October 4, 2006: On Rebellion
My own full out emotional participation in rebellion was limited to my youth, and even then, I kept myself apart from the violent side of it. I cheered the taking of the Bastille, but I do not think I could ever have joined the mob that performed it. The Terror sickened me, but that was done after the original rebels had gained their power, or so I told myself afterwards, for I learned no lessons in France about the dangers of rebellion. Instead when I came to Ireland and United Irishmen, I joined again with full enthusiasm, though again I was against violent rebellion, if for no other reason than I did not believe it could possibly work in that case; the English were simply too powerful. But the power of those you are rebelling against is not the only difficulty. A group of rebels is an organization like any other, containing humans, most of whom are all too corruptible, and in the case of the United Irishmen, corruption led to betrayal, and devastation. The battle that put the group down was brutal enough, but the betrayals afterwards, the flourishing of vile informers, was more than I could bear. I swore to never be involved in any cause, rebellious or otherwise, ever again.
Strictly speaking I have not kept to that oath; I have been long searching for a manner in which to gain Catalan independance, and worked in the joint Castilian and Catalan rebellion against France, and have also attempted to engineer rebellion in Peru, and did engineer victory for the rebels in Chile. But in Peru I had very little personal investment, and even Chile, where Jack's flag was in the balance, the country itself could have been any country, with little difference to either of us. Even in Catalunya, where I retained strong affection for the country, my role was still that of the outsider. And so it will always have to be, to any further rebellions I find myself involved in in the future.
October 20: What Keeps You Up at Night?
A multitude of causes has cut into my sleep over the years. Allow me to discuss just a few of them.
My most unpleasant cause for insomnia was my own heart, and the conflicts it has suffered from. Being at war with one's own soul is not conductive towards sleep. There was a time when I had to resort to great amounts of laudanum in order to sleep so that I would not be overwhelmed by exhaustion the next day, and I must confess that I did abuse it on occasion, to the point that I have had to be cautious of my use of it in the last ten years or so. There have been other unwanted causes of insomnia as well, especially at sea, where there are ships appearing and my being called to the sickbay in the middle of the night, or inclement weather doing to same, or even just the combination of air and temperature inducing insomnia in the doldrums, or Jack's snoring prevailing even against my attempts to stop up my ears. That is perhaps the most atrocious noise known to mankind. One way or another, noone can rely on getting a proper night's sleep at sea.
More recently, however, I have found myself kept up, by own choice, by the effects of the wondrous coca leaf. Chewing a few of those little leaves each day will remove not only the ability but even the need for sleep, allowing me to stay up and study books or specimens the entire night. Though going off them means losing the ability to stay awake at night, and there is nothing that will keep me up then, and surely as if I had overdosed myself badly on laudanum.
November 18: On Two Road Trips
It took me some time to understand the meaning of this phrase, but now I know myself to have gone on a number of these, if in a slightly different manner of conveyance than I understand is normally used. Twice we have even taken a carriage across the continent with a few companions.
The first time was a trip taken under very unpleasant circumstances; we were shipwrecked on a hostile French coast and taken prisoner, and Jack, myself, and a young Swedish officer named Jagiello were removed to the Bitche prison in Paris. We were escorted by guards, and by a Monsieur Duhamel, who would prove a very good friend to us up for many months after that until his untimely death, and the trip itself was the most pleasant part of the business for Jack and Jagiello, though they no doubt suffered from some boredom, as well as digestive problems, which at least gave me something to do. Whenever I was unoccupied, I found myself wondering if they would attempt to torture me. It seemed all too likely to my mind that they would, or at least that they would try, though I was would not stop at suicide to avoid it. I have been tortured once; I will die before I willingly endure it again. No doubt neither of my companions ever gave that kind of thing a thought on the road, though Jack no doubt had cause to worry about it when I was escorted out and back into the Bitche after our arrival.
Some time later Jack and I traveled across Spain and France both in more furtive circumstances, this time accompanied by Sir Joseph and our own servants. Our destination was England, there to see Jack finally officially reinstated into the Navy. It would have been more prudent, of course, to go by sea, but Sir Joseph, despite being the chief naval intelligence, had recently discovered he could not stand to be on board a ship. He dreaded even the crossing of the channel at the very end of the journey. So by land we traveled, Jack as merry as he has ever been in his life, and that is saying a great deal, and all of us, in fact, in high spirits, through transversing dangerous territory through half of it.
Road are often like sea trips, in that they are a never-ending present, the past left behind at one's starting point, and the future unable to arrive until the traveler reaches his destination. Yet they are easier if, as in the case of only the second trip described here for me, you are not dreading what happens when that destination is reached.
