Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A plot mind is curiously rare

‘On the other hand the fact, of which I was long ignorant, that I possess hidden away what is called a “plot mind” became of very great importance to me as a writer. A plot mind, is curiously rare, and does secure for its owner a kind of immortality. By that I mean that long after the writer is dead, the books go on being reprinted. Wilkie Collins is an example of this. Another is Dumas père who in his day was regarded by the French critics very much as were in my day the author of The Mystery of the Hansom Cab, and so on.’ This is from the diary of Marie Belloc Lowndes, who died 70 years ago today. Although barely remembered today (her diaries published in the 1970s have never been reprinted), she was a very popular crime writer in the first half of the 20th century. Most famously, she penned The Lodger, later made into a successful film by Alfred Hitchcock.

Marie Adelaide Belloc was born in Marylebone, London, in 1868, but then partly raised in La Celle-Saint-Cloud, France. Her parents were intellectuals, a French barrister and an English writer/feminist, and she had a younger brother, Hilaire. Her father died, however, when both children were still very young. Marie was largely educated at home (though she spent two years at a convent in Sussex), becoming a voracious reader.  In her 20s, she became a journalist working in both England and France for the Pall Mall Gazette. She married Frederick Lowndes, an editor at The Times, in 1896, and the couple settled in Westminster where they raised three children. She remained a Catholic throughout her life, with a profound religious belief, though she seldom spoke about it.

In 1898, Belloc Lowndes published (anonymously) her first book: H.R.H. The Prince of Wales: An Account of His Career. Thereafter, she wrote mostly novels, many of them mysteries, as well as plays and memoirs. The Lodger (1913), a fictionalised account of Jack the Ripper, was her most famous work, and was turned into a film by Alfred Hitchcock. She was a supporter of women’s rights, knew many artistic, literary and political figures of her time (was a regular guest at 10 Downing Street during Asquith’s premiership), and encouraged young writers. In the 1930s, she made annual visits to the United States. She died on 14 November 1947. A little further information - she is not well remembered these days - can be found at Wikipedia, Encyclopedia.com, or The Encyclopedia of British Women’s Writing 1900-1950.

Both Marie and her brother, Hilaire, also a writer of some renown, were diarists. Although none of Hilaire’s diaries have been published (see a list of his papers at Boston College Libraries), Marie’s were published by Chatto & Windus, in 1971, as edited by her daughter Susan Lowndes: Diaries and letters of Marie Belloc Lowndes, 1911-1947. The foreword states: ‘When we, her daughters, came to examine her papers, we found her diaries, often with long gaps, owing to her constant writing commitments, and we decided that they could be of interest to a larger circle. Her great absorption in the political and literary worlds of her day and the account of the years of the Second World War, cast many sidelights on those times.’ A short review of the book can be read at Tanya Izzard’s blog.


Here are several extracts from Maria Belloc Lowndes’s diaries.

9 March 1923
‘I have had large sales in cheap editions. Thus The Lodger sold something like half a million at sixpence in the Reader’s Library. My early books were all published in America, and years after Barbara Rebell had been brought out there by Scribner, Americans would speak to me with real affection for the book and tell me they constantly re-read it. I have always believed that had I continued to write the kind of books that I began writing, and which I naturally preferred writing, I should probably have made, for me, a very much greater and better reputation than that which has fallen to my lot.

On the other hand the fact, of which I was long ignorant, that I possess hidden away what is called a “plot mind” became of very great importance to me as a writer. A plot mind, is curiously rare, and does secure for its owner a kind of immortality. By that I mean that long after the writer is dead, the books go on being reprinted. Wilkie Collins is an example of this. Another is Dumas père who in his day was regarded by the French critics very much as were in my day the author of The Mystery of the Hansom Cab, and so on.

The story of The Lodger is curious and may be worth putting down if only because it may encourage some fellow author long after I am dead. The Lodger was written by me as a short story after I heard a man telling a woman at a dinner party that his mother had had a butler and a cook who married and kept lodgers. They were convinced that Jack the Ripper had spent a night under their roof. When W. L. Courtney, the then literary editor of The Daily Telegraph, in order to please a close friend of mine, commissioned a novel from me (I then never having written a novel for serial publication) I remembered The Lodger. I sent him the story and he agreed that it should be expanded. This was a piece of great good fortune for me, and would certainly not have been the case among any subsequent editors of my work.

As soon as the serial began appearing - It was I believe the first serial story published by The Daily Telegraph - I began receiving letters from all parts of the world, from people who kept lodgings or had kept lodgings. I also received two postcards of praise from two very different people, the one being Lord Russell and my old friend Robert Sherard, who had written interesting and revealing books concerning Oscar Wilde, including a severe and justified indictment of the Life by Frank Harris.

When The Lodger was published, I did not receive a single favourable review. When it came to sending a quotation for an advertisement for the American edition, I was not able to find even one sentence of tepid approval. Then, to my surprise, when The Lodger had been out two or three years reviewers began to rebuke me for not writing another Lodger, and reviews of the type of ‘Mrs Belloc Lowndes’ new book is a disappointment’ appeared.


Then, to my surprise, when The Lodger had been out two or three years reviewers began to rebuke me for not writing another Lodger, and reviews of the type of ‘Mrs Belloc Lowndes’ new book is a disappointment’ appeared.’

22 October 1935
‘I have read Curtis Brown’s book Contacts. I was deeply interested in his account of Shaw. Every word he said was true as to Shaw’s odd ways with regard to contracts. Philip Sassoon asked Shaw’s advice about his contract with Heinemann - Shaw wrote him a long amusing letter and also pulled the contract to pieces.

I was, however, surprised to note that Curtis Brown claims to have made the arrangements concerning Mr Asquith’s War book. He may have done this with regard to foreign American rights, etc. He did not do so with regard to the English rights, for I heard at the time from the man concerned, that a representative of the publishers went down to see the Asquiths about something concerning one of Margot’s books.

After they had had their talk, the publisher put down on the table a cheque for two thousand pounds made out to Asquith. Asquith took it up and said, “What’s this?” The man said, “This is a fifth part of what we are willing to pay if you write your War memoirs”. It was well-known that Asquith had said he would never write his Memoirs in any shape or form.

Asquith walked across to the window - a French window leading into a garden at the other end of which stood the large barn where Margot worked. He waited there for an appreciable time, then he turned round and said “I’ll do it”. Taking up the cheque he observed “This bait has caught the fish”.

He had never kept a diary, and it was his custom to destroy all the letters he received. He was, however, a great letter-writer. There were at least ten women to whom he wrote quite often. When faced with the necessity of writing the book, he wrote to all these ladies and asked them to return his letters. They all refused, with the exception of Mrs Harrisson. She at once did what he asked, and that is the explanation of his having left her £2,000. But for her he could never have written the book.

It was with great regret that I read Asquith’s letters to Mrs Harrisson when she decided to publish them. My regret was owing to the fact that they gave an entirely false impression of the writer. Asquith had an enormous following among Nonconformists. They regarded him as a stern man of God, a Cromwell, who by some freak of circumstance had married Margot Tennant of whom they knew very little, and of the little they knew they disapproved. To all these people, the publication of what appeared to be a series of love letters came as a fearful shock. To the people who knew Asquith, the letters meant less than nothing because they were all well aware that all through his life - even before his first wife’s death, he had always had these affectionate friendships with women.

After the Harrisson letters came out, Margot was terribly distressed at the effect they produced. I had a talk with her about it and I entirely agreed with her that there were several women who could have produced letters of exactly the same kind, many of these ladies being well-known women who certainly were not in love with Asquith nor he with them. He always began a letter to any woman who could in any way be described as attractive with ‘darling’ or ‘dearest’. In a way this was strange, because he did not fling about those terms in everyday life.

One woman known to me still has an Italian marriage-chest full of letters from him. She is a highly intelligent woman; the letters to her are really worth printing for he wrote with great freedom on all political and literary subjects.

When Mrs Harrisson lent Asquith the letters for the purpose of his memoirs, after making notes, he began tearing them up. Margot stopped him, exclaiming: “Don’t do that! She probably values your letters very much”. If this story is true, how very much she must have regretted having stopped him in his work of destruction. The person to get all the criticism was the editor Desmond MacCarthy. I do not feel he was to blame, owing to the simple fact that he was so close a friend both of Asquith and of Margot that what amazed and shocked those who did not know them, made no impression on MacCarthy at all.’

24 March 1915
‘The Arnold Bennetts dined with me to meet Sir George Riddell and Pamela McKenna. Bennett told me of the vast sums he was making: a hundred pounds for a 1,500 word article in the new Sunday paper. He gets two hundred pounds from American papers for each article he writes of the same length and £3,500 for serial rights of a novel. He has fixed up three serials for £10,000 with an American paper. He gave a funny account of the Editor of Munsey’s going to see Sir Gilbert Parker. Sir Gilbert received him with hauteur, whereupon the American said: “What you’ve first got to do is to come off your perch - and listen to what we want. I can only do business on those lines.” The great man gave in and got off his perch.’

