Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Fourth tutorial

New readers: see Warning at start of earlier tutorials

Instruction in online research resources

Copac National, Academic, and Specialist Library Catalogue gives free access to the merged online catalogues of many major University, Specialist, and National Libraries in the UK and Ireland, including the British Library
Titles found hereon can be ordered via Univ. Buck.

Public Record Office, now National Archive
[Search the Archives] > [Access the Archives]
National Archive
The Catalogue: Search descriptions of 11 million documents from the UK central government, law courts and other national bodies.
9 other categories
Partner websites
Census records:
Search and download census records from 1841 to 1911. JR: 1861 v useful, with details of who lived there (c.f.
3 other categories
Find records in other archives
National register of archives (not explored: relates only to British material? What about foreign equivalents of DNB?)

Index to theses (
A comprehensive listing of theses with abstracts accepted for higher degrees by universities in Great Britain and Ireland since 1716. 542,369 theses in collection


Presentation (first in series by each student) by JM-J on the relationship between Queen Victoria (V1) and her eldest daughter Vicky (V2). V2 brightest of 8 children – favourite of Prince Consort Albert (PC) – V1 jealous of time given and attention shown – V2's engagement aged 14 to 'Fritz' (Crown Prince of Prussia) and marriage at 17 (parents anxious not to lose this prime prospect) – unusually for royals, a love match, like her parents – with V2 now in Berlin, V1 begins voluminous correspondence, often 3 letters per week – "What are you doing?" – "This is what you should be doing!" (e.g. fresh air and temp. of 56 deg, c.f. German fug and temp of 80) – "You're not answering my letters" – little awareness of huge difficulties faced by V2 in seeking to change anything; young, naive, foreign, friendless – above all, malign influence of Bismarck.

Occasional displays of telling V1 to keep out of it – "I will breast-feed", "I won't postpone state occasion just because it's anniversary of death of PC". V2 expected to help in search for wife for V1's eldest son Bertie, later Edward 7 (PoW) – Alexandra of Denmark prettiest and brightest of Protestant princesses – Schleswig-Holstein question – Palmerston's "Only 3 people understood the SHQ: PC, and he's dead; Prof. X, and he's in the madhouse; and me, and I've forgotten".

Bungling of birth of V2's 1st-born, Willi (W: later "Kaiser Bill" and fomentor of WW1) – 99-day reign in 1888 of husband as Kaiser Frederick 3 – lingering death from throat cancer – her stiff-upper-lip smile castigated by court as indifference – W's anglophobia result of blaming on English doctors his withered arm, resulting from botched breach delivery– his increasing control of her movements and purse – her charitable activities, despite denial of pension – her last, excruciating illness – smuggling her papers, inc. letters, back to England to serve as basis for posthumous restoration of her well-intentioned but doomed life.

[Expressed in earlier session by JM-J: short reign of Fred 3 perhaps greatest "What if?" question; had he ruled longer (and effectively) no WW1, hence no WW2, &c]

Men's autobiographies

Conundrum by Jan Morris

Tortured autobiography of life of talented transsexual James Morris – aged 5 is aware that he should have been/be a girl – nothing effeminate in young manhood (officer in WW2 in British cavalry regiment; reporter for The Times in scooping 1st ascent of Everest) – married, with wife (apparently) aware of his predilection and begetting 4 children – counselling useless – start of sex-changing drug regime – support (?) of wife and understanding (?) of children goes under the knife in Casablanca – description of subsequent physical and mental changes in self.

Predictably vociferous discussion – all other participants female – nuanced viewpoints not well understood then, so inexpressible now – more

Pepys's Diaries

Restricted time to discuss this massive work – core questions about it raised (if not answered):
- Why did he start writing it?
- Why did he stop writing it?

Reference Hist. Journ. 43/2 Refiguring the Diary of Samuel Pepys Mark Dawson

Uncompleted because of presence of Number Three Daughter and her brood for part of half term: she is a very personable Person from Porlock, and won't mind being unjustly blamed for her father's failure to complete this self-imposed task by breakfast time the following day.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Changing the blog’s title

I started this blog a month ago when I was just about to formally enrol on a postgraduate course at our local university. At that moment I felt that the title should reflect the long gap between first going to a university and starting again at another one, so that Going back to college after 55 years seemed sensible. Under this title I could write a few posts which would outline to readers how it came about that we were living in Buckingham after so many years in Richmond and why now, after two years in our new home town, I was embarking on a course of study.

The posts that followed were increasingly about the course itself and – because the first term's study concentrates on autobiography – on episodes in my past life. Therefore the first title had served its purpose. If the early posts had been written to appear in a conventional book, they would have appeared in Chapter 1 under the title until yesterday applying to the whole blog.

Increasingly I want my blog to serve as a description of what I am doing to people who may be able to help me in the research that I will be doing towards my dissertation at the end of the course, provisionally entitled The Impact of New Technology upon the Creation of Biographies. I have already interviewed two leading biographers about this and I want to interview at least two dozen more. Other biographers will I hope glance at the blog and then consider favourably my request for an interview with them.

Therefore the new title of the blog should reflect what I am doing, the Biography Course, and where I am doing it, at the University of Buckingham. I also want the title to imply two things, firstly that I am actually following the course and secondly that the contents of the blog describe something about the nature of the course.

This want I hope is fulfilled with a little word right at the beginning, On, with its many meanings. Like being on a plane or a train, I am on a course, travelling not through space but through time from the start to the end of the course. It has also the meaning of Concerning or About which used to be expressed in theological and scientific works in Latin with the little word De, as in Augustine's De Civitate Dei (About the City of God) or Harvey's De Motu Cordis et Sanguinis (Concerning the Motion of the Heart and the Blood).

Welcome, then, to the first post written for my blog with this new and appropriate title.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

The Tonks biography

Today the five of us went across to Wendy and Nicky's new home in the little town of Whitchurch for lunch. The others had all been there before: I hadn't. Nicky gave me a quick tour. At the bottom of the garden is a leat of the River Test, perhaps the most famous trout stream in the world, with waters "clear as gin and twice as expensive", so unlike the muddy leat of the Great Ouse leading to the long-demolished Castle Mill opposite our home in Buckingham. Beside it a vegetable garden with friable tilth, so unlike the heavy clays of Julia's allotment.

Returning through the kitchen I saw names on tiles above the work surfaces: VERMEER, CEZANNE, … TONKS. Tonks? Henry Tonks, it transpires, is a forebear of our hostess the watercolourist. Her great friend Sabina ffolkes is the author of a new biography of this neglected artist. Just as my tutor Jane Ridley enjoyed herself hugely visiting Surrey country houses when writing her biography of Lutyens, so the two of them enjoyed visiting grand houses viewing Tonks still hanging where they were placed when first bought.

Lunch was vastly convivial and, though more needs to be written about past and future associations with my hostess (cooking in sunny climes and meeting biographers), my frailty stops me writing more tonight. I post it to my blog now so that anything added later will still bear Sunday's date.

When is a biography not a biography?

Julia and I drove down to Hampshire yesterday morning to stay with our old Richmond friends, Annabel and Adam. At teatime Annabel told us about a book of great interest to her and which she was sure, because of my current studies, would interest me.

They have both been stalwart members of the London Bach Choir since the sixties and over the years became close friends with its longtime conductor. Oxford University Press has recently published a book about him, Sir David Willcocks: a Life in Music.

She and Adam were two of the many people that were interviewed for the book. She said that all the interviews had been transcribed verbatim and the scripts then sent to each interviewee to check for accuracy and to give the opportunity to delete any portion of it.

There was a lively discussion about all this. I told Annabel, from my limited experience of transcribing interviews, how much editing of the spoken word is needed to render the text coherent and readable. She assured me that her interview had been transcribed accurately, as she remembered it, but agreed that she had not compared the text with the tape. Priscilla, another Richmond friend also down for the weekend, suggested that the book was not a biography but a memoir. I did not agree, but couldn't really suggest what it was. Could it really be called a biography, if it did not have at least some editorial commentary linking all the interviews together and if we are not told the criteria for excluding all or parts of the many interviews made?

All of this took place without having a copy of the book to hand or an internet link. Now that I am at home, I see that the exact title is A Life in Music -- Conversations with Sir David Willcocks and friends and that the publishers in the blurb here describe it as "a portrait of a highly gifted musician". Yes, but it is a portrait painted by many brushes, particularly that of the sitter. Without having yet seen the book, I currently think that the term that best fits it is a collage, a picture created from pasting many fragments together. Furthermore I surmise that, insofar as it is a biography, it is likely to resemble more a fulsome and one-sided Victorian biography which bathes the subject in sunlight and brush out its dark shadows, rather than the more rounded picture of a person that we have come to expect today.

