And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

18 April

1497
Vasco da Gama,
explorer

‘On Wednesday, after dinner, when the king came up close to the ships in a zavra, the captain-major at once entered one of his boats, which had been well furnished, and many friendly words were exchanged when they lay side by side. The king having invited the captain-major to come to his house to rest, after which he (the king) would visit him on board his ship, the captain-major said that he was not permitted by his master to go on land, and if he were to do so a bad report would be given of him. The king wanted to know what would be said of himself by his people if he were to visit the ships, and what account could he render them? He then asked for the name of our king, which was written down for him, and said that on our return he would send an ambassador with us, or a letter.

When both had said all they desired, the captain-major sent for the Moors whom he had taken prisoner, and surrendered them all. This gave much satisfaction to the king, who said that he valued this act more highly than if he had been presented with a town. And the king, much pleased, made the circuit of our ships, the bombards of which fired a salute. About three hours were spent in this way. When the king went away he left in the ship one of his sons and a sharif, and took two of us away with him, to whom he desired to show his palace. He, moreover, told the captain that as he would not go ashore he would himself return on the following day to the beach, and would order his horsemen to go through some exercises.

The king wore a robe (royal cloak) of damask trimmed with green satin, and a rich touca. He was seated on two cushioned chairs of bronze, beneath a round sunshade of crimson satin attached to a pole. An old man, who attended him as page, carried a short sword in a silver sheath. There were many players on anafils, and two trumpets of ivory, richly carved, and of the size of a man, which were blown from a hole in the side, and made sweet harmony with the anafils.’

Cloves, cumin, ginger

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1678
John Evelyn,
writer

‘I went to see new Bedlam Hospital, magnificently built, and most sweetly placed in Moorfields, since the dreadful fire in London.’

A most excellent person

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1706
John Flamsteed,
astronomer

‘Mr. Hudson here told me, if I would go up, Sir I. Newton would go to the Prince’s treasurer with me; urged me much: I went on the 19th mane: Sir Isaac was very grave: told me that, the Prince having subscribed a great sum to the Emperor’s loan, the whole money could not be received: that he had taken up monies for Mr. Churchill: would say nothing, when I asked if he had taken up also to pay me for my calculators; but that he must give bond to Mr. Churchill: I told him he had my catalogue and papers in his hands: he answered slightingly, that the catalogue was imperfect, which he knew when he received it sealed up, and was contented with it: I desired my MSS back, to correct the faults of the press: he told me we must go on slowly at first, quicker after, that in a few weeks he would return my MSS: Dr. Grey is at Oxford; suppose will not return till after term time: he must be paid for the needless collations, and they cannot be finished till his return: all this insincere practice I must bear, so long as God thinks fit: may his goodness deliver me speedily.’

The first Astronomer Royal

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1719
Thomas Hearne,
antiquary

‘A present has been made me of a book called The Antiquities of Barkshire, by Elias Ashmole, esq. London, printed for E. Curll, in Fleet-street, 1719. 8vo in three volumes. It was given me by my good friend Thomas Rawlinson, esq. As soon as I opened it, and looked into it, I was amazed at the abominable impudence, ignorance, and carelessness of the publisher, and I can hardly ascribe all this to any one else than to that villain Curll. Mr. Ashmole is made to have written abundance of things since his death. All is ascribed to him, and yet a very great part of what is mentioned happened since he died. For, as many of the persons died after him, so the inscriptions mentioned in this book were made and fixed since his death also. Besides, what is taken from Mr. Ashmole is most fraudulently done. The epitaphs are falsely printed, and his words and sense most horribly perverted. What Mr. Ashmole did was done very carefully, as appears from the original in the museum, where also are his exact draughts of the most considerable monuments, of which there is no notice in this strange rhapsody. I call it a rhapsody, because there is no method nor judgement observed in it, nor one dram of true learning. Some things are taken from my edition of Leland, but falsely printed, and I cannot but complain of the injury done me.’

Remarks and collections

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1857
William Sydney Clements,
landowner

‘Went to Dublin and to Killadoon. I was shot at passing through Tooman. Two copper caps snapped. The gun or pistol missed fire. I went into the house of the widow Burbage and her son Mch’l Burbage appeared to be the person who had done the act.’

Splinters fell on me

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1861
John Milton Hay,
politician

‘The White House is turned into barracks. Jim Lane marshalled his Kansas warriors to-day at Willard’s and placed them at the disposal of Maj. Hunter, who turned them tonight into the East Room. It is a splendid company - worthy of such an armory. Besides the western Jayhawkers it comprises some of the best materiel of the East. Senator Pomeroy and old Anthony Bleecker stood shoulder to shoulder in the ranks. Jim Lane walked proudly up and down the ranks with a new sword that the Major had given him. The Major has made me his aid, and I labored under some uncertainty as to whether I should speak to privates or not. [. . .]

All day the notes of preparation have been heard at the public buildings and the Armories. Everybody seems to be expecting a Son or brother or “young man” in the coming regiments.

To-night Edward brought me a card from Mrs. Ann S. Stephens expressing a wish to see the President on matters concerning his personal safety. As the Ancient was in bed, I volunteered to receive the harrowing communication. Edward took me to the little room adjoining the hall and I waited. Mrs. Stephens, who is neither young nor yet fair to any miraculous extent came in leading a lady, who was a little of both whom she introduced as Mrs. Col. Lander. I was delighted at this chance interview with the Medea, the Julia the Mona Lisa of my stage-struck days. After many hesitating and bashful trials, Mrs. Lander told the impulse that brought them. Some young Virginian long-haired swaggering chivalrous of course and indiscreet friend had come into town in great anxiety for a new saddle, and meeting her had said that he and half a dozen others including a daredevil guerilla from Richmond named Ficklin would do a thing within forty-eight hours that would ring through the world. Connecting this central fact with a multiplicity of attendant details she concluded that the President was either to be assassinated or captured. She ended by renewing her protestations of earnest solicitude mingled with fears of the impropriety of the step. Lander has made her very womanly since he married her. Imagine Jean M. Davenport a blushing hesitating wife!

