And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

9 April

Richard Steele,
politician and writer

‘Easter Sunday. After the repeated perusal of Dr Tillotsou’s seventh sermon, in the third volume of the small edition of his admirable and comfortable writings, and after having done certain acts of benevolence and charity to some needy persons of merit, I went this day to the holy sacrament. In addition to the proper prayers of the Church, I framed for my private use on this occasion the following prayer: [. . .]’A life too bustling

A life too bustling


Nicholas Cresswell,
tradesman and farmer

‘This morning got up very early and wrote to my Father. Got on Board about Nine o’clock. Set sail with a fair wind and tide in our favour; in the afternoon calm and pleasant; came to an Anchor off Ormshead. We are Four passengers, but don’t as yet know the others. All of us very merry at supper, tho’ I believe most of us Young Sailors are rather squeamish. At Eight in the evening, a Breeze sprung up; hove up the Anchor; about Ten saw the Skerry Lighthouse.’

Whores and rogues


Jean-François de La Pérouse,

‘On 8 April at 2 p.m. I saw Easter Island bearing from me W. 5d S. distant 12 leagues. The sea was very rough, the winds N. They had not been steady for four days, shifting from N. to S. by W. I do not believe that the proximity of a small island was the cause of these changes, and it is likely that the trade winds are not constant at this time of year in 27d. The headland in view was the E. point. I was on the exact spot where Captain Davis had come upon an sandy island and twelve leagues further on a land lying W. which Captain Cook and Mr Dalrimple believed was Easter Island rediscovered in 1722 by Roggewin, but these two sailors, although very well informed, did not sufficiently analyse what Waffer reported: he says (page 300 of the Rouen edition) that Captain Davis, leaving from the Galapagos with the intention of returning to Europe by way of Cape Horn and of putting in only at Juan Fernandez, felt a terrible blow in 12d of southern latitude and thought he had struck a rock; he had constantly kept to a southerly route and believed himself to be 120 leagues from the American continent; he later learnt that there had been an earthquake in Lima at the same moment. Having overcome his fear, he kept on S. to S.1/4S.E. and S.E. until he reached 27d 20’ and reports that at 2 a.m. a sound like a sea breaking on the shore was heard from ahead of the vessel; he hove to until morning and saw a small sandy island with no rocks around it; he came up to within a quarter mile of it and saw further off, 12 leagues to the W., a large land which was taken for a group of islands on account of breaks along it. Davis did not survey it and continued on his way to Juan Fernandez, but Waffer states that this small sandy island is 500 Ls from Copiago and 600 from the Galapagos. It has not been sufficiently pointed out that this result is impossible: if Davis, being in 12d of southern latitude and 150 Ls from the American coast, sailed S.S.E. as Waffer states, and obviously this buccaneer sailed with the E. winds which are very frequent in those waters, and taking into account his intention to going to Juan Fernandez island, there can be no doubt, as the Abbe Pingré has already indicated, that Dampierre’s calculations were wrong and that Davis Land, instead of being 500 Ls from Copiago, is only 200 leagues. It is therefore likely that Davis’s two islands are those of San Ambrosio and San Felix, a little further N. than Copiago; but the buccaneers’ pilots were not fussy and worked out their latitudes roughly to the nearest 30 or 40’. I would have spared my readers this little geography lesson if I had not had to oppose the views of two men deservedly famous; I must say however that Captain Cook was still unsure and says that if he had had time he would have solved the problem by sailing E. of Easter Island. As I covered 300 Ls along this parallel and saw no sandy island I think that no doubt should now remain and the question seems to me to be finally settled.

I sailed along the coast of Easter Island at a distance of 3 leagues during the night of 8 to 9 April. The sky was clear and in less than 3 hours the winds had veered from N. to S.E. At daybreak I made for Cook’s Bay - that is the one where one is best sheltered from the N. to S. by E. winds. It is only open to the W. winds and I had hopes that they would not blow for several days. At 11 a.m. I was only a league from this anchorage; the Astrolabe had already dropped anchor. I anchored quite close to that frigate, but the undertow was so strong that our anchors did not hold and we were forced to raise them and tack a couple of times to regain the anchorage.