November 30: On Dancing
The difficulty with dancing, as it stands in the day and age I live in, is that as a ritual it has become too encoded. For unmarried ladies, and even unmarried gentlemen, it has practically become a chore. A pleasant chore for many, but they do not do it by choice. Ladies must dance to attract the men they want. Or if a man whom she does not want asks a lady to dance, I understand that she is not allowed to refuse him directly. She may claim she does not feel like dancing, but then she might very well be forced to spend the rest of the evening sitting about, very possibly being bored. Even when a man and a woman are on the dance floor together, and both wish to be so, and with each other, they are hampered by social niceties from expressing themselves freely. They must waste time in conversation of trivialities that more often than not goes absolutely nowhere, they must separate to dance with others whom they may have little use for, and the lady often feels obliged to play the most vulgar games of flirtation. There was a time such women disgusted me, before I came to understand that they genuinely thought they had to do what they were doing.
When one considers all the rules of dancing, it is something of a miracle that anyone enjoys it at all. And yet people do. Jack does. When he was courting Sophie, I saw him joyfully lead her round and round a floor until she was winded, and she did not even seem to mind. Diana too liked to dance, when she was not paired with a man she disliked, which was less often than it should have been. Even I, once I grew competent enough in the activity, found I enjoyed dancing with her. She was always very merry when we danced, her face was very becoming when she laughed, and it showed off her natural grace to an extent that just watching her move brought me a very deep pleasure. The best times were after we were married; prior to then there had been tension between us that prevented us from fully enjoying the moment, but afterwards we were assured and at peace.
December 19: What is your worst quality as a significant other?
I am afraid that it is far too late to answer that question, as my wife is now dead, and I possess too many negative qualities to be able to judge which one might be the worst without her guidance. I could attempt a guess, however.
Ultimately, I would narrow it down to two possibilities. Whenever we were living together, she had the most difficulty with my living habits. I have never been used to keeping either my person or my rooms presentable, and I am afraid I did not modify my behavior much to accomodate living in the house with her immediately after we were married. I had shared quarters with Jack before, but we are both men, and not at all apt to make a fuss about things that it was not in Diana's character to easily tolerate. Admittedly, he likes his neatness as well, but had a generous enough hear to forgive. My first attempt to live with Diana, on the other hand, I eventually abandoned in favour of sleeping in my old rooms at the Grapes and paying her daily visits. We would live together again later, just before and years after the birth of Brigid, but not without many quarrels on the subject, and I suspect it only worked, in the end, because I was so often away.
On the other hand, that is the other possible worst quality of mine, that I was gone for months, sometimes years at a time. I thought it would make me a better husband to Diana when I first proposed marriage to her, thinking she would be happier without a husband always in her home to cause her trouble, but in truth she was had far deeper emotional needs that I ever realized before her death. Perhaps she never realized them herself, but they were at least part of what drove her to unfortunate suspicions and rash actions she deeply regretted afterwards, actions which nearly destroyed our marriage once, if not twice.
January 11, 2007: What song best describes your life?
Had someone asked me this question after '98, I should have replied that a thousand songs did so adequetely. There were many songs of lament written about the sad events of that year in Ireland, and those with genuine emotion could not help but evoke my own feelings. Any song that mourned for the loss of a man's true love also brought me a reminder of Mona. Any that mourned for fallen friends and comrades brought me a reminder of everyone, her included. It seemed at the time that 1898 had claimed every last person I had ever loved. That was not entirely true; I still had friends in Catalunya; but I had forgotten of them.
Most of those songs I have left behind; as I have inevitably moved on from the United Irishmen. But one still remains strong in my memory: The Wearing of the Green.
When I first heard that song, it meant relatively little to me. But then I enlisted in His Majesty's Navy. Then I was forced to play the part of the loyal British man, at least as far as any Irish man could reasonably be expected to do so. My life then became bound up with Jack's, and then my fate was sealed. Other Irishmen may wear the green, but I forever wear England's red for love of one of its sons, so much that I felt no qualms of conscience in offering my hand to the daughter and the widow of English soldiers, or at least none that had to do with her connections to those two men. And yet I am still an Irishman somewhere within myself.
The "distant land" described in the song, of course, is meant to be France. There only do I differ from this song's writer, for I know too much to look for freedom there. Yet I look to establish it in other places, such as Peru and Chile.
