Friday, December 15, 2017

My room is like a padded cell

‘I was appointed Minister of Housing on Saturday, October 17th, 1964. Now it is only the 22nd but, oh dear, it seems a long, long time. [. . .] The room in which I sit is the same in which I saw Nye Bevan for almost the first time when he was Minister of Health, and already I realize the tremendous effort it requires not to be taken over by the Civil Service. My Minister’s room is like a padded cell, and in certain ways I am like a person who is suddenly certified a lunatic and put safely into this great, vast room, cut off from real life and surrounded by male and female trained nurses and attendants.’ This is from the opening entry in the celebrated political diary of Richard Crossman. Born 110 years ago today, he became a key figure on the left of the Labour Party during the 1960s. He is best remembered today for his diaries which the civil service tried to ban at first, and which later led to the famous Yes Minister sitcom.

Crossman was born on 15 December 1907 in London, the son of a barrister. He won scholarships to Winchester College school and New College, Oxford. After graduating in the classics, he spent a year in Germany, where he met Erika Susanna, a divorcee who he then married in 1932 (but divorced in 1934). Remaining at New College as a fellow, his lectures were very popular, and he soon developed a reputation for being a first class tutor. He became a lecturer at the Worker’s Educational Association, and he was elected onto Oxford City Council, becoming head of the Labour group in 1935. In 1937, he married another divorcee, Hilda Baker, née Davis. In 1938, he was appointed assistant editor for the New Statesman. Having unsuccessfully fought a by-election in 1937, he had to wait until the 1945 election to be elected to Parliament (for Coventry East - a seat he would hold until shortly before his death). During the war, he served in the Ministry of Economic Warfare organising British propaganda against Germany

Crossman became associated with a group of left-wing MPs (often called Bevanites), and coproduced a tract, entitled Keep Left, urging a closer relationship with Europe, so as to create a ‘Third Force’ in politics. He was elected a member of the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee from 1952 until 1967, and he was Chairman of the Labour Party in 1960-1961. After the 1964 General Election, Harold Wilson appointed him Minister of Housing, and then, in 1966, Leader of the House of Commons (in which role he reformed the select committee system), and then, in 1968, Secretary of State for Health and Social Services. After the Conservatives returned to power in 1970, Crossman resigned the Labour front bench and became editor of the New Statesman, though he stepped down in 1972.


Crossman’s second wife died in 1951, and he got married a third time, in 1954, to Anne Patricia who gave him two children. Crossman himself died in 1974. Further information is readily available online at Wikipedia, Spartacus, Warwick University’s website, a BBC radio profile, or Anthony Howard’s profile at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (for which a free UK library or other log-in is required).

Crossman kept detailed diaries during much of his time as an MP and as a government minister - from 1952 to 1970. These were published posthumously in four volumes (Diaries of a Cabinet Minister, three volumes, and The Backbench Diaries of Richard Crossman), although Crossman himself spent the last years of his life preparing them for publication. In the introduction to the first volume, The Diaries of a Cabinet Minister - Minister of Housing 1964-66 (Hamish Hamilton, 1975), Crossman explains that he began to keep a diary so that historians would have a ‘coherent and continuous picture’ of what was going among the Bevanites.

‘Of course’, he continues elsewhere in the introduction, ‘the picture which this diary provides is neither objective nor fair - although as a lifelong political scientist I have tried to discipline myself to objectivity. In particular I have tried to avoid self-deception, especially about my own motives; the tendency to attribute to others my own worst failings; and the temptation to omit what might make me look silly in print. I have been urged by many to remove all the wounding passages about colleagues or officials. I have not done so because it would make the book untrue, and I hope that when some of them find me intolerably unfair, they will recall the follies and illusions I faithfully record about myself. A day-by-day account of a Government at work, as seen by one participant, is bound to be one-sided and immensely partisan. If it isn’t, it too would fail to be true to life.’

In fact, Crossman provided such a detailed day-to-day account of the government at work, including of cabinet meetings, that a senior civil servant, Lord Hunt of Tamworth, felt it his duty to try and halt their publication. More about this - and the link with the 1980s comedy sitcom, Yes Minister - can be found in an earlier Diary Review article: Yes, Minister, thanks to Hunt. A review of Crossman’s diaries by Clive James, first published by the New York Review of Books in 1977, can be read on James’s own website. The following extracts from Crossman’s diaries are reproduced from a 1976 Book Club Associates edition of the first volume.