Whatever you may call the book, the way that it has been put together and then packaged with a CD containing many of Sir David's recordings, represents a fascinating example of yet another way in which New Technology is affecting the creation of biographies.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Schwarzwälder Schinken*

Emboldened by wearing my new carmine corduroy trousers, I am able to confess another culinary failure.

The other day I made another batch of meat stock. Now that we have moved to Buckingham this is easy, because Clays our butchers sells large packets of chicken and beef bones for only fifty pence each. Among the vegetables I got for the stock pot were a couple of leeks, of which only the top, green, part was used. The bottom, white, part I cooked slightly and put in the fridge for later in the week.

When preparing yesterday's dinner I took the leeks and split them lengthwise, then wrapped each bit in one and a half slices of *Black Forest ham from a packet given to us by a friend clearing out her fridge before going off on holiday. I laid the four rolls side by side in one of my copper gratin dishes, poured mornay sauce over them, put the dish in the oven for twenty minutes and finished it off with five minutes under the grill.

It was horrid. Perhaps the leeks were still slightly too al dente: but then, there is nothing more slimy than overcooked leeks. Perhaps it was because the ham was coarsely cut and was over-smoked. But probably it was because of the memories stirred of a fortnight's holiday spent hard by the Black Forest in the summer of 2004. The taste of it brought memories flooding back: it was a madeleine moment.

In those days we belonged to Intervac, an association which enables you to exchange houses for a period with people anywhere in the world. In 2003 we had had a splendid holiday in the Barrio Gotico in Barcelona, despite the flat being up 68 steps. That winter, before we had started looking for another such holiday, we received an exchange proposal from a woman from Freiburg im Breisgau in south western Germany. She ran a cultural outfit, the Deutsch-Japanischer Kulturverein, and I dreamed that she might be interested in the language-learning website I was then working on. I raised doubts about the proposal, saying that I preferred exchanges to countries where I spoke the language, but she countered by saying that this would be a splendid opportunity to acquire some German and, no, I was not too old to start: after all, we joked, Cato the Elder had started learning Greek at the age of 80.

So it was arranged; we went; we arrived at a narrow town house in a modern suburb: the interior was aseptic and austere. The terrace was 50 yards from a railway track, busy at night, about which we had not been told. The weather was very hot; we could not comfortably close the bedroom window to try to keep out the rumble of the goods trains; we spent as much time as possible during the day away from the house; the city itself, largely rebuilt since the war, held few attractions.

Two days before we were due to start for home there was a phone call. "Anthony, this is Pamela: we want to come back now." "That's fine, Pamela," I replied, "but may I ask why?" "Certainly, Anthony: your house is filthy."

There is little you can usefully say on the phone in response to a remark like that. I did not consider it helpful to bring Julia to the phone so I swiftly agreed that they could set off at once. We left straight away as well and crossed the Rhine into Alsace where we spent two blissful days before returning to Richmond.

We arrived to find our house festooned with Post-it notes.

"This mirror is dirty down here: it's got children's fingerprints on it"

"This dust could not have got on top of these books in a fortnight"

"This [bathroom scales] has got grime underneath"

And so, pettifoggingly, on. I suggested keeping all the notes to use as a party game at Christmas: "Find where each of these should go". Julia, understandably, was very angry with Pamela and destroyed them.

A week later we got an e-mail from Intervac saying that Pamela had lodged a formal complaint with them. There really was no point in trying to rebut her claims. We resigned from Intervac and I drafted an e-mail, to be sent on 30 November 2004. "Pamela, take great care tonight. Fifty years ago the Royal Air Force destroyed the centre of your city: tonight they come back to target Zähringen." I didn't send the e-mail.

The whole sorry incident was recalled yesterday evening by the horrid dish I had cooked. But, as the Italians say, la vendetta è un piatto che va servito freddo. This post on my blog now enables me to lance the boil and serve our dish five years very cold.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Slide Rule: the autobiography of Nevil Shute

I can catch a 38 bus just outside the premises in Grosvenor Place where tutorials are held weekly to go to Clerkenwell, where I spend the night at my daughter's. The 38 goes down Piccadilly and this Tuesday I got out at the Royal Academy and walked across the road to Hatchards to buy Jan Morris's Conundrum which we will be discussing during the Liberated Women tutorial in a fortnight's time. The biography section there is big. By chance I picked up Slide Rule for light reading because Neville Shute had been a widely-read novelist when I was young and because I believed that he had had some connection with the manufacturers of one of the aircraft on which I had trained. This, as you may read, was a happy choice.

I read the book with astonishment. It was as if I had discovered that Charles Dickens had raised the money in the City to start a large blacking factory or as if Jane Austen had written novels as a relaxation from the rigours of running her fashionable boutique in Bath.

The title of the book may need some explanation to those growing up in a digital age. A slide rule is an instrument for multiplying numbers. It has one rule which slides within an outer rule, each marked with numbers which are distant from each number not by their arithmetical distance but by their logarithmic one. This enables you to add the logarithms of two numbers together and read off the result as if you had multiplied them together. Dependent upon the scale of the rule, you can multiply two large numbers quickly and easily with quite accurate results. Engineers naturally used slide rules extensively. One definition that used to be given of an engineer was someone who multiplied 2 by 2 on a slide rule, found the answer was 3.998 and rounded up the answer to 4.

Nevil Shute was born in the same year as my mother, 1899. He was the son of a senior civil servant educated in the classics, but he early showed much more interest in things practical and mechanical. During vacations from Oxford he talked himself into unpaid work with the infant de Havilland aircraft company. "Oxford was less important to me than my vacation work, which perhaps explains why I did no better than third class honours in my Finals. It is difficult to pump up any enthusiasm for the theory of concrete dams or electrical machinery when I was so deeply concerned with aviation."

He got a full-time job with de Havillands but left them in 1924 because all the senior men were only slightly older than he was. At that time conventional wisdom held that aeroplanes would always be too small for satisfactory long-distance passenger carrying, for which airships were the obvious answer. He joined the giant Vickers company who were putting together a team under the legendary Barnes Wallis to design and build an airship, the R.100, as the private-enterprise contender to the state-sponsored R.101. The relative merits of private enterprise versus state sponsorship in the development of grands projets have seldom if ever been more starkly analysed than by Shute, or apocalyptically described. In 1930 the R.100, with Shute on board as by now the leader of the project, made a successful return flight to Canada. The R.101, with the Air Minister on board, crashed in northern France on its way to India, burning 48 people to death.

Throughout this time and while he was working as the engineer Mr Cornwall, he wrote novels in his spare time as relaxation. When one was finally published, he chose as his nom de plume his forenames, thinking that he would be devalued as an engineer if he wrote under his surname.

With the abandonment by the government of airship development, Shute set out with a talented designer to establish an aircraft manufacturing company. The easy bit, he found, is making aeroplanes: the difficult bit is funding their manufacture. Anybody who has sought to raise money for a new venture or who has had to try to keep a company afloat when underfunded will suffer vicariously with him as he describes his efforts to do so. The agonising debates over product development will likewise resonate: do you stick with the tried-and-true or do you seek to compete with the big boys by being innovative? As he puts it, "The whole of Airspeed was a gamble, anyway; there was no future for us playing safe. We decided to incorporate a retractable undercarriage, hydraulically operated, in the new design."

This design was the precursor of the Airspeed Oxford, a twin-engined aircraft for which the company received an order for 136 from the Air Ministry in October 1936, as part of Britain's belated re-armament programme. This was principally used by the RAF as an advanced trainer: over the next eight years 8,751 Oxfords were built, 4,961 by Airspeed and many of the rest by its old rival and later owner, de Havillands.

The tone at end of the book is not, however, triumphant. In April 1938 his Board sacked him "to quell the disputes which were plaguing the company". Business, he writes, has "the starters and the runners, the men with a creative instinct who can start a new venture and the men who can run it to make it show a profit. They are very seldom contained in the same person. In Airspeed the time for starters was over and it was now for the runners to take over the company. I was a starter and useless as a runner; there was nothing now for me to start, and I was not unwilling to go after the first shock to my pride."

It is easy now to understand why he prefaces the book with a quotation from Stevenson, "To travel hopefully is better than to arrive, and the true success is to labour."

I plan to write a future post including a story about the hydraulically operated retractable undercarriage on the Airspeed Oxford, the aircraft on which I did my training in 1952-1953.



Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Trafalgar Day

The post with this title with yesterday's date was uploaded in draft form yesterday, ready for posting first thing this morning with today's date from Number Two Daughter's house in Clerkenwell.

Trafalgar Day is of course today, 21 October, not yesterday. Blogger is not as good as it could and should be as a blog service.

Third tutorial: fathers and sons

Review on individual progress with our bibliographies – the awesome Clarissa – my moan about lack of "the literature" about my topic (autobiography on blog/WWW) – John Sutherland (c.2000), Nicholson Barker (contra destruction of paper), Soc. Authors 1/4ly.

