Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Many things have happened

‘Well, here I am aboard ship and three days out of New York, waiting for a convoy at Halifax. This seems to be a fitting place to start a diary. I am leaving my continent as well as my country and am going forth in search of adventure, which I hope to find in Italy, for that is where we are headed.’ This is the first entry, dating from 100 years ago today, in a diary written by a young aviator on his way to serve with the British in the First World War; one of the last entries starts with the words ‘many things have happened’ and includes a roll call of the dead. The aviator would soon be killed in action, and some years later his diary would be published as War Birds: Diary of an Unknown Aviator. Although the diary’s actual author was identified in later editions as John MacGavock Grider, no explanation was given as to the anomaly of the diary continuing until August 1918, Grider having died in June. However, a new edition of War Birds explains that, in fact, the text is not one person’s diary but a construction created from several aviators’ diaries, letters and the like.

Grider was born in Mississippi County in 1892, and worked on his father’s farm. In 1909, he married Marguerite Samuels, and they had two sons, but divorced in 1916. The following year, he traveled to Chicago to enlist as a cadet in the aviation section of the US Army Signal Corps. The US still had no air service, and so young aviators, like Girder, were sent to serve with the British. Initially stationed in Oxford, he and his friend Elliot White Springs were assigned to No. 85 Squadron of the Royal Air Force, and were soon flying missions over France. Grider had only been in France a month when his plane disappeared. Subsequently, a German pilot confirmed his plane had been shot down on 18 June. For more on Grider see the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture; and for more on Springs see The Shrine of Dreams.

Some years later, in 1926, Springs privately published a limited edition of a book he called War Birds: Diary of an Unknown Aviator (freely available to read at Internet Archive). The book was then serialised in a magazine called Liberty, and became a best seller with further mass produced editions. In these, Springs made reference to his friend Grider as being the author of the diary, and that Grider had wanted his memoirs published. (However, by this time Grider’s family had successfully sued Springs for having used Grider’s dairy.) In the original 1926 publication, Springs provides no introduction or foreword, and the book begins with the diarist’s entry for 20 September 1917 - as reproduced in full below. The last entry is marked as having ‘no date’, but before that one are many entries from August. However, this creates an obvious anomaly since Grider died in June. The anomaly and authorship of War Birds are referenced in several threads on the Aerodrome website, but are also discussed by Mark Hillier in his introduction to a new edition of the diary: War Birds - The Diary of a Great War Pilot (Frontline Books, 2016).

According to Frontline Books: ‘War Birds records in detail the stresses of training and the terror and elation of failure and success during combats with the enemy the First World War. This unique edition of War Birds has been produced from a copy owned by another officer from 85 Squadron, Lieutenant Horace Fulford. In his copy, Fulford made numerous hand-written annotations and stuck in a number of previously unpublished photographs - all of which have been faithfully reproduced.’

In discussing the anomaly of authorship, Hillier states: ‘Of great relevance to this subject is the book entitled Letters from a War Bird: The World War I Correspondence of Elliott White Springs. Edited by David K. Vaughan, this publication not only sets out all of Springs’ letters, notes and extracts from his log book, but analyses the structure of War Birds and how extracts from the letters were incorporated into the text. It reveals that one of Springs’ letters states that War Birds was ‘based largely on my letters, my diary and my combat reports. I also used [Eugene] Barksdale’s diary and supplementary matters given to me by [Robert] Kelly and [Larry] Callahan.’ Also of interest is the fact that Springs is quoted as saying that the diary ‘became the actual history’ of the 210 [total] US Air Service cadets who went over to the UK and served with the RFC or USAS under RFC control, which implies that its purpose was more of a representation of the experiences of all of them rather than a tribute to one.’

Here is the first entry, dating from 100 years ago, in the original diary, as well as the last dated entry.

20 September 1917
‘Aboard R. M. S. Carmania in the harbor of Halifax.

Well, here I am aboard ship and three days out of New York, waiting for a convoy at Halifax. This seems to be a fitting place to start a diary. I am leaving my continent as well as my country and am going forth in search of adventure, which I hope to find in Italy, for that is where we are headed. We are a hundred and fifty aviators in embryo commanded by Major MacDill, who is an officer and a gentleman in fact as well as by Act of Congress. We are traveling first class, thanks to him, tho we are really only privates, and every infantry officer on board hates our guts because we have the same privileges they do. Capt. Swan, an old Philippine soldier, is supply officer.

This morning when we steamed into harbor, which is a wonderful place, we found five or six transports already here. The soldiers on them, all that could, got into the boats and came over to see us. They rowed around and around our boat and cheered and sang. They were from New Zealand and a fine husky bunch they were. One song went: “Onward, conscript soldiers, marching as to war, You would not be conscripts, had you gone before.”

This is a beautiful place. I expect my opinion is largely due to my frame of mind, but it really is pretty. Low jagged hills form the horizon and on the south side of the river as we came up, is solid rock with a little dirt over it in spots but the rock sticking thru everywhere like bones thru a poor horse.

We went thru two submarine nets stretched across the mouth of the harbor. I wish I had words to describe the feeling I had when all the soldiers in the harbor came over to tell us howdy. One New Zealander, I think he was a non-com, stood up in the back of the boat and said, “You fellows don’t look very happy.” And I guess our boys don’t at that - the doughboys, I mean. We’ve got over two thousand of them on board of the 9th Infantry Regiment of the regular army. Anyway, New Zealand beat us cheering with their full throated, “Hip Hurrah Hip Hurrah Hip Hurrah!” But they said they were five weeks out and knew each other pretty well, while our boys aren’t acquainted yet.

I have a stateroom with Lawrence Callahan from Chicago, who roomed with me at Ground School, where we suffered together under Major Kraft and had a lot of fun from time to time in spite of him. We almost got separated at New York as he was going to France with another detachment over at Governor’s Island. I got Elliott Springs, our top sergeant, to get the Major to have him transferred to us. We had a good crowd over at Mineola and I saw him in town and he told me he was in a rotten bunch over there. I was a sergeant as Springs had me promoted because I took a squad out and unloaded a carload of canned tomatoes after two others had fallen down on the job. We got him transferred all right and then he got mad as fury at Springs because he made him peel potatoes for four days for chewing gum in ranks. On the fourth day Cal told Springs how much trouble he had taken to join his outfit and that he hadn’t come prepared to be a perpetual kitchen police. Springs said he was very glad to have him but if he wanted to chew gum in ranks he’d have to peel potatoes the rest of the day every time he did it. Cal said he’d already been assigned to the job for four days. Springs said he knew it but that so far he hadn’t peeled a single potato and he was going to get one day’s work out of him if he had to chain him to the stove to do it. Cal won tho, because Springs was too busy to watch him and he never did finish one pan of spuds.

I’ve got to go to boat drill now. We practice abandoning ship every day.

That’s over. My platoon is assigned to the top deck and Captain La Guardia is in charge of our boat. He is a congressman from New York City and learned to fly last year. He is an Italian so was sent over with us. He managed to bring along two of his Italian ward bosses as cooks. One of them owns a big Italian restaurant and yet here he is as a cook. And he can’t cook!

I probably won’t write much in this thing. I never have done anything constantly except the wrong thing, but I want a few recollections jotted down in case I don’t get killed.

I am going to make two resolutions and stick to them. I am not going to lose my temper any more  - I fight too much. And I am going to be very careful and take care of myself. I am not going to take any unnecessary chances. I want to die well and not be killed in some accident or die of sickness - that would be terrible, a tragic anticlimax. I haven’t lived very well but I am determined to die well. I don’t want to be a hero - too often they are all clay from the feet up, but I want to die as a man should. Thank God, I am going to have the opportunity to die as every brave man should wish to die - fighting - and fighting for my country as well. That would retrieve my wasted years and neglected opportunities.

But if I don't get killed, I want to be able to jog my memory in my declining years so I can say, “Back in 1917 when I was an aviator, I used to - !”

I’ll probably not write any more for a week, or perhaps no more at all.’

27 August 1918
August 27th
Many things have happened. I hear that Bobby got shot down up at Dunkirk and is no more. Tommy Herbert has been shot in the rear with a phosphorus bullet. Leach has been shot thru the shoulder and isn’t expected to pull thru. Explosive bullet. Read is dead and so is Molly Shaw.

Alex Mathews is dead. He was walking across the airdrome after a movie show over at 48 and a Hun bomber saw the light when the door was opened and dropped a two hundred and twelve pound bomb on him. They dropped about thirty bombs on the airdrome and killed about forty of 48’s men and set fire to the hangars. They broke all the bottles in our bar. Cal and Nigger and I were further ahead and threw ourselves into a ditch. Nothing hit us but we sure were uncomfortable. The night flying Camels brought down one of the Huns, it had five engines and a crew of six men. It came down in flames and lit up the whole place. Barksdale got shot down in an S. E. and landed in German territory but set fire to his plane and got in a shell hole and covered himself up with dirt. The next morning the British attacked and took that sector. Barksdale said the Scotsman who pulled him out couldn’t speak English any better than the Germans and he thought he was a prisoner at first.

One of our noblest he-men, a regular fire-eater to hear him tell it, has turned yellow at the front. He was quite an athlete and always admitted he was very hot stuff. He was ordered up on a bomb raid and refused to go. The British sent him back to American Headquarters with the recommendation that he be court-martialed for cowardice. He would have been too, if his brother hadn’t have been high up on the A. E. F. staff. He pulled some bluff about the machines being unsafe and they finally sent him home as an instructor and promoted him. He may strut around back home but I’ll bet he never can look a real man in the eye again.

Springs had a wheel shot off in the air last week. Ralston came back and took up a wheel to show him and everybody ran about the airdrome firing Very pistols and holding up wheels for him to see. He understood and sideslipped down all right without killing himself. He said he saw a Dolphin pilot kill himself several weeks ago landing with a wheel gone. The Dolphin pilot didn’t know it was off and the plane turned over on him.

Bonnalie was never considered much of a pilot. He was an aeroplane designer before he enlisted and knew a lot of theory but he took a long time to learn to fly and no one thought he would ever be much good. He put on one of the best shows on record and has been decorated with the D. S. O. His citation appeared in The Gazette. [. . .]

