They wrote it this week: An emperor leaps to SA’s defence

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They wrote it this week: An emperor leaps to SA’s defence

Extracts from diaries and letters written between May 18 and May 24

Journalist
A 17th-century woman sells her produce. Women at the time could attain a far higher degree of financial independence than is now conventionally believed.
fruit of her labour A 17th-century woman sells her produce. Women at the time could attain a far higher degree of financial independence than is now conventionally believed.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

May 19

1672, London

Went to Margate; and, the following day, was carried to see a gallant widow, brought up a farmeress, and I think of gigantic race, rich, comely, and exceedingly industrious. She put me in mind of Deborah and Abigail, her house was so plentifully stored with all manner of country-provisions, all of her own growth, and all her conveniences so substantial, neat, and well-understood; she herself so jolly and hospitable; and her land so trim and rarely husbanded, that it struck me with admiration at her economy.

  • John Evelyn, English gentleman and courtier, 1620-1706.

The Diary of John Evelyn edited by William Bray, JM Dent & Sons, 1937

2012, London

Vivienne Westwood.
goggle-eyed Vivienne Westwood.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Instead of reading I spent all day doing one killer Sudoku. Of course I will probably be quicker next time but it’s a terrible investment of time and I only want to do the extra-hard ones. So many hypothetical factors to mark and hold in mind before you can advance one square. I shall really have to limit this. I won’t do any more this month. However, it really is stimulating. I didn’t even feel hungry – it is an exercise in pure reason.

  • Vivienne Westwood, British fashion designer, b. 1941.

Get a Life! The Diaries of Vivienne Westwood, Serpent’s Tail, 2016

Any planting that was done in the Warsaw Ghetto was aimed at supplementing the meagre food the Nazis allowed the population.
daily bread Any planting that was done in the Warsaw Ghetto was aimed at supplementing the meagre food the Nazis allowed the population.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

May 20

1941, the Warsaw Ghetto

On the other side of the barbed wire, spring holds full sway. From my window I can see young girls with bouquets of lilac walking on the Aryan part of the street. I can even smell the tender fragrance of the opened buds. But there is no sign of spring in the ghetto. Here the rays of sun are swallowed up by the heavy grey pavement. On a few window sills, long, scrawny onion stalks, more yellow than green, are sprouting. Where are my lovely spring days of former years, the gay walks in the park, the narcissus, lilac and magnolia that used to fill my room? Today we have no flowers, no green plants.

This is my second spring in the ghetto.

  • Mary Berg, Polish-Jewish Holocaust survivor, 1924-2013.

Growing up in the Warsaw Ghetto: The Diary of Mary Berg edited by SL Shneiderman, Oneworld, 2018

2013, a retirement home in Amsterdam

A dementia patient yesterday stuck a billiard ball in his mouth; it couldn’t be dislodged by any means. He sat there pitifully emitting high-pitched squeaks as two male nurses tried to pry the ball out with a spoon. After a fruitless fifteen-minute struggle, he was carted off to the Emergency Room. It wasn’t as big as an official tournament ball, but when I briefly held one up to my mouth, it did strike me as a very large item to swallow. Quite alarming.

Mr Kloek was furious because he had to finish his game with only two balls.

  • Hendrik Groen, pseudonymous Dutch pensioner.

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83¼ Years Old, Michael Joseph, 2016

Empress Elizabeth of Austria, one of the most acclaimed beauties of her day.
more beauty than brains Empress Elizabeth of Austria, one of the most acclaimed beauties of her day.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

May 21

1967, Les Avants, Switzerland

The Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph with his confidante Catherine Schratt.
fur your ears only The Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph with his confidante Catherine Schratt.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

I am reading the letters of [Austro-Hungarian Emperor] Franz Joseph to [his confidante] Catherine Schratt. Really very touching. The Empress Elizabeth, of course, appears a great deal. Another monumental historical ass, meriting a niche along with Marie Antoinette and Mary Stuart et al. I can’t think of one beautiful historical lady in a position of power who wasn’t a dithering idiot. I suppose it’s the beauty that does it. Oh for the humour and horse sense of Queen Elizabeth I. I have a feeling that Boadicea might have been fairly bright, but they were neither of them Gladys Coopers.

