And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

15 April

1802
Dorothy Wordsworth,
writer

‘It was a threatening, misty morning, but mild. We set off after dinner from Eusemere. Mrs Clarkson went a short way with us, but turned back. The wind was furious, and we thought we must have returned. We first rested in the large boat-house, then under a furze [gorse] bush opposite Mr Clarkson’s. Saw the plough going in the field. The wind seized our breath. The Lake was rough. There was a boat by itself floating in the middle of the bay below Water Millock. We rested again in Water Millock Lane. The hawthorns are black and green, the birches here and there greenish, but there is yet more of purple to be seen on the twigs. We got over into a field to avoid some cows - people working. A few primroses by the roadside - woodsorrel flower, the anemone, scentless violets, strawberries, and that starry, yellow flower which Mrs C calls pile wort. When we were in the woods beyond Gowbarrow park we saw a few daffodils close to the water-side. We fancied that the lake had floated the seeds ashore, and that the little colony had so sprung up. But as we went along there were more and yet more; and at last, under the boughs of the trees, we saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road. I never saw daffodils so beautiful. They grew among the mossy stones about and about them; some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness; and the rest tossed and reeled and danced, and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind, that blew upon them over the lake; they looked so gay, ever glancing, ever changing. This wind blew directly over the lake to them. There was here and there a little knot, and a few stragglers a few yards higher up; but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity, unity, and life of that one busy highway. We rested again and again. The bays were stormy, and we heard the waves at different distances, and in the middle of the water, like the sea. Rain came on.’

Daffodils so beautiful

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1832
Walter Scott,
writer

‘Naples. I am on the eve of leaving Naples after a residence of three or four months, my strength strongly returning, though the weather has been very uncertain. What with the interruption occasioned by the cholera and other inconveniences, I have not done much. I have sent home only the letters by L. L. Stuart and three volumes of the Siege of Malta. I sent them by Lord Cowper’s son Mr. Cowper returning, his leave being out and two chests of books by the Messrs. Turner, Malta, who are to put them on board a vessel, to be forwarded to Mr. Cadell through “Whittaker. I have hopes they will come to hand safe. I have bought a small closing carriage, warranted new and English, cost me 200, for the convenience of returning home. It carries Anne, Charles, and the two servants, and we start to-morrow morning for Home, after which we shall be starting homeward, for the Greek scheme is blown up, as Sir Frederick Adam is said to be going to Madras, so he will be unable to send a frigate as promised. I have spent on the expenses of medical persons and books, etc., a large sum, yet not excessive.

Meantime we [may] have to add a curious journey of it. The brigands, of whom there are so many stories, are afloat once more, and many carriages stopped. A curious and popular work would be a history of these ruffians. Washington Irving has attempted something of the kind, but the person attempting this should be an Italian, perfectly acquainted with his country, character, and manners. Mr. R , an apothecary, told me a singular [occurrence] which happened in Calabria about six years ago, and which I may set down just now as coming from a respectable authority, though I do not [vouch it].

DEATH OF IL BIZARRO.

This man was called, from his wily but inexorable temper, Il Bizarro, i.e. the Bizar. He was captain of a gang of banditti, whom he governed by his own authority, till he increased them to 1,000 men, both on foot and horseback, whom he maintained in the mountains of Calabria, between the French and Neapolitans, both of which he defied, and pillaged the country. High rewards were set upon his head, to very little purpose, as he took care to guard himself against being betrayed by his own gang, the common fate of those banditti who become great in their vocation. At length a French colonel, whose name I have forgot, occupied the country of Bizarro, with such success that he formed a cordon around him and his party, and included him between the folds of a military column.

Well-nigh driven to submit himself, the robber with his wife, a very handsome woman, and a child of a few months old, took a position beneath the arch of an old bridge, and, by an escape almost miraculous, were not perceived by a strong party whom the French maintained on the top of the arch. Night at length came without a discovery, which every moment might have made. When it became quite dark, the brigand, enjoining strictest silence on the female and child, resolved to steal from his place of shelter, and as they issued forth, kept his hand on the child’s throat. But as, when they began to move, the child naturally cried, its father in a rage stiffened his grip so relentlessly that the poor infant never offended more in the same manner. This horrid [act] led to the conclusion of the robber’s life.