Primary focus on Father and Son (Edmund Gosse: see post on Monday for my notes) – when published in 1907 broke the mould of de mortuis nil nisi bono – not praising father, as expected hitherto – divers issues raised:
- How much did EG understand as a child those things he reported as an adult?
- Why was F&S written when it was (EG aetat 58)?
- What were his motives?
- How much is authentic?

Crux publication of Omphalos – savaging by both creationists and evolutionists * – retreat from society – current scientific ferment with Chambers, Wallace (plebs) and Darwin (gent) – who gets the glory?

Secondary focus on When Did You Last See Your Father? (Blake Morrison, 1993: first [?] of now prevalent confessional genre} – search by son of truth about affair between pa and neighbour – silence by all three involved parties – none of son's business? – irony that F&S and WDYLSYF were only successful books by professional writers EG and BM.

Discussion about other sons: Auberon Waugh on Evelyn, Martin Amis on Kingsley, John Mortimer on pater.

Are these works evidence of Oedipal slaying of fathers by sons?

Canter through limited number of books by daughters about mothers, e.g. Lyndall Hopkinson on Antonia White, Constance Briscoe (first black female judge), Mary Soames on Clementine Churchill (?!).

* Omphalos (Gr navel) posited that when God created the world he gave it the appearance of one that had had a past, thus Adam was created with a navel though not of woman born. But "Neither side, it seems, wanted God to fake the data: one side, because it did not want that sort of God; the other, because it did not want that sort of data" (The Rejection of Omphalos: A Note on Shifts in the Intellectual Hierarchy of Mid-Nineteenth Century Britain)

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Trafalgar Day

Part of the university library is housed in a building which was originally built as barracks for the Buckinghamshire Yeomanry*, a volunteer cavalry regiment formed in 1794 at the start of the of the wars with France which only ended at Waterloo in 1815.

On the first floor, which presumably served then as a dormitory, the wooden beams supporting the ceiling and roof were left untouched when the building was converted in 1975 to its present purpose. On one of these is this inscription:


This was almost certainly painted within months of the battle, because on another beam is the slogan

Burdett & Liberty,

the slogan of the supporters of Sir Francis Burdett, an early proponent of reforming the suffrage, when he sat as MP for Middlesex in 1805-1806.

The painting below of the Death of Nelson was done by the American-born President of the Royal Academy of Arts, Benjamin West. He was at a dinner in 1801 with Nelson who asked him why he had done no more paintings like the Death of Wolfe.

'Because, my Lord, there are no more subjects', answered the painter, before continuing 'But, my Lord, I fear your intrepidity will yet furnish me with such another scene; and if it should, I shall certainly avail myself of it.'

'Will you?' responded the sailor, 'Will you, Mr West? Then I hope I shall die in the next battle.'

The artist took liberties with the facts. Nelson was not killed instantly: he died three hours after being shot and being carried down to the orlop below the waterline where the surgeon worked during battle. West wrote in justification

"There was no other way of representing the death of a hero but by an Epic representation of it. It must exhibit the event in a way to excite awe and veneration ... and ... show the importance of the Hero. Wolfe must not die like a common soldier under a bush; neither should Nelson be represented dying in the gloomy hold of a ship, like a sick man in a prison hole. To move the mind there should be a spectacle presented to raise and warm the mind, and all should be proportioned to the highest idea conceived of the Hero. No boy ... would be animated by a representation of Nelson dying like an ordinary man. His feelings must be roused and his mind inflamed by a scene great and extraordinary. A mere matter of fact will never produce this effect."

The painter here expresses what many biographers have also felt, so that the written accounts of the deaths of their subjects were frequently embellished and embroidered in order to depict a worthy "Death of a Hero".

* Created the Royal Buckinghamshire Yeomanry in 1845, during a visit paid by Queen Victoria to Stowe, the seat of the third Duke of Buckingham and Chandos who supported the regiment from his own pocket. This is an example of his profligate expenditure which led to his bankruptcy in 1847 and to the eventual establishment of a public school on the site.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Fathers and Sons: Harry and Tony Randall

At the end of my blog on Saturday I wrote that I felt a post should not exceed five or six hundred words. Within 48 hours I have broken that self-imposed rule by writing at over three times that length about my relationship with my father. I therefore post a warning at the outset that what follows will interest very few people. Please don't be put off coming to this blog again because of the introspective nature of today's posts.

AGR aged 20: HJR aged 59

Reading Edmund Gosse's account of his relationship with his father inevitably caused me to consider my own case. Happily I was not, as was Gosse, an only child: my sister Mary was eight and my brother John was seven when I was born in 1933. This had two consequences. Firstly, my siblings were so much older that there was never any nursery rivalry: I was indulged by my sister and ignored by my brother. Secondly, my father's attention was focused on my brother who he hoped would have the opportunities that he had never had.

My father was born in 1895. About his father nothing is now known, save that he early left the scene. My father said next to nothing to his wife or his children about him. He once made some reference to him as a "hail fellow well met" person, but this statement, made when and to whom I do not know, was not amplified nor indeed questioned. My father's long-lasting disapproval of pubs and "four ale bars" may have much to do with his Quaker upbringing: it may also suggest that his father took to drink and abandoned his austere wife. It remains extraordinary that there should be this gap in the family record.

There was apparently enough money to enable him to be sent away to a Quaker school in the Cotswolds, but not enough for him to continue at school after the age of sixteen. In a future post I may write more about how he became a clerk in the City, of his war experiences in the Friends' Ambulance Unit and the Royal Flying Corps and of his subsequent successes in business and in horticulture, but here I wish to record merely that he achieved a lot and he wanted, or rather expected, that his children, but especially his sons, but especially his elder son, would achieve at least as much.

In 1934 my father bought Sandilands, a spacious Edwardian house with a two and a half acre garden in Woking, highly convenient for his lifetime of commuting to the City. This was the family home until the last fledgling left the nest. In June 1940, after the disaster of Dunkirk, he sent me away to the perceived safety of The Downs School far from London by the Malvern Hills, at which John ("Johnnie") was Head Boy and in his last term before going on to another Quaker school, Leighton Park.

Amongst my father's few remaining papers is the draft of a letter to Johnnie which he wrote but never sent, telling him to take over as the Head of the Family should he be killed. In November that year, during the Blitz, a stick of four bombs did straddle the house, one falling just the other side of Brooklyn Road and another on our tennis court. Most of our windows were shattered but, as the glass had been taped, my parents and Aunt Betty (my father's only sibling, who was staying there at the time) were unhurt. Shortages of men and materials meant that the windows could not be repaired for several months.

While I was at The Downs, my father sent me weekly letters, dictated to his secretary and typed by her, often exhorting me to "be responsible" and to "work like a Trojan". I did not follow these injunctions, particularly the latter. The result was that the termly school report was frequently critical. I remember my father looking like thunder on these occasions. Curiously, I do not remember what he would then say to me: nil nisi serenas or "Let others tell of rain and showers / I only count the sunny hours", as that sundial motto and my memory has it.

My recollection is always of paternal encouragement in my boyhood activities. He was particularly happy when I took up, spontaneously I believe, his boyhood hobby of stamp collecting. I became an avid collector; I subscribed to Gibbons Stamp Monthly; I spent most of my pocket money on stamps at the Woking stamp shop. My father praised the neatness of my albums; I studied where the stamps came from and found out what stories they told; aged thirteen I wrote (but never alas completed) The History of the British Empire on Stamps; I saw this as the first step towards achieving my ambition of becoming Curator of the King's Stamps.

Curiously, he did nothing positive to instil in me his horticultural interest. Rather than set aside a small area as a children's garden, as Prince Albert and Queen Victoria did for their children at Osborne, he tended to view us as auxiliary help in the garden. I reacted against this, seeing no reason why I should tear myself away from my stamps or whatever and get my hands dirty when he already had a gardener to do the little jobs he asked me to do. Consequently I have never understood the delight which so many others find in tending a garden: to this day I cannot tell a pansy from a peony.

Whereas paternal encouragement encourages, paternal discouragement doesn't necessarily discourage. Aged perhaps eight I follow one of the Ministry of Food's recipes for Carrot Sweets, sugar of course being heavily rationed. I put some on a plate and trot down the garden and offer them to my father and his gardener. "Thank you, Tony: these look lovely!" "Thank you, Master Tony." I smile and go back to the house. I make the mistake of Lot's Wife and look back. I see them spitting out my lovingly-prepared sweetmeats. Despite this childhood setback I still cook: in fact, for the last three years, I have almost entirely taken over the cooking at home from Julia.

