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This blog makes liberal use of AB's journals, letters, travel notes, and other sources.

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Sunday, 20 April 2014

The Machine Stops

Friday, April 20th., Cadogan Square, London.

I walked to Dr. Griffin's to have my heart examined. He told me he had "no fault whatever to find" with my heart. Also that my arteries were those of a man of 40, and my blood pressure just a trifle below normal. I had the examination solely to satisfy Dorothy.

E. M. Forster has a new volume of short stories, "The Eternal Moment", which can only fortify his reputation as an imaginative writer. It comprises remarkable things and one quite startling thing - "The Machine Stops". This tale, of the far future, is in the vein of H. G. Wells when he is fantastic. I think that if Wells had not written "When the Sleeper Awakes" and "Tales of Space and Time", etc., etc., it would never have occurred to Forster to write "The Machine Stops". Mr. Forster has done the fantastic before but never with such complete success. Indeed Mr. Wells might have been content to sign "The Machine Stops".

It is original; it is full of imaginative invention; it hangs together; it is terrible (but with a hopeful close); it is really impressive in a very high degree. It ought not to be missed. If the majority of readers who like this sort of story are not enthusiastic about "The Machine Stops", then I will enter a retreat for critics who have prophesied falsely, and in future write nothing but reviews of seventeenth century versifiers whom nobody except their editors has ever heard of. The title of the book itself is the title of the last story, and one may surmise therefore that this story is the author's favourite. If so, I disagree with the verdict of the author, though "The Eternal Moment" is fine and extremely subtle. The whole small volume (half a dozen tales) is excellent.

Additionally for April 20th., see 'Getting it right'

Yesterday I began to think that the tone of the end of my novel wouldn't do.
So, I spent the day, exhausted, partly in dozing and reading, and one and a half hours at barbers, and generally thinking over climax, which I ultimately got right.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Famous in Florence

Tuesday, April 19th., Pension White, Florence.

By dint of taking one room in the Uffizzi and resolving to look at every picture in it without exception, I saw things I should never have seen otherwise. Including an Adam & Eve of Cranach not specially remarked in Baedeker, and skied. In another room I discovered for myself the exceeding beauty of the small Dutch pictures.

Adam and Eve is a double painting by German Renaissance master Lucas Cranach the Elder, dating from 1528, housed in the Uffizi Gallery of Florence, Italy. The two biblical ancestors are portrayed, in two different panels, on a dark background, standing on a barely visible ground. Both hold two small branches which cover their sexual organs. Eve holds the traditional apple, with the snake coming to her from above from the tree of life. Adam is shown in a relaxed posture, his right elbow lying on the left border of his panel.

A complete change in the weather. Sunshine quite blinding, and yet a wind-chill in the shadows. I did three full hours on "Clayhanger" before breakfast, and was then exhausted for the day. Disgusted with my sketching.

I saw the town between 5 and 6 and had a drink in the Piazza Signoria. It is agreeable to be able to contemplate the Perseus of Cellini while drinking a quina-vermouth. 

At Vieusseux's library, on changing my book this afternoon, the attendant said it was known in Florence, Florence being a cosmopolitan place, that A.B. the author was staying in the town. He then became enthusiastic about the demand for my books, & lyrical about the number of Tauchnitz copies of them that Vieusseux possessed. He said he knew them all from the first, "The Grand Babylon Hotel", and to prove his bona fides he began reeling off the Tauchnitz series numbers of them. So I rewarded him by shaking hands with him, whereat he was well content.

The Gabinetto Scientifico Letterario G. P. Vieusseux, founded in 1819 by Giovan Pietro Vieusseux, a merchant fromGeneva, is a library in Florence, Italy. It played a vital role in linking the culture of Italy with that of other European countries in the 19th century, and also became one of the chief reference points for the Risorgimento movement. It began as a reading room that provided leading European periodicals for Florentines and visitors from abroad in a setting that encouraged conversation and the exchange of ideas. A circulating library with the latest publications in Italian, French and English was installed next to the reading room.

Additionally for April 19th., see 'Kaiser in the offing'

Dr. Slimon reports to me that at the meeting of Chairmen of Emergency Committees and Military Representatives at Chelmsford on Friday, which I could not attend, under the chairmanship of General Paget, Paget insisted on the strong probability of an invasion between Harwich and Maldon in July or August.
The naval opinion at Harwich, I hear, is that Harwich Flotilla could not deal with the covering ships of an invading force, and that, so far as the Navy was concerned, the force would land, and the convoy be taken in the rear. It is also said that the German submarines are trying to  mine the course of the proposed expedition, and that we are sweeping their mines and mining contra.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Terrific climbs

Monday, April 18th., S. Domenico Palace Hotel, Taormina, Sicily.