This setback in no way lessened the natives’ enthusiasm. They swam behind us up a league offshore, and climbed aboard with a cheerfulness and a feeling of security which gave me the most favourable opinion of their character. A more suspicious people might have feared, when we set sail, to see itself torn from its relatives and carried away far from home, but the thought of such perfidy did not even seem to occur to them. They went about in our midst, naked and with no weapons, a mere string around the waist with a bunch of herbs to hide their natural parts.

Mr Hodgés, the painter who had accompanied Captain Cook on his second voyage, has very inadequately [sic] reproduced their features. Generally speaking they are pleasing, but they vary a great deal, and do not have, like those of Malays, Chinese or Chileans, a character of its own. I made them various gifts. They preferred pieces of printed cloth, half an ell in size, to nails, knives or beads, but they greatly prized the hats of which we had too few to give to more than a very few. At 8 p.m. I took my leave of my new guests, making them understand by signs that I would be going ashore at dawn. They returned to their canoes, dancing, and jumped into the sea when within two musket shots from the shore over which the sea was breaking strongly; they had taken the precaution of making small parcels with my gifts, and each one had placed his on his head to protect it from the water.’

La Pérouse at Easter Island


Vere Hunt,
landlord and politician

‘My dear wife & darling Aubrey went to Limerick on their way to Dublin & probably England to avoid the dangers of this unhappy distracted county ... A guard mounted. Then came back to dinner, lonesome! I cd not eat a bit.’

Vere Hunt in a crashing machine


Nicolas Baudin,
sailor and explorer

‘There was little wind for the rest of the day. Sometimes we were even becalmed and at the mercy of the current, which carried us towards the coast, then only a league off. After sighting our points of the previous day, we sailed along the high land that we had seen a little before sunset. The coast in this part, if not extremely pleasant. was at least preferable to the region of sand-hills that we had just left.

At midday the latitude observed was 35° 36' but this was very uncertain. At three o’clock we sighted the island and islets spoken of by Mr. Flinders. I proceeded so as to run in for the channel separating them from the mainland, but since the slight wind blowing did not allow me to do this before dark, I went about at five o'clock to stand out to sea.

Coasting the mainland during the day, we sighted three islets or rocks lying such a short way out, that to see them. it was necessary to be as close in as we were. If becalmed, one could anchor there in 24 or 21 fathoms, for the bottom is sandy and good - a rather rare thing between here and the Promontory. At sunset we could still see Mr. Flinders’ ship running on the South-westerly leg.

Until midnight the winds were South to South- South-East and rather fresh, but then they moderated, and shortly after, we went on the landward leg.’

Baudin’s voyage to Australia


Polly Lavinia Crandall Coon,

‘Rained all day consequently we have laid by - improving the time in doing some baking. At night the ground being very wet we were obliged to take shelter in the house.’

We hope for better times


Bruce Lockhart,

‘Telegram from Hicks re Semenov affair. This looks very serious, worked all day sending off telegrams about the situation. Things are moving towards a crisis. Our people at home are so incredibly stupid that they will drift into tragedy, almost without knowing it. We have done our best and it is difficult to see what more we can do. This stupid affair at Vladivostok has spoilt all the advantages which the German landing at Finland could have given us. Everyone here is against it.’

Secret agent in Moscow


Horace Plunkett,

‘To town to talk to Gerald about a permanent secretary. Never have I realised so clearly that it is not good for man to live or be alone. I must have a companion or come to town & be done for in a service flat. Gerald thinks the man with the necessary qualifications may exist but can’t be found. I admit it will be sheer luck if I do find him. A man who has no life of his own to live would be in all probability useless to me. If he had his own life to live he could not fulfil my conditions. The only chance is to find some one whose life has been accidentally interrupted as mine has by senescence. A widower, or one who has prematurely lost his job through ill health would be my best “strike”.’