29 September 1938
‘The crisis is not over, as so many people seem to think, but it certainly is suspended and I should be much surprised if it comes to war now. I still entirely believe that Hitler was bluffing and - I think it will come out in time - that if only he had been told quite plainly that the three great countries were going to war if he attacked the Czechs, he would have drawn back exactly as he did in May. Though there can be no doubt Chamberlain meant it for the best, I am convinced that had he not flown to Germany, but contented himself with simply sending a threat from London he would actually have done better for the whole world than he has done now, for it is plain that whatever happens, the Czechs will be to a great extent sacrificed.

All the main roads out of London are an astonishing sight jammed with cars, and the scenes at the railway stations are also extraordinary: as a man said to me, “Just like an August Bank Holiday!”
The Westminster boys were all sent home yesterday. I hear that the Dulwich boys have also gone - each parent paying £3 so that proper army huts might be built on the Kent-Sussex border. This flight from London is a great misfortune for tradespeople and indeed anyone connected with trade in any way. Large numbers of people have given their servants a week’s notice and a week’s money, so London is full of servants with no jobs.

Yesterday a great rush for provisions began. One lady I heard of has her house quite full of tinned foods of every kind. The only thing I bought was my special brand of China tea: I have got 14 lbs which will last me for a year. I also got last week rather more methylated, rice and matches than usual, but nothing out of the way.

I was guided by my experience in the last year. The fact that I had a gross of matches in the early August of 1914 was of the greatest value. It is one of the things - strange to say - in which there quickly becomes a shortage. I also found then the great value of rice when cooked and mixed with fried onions and a little butter: it really makes a meal for anyone. I ran out of methylated in the last war and had great trouble making my early morning tea before my work - in fact, I was forced to use the Tommy Cookers and the stuff people used for heating their hair tongs, both expensive and unpleasant to use.

I have committed one act of great extravagance: I have bought a new wireless for Wimbledon. For many years I have had an ordinary battery model, given me by a dear friend. It cost £30 but is hopelessly out of date, a great worry and perpetually having to be mended. I said to myself it would be a frightful thing for me should war come, to be out at Wimbledon with no wireless, so yesterday I telephoned a man I know who is in a big radio concern.

He brought me out the best new Ecko model and fixed it up for me with an aerial. I decided to do so when I realized that if war should come any money I get from America would be enormously more in pounds than in dollars. The day before yesterday I should have made 4/- on every pound.’

The Diary Junction

Monday, November 13, 2017

At sea with Von Löwenstern

‘The Thames has been formally blockaded. All merchant ships are being stopped. Sailors have taken over two transports to America with riggings and ship’s provisions. The ships’ officers have been arrested and are being held hostage.’ This is a taster from the diaries of Hermann Ludwig von Löwenstern, an Estonian sailor who took part in Russia’s first naval expedition round the world, and who was born 240 years ago today. The diaries have been published in German and English thanks to Victoria Joan Moessner, professor of German at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Von Löwenstern was born in Estonia on 13 November 1777, the fourth of ten children. He entered the Russian naval service at 15, first as a volunteer, then as a midshipman. He was in England, during a sailor’s revolt, in 1797, and from there, in 1799, he sailed with the Russian navy to Gibraltar, Sicily, Greece, Turkey, and the Crimea. In 1801, he traveled overland to St. Petersburg and Reval, where he received permission to leave Russian service and enter the French. In 1802, with his father’s financial help, he moved to Paris, where he decided against joining Napoleon’s troops, but, nevertheless enjoyed the city’s sights as well as a love affair with his innkeeper.

In early 1803, von Löwenstern returned to Estonia by way of the universities in Leipzig and Jena before journeying on to Berlin, where he learned of Russia’s proposed voyage around the world. He returned to St. Petersburg, where he was readmitted to the Russian Navy, and appointed fourth officer on the lead ship, Nadezhda. The expedition sailed via Tenerife, Brazil, Japan, China and Scotland before returning to Russia in 1806. He retired from the navy in 1815, married Wilhelmina von Essen, and took over running several estates in Estonia. He died in 1836. There is no further biographical information readily available online, although there is a Wikipedia article in German about his father (who had the same name).

Von Löwenstern kept a personal diary from the age of 20 until his late 30s (when he retired from seafaring), but he never intended it for publication. Indeed, the diary remained unpublished in English until, that is, Moessner edited and translated parts for her book: First Russian Voyage around the World: The Journal of Hermann Ludwig von Löwenstern 1803-1806 (University of Alaska Press, 2003). The publisher’s blurb states: ‘Because Löwenstern never published his diary, it was not submitted to the official censorship process that scrutinized and altered all publications in Tsarist Russia. Thus it contains frank descriptions of historical events, arguments, sightings, and opinions that were left out or removed from other accounts that were subject to editorial scrutiny. His diary makes a particularly critical contribution to our knowledge about the history and politics of nineteenth-century Russia and the lands visited by the expedition.’

A review of the three-volume edition of the diaries in the original German (also edited by Moessner) can be read at the Edwin Mellen Press website. It states: ‘The reader is given a day-by-day account of a Baltic German Russian naval officer’s life during the age of global scientific exploration in the course of the age of Napoleon, as he matures from midshipman to captain of a Turkish ship taken as a prize in the Black Sea.’

More recently, however, Moessner has translated into English, edited and published the rest of von Löwenstern’s diaries as The Diaries of Hermann Ludwig von Löwenstern: 1793-1803 and 1806-1815 (Page Publishing, 2014, - a US vanity press). A press release for the book can be read at PRWeb, and some pages of the book itself can be viewed at Googlebooks. Here are several extracts.

24 May 1797
‘The Thames has been formally blockaded. All merchant ships are being stopped. Sailors have taken over two transports to America with riggings and ship’s provisions. The ships’ officers have been arrested and are being held hostage, as Parker with the delegates has declared, for the lives of the imprisoned delegates on land. They undressed a Chirurius [surgeon], smeared him with tar, sprinkled with feathers, and towed him on land behind a jolly boat. They have insulted many officers in the most sensitive manner and dunked a couple midshipmen in the water from the end of a yardarm. The delegates have a president whom they choose every day anew. Unfortunately, the entire English fleet is in rebellion.’

5 June 17979
‘We sailed with a fresh wind toward Texel to show the Dutch that, even though the sailors in England were revolting, the sea was nevertheless not empty of English ships.’

19 June 1797
‘If you compare here to England, everything in Copenhagen seems bad and tasteless and especially desolate and empty. From Bodisco I learned that brave Reimers has died.’

7 July 1798
‘In Texel we counted over seventeen ships of war. While turning in the evolutions, one English ship after another sailed past us, a nice view. The disputes about the remarks that each one of us made help pass the time.’

9 August 1798
‘I went on land with Demidoff in his small four-oared boat. We were in danger of losing our lives several times with that small thing. The mast was too tall and the sail too large. We sailed into the river. After buying myself a hat, and we had bought ourselves several items, the wind became brisk. That is why we hurried to get out of the current. Ungern was along. The heavy breakers at the mouth thwarted our plan. We were pigheaded enough, even though the English on the shore called to us that we would surely capsize, to attempt to go through the breakers; until soaked to the skin with the boat full of water, we were hurtled back. That cold bath had brought us to our senses.

[Note on the edge of the page] Demidoff drowned in the same boat in the Neva.

The current was against us. We therefore had to leave the boat at the mouth and go on foot back to Yarmouth. We hurried to use the theater tickets we had received for a comedy. That cold bath and our quick pace had stirred up my blood. The heat in the theater made me dizzy and I fainted. My comrades, with the help of several Englishmen, carried me out of the theater to an inn where we spent the night.’

7 September 1799
‘After a very quiet trip, we dropped anchor at five o’clock in the evening on the roadstead in Naples. The Turks, without landing any place, sailed straight to Constantinople. The view of the city is very beautiful; the city rises like an amphitheater up to St. Elmo. Vesuvius contributes greatly to Naples’s beauty. We found two Russian frigates and an English warship ahead of us.’

26 February 1800
‘My present way of life is as follows: Mornings I get up depending on my watch, early or late, drink my coffee; and smoking tobacco, I chat [with others] and go up and down during the morning, because you cannot get anything to read here at all. Immediately after table at two o’clock I go on land to my music master, stay there an hour, and afterwards visit Budberg, Fanaberia, or Salaguboff. If I find a boat, I usually go on board at five o’clock. In the evening I study my seamanship. After the evening meal I drink a glass of grog and go to bed in good time. Thus, one day follows the next. Only seldom do I visit Count Mammona (or Mammont, as the others call him) because I cannot speak the language. Sometimes I also go, if I have to wait for a boat, to the casino (actually an inn) and watch the hazard game. Sometimes I amuse myself by excursions in the six-rudder longboat, etc.’

