And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

1 August

1713
John Flamsteed,
astronomer

‘Sir Isaac Newton having, as I was told, presented his book of Principia, new printed, to the Queen, came to Greenwich, attended by Dr. Thorp, Dr. Halley, and his sons, Mr. Machin and Mr. Rowley. Mr. Hudson was with them, who had given me an intimation of it, the night before. But I had a letter of advice of it, directly from Mr. Machin. Sir I. Newton came first, about 3 o’clock; the others, half an hour after. Sir I. Newton said little till they entered; then he rose up and told me that by a Royal Order, by word of mouth, they were come down to visit the Observatory; to see what repairs were wanting, and what instruments. I gave them leave to go where they pleased, and sent my servant to wait on them, and show them all the places where repairs were wanting: and Mr. Clark and Mr. Ryley (whom I had sent for, on purpose to be witnesses of all that passed) accompanied them. I kept in my chamber: for I could not walk about with them. But, before they went out, I told them that the cogs in the greater semicircle were much worn; and that the instrument, for several reasons, was not very serviceable. And because Sir I. Newton had asked how we could observe a comet without it, I told him I could easily observe any comet that was visible in any part of the heavens, by a particular method that I knew of; but it was not now a time to talk of it; and that that instrument was my own. My friends and servants remember all that passed: I trouble not myself to report it. At parting, Sir I. Newton told me he had a Ptolemy of mine, and the minutes or night-notes of my observations, which he would return. I was glad to hear it; and told him I would retain his receipt for them. I pray God he be as good as his word.’

The first Astronomer Royal

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1831
Benjamin Haydon,
artist

‘Went to see the King’s procession to open the London Bridge, by particular desire, that is, of Master Frank, Alfred, Frederick, Harry, & Mary Haydon, not forgetting Mrs Mary Haydon the Elder. Well, I went, to the gallery of St Paul’s, and after waiting about 5 hours, a little speck with a flag and another little speck with a flag, and another speck in which I saw ten white specks, and 6 red & yellow specks, came by, & immediately 200,000 specks uttered a shout I could just hear, and some specks waved handkerchiefs, & other specks raised hats, and this, they said, was the King, and directly a little round ball went up in the air and that, they said, was an air balloon, and then they all shouted, and Mrs Mary Haydon the Elder had a pain in her stomach, and Master Frederick wanted to drink, and Miss Mary said she was faint, and Master Frank Haydon said, ‘is this all?’ - and Mr Haydon said he was very hot, and then they went down an infinite number of dark stairs and got into a coach & drove home, & each fell asleep and this was pleasure. Now if Mr Haydon had gone to work with his Xenophon, neither Master or Mrs or Mr Haydon would have had a pain in their bellies and Mr Haydon’s Back-ground would have been done, and his Conscience would have been quiet, & now he has spent 1.18.6 to get a pain in his belly, and has the pain without the money - and this is pleasure.’

Thirst after grandeur

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1928
Sydney Moseley,
journalist

‘Met John Logie Baird; a charming man - a shy, quietly-spoken Scot. He could serve as a model for the schoolboy’s picture of a shock-haired, modest, dreamy, absent-minded inventor. Nevertheless shrewd. We sat and chatted. He told me he is having a bad time with the scoffers and sceptics - including the BBC and part of the technical press - who are trying to ridicule and kill his invention of television at its inception. I told him that if he would let me see what he has actually achieved - well, he would have to risk me damning it - or praising it! If I were convinced - I would battle for him. We got on well together and I have arranged to test his remarkable claim.

(Later) Saw television! Baird’s partner, a tall good-looking but highly temperamental Irishman, Captain Oliver George Hutchinson, was nice but very nervous of chancing it with me. He was terribly anxious I should be impressed. Liked the pair of them, especially Baird, and decided to give my support. [. . .] I think we really have what is called television. And so, once more into the fray!’

Saw television!

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1942
Charles McMoran Wilson,
doctor

‘Called at No. 10 to see if anything was wanted. The P.M. seemed abstracted. “There’s something very wrong there,” he muttered half to himself. “I must clear things up.” For a long time he has been worried by the reverses in the desert, and when he told me that he had asked Smuts to join him in Cairo, I knew he meant to bring things to a head. As I was leaving, he put down a telegram the secretary had just brought in.

“We may go to see Stalin. He won’t like what I have to say to him. I’m not looking forward to it.” The P.M. is turning over in his head how he can break the news to Stalin. He has to tell him that there will not be a Second Front in France this year.’

A third dose of pneumonia

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1950
Sylvia Plath,
poet

‘Today is the first of August. It is hot, steamy and wet. It is raining. I am tempted to write a poem. But I remember what it said on one rejection slip: After a heavy rainfall, poems entitled RAIN pour in from across the nation.’

Hughes fishing; Plath in quicksand

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1963
Seán Ó Ríordáin,
writer

‘I feel that I know my own death, and have known it tor a long time. I feel that I died long ago, the same death I shall die later on. When I think of my own death, I do not think of something that has yet to happen, but of something that happened long ago but was forgotten. When I am of this mind, it seems to me that my death is what is most me. I think it is much more me than all the rest of my life.

Like everyone else, I am a rich man for I have death in the bank. I cannot be drawn upon, however; death cannot he spent until it has matured. Death is land that cannot he sold or tied up in money, and we must live our life without it. We are often impoverished, without as much as a penny to spend, despite all this wealth we have stored up.’

I know my own death

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1977
Philip Toynbee,
writer

‘More than two months have passed since I finished a course of ECT at Bristol, and for the past six weeks I have been almost entirely free of depression. No exorbitant elation, thank God, but the dazed incredulity of a prisoner suddenly let out into ordinary daylight after three years in a dungeon.

But I must beware of such extravagant images as this; for whatever purpose this diary is meant to serve it certainly won’t serve at all unless I keep it as simple and as truthful as I can. The depression, which began in a desultory way about seven years ago, was acute from 1974 to June of this year. (But the word ‘acute’ is also a dubious one, for although I was sometimes incapacitated for days on end I was often in reasonable working order for a week or more.)

Yes; but even on the best days there was that perpetual fear of a form of possession which sometimes came as suddenly as a blow.’

Toynbee and depression

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1978
Edith Roller,
cult victim

‘Although it was very late Jim took up another matter: Norman Ijames, after having been gone for six months, had informed the Temple he would be returning this week, he had not communicated with his wife Judy and child, had sent no money. He had been reported with another woman, some of our people had talked to him while in Miami, though he had been offered a job at the airport in Georgetown he was flying on lines that did not bring him in to Guyana. The fact that he is a pilot may have some significance with regard to his activities in view of the aerial surveillance of Jonestown by the National Enquirer plane and reports of planned mercenary attacks on us. Many members spoke of Norm’s characteristics: spoiled by his parents, cherished as the only son, avoidance of physical labor, pride in his appearance, which made it possible that he could have deserted to our enemies. Jim said that the government had told us the CIA had a plant in our membership who might come here.’

Life at Jonestown

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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, usually several every week. The blog has been publishing for over five years, and is the secondary source for the diary extracts in this online anthology.