House blown up


Ayn Rand,
writer and philosopher

‘The human race has only two unlimited capacities: for suffering and for lying. I want to fight religion as the root of all human lying and the only excuse for suffering.

I believe - and I want to gather all the facts to illustrate this - that the worst curse on mankind is the ability to consider ideals as something quite abstract and detached from one’s everyday life. The ability to live and think quite differently, thus eliminating thinking from your actual life. This applied not to deliberate and conscious hypocrites, but to those more dangerous and hopeless ones who, alone with themselves and to themselves, tolerate a complete break between their convictions and their lives, and still believe that they have convictions. To them, either their ideals or their lives are worthless - and usually both.

I hold religion mainly responsible for this. I want to prove that religion breaks a character before it’s formed, in childhood, by teaching a child lies before he knows what a lie is, by breaking him of the habit of thinking before he has begun to think, by making him a hypocrite before he knows any other possible attitude to life. [. . .]

Why are men so afraid of pure, logical reasoning? Why do they have a profound, ferocious hatred of it? Are instincts and emotions necessarily beyond the control of plain thinking? Or were they trained to be? Why is a complete harmony between mind and emotions impossible? Isn’t it merely a matter of strict mental honesty? And who stands at the very bottom denying such honesty? Isn’t it the church?

I want to be known as the greatest champion of reason and the greatest enemy of religion.’

The champion of reason


Harold Nicolson,

‘In the afternoon Viti and I plant annuals. We sow them in the cottage garden and then in the border and then in the orchard. We rake the soil smooth. And, as we rake we are both thinking, ‘What will have happened to the world when these seeds germinate?’ It is warm and still. We should have been so happy were it not for the thought which aches at our hearts as if some very dear person was dying in the upstairs room. We discuss whether we might be defeated if war comes. And if defeated, surely surrender [suicide] in advance would be better? We ourselves don’t think of money or privilege or pleasure. We are thinking only of that vast wastage of suffering which must surely come. All because of the insane ambitions of one fanatic, and of the vicious theory which he has imposed on his people.’

Of war and of sowing


Lindsay Anderson,

‘Thursday. The Council Meeting of the English Stage Company, and the inevitable collapse before the Arts Council threat of withdrawal of subsidy if Hilary Spurling is not reinvited. I tried to propose a press statement first, simply making public the Arts Council’s blackmailing attempt. . . But only Jocelyn and Robin supported it. Interestingly, Oscar and John Osborne were both for immediate capitulation: Peggy Ashcroft’s worried, charming, stupid liberal face radiated desire for the relief and calm of appeasement from the other end of the table . . . Blacksell popped his eyes stupidly, and with incredibly obstinate persistence reiterated his belief that Hilary Spurling ’wasn’t worth it’, and his confidence (genuine or just an excuse or self-deception?) that the Arts Council would be willing to conduct the important discussions about dramatic criticism we’d asked for, after the tiresome difficulty had been disposed of . . . Bill veered erratically, but had abandoned his radical position of the week before.

So we are carried poshly from Le Moulin d’Or to the lawyer’s offices in Tony’s limousine . . . They are all gathered - Greville [Poke] in the chair, George Harewood making one of his rare, much appreciated appearances, John Osborne, careful to sit as far as possible away from Tony (they no longer speak), Peggy [Ashcroft] in a sort of white denim trouser suit, with cap, looking quite dashing and (if you know her) rather preposterous: as if playing Helene Weigel in the Gunter Grass Brecht play at the Aldwych has gone to her head. . .’

Happy days with Peggy


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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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The Diary Junction is one of those wonderful privately maintained public resources for which the Internet is justly celebrated: a database of information about celebrated and obscure diaries[over 500] from all historical periods, with referrals to the dates the diaries cover, where the originals are held and bibliographic information on published versions.’ Laura Miller, Salon

The Diary Review, hosted by Blogger, publishes magazine-style articles on diaries and diarists, several times a week. Now over ten years old, The Diary Review is the secondary source for the extracts in this online anthology.