And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

19 April

Vasco da Gama,

‘On Thursday the captain-major and Nicolau Coelho rowed along the front of the town, bombards having been placed in the poops of their long-boats. Many people were along the shore, and among them two horsemen, who appeared to take much delight in a sham-fight. The king was carried in a palanquin from the stone steps of his palace to the side of the captain-major’s boats. He again begged the captain to come ashore, as he had a helpless father who wanted to see him, and that he and his sons would go on board the ships as hostages. The captain, however, excused himself.’

Cloves, cumin, ginger


George Byron,

There is ice at both poles, north and south - all extremes are the same - misery belongs to the highest and the lowest only, - to the emperor and the beggar, when unsixpenced and unthroned. There is, to be sure, a damned insipid medium - an equinoctial line - no one knows where, except upon maps and measurement.

“And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.”

I will keep no further journal of that same hesternal torch-light; and, to prevent me from returning, like a dog, to the vomit of memory, I tear out the remaining leaves of this volume, and write, in ipecacuanha, - “that the Bourbons are restored!!!” “Hang up philosophy.” To be sure, I have long despised myself and man, but I never spat in the face of my species before - “O fool! I shall go mad.” ’

The pleasures of this life


Karl Varnhagen von Ense,
diplomat and soldier

‘I saw Humboldt to-day, who told me many things, and showed me a beautiful portrait of Arago, which pleased me very much. He talked much about the difficulties between Russia and England, as to their interests in the East Indies and in Persia, and repeated what he had heard about it from the Russian Emperor himself. The Czar was in a great passion against the English, and thought it highly important to oppose their supremacy in Asia. Humboldt agrees with me that the English have nothing serious to fear for the next fifty years from Russia in the Indies, but that fear and jealousy may engender a quarrel in Europe prior to any conflict in the East, although conflicting parties will certainly think twice before allowing it to come to that pass.’

Humboldt’s genius


John Dearman Birchall,

‘London. City in morning. Horticultural Show in the afternoon very charming. The azalias, roses and Veitch’s Stove plants especially the anthuricum Scherzerium with its gorgeous scarlet bloom and spiked centre tongue of rather lighter shade. Evening at Burlington club conversazione. We met Gambier Parry, Millais, Tom Taylor etc. Collection of fayence Urbino ware, Wedgewood, bronzes, Marquis of Westminster’s collection of paintings including Turner’s sketch and Constable’s greatest picture.’

The tricycle diaries


Robert Earl Henri,

‘All the students were called around to see my improvement and the good things I had done. Wasn’t I as happy as a clam at high tide when I opened the door and saw Hovey lecturing over my study to all the other students! . . . To me this boom was stimulating.’

Make the draperies move


Frances Stevenson,

‘We intended to go for a tour round the devastated areas, starting this afternoon & spending the night at Amiens, & returning to Paris tomorrow night. At lunch time, however, D. returned & said it would be impossible as there would have to be a meeting this afternoon & tomorrow morning. Very disappointed, but still, ‘duty first’. Perhaps we shall be able to go for a short run tomorrow.

D. very tired after a heavy day & we dined very quietly & went to bed early. The Italian claims are giving a certain amount of trouble, the Italians being very obstinate. It is a difficult position, as we must stand by them & the Pact of London, though D. says they are making a mistake in pressing it. They on the other hand say that Germany promised them more than this if they remained neutral, & Orlando naturally feels that he cannot go back to Italy empty handed.’

We had great fun


Bruce Lockhart,

‘Soviet decree about women having the right to divorce a man for a month and the latter not having the right to refuse. Saw Trotsky - fairly satisfactory but hope is not great. In afternoon had long talk with Chichcrin and Karakhan on subject of agreement. Overwhelmed with work. We have no staff, and it is impossible to get through half of what we ought to do.’

Secret agent in Moscow


John Reith,
businessman and politician

‘Opening of the Wembley Exhibition [British Empire Exhibition]. Everything went most successfully, including the broadcast which went out all over the country, and was the biggest thing we have done yet.’

Reith on Hitler, Churchill


Ernst Carl Reinhold Brüche,

‘We sit there in the forecourt of the Krügel building on a tree-trunk in the sun and feel like prisoners, which of course we are. We live under the most primitive conditions but even worse may well be in store for us. [. . .] Inside the factory no one wants to work anymore. It’s so pointless. Do what, and what for?’

The death of German physics


John Rae,

‘To Winchester for an unpublicised meeting of eight major public schools: Eton, Winchester, Westminster, Harrow, Rubgy, Charterhouse, Shrewsbury and Marlborough. We dine in the warden’s lodgings and before and after dinner we talk about the threats to the future of our schools at a time of rising fees, falling numbers and political hostility. We agree that whatever happens, we eight will act in concert. The unspoken agenda is that our schools must survive even if other independent schools go to the wall.’

A ticking off at Westminster


Ronald Reagan,

‘A beautiful Easter morning. In the afternoon Rev. Louis Evans & his wife called and brought us communion. They made it a most meaningful day.

Watched some T.V. in bed and saw Gloria Steinem take me over the coals for being a bigot and against women. Either she is totally ignorant of my positions which I doubt or she is a deliberate liar.’

A burst of gun fire


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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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