5 March 1800
‘The feeling is oppressive to be admonished to pay when one has no money. My music master asked me today for two dahlias, which I owe him for past hours. I had to turn him down, and request his patience. I do not have a heller in cash, and I do not know where I should get the money in order to pay my old teacher.’

The Diary Junction

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Muckraker or historian?

Ida Tarbell, muckraker or more accurately one of the first ever investigative journalists, was born 160 years ago today. She came to fame in the first years of the 20th century for a detailed exposé of how John D. Rockefeller had, at times illegally, built up his Standard Oil company. She kept a diary briefly, when in the public limelight because of the Standard Oil revelations; and this has been used by one biographer. Images of the diary manuscript have been made publicly available thanks to her alma mater, Allegheny College.

Tarbell was born on 5 November 1857 in Erie County, northwest Pennsylvania, but the family moved in 1860 to Titusville, a centre for new oil production. Her father, a carpenter, built wooden oil storage tanks, although later he became an oil producer and refiner, and would suffer when the railroads and large oil producers agreed a price fixing scheme. Ida did well at school and and went on to study biology at Allegheny College in 1876, the only woman in her class, and then to work as a teacher at Poland Union Seminary in Ohio. After a couple of years teaching, she decided she preferred writing, and turned to journalism. She found employment with The Chautauquan, a teaching supplement for home study courses. In 1886, she progressed to become the publication’s managing editor.

In 1890 Tarbell moved to Paris to research a biography of Madame Roland for her postgraduate studies. To support herself, she wrote short features on prominent Frenchwomen and Parisian life for a syndicate affiliated with Samuel McClure’s magazine. McClure then offered her a staff position on his magazine, for which she wrote, first, a popular series on Napoleon Bonaparte, and then, once back in the US and based in Washington D.C., another on Abraham Lincoln. The articles were collected into a book, and made her name as a writer and an expert on Lincoln. She moved to New York City, where McClure’s was based in 1898, and in 1902 began a series of articles which would become her most famous work: The History of the Standard Oil Company. This was the result of much detailed investigative research (before the concept of investigative journalism existed). While praising Standard Oil’s owner John D. Rockefeller for various accomplishments, she also exposed the illegal means by which he had monopolised the oil industry in its early years. Popular opinion labelled her type of journalism as ‘muckraking’ though she considered herself more of a historian.

In 1906, Tarbell purchased a country retreat in Easton, Connecticut, with 40 acres, though for the next 18 years she continued to live in New York City, only retiring to Easton aged 67. That same year, 1906, Tarbell left McClure’s and spent most of the subsequent decade writing for American Magazine, which she co-edited. She also wrote books, including The Business of Being a Woman, The Ways of Women (which put her at odds with the suffragist movement of the era) and an autobiography (in 1939), All in the Day’s Work (which includes a chapter Muckraker or Historian?). Many of these are freely available online at Internet Archive. She also served as a member of various government conferences and committees concerned with defence, industry, unemployment, and other issues. She died in 1994. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Allegheny College, Smithsonian.com, Biography.com, or Connecticut History.

Although not a well known name internationally, Tarbell’s reputation nationally has not dimmed in time, and a good number of books have been written about her, or with her as their main focus: Ida M. Tarbell: The woman who challenged big business - and won by Emily McCully; Taking on the Trust: How Ida Tarbell Brought Down John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil by Steve Weinberg; and Muckrakers: How Ida Tarbell, Upton Sinclair, and Lincoln Steffens Helped Expose Scandal, Inspire Reform, and Invent Investigative Journalism by Ann Bausum. However, the definitive biography of Tarbell is considered to be Kathleen Brady’s Ida Tarbell: Portrait of a Muckraker (Putnam, 1984, subsequently University of Pittsburgh Press, 1989). A good portion of this can be read freely online at Googlebooks.

Brady’s biography is the only one, as far as I can tell, to make use of a diary Tarbell kept briefly during the period that the Standard Oil articles were making her famous. She includes a few short extracts in Chapter Eight: Unexplored Land. (F
or clarity I have italicised those paragraphs I’ve taken directly from Brady’s narrative.)

‘So much was happening,’ Brady writes, ‘that even she [Tarbell], who said she always shrank from self-knowledge, felt that she somehow had to sort things out. She was overwhelmed by reaction to the Standard story - especially since she originally doubted that anyone would care to read it. She was shaken by the death of her father and the hedonism of Sam McClure. Tarbell felt the need of a faithful companion, and so she bought a diary. In the next year, much would be written there.’

Brady continues: ‘As she struggled under the strains of the magazine, she thought she might be able to write her problems away by confiding them to a journal. She opened her small leather diary, took up her pen, and wrote: “May 5, 1905. Bought nearly two months ago and not a word written - bought as books of this kind have been before for a companion and so dead to life I could not use a companion. There has come a point where it is life or death-in-life - and I am not willing to give up life. If the innermost accesses are to be entered I must go there alone. I am conscious so much of myself is evading me. And this poor little book is a feeble prop in my effort to reach the land I've never explored.”

Her diary was a safety valve which allowed her to release her strongest emotions. Her first long entry there revealed a very flustered woman with a great reservoir of romantic love and no perspective when it came to a man who impressed her. James was at that time revisiting America after an absence of twenty years. Enthusiastic reception to The Golden Bowl brought him the opportunity of a lecture tour. Having traveled through the South, the Midwest, and California, he was at the end of his journey and back for a last visit to New England. George W. Cable, then a prominent writer of stories set in the South, hosted a dinner to precede James's lecture and invited the Hazens, the writer Gerald Stanley Lee and his wife, and Ida Tarbell. She at first declined the honor. She wrote in her diary: “All the rudeness - the ignorance, the imbecility, and inarticulateness of my life flared up in me and I blushed to think of sitting near. But they wanted me and I wanted to go. I dared to do it. I lay awake nights thinking of it. Afraid and eager. For I knew there was something there for me.”

She so yearned for James’s esteem, it seemed no one else’s had ever mattered. “It is a thirst for his particular formal assurance I’m on the right road. I’m real as far as I go. I am not a sham - that the soul is not dead or sleeping for the soul is there  - the being one with its noble walk, its wide vision knows that is something. I wanted to be assured. How pitiful I am!” [. . .]

She wrote staccato fashion in her diary: “I might have done better, was sadly conscious all the time that was the end of HJ for us. Am in a funk of soul because there could be no more. We talked a little of Paris, its charm. I know what she says to him. She says it to me too well - that much in common! I told him how I missed him chez Daudet and when he left he said, ‘I hope we shall not miss again.’ ”

Still under the spell of James she wrote: “A great leap and then dull renunciation! Que bon? I am not equal to it. But I deliberately sought another chance to see him. He had asked when I went home. I said I went to Boston and he was - or did I fancy it - disappointed! Ce qu’on veut il voit!” ’


And then, a few pages later, Brady refers to Tarbell in three more (separate) paragraphs as she goes into some detail as to how Tarbell and other staff members, affronted morally by McClure’s adultery, left his employ.

‘To it was added the lingering hurt of his philandering and her need for a change. When [Tarbell] started her diary, it seemed she had no place to run. Now seven months later it seemed that if escape was needed, she could flee Sam McClure. Her rupture from The Chautauquan nearly fifteen years before lifted the dead weight of closed opportunities and approaching age. Might she have thought in her innermost self, her “land I've never explored,” that the way to rejuvenate herself was to rebel? To give up security and opt, as she had done in her youth, for freedom?’

‘McClure frantically tried to discuss it with Ida, but she said [John] Phillips [an associate editor] would speak for her. She scribbled in her diary: “Persisted only that I didn’t like the whole business [of the insurance company and so on] - the way it had been done - all the crazy features (he seems to acknowledge craziness now).” McClure was dumbstruck to learn that Tarbell preferred Phillips to him. Tumultuous days followed.’

‘The financial state of McClure’s was so complicated and the principals so emotional that matters were not settled for a year. Boyden, Steffens, Baker, Siddall, Dunne, David McKinlay of the book company, and McClure’s cousin Harry joined Tarbell and Phillips in their walkout. As for her diary, Ida Tarbell never felt the need to write in it again.’


Allegheny College’s Pelletier Library holds a substantial archive of Tarbell’s papers, including a very small amount of diary material: three pages from 1888, and the more substantial 25 page document from 1905-1906. Much of the archive - including the two diary manuscripts - is available to view as pdfs on the college’s website (though Tarbell’s handwriting is hard to read at times, and there is no transcription).

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

How I saved the Balfour papers!

