And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

4 April

Richard Steele,
politician and writer

‘I have lately had a fit of sickness, which has awakened in me, among other things, a sense of the little care I have taken of my own family. And as it is natural for men to be more affected with the actions and sufferings and observations upon the rest of the world, set down by their predecessors, than by what they receive from other men; I have taken a resolution to write down in this book, as in times of leisure I may have opportunity, things past, or things that may occur hereafter, for the perusal and consideration of my son, Eugene Steele, and his sisters Elizabeth Steele and Mary Steele, my beloved children.’

A life too bustling


Henry Crabb Robinson,

‘At Pope’s benefit, at the Opera House. “The Earl of Warwick.” Mrs. Siddons most nobly played her part as Margaret of Anjou. The character is one to which she can still render justice. She looked ill, and I thought her articulation indistinct, and her voice drawling and funereal during the first act; but as she advanced in the play, her genius triumphed over natural impediments. She was all that could be wished. The scene in which she wrought upon the mind of Warwick was perfect. And in the last act, her triumphant joy at the entrance of Warwick, whom she had stabbed, was incomparable. She laughed convulsively, and staggered off the stage as if drunk with delight; and in every limb showed the tumult of passion with an accuracy and a force equally impressive to the critic and the man of feeling.

Her advancing age is a real pain to me. As an actor, she has left with me the conviction that there never was, and never will be, her equal.’

Her genius triumphed


Mountstuart Elphinstone Grant Duff,

‘Went down to Brooke House in the Isle of Wight, belonging to Mr. Seely, M.P. for Lincoln, to meet Garibaldi, who had just come to England, and is on a visit to him.

It was a strange miscellaneous party. Menotti Garibaldi [politician son of the famous Giuseppe Garibaldi] and Ricciotti his brother, the latter little more than a boy. [. . .] I had a pretty long talk with Garibaldi, walking up and down a long orchard house full of fruit trees in flower. He spoke English badly but preferred speaking it, although his French was more agreeable to listen to in spite of a strong Italian accent. His conversation did not at all impress me, but he spoke only of trivial subjects. He wore while at Brooke sometimes a grey and sometimes a red poncho.’

Good-natured books


Lafcadio Hearn,
writer and teacher

‘The Students of the third, fourth, and fifth year classes write for me once a week brief English compositions upon easy themes which I select for them. As a rule the themes are Japanese. Considering the immense difficulty of the English language to Japanese students, the ability of some of my boys to express their thoughts in it is astonishing. Their compositions have also another interest for me as revelations, not of individual character, but of national sentiment, or of aggregate sentiment of some sort or other. What seems to me most surprising in the compositions of the average Japanese student is that they have no personal cachet at all. Even the handwriting of twenty English compositions will be found to have a curious family resemblance; and striking exceptions are too few to affect the rule. Here is one of the best compositions on my table, by a student at the head of his class. Only a few idiomatic errors have been corrected:


“The Moon appears melancholy to those who are sad, and joyous to those who are happy. The Moon makes memories of home come to those who travel, and creates home-sickness. So when the Emperor Godaigo, having been banished to Oki by the traitor Hojo, beheld the moonlight upon the seashore, he cried out, ‘The Moon is heartless!’

The sight of the Moon makes an immeasurable feeling in our hearts when we look up at it through the clear air of a beauteous night.

Our hearts ought to be pure and calm like the light of the Moon.

Poets often compare the Moon to a Japanese mirror and indeed its shape is the same when it is full.

The refined man amuses himself with the Moon. He seeks some house looking out upon water, to watch the Moon, and to make verses about it.

The best places from which to see the Moon are Tsukigashi, and the mountain Obasute.

The light of the Moon shines alike upon foul and pure, upon high and low. That beautiful Lamp is neither yours nor mine, but everybody’s.

When we look at the Moon we should remember that its waxing and its waning are the signs of the truth that the culmination of all things is likewise the beginning of their decline.”

Any person totally unfamiliar with Japanese educational methods might presume that the foregoing composition shows some original power of thought and imagination. But this is not the case. I found the same thoughts and comparisons in thirty other compositions upon the same subject. Indeed, the compositions of any number of middle-school students upon the same subject are certain to be very much alike in idea and sentiment - though they are none the less charming for that. As a rule the Japanese student shows little originality in the line of imagination. His imagination was made for him long centuries ago - partly in China, partly in his native land. From his childhood he is trained to see and to feel Nature exactly in the manner of those wondrous artists who, with a few swift brush-strokes, fling down upon a sheet of paper the colour-sensation of a chilly dawn, a fervid noon, an autumn evening.

