They wrote it this week: What does a princess do when she’s drowning?
Extracts from diaries and letters written between August 31 and September 6
1928, Potsdam, Germany
[To Virginia Woolf. The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall, the first overtly lesbian English novel, had just been banned by Home Secretary William Joynson-Hicks, known as Jix.] I feel very violently about The Well of Loneliness. Not on account of what you call my proclivities; not because I think it is a good book; but really on principle. (I think of writing to Jix suggesting that he should suppress Shakespeare’s Sonnets.) Because, you see, even in the W. of L. had been a good book, – even if it had been a great book, a real masterpiece, – the result would have been the same. And that is intolerable. I really have no words to say how indignant I am. Is Leonard [Woolf] going to get up a protest? or is it fizzling out? Don’t let it fizzle out.
- Vita Sackville-West, British aristocrat and writer, 1892-1962 (A large section of Britain’s intellectual elite united to fight the banning, but in vain. It was eventually published in the UK in 1949.)
The Letters of Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf edited by Louise De Salvo and Mitchell A Leaska, Hutchinson, 1984
[The Series III amendments to the Anglican liturgy had been introduced in phases between 1973 and 1980.] Every time – usually by accident – I attend a service where “Series III” is used, and suffer that special jarring pain when (most often in the Responses) a commonplace illiteracy, straight out of a local authority circular, supplants the beautiful, numinous phrases on which I was brought up and from which I drew comfort for thirty-five years, my heart sinks. All too well do I understand the rage of the Inquisitadores. I would gladly burn them, those trendy clerics, at the stake. What fun to hear them pinkly squealing. Or perhaps, as the faggots kindled, they would “come out”, and call on the Devil to succour them.
- Alan Clark, British Conservative Party politician, 1928-1999.
Diaries: In Power 1983-1992 by Alan Clark, Phoenix, 1994
1870, Radnorshire, Wales
[Kilvert and his friends, the Lynes, were visiting a strict Benedictine monastery.] We saw the monks and novices below issuing from a barn where they had engaged for an hour or so in an “examination of conscience”. One of the monks was gazing at us. He had conceived an irrepressible desire to see Mrs Lyne. He did not wish to intrude upon her approach or address her. He simply wanted to see her at a respectful distance and admire her afar off. Mr Lyne said the monk was a man of few and simple wants, content with a little and thankful for small mercies. Because the monk had said that if he could see Mrs Lyne he would be perfectly happy.
- Francis Kilvert, British clergyman, 1840-1872.
Kilvert’s Diary edited by William Plomer, Penguin, 1977
Letty, encouraged by Grace and most of the party, courageously (but with great trepidation) decided to cut off her hair, which is pouring out since scarlet fever. Grace was the executioner: it was an anxious moment, it is so irrevocable. She had it done a la club-head – Joan of Arcish. Luckily it waves and goes into quite a good shape. It is amusing and I expect suits her as well as anyone, but I don’t know that I really like it. I think it always looks a little uncanny or unpleasant – suggestive of prison, illness or suffragettes.
- Lady Cynthia Asquith, daughter of the 11th Earl of Wemyss and March and daughter-in-law of British prime minister Herbert Asquith, 1887-1960 (Letty was Lady Cynthia’s sister-in-law, Lady Elcho, and Grace was her step-grandmother, the Dowager Lady Wemyss. Thanks to the huge social changes wrought by World War 1, short hair for women, so shocking in 1915 even for a sophisticated person like Lady Cynthia, would be commonplace within a decade.)
Diaries 1915-18 by Lady Cynthia Asquith, Hutchinson, 1968
1956, Port Maria, Jamaica
The two months here have passed so swiftly and there has been so much to do. I became too thin for a little while and with the thinness irritation set in – irritation and tetchiness and a feeling of unease and dissatisfaction with everything. Even Coley and Graham [his valet and boyfriend, respectively], neither of whom could have sweeter dispositions, began to get on my nerves. Fortunately, after a little private seance with myself, I managed to spell out the writing on the wall, which said, in so many words, “Don’t be a c**t!” This is foolish vanity; to be slim and svelte is important only up to a point. At the age of fifty-six youth is no longer essential or even becoming. Fifty-six is fifty-six, rapidly approaching fifty-seven, and health and happiness are more important than lissomness. To be fat is bad and slovenly, unless it is beyond your control, but to have a middle-aged spread when you are a little more than middle-aged is no disgrace and, however slim you get, you will still be the age you are and no one will be fooled, so banish this nonsense once and for all. Be your age and be your weight and conserve your vitality by eating enough and enjoying it.
- Noel Coward, British playwright and entertainer, 1899-1973.
The Noel Coward Diaries edited by Graham Payn and Sheridan Morley, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1982
[The Great Fire of London had begun the previous day.] The conflagration was so universal, and the people so astonished, that, from the beginning, I know not by what despondency, or fate, they hardly stirred to quench it; so that there was nothing heard, or seen, but crying out and lamentation, running about like distracted creatures, without at all attempting to save even their goods; such a strange consternation there was upon them, so as it burned both in breadth and length, the churches, public halls, Exchange, hospitals, monuments, and ornaments; leaping after a prodigious manner, from house to house, and street to street, at great distances one from the other. For the heat, with a long set of fair and warm weather, had even ignited the air, and prepared the materials to conceive the fire, which devoured, after an incredible manner, houses, furniture, and every thing.
- John Evelyn, English gentleman and politician, 1620-1706.