17 and 148 have been having a hard time. 17 has lost Campbell, Hamilton, Glenn, Spidlc, Grade, Case, Shearman, Shoemaker, Roberts, Bittinger, Jackson, Todd, Wise, Thomas, Frost, Wicks, Tillinghast and a couple of others. Hamilton and Tipton were the two best Camel pilots we had. And they have about six others in the hospital too. Wicks and Shoemaker collided in a fight.

148 has lost Curtis, Forster, Sicbald, Frobisher, Mandell, Kenyon and Jenkinson; and Dorsey and Wiley and Zistell are in the hospital. Jenkinson, Forster and Siebald went down in flames. Frobisher was shot thru the stomach and died later.

Of course that’s not a bad showing when you consider that they have shot down a lot of Huns and done a lot of ground straffing and have been flying Camels which were all the British could spare them. The British have washed out the Camels and are refitting their own squadrons with Snipes. A Camel can’t fight a Fokker and the British know it.

But we’ve lost a lot of good men. It’s only a question of time until we all get it. I’m all shot to pieces. I only hope I can stick it. I don’t want to quit. My nerves are all gone and I can’t stop. I’ve lived beyond my time already.

It’s not the fear of death that’s done it. I’m still not afraid to die. It’s this eternal flinching from it that’s doing it and has made a coward out of me. Few men live to know what real fear is. It’s something that grows on you, day by day, that eats into your constitution and undermines your sanity. I have never been serious about anything in my life and now I know that I’ll never be otherwise again. But my seriousness will be a burlesque for no one will recognize it. Here I am, twenty-four years old, I look forty and I feel ninety. I’ve lost all interest in life beyond the next patrol. No one Hun will ever get me and I’ll never fall into a trap, but sooner or later I’ll be forced to fight against odds that are too long or perhaps a stray shot from the ground will be lucky and I will have gone in vain. Or my motor will cut out when we are trench straffing or a wing will pull off in a dive. Oh, for a parachute! The Huns are using them now. I haven’t a chance, I know, and it’s this eternal waiting around that’s killing me. I’ve even lost my taste for licker. It doesn’t seem to do me any good now. I guess I’m stale. Last week I actually got frightened in the air and lost my head. Then I found ten Huns and took them all on and I got one of them down out of control. I got my nerve back by that time and came back home and slept like a baby for the first time in two months. What a blessing sleep is! I know now why men go out and take such long chances and pull off such wild stunts. No discipline in the world could make them do what they do of their own accord. I know now what a brave man is. I know now how men laugh at death and welcome it. I know now why Ball went over and sat above a Hun airdrome and dared them to come up and fight with him. It takes a brave man to even experience real fear. A coward couldn’t last long enough at the job to get to that stage. What price salvation now?’

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Not careless jottings

James Evershed Agate, born 140 years ago today, was a leading theatre critic in the first half of the 20th century, and one of the most well-known literary figures of his time. He is all but forgotten today but deserves to be better remembered for his witty and discursive diaries, all but one of which were published in his lifetime under the title Ego. In one intriguing entry from 1945, Agate reveals how conscious he was of writing his diary for publication: ‘How far should a writer take his readers into his confidence? Shall I “lose face” if I confess that the Ego books are not the careless jottings of idle half-hours? That I think Ego, talk Ego, dream Ego? That I get up in the middle of the night to make a correction? That before the MS. of any of my Ego’s reaches the publisher it has been through at least a dozen revisions?’

Agate was born at Pendleton, Lancashire, on 9 September 1877, the eldest of six children. His father was a cotton broker with a strong bent towards the theatre, and his mother was an accomplished pianist. He was educated at Manchester Grammar School, and then joined his father’s business, where he worked for 17 years. During his 20s, he was an avid theatre goer, and tried his hand at writing plays. In 1906, he began to contribute a weekly theatre column to his local Manchester newspaper, and within a year he had joined the Manchester Guardian as a junior critic. During the war, he joined the Army Services Corp and was posted to France. His knowledge of French and of horses led him to be appointed hay procurer; and his system of accounting for the business was turned into an official War Office handbook. He later collated articles sent to the Guardian from France into his first book L. of C. (Lines of Communication).

In 1918, while still serving in France, Agate married Sidonie, daughter of a rich landowner, but the relationship was short-lived, and, after their separation, Agate’s relationships were openly homosexual. After the war, he published a second collection of essays, Alarums and Excursions, and many more books followed. In 1921 he moved to The Saturday Review as theatre critic, a position once held by Bernard Shaw (who Agate had long wanted to emulate), and two years later to The Sunday Times, where he remained for the rest of his life (though he combined this role with being drama critic for the British Broadcasting Corporation for a number of years). He also wrote about film and literature for other media, and was a keen follower of various sports. He died in 1947. Further information can be gleaned from Wikipedia, Neglected Books, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required), and an episode of BBC’s radio programme Letter from America.

From 1935 until his death, Agate wrote nine volumes of diaries published with the titles  Ego 1, Ego 2, etc., the last, Ego 9, appearing posthumously - each one subtitled as the Autobiography of James Agate. The first was published by Hamish Hamilton, the second by Victor Gollancz, and the rest by George G. Harrap (including several volumes of condensed extracts entitled A Shorter Ego). The diaries are a breeze to read, full of wit, anecdotes, gossip, sarcasm, as well as literary, theatre and music news (but nothing on politics of social issues). He often includes the text of letters he receives, and records problems with his health or finances, but most often he writes about his own writing/journalistic preoccupations and about his many friends and acquaintances
. Alistair Cooke, in an episode of his famous Letter from America describes Agate as ‘A Supreme Diarist’. Several volumes of Ego can be freely read online (Ego 4, A Shorter Ego - volume 1, Ego 9). The following extracts come from Ego 2 and  A Shorter Ego - volume 3).

15 March 1944
‘Moths won’t eat silk. I made this important discovery on going to my hat-box to fish out my topper for the Royal tea-party. The hat-box is one of those old-fashioned double ones; I found that the brown bowler that I used to wear at the horse shows had been completely eaten away, whereas the topper was intact. Bought a new tie, the first since the war, and paid the shocking price of 37s. 6d. for it. The morning coat, having made fewer than a dozen public appearances, is still very handsome, and altogether I think I was looking fairly smart when I presented myself at the Palace half an hour too early. Brother Harry having telegraphed from York that on no account was I to forget the occasion or be late. Nobody else in the enormous, empty room except a highly distinguished, ambassadorial personage chatting with some kind of Sultan. Presently an official came up to me and said, “Corps Diplomatique?” I replied, in equally succinct French, “Non.” He said, “Are you British?” I said, “Gad, sir !” He said, “The other room, if you please.” So I went into the other room, which was entirely empty. I had time to admire the furniture, which was magnificent; but the pictures seemed to me to be staggeringly unworthy of their setting. They were so conspicuously faded and unremarkable, though I suppose it would take a David or a Delacroix to make anything really effective out of troops being reviewed. Presently some people that I knew came in - Rebecca West, Irene Vanbrugh, Harriet Cohen, Arnold Bax, A. P. Herbert, a couple of my editors - and I recognised in to-day’s party a very gracious gesture to people of my kind, with a sprinkling of the Services. Next I found myself wondering what my feelings would have been if, fifty years ago, I had been granted prevision of this afternoon. What would my kid brother Harry have thought? This led to a moment of something ridiculously like sentiment. And then we formed up in single file, our cards were taken from us and handed from admiral to general, and general to admiral, five or six in all, till they reached the Lord Chamberlain, who read out our names. The King, who was in naval uniform, asked with enormous charm how I did. The Queen, in dove-grey and wearing pearls, smiled as though she remembered me, while the two princesses shook hands very shyly and prettily. While this was going on, a small band discoursed Haydn and Mozart, after which we drank tea out of some very beautiful china.’

21 April 1945
‘How far should a writer take his readers into his confidence? Shall I “lose face” if I confess that the Ego books are not the careless jottings of idle half-hours? That I think Ego, talk Ego, dream Ego? That I get up in the middle of the night to make a correction? That before the MS. of any of my Ego’s reaches the publisher it has been through at least a dozen revisions? That it is only when the galley proofs arrive that the real work begins? I suppose that when I had finished with the galleys of Ego 7 it would have been difficult to find fifty unaltered sentences. The reason for this is that stuff in print reads differently from the same stuff in typescript. Very well, then. The galleys have been returned to the publishers, and one sits back and awaits the page proofs in the vain belief that there is nothing more to do except see that the galley corrections have been properly carried out. Actually I made over two thousand corrections on the page proofs of Ego 7. For the reason that stuff in page reads differently from the same stuff in galley. There is another and more humiliating confession. This is that anything to which I subsequently attach value always turns out to have been an afterthought. [. . .A]ll my best stuff goes into the margin of my page - not even galley - proofs. [. . .] Another trouble is inaccuracy, which is my bête noire. My passion for correctness amounts to a neurosis. Not only do I look up chapter and verse, but I compare editions, telephone to libraries, consult innumerable dictionaries and encyclopaedias, ring up Embassies. And now this morning comes a letter asking how in Ego 6, page 132, I can say that Cora Pearl appeared at the Variétés in Offenbach’s La Belle Hélène when I have already said in Ego 4, page 174, that the theatre was the Bouffes-Parisiens, and the opérette Orphée aux Enfers?!!!!!’

30 April 1946
‘Cold and cheerless. Nothing to do, and nothing to see except ex-repertory actresses trundling about on bicycles. Diarised and got chilled to the bone sitting on Flamborough Head. To the pictures (twice), after which Harry entertained us with card tricks - which he has not done for twenty years - and it was all very, very Tchehovian.’

22 August 1945
‘Lunch with Bertie van Thai at the Savoy, where a really extraordinary coincidence happens. (First let me say that Bertie’s life at the Food Office is one unbroken sea of milk troubles. Either London is drowning in milk and there are no bottles to put it in, or there is an avalanche of bottles and no milk.) Now for the coincidence. At the next table is Kay Hammond with her little boy. Gathering that he is fond of cricket, I beckon him over and tell him how I once bowled out W. G. Grace. Whereupon John Clements leans across and says, “This is unbelievable. In the lounge before lunch I was telling John how at a public dinner my father heard W. G. say that on the sands at Blackpool he had been bowled first ball by a little boy of seven whose name he never knew!” ’

9 October 1935
‘Lunch with Alexander Korda who to my enormous astonishment turns out to be a man of great culture and distinction of mind. We talked about a lot of things including the Goncourts’ novels - which, he says, “are not so good as we thought when we were young men.” He insists that I shall help with his new film of Cyrano de Bergerac, and for the reason that his Hungarian nationality prevents him from detecting the finer shades of English verse. In the end I agree to do what he wants, and I hope my incursion into films will continue as pleasantly as it has begun.

