Larz Anderson's Journals
From his early childhood, Larz Anderson loved to sketch the world around him. The habit continued throughout his adult years, taking the form of witty cartoons in addition to verbal depictions of his everyday life. But as a wealthy globe-trotting diplomat who lived through some of the most dynamic periods in American history, Larz's everyday life was extraordinary. He recorded his experiences through the boom years of industrialization, the devastation of World War I, the long years of prohibition, and the Great Depression. As time went by these accounts filled thirty-eight typed volumes—journals in a series titled "Some Scraps" that chronicle Larz's life after his graduation from Harvard University in 1888 until the year before his death in 1937.
In 1891 at the age of twenty-five, Larz began a diplomatic career as second secretary under Robert Todd Lincoln, ambassador to the United Kingdom—his third volume of journals, "Days in and Out of London," tells of his experiences there. At his first official function he was delighted to find "powdered and liveried footmen, just as Du Maurier draws them in Punch." Ever having an eye for detail, Larz enjoyed capturing the dress, manners, and entertainments at such social functions in his journals. He was promoted to a position at the consulate in Rome in 1894, and it was there Larz met his future wife, Isabel Weld Perkins, in 1896. Unfortunately there are no journals during this period, but the series resumes in 1897 to memorialize their wedding trip. Read More<
Travel is the predominant theme throughout the journals. Larz and Isabel Anderson were lifelong voyagers. They circumnavigated the globe many times over—riding with cowboys in the American West, traversing Europe on the rails of the Orient Express, visiting Victoria Falls in Africa, exploring the ruins of Angkor Wat in southeast Asia, and marveling at the natural diversity of the Galapagos Islands. Isabel was well known in her time for publishing travelogues of their journeys, but Larz also wrote unfailingly, though privately, of his trips. His meticulous descriptions of the cities and countryside through which he passed reveal the physical landscapes of a bygone era.
Many events, as Larz roamed, were first recorded in detailed letters home to his mother and sister, excerpts of which were incorporated into the typescript journals. In the earliest journal covering his first round-the-world trip in 1888, Larz breathlessly described his first close view of the Taj Mahal: "I looked before me, a thrill ran through me, involuntarily I stopped and gazed before me and the loveliest sight of Earth was there! It is impossible to describe it; it is almost sacrilegious to try." Larz returned to Asia with Isabel on their honeymoon in 1897 and many times thereafter.
While in the United States the couple spent most of their time at Isabel's family estate, Weld, in Brookline, Massachusetts. But by 1901, the Andersons decided to build a magnificent home in Washington, D.C., in order to host elegant parties and diplomatic functions during the social season. Though Larz did not describe the lengthy planning and construction process of Anderson House in his journals, he did detail some of the collecting decisions made to fill the space. Working with prominent dealers, the resulting compilation of antiques represented their travels—including Belgian tapestries, Italian choir stalls, Indian shrines, and Japanese Buddhas.
The Andersons were proud of their new home, and in his journals Larz compared it favorably against other grand houses and collections of the time such as those of Henry Frick, J. P. Morgan, and Charles Lang Freer. But in late 1912, the East beckoned yet again—this time the Andersons made it their home after Larz was appointed ambassador to Japan. He recorded the event with joy on December 1 saying "I am at last, an Ambassador, an Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, after all these years, and yet as early as I could hope, for I am the youngest in age of any of the Ambassadors in our service today."
In addition to his personal travel experiences, major world events and scandals of the time take shape in Larz's writing. His journal for 1912 also depicted the happenings of that year from the sinking of the Titanic—"the terrible thing that has happened on the ocean"—to the furor of a four-way presidential campaign, with Larz supporting the Taft side of a split Republican party—"Roosevelt is going down the ages as one of the greatest charlatans of all time." With their social position, the Andersons rubbed shoulders with kings and queens of commerce as well as of countries, and the journals are peppered with mentions of prominent families of the era, such as the Astors and Vanderbilts.
In later years the journals also record Larz's frank views of a world that was rapidly changing—and, especially as he grew older, becoming alarmingly unfamiliar. The Andersons watched as the walls rigidly segregating the classes gave way to a diverse and malleable mixture of upwardly mobile lower and middle classes. Though Larz was a staunch Republican throughout most of his life, he supported Franklin D. Roosevelt's election in 1933. He wrote in his journal after the inauguration that "It meant much to feel that we had high-born and well-bred people in the White House, however liberal they might prove, rather than middle class people who tried to be ladies and gentlemen." Though Larz wrote in bewilderment—sometimes in outright distaste—of the new world around him in a way that may shock today, it is this uncensored perspective of the times that makes the journals all the more valuable for research.
The series is bound in red morocco leather with marbled endpapers, though the design and color vary slightly from volume to volume. Most volumes contain the Andersons' personal bookplate depicting the gardens at Weld, famous at the time for their beauty. On the front cover of almost all the journals, Larz Anderson's initials are tooled in gold along with an individual title summarizing the major events of the year—i.e. "Some side steps On board Roxana in Florida in 1916." Several of the volumes are extra-illustrated with photographs, sketches, and memorabilia from the Andersons augmenting the description. However, little is known about how and when the journals were compiled. Many of the later volumes seem to have been produced yearly with diary-style entries, while earlier volumes seem to have been compiled from correspondence perhaps years after the events therein occurred.
In any case, most of the journals were completed before Larz's death—several have corrections in his hand and the closing pages for 1929 list twenty-nine previous volumes in the series. The journal for 1929 also ends with Larz's vow that this will be his final diary, as "no other year to come can surely be fuller or richer…" Old habits though, were not so easily shaken. Every journal for the next three years includes the same claim to be the final volume. It was in 1936 that the series finally came to an end, as Larz was not in good health. He died of pneumonia in April 1937 while taking the cure at White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia—a spa, now better known as the Greenbrier, which features heavily in Larz's journals over many previous restorative visits.
After Larz's death, Isabel condensed his journals for publication. Many of the volumes contain her editorial markings and notes as Isabel decided which stories to include and which to trim. The much shortened version, Larz Anderson: Letters and Journals of a Diplomat, was published by New York's Fleming H. Revell Company in 1940. Charles Francis Adams, secretary of the Navy from 1929 to 1933 and one of Larz's closest friends, provided a glowing forward on his life. The critics were less kind; many derided the volume for its rich detailing of the trappings of diplomatic life while largely glossing over the diplomatic work itself. Adams, however, said of his friend that he "had the power to express in words, in writings, or in drawings, the thoughts and visions of his fertile mind." This is a portrait of Larz Anderson that he surely would have felt proud to have applied to his "scraps" of years past.
Since the Andersons had no children, their estate was dispersed throughout the extended family after Isabel's death in 1948. Passing down through generations of the Anderson family, the original journals remained out of public view for decades after their completion. That is until 2004, when the Society of the Cincinnati was delighted to be offered the journals by descendants of Larz's first cousin, Larz Worthington Anderson. The thirty-eight volumes were received in three gifts, with the final two volumes completing the set in 2008. Immediately on arrival, the journals became an invaluable asset in understanding the Andersons and their time. Available for study in the Society's library at Anderson House, the journals throw open a wide window into the world of high society during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. Read Less<
Please wait while we load gallery content...