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. This was, in effect, a statement of support by the UK government for the establishment in Palestine of a home for Jewish people. Such is the historical importance of the Declaration that an original autograph memorandum of the text was sold (along with other papers) in 2005 for the staggering sum of $884,000. Yet, had it not been for me - albeit unwittingly - these papers may never have come into the public domain. In hearsay evidence of this claim, I offer unedited extracts from my diaries.

The Balfour Declaration was contained in a letter, dated 2 November 1917, sent by the UK’s Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Lord Walter Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community. It read: ‘His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.’ A week after Balfour sent the letter, it was published in newspapers around the world, and support from other nations followed. The Declaration had major long-term consequences, not least in the foundation of Israel.

In 2005, Sotheby’s, New York, put up a surprising lot for sale, Lot 217: ‘Two original drafts of the Balfour Declaration, part of the highly important Zionist Archive of Leon Simon, which also includes a signed letter from Chaim Weizmann asking his colleagues to review the draft, and further documents concerning the formulation of the Balfour Declaration, and of the British Mandate in Palestine.’ The lot also included many handwritten and typed letters, telegrams, essays and memoranda.

In a catalogue note, Sotheby’s explained the context: ‘Foundation documents for the State of Israel including the autograph memorandum of the text which would later be issued, with the war cabinet’s modifications, as the Balfour Declaration, made at the 17 July 1917 meeting of the Zionist Political Committee at the Imperial Hotel, on Hotel stationery, by Leon Simon, a key participant. This was the text sent to Balfour for his approval. If the Declaration of Independence can be viewed as the first formal political step in the foundation of the United States, then the Balfour Declaration can be so viewed in the history of Israel, and the present memorandum is the equivalent of an autograph draft of the text by Thomas Jefferson. Few documents can be owned that are more evocative of the hopes and dreams of the Jewish people for the formation of Israel, or that have had greater political impact on the present-day world.’ The auction house estimated the sale price as between $500,000 and $800,000 - it sold for $884,000.

The two key documents - the autographed memorandum drawn up by Leon Simon and the typed version with hand-written notes - were put on display for the first time earlier this year in a joint exhibition of the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS) in New York City and the National Museum of Jewish History (NMJH) in Philadelphia - 1917: How One Year Changed the World. ‘This little paragraph on a piece of paper,’ said Rachel Lithgow, director of AJHS in New York, gave ‘a downtrodden people hope after 2,000 years.’ See Smithsonian.com for more on the exhibition. Incidentally, the photographs included in the article of the two drafts are credited ‘courtesy of Martin Franklin’, presumably the current owner of the documents.

The provenance provided by Sotheby’s for lot 217 was that the papers had been ‘purchased from the estate of Miss Aviva Simons [sic]’ (daughter of Leon Simon) - a simple fact that was slightly elaborated in newspapers articles around the world describing the seller as ‘anonymous’. But, thanks to my diaries I can add significant details to that simple fact. This is because I was there, in Aviva Simon’s house sorting out the very books and papers to be sold. After her death, David, one of the trustees or executor (I’m not quite sure which) of her estate engaged Andrew to clear the house while realising as much money as he could from the contents. Andrew, who was a good friend of mine and of David’s daughter, had some considerable experience of dealing in second hand goods. I was at a loose end so volunteered to help him out. For the rest I must defer to my diary.

17 December 2003
‘I’ve been helping Andrew to sort out the mess in a house once owned by Aviva Simon, who died earlier this year. Aviva, a spinster, was the daughter of Sir Leon Simon and Lady Ellen Simon. Sir Simon was Postmaster General for 20 years, he was also a well-known zionist leader and he translated the works of the Zionist leader Ahad Haam. He also wrote a biography of the man. Lady Ellen Simon’s maiden name was Umanski. Her brother, Arthur Umanski, changed his name to Underwood. He was a chemical engineer and something of an academic in the subject too. As far as I can work out, Aviva inherited 154 Hanover Road (near Willesden Green) from her mother, who must have inherited it from her brother. The house, which is an unbelievable tip, contains personal effects belonging not only to Aviva, but also to Leon Simon, Ellen Simon and Underwood. But there is no order to any of the things in the house, and most of everything is hidden inside plastic bags, inside plastic bags, inside plastic bags.

Andrew has been employed by David, who is the father of Offra (who lives in Spain and who I know), who is an executor (although Andrew has been using the word trustee - so I must check on that) of Aviva’s estate. David is related to Aviva somehow, but I’m not clear on that either. Andrew is being paid £120 a day to clear out the house, plus he’ll get 10% of the income he raises from selling the effects. The idea is to try and raise some cash from the belongings, rather than just getting in a house clearance service. So, Andrew is determined to pick through every last plastic bag, every last matchbox, every last tin (there’s a lot of old tins), every last drawer in search of treasures. When he told me about the job, and the 1,000s of books, I volunteered to help.

I went up on Monday. Since he’d arranged for a book dealer friend to come in during the afternoon, our first priority was to try and expose all the books. There was one large room, which Andrew hadn’t yet touched, and so I set to on that one. Although the room, like the rest of the house, was a complete tip (imagine a rubbish dump with 200 plastic bags piled up around old furniture), there were no rats or live insects; and generally everything was clean rather than dirty - although very dusty. So, it was not such a trial to work through everything. Andrew kept hoping to find a holy grail, something worth a lot of money, but I only found things worth a modest amount - a few nice pieces of material, gold fillings, a few old coins. For me, the interest was in the books and the papers. There were so many papers, so many letters and correspondence; every suitcase, every handbag, every drawer, every sturdy file, was crammed with papers of one description or another, from bills to share certificates, to invitations to Simon’s 70th birthday, to discussions about what should be done with Simon’s books. Andrew has little interest in books, or in the papers, he likes the trinkets, the crockery and the paintings. 

Andrew’s friend Piers came and stayed a couple of hours. A day later he phoned through with an offer of £3,000, which was a lot more than I was expecting. Andrew said Piers had found three valuable books - but we don’t know whether that means they’re worth £500 a piece or triple that; nor do we know which books they are. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if Piers had invented the three books of value, I mean it might be two or four, and by telling us three he’s guarding against Andrew or I informing any other bookdealer to look for three gems (for if they’re are only two, another dealer might search to midnight and not find the third, or if they’re are four, he might stop looking at number three) - seems a bit paranoid though. I suggested we should get another quote, and I volunteered to organise that. But it was only once I got on the phone that I realised I didn’t have enough information about the collection, and so I wasn’t able to sell it sufficiently to prospective viewers. I have though, in the end, got two people coming. But now I feel I need to get the books into a better order than they are, which means I’ll have to spend the rest of the week there.

Part of the interest for me has been uncovering the family histories and connections, through the letters. It took a while, but I finally worked out that a library in Oxford had already received most of Leon Simon’s books, once in 1993, when his wife died, and more recently when Aviva’s sister, who had a separate lot of her father’s books, donated 600 volumes. I also discovered that Underwood lectured at University College and had an equation named after him!’

23 December 2003
‘I spent more time at the Simon house, on Friday and Saturday. I had arranged for two book dealers to come and offer for the books; but neither of them were interested in making a real effort. One offered £400, and the other didn’t even bother offering once I’d told him we’d had an offer in the thousands (he even assumed it was only £1,000). I realised that the dealers who advertise regularly in yellow pages and the Ham & High are those who are looking for a quick buck, to make a killing, not real dealers prepared to put the time and effort into handling a large quantity of moderately-priced books. I’ve also done some research on the internet, mostly on a site called Biblion, where dealers can advertise their antiquarian books. I found, for example, examples of Picturesque Palestine (four volumes) sells for around £700 in good condition (Piers had signalled that this was one of the valuable books in the collection); and that a couple of books I brought home with me (first editions of a P.G. Wodehouse novel and one of a Bertrand Russel book) might be worth £30-50. In fact, there’s probably 100 or more first editions which could be worth £20 apiece - not to a dealer, but sale price. And I’m sure there’s a dozen or more books that are worth more, plus several hundred more which might be a worth a fiver each. Following my failure to get any higher offers, I expect the books will be sold to Piers. But we still have the problem of what to do with the Judaica (a 1,000 or so books on Jewish history, Palestine, Zionism etc). I’ve contacted a couple of dealers, at least one of whom believes he may have seen the collection some years ago; and I’m also trying to persuade Andrew we should consider auctioning them, but it would cost money to get an auctioneer out to evaluate them. Andrew’s gone out to Spain for Christmas, so the clearance is on hold for a while; I may get back involved to follow through with trying to dispose of the Judaica.’

12 January 2004
‘Went to London yesterday. First to Kensal Rise, to the Simon/Underwood house, to join Andrew and a Jewish expert, Moshe Rosenfeld, to look over the Jewish books. Moshe spent a couple of hours in the house, but he seemed more interested in chatting about general Jewish things, then in really giving us much info on the books. He wasn’t very enthusiastic about the collection, largely because of its strong Zionist focus, but, later, when he went to have another look at the books, he kept looking at individual volumes and saying they might be valuable. I don’t think he knew that much. He said he would talk to a friend of his, a real book dealer, later that day and get back to Andrew. I expect I’ll hear him from him tonight.’