In the evening go to the Reinhardt film of A Midsummer Night's Dream, in which Shakespeare is alleged to make his first appearance on the screen. He doesn’t!’

21 November 1935
‘Driving back from lunch to-day had an attack of nerves. At Oxford Circus was on my deathbed, going up Great Portland Street was dead and buried, along Albany Street calculated estate available after insurances raked in, horses sold and debts paid, passing Stanhope Terrace made my will, ascended Primrose Hill and descended to the Everlasting Bonfire simultaneously, and as we turned into England’s Lane was critically considering Jock’s first article as my successor on the S.T.

All this turned out, of course, to be merely what Doctor Rutty, the Irish Quaker, called “an hypochondriack obnubilation from wind and indigestion.” ’

The Diary Junction

Thursday, September 7, 2017

New Zealand’s first premier

‘My reasons for offering myself are, simply, that there are no persons at all fit, and I believe I may be useful; but the Assembly will doubtless be held at Auckland, a terrible undertaking, about as distant from Canterbury as England from Lisbon - a much severer work than going to America per Steamboat from England.’ This is Henry Sewell, a solicitor born on the Isle of White 210 years ago, explaining in his diary (written as a newsletter for his family) why he had decided to enter politics soon after arriving in New Zealand. Within three or so years, he would be elected the colony’s premier.

Sewell was born on 7 September 1807 in Newport, Isle of White. He was schooled at Hyde Abbey, then a fashionable school in Winchester, and after serving articles to qualify as a solicitor, he joined his father and brother in the family firm around 1826. In 1834, he married Lucinda Marianne Nedham, daughter of a retired general, and they had six children. As a result of a bank failure in 1840, his father lost money and when he died two years later he left the family in debt. The brothers, not wishing to go bankrupt, sold part of the business. When Lucinda died in 1844, Sewell left his children with his sister, and moved to London to seek business. In 1850, Sewell married Elizabeth Kittoe. Thereafter, he became involved in the Canterbury Association, an organisation dedicated to the colonisation of the Canterbury area in New Zealand, and he himself arrived there in 1853.

Sewell opened a solicitor’s office, and soon became involved in local politics, becoming a prominent figure in the first generation of colonial politicians. Initially, he represented Lyttelton on the Canterbury provincial council, then was an elected member of the house of representatives and, at different times, part of the legislative council. Three years after arriving in the colony, he was elected premier (colonial secretary at the time), a position he retained for a only few weeks being unable to hold a majority in the house. As treasurer in the first stable ministry, led by Edward Stafford, he was virtually deputy premier. Later he negotiated for the colony in Australia and England. He also served as attorney-general in three ministries between 1861 and 1865, and, after another break in England, he was briefly minister of justice. On retiring from politics, he returned to England where he died in 1879. Further information is available from Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, Wikipedia, and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB - log-in required).

Sewell kept a diary for some years, written as a newsletter to family and associates (and copied out by Elizabeth). However, he decreed that its contents should not be published or made public until after his death. The manuscript was held originally by successive bishops of Christchurch and was not passed on to the library of the University of Canterbury until the 1920s. In the 1970s it was painstakingly edited and annotated in two volumes by W. David McIntyre for publication in 1980 by Whitcoulls, Christchurch, as The Journal of Henry Sewell 1853-7. The first volume contains a substantial editor’s preface as well as a very long introduction. According to McIntyre (who also wrote the ODNB biography), Sewell was a pessimistic, lonely, snobbish man, who was never really committed to pioneering life. Nevertheless, his journal ‘provides the fullest private account of persons and places in early Canterbury and the beginnings of self-government in New Zealand’. The full text of the journal can be read online at Early New Zealand Books. Here are few extracts from Sewell’s journal, from his arrival and first months in New Zealand.

2 February 1853
‘About 2 in the morning was awoke by Wakefield. We were in sight of Banks’ Peninsula. Hurried on deck in Pilot Coat and trowsers - found the wind blowing fresh and cold from the S.W. with a considerable Sea. The morning sky cold and squally but with indications of clearing. Before us lay a shadowy outline of land with no distinct features. On our left stretching for a long distance a still more indistinct haze of mountain outlines topped with snow looking bleak and desolate. Presently one after the other passengers tumbled up half dressed and mightily excited. In truth it was impossible to resist the furor. Land after 4 months’ Sea voyage - and safe arrival at one’s destination with the prodigious interest about the future before us are sufficient excuses for mental intoxication. All the Telescopes were brought into use. The morning cleared up. Squalls wore off lighter and lighter leaving about 9 o’Clock a lovely day. The wind dropping gradually and the Sea going down. As we neared the land its features became more distinct and we sailed along the Peninsula at about 3 miles’ distance just as if it were an immense moving Panorama more beautiful than any thing I can remember. No doubt this was partly from the special beauty of the day - partly from the excitement. The South wester dropped away by degrees and left us entirely just off the Peninsula. Then the wind shifted as if on purpose to accommodate us and we worked round into harbour with a gentle North Easterly breeze casting anchor about 6 o’Clock. Boats came off very soon. Young Keele as one of the Custom House Officers with the Tide Waiter. I took him by the arm and walked him up and down the deck greedy for news. ‘Where was Mr Godley’ Gone - had left just before Christmas. All the people were gone off to the diggings. Every thing was stagnant. Godley was supposed to have gone to avoid a crisis - The Association was in the worst possible odour - Public meetings were being held about them particularly with reference to some law processes issued against labourers who had given notes of hand for their passage money. The news of Godley’s departure fell upon me like a Cloud. He had left Capt. Simeon his Successor but this was all I could learn about him. Presently Mr Cookson 5 came on board; had a long talk with Wakefield from whom I heard afterwards better accounts of things. Boat loads of people came on board. Some passengers went on Shore. Mr Raven and I among the rest. I went up to Capt. Simeon’s. Found him extremely kind and hospitable - wanting me to stay - Had no time to learn much from him, but what I did learn was far from encouraging. Got some fresh butter and a loaf of bread and set off to the Ship to regale ourselves with these almost forgotten luxuries - Altogether a day of singular excitement.’

15 April 1853
‘Yesterday prepared to set off to Lyttelton, but the weather was desperately bad. All Wednesday night it blew a hurricane. Yesterday wind and rain, and strong indications of a coming South Easter. So we make up our minds to stay where we are.

The Government gives us an indication of their mind by raising technical objections to our Writ of Injunction. It does not exactly agree with the terms in which the Judgment was delivered in Court. So they ask to have it altered; the object being to take advantage of a small opening to let the Government loose from the Injunction without meeting the case on its merits. What a dodge for a Government! and what a Government! However to be up to them called on the Registrar and with him on the Judge. He will not submit to any such shuffling quibbles, and will not loose the Injunction till the case has been heard and disposed of fully upon the merits. He complains bitterly of the attempt made to overbear him and to destroy his independence. He will not be a political partizan of the Government, so the Governor does all in his power to thwart and annoy him. He is absolutely fixed as to the illegality of the Proclamation. Spoke to Col. McCleverty about Simeon’s salary as Resident Magistrate and the hardship of reducing it for the sake of a merely temporary appointment.’

2 July 1853
‘Rain again. Simeon has resolved upon resigning the Agency forthwith which is a great relief. I shall consider him entitled to a quarter’s Salary in advance. I shall have a good deal to do with him after the formal termination of his office.

A good deal of talk with Raven about matters which become connected with one’s future views - but more of this hereafter.

In the evening comes Capt. Fuller dressed like a dilapidated Shepherd, in truth a great object. He seems to have cast off all care about personal appearance, and is a strange contrast to the neat trim Military gentleman at the Adelphi. He comes evidently to seek refuge and hospitality. Board we give him but lodging we cannot, Raven occupying our only spare room. I don’t like the fashion of people coming at all times, and disturbing your domestic privacy - but Hospitality is a necessary virtue in a Colony. Raven and Fuller talk the whole evening of bullocks and Sheep, breaking up land, potatoes and so forth. Fuller is afflicted still with that huge agricultural Family - the Russleys, who eat up his substance like locusts - still I think on the whole he is getting into the right way to do well for himself, but he is half daft. Queer anecdotes one gets of Colonial ways of living. There is the road to Kaiapoi, a never-failing topic of lamentation. Just after leaving Christchurch you enter the Papanui Swamp through which it is next to impossible to drag any vehicle formed for human use. Raven took his children across it the other day. He in advance carrying the eldest girl. Miss Burbidge the Governess and Johnny following on a Cart horse with a pack saddle. Presently there is a scream - the horse is down and Governess and child are in the midst of the Swamp, but with some exertion are safely mounted again. After clearing the Swamp the road becomes slightly better for a few miles, when you reach the banks of the River. Who in England would take the bed of a River for a Road? but so it is, the bottom is tolerably hard, barring a quicksand here and there which may possibly engulph the travellers. After some miles of this amphibious route they get to the Ferry - a ferry for man but not for horses, so the horses have to swim for it, getting thoroughly wet and of course transferring the acquired moisture to their riders on remounting, - then more quagmires and swamp and so home - fifteen miles up the country. Such is winter travelling in the settled District of the Canterbury plains. N’importe - people get on well enough, and on the whole seem rather to enjoy it than not. They are out of provisions up at Kaiapoi and have no sugar. Vessels cannot go round to the Waimakariri this weather.’

29 July 1853
‘Started with Stoddart for Christchurch. To the Land Office. First settled business with FitzGerald and Brittan; got their signatures to the Conveyances of Church Lands. Then talked to Brittan about my Electioneering plan; he highly approved; recommended me to stand for the Town in preference to the Country which was of course to get rid of me as a Competitor. Then he said his Brother-in-law one Mr Fooks who knew all the constituency should canvass for me at once. So I left, considering that Brittan at least would help me. My reasons for offering myself are, simply, that there are no persons at all fit, and I believe I may be useful; but the Assembly will doubtless be held at Auckland, a terrible undertaking, about as distant from Canterbury as England from Lisbon - a much severer work than going to America per Steamboat from England. Besides this, the work to be done is very responsible, and I have no doubt will be very disagreeable; all fighting with the Governor. Watts Russell is an amiable good kind of gentlemanly dummy, utterly unequal to such work. FitzGerald who will probably be returned for Lyttelton is scatter-brained. Brittan is untrustworthy, even if he is returned which is not likely. To undertake such an office has neither pleasure, honor nor profit in prospect. I could however manage to attend the first important Meeting, which will probably be about November. The Governor leaves the Colony in December. His plan is, doubtless, to pay a parting visit to the different Settlements, to hold a Session of the Assembly at Auckland in November - to smother the Southern Settlements by Auckland influence and if possible to get off with eclat. Doubtless he calculates on the Southern Members not coming up. I returned to Lyttelton Friday evening, Stoddart remaining to canvass for me.’