In the summer of 1944, when Johnnie had just left Leighton Park where he had been captain of the First XI, my father got two local lads, on leave from the RAF, to give a coaching session to his elder son who had been selected to play a few matches for the Surrey Colts. These young men had both played for the Surrey county side in the last peace-time summer, one excelling with the bat and the other with the ball. Johnnie took his place in the nets on the main Sandilands lawn and, I believe, dealt creditably with their deliveries. After this session my father indulgently let me have ten minutes with them, but asked them to bowl much more slowly. I can now reasonably claim that I am the only man still living who has faced Eric Bedser and his twin brother Alec (Wisden Cricketer of the Year three years later and spearhead of the England attack for a decade) bowling underarm.

Johnnie's relationship with our father at times was difficult, perhaps because of unfulfilled expectations. His cricketing peaked about this time; his easy charm and striking good looks led him to pursue an active social life; his academic achievements at the two universities he attended were not commensurate with his abilities. Undoubtedly he attracted much of the flak which otherwise might have come my way: being a younger son has many advantages.

In the summer term of 1947, my last year at The Downs, I went through the humiliation of being de-prefected for the offence of letting the dormitory for the discipline of which I was responsible continue reading by daylight after official lights-out. My father was a governor of the school and had at some stage I suspect crossed the headmaster: this was (and is) my explanation as to why he had always behaved malevolently towards me. He officiously wrote to my father about my offence. My father took the attitude that my motives were praiseworthy, but that if I was going to transgress silly rules, I shouldn't get caught. My admiration for my father soared. We had recently acted an abridged Hamlet. My father, I swore, was like Hamlet's father: "A combination, and a form indeed, / where every god did seem to set his seal, / To give the world assurance of a man."

That autumn I went on to Leighton Park where Johnnie's prowess was still remembered: he had been gymnastics champion and in the First XV as well as being Captain of Cricket. I was a weed and a bit of a book-worm. When I turned seventeen I was still less than five foot six, my voice still hadn't broken and I could scarcely break fifteen seconds for the hundred yards. There was therefore no place for me in any rugger team and I only just scraped into the third eleven in my final year.

Fortunately, I was at the right school, because the Quaker ethos that underpinned it meant that different talents were valued (more or less) equally. I continued with the printing that I had started at prep school, took up bookbinding, won the recitation prize (doing Lepanto and a bit of the Rubaiyat) and did sufficiently well academically to be encouraged to stay on for an extra term after the Upper Sixth to take the Oxford scholarship exams in history. This, it was explained, would mean that I would probably be offered a place in the event of my not winning anything, but also that it would shorten my impending two years' National Service by four months.

The letters of congratulation I received from the masters who had taught me when Trinity College did indeed award me an open scholarship (albeit a minor one) were particularly gratifying because of the note of surprise they all contained. Their surprise was nothing compared to mine. My father, on the other hand, did not express surprise, nor did he particularly congratulate me. My hypothesis, nearly three score years later, is that he was subconsciously deeply envious. He had a first-class brain, but had never had the opportunity of training it at a university. He had always worked hard, and had good grounds for thinking that I had not. So, although he was proud of having been able to give me the opportunities he had never had, there must I believe have been some resentment at the somewhat lackadaisical way in which I appeared to be grasping those opportunities.

He continued indirectly to provide me with opportunities in the air force, which I had naturally elected to join on being called up immediately after leaving school. Because of the Korean War, national servicemen could volunteer for training as aircrew. At the RAF aircrew selection unit at Hornchurch in January 1954 I was asked the standard question, "Why do you want to fly?", to which I replied "Because my brother was in the London University Air Squadron and my father flew in the Royal Flying Corps". The junior service was justifiably wishing to build up the cross-generational loyalty which had long existed in the army and navy, so this statement went down very well. We had to go assessment for suitability for all five grades of aircrew: pilot, navigator, signaller, air engineer and gunner. I was very happy to pass for pilot training: I was slightly unhappy, but not entirely surprised, to be placed in the bottom 5 percentile for suitability as an air engineer.

Stories about my father's flying days and mine have no place in this account of our relationship, save this one. In June 1953 my parents drive down to visit me at RAF Tarrant Rushton, the airfield in Dorset where I was doing my jet conversion course: because of his RFC background, as well as his natural authority of manner, he had no difficulty in getting permission for this visit from the station commander. I took my father to inspect the aircraft in which I was doing my solo flying, the De Havilland Vampire Mark V. I invited him to climb into the cockpit; it was a tiny aircraft; it was a tight fit. Standing beside him I ran over the function of the various instruments. He gazed at them in something approaching bewilderment. In his day, even such basic instruments as the gyroscopic Artificial Horizon and Direction Indicator were unknown: then, you almost literally did fly by the seat of your pants.

It was at that moment, I believe, that I grew up. I wore my pilot's wings on my battledress; I held Her Majesty's commission. His place now, I saw, was wearing his eagle feather bonnet with the elders; I was now one of the tribe's young braves; the tomahawk was now in my hands.

I do not think that I am being fanciful in stating that this incident marked a sea-change in our relationship. Only once more was he to proffer stern paternal advice. When I was in my late twenties and out of a job I elected to go ski-ing. He wrote and told me that this was folly. I took no notice. Had I done so, I would not have met the girl who has been my wife for now forty four years.

Only at this stage of my life, and only as a result of embarking on this course and reading a prescribed book on a father-son relationship, have I paused to try to convey what, in a nutshell, was my father's overall influence on me. Perhaps his example taught me that "a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?" Only while I was writing this final paragraph did I look up and read the Browning poem from which this comes. His Andrea del Sarto contains another line which perhaps shows how this example has mutated throughout my career: "Dream? strive to do, and agonize to do". I first continued with the next words, "and fail in doing", but Julia on reading the draft objected strongly. She failed to see the poetic beauty of this, and prosaically insists that parts of my business career were successful. Whilst this is true, over this course I hope to convince her, and others, that there is more value in analysing disasters rather than cataloguing triumphs, at the same time seeking to show how I tried "to treat those two imposters just the same".

Fathers and Sons: Philip Henry and Edmund Gosse

This is the principal book that we will be discussing during our next tutorial, when we will be exploring the relationship between father and son as described in autobiographical writing. Right at the end the author Edmund Gosse, an early twentieth century man of letters, states that the book is not an autobiography but is the history of his relationship with his father until this breaks down catastrophically in his twenty first year, in parallel with Gosse's description of his emerging sense of self.

The father, Philip Henry Gosse, was a talented Victorian zoologist and a zealous member of the extremely puritanical Plymouth Brethren. He wrote a book two years before the publication of The Origin of Species in which he sought to explain why the geological evidence of the antiquity of rocks can be reconciled with the biblical evidence that the world was created in seven days. This book, Omphalos, failed however to satisfy either the Evolutionists or the Creationists.

His spiritual journey had led him towards an Evangelical and Calvinistic sect in which Faith and not Works is the only path to Salvation. His reading of the Bible and in particular his interpretation of the Book of Revelations lead him to believe that the Second Coming is imminent, with the Elect – naturally including him and his son – borne to heaven where they would be reunited with his wife. These extreme beliefs, along with his relatively low income, resulted in the comfortless and arid home in which Edmund grew up. Relationships with other boys, particularly those who are not Saved, were not encouraged; frivolities were forbidden; works of fiction were not to be read and pictures other than on religious topics were not to be seen; Sunday was strictly observed, with two services and attendance at Sunday School and with only bible reading and praying in between.

Yet the father loved the son: in overseeing his son's development in this way he was following not only his own inclinations but was also fulfilling the vow that his wife had asked him to make on her death-bed. And the son loved the father; even the slowly-dawning awareness that his father was not infallible and omniscient did not of itself affect that love.

The sickly and lonely child grew into a boy that in his eleventh year was able to enjoy the company of other boys outside his sect in the Devon coastal village they now lived, with the unspoken compact between them that they would not mock him as one of the 'Saints' in his sect if he did not attempt to wash them with the Blood of the Lamb. He also went to school, having up till then been haphazardly educated by his father, at first in the village school and later at an a boarding school for Evangelicals in nearby Teignmouth, but in both places his solitary upbringing and religious beliefs stopped him from making friends.

When seventeen he was allowed by his father to go and live with relatives in London, but the father did not relax his efforts to ensure that the son remained among the elect. Edmund received frequent, often daily letters, which cross-examined him about his spiritual life and to which answers were demanded. Finally on holiday in Devon in his twenty first year he begs his father to let him alone; the father explains he is doing everything for his good and his salvation; the son leaves; the father immediately writes a letter, quoted almost in its entirety, which refuses to accept the son's desire for autonomy.

The final paragraphs of the book celebrates the changes in society during his lifetime and the disappearance of the narrow puritanical outlook on life described in so many nineteenth century biographies and autobiographies.