FannyFae: Do you know this song of lamentation, Stephen? "How Sweet the Torment" by Claudio Monteverdi. It is perfect with just a cello and the harp. And since you play the cello and I play the harp, perhaps one day we could try our hands at the piece in duet.
Monteverdi invented opera, and I think he captures the very bittersweet essence of lamentation so beautifully.
Stephen: I have indeed, and I have even played it with cello and violin; Jack and I adapted it. Though I know perfectly well that it would sound much better had I been accompanied by the right instrument.
February 2: On Waiting
Life at sea is an exercise in waiting for things. Waiting for in interesting ship to come our way. Waiting to reach port. In my case, waiting to reach a port where there were interesting flora and fauna to study. Waiting for the wind to return. Waiting for the wind blowing in the right direction to return. Waiting to see if my treatments will be effective. On grimmer occasions, waiting to see if the work I have done ashore will be effective. I could continue for quite some time.
Day to day, one does not entirely think of this. A ship keeps men busy unless they are passengers, and I was more typically a surgeon. I had to think about keeping my sickbay in order and ready for patients, and about treating the patients when they arrived. Naval structure added even more activities to keep the mind from doing much philosophizing, or even noticing how much time has passed. Add the exercises in natural philosophy that I fill the rest of my time with, and there have been occasions when I have opened a journal, written down the date, and stared in astonishment that it was already March, or September, or January again.
This had changed, however, when I have been taken as a prisoner of war. On these occasions, all this work is done by another surgeon, and while I have often been asked for assistance from him, I am not half as active as I when I am master of the sickbay myself. And then there is another thing to wait for, which is waiting to be exchanged. Even after being exchanged, there is the court-martial that must be sat through if a ship has been lost, which often leaves Jack anxious, though I have been given to understand that I myself am put in very little danger of conviction. And I am given plenty of time to think about it all. Waiting is never a very pleasant task.
February 27: On Disillusionment
A curious thing about disillusionment is its ability to fade whenever it might be most convenient for it to remain.
Yet I still remember the pain I felt during moments of disillusionment. Watching the French Revolution degenerate into the Terror. Watching the United Irishmen fall apart, its members fall victim to vile betrayal. Watching Diana at the opera, displaying her charms like a bird of paradise, so common and vulgar I could barely stand to be aware of it.
Part of me still thinks I should have learned my lessons for good. I should never have involved myself in any other cause again, and I should have banished Diana from my mind. I would have known much less pain had I managed that. But it could not be. When Catalunya began her own fight for independence, I could not turn my back on her. This time I knew what a dirty world I was descending into, yet I did it, and with the same passion that had accompanied me when when my eyes had held stars in them. And for my heart to abandon Diana was equally impossible. I did not see her for a very long stretch of time after that scarring night at the opera, but little by little she crept back into my heart, her offenses seeming more and more trivial, and she more and more a creature above my ability to judge her.
Though on the other hand, I came to success at last. I brought Chile its independence, and I married Diana and lived happily with her for a while. So perhaps it is not so bad a thing to lose one's disillusionment on occasion.
March 23: What is the biggest mistake you've made in a relationship?
I made assumptions about Diana that I could not. I made them about her the way I had made them about Mona, and would about Jack, because my relationships were them were/are much simpler. I always assumed I could trust them, and I always assumed they would always trust me.
I should never have assumed either about Diana. She had lived a life where, when we first met, it was impossible for her to trust, and not very easy to keep another's trust. She deceived me and Jack, though fortunately he had not been so foolish as to trust her, and his pain was far the less for it. She justified her behavior by telling herself that we would do the same to her and believing it all too well.
Even after matters changed, her opinion of me became warmer, and thus she became less inclined to betray me to to suspect me of betrayal, her old habits proved hard to break. Ironically she did not even demand as much of me as Sophie demanded of Jack. Had I merely engaged in a discreet affair with Laura Fielding, she would not have cared. But when she thought I had engaged in a public one, which to her did wrong her, what she had asked of me did not matter. What did matter was that she had doubted too much whether I was capable of giving it. And so one affront deserved another, and she fled from me with Mounsieur Jagiello. In another irony, she never slept with him, but like her, I did not care about that, and perhaps she knew it. She was hurt and she wanted to hurt me, and she knew how to do so.
Even after suffering through this, I foolishly continued to make the assumption, until the whole affair played itself out over again, this time with Clarissa Oakes playing Laura Fielding's role. After that, I was a bit more cautious. Every time I came home from the sea, I braced myself for the possibility of Diana being gone. Of course, when she finally was, it was because she was dead. I suppose I shall never know if we would have gone through more misunderstandings and altercations had she lived.