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Secret agent in Moscow

‘Very depressing telegram from Foreign Office. Sent off long telegram re Trotsky. The other day Pravda published ail the documents against Trotsky and Lenin which they had been able to find, including some of English counter-espionage section! They are sportsmen!’ This is from the diary of Bruce Lockhart, born 130 years ago today, who, at the time, was the young British envoy to the new Bolshevik regime in Russia. Later, he would write an international bestseller about his time as a British secret agent. He lived a colourful life, reflected in his diaries. Soon after his death, these were condemned as highly libellous by the modern historian A.J.P. Taylor, but, nevertheless, were edited for publication in the 1970s.

Robert Hamilton Bruce Lockhart was born on 2 September 1887 in Anstruther, Fife, the son of a teacher. After attending various schools where his father was headmaster, he was educated at Fettes College in Edinburgh. He was sent to Germany and France to learn foreign languages. Aged 21, he travelled to Malaya with an uncle who had rubber plantations, and was charged with opening a new rubber estate near Pantai. After three years, and a torrid affair with a local princess, he contracted malaria and was sent home. He joined the civil service, and by 1912 had been appointed a vice-consul for the British delegation to Russia in Moscow. In 1913, while in Moscow, he married Jean Bruce Haslewood, and they had a daughter who died at birth and one son; the couple, however, soon became estranged though did not divorce until 1938.

In Moscow, Lockhart was promoted to consul-general, and was in Russia when Nicholas II was overthrown. However, after returning to London, he was sent back to Russia by Prime Minister Lloyd George as the country’s first envoy to the Bolsheviks, but he was also tasked with setting up a spy network. In 1918, after an attempt on the life of Vladimir Lenin, the Bolshevik leader, he was arrested, imprisoned for plotting against the Bolshevik regime, and feared being sentenced to death. However, after a month he was released in exchange for Maxim Litvinov, the unofficial Bolshevik ambassador in London.

Lockhart continued working for the Foreign Office, with a posting in Prague, until 1922, and then took in a job in banking which involved much travel through Central Europe. Having already started to contribute articles and gossip items to London newspapers, in 1929 he decided to accept a job offered by Lord Beaverbrook on the Standard, a position he kept for nearly ten years. In 1932, he published his first book - Memoirs of a British Agent - which was an international bestseller; several more books followed in the 1930s. He became something of a personality, counting among his friends many well-known political and literary names of the time (Harold Nicolson, Malcolm Muggeridge) as well as high society figures, including royalty (Edward Prince of Wales).

During the Second World War, Lockhart served as director-general of the Political Warfare Executive, coordinating British propaganda against the enemy, but as soon as the war was over he returned to writing, broadcasting and lecturing. He was appointed Knight Commander, Order of St. Michael and St. George (K.C.M.G.) in 1943. In 1948, he remarried (Frances Mary Beck); and he published several more books in the 1950s. He died at a nursing home in Hove in 1970, and is not much remembered today. Some further biographical information can be found at Wikipedia, Spartacus, Spy Culture (where the full text of Memoirs of a British Agent can be read), or The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required).

Lockhart was a committed and compulsive diarist, leaving behind some 200 volumes containing an estimated three million words. These were initially held by the Beaverbrook Library where the Honorary Librarian, A. J. P. Taylor in the mid-1970s, declared they were highly libellous and should be destroyed. They are now housed in the Parliamentary Archive, in the Houses of Parliament library. In 1973, Macmillan published The Diaries of Sir Bruce Lockhart: Volume One 1915-1938 as edited by Kenneth Young. A second volume (1935-1965) did not follow until 1980. A review can be read at The New York Times. The following extracts are taken from the first volume.

11 January 1918
‘At 12 noon met Litvinov, Russia’s new Bolshevik Ambassador, with Rothstein and Leeper at Lyons’ comer shop in the Strand. Litvinov, more sluggish and slower, heavily built with broad forehead did not strike me as a bad fellow. He does not like German goverment [sic] who banished him from Germany. Both men are Jews. Litvinov is married to an Englishwoman.’

28 January 1918
‘Came on to Helsingfors as apparently we cannot get across the bridge. Arrived at 11.30 a.m. in Helsingfors to find the town in a state of revolution. No rooms to be had. Met Lednitski and wandered off with him and Hicks to see if he could get us rooms at the Polish priest’s. No catch, and as we were on the other side of town we could not get back to the Consulate for the firing. Most unpleasant. Stayed the night in small pension. Met Grove [Consul] and Fawcett, the Vice-Consul, who really runs the show.’

30 January 1918
‘Reached Petrograd 7.30 p.m. Streets in a dreadful state, snow had not been swept away for weeks. Everyone looks depressed and unhappy.’

12 February 1918
‘Robins and Bruce lunch. Robins: “Trotsky was poor kind [of] son of a bitch but the greatest Jew since Christ.” ’

21 February 1918
‘Fears of pro-Boche counter-revolution. Events move so rapidly that it is not possible to keep pace with them. Trotsky seems to have re-established his position.’

26 February 1918
‘Saw Trotsky twice today. Loud in his blame of the French and said the Allies had only helped Germany by their intrigues in Russia. American Embassy left for Vologda with Robins. Sent Ransome down with them. Trouble with Petrov about passport. Determined to stay under all circumstances if Bolsheviks can put up any show.’

12 March 1918
‘Very depressing telegram from Foreign Office. Sent off long telegram re Trotsky. The other day Pravda published ail the documents against Trotsky and Lenin which they had been able to find, including some of English counter-espionage section! They are sportsmen!’

13 March 1918
‘Saw Trotsky today and told him about the dangers of Japanese intervention.’

14 March 1918
‘Received long and stupid telegram from Foreign Office. Three numbers are, however, missing. Trotsky appointed president of the Supreme War Council.’

15 March 1918
‘We are to leave for Moscow tomorrow. Petrograd looked very beautiful. Trotsky now made War Minister. Sent off a very hot telegram on Japanese situation. Lenin made great speech at Congress to show why peace was necessary. He said: “One fool can ask more questions than ten wise men can answer.” ’

9 April 1918
‘Telegram from Hicks re Semenov affair. This looks very serious, worked all day sending off telegrams about the situation. Things are moving towards a crisis. Our people at home are so incredibly stupid that they will drift into tragedy, almost without knowing it. We have done our best and it is difficult to see what more we can do. This stupid affair at Vladivostok has spoilt all the advantages which the German landing at Finland could have given us. Everyone here is against it.’

12 April 1918
‘At 3 o’clock last night the Bolsheviks surrounded and attacked simultaneously the twenty-six headquarters of the Anarchists. The latter were taken completely by surprise, were turned out of the houses they occupied and forced to give up their guns, rifles, ammunition and loot. Over five hundred arrested. Saw Djerjinsky, head of Counter-Revolution Committee who gave us a car to go round and see the results of victory.’

19 April 1918
‘Soviet decree about women having the right to divorce a man for a month and the latter not having the right to refuse. Saw Trotsky - fairly satisfactory but hope is not great. In afternoon had long talk with Chichcrin and Karakhan on subject of agreement. Overwhelmed with work. We have no staff, and it is impossible to get through half of what we ought to do.’

15 May 1918
‘Cromie and McAlpinc left. Went with Cromie to see Trotsky about the fleet. Trotsky said war was inevitable. I therefore asked if he would accept Allied intervention. He replied that he had already asked the Allies to make a proposition. I then said that if the Allies would come to an agreement on this point, would he give me half an hour to discuss things. He said: “When the Allies come to an agreement it is not half an hour but a whole day that I will give.” ’

2 June 1918
‘Arrived in Petrograd. Lovely day. Stayed at Petrograd. Rang up Cromie. . . Feeling in Petrograd quite different from Moscow. Altogether quieter and further removed from the struggle. Anti-Bolshevism very strong and hardly concealed. At the cabaret jokes were made at Bolshevik expense which would not be tolerated in Moscow.

Famine pretty severe and grave discontent among the workmen and sailors. Counter-revolution here possible any day.’

6 July 1918
‘Mirbach murdered today by two unknown people who came to the Embassy with false documents. Murder took place at three-thirty. . . We have been moved to a box on the third floor with the Germans opposite. . . Later the theatre was surrounded by troops and no one was allowed to go out. In night and during afternoon rising by Left Social-Revolutionaries. This speedily squashed. Left Social-Revolutionaries fled.’

7 July 1918
‘Radek came to see me. Mirbach’s murderer Blumkin lived in our hotel in room 221. He was a member of the Extraordinary Commission. The Left Social-Revolutionaries during their short revolt arrested Djerjinsky. . . Their resistance was very weak, but for a time they held the telegraph. This was afterwards retaken by Hungarian war prisoners internationalists. Many of the Social-Revolutonaries have been arrested including Alexandrovich, Vice- President of the Extraordinary Commission. He is to be shot immediately. All papers suppressed. No trains to Petrograd or anywhere, no telegrams to abroad. Yaroslavl said to be in the hands of the counter-revolutonaries.’

21 February 1928
‘In the evening dined with Beaverbrook at the Vineyard - very interesting. He offered me a job beginning with £2000 a year as leader-writer for the Standard and Express. He also showed some interest in Continental shares. He is going to Russia and has telegraphed to ask Chicherin if he can take me. Drank some champagne. Late night.’

28 February 1928
‘In the evening went to see Beaverbrook at the vineyard and got an order for Polyphon shares out of him.’

2 March 1928
‘Beaverbrook’s shares have gone up to 270. Saw Sharp of the New Statesman. He very strongly advises me not to join Beaverbrook.

In tight financial hole. Have no money in bank.’

5 March 1928
‘Lunched with Beaverbrook and then came up to London with Jean Norton by car. . .

In evening dined with Hugh Walpole at Arnold Bennett’s house, 75 Cadogan Square. Arnold Bennett very kind about my book. Michael Arlen, T. S. Eliot, the poet and editor of the Criterion, E. Knoblock, also there.

