moving to New Haven in mid-1778, and remaining in the position for the rest of his life. Initially, he found the college lacking in public funding, and in severe financial trouble. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1781, and, the following year, he married the widow Mary Checkely (née Cranston). In 1783, he published The United States elevated to Glory and Honor. It was not until 1792, that Connecticut endorsed the modernising changes brought in by Stiles and restored the college’s state funding.

Encyclopedia.com provides this assessment: ‘Stiles not only strengthened Yale but also secularized it, took it through the war successfully, and saved it financially. One important accomplishment of his administration was a change in the charter that allowed several state officials to become college board members and ensured state financial aid for the college. He not only performed well as an administrator but also taught classes in Hebrew, ecclesiastical history, theology, philosophy, and science, and even though he was not a minister of a specific church, he continued to perform ministerial duties until his death.’ Further information can also be found at Wikipedia, Yale College, or the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required).

Stiles was a committed diarist, writing entries nearly every day from his early 40s until his death. Under the terms of his will, he left his diary notebooks (and other manuscripts) to his successor in the Presidency of Yale College. However, it would be a century before they were edited by Franklin Bowditch Dexter and published (in 1901) in three volumes by Charles Scribner’s Sons as The Literary Diary of Ezra Stiles. All three volumes are freely available online at Internet Archive (January 1769 to March 1776, March 1776 to December 1781, January 1782 to May 1795).

Here are several extracts.

22 October 1770
‘This day I finished reading the Old Testament in the Original Hebrew, which I began to read in Course near three years ago, or Janry 30, 1768. I have all along compared the English & hebrew together, and am able from my own knowledge to say, that the English Translation now in use is an excellent & very just Translation & needs very few corrections. And was it again to be translated I cannot expect it would be better done. I have cursorily examined the late Quaker Translation, which is by no means equal to that in use; which was really made by Tindall: For tho’ his Transl was burnt, yet I have seen one of Tindall’s copies preserved in the Easton Family on Rhode Isld; & have compared the Great Bishops Bible, & find that that & K. James in use, are truly but Revisions of Tyndall. I do not wish to see another English Transl, till the English Dialect of the two last Ages shall have become obsolete & untilligible to posterity. But this will not be till English America is fully settled from the Atlantic to Mississippi, When the English of the present Idiom may be spoken by One hundred Million, all of whom may be able to read the Scriptures in Tyndall’s Translation.

Probably the English will become the vernacular Tongue of more people than anyone Tongue ever was on Earth, except the Chinese, who are above one Quarter of the human Race, being seventy Million fencible Men, implying above Two Hundred & Fifty Million souls.

This day fifteen years ago I was ordained, by my Father, Mr. Torrey, & Mr. Burt. Thro' the Patience of Gd. I am still continued an unworthy Pastor under the great Head of the Church.

I am the third Minister in the second Congregational Chh in Newport Rhd. Isld, which was gathered above 42 years ago or Apr. 11, 1728, when Rev. Jn° Adams was ord. Pastor, to whom Rev. James Searing’ succeeded, to whom I succeeded.’

2 July 1771
‘Catechising 19 Boys 44 Girls 8 Negroes. Tot. 71.’

19 August 1771
‘This Afternoon my Wife sat to Mr King for her Picture. Mr Ellis of Compton here. He told me a story of an Event formerly on the Cape, I think at Barnstable. Two Brethren of the Chh had unhappily got into a Lawsuit, & in prosecuting it had become guilty of such Indiscretions & broken peace, as that it came into the Chh - & seemed impossible to reconcile. Two other Brethren of that or another Chh observing it, marvelled that such irreconcileable Enmity should arise among Christs Disciples for a Lawsuit - & were confident they could go to Law & not quarrel. They make the wicked Attempt: & for sake of Trial commenced a Lawsuit one with another. But they soon embroiled their Spirits, and the Thing proceded & ended in total Breach of Friendship and most irreconcileable Enmity. Dangerous to tempt Satan, & try our own strength!’

1 June 1773
‘At IX A.M. I preached at the Courthouse in Greenwich on Mat. v. 20 without Notes, as desired. The Quakers general Meeting broke up yesterday and few were gone home. I had about 200 Hearers. After Lecture I rode 7 miles and dined at Mr. Nath Greens1 at the Iron Works in Coventry.’

29 May 1775
‘Early this morning at IVh 50’ my Dear Wife Elizabeth Stiles departed this Life aetat. 44. It is a day of great Grief & Distress, such I never before knew. Merciful God support me by thy Grace.

My Wife Elizabeth Stiles was the oldest Daughter of Col. John Hubbard of New Haven & Elizabeth his first Wife, where she was born July 3, 1731, O. S. Her Mother was a Woman of Ten Thousand for Sense, Discretion, Resolution & true Greatness: and died 1744 Aug 25, aet. 42. Her Father was an ingenious sensible Man, of a fine Taste for Poetry & polite Writings, and an eminent Physician. She inherited the Quintessence of both Parents - the Discernment Sagacity & Sensibility (but not the scientific Taste) of her Father, with the Nobleness & true Greatness of Spirit the Resolution, Discretion, Prudence, Economy & Judg of her Mother. She was thro’ some Hardships in youth bro’t up to Industry, spinning & all parts of female Industry. From her Infancy to her Mothers death she was educated delicately, kept to School for Sewing & Needle Work: afterwards from aet. 14 to her Marriage she was accustomed to all the Variety of Business in female Life, which qualified her for the Scene of usefulness she exhibited at Newport. Directed by the supreme Lord of the Universe I was bro’t to make Choice of her for a Wife. We were married Febry. 10, 1757. It pleased Gd to give us Eight Children, of whom seven are now living. In 1753 aet. 21½ she gave up herself to Jesus in the Profession of the Faith & came to the Lords Table. And ever since has continued a steady Christian, walking before Gd with fear, Conscientiousness, Integrity & Reverence. She had an Aversion to Fraud & Dishonesty & never could bear Hypocrisy in any. She was perhaps unexampled for her Love of Integrity. She had the highest the sublimest Conceptions of the personal Excellency of the divine Emanuel, whom she accounted the chief among 10 Thousds & altogether lovely. [. . .]’

9 January 1777
‘A solar visible Eclipse. I observed it at Dighton.’

29 December 1777
‘Col. Langdon presented me with two yards of Genoa Velvet for a Jacket. The selling price here now is Twenty five Dollars Continental p yard. Tea is now 15 Doll, a pd. I had presented me to day 2lbs Tea, 2 Loafs Sugar, & Sundries to the amount of 70 Dollars, & inclusive the Velvet 120 Dollars. Wood is 15 Doll. a Cord, Ind Corn 2 Doll, p Bushel, Pork 1/6 Poultry 1/the pound, Beef 9d & 1/, Tea 12 Doll.’

9 September 1778
‘Anniversary Commencement at Yale College: when I conferred the academic Degrees upon 41 Bachelors and 42 Masters. I presented the Diplomas in the Chapel, it being a private Commencement. The 41 Bachelors were Alumni nostri besides one Harv. Of the 42 Masters 4 were from Harvd & Dartmo ad eundems. Mr. Benedict presented me with 30 Doll. Contin. Bill - the highest gratuity besides was 13, some ten, some 4 Dollars. I threw up my fee & referred myself to the Liberality of the Graduates for this Commencement, only this to be no precedent in future. Of the 84 I gave away a dozen degrees besides my sons: and 71 had Diplomas - about 15 absent. Gurley one of the Students which lately went home sick, died a few days since.’

26 February 1784
‘Giving Directions respect the Planetarium six feet Diam. now construct in the College Library by Joseph Badger a Jun. Sophister of a mechanical Genius, and a Joyner. We have been describing the Zodiac & signs & adjusting the Perihelia & Eccentricities & drawing the Ellipses of the orbits of Saturn & Jupiter, and the 3 Comets of known Revolutions. The Planet Herschel is put on. The whole is constructed with an internal Wheel Movement to exhibit the Places of the Planets revolving on the face of the Planetarium.’