24 January 2004
‘Andrew’s finally decided what to do with the books. He’s selling them to a Jewish dealer for £3,000. This is the same price as his friend Piers offered right at the start, before I interfered and said we should get a Jewish dealer in to look at the Judaica. But Andrew’s happy because the Jewish dealer (Weisse somebody or other, a friend of the Moshe that Andrew and I met a couple of Sundays ago) will take all the books (thus clearing them from the house) and will take them himself, whereas Piers had asked Andrew to bring them up to Suffolk for him. The added benefit of this deal, so Andrew tells me, is that Weisse has not looked at the non-Judaica books, even though he’s included them in his offer of £3,000. Initially, he had offered only £1,700 for the Judaica, but, on being told about the existing bid, he upped his offer to £3,000 for all the books.’

There’s nothing further in my diary about the Simon estate until 18 months later.

30 June 2005
‘On the phone, Andrew told me about the saga of The Balfour Declaration. The package of papers put together for sale at Sothebys in New York on 16 June went for over $800.000. However, Aviva Simon’s estate, for whom Andrew and I did the clearance, has been heavily involved in trying to claw back some of the value. There was an attempt, as I understand it, to bring an injunction to stop the auction, but that didn’t succeed, and then Sotheby’s suggested a 50:50 split between the vendor (Weisman, I think) and the Aviva Simon estate, but the vendor was having none of that. And now there’s a legal battle under way, in which the Aviva Simon estate (relying heavily on Andrew’s testimony and paperwork) is trying to prove that Weisman only bought the Simon books, not the papers - and it’s the papers that made up the Balfour Declaration lot. There were apparently two receipts, one handwritten by Andrew which did not mention papers, and a second, months later asked for by Weisman, typed up and on headed notepaper. For this second receipt, Weisman asked for the list of contents to be changed to include ‘papers’. Or so the story goes. The Aviva Simon estate is concerned about the way Weisman obtained the second receipt. Although it does seem clear that Weisman did know of the Balfour Declaration papers by the time he asked for the second receipt, it’s not clear that he knew they were there when he bought them from us for £3,000. I’m not sure what will happen, but it may be a question of one side calling the bluff of the other. I mean David could ask for a police prosecution, and Weisman might prefer not to have to bother with dealing with that; on the other, David might be told by the police to bog off; or Weisman might be prepared to brazen it out.’

I don’t know how the dispute was ever resolved but, if the story in my diary is collect, it’s clear that a dealer of some description called Weisman (or similar name) bought the materials from the Aviva Simon estate for £3,000. He was astute enough at some point to recognise the importance of the Balfour Declaration papers, and subsequently clever enough to make a lot of money out of them. But, if I hadn’t stalled Andrew from selling them to the first book dealer as I did (with the aim of extracting more value from the books and Judaica in particular) those papers might never have seen the light of day. It’s all too easy to imagine the two scraps of paper in a recycling bin! Moreover - though, this is more speculative - if the estate had followed my suggestion to bring the books and papers to auction itself, it may have realised far more than £3,000, and my friend Andrew’s 10% might have looked like treasure after all.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

A Chill in the Air

Pushkin Press is today publishing a recently uncovered diary written by the celebrated English biographer Iris Origo - A Chill in the Air. While this new diary was kept during the early years of the Second World War, her only other diary, first published 70 years ago, was written during the last years of the war - see La Foce is liberated. Pushkin Press says A Chill in the Air is a ‘sad and gripping account of the grim absurdities that Italy and the world underwent as war became increasingly unavoidable’.

Iris Margaret Cutting was born in 1902, the child of an Anglo-Irish mother and a rich American father. She was educated privately in Florence, Italy, and, with inherited wealth, spent much time in her youth travelling. She married an Italian nobleman, Antonio Origo, and together they developed a rundown farming estate, La Foce, some 150km north of Rome. They had one son who died young of meningitis, and two daughters. In the 1930s, Origo turned to writing, publishing biographies of the Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi and Cola di Rienzo, a fourteenth century Roman politician.

During the war, the family stayed at La Foce where they secretly took in refugee children and helped escaping Allied prisoners. After the war, Origo lived in both Rome and La Foce, and she continued writing biographies but also autobiographical books - the first of which was a diary: War in Val d’Orcia (Jonathan Cape, 1947, but reissued in 1999 by Allison & Busby). Indeed, this has become the most admired of all of her books. She was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1976, and died in 1988.

Today, Pushkin Press has published A Chill in the Air: An Italian War Diary 1939-1940, complete with an introduction by biographer Lucy Hughes-Hallett, and an afterword by Origo’s granddaughter Katia Lysy. Hughes-Hallett explains that there is very little of a personal nature in the diary. Rather, she says, it is ‘a curious mixture of news - both fake and genuine - rumour, comment and observation’, with radio broadcasts being a focus of many entries. Indeed, this diary style in war time of monitoring the news rather than one’s own personal life was very common, and, in fact, is similar to another recent release by Pushkin Press - Astrid Lindgren’s A World Gone Mad - see Let there be peace.

The publisher has included, at the very end of the diary entries, a note by Origo on why the diary stops when it does: ‘This diary was interrupted at this point by the birth of my daughter on August 1st. In the autumn I decided, having a wonderful Swiss nanny to help me with my baby, that inaction was no longer bearable. Surely there must be some work, directed towards the relief of suffering rather than any war aim, which even I, an Anglo-American and a non-Fascist, could find to do? In the autumn of 1940 I began to work in the Prisoner’s Branch of the Italian Red Cross - and until the spring of 1943 had no more time for writing.’

And further explanation is found in Katia Lysy’s afterword. She says that her grandmother never intended to publish any of her diaries, but was persuaded to do so with the War in Val d’Orcia because ‘she strongly believed the rest of the world should hear the other side of the story - how ordinary Italians in a remote Tuscan valley suffered the consequences of war and did not hesitate to rescue and shelter their fellow human beings at great personal risk.’ However, Lysy speculates, she must have considered her pre-war journal to be of little interest to others when compared to the later ‘world-shattering events’. In the 1980s, an Italian editor encouraged Origo to edit the earlier diary for publication, but with her health declining she never took on the task. The diary was only re-found much more recently - ‘in a promising-looking brown box bearing the legend “Unpublished” in my grandmother’s familiar scrawl’ - during a search for family photographs. And so, finally, 70 years after the first, Pushkin is publishing this second diary - as part of the ‘Iris Origo revival, following the republication of four of her books earlier this year.’

Here are three short extracts from the new book (with thanks to Pushkin Press).

5 July 1939
‘Yesterday, driving through Scandicci (where there is a large home for permanently disabled soldiers) I met, in his wheelchair, one of the most terrible “grands mutiles” of the 1914-18 war that I have ever seen. Both legs gone, blind, and most horribly disfigured - and still alive, after twenty years.
And in 1959?’

7 June 1940
‘Still no definite news. But the first outward signs of war reach our valley. In the early morning 35 bombers heading South fly over us, and in the afternoon about 50 military lorries, bound for the aviation camp at Castiglion del Lago, drive up the road from Rome. The peasants look up as they hear the rumble, say resignedly Ci siamo - and get back, while they can, to their hay.

The radio starts atrocity stories about the behaviour of the Allied troops in Belgium, including a detailed story of the “massacre” by French officers of some innocent Italian miners, and the statement that 1500 Belgian refugees have been murdered deliberately by British bombardments on the Belgian frontier. Such stories, however, don’t as yet go down well. Even two boys of 16 and 18, who are staying here, merely shrug and say disgustedly: “Who do they expect to believe it?” ’

3 July 1940
‘My first air raid last night. The sirens began just after midnight; I was still awake and was joined by William Phillips [her godfather, and US ambassador to Italy]. We sat talking pleasantly in the dark for about one hour, heard one distant burst of fire and then the all-clear signal. Altogether a singularly unalarming experience, except apparently to the lions in the Zoo, who went on roaring all night. But, as the first wail of the sirens was heard, my thoughts went to England and France.’

Friday, October 20, 2017

Tasks to do now

‘Tasks to do now: 1) Finish small jobs as soon as possible (shooting, quality control, Lobachevsky). [. . .] 3) Maintain constant and steady work on big projects (analysis course, turbulence, spectra). Only later let mathematics join the variety of purely personal and general interests and hobbies that have flourished in the last two years.’ This is from a diary kept - albeit briefly - by one of most eminent of Soviet 20th century mathematicians - Andrey Nikolaevich Kolmogorov - who died 30 years ago today. There appear to be only a few, tantalising extracts of a diary he kept in his 40th year, and even fewer that have been translated into English.