  • Noel Coward, British playwright, actor and entertainer, 1899-1973 (The actress Gladys Cooper was widely considered to be the greatest British beauty of her day.)

The Noel Coward Diaries edited by Graham Payn and Sheridan Morley, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1982

Keith Haring working on a mural in Paris.
he sees straight through you Keith Haring working on a mural in Paris.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

1987, Paris

[Haring was having his portrait taken at a prestigious Parisian photographic studio.] After the photo this guy arrived (sort of cute) and immediately they had to close the curtain to do drugs. How boring. I can’t believe they’re gonna do H in front of me as if they’re proud of it. I mean, I hardly know these people. The (sort of) cute guy is bragging about how well he speaks English and explains how he stays in New York with a “faggot” who works for the French embassy. He says, “He was the only man I ever slept with that didn’t touch me.” He sounds so surprised. I wanted to ask him what about all the other men who slept with him that did touch him? They weren’t faggots, so that was fine, I presume.

  • Keith Haring, US artist, 1958-1990.

Journals by Keith Haring, Fourth Estate, 1996

British King Edward VII with his nephew, Russian Emperor Nicholas II. Their relationship was, on the whole, extremely cordial.
meet my beard British King Edward VII with his nephew, Russian Emperor Nicholas II. Their relationship was, on the whole, extremely cordial.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

May 22

1901, St Petersburg

[To his uncle, the British King Edward VII] Pray forgive me for writing to you upon a very delicate subject, which I have been thinking over for months, but my conscience obliges me at last to speak openly. It is about the South African war and what I say is only said as by your loving nephew.

You remember of course at the time when war broke out what a strong feeling of animosity against England arose throughout the world. In Russia the indignation of the people was similar to that of other countries. I received addresses, letters, telegrams, etc, in masses begging me to interfere, even by adopting strong measures. But my principle is not to meddle in other people’s affairs; especially as it did not concern my country.

Nevertheless all this weighed morally upon me.

A small people are desperately defending their country, a part of their land is devastated, their families flocked together in camps, their farms burnt. Of course in war such things have always happened and will happen; but in this case, forgive the expression, it looks more like a war of extermination.

How many thousands of gallant young Englishmen have already perished out there! Does not your kind heart yearn to put an end to this bloodshed? Such an act would universally be hailed with joy.

  • Russian Emperor Nicholas II, 1868-1918 (Nicholas, an autocrat, was vastly overestimating King Edward’s power, as a constitutional monarch, to influence his government’s policies.)

A Lifelong Passion: Nicholas and Alexandra - Their Own Story edited by Andrei Maylunas and Sergei Mironenko, Phoenix Giant, 1997

The Bowes-Lyon family in happier, Edwardian times. Michael is the boy sitting in the front and behind him is Elizabeth, the future Queen Mother. Fergus, the teenager standing on the left, was killed during World War 1.
oh brother! The Bowes-Lyon family in happier, Edwardian times. Michael is the boy sitting in the front and behind him is Elizabeth, the future Queen Mother. Fergus, the teenager standing on the left, was killed during World War 1.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

1917, London

[To her friend, Beryl Poignand. The Bowes-Lyon family had spent three weeks in emotional agony after their son and brother Michael, whom Lady Elizabeth called “the favourite of the whole family”, had been declared missing in action on the Western Front.] I’m quite and absolutely stark, staring, raving mad. Do you know why? Can’st thou e’en guess? I don’t believe you can!

The Hon. Michael Bowes-Lyon during World War I.
uniform joy The Hon. Michael Bowes-Lyon during World War I.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

AM I MAD WITH MISERY OR WITH JOY??

WITH

!

!! JOY !!

!

Mike is quite safe! Oh dear, I nearly, nearly burst this morning. We had a telephone message from Cox’s [Bank] to say they’d received a cheque from Mike this morning, so we rushed round, and it was in his own handwriting, & they think he’s at Carlsruhe. Isn’t it too, too heavenly. I can’t believe it, yes I can but you know what I mean, & how awful the last 3 weeks have been.

Yours madly, Elizabeth.

  • Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, daughter of the 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne and future queen consort to King George VI, 1900-2002 (Although alive, Mike had been badly wounded and spent the rest of World War 1 as a prisoner of war.)