The Diary of John Evelyn edited b y William Bray, JM Dent, 1937
1919, Montreal, Canada
[To his mistress, Freda Dudley Ward] I wish you had been with me yesterday morning, angel, to give hell to a small flapper (12-14) who had the cheek to throw her arms round my neck & give me a foul wet kiss as I was going to lunch; imagine my fury, sweetheart, particularly as there was an extra heavy movie barrage, though I’ve made them cut that revolting incident out & I’m sure the little beta was put up to it, probably by a movie man!!
- The Prince of Wales, future King Edward VIII and Duke of Windsor, 1894-1972.
Letters from a Prince: Edward Prince of Wales to Mrs Freda Dudley Ward, March 1918-January 1921 edited by Rupert Godfrey, Warner Books, 1998
1942, Balmoral Castle, Scotland
At 6.30pm we all went to the service in Crathie Church, held in connection with the National Day of Prayer ordained to commemorate the beginning of a fourth year of war. I suppose these occasions are a comfort to a great number of people; the King continually gets letters from all over the country urging him to have another one. But the idea behind them seems to me inconsistent with any enlightened system of theology. Zeus, in Homer, and Jahweh, in the Old Testament, were thought to be susceptible to the concentrated smell of large quantities of burnt offerings – ie, communal worship on a big scale. But to me it seems an insult to any civilised Deity to imagine that he is affected, one way or another, by mass-production prayers, decreed by Government – which all these “national days” really are.
- Alan Lascelles, private secretary to King George VI, 1887-1981.
King’s Councillor: Abdication and War – The Diaries of Sir Alan Lascelles edited by Duff Hart-Davies, Phoenix, 2007
Hubner went with me to the Park, where I saw a Prussian regiment exercising. The soldiers seemed in terror. For the least fault they were beaten like dogs. I also saw a deserter pass the baguette [that is, run the gauntlet] twelve times. He was much cut. It made me sick to see it.
- James Boswell, Scottish laird and writer, 1740-1795 (Boswell doesn’t mention, but his expense accounts reveal, that he gave the flogged deserter a generous amount of money.)
Boswell on the Grand Tour: Germany and Switzerland 1764 edited by Frederick A Pottle, William Heinemann, 1953
[An attempt at the first westbound transatlantic flight on August 31 had ended with the plane vanishing. The pilots had been Lt-Col FF Minchin and Captain Leslie Hamilton, with Princess Lowenstein-Wertheim as their passenger.] The Flying Princess, I forget her name, has been drowned in her purple breeches. I suppose so at least. Their petrol gave out about midnight on Thursday, when the aeroplane must have come gently down upon the long slow Atlantic waves. I suppose they burnt a light which showed streaky on the water for a time. There they rested a moment or two. The pilots, I think, looked back at the broad cheeked desperate eyed vulgar princess in her purple breeches & I suppose made some desperate dry statement – how the game was up: sorry; fortune against them; & she just glared; & then a wave broke over the wing; & the machine tipped. And she said something theatrical I daresay; nobody was sincere; all acted a part; nobody shrieked; Luck against us – something of that kind, they said, & then So long, & first one man was washed off & went under; & then a great wave came & the Princess threw up her arms & went down; & the third man sat saved for a second looking at the rolling waves, so patient so implacable & the moon gravely regarding; & then with a dry snorting sound he too was tumbled off & rolled over, & the aeroplane rocked & rolled – miles from anywhere, off Newfoundland, while I slept at Rodmell, & Leonard was dining with the Craniums in London.
- Virginia Woolf, British writer, 1882-1941.
The Diary of Virginia Woolf Volume 3 1925-30 edited by Anne Oliver Bell, Penguin, 1982
1934, Dresden, Germany
A civil service oath to Hitler in person is now required of me. It was given collectively last Saturday. Those who are on holiday will swear at the beginning of the new semester. I am on holiday. Two months are a long time. – But I shall swear. Blumenfeld, who as titular assistant professor and retired does not need to swear, said to me: “You do not give the oath to Adolf Hitler in person but to the Fuhrer and Chancellor of the Reich Adolf Hitler for the period of his official activity.” – Nevertheless: sickening.
- Victor Klemperer, German-Jewish academic and Holocaust survivor, 1881-1960.
I Shall Bear Witness: The Diaries of Victor Klemperer 1933-1941 edited by Martin Chalmers, Phoenix, 1999
I still really want to design a pair of sneakers. I have all these new painting ideas and sculpture ideas that I can’t wait to start. I made drawings in Switzerland and Monte Carlo. That was great, but not enough. I really want to go back and try to heal myself by painting. I think I could actually do it. I’m reading this book Swen Swenson gave me about healing yourself and love and medicine. I’ve been injecting myself with alpha interferon every day. That’s pretty weird, but I’ve adjusted pretty easily. I hope it’s helping. I’d really like to paint it away. It’s hard to think of anything else every time I’m near a mirror.
- Keith Haring, US artist, 1958-1990 (Despite all his efforts and optimism, Haring died of Aids five months later.)
Keith Haring Journals edited by Robert Farris Thompson, Fourth Estate, 1996
Called upon Doll, our pretty ’Change woman, for a pair of gloves trimmed with yellow ribbon, to match the petticoat my wife bought yesterday, which cost me 20s.; but she is so pretty, that, God forgive me! I could not think it too much, which is a strange slavery that I stand in to beauty, that I value nothing near it.
- Samuel Pepys, English naval official, 1663-1703.
The Diary of Samuel Pepys edited by John Warrington, JM Dent, 1964