Friday, December 8, 2017

Diary briefs

The Diary of a Bookseller - Profile Books, Daily Express, The Guardian

Diary of a murdered Israeli - Times of Israel

David Law’s coalition diaries - Biteback Publishing, Daily Mail

Vladimir Nabokov’s dream diary - Princeton University Press, The Guardian

Diaries of Emilio Renzi - Restless Books, Literal Magazine

Winnipegger’s WWI diaries online - CBC News

John Lennon’s diaries recovered - The Guardian, Rolling Stone

Hunger strike diary - Oxford University Press Pakistan, Dawn

Our History of the 20th Century - Michael O’Mara Books, Amazon

Diary of a Fiji missionary online - Australian National University, The Fiji Times

Diaries of a military wife - Profile BooksDaily Echo

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Dined with the Einsteins

‘Dined with the Einsteins. A quiet, attractive apartment in Berlin West (Haberlandstrasse). Rather too much food in a grand style to which this really lovable, almost still childlike couple lent an air of naivety. [. . .] I had not seen Einstein and his wife since their major excursion abroad. They admitted quite unaffectedly that their reception in the United States and Britain were veritable triumphs. Einstein gave a slightly ironic, sceptical twist to their description by claiming that he cannot make out why people are so interested in his theories. His wife told me how he kept on saying to her that he felt like a cheat, a confidence trickster who was failing to give them whatever they hoped for.’ This is from the diary of the colourful German Count, Harry Kessler, who died 80 years ago today. He was a man of many talents, a diplomat, writer and connoisseur, and he was extremely well connected in political, artistic, literary, and social worlds. Mostly, he is remembered today for the detailed diaries he kept throughout his life.

Kessler was born in Paris in 1868. His father, a banker, was ennobled by Kaiser Wilhelm I, and his mother was considered an Irish beauty. He was educated in England and Germany, and trained for a career in the foreign service. However, he became more interested in the arts, and was involved, during the mid-1890s, in developing an elitist magazine called Pan. He was particularly concerned with trying to develop the arts in Weimar, and held various appointments, including director of the ducal art museum and the art school. In 1904, he went to London to seek advice on the design of books for Insel Verlag, the innovative Leipzig publishing house.

When war broke out, Kessler led troops into Belgium and on the eastern front, but he became traumatised, apparently because his loyalties were so divided between three of the nations at war. Thereafter, he was briefly an ambassador in Poland, and became involved in peace negotiations. In the 1920s, he continued travelling and supporting the arts and producing superb editions of classical masterpieces published by his own Cranach Press. He turned to pacifism later in life, and this led to him being exiled from Nazi Germany. He died on 30 November 1937. Further biographical information can be found at Wikipedia or The Irish Times.

Kessler was a committed diarist from the age of 12 and, indeed, he is mostly remembered today for his diaries. Some of these were first published in German in 1961 as Harry Graf Kessler, Tagebücher 1918-1937. This was then translated into English and edited by Charles Kessler for publication by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in 1971 as The Diaries of a Cosmopolitan 1918-1937. Kessler’s earlier diaries were thought to be lost, but then they were found in a safe in Mallorca in 1983. A definitive edition of the full diaries (nine volumes) was published in Germany in 2004, and a first edition of the early diaries, edited and translated by Laird M. Easton, was published in English in 2011 by Alfred A. Knopf as Journey to the Abyss: The Diaries of Count Harry Kessler 1880-1918 (also in a Vintage Books edition, 2013). Reviews of Journey to the Abyss can be found online at The Atlantic, The New Yorker and The New York Times.

In promoting his most recent book, on the early diaries, Laird stated: ‘Harry Kessler was a born diary writer, with an extraordinarily sharp gift for depicting personalities, landscapes, and tableaus. He also was extremely well connected in political, artistic, literary, and social worlds within Europe. Browsing through the book, the reader will find whatever she or he likes: rollicking accounts of a trip around the world; encounters with artists and writers such as Monet, Renoir, Rodin, Munch, Shaw, Nijinsky, Rilke, Bonnard, Vuillard, Matisse, Degas, Hofmannsthal, and Duncan; accounts of murders; adultery in high places; and political intrigue. There are first-hand accounts of many of the famous literary and political scandals of the day, including the famous premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in Paris in May 1913.’

The following diary extracts - including meetings with the Einsteins and the Pope - have been taken from a reprint
 of The Diaries of a Cosmopolitan 1918-1937 by Phoenix Press in 2000.

8 March 1919
This morning we had newspapers once more. The last two days have seen more bloodshed in Berlin than any since the start of the revolution. According to the Lokal-Anzeiger there have been five to six hundred dead. Ernst has had his ‘blood-letting’. For the moment the strike has been suspended. The workers have put forward fresh conditions: removal of the volunteer regiments from Berlin and repeal of the state of siege.

Kestenberg says that at the Chancellery they are drunk with victory. As far as the Majority Socialists are concerned, every angel in heaven is busy twanging his harp. They imagine that all difficulties have been overcome because, with Reinhardt’s assistance, they have mown down the uprising in Berlin. So Kestenberg thinks it unlikely that they will be prepared to enter into any compromise with the Independents or allot them any ministerial posts. In the northern parts of the city, seething hatred of the ‘West’ is said to be the preponderant mood. Reinhardt soldiers who go through the streets alone there are torn to pieces by the mob. Soon, it is thought, no one wearing a stiff collar will be safe in those quarters.

About a quarter to five I was passing down the Wilhelmstrasse when a lorry stationed in the courtyard of the Chancellery was being loaded with prisoners, both civilians and soldiers. The guards outside the building hustled passers-by along. I produced my identity papers, stopped and watched what was happening. Suddenly a soldier with a whip jumped on the lorry and several times struck one of the prisoners just before the lorry drove out into the street. The prisoners, mainly soldiers, stood with their arms raised and hands crossed behind their heads. Shameful, to see men wearing German uniform in that position.

I went inside the Chancellery and asked for the Commanding Officer. In his absence I saw the Adjutant. (These were Reinhardt troops.) I reported to him the incident of the prisoner being struck, demanded an inquiry, and had my testimony recorded. The lieutenant expressed his regret at the incident, but explained in exculpation that the prisoner was found to have on him the papers of three officers who have disappeared. There was, he added, a completely reliable escort on the lorry. Otherwise there would be grave danger of the prisoner not reaching Moabit alive at all. The bitterness of the Reinhardt troops is boundless. Last night a sergeant was stopped in the street by Spartacists and shot out of hand. Two soldiers have been thrown into the canal by Spartacists and others have had their throats cut.

All the abominations of a merciless civil war are being perpetrated on both sides. The hatred and bitterness being sown now will bear harvest. The innocent will expiate these horrors. It is the beginning of Bolshevism.
The electricity is on again. Business as usual in the cabarets, bars, theatre, and dance halls.

For some weeks, dating approximately from Liebknecht’s murder, a new factor has crept into the German revolution and during the last two days has grown uncannily, the blood-feud element which in all great revolutions becomes ultimately the driving force and, when all others are extinguished or have been appeased, is the last ember to remain burning.

25 June 1921
‘At half past twelve a private audience with the Pope. There were just the two of us and so I had the chance briefly to ventilate the questions which interest me. In these circumstances an even sharper edge was given to his deliberate diversion from the subject of the League, evading it with the words, ‘Ce n’est pas ici’ (meaning the Vatican) ‘que nous pouvons traiter cette question.’ The main thing, he emphasized, is ‘qu'il fallait mettre fin à la guerre’. He asked me, perhaps out of politeness, whether and what I had written on the subject of the League and, at the end, accorded me his Apostolic blessing on behalf of my efforts.’

20 March 1922
‘At one o’clock to Rathenau in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Our conversation began with a detailed catalogue of complaints on his part about the onerousness of his duties and the difficulties with which he has to contend. Nobody, in his view, can cope with this appointment for more than six months. It is a cranking up the Ministry’s entire machinery, and that is superhuman labour. For eight years German foreign policy has lain fallow. Now it has to be reactivated, every day a fresh iron has to be put into the fire, a helping hand has to be given to every part of the Ministry. To enable him to do that, he should see everything. If he omits anything, then that sector slips out of his grasp. He cannot in fact see everything, and so he will perhaps have to divide things up in such a way as more or less to delegate certain sectors to department heads while he himself exercises active control over these minor fields only every few weeks. Even then the burden will remain almost insuperable.

On top of this come the affronts which he must constantly pass over in silence, the answers to the Entente communications, the visits he has to receive and make, the Cabinet meetings and the Reichstag sessions, and the paradox which requires that German foreign policy shall now not merely be
sensible but accord with the popular mood. All that is an impossible strain to carry indefinitely. Worst of all, though, is his own countrymen’s vindictive hostility. In addition to threatening letters he receives every day, there are police reports which cannot be ignored. As he said this, he drew a Browning from his pocket. His most cordial relations are with the British, followed by the French, Italians, Japanese, and so on; his worst, with the Germans.

We discussed my trip to Paris. He is of the opinion that the phrase ‘désarmement morale’ presents at this stage the greatest possible danger to us, now that physical disarmament has been effectively implemented, because it can serve the French with an excuse for maintaining their military control.

Finally the talk turned to Genoa. I said that I propose to go there and that I am informing him of this because I do not want to act without his knowledge or against his wishes. He replied that he is very willing for me to go, but it should remain a private matter between us. I am to tell no one that he has encouraged the idea, else far too many others will seek his blessing also.

I am going, I commented, because I believe I shall be able to make myself useful to him and our common objectives and interests. He agreed that my innumerable connections in France, Britain and Italy may render my presence valuable and, if occasion arises, he will be pleased to avail himself of my services. He is very glad that I am going.