The reading of this book caused me to think deeply about my relationship with my father and to write about it in another post at considerable length. This left me little time to read the other prescribed books dealing with this primal relationship in the Waugh family over three generations.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

“For He Had Spoken Lightly of a Woman’s Name”

Today I have added stuff to my profile, under Favourite Films and Favourite Books.

Choosing these titles is hard. I remember the difficulty I had 55 years ago choosing the books to take up with me to Oxford: I wanted desperately to choose a range that would indicate that I was a serious but fun-loving, or rather fun-loving but serious, kind of chap.

I can't remember what I chose, but almost certainly one book was The Last Enemy, the memoir of an Oxford oarsman who was badly burnt as a Spitfire pilot in the Battle of Britain: reading it had been one of the reasons I chose to go to his college, Trinity.

But I certainly do remember choosing the picture to hang on the wall over my mantelpiece (in those days we had coal fires in our rooms): it is the one at the top of this post. As you can see, the bounder who Had Spoken Lightly has had his come-uppance and is now lying wounded (superficially? mortally? there is no way of telling) at the foot of M'Lady's avenger. This was deliberately chosen to seek to indicate to any female visitor to my rooms that I was a Very Parfit Gentle Knight.

The books I now list start, as they did then, with The Last Enemy. His portrait then hung in the Junior Common Room at Trinity: you can see it now by clicking here.

Next there is Brideshead Revisited, which I read in 1949 in one of the set of ten Waughs published by Penguin in paperback. Its heroine Julia Flyte inspired me to marry one Julia in 1960 and another Julia in 1965. I have now been married to the second Julia one hundred times longer than to the first.

Then there is The Once and Future King, in which T.H. White (who, incidentally, at the time of writing it was a master at Stowe School, a couple of miles from where we now live) puts Mallory's Morte d'Arthur into prose and shows the social and military changes between the Norman Conquest and the Wars of the Roses as all taking place in the lifetime of a single man, King Arthur.

I cannot omit two page-turners from my boyhood. In Greenmantle the upright Richard Hannay foils a dastardly Boche plot to foment a jehad against Great Britain in the Great War. John Buchan wrote other books with the same hero, as well as a handful of serious histories. Michael Maclagan, my tutor at Trinity, told me that John Buchan had once asked him which of his books he had liked the best, and was somewhat discomfited when Michael firmly said "Greenmantle!"

In The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard and The Adventures thereof
Conan Doyle tells rollicking tales about a swaggering Gascon beau sabreur in Napoleon's light cavalry. His touching boastfulness and naivety make him for me a much more sympathetic hero than the much more famous Baker Street detective: it seems that Conan Doyle preferred Etienne to Sherlock as well. Even now I can't read How Etienne Gerard Said Good-Bye to his Master with a wholly dry eye.

I finish the list with a couple of questing tales. The Decipherment of Linear B by John Chadwick tells how the amateur Michael Ventris succeeded where professionals had failed to unlock the meaning of this C16BC Minoan script. The Double Helix by James Watson describes how, when he wasn't trying to bed Swedish au pairs in Cambridge, he and Francis Crick solved the biggest riddle in twentieth century biology.

I believe that a blog post should not exceed six hundred words or so: no more than a single click on the vertical scroll bar should be necessary. Therefore I will say nothing about anything else, except to say to my legion of transatlantic readers that A Matter of Life and Death is known on your side of the herring pond as Stairway to Heaven and Big Deal at Dodge City as A Big Hand for the Little Lady.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Ten Steps to Setting up Your Own Publishing Company

I e-mailed Richard Hallows on Tuesday, asking him if he would let me have the PowerPoint slides that he showed us the previous evening, describing how Spikethecat was launched. He did, but it turns out that you can't export these as any kind of text file. He was able to include the text in a further e-mail, which made it easy to format as this post.

Starting Up    

Step 1 – Company Formation
•    Company name: spikethecat limited
•    Cost £95.00
•    Bank Account

Step 2 – PO Box
•    PO Box 2179, Buckingham, Cost £140.00

Step 3 – ISBN Numbers
•    Cost £200.00

First Publication    

Step 4 – Find Some Content
•    Own stories for first publication
•    Writing competitions for next collections
•    Mailshot to 600 writing groups (£180 in stamps and stationary)
•    Email to library services in thirty counties (free)
•    News item in Writers' News and Writers' Forum (free)
•    Listing on writer community web sites (free)

Step 5 – Get some Cover Art
•    Zoe Day – local artist from Akely.

Step 6 – Find a printer
•    Jasprint – did the last Turweston Writing Group Anthology

Step 7 – Send Content to Printer
•    100 copies £211.00

Sales and Marketing    

Step 8 – Legal Deposit
•    British Library
•    Neilson Book Data Registration

Step 9 – Sell Locally
•    Friends and family
•    Swan and Pen/Turweston Writing Group
•    Canvas art supplies
•    Local Bookshops

Step 10 – Sell on the Web
•    Amazon

Richard did all this in less than a month and for less than £1,000. His use of new technology reminds me of the article I read in The Economist in December 1976 which described how new phototypesetting machinery was enabling small companies to enter the market and challenge bigger ones using Linotype and Monotype hot metal machines. This was the impulse which led us to go to the USA in the spring of 1977 to see the latest equipment in use and to borrow the necessary money from Julia's Philadelphian foster-brother to start Randall Typographic Limited.


Thursday, 15 October 2009

You win some, you lose some

After getting interviews with Martin Gilbert (in person in London) and Nigel Hamilton (by Skype in Boston) before term started I was blithely confident that I would be able to get one with Fiona MacCarthy (the latest biographer of Eric Gill) during the Christmas vacation. The following e-mail was written after the events described in The best laid schemes to help Christopher try to bring about such an interview.

A G Randall to C T Lucas
Saturday, October 10, 2009 11:58 AM
Subject: Nut graf

Good morning, Christopher!

This was the phrase I forgot yesterday when discussing the obituary you wrote: see for more. ...

The name of my old friend and new neighbour and godson of Eric Gill is Paul Burns: Julia's old friend whom she saw in Hammersmith before coming on to you is Antonia Salisbury and she has a caravan at Pigotts(1): the son of the person who bought Pigotts from Gill told me a wonderful story about David Kindersley(2) and Gill's stone lawn roller: my favourite typeface when I had an Adana printing press(3) as a boy was Perpetua(4). Open sesame?

In public I now use … a shorter, more demotic, name, a bit like Viscount Stansgate transmogrifying into Tony Benn.

A bientôt, A

C T Lucas to A G Randall
15 October 2009 12:11
Subject: Re: Nut graf


I like nut graf.

You'll find my obit of Sam Lloyd in today's Guardian.

I'm afraid I haven't been able to secure you an interview with Fiona MacCarthy. She's at home near Sheffield and in a state of purdah as she tries to meet her Burne-Jones deadline. Husband David Mellor, the silversmith, died after a long struggle with alzheimers a couple of months ago so I think it's understandable. Sorry. I hope you find a good third alternative.

as ever


As they say, you win some, you lose some. And as they also say, there are more fish in the sea than ever came out of it.

(1) Pigotts is a farm high in the Chilterns near High Wycombe and the location of Eric Gill's third and last artistic community: when I first went there in the 60s there were cases of his type (he had set up a printing business with his son-in-law) locked away in an outhouse and there was a tiny gravestone lying around with To Elsie and her kittens carved on it.

(2) David Kindersley was the last of Gill's apprentices. In the 90s he revisited Pigotts and asked "Is the lawn roller that I carved still around, by any chance?" Click here and you will see a photo of it with the news that it had been sold for a not inconsiderable sum in 1991 to the Leeds Art Gallery as a piece of Gill sculpture, which the Robinsons believed it to be, rather than by one of his apprentices. But doubtless Gill had had the idea for the work: it would be absolutely typical of him to have stressed the carnal nature of the relationship between Adam and Eve. Doubtless too Gill would have conceived the grand design, then like a Renaissance master left it to an apprentice to complete the work under his supervision. The sale proceeds, incidentally, were immediately spent on buying an adjacent beech wood which was under threat of development.

(3) Click here to see a picture of a press identical to that which I bought in 1949 for £4 17s 6d. It had a practical type area of 4" x 5.5". On a good day you could get up to a speed of a thousand an hour, I believe: I never had print runs anything like as long as that.

(4) This paragraph is set in Perpetua, a typeface inspired by but not copied from the letters carved on Trajan's Column.

“Pure ignorance, Madam”

In my post of 7 October I referred to "our resident Fertile Crescent guru" who had told us about the quasi-autobiographies of "Sinuhe the Egyptian … and Darius the Assyrian". At our tutorial she queried my use of guru, which word to her carries connotations of charlatanism. This highlights one of the central problems of blogging, how to describe people who are likely read what you have written. This, of course, is not normally a problem with writers of offline diaries.