Kolmogorov was born in Tambov, some 300 miles south of Moscow, in 1903, but his unmarried mother died in childbirth, and he was raised by two aunts on the estate of his aristocratic grandfather in Yaroslavl, 160 miles northeast of Moscow. In 1910, his aunt adopted him, and they moved to Moscow. There he graduated from high school in 1920 and went on to study both at the Moscow State University and the Mendeleev Moscow Institute of Chemistry and Technology. He attended seminars by the Russian historian S. V. Bachrushin, and he published his first research paper on medieval landholding practices in the Novgorod Republic. At the same time, he worked out and proved several results in set theory and in the theory of Fourier series.

Kolmogorov graduated from Moscow State University in 1925, by which time he had published ten papers, mostly on trigonometric series, and he continued publishing influential work until completing his doctorate in 1929. He was then elected a member of the university’s Institute of Mathematics and Mechanics, and a professor in 1931. That same year he published the influential work, About the Analytical Methods of Probability Theory. This was followed in 1933 by Foundations of the Theory of Probability, laying the modern axiomatic foundations of probability theory which established his international reputation. He was appointed director of the Mathematical Research Institute at the university, a position he held until 1939 (and then again in the early 1950s).

From 1938, Kolmogrov also headed the new department of probability and statistics at the Steklov Mathematical Institute. He was elected to the Academy of Sciences in 1939. He married Anna Dmitrievna Egorova in 1942. During WWII, he contributed to the Russian war effort by applying statistical theory to artillery fire, and by developing a scheme of stochastic distribution of barrage balloons intended to help protect Moscow from German bombers. After the war, he focused his research on turbulence, making a significant contribution to this scientific area, and becoming head of the Turbulence Laboratory at the Institute of Theoretical Geophysics in Moscow. In the mid-1950s, he began to work on problems of information theory; and, in the 1960s, he turned his attention to automata theory and theory of algorithms, and also to pedagogy, writing and rewriting school textbooks. He was much recognised in his lifetime with honours both at home and abroad. He died on 20 October 1987. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Scholarpedia, or MacTutor.

According to an article in the Asia Pacific Mathematics Newsletter, Kolmogorov began keeping a diary at the age of 40, and wrote on the title page: ‘Dedicated to myself when I turn 80 with the wish of retaining enough sense by then, at least to be able to understand the notes of this 40-year-old self and to judge them sympathetically but strictly.’ The article also includes excerpts from the diary, translated by Fedor Duzhin, that were first published in Russian in 2003 on the 100th anniversary of Kolmogorov’s birth. Some extracts from this diary English also appear in A Biographical Sketch of His Life and Creative Paths written by A. N. Shiryaev and found in an edition of History of Mathematics called Kolmogorov in Perspective (Volume 20, American Mathematical Society and London Mathematical Society, 2006).

The following extracts are taken from Duzhin’s translation.

1 August 1943
‘New Moon. 6:30 am. It is a little misty and yet a sunny morning. Pusya and Oleg2 have gone swimming while I stay home being not very well (though my condition is improving). Anya has to work today, so she will not come. I ’m feeling annoyed and ill at ease because of that (for the second time our Sunday readings will be conducted without Anya).

Why begin this notebook now? There are two reasonable explanations: 1) I have long been attracted to the idea of a diary as a disciplining force. To write down what has been done and what changes are needed in one ’s life and to control their implementation is by no means a new idea, but it ’s equally relevant whether one is 16 or 40 years old. 2) Now that I’m 40, I feel more deeply as life flows and goes by since past experience has an independent significance as compared to what one expects at 16 or even 30, when everything is viewed as a preparation for a distant future. Hence the need to capture the present at the very moment it transits from the non-existence of something that has yet to happen to the non- existence of something that has already passed by.

Possibly, the third reason put forward is contentious. 3) The period of psychological research that began in February has been decided to be brought to an end. That caused a certain slackness in me and Pusya in July. So, this diary is being pursued to restore the discipline and at the same time to allow the passion for psychological research to be released in a more organised manner. Hopefully, there will not be too much of this research.

Eventually, this notebook might see some memories, thoughts, psychological analyses besides short current notes, but it will only happen after I have put my life in order.

Tasks to do now: 1) Finish small jobs as soon as possible (shooting, quality control, Lobachevsky). 2) Family matters (bring Vera and Varya, send Varya to Nadya, bring Anya from work and so on). 3) Maintain constant and steady work on big projects (analysis course, turbulence, spectra). Only later let mathematics join the variety of purely personal and general interests and hobbies that have flourished in the last two years.

Most important now: 1) Discipline in doing boring work. 2) Confident and consistent clearing [of tasks] to find possibilities for working calmly on big projects. 3) Fighting temptations (sweets, reading at the wrong time), including updating this notebook immoderately. (Agreement with Pusya to limit chatting!)

And where is love (Christian and non-Christian) I think a lot about and maybe talk too much about (for instance, to Oleg)? It seems that it is for the sake of love that I have to concentrate on disciplinary rules listed above!

Enough with reasoning! However, it ’s not prohibited to supplement records of labour deeds with short notes on moods and pleasures of life.’

7 August 1943
’It is a little misty, milk-sunny, warm day.
During the morning and after lunch I edited the first 15 pages of Gubler s work (had to
completely rewrite 7 pages). Satisfied with my work.

Pusya is listlessly writing on Lobachevsky, editing Yura ’s poetry, being upset about the
Kazan troubles. Marina was taken ill and Shurka drove her to a hospital in a horse cab accompanied by Spitsyn.

A letter came from Sergey Musatov telling us that he could come to Komarovka no sooner
than in a month. He also mentioned that he wanted to write more to me about certain questions .

21 November 1943
’Finally, on the way home from Dimetrusya I resolved my some rather naive puzzle on what distinguishes characters from positive-definite functions (and why characters are generally positive-definite yesterday I discovered that I had not understood that before!).

 Let G = {g} be represented by operators Ug (unitary) in E’. [ . . .] What remains now is to find out what representation is induced by x (g): for instance, is it always a representation in Er2? My definition of a character seems to work for all locally bicompact groups. However, Gelfand mentioned that, generally speaking, there was no analogue of characters as positive-definite functions. [. . . ]

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Nixon - ‘the greatest shit’

‘I have never really doubted, since Watergate began to unravel, that Nixon would be removed or would resign before January 1977. This confidence was based essentially on a sense that Nixon was the greatest shit - probably the only shit - ever elected President of the United States, and that no disclosure about his greed and knavery would ever be the last.’ This is from the diary of Arthur Meier Schlesinger, Jr., one of the United States’s most important postwar historians. Today marks the 100th anniversary of his birth. As a young man, he served in the administration of John F. Kennedy, a contemporary and friend from Harvard, and subsequently he wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning book about Kennedy’s White House. He kept diaries for almost all the second half of the 20th century, a feat which was only revealed by his agent in 2006. Schlesinger then asked his two oldest sons to edit the journals, but he died as they were completing the task. Publication, a few months later, was hailed as a landmark event in the history of American letters. Indeed, key moments in the diary include the Bay of Pigs crisis, the death of Marilyn Monroe, and the impeachment of Nixon.  

Arthur Bancroft Schlesinger was born in Columbus, Ohio, on 15 October 1917, but he later took the middle name of his father (Meier), a prominent historian at Harvard,
 Massachusetts. He, himself, graduated from Harvard in 1938, and spent a year at Cambridge University before returning to Harvard as a research fellow. He married Marian Cannon in 1940, they would have four children. After failing his military medical, he joined the Office of War Information, and from 1943 to 1945 served as an intelligence analyst in the Office of Strategic Services, a precursor to the CIA. In 1945, he published The Age of Jackson based on a series of lectures he had given in 1941 entitled ‘A reinterpretation of Jacksonian democracy. The book won a Pulitzer Prize, and the following year Schlesinger was appointed associate professor (then a full professor from 1954) at Harvard.

From a young age, Schlesinger played an active role as a Democrat in state and national politics, being heavily involved in Averell Harriman's campaign for the 1952 presidential nomination, and then helping Adlai Stevenson during his unsuccessful 1952 and 1956 presidential campaigns. Schlesinger then aligned himself with Senator John F. Kennedy, a friend from Massachusetts. After Kennedy’s election in 1960, he took extended leave from Harvard to join the Kennedy administration, serving as a Latin American expert and a liaison with the academic community. After the President’s assassination, Schlesinger returned to academic life. In 1965, he published A Thousand Days an account of the Kennedy White House that won him a second Pulitzer Prize. A year later, he became the Albert Schweitzer Professor of Humanities at the City University of New York, and settled in Manhattan. 