My own impression is that he is not as gratified as all that. Perhaps he fears that I shall produce too pacifist an effect and thereby inconvenience the efforts of his own people. The military undoubtedly exercise some influence on his trains of thought. Before I left, he added that we cannot promise the French ‘désarmement morale’ when our entire youth is moving in precisely the opposite direction towards the worst, most obdurately reactionary, outlook. Were we to offer the prospect of such a disarmament, then they would be justified in subsequently accusing us of dishonesty.

Dined with the Einsteins. A quiet, attractive apartment in Berlin West (Haberlandstrasse). Rather too much food in a grand style to which this really lovable, almost still childlike couple lent an air of naivety. Guests included the immensely rich Koppel, the Mendelssohns, Warburg, Bernhard Dernburg (as shabbily dressed as ever), and so on. An emanation of goodness and simplicity on the part of host and hostess saved even such a typical Berlin dinner-party from being conventional and transfigured it with an almost patriarchal and fairy-tale quality.

I had not seen Einstein and his wife since their major excursion abroad. They admitted quite unaffectedly that their reception in the United States and Britain were veritable triumphs. Einstein gave a slightly ironic, sceptical twist to their description by claiming that he cannot make out why people are so interested in his theories. His wife told me how he kept on saying to her that he felt like a cheat, a confidence trickster who was failing to give them whatever they hoped for.

He wanted to know precisely, and made me repeat several times, what message Painlevé gave me for him and what he said about his Paris trip. He is starting on this in the next few days and will stay there a week. He expects university circles here to take it amiss, but they are a terrible lot and he feels quite sick when he thinks of them. In Paris he hopes to be able to do something towards resumption of relations between German and French scholars. He brushed aside his differences with Painlevé as a detail, appearing to attach no importance to them. In autumn he intends to comply with invitations to visit China and Japan, giving lectures at Peking and Tokyo. He must see the Far East, he has confided to his wife, while the big drum is still being banged on his account; that much he insists on obtaining from the hullabaloo.

He and his wife kept me back when the other guests left. We sat in a comer and chatted. When I confessed to sensing the significance of his theories more than I can properly grasp them, Einstein smiled. They are really quite easy, he retorted, and he would explain them to me in a few words which would immediately render them intelligible. I must imagine a glass ball with a light at its summit resting on a table. Flat (two-dimensional) rings or ‘beetles’ move about the surface of the ball. So far a perfectly straightforward notion. The surface of the ball, regarded two-dimensionally, is a limitless but finite surface. Consequently the beetles move (two-dimensionally) over a limitless but finite surface. Now I must consider the shadows thrown by the beetles on the table, due to the light in the ball. The surface covered by these shadows on the table and its extension in all directions is also, like the surface of the ball, limitless but finite. That is, the number of conic shadows or conic sections caused by the theoretically extended table never exceeds the number of beetles on the ball; and, since this number is finite, so the number of shadows is necessarily finite. Here we have the concept of limitless but finite surface.

Now I must substitute three-dimensional concentric glass balls for the two-dimensional beetle shadows. By going through the same imaginative process as before, I shall attain the image of limitless yet finite space (a three-dimensional quality). But, he added, the significance of his theory lies by no means in these thought processes and concepts. That is derived from the connection between matter, space, and time, proving that none of these exists by itself, but that each is always conditioned by the other two.

It is the inextricable connection between matter, space, and time that is new in the theory of relativity. What he does not understand is why people have become so excited about it. When Copernicus dethroned the earth from its position as the focal point of creation, the excitement was understandable because a revolution in all man’s ideas really did occur. But what change does his own theory produce in humanity’s view of things? It is a theory which harmonizes with every reasonable outlook or philosophy and does not interfere with anybody being an idealist or materialist, pragmatist or whatever else he likes.’

16 April 1932
‘General demobilization and disarmament of the various civil war armies. It is a radical liquidation of the situation which, on my return to Germany, so surprised and disquieted me. At that time, a month ago, we really stood on the edge of a civil war between perfectly drilled, organized, armed, and fully equipped armies of several hundred thousand men on each side, simply waiting for the signal to attack one another. That this situation has been resolved by a stroke of the pen, that the SA and the SS (reputedly four hundred thousand men) allowed themselves with such lamblike patience to be disarmed and broken up (nowhere did they put up any resistance worth mentioning) seems almost suspicious.

If the operation has indeed been carried out seriously and thoroughly, it signifies the greatest change in public affairs since the defeat of the Spartacus uprising in March 1919. The behaviour of Hitler and his followers seems pretty chicken-hearted in comparison, but may well be consistent with the infirm, strongly feminine character of Hitler and his entourage. Therein too they resemble William II, loud-mouthed and nothing behind it when it comes to the point. A fully equipped army of four hundred thousand men (so Hitler maintains, and he probably believes it) and then, without the slightest resistance, unconditional surrender! One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry! Is this the ‘German desire for military preparedness’ which Hitler ostensibly wants to re-awaken and invigorate? Pitiable!’

30 January 1933
‘At two o’clock Max came to lunch and brought with him the news of Hiltler’s appointment as Chancellor. I was astounded. I did not anticipate this turn of events, and so quickly at that. Downstairs our Nazi concierge inaugurated exuberant celebrations.

In the evening dinner at the Kaiserhof followed by Coudenhove’s lecture on ‘Germany’s European Mission’, which he of course interprets as fulfilment of his Pan-European idea. What I dislike is that he wants to see it established as a preventive against Soviet Russia and thereby plays into the hands of those imperialists and propagandists who want a war of annihilation against the Bolsheviks. He expressly quoted Churchill and Amery as supporting his Pan-European concept.

In the discussion which followed, Hoetzsch very properly told him that the notion of playing off western Europe against Russia is one to appeal only to the generation aged over fifty: European youth as a whole (including right-wingers) is already far too imbued with collectivist and socialist theories to go along with him. Coudenhove’s trains of thought are logically cogent but remain unconvincing because they derive from far too narrow and biased a selection of facts. All the same, he speaks clearly and has a humanely appealing approach; un homme de coeur.

I sat at a small table between Coudenhove and the celebrated Herr von Strauss, formerly of the Deutsche Bank, who talked very big about his intimate association with Hitler. The latter, he claimed, has promised to fulfil whatever wish he may acquaint him with. I permitted myself to chaff him wickedly by saying that a few days ago I was pleased to learn, from someone who ought to know, that Otto Wolff has paid Hitler’s debts for him. Strauss, very red in the face, was extremely cross and growlingly denied my story. Simons, the former Supreme Court president, was at our table. So was Seeckt, who invited me to attend one of his wife’s regular Monday afternoon at-homes. Gossip included the titbit that the first Cabinet meeting this morning already saw a row between Hugenberg and Hitler.

Tonight Berlin is in a really festive mood. SA and SS troops as well as uniformed Stahlhelm units are marching through the streets while spectators crowd the pavements. In and around the Kaiserhof there was a proper to-do,with SS drawn up in double line outside the main door and inside the hall. When we left after Coudenhove’s address, some secondary celebrities (Hitler himself was in the Chancellery) were taking the salute, Fascist style, at an endless SA goose-stepping parade.

I drove with S. to the Furstenberg beer hall. SA troops were also marching back and forth across the Potsdamer Platz, but the peak of the festive mood was reached inside the hall. Five of us were sitting with S. at a table when a couple of blonde tarts appeared on the scene. They promptly accepted his invitation to sit down and we spent the rest of the evening, until two o’clock in the morning, in their company. At first I was under the impression that the pair were old acquaintances of S. This turned out to be a mistake. He became more and more embarrassed as time moved on but they did not. They swallowed down with hearty appetite whatever was offered them, suggested that he tutoyer them, and called him ‘grandad’. It was a worthy ending to, and appropriate to the general temper of, this ‘historic’ day.’

The Diary Junction

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Tina Brown’s Vanity Fair

‘As soon as I woke up I rushed to the newsstand on the corner to look for the April issue of Vanity Fair. The second edition is even more baffling than the first one I saw in London in February. The cover is some incomprehensible multicolored tin-man graphic with no cover lines that will surely tank on the newsstand.’ This is from the opening diary entry in Tina Brown’s The Vanity Fair Diaries: 1983-1992 just published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson. She would go on to ‘triumphantly reinvent’ the US magazine, just as she had done with Tatler in London. The diaries have received widespread publicity, and some extracts can be found online, in reviews and at Googlebooks.

Christina (Tina) Hambley Brown was born in Maidenhead, England, in 1953, but was brought up in Little Marlow, Buckinghamshire, with an elder brother. Her father was a film producer, working on early Agatha Christie films, among others, and her mother was an assistant to Laurence Olivier. Tina was a precocious but subversive school child, being expelled from three boarding schools, and entering St. Anne’s College, Oxford, aged only 17, to study English literature. Even before graduating, she had begun writing for the New Statesman and had won a National Student Drama Award for a play (Under the Bamboo Tree).