Through all his boyhood he is taught to commit to memory the most beautiful thoughts and comparisons to be found in his ancient native literature. Every boy has thus learned that the vision of Fuji against the blue resembles a white half-opened fan, hanging inverted in the sky. Every boy knows that cherry-trees in full blossom look as if the most delicate of flushed summer clouds were caught in their branches. Every boy knows the comparison between the falling of certain leaves on snow and the casting down of texts upon a sheet of white paper with a brush. Every boy and girl knows the verses comparing the print of cat’s-feet on snow to plum-flowers, and that comparing the impression of bokkuri on snow to the Japanese character for the number “two,” These were thoughts of old, old poets; and it would be very hard to invent prettier ones. Artistic power in composition is chiefly shown by the correct memorising and clever combination of these old thoughts.

And the students have been equally well trained to discover a moral in almost everything, animate or inanimate.’

Lafcadio Hearn in Japan


Mary Fuller,

‘I had a delicious time today going to three theaters, dining at my Mexican restaurant on tamales and hot dishes, and driving in the limousine. Going down Fifth Avenue, a newsboy urchin jumped up on the running-board and thrust his head in the window. He treated me to an unconvincing line of begging and ended by saying, “I’ll say a prayer for you. lady, if you help me out.” I helped him out, but I dont think I have need of prayers so much that Fate should send so ill a messenger to offer them. Saw ___ in a feature picture today. He is one of the film actors that I like. It was the first time I had seen him, either on the screen or in person. I suppose I should see more pictures, but there are so many other things that claim my attention first.’

What happened to Mary


William Soutar,

‘Writing and reading: continue to wrestle with words in a very sticky fashion. Perhaps my concentration on verse has made it difficult for me when I turn to prose - anyhow, there is often a strained sound about such prose as I write. Of course all men, I expect, come upon these periods of mental stiffness - but they are depressing at the time and bring with them the fear that they may not pass away. At such moments, the mood is disintegrated - a stimulating talk with a kindred spirit may also disperse it - but alas! I rarely enjoy that. Indeed, I sometimes wonder if much of the irritating tattle which is washed my way lies like a weight on the spirit.’

My hungry hound


Marya Zaturenska,

’Returned yesterday from a trip to Boston. I left on April 1, on a beautiful spring morning, very much excited because it was the first trip I had taken by myself for years. I went at the invitation of M. B., a young woman on the Atlantic Monthly who had praised my last book warmly and who seemed anxious to have me visit her. Arrived in Boston and it rained and rained. Felt that I talked too much and too excitedly and that Miss B. was not particularly finding me to her liking. I was modest and humble about my work when I should have been impressive and arrogant. But honestly I can’t put up great claims for my work - yet. Yes it’s good - but it will be better if I can keep on writing and printing. As a great treat (and it was) M. B. took me to visit Robert Frost. We had dinner with him and then we went to his apartment near Louisburg Square where he lives alone. Frost still shows the remains of great physical charm, but he is potbellied now, pale, looks ill and old.

He was charming, warm, and friendly, and in response to his tactful questioning I opened up and talked a great deal. Miss B. sat overcome with awe and reverence, looking horrified when I disagreed with him from time to time. We talked “shop,” which seemed to be annoying M. B., but Frost evidently enjoyed it for he went on and on. Some good malicious stories about E. A. Robinson, his stinginess, his sponging, his drunkenness, the awfulness of his disciples. All this with a deprecating smile and a rather disarming “Of course I was jealous of him. And he of me. But we were good friends.” More stories about Ezra Pound. “The poor devil hasn’t a friend on earth. No one but a group of young disciples whom he changes from year to year and eventually antagonizes. He is so lonely he even ran into Louis Untermeyer’s arms when he met him at Rapallo. He abused him afterwards of course.” Also comments on Kreymborg and J. G. Fletcher. Of the last: “He behaved so badly while in England that all I had to do was to be mild-mannered and quiet and everyone took me to their bosom saying, ‘You see there are Americans who are decent fellows.’ ” Of his beautiful, luxuriously furnished apartment: “Oh friends got it and fixed it up for me. I never bother about such things.”