Counting One’s Blessings: The Selected Letters of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother edited by William Shawcross, MacMillan, 2012

The huge, austere facade of Petworth House was transformed one happy spring day in 1834.
golden day The huge, austere facade of Petworth House was transformed one happy spring day in 1834.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

May 23

1834, London

The 3rd Earl of Egremont, who threw the party. He died three years later.
good lord The 3rd Earl of Egremont, who threw the party. He died three years later.

On Monday last I went to Petworth, and saw the finest fete that could be given. Lord Egremont has been accustomed for some time in the winter to feast the poor of the adjoining parishes (women and children, not men) in the riding-house and tennis-court, where they were admitted by relays. His illness prevented the dinner taking place;  but when he recovered he was bent upon having it, and, as it was put off till the summer, he had it arranged in the open air, and a fine sight it was; fifty-four tables, each fifty feet long, were placed in a vast semicircle on the lawn before the house. Nothing could be more amusing than to look at the preparations. The tables were all spread with cloths, and plates, and dishes; two great tents were erected in the middle to receive the provisions, which were conveyed in carts, like ammunition. Plum-puddings and loaves were piled like cannon-balls, and innumerable joints of boiled and roast beef were spread out, while hot joints were prepared in the kitchen, and sent forth as soon as the firing of guns announced the hour of the feast. Tickets were given to the inhabitants of a certain district, and the number was about 4,000; but, as many more came, the old Peer could not endure that there should be anybody hungering outside his gates, and he went out himself and ordered the barriers to be taken down and admittance given to all. They think 6,000 were fed. Gentlemen from the neighbourhood carved for them, and waiters were provided from among the peasantry. A band of music paraded around, playing gay airs. The day was glorious – an unclouded sky and soft southern breeze. Nothing could exceed the pleasure of that fine old fellow; he was in and out of the windows of his room twenty times, enjoying the sight of these poor wretches, all attired in their best, cramming themselves and their brats with as much as they could devour, and snatching a day of relaxation and happiness.

  • Charles Greville, British aristocrat, bureaucrat and cricketer, 1794-1864.

The Greville Memoirs: A Journal of the Reigns of King George IV and King William IV edited by Henry Reeve, D Appleton and Company, 1875

The terrors of interviewing Evelyn Waugh.

1947, Piers Court, Gloucestershire

Some time ago an American from Cambridge wrote to ask me for an interview. I said if he would come here I would see him. Today he came. A very very humourless Boston Irishman. All the topics he raised bored me so much I would only say, “No, no.”

“Do you consider that in a democratic age the radio and cinema will develop into great arts?”

“No, no.”

“Do you think the renaissance villain represents the individual at war with society?”

“No, no.”

“Do publishers have an influence on modern writing comparable to the patron of the eighteenth century?”

“No, no.”

Then I ordered him eggs for tea as he had a long journey back and he spilt one on his trousers. I gave him sherry and a copy of Campion and sent him back on his long journey to Cambridge.

  • Evelyn Waugh, British writer, 1903-1966 (Waugh was notorious for playing brutal mind games with interviewers.)

The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh edited by Michael Davie, Penguin, 1979

The street decorations for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II did not meet with the approval of Evelyn Waugh, and especially 'the line of parabolic girders down the Mall'.
arch enemy The street decorations for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II did not meet with the approval of Evelyn Waugh, and especially 'the line of parabolic girders down the Mall'.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

May 24

1953, Gloucestershire

[To his friend, Lady Diana Cooper] On Friday I sent you a pretty little book [his latest novel, Love Among the Ruins]. I hope it arrives safely through all the strikers. It is something I began 3 years ago and is now not very timely except as an antidote to the Coronation. I drove down most of the main streets of London and saw the decorations – admittedly not complete – but banal common feeble. Perhaps they will be better at night. The most offensive feature is the line of parabolic girders down the Mall. I pray your dear dim eyes will be shielded from too clear a vision of them.

  • Evelyn Waugh, British writer, 1903-1966 (Lady Diana Cooper was notoriously short-sighted.)

Mr Wu & Mrs Stitch: The Letters of Evelyn Waugh & Diana Cooper edited by Artemis Cooper, Hodder & Stoughton, 1991

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