Yesterday and today broke my pledge.’

14 March 1928
‘Went to see Beaverbrook and asked him to give me £10,000 as discretionary client.’

20 March 1928
‘This is the beginning of a critical week, as I must raise at least £750 in order to meet my debts.’

13 July 1929
‘At Hunger Hill for week-end. Hamish, Nancy Mitford. Ba [Cecil] Beaton, and Count Bismarck here. The latter lives in Rome. He is a grandson of the famous Bismarck and hates the Kaiser. The family has obviously never forgiven the latter for ‘dropping the pilot’. Bismarck is a peculiar-looking young man - very aesthetic. He says Fascism is on the decline and is definitely unpopular and that the good relations between the Vatican and Mussolini would not last. Army is definitely anti-Fascist.’

16 July 1929
‘Dined with Fletcher at the St James’s. He gave me a lot of information about our secret service. The head of it now is Admiral Sinclair, a terrific anti-Bolshevik, who has succeeded the old ‘C.’, Mansfield Cumming. The new ‘C.’ is hard up for men for Russia. Incidentally, discovered that Kenworthy has a bad war-record. During the war he was in command of a destroyer in the North Sea and ran into a merchantman. He was the first man to abandon his ship. The gunner, however, and some of the crew succeeded in patching up the leak, and Kenworthy came back. Kenworthy was relieved of his command - but not by court-martial - and was sent to Gibraltar. During war, too, Kenworthy also attended a revolutionary luncheon at which toasts were drunk to the English Republic. Basil Thomson’s man reported this to Admiralty. Beatty and ‘Rosie’ Wemyss were furious and went to L.G. Latter, however, refused to act. Kenworthy has also made a considerable packet of money out of his deals with Russia. Not a good candidate. . . Late to bed. Went on to club afterwards.’

16 June 1937
‘After luncheon went to see Sir Robert Vansittart and told him my plans to leave Fleet Street and also to become a specialist in foreign affairs. He was very nice and said that he would give me all the help he could. He was interesting on the pro-German feeling in Cabinet. He fears that, as usual, we shall talk vaguely of coming to terms with Germany, latter will respond and think they are going to get something. Then will come the bill - bill we cannot pay. And when we do not pay, there will be the same revulsion of feeling in Germany as there was in 1914, when, contrary to their expectations, we came in. Hymn of hate was result.’

10 August 1937
‘Today, too, I sent off my final letters of resignation to Beaverbrook and Wardell. I said much the same thing in each letter: that I should be fifty on September 2, that the strain of the job was becoming too much for me, that I was already the oldest man on the editorial staff, and that as there is only one rule in journalism - that a man must hold his job by his own efficiency - I was merely taking a decision which would be forced on me in a year or two’s time.’

6 September 1937
‘A letter from Miss Foyle asking me to speak at a literary luncheon at which famous correspondents will speak of how they made their best scoops. Refused. There are no ‘famous’ correspondents and most scoops are ‘fakes’.’

The Diary Junction

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Uproar in Parliament

‘Uproar in Parliament and a great demonstration in favour of the blockade. I have quite a rough passage - a most unaccustomed experience in these days - at Question Time.’ This is from the diary of Hugh Dalton, a Labour politician and economist born 130 years ago today, who served in Winston Churchill’s war cabinet. He kept a diary first during his WWI service, and used it to publish a book about his experiences on the Italian front. In later years, he published three volumes of autobiography each one underpinned by his diaries; and, after his death, the diary texts were edited for publication by Ben Pimlott.

Dalton was born in Neath, Wales, on 16 August 1887, to John Neale Dalton, a clergyman, and his wife Catherine Evan-Thomas. They had married the previous year, and the diarist A. C. Benson - see A C Benson’s inner life - had been John Dalton’s best man. John Dalton was later a chaplain and tutor in Queen Victoria’s royal household. Hugh Dalton was educated at Eton, King’s College, Cambridge, where he was president of the university’s Fabian Society, and the London School of Economics. He was called to the bar in 1914, and married Ruth Fox the same year. Their only child died aged but four in 1922.

During WWI, Dalton joined the Army Service Corps, but later transferred to the Royal Artillery, serving as a lieutenant on the French and Italian fronts. After the war, he returned to teach first at LSE then at the University of London, succeeding to Reader in Economics from 1925 to 1935. Earlier, though, in 1924, he had entered Parliament as member for Peckham (after having failed to be elected in three previous elections). In 1925, his wife, Ruth, was elected a member of the London County Council. She served briefly in Parliament, as MP for Bishop Auckland in County Durham, following a by-election, but then stood down - as planned - after only 90 days in favour of her husband at the 1929 general election (Dalton himself was not available to stand at the time of the by-election).

Dalton rose in the Labour ranks, becoming under-secretary at the Foreign Office in Ramsay MacDonald’s second government from 1929-1931, but then lost his seat in 1931, to be re-elected in 1935. The same year, he published an influential assessment of future options for the Labour Party - Practical Socialism for Britain. He was appointed spokesman on foreign affairs, and helped move the Labour Party away from pacifism towards a policy of armed deterrence. He strongly opposed Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement.

During Churchill’s coalition government, Dalton served as Minister of Economic Warfare from 1940, establishing the Special Operations Executive, and from 1942 as President of the Board of Trade (the future Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell acting as his principal private secretary). When Labour was unexpectedly returned to power in 1945, Dalton wished to become Foreign Secretary, but Prime Minister Clement Atlee made him Chancellor of the Exchequer. On mishandling the sterling crisis of 1947, Dalton resigned, but was later reinstated into the cabinet as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. In 1950-1951, he was minister of town and country planning. He was created Baron Dalton of Forest and Frith in 1960; and he died in 1962.

Ben Pimlott gives this assessment of Dalton in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required): ‘Hugh Dalton’s legacy was diffuse and controversial. Though he had devoted friends, he made many enemies, often in his own party. [. . .]  His influence on British political history and Labour Party ideas bears comparison with that of any other Labour politician who did not become prime minister. As an intellectual he was important in developing Fabian thought, and in helping to give it a hard economic edge. As a politician he was both a powerful and determined advocate and a back-room expert, who was personally responsible for many of the key Labour Party documents of the 1930s and war period, setting the scene for the post-war Attlee government. As chancellor of the exchequer his policies helped to facilitate an ambitious domestic reform programme, in the most adverse conditions. Meanwhile, he talent-spotted and nurtured several generations of young political aspirants. The grouping later known as the Gaitskellites emerged from the circle of his younger friends. In addition to Hugh Gaitskell himself, Anthony Crosland, Roy Jenkins, Denis Healey, George Brown, and James Callaghan were among those who learned from him and benefited from his practical help. [. . .] More than many political leaders, he was consistent in his thinking. More than most, he took a close, professional interest both in political ideas and in the details of the policies he supported. A member of the second generation of Labour leaders, he played an important part in giving his party the intellectual confidence not only to make it electable, but also to make it effective.’ Further information can also be found at Wikipedia.

Dalton began keeping a diary during his WWI army days, and continued doing so for much of his life. On returning from the war, Methuen published With British Guns in Italy: A tribute to the Italian achievement. Dalton says in his preface: ‘This little book of mine is only an account, more or less in the form of a Diary, of what one British soldier saw and felt, who served for eighteen months on the Italian Front as a Subaltern officer in a Siege Battery. But it was my luck to see a good deal during that time. Mine had been the first British Battery to come into action and open fire on the Italian Front. And, as my story will show, it was either the first or among the first on most other important occasions, except in the Caporetto retreat, and then it was the last. I have camouflaged the names of all persons mentioned throughout the book, except those of Cabinet Ministers, Generals and a few other notabilities.’ Although Dalton refers to it as a diary, it is no such thing, since it reads as a continuous narrative and there are no dated entries. The full text is available at Internet Archive.

Much later in his life, Dalton used (and quoted from) his diaries extensively to write three volumes of autobiography, all published by Frederick Muller: Call Back Yesterday (1887-1931) in 1953, The Fateful Years (1931-1945) in 1957, and High Tide and After (1945-1960) in 1962. In the introduction to the first, he states, ‘I have quoted a good deal from my diaries’ and ‘much that is not direct quotation’ is based on the diaries. All three works are long out of print. More recently - well in 1986 - Jonathan Cape published two volumes of extracts from the diaries as edited by Ben Pimlott: The Second World War Diary of Hugh Dalton 1940-45 and The Political Diary of Hugh Dalton 1918-40, 1945-60.

In an Editorial Note to the former, Pimlott provides background on the diary: ‘For most of his life, Dalton wrote his diary in longhand, using small notebooks or, later on, loose sheets. Between 1937 and 1947, however - including the whole period covered by this book - his habit was to dictate the diary to a secretary. Hence almost all of the original diary for the Second World War is in typescript. There was only one draft. Dalton would read through what had been typed, and make occasional corrections. What makes the diary for the Coalition years different from earlier and later material - and so requiring separate treatment - is partly its sheer bulk (during his years of wartime ministerial office. Dalton produced almost as much diary as for the rest of his life put together); partly the regularity of wartime entries, with a record for almost every day (the main exceptions are holidays and trips); and partly a difference of arrangement that is a product of size, regularity and the pace of the events described. Instead of occasional reflections, and episodes widely dispersed, there is a continuity of plot and subplot, with far more detail and, very often, a close examination of policy.

Why did he write so much? Dalton engaged in one form of writing or another throughout his career, and during this period of intense activity, the diary became his main literary outlet. It is likely that his first, war book was somewhere in his mind, and that he saw the diary as the basis for some future publication. A sense of history, and of history being made, pervades his record of the war years. On one occasion, Dalton discussed diary-keeping with another compulsive diarist Harold Nicolson, and both agreed that their proudest boast would be that they had served in Mr Churchill’s Government.’

Here are several extracts from the same volume.

25 March 1941
‘Uproar in Parliament and a great demonstration in favour of the blockade. I have quite a rough passage - a most unaccustomed experience in these days - at Question Time. Outcry from all sections of the House. They are shocked at recent press revelations of trade through Marseilles and at navicerting of American food ships. Really, of course, they should shout at the Admiralty, the Foreign Office and the P.M.! I have it put about that only a very simple-minded person would think that I ask the Admiralty not to stop these ships, or that I ask Halifax to persuade Roosevelt to send the food ships! There is some perturbation among my advisers over this demonstration, but on the whole I welcome it and it strengthens my hand for the Cabinet this week.’