22 October 1964
‘I was appointed Minister of Housing on Saturday, October 17th, 1964. Now it is only the 22nd but, oh dear, it seems a long, long time. It also seems as though I had really transferred myself completely to this new life as a Cabinet Minister. In a way it’s just the same as I had expected and predicted. The room in which I sit is the same in which I saw Nye Bevan for almost the first time when he was Minister of Health, and already I realize the tremendous effort it requires not to be taken over by the Civil Service. My Minister’s room is like a padded cell, and in certain ways I am like a person who is suddenly certified a lunatic and put safely into this great, vast room, cut off from real life and surrounded by male and female trained nurses and attendants. When I am in a good mood they occasionally allow an ordinary human being to come and visit me; but they make sure that I behave right, and that the other person behaves right; and they know how to handle me. Of course, they don’t behave quite like nurses because the Civil Service is profoundly deferential - ‘Yes, Minister! No, Minister! If you wish it. Minister!’ - and combined with this there is a constant preoccupation to ensure that the Minister does what is correct. The Private Secretary’s job is to make sure that when the Minister comes into Whitehall he doesn’t let the side or himself down and behaves in accordance with the requirements of the institution.’

27 November 1964
‘I got to the Ministry fresh and hearty and spent the day on office meetings, staff meetings, progress meetings, dealing with the routine of the Private Office as well. They seem to have a better idea of what my policy is and I have got them to agree to an elaborate programme of informal consultations and discussions on the content of the Rent Bill. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday will be totally allocated to discussions in two groups, one headed by myself and Arnold Goodman, and the other headed by Jim MacColl and Donnison. These two groups will study one paper prepared by the Department. I am really pleased I have got this fixed.

I caught the train to Coventry on Friday evening where I had to make the first speech I had ever made in my life at a public dinner. I suppose I provided what was required. Then I motored home to find Anne lying upstairs in bed listening to the new B.B.C. programme which has now been put on instead of TW3, and finding how vacuous it was.’

28 November 1964
‘At eight o’clock I had to be off to Leicester for one of my visitations, from nine fifteen in the morning till four o’clock in the afternoon. They have become quite a routine for me now and I had my long discussions on the usual subjects, multi-occupation, the new Government subsidies, land policy. The interesting thing at Leicester, I thought, was the admirable way they are trying to deal with the problem of the people who grow elderly on their huge housing estates and then under-occupy their three-room council houses. Here they are taking a certain number of the houses in each area and turning them into flats by the most ingenious method of putting one old person upstairs and one downstairs in each house. They were also putting the old people’s bungalows next door to old people’s homes so those in the bungalows could have meals if they wanted in the old people’s homes. They all seemed to me humane and civilized schemes.’

15 September 15 1965
‘Anne and I motored over to Warwick University, which is in a very pleasant Coventry suburb. Astounding progress has been made there in twelve months. They are using very modern techniques of industrialized building and the new sections are being run up incredibly quickly. I found it difficult talking to Jack Butterworth, who is a very old friend, because I knew too much about the relations between Warwick University and the city authorities. When I was Shadow Science Minister I became more and more convinced that one of the biggest jobs for the next Labour Secretary of State for Education was to break down the rigid division between higher education and further education and institute a unitary approach as against the existing binary approach. At that time I saw this extremely clearly in Coventry itself. It seemed obvious that one should try and integrate the Lanchester College of Technology, the new university and the first-rate teacher training college which for years has been on the site adjacent to the university campus. Indeed, one of the last things I did before the election was to ask Harold Wilson to come down and make a speech at the Lanchester against the binary policy, although I knew that officials in the Ministry were firmly committed to it. Alas! in 1964 when Michael Stewart took over, he quietly accepted the departmental line because there was nothing in the Party policy about committing us to repeal it. When Michael went and Tony replaced him I felt it was unfair to intervene, since I remembered how much I resented any intervention by Michael Stewart in my rents problem (he had been Shadow Minister of Housing). But I was disappointed to hear that he had decided to maintain the binary system, and I was greatly disconcerted when I learnt later on that he was by no means convinced in his own mind that it was right. I have always wondered since then whether he mightn’t have changed his mind if I had really gone in to bat when he first took over.

Still, those are all speculations which one shouldn’t waste time on. I had an excellent time with Butterworth, and informal talks with a number of his staff. I safely caught the 3.20 train and was up in time for my first meeting of the liaison committee at 6 in George Wigg’s room.

Taking over as chairman was tricky because Transport House was deeply suspicious of me and George himself is a most erratic, difficult, crabby man.

I went away after an hour and a half feeling fairly depressed, saying to myself, ‘Well, I have either asserted my authority or I have got myself into an unholy row.’ I was sure I had got Marcia Williams’s support but I wasn’t sure of much else.