In 1973, Brown met Harold Evans, editor of the The Sunday Times, and she was soon being given freelance assignments for the newspaper. After starting a relationship with Evans (25 years older than her), she moved to work for The Sunday Telegraph. In 1979, she became editor of 
Tatler, then a publication with a fast diminishing circulation, and transformed it into glossy popular magazine featuring famous photographers and writers. In 1981, she married Evans, and they would have two children, George and Isabel. The following year, when Condé Nast bought Tatler, Brown resigned, but she was then enticed back by the company’s owner S. I. Newhouse Jr., to advise on resurrecting Vanity Fair in New York City. In 1984, she was named editor-in-chief. Vanity Fair’s circulation rose dramatically. In 1992, she was invited to take over as editor of The New Yorker, only the fourth editor in its history, and remained in that position until 1998. Brown then went to work for Harvey Weinstein and Bob Weinstein’s Miramax Films venture, editing Talk magazine, until it folded in 2002.

In 2007, Brown published her biography of Diana, Princess of Wales, which was a critical and popular success, and the year after that she worked with Barry Diller to launch The Daily Beast, an online news magazine which went on to win various awards. In 2010, The Daily Beast and Newsweek announced a merger of their operations, The Newsweek Daily Beast Company with Tina Brown as editor-in-chief. Newsweek ceased publishing in December 2012, and Brown resigned her position in 2013. She now runs Tina Brown Media. For more biographical information see Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, or The Guardian.

Most recently, however, Brown has been working on a new book, The Vanity Fair Diaries: 1983-1992, which was published by W&N a couple of weeks ago (14 November 2017). Here is the publisher’s blurb (even though it declined to provide me with a review copy): ‘The Vanity Fair Diaries is the story of an Englishwoman barely out of her twenties who arrives in Manhattan on a mission. Summoned from London in hopes that she can save Condé Nast's troubled new flagship Vanity Fair, Tina Brown is immediately plunged into the maelstrom of the competitive New York media world and the backstabbing rivalries at the court of the planet's slickest, most glamour-focused magazine company. She survives the politics, the intrigue and the attempts to derail her by a simple stratagem: succeeding. In the face of rampant scepticism, she triumphantly reinvents a failing magazine.’

Some pages of Brown’s diaries can be read at Amazon and Googlebooks, while extracts can be read at Vogue, MSNBC and The Globe and Mail. Otherwise, reviews of the book can be found at New Statesman, Financial Times, The New York Times and The New Yorker. And here are a few extracts cribbed from those sources.

10 April 1983
‘I am here in NYC at last, brimming with fear and insecurity. Getting in late last night on British Airways, I suddenly felt the enormousness of New York City, the noise of it, the speed of it, the lonely obliviousness of so many people trying to get ahead. My London bravado began to evaporate. I wished I was with Harry, who I knew would be sitting at his computer in front of his study window, in Kent, furiously pounding away about Rupert Murdoch.

I am staying at the Royalton Hotel on West Forty-Fourth Street, opposite the Algonquin Hotel. It’s a bit of a fleapit but in walking distance to the Conde Nast HQ at 350 Madison Avenue. The man at the desk seemed half-asleep when I checked in and there was no one around to haul my bag to the elevator. All the way in from JFK in the taxi, a phone-in show was blaring a woman with a rasping German accent talking in excruciating detail about blow jobs. The instructions crackling from the radio to “tek it in the mouth und move it slowly, slowly up und down” got so oppressive I asked the cabdriver what the hell he was listening to. He said it was a sex therapist called Dr. Ruth who apparently gives advice on the radio and has an enormous following.

As soon as I woke up I rushed to the newsstand on the corner to look for the April issue of Vanity Fair. The second edition is even more baffling than the first one I saw in London in February. The cover is some incomprehensible multicolored tin-man graphic with no cover lines that will surely tank on the newsstand. Some stunning photographs - they can afford Irving Penn and Reinhart Wolf, which made me pine with envy, and they don’t disappoint - but the display copy is nonexistent, so it’s not clear why they are there. There’s a brainy but boring Helen Vendler essay next to an Amy Clampitt poem, a piece headed (seriously) “What’s Wrong with Modern Conducting?” and a gassy run of pages from V. S. Naipaul’s autobiography. All this would be fine in the Times Literary Supplement, but when it’s on glossy paper with exploding, illegible graphics, it’s a migraine mag for God knows whom. Plus I learned today the Naipaul extract cost them seventy thousand dollars! That’s nearly a whole year’s budget at Tatler!

The question is, how long can Richard Locke survive as VF’s editor?

Leo Lerman, the old features legend at Vogue, heard I was in town and called me at the Royalton early this morning. He twittered on about last night’s screening, then asked me to think of a piece to write for Vogue, so that’s a relief. It means that leaving Tatler in the UK so abruptly hasn’t alienated the US Condé Nast powers as I feared.’

10 September 1983
‘The suspense about VF is now making me a basket case. I went to see wonderful Dr. Tom Stuttaford for sleeping pills and he was at his tweedy best. I told him about all my mixed-up longings. “Hmm,” he said. “I never did understand your infatuation with America. I tried it once and wouldn’t dream of making it a habit.” He removed his fountain pen and wrote a new prescription with an inky flourish. “Here’s my diagnosis, Tina. Buy a large house in the country, have a couple of babies, and just accept you are complicated.” In other words, just go off and be a wife.’

22 August 1990
‘So long between entries. Have had the whole family to stay at Quogue. Heaven having the cousins here for George.

When not with the kids have been glued to CNN, watching the developments in the crisis in the Gulf since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. He's such a preposterous figure, with the backward beret and huge chimney-sweep mustache, but clearly much more dangerous than anyone gave him credit for. No one took Hitler seriously either. It seems to be the hallmark of the most dangerous dictators that no one considers them a threat until too late.

The September issue is a news storm with the Trump piece and the Hitler speeches revelation. Happily, Trump trashed us to Barbara Walters on her show, and that spun another column from Liz Smith.’

16 August 1991
‘We christened Izzy last weekend on one of the nicest days we could have dreamed of, at the Church of the Atonement, Quogue’s little clapboard church, as we did for G. It was a glorious day. We had all the friends over for a buffet lunch on the porch and a local band playing at the entrance. Izzy looked so adorable in her frothy little dress, with those huge eyes in her china-doll face. She loved being swooped up and down by all the guests, grabbed the rector’s cross from around his neck, and chomped on it happily. She has all Harry’s power-packed energy and his equable temperament. Nothing fazes her as she moves from one passionate absorption to the next. How lucky I am.’

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Farington, painter and diarist

Joseph Farington, a British landscape painter and an active member of the Royal Academy from its inception, was born 270 years ago today. His forte, according to modern biographers, lay in the accurate topographical drawings he prepared for engravings of British views - of the Lake District, for example, and the River Thames. However, he is probably better remembered today for the detailed diary he kept over a period of more than 30 years. It provides a vivid picture of late 18th and early 19th century London, particularly its art scene, as well as the places he visited on his travels in Britain and abroad.

Farington was born in Leigh, Lancashire, on 21 November 1747, the son of a local vicar. After studying in Manchester, he moved to London to train with the landscape painter Richard Wilson, and won several prizes, awarded by the Society of Artists, for landscape drawings. He joined the Royal Academy when it was founded in 1769, and remained an active member for most of his life. In 1776, he married Susan Mary Hamond, a relative of the Walpole family, but they had no children. When she died, in 1800, Farington suffered a breakdown, and was unable to draw or paint for some months.

It is difficult to make a real appraisal of Farington’s paintings, Evelyn Newby says in the Oxford National Dictionary of Biography (log-in required), as they are scattered in many private and public collections, and rarely appear in art sales. But, she adds, Farington’s forte lay in the careful and accurate topographical drawings he prepared of British views for engravings which proved popular among tourists. Having lived in the north of England in the latter part of the 1770s, a first folio of such works, published in 1785, was titled Views of the Lakes of Cumberland and Westmorland. A decade later came History of the River Thames in two volumes. He also contributed to other series of artworks, notably Britannia depicta and Magna Britannia, neither of which, though, were ever completed due to excessive costs. He died in 1821. Further biographical information can also be found at Wikipedia. (See also Farington on Dance.)