In 1970, Schlesinger divorced Marian, and the following year he married Alexandra Emmet Allan, with whom he had a further child. Though an academic, his intellectual life remained focused on politics through his influential books and speaking tours (and, occasionally, through speechwriting services and giving advice to Democrat campaigns). For many years, he was considered the leading intellectual of postwar liberalism. He died in 2007. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, New York Public Library, Notable Biographies, The New York Times, JFK Library, or Spartacus.

Schlesinger kept diaries for most of his adult life, and these were regularly transcribed by his secretary, yet even his family knew little about them. They were found in 2006 in Schlesinger’s office by his agent. Soon after, Schlesinger asked his two oldest sons - Andrew and Stephen - to edit them for publication. His publisher, The Penguin Press, made the decision to publish the journals in a one-volume abridged edition in time for Schlesinger’s 90th birthday, in mid-October 2007. Despite the short deadline, the sons took up the challenge, and were able to consult their father from time-to-time. They noted, however, that ‘there was astonishingly little he wished to take out’. However, their father died before they could complete the task, though publication went ahead that same year.

The journals are largely concerned with public life: ‘While he did write about his family and his two wives,’ the sons say, ‘his mind was always most keenly focused on the events of the day.’ In particular, they say, he followed closely the quadrennial Democratic presidential conventions for they ‘marked the great moments of possible change in the country, but also signaled the time when everyday citizens had a chance to vent their feelings and take action in a democratic way.’ And just as fascinating for him, they add, were the political campaigns that followed the conventions: ‘Like an anthropologist picking through the scattered debris of an ancient site, our father observed these races carefully and assessed their building blocks, their strategic imperatives and their often messy internal structures.’

According to the publisher: ‘These are not personal journals of the “where I had lunch” variety; this is one of twentieth-century America’s greatest moral and intellectual forces chronicling the big stories of his and our time, usually from the inside out. Their publication is truly a landmark event and a fitting opportunity to celebrate a most extraordinary American life.’ The following extracts are taken from the UK edition (Atlantic Books, 2008) of Journals, 1952-2000 by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. as edited by Andrew Schlesinger and Stephen Schlesinger (first published in the US by Penguin Press, 2007).

6 February 1961
‘I settled down in an office in the East Wing of the White House and tried to find out what I was supposed to do. I had the impression that JFK was equally baffled, and he had somewhat more weighty matters on his mind. McGeorge Bundy was most helpful in this sterile period, as was Fred Holborn. The others at the White House went about their business.

JFK decided to have a personal representative accompany [George McGovern] the Food For Peace mission and underline his concern about general Latin American problems. Because he had been told of the disaffection of the Latin American intellectual community, the choice fell on me. I guess he decided that this would dramatize as effectively as anything the shift from the Old to the New Frontier. My first reaction to the proposal that I should go was that it sounded like a WPA project. But on consideration it seemed to present opportunities; and in any case I had no real choice but to go (though JFK put it up to me in a manner which would have permitted me to decline).

What Latin America needs above all is revolution - not proletarian or peasant revolution, but middle-class revolution. Mexico, Brazil and Argentina have achieved semi-revolutions. The other countries (how rashly I generalize) remain under the control of the landholding oligarchy. This oligarchy constitutes the chief barrier to the middle-class revolution and, by thwarting the middle-class revolution, may well bring about the proletarian revolution.

The gap between the U.S. and the rest of the hemisphere is widening - i.e., our living standards are rising faster than theirs.’

18 April 1961
‘The pace began to quicken in Cuba over the weekend. On Saturday, fliers landed in Florida after attacks on Cuban air fields and claimed to be defectors. Through an unfortunate misunderstanding, Stevenson in New York was permitted by the State Department to testify to this effect in his UN speech Saturday afternoon. They were not defectors. This, plus the impression given Stevenson by the CIA that no action was imminent, made him unhappy and suspicious over the turn of events. The President, who probably had misgivings of this own, responded to this mood and called off an air strike scheduled for Monday morning. This meant that the landings at the Bay of Pigs had to take place under the guns of what remained of the Cuban Air Force. In particular, the Cuban T-33s [Lockheed jets] turned out to be far more effective than any of us had been led to suppose. This created havoc on Monday and Tuesday. In addition, Castro’s tanks reached the beachhead sooner than had been expected. And the landings failed to set off mass uprisings behind the line. By Tuesday evening, it looked to be all over. It was a grim and sad two days. Many fine men have been killed or lost; and one cannot resist the belief that this was an ill-considered and mistaken expedition.

I had seen Scotty Reston Monday afternoon. At the end of the afternoon I reported this to the President, who decided that it might be a good idea to have Scotty in for luncheon on Tuesday.
JFK was in superb form at lunch. Scotty went away starry-eyed (as did I). We talked a little about Cuba, though without going into operational detail. The President made it clear that he felt he had been given poor advice by the CIA. “I probably made a mistake in keeping Allen Dulles on,” he said. “It’s not that Dulles is not a man of great ability. He is. But I have never worked with him and therefore I can’t estimate his meaning when he tells me things. We will have to do something about the CIA. I must have someone there with whom I can be in complete and intimate contact - someone from whom I know I will be getting the exact pitch.” He added, “I made a mistake in putting Bobby in the Justice Department. He is wasted there. Byron White could do that job perfectly well. Bobby should be in the CIA.” (In my view, the President is dead right.) He spoke about all this in excellent humor. “Dulles,” he said, “is a legendary figure, and it’s hard to operate with legendary figures. . . It is a hell of way to learn things, but I have learned one thing from this business - that is, that we will have to deal with the CIA. McNamara has dealt with Defense; Rusk has done a lot with State; but no one has dealt with the CIA.”

Given the faltering of the Cuban adventure, the next question is whether we should accept defeat or enlarge our support of the rebels. Stewart Alsop, with whom I had a drink at the Metropolitan Club before the lunch, had argued that defeat would cause irreparable harm; that we had no choice but to intervene, if necessary, to avert disaster. But the President had already made his mind up on this. He felt that defeat in Cuba would obviously be a setback; but that it would be an incident, not a disaster. The test had always been whether the Cuban people would back up a revolt against Castro. If they wouldn’t, we could not impose a new regime on them. But would not U.S. prestige suffer if we let the rebellion flicker out? “What is prestige?” said the President. “Is it the shadow of power or the substance of power? We are going to work on the substance of power. No doubt we will be
kicked in the ass for the next couple of weeks, but that won’t affect the main business.”

After the luncheon, I joined Mac [Bundyj and Ken O’Donnell in the President’s office. Ken, who has penetrating good sense on practically everything, suggested the general line: the Cuban insurgents should say that they achieved their basic objectives - supply and reinforcement -  and vanish into the hills. The President was still playing around with the idea of evacuating the patriots from the beaches; but Mac feared that this would provide evidence of U.S. intervention without bringing us any gains. I was glad to see that Mac accepted the situation and did not favor the commitment of U.S. forces. In an interlude, we discussed the CIA situation. Mac felt that Dulles had more misgivings about the project than he had ever expressed to the President, and that he had not done so out of loyalty to Bissell. As for Bissell, Mac simply said that he personally would not be able to accept Dick’s estimates of a situation like this again. Mac did not feel that the cancellation of the air strike had fundamentally changed the situation; it would not have altered the immense Castro advantage on the ground. His conclusion is that Castro is far better organized and more formidable than we had supposed. (For example, the insurgents appear to have run out of pilots, despite the months of training.)

All in all, a gloomy day. If this thing must fail, it is just as well that it fails quickly. But I cannot banish from my mind the picture of these brave men, pathetically underequipped, dying on Cuban beaches before Soviet tanks.’

6 August 1962
‘I must confess that the report yesterday of Marilyn Monroe’s death quite shocked and saddened (but did not surprise) me. I will never forget meeting her at the Arthur Krim party following the JFK birthday rally at Madison Square Garden in May. I cannot recall whether I wrote anything down at the time, but the image of this exquisite, beguiling and desperate girl will always stay with me. I do not think I have seen anyone so beautiful; I was enchanted by her manner and her wit, at once so masked, so ingenuous and so penetrating. But one felt a terrible unreality about her - as if talking to someone under water. Bobby and I engaged in mock competition for her; she was most agreeable to him and pleasant to me, but one never felt her to be wholly engaged. Indeed, she seemed most solicitous of her ex-father-in-law, Arthur Miller’s father, a baffled and taciturn man whom she introduced to the group and on whom she constantly cast a maternal eye. The only moment I felt I touched her was when I mentioned that I was a friend of Joe Rauh. This produced a warm and spontaneous burst of affection - but then she receded into her own glittering mist.