29 March 1941
‘On top of the world! First news of naval battle in Eastern Mediterranean. In this phase the war goes fast our way. It may reverse a bit later, but never mind that.’ 

5 July 1941
‘In the small hours of this morning, both of us having returned and done some more work, Gladwyn suggests that I might explore with Eden the possibility of Leeper returning to the Foreign Office and Loxley taking his place at C.H.Q., the whole show being then coordinated under one head, as I had so often told him I wanted. I said this would be rather difficult to handle but I would see how things went. It would be an admirable solution, for almost every reason. . .

To C.H.Q. in time for lunch. I make a row about the Italian Prisoners of War in India and how they are to be approached. I say that I will exercise my own judgment on these drafts and clean them up. It is silly to say that there should be ‘no propaganda’. The practical question is, is it worth while to try to recruit a Free Italian force? Probably Martelli should be the conducting officer.’

6 July 1941
‘Return by way of Chingford, where I speak in P.M.’s constituency. I make a good speech and get off most successfully with the lady Mayor of Chingford and, even more important, Sir James Hawkey, Chairman of the P.M.’s constituency organisation, who hated Neville Chamberlain and the old Tory machine and with whom I exchange various political reminiscences, designed to bring out the undoubted fact that it was the Labour Party which determined the change of Government leading to Churchill becoming P.M., and also that I played some personal role in this.’

13 February 1944
‘Address a public meeting at Battersea. This has been well advertised and is reasonably well attended. But I dislike very much addressing public meetings now. One feels held upon a chain with a row of reporters sitting waiting to pounce upon unguarded phrases. Hinley Atkinson is there and we walk back together, after tea with Douglas and his wife. Atkinson quite understands my feelings. The audience, he says, are always waiting for “those few reckless words” which would warm them up but would make most disastrous headlines. He is a very strong supporter of Maurice Webb for the secretaryship of the Party. I still feel, however, that he can’t get it.’

24 February 1944
‘Lunch with Mrs Phillimore and two Frenchmen. One, recently arrived from France, says that ‘the resistance’ is not divided into political parties but is more prepared, probably, than we in England for large changes after the war, both in the direction of European ‘federation’ - in loose form, e.g. unification of currency, transport services, etc. - and internally in Socialist direction, especially through public ownership of heavy industry. He thinks Germany should be admitted from the start to any new international organisation, but with very low status, this only being raised to that of other members gradually and in accord with German good behaviour. He thinks countries on the Atlantic seaboard will be much more stable and closely bound to England than anything to the east. He is not hopeful about south-east Europe.

Afterwards I go back with Attlee, who says that he and others today protested to the P.M. about last night’s pandemonium in Cabinet and the impossible position in which our officials were now placed. P.M. said he thought we were really all agreed on three things: (1) no return to the gold standard, (2) no abolition, or even reduction, of Imperial Preference, except in return for sufficient tariff concessions by Americans, and (3) no increase in the price of food by taxation. He inveighed again, with great emphasis, on this third point. Anderson said that these three points would suit him and the P.M. said he would issue a short Minute.’

6 June 1944
‘The Invasion of France began today at first light. It is very hard to think or speak of anything else. But I have, very unwillingly, to give my mind to preparing my speech for the House of Commons tomorrow on Location of Industry, which is being raised on the Board of Trade vote. I spend all day on this. As usual, the trouble is that one has, not too little material, but much too much.’

23 June 1944
‘Awakened at 2 a.m. by flying bombs and one comes fairly close when I am in my bath at 9 a.m.!

Lunch at Soviet Embassy, with Sir Thomas Barlow, in celebration of his services in providing clothing for the Soviet civilians. Gusev still very slow and tongue-tied, but it is not true to say that he won’t speak English.

Leave for West Leaze with Bob Fraser. Train is very crowded and the morale of some of the passengers is not high. It is sensible that any one not now working in London should, if they conveniently can, get out and stay out.’

4 July 1944
‘Answering P.Q.s. I get the House entirely on my side and dissolved in laughter by saying in reply to a Supplementary, that ‘I understand that a “physiotherapist” is what we used, in old-days, to call a masseuse.’ Then follows a discussion whether there is not some equally good simple English word for both. I invite suggestions and there are cries of ‘rubbers’.’

29 October 1944
‘Today we hold one of our ‘Secret Meetings’ of the National Executive and the Labour War Cabinet Ministers at Howard’s Hotel. As usual most are quite sensible. Our Declaration that we shall fight the next election as an independent Party has had soothing effects everywhere. Bevin coming in, as usual, very late, says that he can hardly believe his ears. He thought ministers were all supposed to be chained to the Coalition ‘and captives of the Tories’, but here today everyone is saying we must not hurry the election or the break-up of the Government and everyone, except Shinwell, says that we ought to get the Social Insurance Bill through before the Parliament ends. And this, indeed, is the general mood. I say I also want to get a Location of Industry Bill through. Unless we get Social Insurance through, the Tories will use it as bait for the electors; if we do get it through we can say that, but for us, nothing nearly so good would have been put forward; and in any case it is right to get it through, regardless of party politics.’

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

I like Mussolini, very much

According to Amazon, Enigma Books, a US imprint, is today publishing a reprint of Diary 1937-1943: The complete unabridged diaries of Count Galeazzo Ciano, Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs, 1936-1943, first published in 2002 by Phoenix. However, it is worth noting that there is no mention of this new edition on the publisher’s website. Nevertheless, it is as good an opportunity as any to celebrate - if that’s the right word - Ciano’s fascinating diaries. According to Malcolm Muggeridge they are ‘the most interesting [documents]’ to have come out of the Second World War, and the ones which ‘will probably prove in the end the most useful to historians’.

Galeazzo Ciano was born in Livorno in 1903. His father, an admiral, was later decorated in the First World War. Ciano moved to Rome, where, when only 18, he took part in the march which led to the Fascist overthrow of the Republic. He studied law, tried journalism and then settled on a career in diplomacy. In 1930, he married Benito Mussolini’s daughter Edda (they had three children), and thereafter rose to become a member of the Fascist Supreme Council. He was a secretary of state for press and propaganda, and then served in the Italian air force during the invasion of Ethiopia, before becoming minister of foreign affairs. In 1939, with Ribbentrop, he signed the Pact of Steel with Germany.

By 1943, however, Ciano’s doubts about Italy’s relationship with Germany had grown to the point where he advocated that Italy seek peace with the allies. Mussolini sacked him and the whole cabinet, and returned Ciano to the diplomatic service, as an ambassador to the Vatican. Still Ciano and other leading fascists were able to force Mussolini’s resignation. Thereafter, though, the new government prepared to arrest Ciano for embezzling, and so he fled Rome. He was captured by Mussolini sympathisers in Northern Italy, brought to trial for treason and executed in January 1944. Further biographical information is available at Wikipedia, the CIA, or the Constantine Report.

Ciano kept a diary during the entire period he was minister of foreign affairs, from June 1936 until February 1943. After his death, his widow, Edda, managed to smuggle to Switzerland the diaries he wrote from January 1939. By 1946, Doubleday, New York, had published, in English, The Ciano Diaries, 1939-1943: The complete, unabridged diaries of Count Galeazzo Ciano, Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs, as edited by Hugh Gibson with an introduction by Sumner Welles. This is freely available to read online at Internet Archive. A year later, the diaries also appeared in the UK, published by William Heinemann with an introduction by Malcolm Muggeridge.

Ciano’s earlier diaries (1936-1938), however, followed a more tortuous route to publication. They fell into the hands of the Germans, and were later destroyed, although Edda seems to have saved an imperfect copy of a German translation. This was eventually translated into English and published by Methuen as Ciano’s Diary, 1937-1938 in 1952. In 2002, for the first time, the two lots of Ciano’s diaries were put together and published by Phoenix as Diary 1937-1943: The complete unabridged diaries of Count Galeazzo Ciano, Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs, 1936-1943. The book has a preface by Renzo De Felice which is followed by Malcolm Muggeridge’s original introduction. And it is this edition that is supposedly being reissued today by Enigma Books, a US imprint, part of Casemate.

The first couple of paragraphs of Muggeridge’s introduction to Ciano’s diaries are worth reproducing.

‘Of all the documents which have come out of the 1939-1945 war and the events which led up to it, Ciano’s Diary is the most interesting, and will probably prove in the end the most useful to historians. I can imagine some future Gibbon, or even Lytton Strachey, coming upon it with a gasp of delight. This is because Ciano, like Boswell, was too vain to hide the true workings of his mind and the true character of his aspirations, and too foolish to be aware of how completely he was giving himself and those about whom he wrote away. If he had been cleverer his Diary would have been less revealing; if he had been better, his Diary would have been worse. Day by day he recorded his thoughts, hopes, conversations, all that had happened to him, against the background of his inordinate vanity, and in the end, waiting in a prison cell at Verona to be taken out and shot, engineered the publication of what he had written in the fond hope that thereby he would revenge himself on his father-in-law and former patron Mussolini.

What he achieved actually was to provide the world with one more record, incomparable in its naiveté, of how futile a pursuit is power, and how certainly those who pursue it become enmeshed in their own deceits and stratagems. For this at least he deserves gratitude. In exposing Mussolini he perforce exposed himself, and all who take the path they followed. Without knowing it, he presented Mussolini as Macbeth, with Hider for the Horrid Sisters. Duce he was, but the promise of yet greater things to come proved irresistible. Like Macbeth, he struggled sometimes against its seduction, but in the end succumbed, as many others did, to the Führer’s fearful certainty. The actual events that Ciano recounts are too near, and their tragic consequences too present, to require his confirmation. It is not his account of the play which makes his Diary so valuable, but his revelation of the character of the players and of their relationships with one another.’

For further information on Ciano’s diaries see also Warfare History Network or The Atlantic. Here are several extracts taken from the 2002 Phoenix edition.

22 August 1937
‘In order to protect my writer’s vanity, should these notes be published one day - please bear in mind that they were jotted down by me, in fits and starts, between meetings and phone calls. I was obliged and wanted to kick literature out and I limited myself to taking very short notes on the matters of which, I am, at once, either actor, author or spectator. The facts themselves will generate the interest rather than the hurried writing style.’