April 19: On Killing
I have killed men, and though I might be able to count up the number if given a few hours, there are too many to remember offhand. I killed my first man when I was twenty-two and shot a man in a duel. I'm afraid the first emotion I felt about it was pleasure. Shame came afterwards, but both emotions were purely the result of my youth. Too many times since I have killed in cold blood and felt nothing afterwards.
That started after the fall of the United Irishmen. Before I left Ireland afterwards, I found out the identity of a certain man who had informed on two of my friends, resulting in their deaths, and arguably the death of my beloved Mona. When I first went to seek him out I remember my blood pounding in my veins as I dwelled on just what I would do to him. But by the time I found him my anger was already draining. I seized him from behind and slit his throat, and felt absolutely nothing as I did so. This incident happened over again in London, where this time I was doing it merely to save my own skin, though even that was not a purpose I was too passionate about.
So I was all too experienced at killing in this manner when I began working for British Naval Intelligence, an activity that has bloodied my hands more than anything else in my life, though by that time I had also killed further in battles and duels. It never occurred to me how much, even, until years and years later, when I happened to kill two men in Boston, again out of self-preservation, and wondered at the regret I felt over it, until I looked back and realized that regret was not just for the two of them, but for every being I had murdered. Yet even that regret did not last. I went on. I have killed many times since, even enjoying it one last time, when my victim was a man who had personally hurt me, and Jack; I will probably kill again, and again, before the end of my own life.
May 7: Who has made you smile recently?
Killick, though I do not think in that particular case he meant to.
This happened last night. It was an ordinary evening, and Jack and I were playing our music when a string on his violin came loose. Hardly an uncommon occurance for us, but an irritating one nonetheless. This one proved even more so than usual, as for some reason Jack had difficulty correcting the error. He was still struggling to put the errant string to rights when Killick came in with the toasted cheese, having concluded from the lack of music that we were done playing. Just as he stepped through the door, Jack's fingers slipped on the violin and the result was nearly as unpleasant as a few of his more outrageous snores.
Killick had been muttering to himself already, as is his usual habit. I was unable to making out words before the violin screech, and certainly none during it. Though that I clearly saw his lips continue to move without altering pace or anything else was amusing in itself. But what made me smile was his words after the screech had died down, which were, "And he don't even stop playing when I've gone and cooked this cheese for him..."
Jack commented on the smile this brought out from me after Killick had left. He said it had been some time since he had seen its like. Certainly, I felt an affection then for Killick that I do not usually feel.
May 25: On Money and the Wrecking of Empires
"What most people don't seem to realize is that there is just as much money to be made out of the wreckage of a civilization as from the upbuilding of one… There's good money in empire building. But, there's more in empire wrecking." -Rhett Butler, Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell)
I admit I am not familiar with this Mrs. Mitchell, but is she in any way involved with intelligence? She is very knowledgable on the subject indeed. Though I must say, I cannot quite approve of her speaking so lightly of such matters in fiction. It may seem harmless on the surface, but I have always firmly believed that as little should be said about these matters as possible, else lives are put at risk.
There is little in the world that does as much damage as money. I have known coin and paper credit to buy the loyalties of many of those who aided in bringing Bonaparte's empire down, and that of those who opposed us besides. Inevitably the motives of all these men are corrupted, and the opposing side is always able to buy them back if they are willing to expend enough money for them. In this way men and even women sometimes have earned enough blood money to live very rich lives. Do they even feel the lives they have destroyed? I must assume they do not feel even that which I feel, but must ignore. It was certainly necessary to bring Bonaparte down, and indeed, empires are odious things, and I will happily wreck any of them, and never mind what unintended damage I do. There would be more suffering in the world, and all of it by the undeserving, if I did not do what I do. But I have never accepted any money for my services. I once prepared to,indirectly,through a post-captain's temporary commission and a good deal of prize money, but that came to nothing in the end. I admit I have gained a few benefits elsewhere, many of them in fact for Jack, but that I do not mind. Most of the ones gained for myself, such as my pardon, I had no active hand in.
June 22: Tell me a secret.
Tell you a secret? I have told them all!
Very well, I shall tell another one. This one was known by a few old friends of mine, but they are now all dead. James Dillon was the last of them to survive.
As a youth, after I was deflowered, so to speak, during my time in Paris, I spent a number of years, in Paris and Ireland both, indulging in more sexual activity than I ever have since. I was much more full-blooded then. In Paris and the first years in Ireland, I slept only with women, but in 1897 or thereabouts, I began to experience certain curiousities, I think it would be most accurate to call them, though perhaps desires would not be an inaccurate term either. To put it simply, I wanted to have sex with another man.