His wife had never been very fond of him, though he trusted her more than any who approached him. She had been originally the wife of another man, murdered by her second husband, which second marriage she was compelled to undergo, and to affect at least the conduct of an affectionate wife. In their wanderings she alone knew where he slept for the night. He left his men in a body upon the top of an open hill, round which they set watches. He then went apart into the woods with his wife, and having chosen a glen an obscure and deep thicket of the woods, there took up his residence for the night. A large Calabrian sheepdog, his constant attendant, was then tied to a tree at some distance to secure his slumbers, and having placed his carabine within reach of his lair, he consigned himself to such sleep as belongs to his calling. By such precautions he had secured his rest for many years.

But after the death of the child, the measure of his offence towards the unhappy mother was full to the brim, and her thoughts became determined on revenge. One evening he took up his quarters for the night with these precautions, but without the usual success. He had laid his carabine near him, and betaken himself to rest as usual, when his partner arose from his side, and ere he became sensible she had done so, she seized [his carabine], and discharging [it] in his bosom, ended at once his life and crimes.

She finished her work by cutting off the brigand’s head, and carrying it to the principal town of the province, where she delivered it to the police, and claimed the reward attached to his head, which was paid accordingly. This female still lives, a stately, dangerous-looking woman, yet scarce ill thought of, considering the provocation. The dog struggled extremely to get loose on hearing the shot. Some say the female shot it; others that, in its rage, it very nearly gnawed through the stout young tree to which it was tied. He was worthy of a better master. The distant encampment of the band was disturbed by the firing of the Bizarro’s carabine at midnight. They ran through the woods to seek the captain, but finding him lifeless and headless, they became so much surprised that many of them surrendered to the government, and relinquished their trade, and the band of Bizarro, as it lived by his ingenuity, broke up by his death.

A story is told nearly as horrible as the above, respecting the cruelty of this bandit, which seems to entitle him to be called one of the most odious wretches of his name. A French officer, who had been active in the pursuit of him, fell into his hands, and was made to die [the death] of Marsyas or Saint Polycarp that is, the period being the middle of summer, he was flayed alive, and, being smeared with honey, was exposed to all the intolerable insects of a southern sky. The corps were also informed where they might find their officer if they thought proper to send for him. As more than two days elapsed before the wretched man was found, nothing save his miserable relics could be discovered.

I do not warrant these stories, but such are told currently.’

Death of a bandit

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1865
Edward Bates,
lawyer

‘This morning we have the astounding news, by various telegrams that last night President Lincoln was murdered in a public Theatre, in Washington! and that the assassin escaped, in the stupid amazement of the crowd, by leaping from the box to the stage and disappearing behind the scenes. One account says that as the assassin ran across the stage, brandishing a knife, he exclamimed [sic] ‘I am avenged sic semper tyr[&]nnis’. Sic semper tyrannis is the motto on the shield of Virginia and this may give a clue to the unravelling of a great conspiracy, for this assassination is not the act of one man; but only one scene of a great drama.

Also that about the same hour, Mr. Seward, being ill in bed, was assailed by another (or the same) assassin, and received several stabs, but it is not yet known whether or no they are mortal!

It is also said that two of his sons (in attendance on a/c of his sickness his severe hurt - lately, at Eichmond) were dangerously wounded by the assassin : Fred : W Asst. Secy, was knocked down by a billet, over [the] head; and Major S paymaster, U. S. A. was severely stabbed.

This day was appointed by authority, for displays of rejoicing and thanksgiving over the recent great victories of the national arms. I presume it is turned into a day of mourning.

We will thank God as heartily, for the solid benefits derived by the nation, from those great achievements, but at such a time, any boistrous display of joy would be contrary to good feeling and good taste.

I shall abstain from all ostentacious [sic] displ[a]y of exuberant emotion, for besides a deep sense of the calamity which the nation has sustained, my private feelings are deeply moved by the sudden murder of my chief, with and under whom I have served the country, through many difficult and trying scenes, and always with mutual sentiments of respect and friendship. I mourn his fall, both for the country and for myself.’