Farington is particularly remembered today for his diary, which he started writing in 1793 and continued until the day of his death. It provides a vivid picture of the London art world in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and much else besides - society, politics, literary events, and his journeys in England and abroad. According to Newby, Farington wrote a diary for his own amusement and as an aide-mémoire. The manuscripts were passed down through the artist’s family until sold at auction in 1921 to the Morning Post (a conservative newspaper published in London from the 1770s to 1937 when it was acquired by The Daily Telegraph). They were then edited by the newspaper’s art critic James Greig for serialisation, before being published by Hutchinson & Co between 1922 and 1928 as The Farington Diary in eight volumes. In 1934, the originals were gifted to George V, and are now housed in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle - the Royal Collection Trust website provides a considerable amount of information about the original manuscripts. Between 1978 and 1984, Yale University published the diaries in 16 volumes; and, more recently, in 1998, it issued a 1,000 page index of those volumes compiled by Newby.

The following extracts are taken from the first and second of the Hutchinson volumes (and can also be found in Brighton in Diaries).

24 February 1800
‘This day the greatest calamity that could fall upon me I suffered in the death of the best, the most affectionate, the most amiable of woemen, my beloved wife. Unexpected indeed was the blow, long had I reason to consider her delicate frame with apprehension, but as she had encountered the severity of many winters so I fondly hoped she might do this and that a more favorable season would restore Her strength. The time was now come when this hope was to be fruitless. Yesterday evening she was declared to be better, but in the night a change took place & at 3 o’clock this day I witnessed the departure of what I held most dear on earth. Without a sigh, with the appearance of only gentle sleep, did my beloved expire, to be received by that God to whom Her duty had been exemplary. May He in his mercies dispose my heart to follow the example of Her who discharged every duty so as to excite the love & respect of all, so that those remaining years which it may please God to allow to me may be devoted to His service and I may be rendered fit to hope for the mercies of my Creator through the mediation of Jesus Christ our blessed Lord Saviour.’

3 April 1800
‘This day I added this continuation of my journal, which I could not do before since that period when I was deprived of the great blessing of my life.’

11 April 1800
‘Mr Crozier called on me this morning and strengthened my mind with conversation and advice suited to my situation. He told me the consequence of continuing in the desponding way I have been in wd. be mental derangement or a nervous consumption. Both in a moral & religious view He shewed it to be my duty to get the better of my grief and that must be by having recourse to Society & to exercise & amusements - that medicine wd. do little for me.’

10 October 1802
‘At ¼past four oClock we dined & at Ten at night went on board the Packet which soon got under way. There were 15 people Passengers. In the Great Cabin there were 12 Bed places in two rows; the lowest very near the ground. I got an Upper Bed place & abt ½past 10 laid down, as did most of the Passengers. The night passed comfortably enough as I did not suffer the least inconvenience from the motion of the vessel. At eight oClock in the morning we were well on our way. A Calm of three Hours had delayed us in the night, but we now proceeded at the rate of 5 or 6 miles an hour. The Weather was Cloudy, but pleasant.

I had some conversation with one of the Passengers a Scotch Gentleman who was returning after having made a tour in France and Italy. He said when He arrived at Calais from England He purchased a Horse and rode the whole way from that town to Genoa where He disposed of his Horse & went on by other conveyances. He noticed how very generally the land in France was in a state of Agriculture, but He thought the people appeared to be but indifferent farmers. He mentioned how detested the French are by the Italians, and the English respected. He had coasted along part of the Shores of Italy in one of their Coasting vessels which He described as having subjected him to greater endurance than He had ever before suffered. It was the most disagreeable situation that can be imagined. He travelled from Genoa to Pisa, 150 miles, on Mules & had very bad accommodation on the way. The weather in Italy in the Summer was extremely hot.

We arrived off Brighton abt. a quarter past 2 oClock in the afternoon, when a Custom House boat came along side & took out all our Baggage, and the Passengers, and landed us at Brighton at three oClock. The fare from Dieppe to Brighton was a guinea and a half for each person, and two shillings 6d. to the Crew. We were conducted to the Custom House Office and our Trunks were more strictly examined than they had before been at any place. Some painting Brushes which I had brought over were detained. We each paid 3s. 6d. for this examination and our Trunks were then carried to the Old Ship Inn which we made our Head-quarters. On going to the Custom House Office again after their hurry of business was over, we found them disposed to let our Brushes pass with. paying duty as being articles of little value, nor did we pay any additional fee.

When I landed on the Beach John Offley was standing before me. Seeing a Vessel coming in from France He walked down to meet it thinking it possible that I might be a Passenger. We also met Mr Sharpe, who had been with us at Paris, and had lately brought his family to Brighton. Fuseli, Halls and myself dined together at the Inn & Sharpe came to tea. Fuseli’s anxiety & impatience to be in London had now so encreased that not being able to procure places in the Coach for tomorrow morning He & Halls at Eleven oClock set off in a Post Chaise. He said “His mind was in London” and He must go. He was there at breakfast the following morning.

Our excursion was thus completed. Our absence from England had been but short and I could not have expected that on returning any very sensible impression would have been made upon my mind. I had not prepared myself for any other than what France would make upon me. It proved otherways. I felt on my return a difference the most striking; it was expressed in everything; and may be explained by saying that it was coming from disorder to order. From Confusion, to convenience: from subjection to freedom. I no longer saw the people covered with the patches of necessity, or the ridiculous mixtures of frippery imitations of finery with the coarse clothing of poverty. All appeared appropriate and substantial, and every man seemed respectable because his distinct & proper Character was consistently maintained. What must be the nature of that mind that would not feel grateful that it was his Lot to be an Englishman; a man entitled from his Birth to participate in such advantages as in no other country can be found

Such a state for man must naturally have an influence upon the manners of a people. It certainly was manifest to me that the difference in the deportment of the English when compared with the French, is as great as the causes which produce it. I could not be insensible to that Air of independence bordering upon haughtiness, which is manifested in the English Character, but is little seen among the people I had left. Wealth, and Security, and the pride of equal freedom, together habituate the mind to a conscious feeling of self importance that distinguishes the people of England from those of other Countries. But if this effect is produced, if there is less of what is called the Amiable, it is amply made up by a quality of a much higher kind, which is integrity. That is a word which the English may apply to their character by the consent of the whole world more universally than any other nation that exists in it.

The American who was at Dieppe rendered the panegyric of an Englishman unnecessary. He had been an inhabitant of France; Had traversed Germany; and was acquainted with Italy. He had experienced the varieties of each Country, and formed his judgment upon it. His decision was, “that each of the Countries had something to be admired, and something to be approved; But that there was but One England in the World.” ’

14 October 1802
‘Went to breakfast at Mr Kirby’s, the Marine House [Brighton] where I engaged to board at 2 guineas a week. After breakfast walked upon the East Terrace. Saw the Prince, also Lord Thurlow & his daugr. Mrs Brown, and Lord Elenborough to-day. The Prince is much abt. riding & walking. His established companions are Admiral Payne, who has an apartment in the Pavilion, in which, being much a valetudenarian, he has a fire even in July; Trevies, the Jew; Day, who was formerly in India; and Cole Coningham. When the Prince is invited to dine out at Brighton it is usual to ask those persons also.’

20 October 1802
‘While we were walking, the Prince with Mrs Fitzherbert were also on the Steine together, and called on Lord Thurlow. Lord & Lady Elenborough were also there. She of rather a tall size, and her aspect is mild & agreeable. Lord Elenborough is abt. 52 years of age. He was at Cambridge and took his degree when Mr Keddington did. Lord Thurlow has now all the appearance of an old man, being very gouty & infirm.’

13 September 1803
‘In conversation this evening Mr Evans mentioned the singular circumstance of a countryman of his, who gained a fortune by being mistaken for another man. Bob Wilson, as He was called by His friends, had a property of about £400 a year, which being gay and a man of Show, He was supposed rather to have diminished. He came to England, and went to Brighton, with a view to try what confidence & dressing well would do. A short time before He went to Brighton there had been a Mr Wilson, an Irishman, there whose person was remarkably handsome, and who had been proclaimed by the Ladies to be the most captivating of his Sex. The reports of him reached other places and Miss Townshend, a daughter of the Countess of Dalkeith by the late Right Honble. Charles Townshend, had heard his praises, at a time when she was preparing to go to Brighton. On her arrival there she went to the rooms, at the very time that Bob Wilson first made his appearance there, and after the much talked of Mr Wilson had left the place.

Bob was the best dressed man in the room, and his air & manner easy & confident, but his face remarkably plain. It happened however that Miss Townshend heard his name, and Her imagination doing the rest, she fancied she saw in Bob all that she had heard in praise of Mr Wilson. Bob saw the attention with which she regarded him, was introduced to Her danced with her, and in Ten days or a fortnight ran away with & married Her & got £10,000; and Her Brother dying, an estate said to be £3,000 per annum.’