No restaurant on the train between Naples and Sicily. The car-conductor made black coffee in a little kettle at the end of the corridor. I had two cups with great joy at 8 a.m.

Messina train ferry
We got to S. Giovanni fairly on time (9.35), but fiddled about some time in getting 3 carriages abreast on steamer-ferry. It was raining. I walked about on the steamer itself, unovercoated in the spitting rain. The crossing took exactly half an hour. We were 20 minutes late in leaving S. Giovanni. But the restaurant had been hooked on, and a hungry lot of us rushed into it and began eating before the train left. I had already eaten two apples and an orange and I said to myself I wouldn't eat much else. But could I resist the eggs and bacon? I could not. I ate all there was. This was after 10.30. 

It didn't seem long before we were at Taormina, where nearly everybody got out. The San Domenico bus was soon full. The climb up to the hotel is terrific. I should say 5 or 600 feet, and when you are in the hotel dining-room you look down on the sea almost perpendicularly. The hotel seems really to have been a monastery.

Kahn telegraphed saying 'they' would arrive tomorrow afternoon. He is attentive.

Higher above the hotel than the hotel is above the sea I saw, peeping over the edge of a precipice, some roofs of a village. I said to myself: "I shall not reach it, but I will walk towards it." The mule-path was bad. It might easily have been made quite good; but such it was and such it had been for centuries. I wondered why the villagers up aloft didn't do something about it for their own sakes - etc. in our superior British way. Then it occurred to me that the path was not maintained simply because it was not used sufficiently to warrant maintenance. Exhausted, I was about to slither down again to Taormina when a woman emerged from a garden and told me, what I already knew, that the path was "cattiva". But she also told me that I should arrive at the village in 10 minutes. Then she gave me a fruit new to my experience; it was like a very large, thin, flat fig, and sweeter than a fig. lastly, with much amiability, she took two lire from me for the fruit, which might have been worth half a lire. 


In 10 minutes I was in the village. Squalor of the acutest. One great slum. The children, festering in the dirt, utterly different from the children of Taormina, 800 feet below. I reached the public square, which overlooked the precipice. In the corner of the square a war memorial:


There it was, the cat-lived legend of the gloriousness of war rising from the dead! Did the sons of the village, while losing their lives thank that they were losing them gloriously?

"Gee!" I heard a young girl's voice. "Now poppa and momma, you go and stand right against that monument, and I'll take you both. But I must get that house in as well." Middle-west I think. Germans were drinking beer in a little alfresco restaurant. The place was named Castelmola. I shall remember it.

Perched precariously on a mountaintop above the community ofTaormina on the eastern shores of Sicily is the beautiful medieval village of Castelmola. Ignored by many visitors to Sicily, this quaint mountain top community offers unparalleled views of Mount Etna, Taormina, the Bay of Giardini Naxos, and the Strait of Messina. Built to protect and defend Taormina from invaders, today this quiet village makes for an interesting respite from the hustle and bustle of Taormina below.

Additionally for April 18th., see 'More potboiling'

Today I sat on a Coroner's Jury at Fulham and heard four cases, including one suicide through religious mania. I was struck by several things:
     The decency of people in general;
     The common sense and highly-trained skill of the coroner;
     The dramatic quality of sober fact. In two instances, the deceased persons had died from causes absolutely unconnected with the superficial symptoms. Thus a woman who had brought on a miscarriage and died had died from heart disease;
     The sinister influence of the ugliness amid which the lower classes carry on their lives;
     The enormous (as it were) underground activity of the various charitable and philanthropic agencies which spread themselves like a network over London. It would seem that nothing could happen, among a certain class of society, without the cognizance of some philanthropic agency;
     The dullness and the conscientiousness of a jury;
     The absolute thoroughness with which suspicious deaths are inquired into.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

An ordeal

Good Friday, April 17th., Les Sablons.

On Wednesday we went to Paris to prepare for the removing. Yesterday I went twice to the Foire du Jambon, and bought a few frames and two tiny coloured panels. Returned home in crowded 5.15 exhausted. Particularly Marguerite. Perhaps for the first time she felt that the country was better than the town. This morning I went over to the house, on foot. Marguerite came by train and had her first sight of the house. Ordeal passed off very well, as everything was in order. This afternoon I wrote a T.P.W. article. No mistake my control over my brain steadily increases.