In speaking of Frost I should emphasize his remarkable and indescribable charm, which made me forget some of the small petty things I knew he had done to people who hadn’t praised him as he felt he had a right to be praised. One forgets his malice; I only felt that air of warmth, naïveté and kindliness which he contradicts by his own words. No intellect but a lot of worldly wisdom and shrewdness. He knows literary politics as no one else does, but the air of naïveté half disguises it. I think I know his faults very well - and yet I could see that one could grow so fond of him that his faults would be forgotten. And he is not incapable of using the love he inspires for his own ends - if it were usable. His literary taste is bad - but he instinctively knows what to do with his own work and is really interested in no one’s work but his own. But no one blames any artist for that. A great critic is as rare as a great poet and he is rarely both. Self-criticism is all we can expect.’

Obsessed by new poems


Alexander Cadogan,
civil servant

‘Several of the more disreputable papers canvass my appointment as S. of S. - deprecating it. I most cordially agree with them! Jim Thomas tells me it’s been going all round the Lobbies, on the grounds that that is what P.M. wants - so that he should have complete control of F.A., I suppose! He may have toyed with the idea, but it’s a bad one.’

Went to see P.M. (in bed)


Astrid Lindgren,

‘On this day I have been married for 13 years. The beautiful bride is stuck in bed, however, which gets pretty boring in the long run. I like it in the mornings when they bring me tea and white bread with smoked ham in bed and I get the bed made for me and the place nicely tidied around me, but I loathe it at night, when I have to have some kind of hot compress on my foot and it itches like mad and Sture’s asleep but I can’t get off to sleep myself. I’m reading Maugham’s Of Human Bondage and working on Pippi Longstocking.

It doesn’t look as though there’ll be peace in Finland. It’s time for the children's programme on the radio, so I can’t write any more for now.

It’s possible that this diary contains a disproportionate amount about the Germans’ rampages, because Dagens Nyheter is our daily paper and that’s more anti-German than any other rag and never misses a chance of highlighting German atrocities. It's beyond all doubt, however, that such atrocities do actually happen. Even so, it says at the end of this cutting about Poland that the Poles ‘would prefer the German regime’ to the Russian ‘if there were no other choice’. That's probably also the case in the Baltic states and other countries, but for that to appear in Dagens Nyheter must be a slip-up.’

Let there be peace


Norman Eric Kirk,

‘Not an Easter to remember: 120 bikies invaded Palmerston North. Chains, beer bottles, knives and iron bars were used during a brawl in the Square. Bikies and the Mongrel Mob were prised apart by police with drawn truncheons. It’s hard to believe this could happen in New Zealand, but overnight law and order has become a political issue.

From Dacca there’s a report that the Government’s belated decision to send an RNZAF Hercules to airlift relief supplies would help make amends for its only other official aid - 

thousands of tons of baby food dubbed “absolutely useless” by UN experts because it’s a sophisticated product no one in Bangladesh knows how to use.

The Government hasn’t heeded Mr K’s advice to send building materials and jetboats instead. The comment from the head of United Nations relief operations, from the other side of the world, has an unwitting irony. He says, “You can’t build bridges with baby food.” ’

Feeling better is dangerous


Anthony Powell,

‘My agent John Rush rang in the afternoon to say the BBC (i.e. Jonathan Powell) have decided not to do Dance [to the Music of Time] on TV. Rush says he is going to try Granada with the Ken Taylor/Innes Lloyd script as a package. After the last eight or nine years of BBC ineptitudes about Dance nothing surprises me, I feel one of the commercial companies certainly would be no worse to deal with, probably better. Why Dance should now appear unsuitable after ‘passing’ three scripted episodes is beyond comprehension. For that matter, after reading the sequence itself, a quiet beginning leading up to deeper matters is an essential aspect of the construction. Rush rather distraught. He has taken a lot of trouble about Dance over the years, and is understandably disappointed at this.’

Speaking of The Possessed


Ronald Reagan,

‘No ranch chores today. Dressed up in our town clothes & helicoptered (1 hr. & 20 min’s.) down the Coast to a place between Newport & Laguna to the beautiful home of retired Gen. & Mrs. William Lyon. A reception & lunch for about 50 people - prospective donors & donors to the Presidential Library. A meeting 1st with architect of Library - it’s going to be magnificent. Then a receiving line & photos - some mix & mingle & lunch. I spoke briefly then back in the chopper & back to the ranch about 4 P.M.’

A burst of gun fire


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And so made significant . . .
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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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