20 July 1804
‘[Porden, the architect, said] He was rapidly proceeding with Lord Grosvenors House at Eaton. The Stone is excellent & it is procured at 10 miles from Eaton. The pinnacles (it is a Gothic design) are executed in Cast Iron, which He said is more desirable than stone & He gets that for 14 shillings which wd. cost in Stone, £9. The frames of the windows are also of Cast Iron. He sd. the mine discovered on Lord Grosvenor estate brings him in £30 or £40,000 a yr. He was building stables at Brighton for the Prince of Wales, of a Circular form in imitation of the famous Corn Market at Paris which was burnt in 1803. The Prince at present takes much interest in building. [The stables are now the Hall known as the Dome which adjoins Brighton Art Galleries and Library.]’


The Diary Junction

Sunday, November 19, 2017

My first day at No. 10

‘My first day at No. 10. It began at 9.30 a.m. and finished at 6.30. In the course of it I met the Prime Minister, who was shy but welcoming, Mrs Chamberlain (who looks utterly vague) [. . .] I read with interest the various drafts, by the Prime Minister, Churchill, Cadogan, Vansittart and Corbin, suggested for the reply to Hitler’s peace proposals. When the proposals are rejected it is thought likely that Hitler will launch a tremendous onslaught. For the moment calm reigns on land, sea and air.’ This is Sir John Rupert Colville, who died 30 years ago today, writing in his diary about his first day working for Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain as a very young assistant private secretary. But, he would stay at No 10 to work for Winston Churchill during the war and then again in the 1950s. His diaries provide a detailed portrait of Churchill, ‘whose blazing presence and wealth of eccentricity’, according to one reviewer, ‘light up almost every page’.

Colville, the youngest of three sons, was born in London in 1915. His father, the Honourable George Colville, was a barrister, and his mother, Lady Cynthia Colville, was a lady in waiting to Queen Mary. As a child, he served as a page of honour to King George V. Educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge, he joined the diplomatic service in 1937. After two years, he was seconded to 10 Downing Street to act as assistant private secretary to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. He served in that same position at No. 10  under Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee. However, after the outbreak of war, he was resolved to sign up, and, eventually, in October 1941 he overcame opposition from his employer, the Foreign Office, to join the Royal Air Force volunteer reserve. He trained in South Africa before being commissioned as a pilot officer and joining 268 squadron of the second Tactical Air Force, flying Mustang fighters. He remained with the air force until the end of 1943 (despite Churchill pressuring him to return to No. 10) and then was allowed to rejoin his unit for the invasion of France before returning to Whitehall in August 1944.

In 1947, Colville left the Foreign Office to become private secretary to Princess Elizabeth, but he only stayed two years before returning to the civil service and being posted to Lisbon as first secretary. Before then, however, in 1948, he married Lady Margaret Egerton, with whom he had two sons and one daughter (who became one of Queen Elizabeth’s many godchildren). In 1951, when Churchill returned to power, Colville left Lisbon to be his principal private secretary, and remained so until Churchill’s retirement in 1955. Subsequently, Colville took up various appointments in the private sector, was a trustee of the Churchill estates, and wrote biographical and autobiographical books, some of them about Churchill. He was knighted in 1974, and died on 19 November 1987. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, The Peerage, or Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required)

Colville kept diaries for at least 20 years, from the start of the war until 1957. These are held at Cambridge University’s Churchill Archives Centre, and all but one are publicly available. Colville himself edited these diaries which were published by Hodder and Stoughton in 1985 as The Fringes of Power: Downing Street Diaries 1939-1955. They are considered particular valuable for the insight they give into Churchill. Indeed more recent editions (see Amazon), such as that in 2004 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, picture Churchill 
(not Colville, the author) on the cover .

Paul Addison’s review in the London Review of Books at the time of initial publication stated: ‘Some readers will enjoy [Colville’s] diaries mainly as a portrait of Churchill, whose blazing presence and wealth of eccentricity light up almost every page. But in the background a larger subject looms up. Three-quarters of the book depicts the Second World War as seen from the pinnacles of Tory and aristocratic society. Densely populated with characters major and minor, and echoing with the table-talk at White’s and the Turf, the Colville diaries are a unique record of a governing class still functioning with superb aplomb in the midst of the People’s War.’


Indeed, Churchill lights up the pages of many other diaries, see for example A third dose of pneumonia (Charles McMoran Wilson) and Went to see P.M. (in bed) (Alexander Cadogan).

Colville explains, in his introduction to The Fringes of Power, how he came to begin writing a diary, and then, eventually, to publish it: ‘On August 23rd I had been due to sail to New York on my first visit to the U.S.A. for a month’s holiday in Wyoming where some close Anglo-American friends had rented a ranch. I looked forward with excitement to seeing America; and I had a strong emotional incentive, which had been growing throughout the summer. Hitler put a stop to all that, for all leave was cancelled just before my ship was due to sail, so at the beginning of September 1939 I was waiting at my desk in Whitehall for war to be declared, twenty-four years old, a Third Secretary in the Diplomatic Service of two years’ standing and tempted to resign before, on my twenty-fifth birthday, my employment should become a reserved occupation from which there would be no escape while the war lasted. Unsure of what was going to happen next, I decided to keep a diary.

I have used extracts from it in several books I have written, and I lent a large part of it to Martin Gilbert for background information and quotation in the concluding volumes of his official life of Winston Churchill. Now, a long time after it was written, I present it in consecutive form, having eliminated a high proportion of the trivial entries which are of no general interest, but leaving in a few which may perhaps help to recapture the “atmosphere” of the time.’

Here are several extracts from the published diaries.

10 October 1939
‘My first day at No. 10. It began at 9.30 a.m. and finished at 6.30. In the course of it I met the Prime Minister, who was shy but welcoming, Mrs Chamberlain (who looks utterly vague), Sir Horace Wilson and Captain David Margesson. The latter said, “You know my daughters, I believe”, with a rather penetrating stare! [The penetrating stare was due to his knowledge that I was deeply in love with his younger daughter, who was beautiful, gay and intelligent.]

I sit in the same room as Miss Watson and Lord Dunglass. Miss Watson showed me how to deal with some of the enormous post which arrives every day now, and I also began looking into the question of the Ecclesiastical patronage with which I am to deal, and about which my predecessor, Jasper Rootham, came to talk to me in the morning.

I read with interest the various drafts, by the Prime Minister, Churchill, Cadogan, Vansittart and Corbin, suggested for the reply to Hitler's peace proposals. When the proposals are rejected it is thought likely that Hitler will launch a tremendous onslaught. For the moment calm reigns on land, sea and air.’

21 October 1939
‘It was a day like summer, and although the leaves were by no means off the trees we could scarcely have had a better shoot. Pheasants were plentiful, the shooting was good, and we killed well over 250.

At lunch I sat next to an American girl called Gracia Nevill, who gave me a description of an hour’s conversation she had had with Hitler at Berchtesgaden and described the complete difference in him when he was talking of politics and when he was talking of other matters. In the former case he was a fanatic, in the latter a quiet and very impressive conversationalist.’

2 July 1940
‘Tomorrow at dawn we put into operation a plan called CATAPULT which entails the seizure of all French ships in British ports and, later in the day, an ultimatum to the big French capital ships at Oran.

The P.M. says that in the event of invasion London should be defended. To take it would cost the Germans many lives. Secret Service reports from Norway make it clear that invasion is being prepared from there as well as from other quarters. It is suggested that Iceland and the Shetlands may be among the first objectives, that a feint will be made against the East Coast, but that the real attack will be from the West.

Beaverbrook wants to resign because of his difficulties with the Air Ministry and, in particular, with the Air Marshals. Winston won’t hear of any such thing at the present moment and, of course, it does rather look as if B. wanted to leave now, at the peak of success in aircraft production, before new difficulties arise. It is like trying to stop playing cards immediately after a run of luck.

Brendan Bracken is apparently to be allowed to supervise the appointment of bishops - which I find a little hard to stomach. Brendan is all very well - intelligent, forceful and often sensible - but he is not the man to deal with bishops.

Winston returned about 10.45 p.m. from a tour of defences in the South and life became both hot and hectic.’

14 May 1945
‘At No. 10 I found everybody looking rather strained after a week of violent rejoicing and tumult. Mrs Churchill was just back from Russia where her tour has been a remarkable success.

The volume of work is if anything more pressing than when I left. Victory has brought no respite. The P.M. looks tired and has to fight for the energy to deal with the problems confronting him. These include the settlement of Europe, the last round of war in the East, an election on the way, and the dark cloud of Russian imponderability. In Venezia Giulia we stand on the brink of an armed clash with Tito, secure of Russian support, who wishes to seize Trieste, Pola, etc., from Italy without awaiting the adjudication of the Peace Conference. The Americans seem willing to stand four square with us and Truman shows great virility; but Alexander has alarmed them - and incensed the P.M. - by casting doubts on the attitude of the Anglo-American troops, should there come an armed clash with the Yugoslavs. Equally, as regards the Polish question, Russia shows no willingness to compromise and storm clouds threaten. Finally, as if we had not enough, de Gaulle sends a cruiser full of troops to Syria, where the position is delicate and the feeling against French domination strong, and there is a possible threat of a show-down, with British troops involved, in the Levant.