I found it difficult to keep my attention fully on the meeting because of something which had happened just before I went across to Palace Yard. Into my office came copies of the Evening Standard and the Evening News, each containing the announcement that the London boroughs had jointly decided on a common policy of requiring a five-year residence qualification for anybody to get a council house in Greater London. This shocked me. And not only that: I had spent a great deal of time working out a speech I was due to deliver on Thursday morning to the annual meeting of the Institute of Housing Managers in Brighton, which contained a slashing attack on the reactionary attitude many housing authorities display to immigrants and the point that cities laying down a five- or six-year residence qualification were objectively committing racial discrimination. Peter Brown and Bob Mellish were in a state of great excitement about the speech. All I knew was that the press release I had prepared would not do as it would be regarded by everyone as a direct reaction by the Minister to the announcement from the boroughs.

I had to leave the liaison committee meeting in order to go across to No. 10 for a cocktail party Harold was giving to the industrial correspondents. I stayed about ten minutes, long enough for Geoffrey Goodman to tell me that he thought the reaction to George Brown’s National Plan would be lousy. The press had had the plan that day and had been working on it in preparation for Thursday morning.


From Downing Street I went on to Crosland’s house where I had a most amiable evening with him and his wife Susan - so delightful that I talked politics far too freely and felt a delicious, racy, scandalized joy in doing so.’

2 November 1965
‘A very long day entirely devoted to departmental meetings. In the evening a meeting of the strategy group over supper at No. 10. Present: Peter Shore, Tony Benn, Tommy Balogh, Marcia Williams, Gerald Kaufman, myself (as chairman) and the Prime Minister. When he came in he looked really jaded. The Rhodesia crisis has been telling on him. As soon as he flew in, after a week of activity, he was plunged into Cabinet on Monday morning and the House of Commons on Monday afternoon. Judging by the press, he has had a real success in the Commons and foxed the Tories by his proposal for the Royal Commission, even though it was pretty obvious from the word go that the Commission was a non-starter and we were merely postponing the evil day. Nevertheless, by Tuesday evening he looked tired and found it difficult to talk to us at all. Gradually he got more interested and we had a useful discussion on the line he should take in the Queen’s Speech. But then his interest lapsed and he suddenly got the bright idea that because Exchange Telegraph had closed down its parliamentary services, Tony Benn as P.M.G. should nationalize it.’

8 August 1966
‘The Sunday papers were full of the story and I had a number of telephone talks with Peter Brown before I caught the night train from Bodmin Road. I got to Paddington at 7.15 this morning to find that the hot water had been turned off and I couldn’t have a bath at Vincent Square.

I had hoped to have a quick meeting under Harold’s leadership in order to fix this idiotic problem of mortgages. It seemed obvious that I should meet George Brown to the extent of asking the building societies not to raise their mortgage rates until the P.I.B. had reported and then making sure the P.I.B. gave us their report by early October. This is exactly what we did in fact finally agree on, but first I had to square my Permanent Secretary, who thought I was giving far too much to George and that I should stand firm on the original statement Callaghan and I had made. I found this terribly negative and when we got into our meeting finally, shortly after twelve, we settled it along the lines I have described.

In the afternoon I saw the building societies and got their agreement that I should make a Statement in the House to that effect next day. After that I had to see George Brown about the Centre for Environmental Studies. I had promised Richard Llewelyn-Davies the headquarters would be in London. George Brown was insisting on Edinburgh. After we had disagreed in quite a friendly way, he asked me to stay behind in his room and told me that he would be out of the D.E.A. within a few days and he was glad because he had been doing that job far too long. Then he went on to say how much he appreciated my behaviour on the day before the devaluation Cabinet. I had been honest with him, unlike some other people he could mention. ‘Whatever happens,’ he said, ‘don’t do anything without telling me. I gather you want to make it as difficult as possible to introduce Part IV. I don’t agree with you but I am not so far away from your position. Keep in touch with me. I trust you, you trust me, I support Harold and so do you.’ That was George at about four o’clock.’

The Diary Junction

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Great grief and distress

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

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

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

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

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

Here are several extracts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 8, 2017

Diary briefs

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

Diary of a murdered Israeli - Times of Israel

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

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

Diaries of Emilio Renzi - Restless Books, Literal Magazine

Winnipegger’s WWI diaries online - CBC News

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

Hunger strike diary - Oxford University Press Pakistan, Dawn

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

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

Diaries of a military wife - Profile BooksDaily Echo

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Dined with the Einsteins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Diary Junction

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Tina Brown’s Vanity Fair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Farington, painter and diarist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Diary Junction

Sunday, November 19, 2017

My first day at No. 10

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Here are several extracts from the published diaries.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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