Late yesterday afternoon I went out to the Rauhs’ for a swim. Both Joe and Olie were saddened by the news. Olie talked about Marilyn as a guest, her fear of facing people, and the complicated stratagems she went through when she finally, for example, had to confront a press conference. After keeping the group waiting for two hours and a half, she examined herself in the mirror, saw the outline of her panties through her summer dress, removed them, put on white gloves, saying to Olie, “You don’t know these people; if they saw my hands, they would write that my nails were not polished enough,” and walked in agony downstairs. Later the CBS man said to Olie, “I have never seen anyone so nervous at an interview in my life.” ’

10 May 1974
‘We continue to make progress. I have never really doubted, since Watergate began to unravel, that Nixon would be removed or would resign before January 1977. This confidence was based essentially on a sense that Nixon was the greatest shit - probably the only shit - ever elected President of the United States, and that no disclosure about his greed and knavery would ever be the last. So, when he went on TV on 29 April and said, with apparent perfect confidence, that the release the next day of his expurgated version of some of the tapes would show “once and for all” that everything he had done with regard to Watergate was “just as I have described them to you from the very beginning,” I did not believe it for a moment.

One’s sense that he is now hopelessly immured in a dream world leads me to believe that he will not resign, at least without a deal. I am also more sure than ever that the Senate will convict and remove him. This is the most solemn vote most of those senators will ever cast, and then, if ever, they will vote their consciences. Moreover, none among them has any personal affection for or loyalty to Nixon, and those Republicans up for reelection know they will do far better if Gerald Ford is President.

I may well change this view, but Henry Kissinger, despite his work in the Middle East, seems to me one of the most disgusting figures in this whole business. Yesterday Dick Rovere, Martin Mayer and I were chatting at the long table in the Century about Kissinger and especially about his mania for secrecy and about the panic he evidently fell into when Dan Ellsberg handed over the Pentagon Papers. After a moment I said, rather loudly, “In my view Kissinger and Ellsberg deserve each other.” A short while later, as I left the table, I was hailed by someone sitting directly behind me. I need hardly say that it was Ellsberg. He gave no indication that he had heard my remark, though he could hardly have missed it, given the authoritative tone in which it was uttered. We talked a few minutes. He seemed more egomaniacal than ever and affected to think that further and harsher prosecutions lay in store for him.


The movement toward impeachment moves slowly ahead. I encountered in my two Washington trips a certain pessimism as to whether anything will happen. Peter Lisagor thinks that Congress is such a cowardly body that Nixon will survive. Rowland Evans also thinks that Nixon will pull through. I continue not to think so.’

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Let there be peace

‘Oh, if only there could be peace. If only Finland could have peace, at least, and we could help them rebuild their ravaged land. I heard the news just now. No confirmed reports are available yet on the outcome of the negotiations. We’ll hear at 11 o’clock this evening, if any new reports have come in. God, let there be peace. A good peace, one that Finland can accept and at least keep its right of self-determination. Let there be peace!’ This is from the wartime diaries of Astrid Lindgren, author of one world’s most famous children’s books - Pippi Longstocking. Later this month, the diaries, only recently discovered, are being published for the first time in paperback by Pushkin Press.

Astrid Ericsson was born on 14 November 1907, to a farmer and his wife, in Näs, near Vimmerby in southern Sweden. On finishing school, she joined the staff of a local newspaper, where she had a relationship with the editor and became pregnant. She moved to Stockholm where she gave birth to her illegitimate son, Lars, who was placed in foster care with a family in Copenhagen. Astrid began training as a stenographer, and, eventually, when she had sufficient income she took care of Lars herself. In 1931, she married her employer Sture Lindgren, and three years later, gave birth to a daughter, Karin. By this time she was writing stories for a magazine Countryside Christmas. In 1945, though, she won first prize in a competition by a new publishing house, Rabén & Sjögren, with her story Pippi Långstrump (Pippi Longstocking) - which would become one of the best loved children’s story across the world.

Lindgren continued to write many stories, but from 1946 to 1970 she was also editor-in-chief of Rabén & Sjögren. In time, she became a public figure, campaigning for environmental causes as well as for the rights of children and animals. In the mid-1970s, by the simple act of writing and publishing a fairy tale, she successfully challenged the government over a tax law. On her 90th birthday, in 1997, she was pronounced International Swede of the Year. Soon after, she suffered a stroke; she died in 2002. For further biographical information see the official Astrid Lingren website, Wikipedia, or a Guardian obituary.

In 2016, Pushkin Press published for the first time in English a collection of Lindgren’s diary entries (as translated by Sarah Death) written during the Second World War. The diaries had only recently been discovered, in a wicker laundry basket. Pushkin Press is now (on 26 October) issuing a paperback version: A World Gone Mad: The Wartime Diaries of Astrid Lindgren, author of Pippi Longstocking. According to the publisher, Lindgren emerges, in these diary entries, ‘as a morally courageous critic of violence and war, as well as a deeply sensitive and astute observer of world affairs.’ Although there are charming snapshots of domestic life, Lindgren the diarist is always preoccupied with news of the war, reporting it faithfully, and often adding her own thoughtful opinions or emotional responses. Here are several extracts (with thanks to Pushkin Press).

9 February 1940
‘What a world, what an existence! Reading the papers is a depressing pastime. Bombs and machine guns hounding women and children in Finland, the oceans full of mines and submarines, neutral sailors dying, or at best being rescued in the nick of time after days and nights of privation on some wretched raft, the behind-the-scenes tragedy of the Polish population (nobody’s supposed to know what’s happening, but some things get into the papers anyway), special sections on the trams for ‘the German master race’, the Poles not allowed out after 8 in the evening, and so on. The Germans talk about their ‘harsh but just treatment’ of the Poles - so then we know. What hatred it will generate! In the end the world will be so full of hate that it chokes us.

I think it’s God’s punishment being visited on the world. And to crown it all, we are having a winter more bitter than any we can remember. Ice has made communications by sea even more difficult and there’s a serious coal shortage. It’s awfully cold in our flat, but we’re getting used to it. We’ve almost abandoned the idea of fresh air and airing the place out, though we used to sleep with the window open all year round. The fuel situation in Denmark is even worse than here, and their houses aren’t as well built, either. Meanwhile, I’ve bought a fur coat - even though doomsday is likely to arrive before I’ve had time to wear it out.’

12 March 1940
‘Perhaps this is the very day when they’re deciding in Moscow whether there will be peace. Through Swedish mediation, a peace conference has taken place, even though the war is raging on. Ryti, Paasikivi and two others are there. Nobody knows anything yet about the terms on which Russia will make peace, and after all, Finland isn’t in a position that obliges her to agree to unreasonable demands. In actual fact, any terms are ‘unreasonable’, because why should Russia get a single scrap of Finland’s soil?

The Western powers don’t want peace between Russia and Finland at all. They like the idea of Russia being kept busy, so it can’t deliver anything to Germany. They are offering Finland all the help the country wants - but first they have to receive a request for help, and there hasn’t been one. This direct request has to come first, otherwise they can’t just march straight through Norway and Sweden. And that’s what they’d most like to do! So Sweden has been roundly scolded, particularly in the French press, which claims we have put pressure on Finland to persuade it to make peace. The Swedish government vehemently denies this; we only conveyed the peace offer from Russia. The Western powers think Germany has made us try to broker peace. But in fact Germany has probably been on at Russia to persuade them to make peace. Because a peace agreement seems to suit Germany too darned well and the Western powers too darned badly.

A little Finnish boy was supposed to come to us by plane from Åbo [Turku] today, but we’ve heard nothing. Maybe he’ll come tonight.

We’ve been entirely without hot water for over a week now.

Oh, if only there could be peace. If only Finland could have peace, at least, and we could help them rebuild their ravaged land.

I heard the news just now. No confirmed reports are available yet on the outcome of the negotiations. We’ll hear at 11 o’clock this evening, if any new reports have come in. God, let there be peace. A good peace, one that Finland can accept and at least keep its right of self-determination. Let there be peace!

PEACE?!?’

4 April 1944
‘On this day I have been married for 13 years. The beautiful bride is stuck in bed, however, which gets pretty boring in the long run. I like it in the mornings when they bring me tea and white bread with smoked ham in bed and I get the bed made for me and the place nicely tidied around me, but I loathe it at night, when I have to have some kind of hot compress on my foot and it itches like mad and Sture’s asleep but I can’t get off to sleep myself. I’m reading Maugham’s Of Human Bondage and working on Pippi Longstocking.

It doesn’t look as though there’ll be peace in Finland. It’s time for the children's programme on the radio, so I can’t write any more for now.

It’s possible that this diary contains a disproportionate amount about the Germans’ rampages, because Dagens Nyheter is our daily paper and that’s more anti-German than any other rag and never misses a chance of highlighting German atrocities. It's beyond all doubt, however, that such atrocities do actually happen. Even so, it says at the end of this cutting about Poland that the Poles ‘would prefer the German regime’ to the Russian ‘if there were no other choice’. That's probably also the case in the Baltic states and other countries, but for that to appear in Dagens Nyheter must be a slip-up.’