There is no simple solution to this. Avoid any attempt at personal description? The result would be colourless. Use a circumlocution, like "a colleague who knows a lot about …"? Result, longwinded blandness. Rely on the Humpty Dumpty defence ("`When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less")? Unacceptably arrogant. Hide behind the dictionary definition ("more generally, a person who is respected for their knowledge of a particular subject" [CIDE])? Yes, but … Meanings change, some subtly and slightly (as in this case) or dramatically: I could not write, as I could have when I was first a student, "I threw off my clothes with gay abandon and plunged into the river". So, there is no simple solution.

She also corrected me about Darius. I could rely on the Doctor Johnson defence, as described by Boswell: A lady once asked him how he came to define Pastern the KNEE of a horse: instead of making an elaborate defence, as she expected, he at once answered, 'Ignorance, madam, pure ignorance.'

Boswell actually offers one another Johnsonian defence. He describes how Johnson frequently would against a deadline dash off an essay for The Rambler and despatch it to the printer without checking it over. This is the defence I now invoke. Of course I know that Darius was a Persian and not an Assyrian, but I was careless, rushing to post something to Blogspot so that it would bear that day's date. I am also aware that by invoking Johnson I am trying to magnify my fig leaf into a magnificent suit. But I know that you, dear reader, will be like the little child in the story of the Emperor's New Clothes and see me and my defence for what it really is.

This incident does however raise the question about whether one should edit previous posts, since so doing is changing the authenticity of the text. I have decided that it is permissible, provided that one clearly highlights the changes. This I am doing by showing the change in red and dating it. Click here to see how the post now looks.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Second tutorial: Queen Victoria

Warning Posts about tutorials will be of interest to practically nobody. Why, then, am I proposing to write them? Purely as an experiment in seeing how I can use new technology to record the main issues discussed in a class quickly and – to me alone – usefully. This explains why I am going to write them in telegraphese

Discussion about self-writing selected in Queen Victoria in her Letters and Journals (ed. Hibbert)

CH: astonishing written output: "she wrote on average 2,500 words every day of her adult life ... total of some 60 million" (Giles St Aubyn: who he?)

The Bedchamber Crisis: QV constitutionally incorrect in resisting change of ladies-in-waiting at change of government: distress at losing Melbourne

Lady Flora Hastings incident: QV's lack of sympathy: but antipathy to perceived continuation of attempts by Conroy et al to control her ("Kensington system")

QV's journal confessional, unlike e.g. E7's which was database of people met

Why did she start journal? Mother (Conroy?) instilling discipline: "began as duty, continued as therapy, but never with desire to control the future" (JM-J)

Her papers left to d. Beatrice, who edited them, transcribing third and burning rest. But 1837-39 complete, thanks to transcription by Esher

Her Reminiscences, Conversations and Reflexions (commonplace book) evaded bonfire: now at Windsor: v restricted access

Her education v limited, cf that of other royal heirs, which was one-to-one instruction in history/ statecraft: practical, unlike (then) normal classical education

On death of heir presumptive Charlotte, d of G4, stampede of other sons of G3 to father an heir apparent: c. 56 bastards sired by them

V aetat 10 (?8) months: pa, 3rd son of G3, dies: subsequent search for father figure: Leopold, Melbourne – even Peel?

V aetat 20 m Albert of S-C-G: continuation of bid by SCGs for (i) export via d Vicki (m Prussian Crown Prince) of liberalism to Germany (ii) dominance in Protestant Europe. But clever Vicki (precocious, then "reading Karl Marx at Sans Souci") not simpatica. What if Fred3 hadn't died prematurely? WW1 non-event?

For sake of British monarchy, good thing that A dies in 1861: reduction of interference in ministerial matters. But henceforward no one to say nay to QV, other, perhaps, than John Brown. Relationship? Marriage certificate found in Balmoral game book (!): ring on death. Her satisfactory (if limited) sex life: the soft-porn photo "from V to A" (DvZ)

Excursion into genetics: the Purple Secret and porphyria: who had this gene? And the haemophiliac one? Old sperm v unknown mutation. Suggestion that this came from mother Victoire's lover rejected

Criticism of Hibbert for claiming A. died (1861) of stomach cancer rather than typhoid without citing evidence

Danish Glucksberg dynasty takes over from S-C-Gs as source of European crowns

After Albert the reclusive Widow of Windsor legitimates her position through publication of (just some of) her writings: books v public appearances: "We authors, Ma'am" (Dizzy to V). Reputation of uninvolved recluse belied by ongoing massive correspondence with ministers and royals post 1861

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

The Swan & Pen

Atop the bell tower [This is another example of careless and hasty writing! It's not a bell tower: it's a clock cupola. (corrected 16/10/09)] on the Old Town Hall in the centre of Buckingham stands a great gilded swan, with its outstretched wings aiding its function as a weather vane. The swan is the heraldic symbol of the county, normally depicted on pub signs adorned with a golden crown around its neck. Attached to the crown is a chain, a symbol of feudal servitude. But in Buckingham there is no chain: Burgluft Macht Frei (city sky makes [you] free).

The name of the town's literary society is naturally therefore the Swan & Pen, reminiscent of the Wig & Pen Club whose premises in the Strand are reputed to be the only building to have survived the Great Fire of London. No lawyer or journalist myself, my interest in that club is that it was the second organisation to take out a contract in 1969 with my newly-formed washroom hygiene company, Waterloo Services. But that's another story …

The first meeting of the new season of the Swan & Pen was held yesterday evening with our Chairman, a one-time IBM and Cable & Wireless wage slave, addressing us on The internet, e-books, blogs, tweets and twitters, and what it might mean for writing in the future. He spent most of the time talking interestingly enough about the physical nature of the Internet and its adjuncts, but for my money nothing like enough concerning the much more interesting question posed in the second half of the title.

However he did after the interval go through the Ten Steps to Setting up Your Own Publishing Company, the which he has just done within a month and for the expenditure of less than a thousand quid. He didn't know how to do so when he started but, such is the extent of information now available online, he was able to google his way through nine of the ten steps and to take the remaining one by calling in on the art shop a stone's throw from the Old Town Hall.

I'm just about to e-mail Richard to ask him if he would be good enough to share these steps with all of you, my expectant and multitudinous readers.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Obit essentials

An obituary is a mini biography, but not "warts and all": de mortuis nil nisi bono is a maxim* still followed, even in these debunking times. As this brief guide from The Guardian emphasizes, the obit should make clear "how good a person was and what a loss their death represents."

Following our talk on Friday I have now received this interesting text from Christopher Lucas, whose obituary of the architect Sam Lloyd has yet to be published.


If possible, give the main subject or a significant episode a good run before the born in biography starts.

born in [where?]
(maiden name)
line on family background
school(s), college/university, what studied, and year(s)

The object of the exercise is to produce highly readable accounts of notable lives so that general readers can get at least something out of even the most specialist figures. Information, arguments and ideas want to be conveyed with a minimum of explicit tribute, so that readers build their own picture of how good a person was and what a loss their death represents. For an academic, the emphasis should be on original research and its impact rather than on university administration. For a scientist, technologist or mathematician, it's always good to demonstrate parallels, practical outcomes and applications.

The narrative wants to move quickly, taking readers from start to finish in a single sweep before they've realised it. If it starts feeling slow, then it's not working. Please make the chronology clear by giving years wherever possible for degrees, events, books, films and recordings.

If you knew the person and think it appropriate, use just their first name after the first mention of the name and surname at the start; in that case, it's good to include a first-person reference to indicate your relationship to the person.

§ name of spouse/partner (with year of marriage if readily available) surviving family, with numbers of sons/daughters, not mentioning the fact of any adoption (grandchildren and divorced spouses aren't needed, though the fact of any previous marriages should be mentioned)

§ writer's name

§ in the tag at the end: full name including middle names, occupation, date of birth, date of death


* General maxim: was it Lord Macaulay or Dr Johnson?

The hero of some of the thrillers by Gavin Lyall is a Major Maxim, who gave as his reason why he would never succeed in his profession of arms Dr Johnson's dictum "There is nothing more useless than a general maxim".

I now have Boswell's Life of Johnson in the Gutenberg edition on my hard drive, and this does not contain the phrase "general maxim". Googling the phrase leads to which gives the coiner as Lord Macaulay, without stating the source. Given that this is correct, is my memory faulty, or was that of Gavin Lyall? In either case, does this suggest that anything that sounds maxim-like is by default attributed to The Great Cham?

Our reading for last week’s tutorial referred to an article in the New Scientist (McCrone 2003) about falsification of memory: this post prompts me to read the article next week.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

I've added the start of the first and the end of the latest posts from Steve Schachlin's old and new blogs, visited after writing today's first post. He wrote the first when he thought he was mortally threatened by AIDS. His blog is life-affirming.