They went away and I went to the bedside of the Chief couché. I told him the yarn; he quietly grinned.

Going to my room, I met the Captain. He was a little boozy and very eloquent. He dilated on the troubles of the time and bewailed the existence of a garrison in the White House, “to give éclat to Jim Lane.”

Hill Lamon came in about midnight saying that Cash. Clay was drilling a splendid company at Willard’s Hall and that the town was in a general tempest of enthusiastic excitement. which not being very new, I went to sleep.’

The witty, dapper Mr. Hay

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1882
Emma Darwin,
wife of biologist

‘Ditto [i.e. of previous day’s entry]
Fatal attack at 12’

Darwin and his diaries

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1961
Arthur Schlesinger,
historian

‘The pace began to quicken in Cuba over the weekend. On Saturday, fliers landed in Florida after attacks on Cuban air fields and claimed to be defectors. Through an unfortunate misunderstanding, Stevenson in New York was permitted by the State Department to testify to this effect in his UN speech Saturday afternoon. They were not defectors. This, plus the impression given Stevenson by the CIA that no action was imminent, made him unhappy and suspicious over the turn of events. The President, who probably had misgivings of this own, responded to this mood and called off an air strike scheduled for Monday morning. This meant that the landings at the Bay of Pigs had to take place under the guns of what remained of the Cuban Air Force. In particular, the Cuban T-33s [Lockheed jets] turned out to be far more effective than any of us had been led to suppose. This created havoc on Monday and Tuesday. In addition, Castro’s tanks reached the beachhead sooner than had been expected. And the landings failed to set off mass uprisings behind the line. By Tuesday evening, it looked to be all over. It was a grim and sad two days. Many fine men have been killed or lost; and one cannot resist the belief that this was an ill-considered and mistaken expedition.

I had seen Scotty Reston Monday afternoon. At the end of the afternoon I reported this to the President, who decided that it might be a good idea to have Scotty in for luncheon on Tuesday.

JFK was in superb form at lunch. Scotty went away starry-eyed (as did I). We talked a little about Cuba, though without going into operational detail. The President made it clear that he felt he had been given poor advice by the CIA. “I probably made a mistake in keeping Allen Dulles on,” he said. “It’s not that Dulles is not a man of great ability. He is. But I have never worked with him and therefore I can’t estimate his meaning when he tells me things. We will have to do something about the CIA. I must have someone there with whom I can be in complete and intimate contact - someone from whom I know I will be getting the exact pitch.” He added, “I made a mistake in putting Bobby in the Justice Department. He is wasted there. Byron White could do that job perfectly well. Bobby should be in the CIA.” (In my view, the President is dead right.) He spoke about all this in excellent humor. “Dulles,” he said, “is a legendary figure, and it’s hard to operate with legendary figures. . . It is a hell of way to learn things, but I have learned one thing from this business - that is, that we will have to deal with the CIA. McNamara has dealt with Defense; Rusk has done a lot with State; but no one has dealt with the CIA.”

Given the faltering of the Cuban adventure, the next question is whether we should accept defeat or enlarge our support of the rebels. Stewart Alsop, with whom I had a drink at the Metropolitan Club before the lunch, had argued that defeat would cause irreparable harm; that we had no choice but to intervene, if necessary, to avert disaster. But the President had already made his mind up on this. He felt that defeat in Cuba would obviously be a setback; but that it would be an incident, not a disaster. The test had always been whether the Cuban people would back up a revolt against Castro. If they wouldn’t, we could not impose a new regime on them. But would not U.S. prestige suffer if we let the rebellion flicker out? “What is prestige?” said the President. “Is it the shadow of power or the substance of power? We are going to work on the substance of power. No doubt we will be kicked in the ass for the next couple of weeks, but that won’t affect the main business.”

After the luncheon, I joined Mac [Bundyj and Ken O’Donnell in the President’s office. Ken, who has penetrating good sense on practically everything, suggested the general line: the Cuban insurgents should say that they achieved their basic objectives - supply and reinforcement - and vanish into the hills. The President was still playing around with the idea of evacuating the patriots from the beaches; but Mac feared that this would provide evidence of U.S. intervention without bringing us any gains. I was glad to see that Mac accepted the situation and did not favor the commitment of U.S. forces. In an interlude, we discussed the CIA situation. Mac felt that Dulles had more misgivings about the project than he had ever expressed to the President, and that he had not done so out of loyalty to Bissell. As for Bissell, Mac simply said that he personally would not be able to accept Dick’s estimates of a situation like this again. Mac did not feel that the cancellation of the air strike had fundamentally changed the situation; it would not have altered the immense Castro advantage on the ground. His conclusion is that Castro is far better organized and more formidable than we had supposed. (For example, the insurgents appear to have run out of pilots, despite the months of training.)

All in all, a gloomy day. If this thing must fail, it is just as well that it fails quickly. But I cannot banish from my mind the picture of these brave men, pathetically underequipped, dying on Cuban beaches before Soviet tanks.’

Nixon - ‘the greatest shit’

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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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