23 August 1937
‘Starting today I intend to keep this diary on a regular basis. The Duce told me that democracy is to Slavs what alcohol is to Negroes. Total destruction. Afterwards, there is the need for exceptional regulations following intense revolutionary upheavals.

Ingram made a friendly move regarding the torpedo attacks in the Mediterranean. I replied brazenly. He left almost satisfied.

The Chinese want airplanes for Shanghai. I practically said no. I reminded them of their behavior during and after the sanctions. Now they can no longer count on our goodwill.’

27 September 1937
‘Essen. Visit to Krupp. Very much impressed by industrial power. Arrival in Berlin. Triumphant.’

29 October 1937
‘This morning medals were awarded to the widows of those who died in Spain. A successful ceremony. But, to see so many people in mourning, and to look into so many red eyes, I had to examine my conscience, and I ask myself if this blood had been spilled for a just cause. Yes: that is the answer. At Malaga, at Guadalajara, at Santander, we defended our civilization and our Revolution. And sacrifice is necessary when bold and strong spirits must be forged within nations. The wounded were very proud. One of them who had lost both hands and one eye, said: “I ask only for another hand so that I may return to Spain.” It sounds like a reply from an anthology, and I heard it from a boy of twenty, struck down by enemy weapons, who was happy because the Duce paused with him for a moment. The Germans that were with us learned something.

The Duce does not believe that I should go to Brussels. All things considered, he is right. The unprepared meeting with Eden, would be useless and perhaps damaging for the disappointment that it would create. If it is to be, the occasion can always we found later on. I spoke to Perth about it. He was not very convinced by my arguments. Personally he wanted the meeting, which, according to him, would have clarified the situation a lot.’

6 November 1937
‘This morning we signed the Pact. One could sense an atmosphere very different from the usual diplomatic ceremonies. Three nations engaged down the same path, which could lead to war. A necessary fight if we want to break this mold that suffocates the energy and aspirations of young nations. After the signing we went to see the Duce. Few times have I seen him so pleased. It is no longer the situation of 1935. Italy has broken its isolation and is at the center of the most formidable political and military alliance that has ever existed.

In the afternoon a three-man meeting between the Duce, Ciano, and Ribbentrop. It was a meeting of great interest: I took minutes in a notebook.

In the evening gala dinner at the Palazzo Venezia. The two very pro-fascist Japanese military attaches were beaming. They wish the military pact well. They were happy when I told them, in the presence of the Duce, that they will have to occupy Vladivostok, which is a pistol pointed against Japan.’

12 February 1939
‘The Duce agreed to take part in the funeral of the Pope, which has been set by the nunciature for the 17th. That decision pleases me, because it will make a good impression on the conclave participants. In some American circles it is rumored that the Camerlengo has a document written by the Pope. The Duce wants Pignatti to find out, and, if it is true, to try to get a copy of the document “in order to avoid a repetition of the Filippelli incident.”

Calm, for the time being, in other areas.

Gorgeous Sunday of a Roman winter, warm and sunny. I spent most of it at the golf club.’

16 February 1940
‘François-Poncet, whom I had not seen for a long time, complains about our press attacks, and especially those appearing in the Popolo d’ltalia. French newspapers, for the time being, are not reacting, but relations between the two countries are suffering from this nonetheless, and the atmosphere of better understanding which we had established in the last few months has been upset once again. I used some kind words, but nothing more, since the press campaign is desired and directed personally by the Duce, my influence being very limited.

Donegani is worried about the coal problem. If our supplies are reduced or cease entirely in the next few days, industry will suffer a sudden stoppage with dire consequences in the field of production and labor.

I receive Sidorovici, leader of the Romanian Youth Movement. Some leader! He is a big hulk, a preposterous creature devoid of any interest.’

29 March 1940
‘A report presented by Melchiori, who has spent a month in Germany, has had a profound influence on the Duce. I do not know the value of this individual’s observations. He is a shining example of amorality, greedy ambition, ineptitude, and ignorance, who does not know a single word of German and spends his time in the anterooms of the consulates and the embassy begging for secondhand information, which he then cooks up in a rather vulgar style. The trouble is that Mussolini takes him seriously. Few documents have struck him lately as much as the Melchiori report, in which even though he reaches the conventional conclusion of “an unavoidable German victory” he also points out the difficult living conditions of the German people. This report has not substantially modified the decisions of the Duce, but for the first time he admits that Germany is not resting on a bed of roses, and that the failure of the offensive or a long-drawn-out war would mean defeat, and hence the collapse of the German regime. “I do not understand,” he said, “why Hitler does not realize this. I myself can feel that Fascism is wearing out - a wear and tear which is not deep, but is nevertheless noticeable, and he does not feel it in Germany, where the crisis has already assumed rather alarming proportions.” ’

29 June 1940
‘Balbo is dead. A tragic mistake has brought about his end. The antiaircraft battery at Tobruk fired on his plane, mistaking it for an English plane, and shot it down. The news saddened me very much. Balbo did not deserve to end up like this. He was exuberant, restless, he loved life in all its forms. He had more dash than talent, more vivacity than acumen. He was a decent fellow, and even in political clashes, in which his partisan temperament delighted, he never stooped to anything dishonorable and to questionable methods. He did not desire war, and opposed it to the last. But once it had been decided, he spoke with me in the language of a faithful soldier, and, if fate had not been against him, he was preparing to act with decision and daring.

Balbo’s memory will linger for a long time among Italians because he was, above all, a true Italian, with the great faults and great virtues of our race.’

26 September 1940
‘I am on my way to Berlin. On Hitler’s order the train is stopped at Munich. Attacks by the Royal Air Force endanger the area, and the Führer does not wish to expose me to the risk of a long stop in open country. I sleep in Munich and will continue by air.’

23 May 1942
‘The Duce telephoned indignantly, charging that the Japanese ambassador, Shiratori, made certain unacceptable statements: the dominion of the world belongs to Japan, the Mikado is the only god on earth, and that both Hitler and Mussolini must come to accept this reality. I remember Shiratori during his short stay in Rome. He was a fanatical extremist, but, most of all, he was very uncouth.

Bismarck has confirmed to d’Aieta that Himmler is playing a personal game by inciting people to grumble. Is this true? For the time being I think that the rumor must be accepted with a lot of caution.’

8 February 1943
‘I hand over my office at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Then I go to the Palazzo Venezia to see the Duce and take leave of him. He tells me “Now you must consider that you are going to have a period of rest. Then your turn will come again. Your future is in my hands, and therefore you need not worry!” He thanks me for what I have done and quickly enumerates my most important services. “If they had given us three years’ time we might have been able to wage war under different conditions or perhaps it would not have been at all necessary to wage it.” He then asked me if I had all my documents in order. “Yes,” I answered. “I have them all in order, and remember, when hard times come - because it is now certain that hard times will come - I can document all the treacheries perpetrated against us by the Germans, one after another, from the preparation of the conflict to the war on Russia, communicated to us when their troops had already crossed the border. If you need them I shall provide the details, or, better still, I shall, within the space of 24 hours, prepare that speech which I have had in my mind for three years, because I shall burst if I do not deliver it.” He listened to me in silence and almost agreed with me. Today he was concerned about the situation because the retreat on the Eastern Front continues to be almost a rout. He has invited me to see him frequently, “even every day.” Our leave-taking was cordial, for which I am very glad, because I like Mussolini, like him very much, and what I shall miss the most will be my contact with him.’

The Diary Junction

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Beat writer‘s last months

William Seward Burroughs, giant literary figure of the so-called Beat Generation, died 20 years ago today. He lived to a reasonable age given his colourful life, of drug and alcohol misuse, not to mention accidentally shooting his partner, and various other escapades with the law. He was friends with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, both of whom played some part in transforming the rather wayward young Burroughs into a writer.

Burroughs was born in 1914 into a prominent family in St Louis, Missouri - his grandfather having founded the Burroughs Adding Machine company. After attending various schools, including Los Alamos Ranch School in New Mexico, he studied art at Harvard University, graduating in 1936. During his time at Harvard, he also worked as a junior reporter, and visited New York City where he experiment with drugs and became involved in the emerging gay subculture. On leaving formal education, Burroughs was provided with a regular income from his parents, leaving him free of any need to work. He travelled to Vienna, tried studying medicine, and engaged in promiscuous behaviour. He married Ilse Kapper, a Jewish friend needing a visa to escape from the Nazis. 

Back in the US, Burroughs severed a little finger under provocation from a friend, leading his parents to be concerned about his mental health. Indeed, after enlisting for the army in 1942 (having failed to be considered as a pilot or spy), he was not able to cope too well, and, eventually, he was given a civilian disability discharge. In 1944, Burroughs began sharing a Manhattan apartment with Joan Vollmer Adams (then married to a soldier) and Jack Kerouac (see The rush of what is said on Kerourac’s diaries). Allen Ginsberg was also one of their friends (see Thoughts, epiphanies, poems on Ginsberg’s diaries). Kerouac and Burroughs collaborated on a novel, but failed to get it published at the time.

Burroughs, addicted to morphine, began selling drugs, and was eventually arrested. On his release, he lived with Vollmer in Texas, where they had a child together in 1947, and then in Mexico City, where both were caught up in a cycle of drug and alcohol addiction. There, Burroughs completed his first novel, Junkie, written at the urging of Ginsberg who also helped it be published later (in 1953). In September 1951, Burroughs accidentally shot Vollmer dead at a party. He spent a few days in jail before family lawyers managed to get him released on bail. His son was taken to St Louis to live with his grandparents, and Burroughs waited for trial. While still in Mexico, he began writing a work that would eventually be published as QueerEventually, he decided to flee, travelling in South America before returning to the US. He was given a two-year suspended send in absentia.

Biographers generally agree that Vollmer’s death marked a sea change in Burrough’s life as well as his writing. By 1954, he was living in Tangier in Morocco, drawn there by Paul Bowles’ fiction. During his four years in Tangier, he wrote what eventually became Naked Lunch. Excerpts first appeared in 1958, and the novel itself emerged in Paris in 1959, gaining much attention not only from the 1960s underground culture, but from critics too. A celebrated legal case of obscenity against the book, after publication in the US, failed. Burroughs moved to Paris, and then London, by then something of a beat celebrity, supporting himself and a continuing addiction by writing articles for different magazines.