At 2.30 the P.M. went to bed, leaving almost untouched the voluminous weight of paper which awaits his decision. He told me that he doubted if he had the strength to carry on.’

23 May 1945
‘The P.M. went to the Palace at noon, as pre-arranged, and asked to resign. Then there was a pause, as the P.M. was anxious to emphasise to the public that the King has the right to decide for whom he shall send, and at 4.00 he returned to be invited to form a new, and a Conservative, Government. On the whole I think the people are on the P.M.’s side in this preliminary skirmish and it is generally supposed that many will vote for the Conservatives merely out of personal loyalty to W.S.C. Parliament will be dissolved in three weeks and the election will be on July 5th.

At No. 10 no work is being done by the P.M. We are all having to deal ourselves with many papers which ought to be submitted to him and I have persuaded the Foreign Office to send us the very minimum of minutes. I “weed” every day some sixty per cent of the Foreign Office telegrams. I suppose that three times as much paper comes to us now as in 1940 and that the P.M. sees half as much. But, of course, the problems, though more immediately grave then, were simpler in that the machinery of Government was far less elaborate and we had no Allies. Now there are boards and committees without number and two mighty Allies to be considered at every turn, apart from the host of lesser concerns such as French tactlessness in the Levant, Greek claims to the Dodecanese, internal Italian feuds, etc., etc. In 1941, when I left to join the R.A.F., I used often to be comparatively idle for days at a time and to think we were overstaffed. Now, apart from the Prof., Desmond Morton and Harvie-Watt we are six Private Secretaries (of whom Anthony Bevir, concentrating on Patronage, and Miss Watson on Parliamentary Questions, take no part in the routine of the office in current affairs), three male clerks, three eminently efficient women who look after the vast files of secret papers, and about sixteen typists, etc. Yet we seem to be understaffed.’

16 July 1954
‘Things came to a head today, at any rate within 10 Downing Street. Before luncheon Harold Macmillan came to see Lady Churchill and told her that the Cabinet was in danger of breaking up on this issue. When he had gone she rang me up and asked me to come and see her. I in fact knew more about the situation than she did and since she proposed to “open” the matter to Winston at luncheon, I suggested I should stay too.

She began by putting her foot into it in saying that the Cabinet were angry with W. for mishandling the situation, instead of saying that they were trying to stop Salisbury going. He snapped back at her - which he seldom does - and afterwards complained to me that she always put the worst complexion on everything in so far as it affected him. However, he did begin to see that Salisbury’s resignation would be serious on this issue, whereas two days ago when I mentioned the possibility to him he said that he didn’t “give a damn”. On the other hand it became clear that he had taken the steps he had, without consulting the Cabinet, quite deliberately. He admitted to me that if he had waited to consult the Cabinet after the Queen Elizabeth returned, they would almost certainly have raised objections and caused delays. The stakes in this matter were so high and, as he sees it, the possible benefits so crucial to our survival, that he was prepared to adopt any methods to get a meeting with the Russians arranged.’

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Laid out on the deck

‘We were then allowed to leave our stations to get some supper. In order to get aft it was necessary to go along the mess deck. Many people did not know till then that we had been hit, but one realised it terribly then. There was an extraordinary reek of T.N.T. fumes, which mixed with the smell of disinfectant and blood was awful. Nearly all the killed, some twenty-four in number, were lying laid out on the deck, and many were terribly wounded, limbs being completely blown off and nearly all burnt.’ This is Patrick Blackett, born 120 years ago today, writing in a diary he kept as a teenager while serving in the British Navy during the First World War. He went on to become a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, and to play an important role in the Second World War as Director of Naval Operational Research.

Blackett was born in London on 18 November 1897, the son of a stockbroker. He was schooled in Guildford, then at the Royal Naval College, on the Isle of Wight, and at Dartmouth. During WWI, he was assigned to active service as midshipman on HMS Carnarvon, serving in the Falkland Islands, and, having been transferred to HMS Barham, at the Battle of Jutland. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1918, but resigned from the navy in early 1919 to study mathematics and physics at Cambridge. After graduating from Magdalene College in 1921, he worked as an experimental physicist at the university’s Cavendish Laboratory (under Ernest Rutherford) becoming a fellow of King’s College in 1923.

Blackett married Constanza Bayon in 1924; they had one son and one daughter. Soon after, he spent time at Göttingen, Germany, working with James Franck on atomic spectra, but he remained at the Cavendish Laboratory until the early 1930s. He then spent four years at Birkbeck College, University of London, as professor of physics. During this period, he became more involved with government military issues, joining a committee that advocated development of radar for defence against enemy air attack. In 1937, he moved to Manchester University, as the Langworthy Professor, where he launched a major international research lab. He was a committed socialist, and would often campaign for the Labour Party.

At the start of WWII, Blackett joined the Royal Aircraft Establishment where he worked on the design of the Mark 14 bombsight, and by 1940 he had become a scientific adviser to General Frederick A. Pile, the commander-in-chief of anti-aircraft command. By the end of 1941, he was Chief Adviser on Operational Research (later Director of Naval Operational Research) at the Admiralty, where he was a major influence in the British strategy against U-boats. Towards the end of the war, and thereafter, his left-wing views were often at odds to mainstream thinking (he argued against saturation bombing of German cities, for example, and British development of an atomic bomb). In 1948, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his investigation of cosmic rays using the counter-controlled cloud chamber (his own invention).

In 1953, Blackett was appointed professor and head of physics at Imperial College, where he became senior research fellow in 1965. The same year, he was made president of the Royal Society, and a Companion of Honour by the Queen. In 1969, he was created a life peer. He died in 1974. Further information is readily available online at Wikipedia, the Nobel Prize website, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required), Informs, or a YouTube animation!

As a young man, during WWI, Blackett kept a diary. Today, this is held by his son, Nicolas. However, he has transcribed it and deposited copies at the Admiralty Library, Royal Naval Museum, Portsmouth, and the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. Although the diary has not been published, quotes from it can be found in the biographical essays that make up Patrick Blackett: Sailor, Scientist and Socialist (Frank Cass, 2003, edited by Peter Hore), notably in the opening chapter - Boy Blackett - written by Blackett himself, and chapter four (which overlaps the same time period) - Blackett at Sea - written by Hore. Some pages can be freely sampled at Googlebooks.

After the 25 May 1917 diary entry (see below), Hore explains: ‘The diary upon which this story depends was becoming more and more spasmodic. . . What entries there are increasingly reflect his moods and intellectual curiosity rather than the routine of life in a destroyer in the Grand Fleet. There was one entry between May and August, which had needed the restorative effect of a vigorous sail in the ship’s whaler (‘the mizzen unshipped and two reefs in the main and fore’). On 30 September he had required the stimulation of near drowning, when, after Sturgeon had broken down in a gale and was struggling to pass a tow, he narrowly avoided being swept off the rolling deck into the sea.’

31 May 1916
‘The day dawned glorious but with a slowly falling glass. When I got up I heard that the Lion, five miles ahead of us had sighted a submarine and the Royalist fired at it. During my forenoon watch we had several submarine scares, once when the Lion sighted one ahead of us. We could not see her, however. Some suspicious neutral trawlers were about as usual. Our station was five miles astern of the Battle Cruiser Squadrons. The latter were six in number, the Lion and 1st BCS in one line and the Indefatigable and New Zealand on their port beam. The Australia is in dock as is also the Queen Elizabeth. We went to Exercise Action in the forenoon to clear away and to get the cages loaded. I slept all the afternoon and just after tea, about 3.50 p.m. ‘Action’ was sounded. When we realised it was without the ‘G’: real action that is, we wondered what was up. Of course I could not find my Gieve [life belt] - I had put it in the gunroom five minutes before, but it had apparently vanished. We closed up and learnt that some light cruisers of the enemy had been sighted. Just before five o’clock we loaded and trained on a light cruiser - the first German ship I have seen since the Falkland Islands. At 4.57 p.m. we opened fire at about 18,000 yds. range. A few minutes earlier we had seen the flashes of the Battle Cruisers firing ahead of us. After two salvoes at the light cruiser, both of which failed to hit, we shifted target on to the 2nd German battle cruiser from the left, probably the Seydlitz. The visibility was not good but our shooting might have been much better. I saw a lot of misses for deflection. I could see through my periscope quite well at first, but later it got misty and was eventually smashed. We were firing on and off, when we could see, and for the first part were not being fired at. After a short time we passed a destroyer picking up survivors from an oily patch on the water. I had, of course, no idea what it was that had sunk but learnt later that it was the Queen Mary. I also saw one of our ‘M’-class destroyers with her bow out of the water and very much down by the stem. I did not like it a bit when we began to be fired at, seeing the splashes a few yards short, all their shots falling very close together. The noise of them falling was just like our six inch guns going off. Things did not seem to be going very well then, but I was very cheered to see one beautiful straddle we made on one of the German Battle Cruisers, one of our shots bursting on the waterline armour. I saw the flash of it. We then fired four more salvoes rapid and straddled again. After this I saw an explosion aft. We then shifted target. About a quarter to six the British battle cruisers turned sixteen points to starboard and crossed our line of fire. About 6 p.m. we also turned and during it got a bad strafing from the German 3rd Division, their crack squadron. As the Battle Cruisers crossed in front of us I saw that there were only four instead of six, so knew they must have been badly strafed. I saw one of the Lion’s turrets out of action by a shell, also one of the Princess Royal’s.