Obviously this distressed me for quite some time. In the abstract, I have never had any objection to that sort of thing, but when possibility of sodomy suddenly was relevant to my own person, I could not be entirely comfortable with it immediately. It took me a month of constant prayer and internal philosophical debate before I reconciled myself to the matter, at which time I was aware of my thoughts getting more occupied, and came to the conclusion that this could easily become an obsession within a year or so if I did not take the step of having it indulged.
I happened to be acquainted at the time with a known paederast, a man that I always respected highly for his courage and political ideals, which led him to his death a year later, though I shall still leave him unnamed. I decided I could trust this man to have me without hurting me, or my reputation, such as it was, and one evening in high spring I approached him. I was worried about his refusing me; I have never been that attractive. But this he did not mind, once he could be brought to believe my wishes were sincere. He took me to his bed and then he took me. Despite some discomfort it was in fact an intensely pleasurable experience for me, as much as making love to any woman has ever been, and afterwards I was more than satisfied. At the time I was convinced that this was all I would ever need from my own sex, that I merely had needed to do this kind of thing once, and that was all.
Perhaps some reading this might have come to think that this last thought of mine proved inaccurate. However, that matter involves people still living, and I wil not talk about it at this time. As one good gentlemen has often said to me, "Tace is the Latin for candle."
July 12: On Religion
As my daughter grows older, and as religious beliefs become more relevant to her place in the world, I find that it changes my own views on religion considerably.
I had initially resigned myself, on Brigid's birth, to her being brought up in the Church of England. Her upbringing, after all, was in the hands of Diana, and she had an almost superstitious dislike of anything Roman, though she tolerated it with me. But it was not Diana, but Padeen, who first taught Brigid and brought her out into the world, and when she came with him, she came with him a Catholic. She has been that way ever since.
But while Brigid is a Catholic, she is also an English girl, even if she is a fairy child also. Sophie has recently written me and confirmed my belief in this, and also expressed her concern that most of the people she will meet in life will see this as a contradiction in terms. They will not accept her, and in the society she will likely enter, she will be always considered inferior to everyone around her, even when anyone with a pair of eyes and a mind to explain what they see would otherwise judge her the most superior lady around, which I am certain they would often. Her movement will always been limited, she will always be judged before she is known, and many doors will be forever closed to her.
So I myself have lived, and never been indignant over. That was just the way things were for me. But what an individual can not be bothered by, a father still can be. It angers me to think my daughter's life will be hindered this way, and for this reason.
Before I became so angered, religion always struck me as an ultimately beneficial thing. The prejudices it sometimes resulted in, I thought, were nothing compared to the comfort it offers men, the bonds it can create between people, and between man and the divine, which I will always believe exists. But now I see more the divisions it makes, and the high amount of physical and emotional damage religious conflict has done to the world, and I wonder if man has not corrupted religion irreparably, as the race has corrupted so much else.
July 26: Two Letters, Neither Sent
To Mr. Canning
My dear sir,
I am uncertain of what the use is to address a letter to a dead man, and one I myself killed besides, but now that I am recovered from your attempt to kill me, I feel I must apologize somehow. I truly intended only to nick your arm, but my hands, well, suffice to say that they are not what they have been. I could give the full explanation, I suppose, because you will not actually read this letter, but what would be the use, when I do not think I could ever convince you that I had not aimed to kill? Perhaps from where you are now, and whatever you may think I do not assume that you are in Hell, you already know, but then there would be no need for me to write you this letter anyway.
If I am being honest, I must admit I did not think well of you in the final weeks of your life. I saw how miserable you had made Diana, and I loved her. But I thought you a man of some good qualities, and I certainly never wanted you dead, and I beg to remain,
Yours most penitently,
To Diana Villiers
My still beloved Diana,
For only here, in a letter I will never dare send, can I call you my beloved, what I can say? I cannot curse you, or even demand to know why. I love you too much for that. But nor can I forgive you, and I certainly do not wish you happy with Mr. Johnson. You have caused me too much pain, now, to gain that boon. I can only wish you had not run off, that you had waited for me, that we were getting married alongside Jack and Sophie tomorrow, and find myself wishing it so badly that when I close my eyes I can almost feel your breath on my face, as if you were sitting next to me here. Why should it not, when you haunt me the way you do? I am sure that it would distress you to hear that, that you genuinely wish to let me be, but that is beyond both our powers, my dear, and so I remain,
Yours all too affectionately,