Sunday, March 24, 1996

Day One

Hello, dear reader. I've never seen another person's diary on the internet before, so I'm flying blind on this one. Diaries of others are never interesting for me, but I know that some people love peering into the lives of others. Plus, I'm dealing with a lot and I need to say it all "out loud." This is day one.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

"What a wonderful world we live in! Love, community, song, Donna Sachet -- there's so much for which to be grateful. Battles remain, for sure, but we are closer now to freedom than at any time in our history. Take some time-out to relax and join us as we celebrate in song," concluded McGuire.

Biography, Winter 2003: 2

I've already written about the issue in the Biography journal devoted to Online Lives. I read the second article, Teaching an Old Genre New Tricks: The Diary on the Internet by Laurie McNeill this morning and I am now writing up the notes that I pencilled at the time.

As with my posts about tutorials, I am doing this for my sole benefit, to find out whether this particular use of a blog is an efficient way of storing notes. My comments on the summary are in square brackets.

This article examines the diary's transformation from print culture practice to online phenomenon, considering the implications of this change for the diary as a literary genre and as life writing. This discussion explores the challenges the online diary represents to traditional concepts of the genre as private and monologic, investigating the ways in which online diarists attract readers, build communities, and create identities in cyberspace.

Her personal reaction to ODs (online diaries): "supersize narcissism", much badly written/unedited

PDs (physical diaries) "associated with the spiritual, the therapeutic, and the strictly private" – delays before publication (if ever)

ODs now easily launched thru' templates from Diaryland, Blogger and LiveJournal [all still active: need to study further] – not private (but some exceptions) – all published – facility for retro-writing – should this be allowed/encouraged?

03/02 800K blogs registered [with whom and how? how many now?]

"Readers expect self-exposure and the telling of secrets"

"The confessor stays behind the 'grille' of the Internet, allowing the diarist – and the – reader – the illusion of anonymity necessary for 'full' self-exposure

V Woolf on PD: "capacious hold-all"

With PDs, diary and journal (usually) regarded as synonymous. Distinction made by some ODists (e.g. Jane Pinckard, with former=immediate, latter=reflective) [JP still active: see]

With pics and sound, OD carries on diary-as-scrapbook tradition

Links can anchor narrative in "actual" places, or to external posts

"ODists have made community-building a major component of their texts", e.g. via Webrings which legitimate/endorse ODs

Newbies can use [About me], [FAQs], [Cast], [First time?] links on Home Page to join community fast

ODists crave feedback, hence hit counters, guestbooks, forums and e-mail address. Resentment of readers who don't contact (=lurkers/blurkers)

"Absence of an active, responsive audience would be a significant blow"

Password protection can limit access to certain parts of site to privileged readers

OD is "new artform", Steve Schachlin, OD pioneer (1996) and AIDS campaigner. Confusion of textual and lived life, with "S now both producer and product of his autobiographical narrative" (paralleled by his offline career as speaker): see "Living in the Bonus Round"

[Note all the above refers to personal websites or templates more sophisticated than Blogger]
[These notes say insufficient about how ODists attract readers: go back and add more]

Friday, 9 October 2009

The best laid schemes …

… o' mice an' men gang aft agley and so they did for me, this sunny day.

Yesterday I'd found that a book I needed to read before next week's tutorial was not available in the university library but that, as it's by a popular historian (Christopher Hibbert), it is kept in the county reserve stock in Aylesbury and they said that I could come in and collect it.

Julia was due to go to Twickenham today for a luncheon for old Richmond neighbours, with a quick visit to a friend of even longer standing in Hammersmith, so I suggested that I drive to Aylesbury this morning and that she take the car on to London while I return to Buckingham by bus. Off we went, I stop a stone's throw from the stock room, put the brake on and get out with the engine still running for Julia to take over and drive south. I get the book, catch the hourly Buckingham bus with only a short wait (passed quickly by beginning to read it) and get back home without a care until …

… until I put my hand in my pocket for the front door key and felt the presence of the starter gizmo, the thing that our new Renault has instead of an ignition key which merely needs to be on your person rather than in the car. I rush indoors: the other gizmo is in its normal place, not in Julia's bag. I look at the answering machine: it's flashing: there are messages from her saying that she's in Hammersmith but of course she can't restart the car and would I prefer her to get it taken to a garage or come down myself with the spare gizmo? From a cost point of view that's a no-brainer, so I phone her to tell her to go to Twickenham by public transport, I'll collect the car from Hammersmith and then pick her up at three o'clock after lunch.

So, bang go my plans for the day.

Coach, coach, tube, bus, car: I arrive twenty five minutes late, lunchless and, despite being able to read on the coach, a bit miffed. Christopher, not Julia's hostess Tina, opens the door. "Come in," he says "the ladies are still chin-wagging over coffee upstairs". He gives me a slice of what little was left of the delectable fish pie and a tumbler of wine: I quickly feel better. We talk easily and intimately, as old friends do. I tell him about the course I am doing: he tells me, because of our overlap of interest, of the obituary he has recently written of a colleague of his when he was running the RSA.

"They didn't at first want to run an obituary on him", he continued, "so I had a word with Fiona McCartney, who's got a lot of pull at the Guardian and that quickly sorted things out."

"You mean, the person who did that remarkable biography of Eric Gill?"

"Yes, and of Byron and William Morris: she's working on Burne-Jones at the moment."

I quickly outline my wish to interview prominent biographers to get their personal statements about how new technology has changed the way they work and ask "Could you get me an introduction?"

The auguries are good.

It's an ill wind that blows no good.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Biography, Winter 2003: 1

I've already written [click here to see] about the issue in the journal Biography devoted to Online Lives. I read the first article, Screening Moments, Scrolling Lives: Diary Writing on the Web by Madeleine Sorapure this morning and I am now writing up the notes that I pencilled at the time.

As with my posts about tutorials, I am doing this for my sole benefit, to find out whether this particular use of a blog is an efficient way of storing notes: it is certainly an incentive to writing them. My comments on the main points in the article are in square brackets.

An analysis of online diaries suggests some of the ways in which autobiographical stories and subjects are shaped on the Web. The computer as a writing tool, and the Web as a publishing medium, influence the practices of diary writing, affecting how diaries are written, what is written and to whom, and how they are read and interpreted.

Research initially focussed on
(i), with its quarterly prizes for best this, that &c. [Written in 2002: this site now gone]
(ii) "Cher écran" Journal personnel, ordinateur, Philippe Lejeune. [Available from for EUR21.09, where it has this 1* review: Un livre bâclé (thrown together). Beaucoup de témoignages de gens tenant un journal intime sur leur ordinateur, assez peu d'analyses. L'auteur se contente de compiler les propos de ses correspondants. Au final c'est un peu vide. On l'a connu plus inspiré. Un peu cher pour ce que c'est...]

A diary is both text and artefact. What is the artefact of an OD (online diary)? [Does it matter?] OD ephemeral, c.f. paper, but permanent [?] with e.g. Wayback Machine. ["As of 2009 [update] the Wayback Machine contained about 3 petabytes (1000 to the power of 5) of data and was growing at a rate of 100 terabytes (1000 to the power of 4) per month, as compared with the 12 terabytes/month growth rate reported in 2003."]

Typical ODs, such as Diarist Best Design 2002 [this site now gone], has segmented home page. Bits of diary text are items of data which can be sorted by the reader according to the segments specified by the diarist.

PD (physical diary) characteristics: (i) chronological (ii) publication (if ever intended) not immediate (iii) designed to be read A-Z, earliest first

OD characteristics: (i) chronological only if not segmented (ii) publication immediate and universal (but some attempts to restrict access to parts or all) (iii) designed to be read Z-A, latest first

Diary entries show parataxis [Each bit is potentially standalone and of equal importance, with none subordinate, linkable by and: c.f. hypotaxis, where causal linkages shown], c.f. autobiography, where narrative requires conjunction/transition between bits or events.

Parataxis shares logic of database, which is basically list of fundamentally unordered items [until ordered by running e.g. a query]

Autobiography is retrospective and linear: diary isn't.

Links [<a href=…>] can provide some order within OD: they provide multiple ways of organising data/text, hence enabling reader to browse along path of choice: see complexity of [Still going, and excellent, with: 1. Hierarchical Table of Contents 2. Table of Contents in Reverse Chronological Order 3. Table of Contents in Forward Chronological Order]

Contrast between weblog and web journal ["with its connotations of greater distance and detachment"]

With ODs being linked in Webrings, reader can read latest entries in multiple ODs [cui bono?]. Reference to 'blurbs, e.g. Artists, with list of 79 online journals, and Autumn Leaves, with 31 golden oldies' ODs. [No trace of either today]

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Number Two Daughter

Helena Clare Marsh, known to all and forever as Henny, was the ugliest baby at birth you ever did see but, it's true, Ugly Ducklings do grow up to be Swans. She developed belatedly her innate artistic talent and enrolled as a mature student at St Martin's, the Oxford of art teaching. She interrupted her course twice to nurture each of her sons but was each time allowed to resume because of her consistently high grades.