In 1974, Ginsberg, worried about his friend, secured Burroughs a position teaching creative writing at the City College of New York, and, for a while, he stopped using heroin. He moved into an apartment, dubbed The Bunker, on The Bowery, but soon gave up the teaching. He became friends with the likes of Andy Warhol, Lou Reed, Patti Smith and Susan Sontag; he tried to make a film with Dennis Hopper; and he collaborated with Nick Cave and Tom Waits. As an ageing avant-garde radical, he did reading tours and attended conventions dedicated to his work. Between 1981 and 1987, he published Cities of the Red Night; The Place of Dead Roads; and The Western Lands. He spent the last 16 years of his life in Lawrence, Kansas, where he died on 2 August 1997. Further information on Burrough’s colourful life can be found all over the internet, not least at Wikipedia, The New Yorker, Beat Museum, Encyclopædia Britannica, and The Telegraph (biography review).

According to Burroughs himself, he kept journals as a teenager documenting an erotic attachment to another boy, but later destroyed them out of shame. He certainly kept notebooks during some periods of his life: in 2007 Ohio State University Press brought out Everything Lost: The Latin American Notebook - see Goodreads for more information. He also kept a diary of sorts in his final months. This was edited by Burroughs’s long-time assistant James Grauerholz and published as Last Words: The Final Journals of William Burroughs (Grove Press) - see Googlebooks.

In Last Words, Grauerholz provides this background to the journals: ‘It was in mid-November 1996 that Burroughs began to write the journals that are presented in this book. The first entry records the death of his cat, Calico Jane. In 260 days from November 14, 1996, to August 1, 1997, he made 168 entries. These writings include successive drafts of several short routines; remarks on books he was reading or had read long ago, and scenes suggested by them; lists of favorite lines from a lifetime of reading and listening; fits of impotent rage at man’s stupidity, day-to-day commentary, the heartbreak of the deaths of his beloved cats; and the contemplation of his own mortality. As late as these last nine months of his life, Burroughs was still compelled to do imaginary battle with his primordial foes: “Drug Warriors,” school-stupid FBI men, cat-haters, humans destroying the earth’s species in their arrogance: “When whales and seals and elephants weep, I cannot suppress the deadly Sin of Anger.” ’

Grauerholz adds these notes in his acknowledgements: ‘William Burroughs’s closest friends often saw him scribbling in the bound journal books that accumulated until there were eight of them, but he was a bit secretive about their contents. He did turn over one book to Jim McCrary to be typed up, and he made some editing marks on the transcription; this shows that he knew the journals would someday be published. (Selections from that typed journal were published in The New Yorker just after William’s death, as “Last Words.”) In late August 1997 Jim offered to transcribe the handwritten journals, and I was content for him to do that because I was not yet ready to face their contents, in William’s familiar scrawl - “dead fingers talk.” I procrastinated reviewing Jim’s transcription until the spring of 1999, when I finally felt up to the sad task of reading my best friend’s last testament. Rather than silently correct mistakes of spelling or sense, I used brackets to insert short clarifications, or to indicate words and passages that remained illegible after my best efforts to decipher them. In the subsequent editing process (with Ira Silverberg’s help), I cut about 5 percent of the material, primarily for reasons of privacy or because of excessive repetition. Following William’s text in this volume is a set of editor’s notes, arranged chronologically, providing additional background and explanation of his many references that would otherwise be obscure.’

Here are several extracts (from the Flamingo edition of Last Words in the UK).

14 November 1996
‘Thursday This is November 14. 1996
November 10, Calico was killed at 19th and Learnard. I heard about it the 12th from Jose. Tom had seen the cat by side of the road.

In the empty spaces where the cat was, that hurt physically. Cat is part of me. Mornings since, I break into uncontrollable sobbing and crying when I remember [where] she used to be - sit - move, etc. No question of histrionics. It just happens.

So dream remembered:
Oh, it was also a cat. I wasn’t sure it could find its way.’

16 November 1996
‘Coming up narrow tenement stairs. Met two people coming down at landing, said: “Hello.”

At top of stairs was a cubicle room with old sewing machine and other odds and ends, and there was an affectionate cat, whose head seemed removable. This room was open at top, three floors up.

Other people on roof said something about “Absolutely,” referring to the cats.’

1 December 1996
‘In a plane coming in for a landing in Paris. The plane landed in a narrow slot. Outside I could see Paris streets and then the plane angled upwards, looked ready to stall at any moment, and I felt physical fear.

“It’s going to crash!”
But it didn’t crash. Landed OK in Paris.

Paris is in many ways my favorite city. Never really got into Rome. London was always antithetical to me. Leaving NYC which is always New York. Small towns like Tangier.’

11 December 1996
‘Let the little growth on my head rest. It is an inoperable, benign, nonentity. So let it stay like that. If the soft machine works, don’t fix it. If it works, don’t fix it.

The words under the words, bubbling up with a belch of coal gas:
“We are - They are - come on! Hit! Hit!”
He cowered there, nursing the welt inflicted.’

30 December 1996
‘Reading New Yorker, July 31, 1995, account of “firestorms” in Hamburg occasioned by Allied bombing. (They don’t need an Atom bomb.) Then Dresden, to break German morale. The result was history’s second major firestorm. Like I say, top people in USA and England were such shits as you can’t believe.

What is left in these minds? Very little of value to me or anyone I can relate to. “All my relations,” as the Indians say. Like the drug anti’s in Malaysia say: “dealers are not human to him.’ And he - Mohathir Mohamed, Prime Minister - is not human to me. I curse him with my whole heart. There is nothing in him I feel for, or with.

Same goes for the firestorm impresarios.

So as this inglorious chapter in the USA draws to a dreary close with Clinton squeaking like the rat he turned out to be, that [in] Arizona and California together courts [are] quasi-legalizing marijuana for medical or any other purpose. . .

You must mark it to its place. It is an ILLEGAL drug and by illegal, beyond question.’

30 January 1997
‘To Kansas City. Pleasant trip. Good breakfast at Nichols’. Back by the freeway.
David made an especially good dinner, small roast, thick, toothsome, and new potatoes and carrots and peas.
My god, how dull these English diaries can get.

I expect Trant - or is it Glen? - will soon be jolted out of his apathy - and his greenhouse, and his green iguana.
Fold sweet etcetera to bed with Ovaltine.
So what does happen?

“Trant thought the frescos were becoming more and more morbid - each of the Martyrs had died in a different way - one by roasting.” (In a Rube Goldberg machine). “A saint carrying his own skin - lifelike in the extreme - the child was timing him to see how long he took” (to find out there was something to be tooked.)

He did something the others had not done: he laughed.
I once questioned in a dream an evil Italian Mountebank Spirit:
“Like, who are you?”
And he laughed and laughed - and went on laughing, in a marble dark lagoon, chintzy Italian decor - and he was deliciously evil.
As someone said about this evil spirit goes around sucking out the last breath from a dying youth:
“It was tasty.”

The child looking quite radiant. He was in fact a Radiant Boy, suck the breath out of an old queen.
He’s got a name, that Eyetye spirit - the Harlequin?
“You must leave now. Follow me.”

Few things are less inspiring than muddy snow. It’s an uncreative accident. (Bacon speaks of “the creative accident.”)
A road of dirty, muddy snow splattered accidental enough -  like a pig wallow.’

29 May 1997
‘Life review is not orderly account from conception to death. Rather, fragments -
(Telephone - my eyeglasses are ready.)
“You can keep quite comfortable on codeine.”
 - from here and there:
“He looks like a sheep killing dog.”
- Said about me by Politte Elvins, Kells’s father, who later went nuts with paresis. [He’d] been treating himself: “Doctors are just mechanics.”
“Take Beano for the measles, you pay two dollars down.”
- Old song heard at Los Alamos campfire sing, from Henry Bosworth.

I hate that son of a bitch, if he still lives anywhere. He called me “a goddamn worthless little pup.”
I hanged him in effigy by the big square fireplace in the Big House. I had used a statue of a Boy Scout, with the message around his neck: “Bozzy Bitch, goddamn him.”
(Now he later was fired for fooling with the boys, especially the Marsden family - Bob Marsden was a right bitch in his own right.)

A. J. found out about it:
“Yes,” he said, “I know everybody who got up that night.”
He had his network of snitches.
“What’s the safest place in the U.S., Billy?” he needled me, and Connell says: “Where you are.”
(Suppose you are on death row? I guess Fort Knox is about the safest place, offhand - all that gold. Or maybe a vault in Zurich, tended by gnomes.)
It was out by the sawdust pile, caughted fire and been smoldering for years like a mattress.

Recollect in New Orleans Joan set her bed on fire with a cigarette. I was the one woke up. We pour a wastebasket full of water down one hole, and it starts smoking down the other end. Took four metal wastebaskets to quell the fire, and it took $50 to quench the landlady.
Dropped my drink into a wastebasket at the sight of a Glock double trigger.
If they would -’

20 July 1997
‘They say a writer should have something he does with his hands (besides typing, that is). Pulling cat hairs from the Hudson Bay blanket seems to be my hand thing. That and shooting. I groom her, but the hairs are seemingly inexhaustible. What’s a man to do. Ain’t got no chance, one man alone.

Stumbles on a vile deed: report in the Weekly [World] News. McVeigh has turned into a sniveling coward, sobbing: “I don’t want to die.”

Has he? No responsible newspaper has reported what is certainly a newsworthy event. Only the Weekly News has culled this scoop from its mysterious “sources.” I nominate the Weekly News for the Vilest Act of the Century. If this story is fabricated, the News has perpetrated - has extended the very frontiers of vileness.

I remember the Machos. Died smoking. Mexican banditos stand against a pitted adobe wall, sneering at the firing squad.
So some reporter who wasn’t even there reports:
“The bandits died begging for their lives. Most of them lost control of their bowels and bladders.”

I was there. I will hunt that rat reporter down. I will force him to beg for his life in front of witnesses, promising to spare his life if he begs for it like Fido on his knees, with little yips while the cameras roll.
Lights, action, (pistol shots), camera.
To me the most unforgivable sin is the Lie, because like counterfeit currency, it devalues truth.

He has endured tortures that would have reduced most men to sniveling wrecks, an agent of a service so secret it can never be admitted to exist. Now he is, by computer magic, suddenly “a dirty child-molesting dope fiend,” spit on and pelted with rocks from snarling children.

He’s had all he can take.
“Fill my truck with ammonium nitrate. I’m going to fertilize till the land looks level.”
Few survive the Big Switch.
So then?