About this time we got the cheering news that the Grand Fleet was coming up. We carried on firing at ranges varying from 24,000 yds. to, at the end, as little as 8000 yds. Most of the time we could see nothing but the flashes of their guns. These were very curious. The guns fired in succession beginning with the after gun, so that one saw a succession of flashes, not all at once, as with our director control, or haphazard as in individual control. It was very horrible seeing the flashes, then waiting for the salvoes to fall. They formed very small splashes of far lesser height than ours, and they caused practically no interference with our fire.

The terrible part of it was that we could not see them to reply, for they had the modern ‘weather gauge’ not of wind but of light. We were silhouetted against the bright western sky and they were merged in a great haze.

About this time we got our ‘five minutes hate’. It really lasted much longer and was extraordinarily unpleasant. It is estimated that some five hundred 12-inch bricks were fired at the Barham and the rest of the squadron. How we survived with so very few hits I have no idea. Many people say that we were saved by one of the armoured cruiser squadrons. They got in front of us and made a very great smoke screen, which I believe was meant to shield themselves, but it effectively screened us and saved us from a far worse strafing. The terrible fate of the ships I did not see luckily. We do not quite know why Arbuthnot (R.A.Defence) got there at all.

Soon after this the German destroyers attacked and met ours in the middle between the lines. One got through and about five torpedo tracks were seen from the ship, all of which we avoided, but one mouldy [torpedo] struck the Marlborough. This ship was three ahead of us in the line of the Grand Fleet, when deployed but she continued in the line after being hit. She had a ten degree list. Everyone was very relieved that the Grand Fleet had joined up, for it was exceedingly unpleasant alone. About this time we trained fore and aft and lined up. I went on top of the turret and saw the battle line extending miles into the mist. The German ships were not visible. We avoided more than one torpedo attack by submarine and the Revenge, two ships ahead claims to have rammed and sunk one. The 1st Battle Squadron was next ahead of us and did a good deal of shooting. The 4th ahead of them did less and the 2nd in the van practically none. If we had only another hour of daylight I drink very few Germans would have got back. We tried to close them about 9 p.m. but had to draw off eventually owing to the gathering dark.

We were then allowed to leave our stations to get some supper. In order to get aft it was necessary to go along the mess deck. Many people did not know till then that we had been hit, but one realised it terribly then. There was an extraordinary reek of T.N.T. fumes, which mixed with the smell of disinfectant and blood was awful. Nearly all the killed, some twenty-four in number, were lying laid out on the deck, and many were terribly wounded, limbs being completely blown off and nearly all burnt. I then learned that the Padre and Paymaster had been killed in the Forward Medical Distributing station. When I got to the gun-room flat, I found the whole place completely wrecked. The gun-room and the Eng. Comm’s cabin were merged into one and the flat outside riddled with holes. The after cabin was also in an appalling mess.

I got some food in the wardroom and then returned to my turret. As I was going there I saw a very violent action, some way off on our starboard beam. Some of our light cruisers had met and blown up a German one. Various actions continued all night, the flashes being very visible and one huge explosion being seen. The night was very trying, waiting closed up - trying to sleep in turns.

We expected to renew the action at dawn and had everything ready.’

1 June 1916
‘Dawn was welcomed as an end to waiting. I had the morning watch and left my turret to go on to the bridge. The weather was thick and beastly. We were with the rest of the Grand Fleet and were steaming up and down, in order to try and keep the huns from returning to port. The battle cruiser suddenly appeared and then went off again. There were five, not six of them, the Indomitable and Inflexible having joined up. The German fleet had been reported S.W. of us. Until 2 a.m. we were in touch with them and small actions were going on. But after that we lost touch owing to the thick weather. We could only see about three miles. The battle cruisers reported sighting a Zep. It was probably this that enabled them to escape.

We sighted nothing but a mine, which passed fairly close to us. About noon we turned round and made for Scapa, rather disappointed to have not finished the show off, but I must say longing to get into a defended harbour and sleep. For it had been a great strain, twenty-four hours at actions stations, and part of it, when we were under a very heavy fire without being able to reply, had been terrible.

I learnt at intervals of incidents in the fight which I had not seen: the blowing up of the three British battle cruisers after a very few salvoes, the terrible strafing the 1st armoured cruiser squadron got, ending in the Defence and Black Prince blowing up and sinking, and the Warrior blowing up aft and being taken in tow by the Engadine, but sinking eventually.

Several destroyer attacks were made and a lot of light cruiser and destroyer actions occurred between the lines. We sank one German destroyer by 6 inch fire - I think the one that torpedoed the Marlborough. A submarine was sighted close to the ship but disappeared on being fired at. The Revenge claims to have sunk one by ramming. As to the enemy losses it is very difficult to decide anything as we could see so little. But one ‘Kaiser’ class certainly blew up amidships and a battle cruiser or two very badly strafed indeed. One curious three funnelled ship was sunk, but what she was we do not know.

We had great hopes of good results from the night’s actions, for we had seen one light cruiser given hell by ours and left a glowing mass.

We had several fires on board but they had been very quickly put out. The worst hit was forward. A shell, or rather two came in on the starboard glacis. They both burst on or near the mess deck. One, the forward of the two, wrecked the boys’ mess deck and medical store, splinters smashing the starboard hydraulic pump and the telemotor in the lower conning tower. It was this hit which killed Mr. Blythe. The other shell hit the cordite in the forward end of the battery and then burst in the Forward Medical Distributing station causing many casualties. The irony of it lay in the fact that the sick bay, from where everyone had been removed, as it was unprotected, was entirely untouched. The cordite fire in the battery caused many serious burns and only escaped flashing down to the magazine by a miracle; a fragment did actually penetrate there, Lieut. Porter did very well in the battery, putting the fire out and rescuing the men. He got badly burnt.

We steamed back to Scapa with the Grand Fleet, the weather getting nasty as we went.

The Valiant, being uninjured, left us for Rosyth. The Warspite, who had boon damaged in the engine room hauled out of the line and then went back to Rosyth. The Marlborough managed to get back to Immingham.

We arrived at Scapa about 12.30 a.m. on June 2nd and at once started to oil and get out empty cordite cases. The C. in C. and numerous other flag officers came on board to examine the damage and we heard we were to dock in Plymouth at once and had been allowed a month to repair and refit it.

At last we get a night in, we are still terribly tired.’

25 May 1917
‘I was sleeping lightly between a first & morning [his watches on the bridge, 2000 to midnight and 0400 to 0800], when a distinct noise of the helm hard over woke me. I slipped off my bunk & put on sea boots, then realising that we had increased speed, walked on deck. There I first noticed the funnel sparking, so guessed we had gone on quickly. When I reached the bridge (I had a sweater but no coat on) I saw a man bending over the starboard depth charge release handle, so at once knew what was up. I said to the Captain ‘Is it really a Hun, this time?’ but the reply was inaudible or possibly not given. Anyhow, ‘Safety pins out’ to the man at the handle release, answered the question. I went to the port gear and took out the pin. My eyes, not being yet accustomed to the dark, did not spot the submarine, until I saw her bow sticking out of the water some half cable on our starboard quarter. The starboard charge was let go. Nothing happened for a bit, so that I almost feared a dud, but then a shake and a crash dispelled my fear. I then noticed some smoke hiding the position of the sub, & said to the Captain that she was making smoke. A little later I realised that it was smoke from the charge. So it cannot have been far off. We then turned, zigzagged & swept with searchlight, but all to no effect. She was down & whether damaged or not we do not know. She had been sighted steering south about a mile on our starboard bow. We went full steam to ram. But when at 3 cables off she dived. Just as we crossed the track her bow appeared on our starboard beam, whereas she dived when on our port beam. So we must have missed her stem which was down by inches. Probably the depth charge exploded within 100 feet of her. So there is a chance that some damage was done. It is sickening to have missed by so little. The time was 2.10 GMT & the day was beginning to lighten. We searched the whole area, between the [Realge] & the French coast, but saw no signs. If only we had an explosive sweep to help the search!’