She makes her appearance on this blog now partially because of her appearance in the preamble to the post about yesterday's tutorial but primarily because of her involvement with blogs in her final year project.

She has not yet given this project a title, and it is easy to see why not. She wants (if I understand her correctly) to compare the idealised view of motherhood, traditionally associated with caring, nurturing and selflessness, with what she believes is the unspoken reality, which is that conscious manifestations of these qualities are balanced by subconscious feelings of rage (or worse) at the loss of personal autonomy as the result of giving birth.

She thinks that the conflict between these two viewpoints in artists who have recently become mothers is the primary reason for the dearth of art works by such people. To seek evidence for this thesis she has started examining blogs, particularly the category known as 'Mom [or Momma] Blogs'. Googling these brings up 314,000 and 15,800 references respectively: finding evidence to support her thesis in this way is clearly going to be an arduous process.

Her professional interest in blogs meant that, when she came to deliver her sons to us for a brief visit this past weekend, she showed more than filial interest in my term project about autobiography on blogs. She reacted positively to my tentative suggestion that you might be able to graft your life story onto your blog, which often is a sequential diary of current events, with a series of flashbacks linked to past events.

I'll be discussing this idea of flashbacks more fully later this week.

First tutorial: What is autobiography?

I'll be seeking to write a brief summary of what happened at each of our weekly tutorials, doing so as soon as possible afterwards while going back to Buckingham or (as today) in a restaurant in Chinatown, starting it before the arrival of the wun tun soup and finishing most of it before going to bed at Number Two Daughter's house in Clerkenwell.

Warning Posts about tutorials will be of interest to practically nobody. Why, then, am I proposing to write them? Purely as an experiment in seeing how I can use new technology to record the main issues discussed in a class quickly and – to me alone – usefully. This explains why I am going to write them in telegraphese*

*Telegraphese A way of writing used when I was first a student to describe a style which, because telegrams were costed by the word, dispensed with unnecessary verbs, particles etcetera when preparing a telegram, a message that was transmitted, typed by a special machine onto strips of paper which were pasted onto a telegram form and delivered by a telegraph boy on a bicycle to the addressee. In the First World War the telegraph boy was like the Angel of Death, since the War Office notified the next of kin of a soldier's death by telegram: if you saw the boy come cycling up your street, your heart only stopped pounding when you saw him knock on a neighbour's door.

Difference between autobiography and memoir: I missed some of this because I was late (carelessly applied later start of next week's meeting to this week): autobiography is about self and memoir is about others, says one authority (who? I've lost the reference) : but what about memoir about particular period in one's life?

Differences between autobiography and biography:
former (i) greater emphasis on childhood (ii) typically written later in life (iii) reliant on memory (personal recall)
latter (i) greater on adulthood (ii) written at any (adult) age (iii) reliant on written evidence and (for contemporaries) on others' stories

Antiquity of autobiography: St Augustine C5 AD typically cited: even earlier, says our resident Fertile Crescent guru, with Sinuhe the Egyptian C1900 BC and Darius the Assyrian ? BC. [Darius was of course a Persian. This error was pointed out to me by our rFCg on 13 October, two days before I made this correction.]

Term autobiography first used by Robert Southey as late as 1820.

In Cs18-19, with Enlightenment attitudes being superseded by Romanticism, emphasis changing from individual in public life to him in private life. Similar trend in architecture, e.g. the corridor enables rooms to be private.

Typical 'story' of Narrative autobiography: Quest/Conversion, Confessional.

Is Narrative autobiography the norm? Cockshutt (book of the week) says Definitely. Strawson (article of the week) says Yes, but changing: can be Episodic (ODTAA [one damned thing after another]) with no consistent underlying story.

Can the Narrative demonstrate lack of success? Yes, but only if done whimsically, for why does anybody want to read about failure described seriously?

Reliability of memory: memories being blocked out, e.g. WW veterans: epigenetic [this issue not properly comprehended]: memories changing with successive recalls [read McCrone article cited via JSTOR to understand better].

After tea break

Discussion about personal study methods.

Deep reading (e.g. of weekly topic titles) versus background reading (skimming some [not all, D.G!] of those on General list).

Use of computers, specifically wordprocessors, (i) for note taking (ii) for writing. Superficial (and, it is to be hoped, preliminary) discussion of utility of databases, optical character reading, voice recorders and voice recognition software.


A post on a blog can subsequently be revised. Colleagues might like to suggest amendments to this, as some of the issues discussed merit fuller or clearer annotation.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Autumn Term reading list

Once again, text that is perfectly formatted in Word gets skewed when put through the Google blog interface. As a one-time typesetter, this grieves me. At present, however, I can see no solution to this other than laboriously editing the HTML code, which I do not have the time or the patience to do. 

Linda Anderson, Autobiography (2001)

R. Pascal, Design and Truth in Autobiography (1960)

George P Landow, Approaches to Victorian Autobiography (1979)

Avrom Fleishman, Figures of Autobiography 1983
J H Buckley, The Turning Key: Autobiography and the Subjective Impulse since 1800

James Olney, Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical (1992)

James Olney, Metaphors of Self: The Meaning of Autobiography

Julia Swindells (ed),The Uses of Autobiography (1995)

Penguin Book of Women's Lives
Shari Benstock (ed), The Private Self: Theory and Practice of Women's Autobiographical Writings (1988)

Elspeth Graham (ed), Her Own Life: Writings by 17thC Englishwomen (1989)

Valerie Sanders, The Private Lives of Victorian Women (1989)

Donna Stanton (ed), The Female Autograph (1987)

Estelle C Jelinek, Women's Autobiography: Essays in Criticism (1980)

Sidonie Smith, A Poetics of Women's Autobiography: Marginality and the Fictions of Self-Representation

Bella Brodzki and Celeste Schenck (eds), Life/Lines: Theorizing Women's Autobiography (1988)

Mary G Mason, `The Other Voice: Autobiographies of Women Writers', in James Olney (ed) Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical (1980)

Linda Anderson, Autobiography

Vince Newey and Philip Shaw (eds), Mortal Pages: Literary Lives (1996) esp. essay by Joanne Shattock on women autobiographers

Mary Jean Corbett, Representing Femininity: Middle-Class Subjectivity in Victorian and Edwardian Women's Autobiography (1992)

Carolyn Steedman,     Landscape for a Good Woman

Liz Stanley, The Auto/biographical I

R. Wendorff, Elements of Life 1990 [17th c autobiography]

P. Delaney, British Autobiography in the 17th Century 1969

Mark Dawson, 'Refiguring the Diary of Samuel Pepys', Historical Journal 2000

T. Webster, 'Approaches to Spiritual Journals', Historical Journal 1996

John Burnett, Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated Critical Bibliography, vol I 1790-1900; vol II 1900-1945

Carolyn Steedman, Past Tense

Autumn Term syllabus

Week One (Monday 28 September, 12 pm)    Buckingham
Overview and introduction
Tour of Library

Week Two (Tuesday 6 October)    London
What is autobiography?
Galen Strawson, On Narrative (2004)
A O J Cockshut, The Art of Autobiography in 19th and 20th c England (1984)

Week Three (Tuesday 13 October) London
Queen Victoria's Journal
Christopher Hibbert, Queen Victoria in Her Letters and Journals
Roger Fulford ed., Dearest Child

Week Four (Tuesday 20 October) London
Fathers and Sons
*Edmund Gosse, Fathers and Sons
Any of the following or similar:
Martin Amis, Experience
Blake Morrison, And When did You last See Your Father
Auberon or Alexander Waugh on their fathers

Week Five (Tuesday 27 October)    London
Men: Enlightenment and Romantic
Samuel Pepys, Autobiography
Edward Gibbon, Autobiography : Presentation by Maggie Oliphant
Week Six (Tuesday 3 November)    London    
Frances Wilson: Dorothy Wordsworth
Dorothy Wordsworth, Journals
Frances Wilson, The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth (2007)

Week Seven (Tuesday 10 November)
Political Autobiography
Alan Clarke, Diaries
David Reynolds, In Command of History: Churchill Fighting and Writing the First World War (2004)
Napoleon's Diaries: presentation by Dinah van Zwanenberg

Week Eight (Tuesday 17 November)    
Liberated Women
Lorna Sage, Bad Blood
Diana Athill, Stet
Lynn Barber, An Education (Penguin, 2009)
Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth
Sybille Bedford, Jigsaw / A Legacy

Week Nine (Tuesday 24 November)    
John Drew: Literary Autobiography

Week Ten (Tuesday 1 December)        
Christmas Lunch