When he wrote these resolutions on the second day of 1942, James Agate was 64 and widely known and celebrated as the Sunday Times drama critic, a role he would fill until his death five years later. The Leo who was testing Agate’s patience was Isidore Leo Pavia, a dear friend and accomplished pianist who had also been working as Agate’s secretary since 1941. Interestingly, Agate was in his mid-50s when he belatedly began to keep a diary, but he did so openly and at full pelt: fifteen years after writing his first entry, the ninth volume of his diaries was published for all to enjoy.
The Diary Entry
New Year Resolutions
1. To refrain from saying witty, unkind things, unless they are really witty and irreparably damaging.
2. To tolerate fools more gladly, provided this does not encourage them to take up more of my time.
3. To be more patient with Leo. To bear with that all-pervading aroma of stale Vapex, those scented yet acrid plugs, twists, and flakes, that October-to-March sniffling and snuffling, the sneezing and coughing with which he draws attention to himself whenever I am telephoning, the eternal jeremiads, and the physical clumsiness which, one day last week, caused the following incident. Too blind to see whether the fire was alight or not, he lifted a live coal in his fingers, found it was hot, and let it roll under the piano ten feet away where it burned a hole in my carpet the size of a five-shilling piece. And then the typing! At this very moment Lady Macbeth looks up at me from my desk and intones:
“O, never shall son that moral sea!”
Today, January 2nd, 1942, I resolve henceforth to tolerate all this, and to set against it the feast of malice, the flow of wit, and the fine temper of the musician who, when he has driven me half frantic, will go to the piano and play Beethoven more Beethovenishly than any living virtuoso, sing in a cracked voice the tuttis to the concertos, and improvise his own cadenzas.
Sit tight as I attempt to clearly explain the publishing history of James Agate’s diaries.
First and foremost, you have the original nine volumes of Ego, which contain the many diary entries he began in 1932. The first was published in 1935; the last in 1948, a year after his death.
You then have three volumes of A Shorter Ego, each of which are condensed editions of the above: A Shorter Ego, Vol. 1 is a highlight reel of Ego 1, Ego 2, and Ego 3; A Shorter Ego, Vol. 2 repackages Ego 4, Ego 5, and Ego 6; A Shorter Ego, Vol. 3 takes on Egos 7, 8, and 9.
Finally, you have Selective Ego: The Diaries of James Agate, published in 1976, in which Tim Beaumont has plucked, from those original volumes, what he believes to be the most compelling entries that relate to acting. It’s a great book, and easier to find than the others.
Most of the above are long out of print but used copies can sometimes be tracked down in the usual places. However, if you are impatient, broke, or both, many of those very same books can also be read online thanks to the Internet Archive.
Diary entry excerpted from Selective Ego: The Diaries of James Agate (James Agate, 1976), John Murray Press. Reprinted with permission.
Leave a Reply