Additionally for April 17th., see 'Roman Easter'

I also drove up to the Garibaldi Monument (Monte Gianicolo). All this in two hours. I did not feel like lunching wholesale in the hotel, so I went out and found a littletrattoria, and ate there. About a dozen customers. Two clerkly young men with gay neckties, in confidential discussion. A group of three: an oldish, shabby, tousled woman with back so bowed that her head was almost at the level of the table; an old man, her husband with a hooked nose, very shabby and untidy, who smoked small cheap cigars the whole time; and a chocolate-uniformed friend who looked like a sleeping-car conductor but was not. The hooked nose and the chocolate person argued incessantly and raspingly; but they were excellent friends; the chocolate person felt the old man's pulse and the glands of his neck, and sneered, while the old woman grinned and steadily ate.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Through Italy

Saturday, April 16th., Grand Hotel Continentale, Rome.

Lovely morning. Environs of Turin, 8 a.m. The journey passed without incident. The train was always punctual and arrived at Rome exactly at the appointed hour, 8.10 p.m. Not a bad achievement for an international train. I got a porter at once and he carried my stuff across the Piazza to this hotel. I was served by a middle-aged kindly waiter evidently alcoholic, though not drunk at that moment.

Then put on my overcoat and went for a walk round the big church S Maria degli Angeli close by. Squeaking trams on curves. many hotels here near the station. Then I walked into the station, in which one of the chief departments was apparently the Militia 'Commando'. I went to bed at or before 11, having eaten a bit too much. Nothing much on the train journey here, except that I read "Brothers Karamazov". Third or fourth time of reading. Yes, fourth time. I read it slowly to savour it. It is very great and masterful. An Englishwoman, fattish, sixtyish, very energetic, had the cabine next to mine. She talked at length to anyone she could get hold of about Mussolini and her interview with him, and the greatness of Italy, rottenness of France, and muddleness of England. Loud voice, very tedious. A fascist, carrying the insignia, and the official card with photograph. I had to sit opposite to her at lunch. She tried hard to get up a talk but I beat her off. All her ideas were wrong. But if anything evil happened to her in Italy she might well change them all. Her acquaintance with Italian customs and Italian was such that when she got her lunch bill and saw "Tassa di Bollo" at the foot of it, she called the waiter and said that she hadn't had any tassa. She talked French volubly and not well. 

The sunset round about Civita Vecchia was richly marvellous. Such a thing as you couldn't see in England. The whole day was lovely and quite warm. Lovely bright leaves and blossoms on the trees everywhere. Especially after emerging from the Mont Cenis tunnel, and later it was marvellous.

Additionally for April 16th., see 'Making adjustments'

These days, going to bed early, I arise at 6.30 or 6.45, or even earlier, and do an hour's work or so before breakfast, and in addition am dressed for breakfast. I didn't dress for breakfast for years because the masseur came after breakfast. I don't have him at present , as my health is so much better (owing to him). Much of my time now, while Dorothy is in the maternity home, is taken up with her and with arranging things for her. I wrote 700 words of novel "Vanguard" in the morning and 800 in the afternoon. I was at the Home by 12 o'clock, and stayed until after 1 o'clock. Then at two I drove home - (these days I have to drive everywhere to save time; if I can manage to walk to the top of Sloane Street it is all I can do) - and slept and went on with my novel till 4.30. Then I had chores to do.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Overwhelmed by art

Friday, April 15th., Pension White, Florence.

Orchestral concert last night in the Teatro Verdi. Conductor: Zuccano. Symphony in C Minor by Franchetti. Just as Grierson the other evening said that the Lear was the finest he had ever seen, so he said that the rendering of the Peer Gynt suite was the finest he had ever heard, and that the Franchetti symphony was just as good as a lot of Schubert and Schumann. Very few people in the audience.

Strike of scavengers, on account of a quarrel between a subordinate and his superior. Subordinate in prison: all his fellows go on strike. For two days the town has lain in filth. I am told it is a Socialistic Town Council. The Nazione preaches common-sense.

I had written 1,300 words of "Clayhanger" at 9.10 this morning.

Tombs of the Medici with Mr. Mock. This was a classic sensation if you like. It seemed to be the very highest altitude of art. Uncompromising and yet restrained realism. Also the Laurentinian Library, & the cloisters, the latter being sketchable.

