And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

29 April

1857
Queen Victoria

‘Till today I have been prevented from writing in my Journal, & I resume it today with feelings of the deepest, gratitude towards an All Merciful Father in Heaven who has preserved me, & restored me almost completely to health & strength. I have felt better & stronger this time, than I have ever done before. How I also thank God for granting us such a dear, pretty girl, which I so much wished for! She came into the world at 2 o’clock on the 14th, having caused me a very long wearisome time. I was amply rewarded, & forgot all I had gone through, when I heard dearest Albert say “it is a very fine child, & a girl!” & it was as inexpressible joy to me. My beloved ones love and devotion, & the way he helped in so many little ways, was unbounded. Mrs Lilley being old, & having been so ill last year, I had an assistant monthly Nurse, Mrs Innocent to help her. Dr Lucock & Dr Snow attended me. After I had some sleep, Mama & Feodore came in for a moment to see me. Albert had to go at 4 to the Council, & wished dear Aunt Gloucester. He brought Vicky in, to wish me good night - We have to settled that the Baby should be named, Beatrice>, Victoria, Feodore>. Beatrice, is a lovely name, meaning Blessed, & was borne by 3 English Princesses. Dear Mama, Vicky & Fritz & Feodore, are to be the sponsors. - Have done remarkably well all the time. - After the first days saw all the Children, & Vicky has often been reading to me, Mama, & Feodore, also constantly coming in & out. [. . .]

Occupied in choosing various things including little caps, &c - for the dear little new born one, who is such a pretty plump, flourishing child, promising to be very like Arthur, with fine large blue eyes, marked nose, pretty little mouth & very fine skin.’

Amply rewarded

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1859
George Eliot,
writer

‘Finished a story - The Lifted Veil - which I began one morning at Richmond as a resource when my head was too stupid for more important work. Resumed my new novel, of which I am going to rewrite the two first chapters. I shall call it provisionally The Tullivers, for the sake of a title quelconque, or perhaps St Ogg’s on the Floss.’

St Ogg’s on the Floss

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1930
Virginia Woolf,
writer

‘And I have just finished, with this very nib-ful of ink, the last sentence of The Waves. I think I should record this for my own information. Yes, it was the greatest stretch of mind I ever knew; certainly the last pages; I don’t think they flop as much as usual. And I think I have kept starkly and ascetically to the plan. So much I will say in self-congratulation. But I have never written a book so full of holes and patches; that will need re-building, yes, not only re-modelling. I suspect the structure is wrong. Never mind. I might have done something easy and fluent; and this is a reach after that vision I had, the unhappy summer - or three weeks - at Rodmell, after finishing The Lighthouse. (And that reminds me - I must hastily provide my mind with something else, or it will again become pecking and wretched - something imaginative, if possible, and light; for I shall tire of Hazlitt and criticism after the first divine relief; and I feel pleasantly aware of various adumbrations in the back of my head; a life of Duncan; no, something about canvases glowing in a studio; but that can wait.)

And I think to myself as I walk down Southampton Row, ‘And I have given you a new book.’ ’

One wave after another

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2005
Václav Havel,
politician

‘I have been to two more “political dinners” at Madeleine’s; many important people were there, such as the former secretary of defense William Cohen; the director of PBS, Mrs. Pat Mitchell; Senator Barbara Mikulski; the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, Mrs. Nancy Pelosi; the deputy secretary of state, Mr. Nicholas Bums; and many others. Many of them I had met on earlier occasions, others I had once been introduced to, but I had forgotten those earlier encounters. Madeleine, once again, moderated the discussion wonderfully; it was lively and spontaneous and exhausting, naturally. I had the constant feeling that I was speaking of things about which these people knew more than I did, and moreover I was doing so in a language I don’t know very well. Now that it’s over I’m glad I did it, and I’m grateful to Madeleine.

It’s paradoxical: every evening I meet with the most important people here, and then, during the day, I run afoul of banal American red tape. Yesterday, for example, we had to return our rental car and then turn right around and rent it again, even though we’d already paid for another month. I understand the thing itself - it’s an accounting matter. What I don’t understand is why the transaction consumed almost an entire, valuable American day. Standing at the window where all this took place, and where more and more complications kept surfacing, I found it hard not to lose my temper. My Czech pistoleer often uses a trick I don’t much like: he reveals who I am - if I’m not recognized, that is. But in this democratic country, favoritism is out of favor, and so the results are always the same: great delight that they’ve met me, great astonishment that I, of all people, have turned up here, of all places - and then an immediate return to the original situation. It doesn’t speed things up by even a minute. That was yesterday. I barely had time to change for dinner at Madeleine’s.

But that wasn’t the end of it; two unpleasant things happened this morning. The first was something I knew was bound to happen, that is, our Barnabas, Mr. Edler, was nowhere to be found, and so they wouldn’t let us into our parking spot. (Later the director of the Kluge Center had to sort things out himself at the entrance.) And the second thing was something I could not have known would happen, and which says something about the state of my memory. At the entrance to the library, where they put my bag through a scanner, they discovered a metal kitchen knife in it, which is not allowed. I expressed surprise and denied it, of course, because I’d completely forgotten that I’d put the knife in my bag that morning so I could spread jam on my roll. They searched the bag and I was caught red-handed. There was nothing to do but hope I wouldn’t be arrested, then go outside and toss the knife in the garbage. (Fortunately it was not made of silver.) I felt very silly.

I often can’t understand Americans when they speak, especially black Americans, and this is the source of many other embarrassing moments. Yesterday, for example, a young black man who was with me in the elevator told me how much he admired me and asked me for my autograph. Then he mumbled something I didn’t catch, though it was evidently a question. For the sake of simplicity, I replied, “Yes.” As soon as I’d spoken, I realized that he was asking me if I had written The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I couldn’t very well change my answer, and there was no escaping, so I had to remain in a state of embarrassment until the moment of liberation when our elevator arrived at the right floor. A truly Kunderian situation.’

Václav Havel as diarist

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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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