A swarthy old man

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1907
Frederic Remington,
artist

‘Got to Canyon. El Dover Hotel. Sketched at evening. Canyon bigger than I was led to expect by descriptions or pictures. Met Artist A Keer.’

The Broncho Buster

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1915
Cynthia Asquith,
writer

‘I have always thought it would be unwholesome for me to attempt to write a diary. I’m sure it will make me think my life drab and strain after sensation to make copy for my autobiography. I shall become morbidly self-conscious and a valetudinarian about my career, so I shall try not to be un-introspective, and confine myself to events and diagnoses of other people. In any case I am entirely devoid of the gift of sincerity, and could never write as though I were really convinced no other eye would ever see what I wrote. I am incurably self-conscious. This impromptu resolution sprung from an absurd compact I made with Duff Cooper [a British politician and writer] that we would both begin a diary at the same moment, and bind each other over to keep it up. He has given me this lovely book - but instead of inspiring, it paralyses me and makes me feel my life will not be sufficiently purple.’

Heartbreaking day

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1916
Cynthia Asquith,
writer

Margot [second wife of her father-in-law, the Prime Minister] had given me a hat of hers a few days before - too ugly to be seen dead in, and also much too small. I went into Jays to ask if they would change it, but to my humiliating embarrassment they said it must be at least three or four years old.

Lunched at Downing Street with . . . Great discussion about Pamela Lytton. I - in my opinion platitudinously, but in Elizabeth’s paradoxically - supported her claims to superlative charm, saying I should have married her if a man, etc. Elizabeth and the unnatural men there demurred. Jack Tennant admitted she had made his heart beat quicker, but didn’t endorse my good opinion of her intelligence. I said, ‘But, surely, you don’t want a woman to be good at political economy?’ - rather a floater, as that is exactly his wife’s forte! The PM, coming in late, warmly supported me, saying Pamela had had the greatest erotic success of her day and was the most accomplished ‘plate-spinner’. It is bad tactics on Elizabeth’s part to belittle in women just those assets she is without, scoffing at Pamela, Ruby, and other beautiful sirens.’

Heartbreaking day

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1969
Kenneth Williams,
actor and writer

‘At lunch I had the great shouting match with Joan Sims. Her patronage & assumption at times that she should tell me what to do, is intolerable. I shouted ‘You cow cunted mare’ and Hattie intervened and told me to stop it. Afterwards, Joan apologised and then of course, I apologised as well & suddenly I remembered that it has all happened before! The same sequence in ‘Camping’ – ugh! I loathe her standards & her mouldy respectability but not her personally. Oh! I don't know tho. I don’t like her either. Not anything about her really.’

Carry on carping

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Notes and Cautions
In general, these diary extracts are quoted as given in the published (book or online) source referred to in the reference articles. Each extract may be all, a large part of, or a small part of the complete entry for that day. I have tried to indicate where text has been removed from within a quote by the use of trailing dots in square bracket.

For any other use of these diary extracts other than browsing please refer to the original sources.

Any author, publisher or other copyright holder who takes the view that I am unacceptably breaching their copyright please let me know. I have tried to remain sensitive to copyright rules (using far fewer quotes, for example, when a book, by an author still alive, remains in print and popular), but it is not practical for me to seek authorisation for every quote and article, since I maintain these websites without any funding or advertis-ing. I take the view that publicity for the source books is a quid pro quo for my use of the extracts, but I am more than happy to remove the extracts if asked.

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The Diary Junction is one of those wonderful privately maintained public resources for which the Internet is justly celebrated: a database of information about celebrated and obscure diaries[over 500] from all historical periods, with referrals to the dates the diaries cover, where the originals are held and bibliographic information on published versions.’ Laura Miller, Salon

The Diary Review, hosted by Blogger, publishes magazine-style articles on diaries and diarists, usually several every week. The blog has been publishing for over five years, and is the secondary source for the diary extracts in this online anthology.