Drove to S. Margharita a Montici this afternoon. Hot sunshine: heavy clouds: thunder. All the charm of the plain on which Florence lies is revealed in the course of this drive. Scores of villages lie in the western part of this plain, and each house of them glitters white in the sun. The colours on the hills are special to the country, and seem a novelty of combinations. But I have not yet seen Florence itself 'well-composed' from a distance. The tower of the Palazzo Vecchio, the campanile, The Duomo, and the chapel of the Medici each spoils the rest. And especially the campanile and the Duomo clash. There is no doing anything with them. But every day the overwhelming grandeur of the dome, as a unit, increases upon you. Also does the richness of the city in works of art of all kinds. Every day you come across new quantities, enormous quantities of really high class work. The Donatello etc. things, the M. Angelo tombs, & the MSS in the Library adjoining, would alone make the reputation of a city. And they are a mere trifling item in the total.

Additionally for April 15th., see 'Parisian evenings'

It was beautifully warm, indeed hot; but close and oppressive towards evening. Paris is at its best on these oppressive evenings, when all the cafes are full of crowded languor. I thoroughly enjoyed the journey by bus and steamer to Schwobs. The voyage from the Quai Voltaire to the Ile St. Louis, just before seven o'clock, was extremely impressive. It seemed to me as good as the Thames at its best.

Monday, 14 April 2014

At the Cafe Royal

Tuesday, April 14th., Cadogan Square, London.

Dorothy and I dined at the Cafe Royal (in the cafe) on Easter Sunday night. I hadn't dined in that room for years. It seems to have come through all the changes and rebuildings of architectures and times with scarcely a change. The whole atmosphere was almost, you'd think, just as when Henri Rochefort was there daily. Fine wine. Cigars in A1 condition.

The Cafe Royal was originally conceived and set up in 1865 by Nicholas Thévenon, who was a French wine merchant. He had to flee France due to bankruptcy, arriving in Britain in 1863 with his wife, Célestine, and just five pounds in cash. He changed his name to Daniel Nicols. Under his son, also named Daniel Nicols, the Cafe Royal flourished and was considered at one point to have the greatest wine cellar in the world. 
By the 1890s the Café Royal had become the place to see and be seen. Its patrons have included Oscar WildeAleister CrowleyVirginia Woolf, Winston Churchill, Noël Coward, Sir Max Beerbohm, Arnold Bennett and George Bernard Shaw.

I saw a very arty- or studio-ish figure there and couldn't think who it was. Tall, thin, bearded; brown clothes, black tie, red handkerchief. As soon as I shook hands with him I remembered. Darrell Figgis. He was cheerful with a background of melancholy. He comes over on journalistic business, stays at the R.A. Club in order to have a swim in the morning, and generally eats at the Cafe Royal. There he was all alone on Easter Sunday evening, reading an American collection of short stories by post-war Russian authors. All very characteristic.

I asked him to come to our table later. He did. He talked merely at intervals, but is rather provincial in his method of referring to himself and what he has done and what he has said. Dublin is very provincial. He agreed with my harsh verdict on A.E., etc. He was wearing fine rings. Perhaps two of them were his wife's.

Darrell Figgis (1882-1925) was born in Rathmines, Dublin, and as a young man he worked in London but then moved to Achill Island to write and learn Irish at the Scoil Acla Summer School and to gain an appreciation of Irish culture. Figgis was a poet and in 1910 he joined the Dent publishing company. However, after his detention following the Easter Rising, he and the publishing house ‘parted company’. Subsequently he established his own publishing firm. Figgis joined the Irish Volunteers in Dublin in 1913 and organised the original Battalion of Volunteers in Achill. While in London, he became involved with a group gun runners who financed and supplied German rifles to the Volunteers. Although he did not participate in the 1916 Easter Rising, Figgis was arrested and interned by the British authorities between 1916 and 1917 in Reading Gaol. After his release, Figgis returned to Ireland. At the 1917 Sinn Féin Ardfheis he was elected Honorary Secretary of Sinn Féin. In May 1918, Figgis was arrested for his alleged part in the spurious German Plot and deported to England. In 1918, he became editor of the newspaper The Republic. In 1924, Figgis’ wife Millie took her own life, and a year later Figgis himself committed suicide in London. He is buried in the West Hampstead Cemetery, London.

Additionally for April 14th., see 'The habit of contentment'

Advance of age. I now sit down to brush my hair and put my collar and tie on. I also take a decided pleasure in forming habits, and re-forming old ones connected with the furniture from Fontainebleau, whose little peculiarities of locks and knobs etc. I recognise again with positive satisfaction. The pleasure of doing a thing in the same way at the same time every day, and savouring it, should be noted.