And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

17 April

1497
Vasco da Gama,
explorer

‘We approached nearer to the town [Malindi]. The king sent the captain-major six sheep, besides quantities of cloves, cumin, ginger, nutmeg and pepper, as also a message, telling him that if he desired to have an interview with him he (the king) would come out in his zavra when the captain-major could meet him in a boat.’

Cloves, cumin, ginger

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1838
Henry Cockburn,
lawyer

‘On Saturday the 14th, I was in Court till midnight.

The only curious case was that of Malcolm M’Lean, a fisherman from Lewis, who is doomed to die upon the 11th of May, for the murder of his wife. He admitted that he killed her, and intentionally, but the defence by his counsel was that he was mad at the time. There was not the slightest foundation for this, for though he was often under the influence of an odd mixture of wild religious speculation, and of terrified superstition, he had no illusion, and in all the affairs of life, including all his own feelings and concerns, was always dealt with as a sound practical man. One part of his pretended craziness was said to consist in his making machinery to attain the perpetual motion, and his believing that he had succeeded. This shows that this famous problem is not in such vogue as it once was. But the thing that seemed to me to be the oddest in the matter, was the perfect familiarity with which the common Celts of Lewis talked and thought of the thing called the perpetual motion, whatever they fancied it. Their word for it, according to the common process of borrowing terms with ideas, was, “Perpetual Motion” pronounced and treated by them as a Gaelic expression. The words “Perpetual motion,” were used in the middle of Gaelic sentences without stop or surprise, exactly as we use any Anglified French term.

This man’s declaration, which told the whole truth with anxious candour, contained a curious and fearful description of the feelings of a man about to commit a deliberate murder. He had taken it into his head that his wife was unkind, and perhaps faithless to him, and even meant to kill him, and therefore he thought it better, upon the whole, to prevent this by killing her, which accordingly, on a particular day, he was determined to do. He went to work on a piece of ground in the morning, thinking, all the time he was working, of going into the house and doing the deed, but was unwilling and infirm. However, he at last resolved, went in, sat down, she at the opposite side of the fire, the children in and out, but still he could not, and went to work again. After reasoning and dreaming of the great deed of the day, he went to the house again, but still could not, and came out; and this alternate resolving and wavering, this impulse of passion, and this recoiling of nature recurred most part of the day, till at last, sitting opposite to her again, he made a sudden plunge at her throat, and scientifically Burked her by compressing the mouth and nose, after which a sore fit of sated fury succeeded, which gave way, when people began to come in, to an access of terror and cunning, which made him do everything possible for his own safety, till tired of wandering about, and haunted by some of his religious notions, he went towards Stornoway to redeliver himself (for he had been previously taken, but escaped), when he was discovered. He is now low and resigned, and says he has not been so comfortable for years, because he has got the better of the Devil at last, and is sure of defying him on the 11th of May.’

Of murder and raptus

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1882
Emma Darwin,
wife of biologist

‘good day
a little work -
out in orch twice’

Darwin and his diaries

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1914
Gertrude Bell,
writer and archaeologist

‘It was quite cool today - comparatively; 85 was the highest temperature I registered and we profited by the weather and made a 10 hours march, without fatigue. A dull part of the desert, this is; long shallow steps leading us up into the high Hamad. I think we have left Mesopotamian heat behind and it looks as if it might rain, in which case we shall be flooded out, being in low ground for the sake of our evening lights, and under such insufficient canvas too. Khair inshallah! Today we saw fresh prints of horsemen. ‘Adwan (who is a charming man by the way) opined that they were Shammar of the Jezireh [al-Jazirah], Mesopotamia, looking for ‘Anazeh. with whom they are at feud. I feel no kind of anxiety as to ghazzus while I have ‘Adwan with me. A man from the house of the great shaikh of the Dulaim, a relative of his, and employed by the Government in collecting the cattle tax - it would be impossible to find a surer rafiq. When I part from him the fun may begin, but perhaps not - the Shamiyyeh [Shamiyah] is tolerably safe. Anyways I don’t bother at all; we have been through places so much worse and come out whole and sound. The Government has raised the sheep tax by more than a piastre - I suppose that’s the wax[?l. How much of it do they receive, I wonder? ‘Adwan says truly that the shaikhs eat more than the Government. The long fatigue of travel is upon me and I talk little while we ride. Whenever I talk ‘Adwan greets me with smiles and fair answers. I love these desert people and the sudden heart-whole part they play in your fortunes. And then you leave them and what do they think afterwards? I believe they have a pleasant memory of service rendered and of the quick intimacy of the few days’ journey. One of my rafiqs, far away on the other side of the Nefud, said once over the camp fire “In all the years when we come to this place we shall say: ‘Here we came with her, here she camped.’ It will be a thing to talk of, your ghazzu. We shall be asked for news of it and we shall speak of it and tell how you came.” I expect they will, and it makes me dreadfully anxious that they should tell nothing but good, since they will judge my whole race by me. That recollection very often checks the hasty word when I am tired, and feeling cross, or bored - heavens! how bored, cross and tired some times! Then I try to remember that they will tell how I came.’

The Arabian Diaries

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1990
David Lodge,
writer

’Today we met for the first read-through, arranged for 2 p.m. to allow the actors time to travel up from London this morning. We assembled in the Boardroom at the top of the Repertory Theatre, with most of the heads of the various departments present. First, the General Manager, Bill Hughes, welcomed the cast, introduced the various people present, and gave out practical information to do with pay, Green Room facilities, concessions, etc. Then all departed except for the cast, John [Adams], myself, designer Robin Butlin and the ASM, Philippa Smith. John then gave a little chat designed to make the cast feel relaxed and at home, sketching out how he proposed to proceed, and indicating what the schedule of rehearsals was likely to be. The actors sat on each side of the Boardroom table. John sat at one end near them. I sat with Roger Butlin at the other end. This, although not pre-arranged, proved a rather useful seating plan, since John and I were able to look directly along the table and silently indicate whether we were happy or unhappy with something in the actors’ delivery, though we did not actually begin to exploit this mode of communication until later on in the day. [. . .]

We broke for tea and the actors went down to the Green Room. John came over to me and said: “Sometimes with a read-through you think immediately, well, we’ve got the right cast and they’ve got hold of the play and all we need to do really is to refine and polish this reading; and with other read-throughs you think, Hmmm.” And, he said, this is one where you think, Hmmm. In other words, there is quite a bit of work to be done. Both Roger and I agreed with this assessment.’

Lodge’s diary playback

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