And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

16 April

1789
George Washington,
president

‘About ten o’clock I bade adieu to Mount Vernon, to private life, and to domestic felicity; and with a mind oppressed with more anxious and painful sensations than I have words to express, set out for New York in company, with Mr. Thompson, and colonel Humphries, with the best dispositions to render service to my country in obedience to its call, but with less hope of answering its expectations.’

Washington’s domestic felicity

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1810
Mirza Abul Hassan Khan,
diplomat

‘I walked in the Park, enjoying the trees and the flowers. From there we went to a vast three-storey building set in a large wooded park on the river at Chelsea. It is called the Royal Hospital [founded by Charles II in 1691] and it houses retired soldiers over fifty years of age who spend the rest of their lives in peace and comfort. They are provided with clothing and food by the English Government: 500 men sit down together for meals. Most of the men I saw there had suffered wounds in battle and had had an arm or leg amputated.

In addition to these soldiers, 12,000 pensioners live at home with their families: they each receive twelve tomans a year from the Government. Near the Hospital is another large stone building built eight years ago by the second Royal Prince, the Duke of York, for children whose fathers were killed in the wars.

I do not know if the King is a religious man, but God must be pleased with him for building this house and caring for orphans. And his soldiers must be all the more loyal and willing to risk their lives in battle if they can look forward to a comfortable old age in the Chelsea Hospital.’

I was utterly amazed!

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1867
Richard Wagner,
composer

‘In my whole life I do not think I have ever been so sad as I am now!! - How easily that is said, and how unspeakable it is -

I walked home, and sank down from exhaustion. A brief, leaden sleep such as often drives out a cold fetched up all the misery of my life as if from the depths of my soul. I yearn for major illness and death. I have no inclination any more, no will!

Would there an end to it, an end!
Today she has left, - What this leaving has said!
What is the use of any seeing each other again?
The leaving remains. It is wretched!’

[On being separated from Cosima, a separation that would last 15 months.]

How storms rage ever

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1914
Paul Klee,
artist

‘Colour possesses me. It will always possess me. That is the meaning of this happy hour: colour and I are one. I am a painter.’ [In Tunisia]

Colour possesses me

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1941
Robert Menzies,
politician

‘Tonight the enemy is passing overhead. You can hear him. The search lights are operating – and the crack of the guns in the park opposite is deafening. To look out of window you switch out the lights and peep through the curtain. An eerie experience, the sky occasionally flashing like lightning with the explosion of the A.A. shells. London is so vast that the German bombers pass over it on their way to any of the Midland or Northern cities. But how many A.A. shells are fired per hit God only knows. While the uproar goes on the buses and taxis still rumble along Park Lane!

Later. I was wrong. They were not passing. 460 of them were attacking London, and a dozen large bombs fell within 100 yards of the Dorchester. It was a terrible experience. Invited up to the second floor for a drink with two elderly ladies (one of them John Lowther’s mother), we had scarcely sat down when a great explosion and blast shattered the windows of the room, blew the curtains in, split the door, and filled the room with acrid fumes. Twice the whole building seemed to bounce with the force of the concussion. Twice I visited the ground floor, and found it full of white-faced people. Tritton went out to escort a guest home, got into the blitz, had his taxi driver wounded and the wind-screen broken, and took the wheel himself!

The sky beyond the Palace was red with fire and smoke, the sky was flashing like lightning. It is a horrible sound to hear the whistle of a descending stick of bombs, any one of them capable of destroying a couple of five-storey houses, and to wonder for a split second if it is going to land on your windows!

Just before dawn, at about 5 a.m., Tritton, Landau and I went for a walk to see the damage. There were buildings down and great craters within 100 yards of the hotel on the side away from the park. In Brook Street buildings were blazing. A great plume of red smoke rose from Selfridge’s. Gas mains blazed in Piccadilly. The houses fronting the Green Park were red and roaring. There were craters and fallen masonry in the streets, and the fear of an unexploded bomb lurking around every corner. Wherever we walked, we crunched over acres of broken glass. This is the “new order”. How can it go on for years?’

Churchill grows on me

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1961
Ned Rorem,
composer

‘Sitting in one denuded room whose center contains a mountain of packing cases to be removed tomorrow by Robert Phelps. Without paying last month’s rent I fly Friday for London, meanwhile have already left, can only sit, wondering, for five days more.

Wondering about those three things (and there are only three) we all desire: success in love, success in society, success in work. Any two of these may be achieved and possessed simultaneously, but not all three - there isn’t time. If you think you have the three, beware! You’re teetering on the abyss. You can’t have a lover and friends and career. And even just career and love are, in the long run, mutually exclusive.’

Self-exposing massacre

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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.

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