And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

12 August

1665
Samuel Pepys,
civil servant

‘The people die so, that now it seems they are fain to carry the dead to be buried by day-light, the nights not sufficing to do it in. And my Lord Mayor commands people to be within at nine at night all, as they say, that the sick may have liberty to go abroad for ayre.’

In celebration of Pepys

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1710
William Byrd,
landowner

‘I had a quarrel with my wife about her servants who did little work. I wrote a long and smart letter to Mr Perry, wherein I found several faults with his management of the tobacco I sent him and with mistakes he had committed in my affairs. My sloop brought some tobacco from Appomattox. Mr Bland came over and dined with us on his way to Williamsburg. I ate roast shoat for dinner. In the afternoon Mr Bland went away and I wrote more letters. I put some tobacco into the sloop for Captain Harvey. It rained and hindered our walk; however we walked a little in the garden.’

A planters life!

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1760
Elizabeth Percy,
landowner

‘Glasgow . . . is extreamly large & well paved & most magnificently built. It is by far the finest Town I ever saw. It is very populous, its Inhabitants being computed at 36,000. Both the people & the Town are remarkably clean & neat & the former handsomer than any I saw in the Lowlands. We had a very good Inn here.

We were visited by ye Ld Provost & all the Magistrates & the Commg Officer. We walk’d to see the flax Manufacture. Then we went to the University where we were joyned by all the Professors &c. We saw the Pictures & afterwards the Boys painting & the Library which is a good plain Room. We then went to Foulis’s Shop where we recd an Express from Ld Warkworth, informing us of the Battle of Warbourg & his safety. We then adjourned to the Town Hall with Ld Provost, Magistrates, Professors, Scholars, Officers &c where a parson said a very long Grace to ye drink.

A thousand Toasts were drank & my Lord was made a freeman of the City. The Town Hall is a very Noble Room it is 54 Feet long & 27 broad & high. The Chimney piece wch was made at London is a very fine One of Statuary Marble with 2 entire figures of Women. We came back to ye Inn where Mr Campbell the Advocate & we had for Supper a Bird I had never seen before call’d the Tormachin [Ptarmigan]. It is a kind of Moor fowle, White on the back, of a very highest flavour. They feed on the Tops of the very highest Rocks far above where the heather grows.

Commerce & Arts flourish much in Glasgow. Their chief Exports are Linen, Herrings & Tobacco, & their Imports French, Spanish, Portuguese & Madeira Wines & Rum. They have not yet got the Art of adulterating their Wines, so have them all in perfection. Madeira sells for 36 S/- the Pipe. Turtle is no more unknown to the Magistrates of Glasgow than to the Aldermen of London. The Sabbath is very strictly observ’d here, insomuch that the Post is not permitted to come in till Evening Service is over, nor are people suffered to walk out, & Civilizers go about to all the Houses to see that no Business or Amusements are carried on, & not a soul, except going to or from Church, is ever seen on the Streets on a Sunday. All the people here seem very industrious.’

Of Edinburgh and Glasgow

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1778
Caroline Powys,
lady

We went to pay a visit to Mrs. Annesley, Bletchingdon House, Oxon. In this part of our county there are more fine houses near each other than in any, I believe, in England. We were reckoning nineteen within a morning’s airing worth seeing. I must say something of that we were at, as Mr. [Capability] Brown would style it, “A place of vast capabilities,” stands high, the ground lays well, and the views round it far preferable to most in that county. Mrs. Annesley’s is large, tho’ only seven windows in front, the present approach thro’ a fine stone gateway with iron rails, you ascend a large flight of steps into a large hall, opposite you a second flight carries you into a second or larger hall, in which fronts you by far the noblest staircase I ever saw. ’Tis of Manchineale wood, and after going up about twenty steps it turns to the right and left, making a gallery at the top which looks down into the hall, this gallery leads to all the chambers. On the ground floor are four parlours, library, and state bedroom; many rooms were fitted by the Lord Anglesey who built it, but which Mr. Annesley was going to finish, but his sudden death prevented, and as his lady justly observes, it would be absurd in her to lay out money there, as her eldest son will have so immense a fortune, it would only be injuring her younger children, and she is too good a mother to do that; indeed, hers and their happiness seem’d centr’d in each other. I think I never felt more for any one than I did for her at hearing an account of his death (tho’ now years since), from a lady who is there every year, and was at the time. I own I am always foolish with regard to dreams, and now from these worthy good people, whose veracity I cannot doubt, I fear I shall in future be still more superstitious.

Mr. and Mrs. Annesley were a most happy couple, had known each other from childhood, had been married, I suppose, about ten years, had two sons and two daughters. She waked herself and him one night with crying so violently in her sleep that he was quite alarm’d. He insisted on knowing what dream she had had; she only said she had dreamt he was not well, but it was, that he fell down in a fit. He laughed at her as she lay crying for an hour or two, and going to sleep again, she again dreamt the same. ’Tis impossible, the lady says, to tell her anxiety the whole next day, he laughing it off, and at dinner he said, “Well, my dear. I’m not sick yet, I think, for I never was so hungry in my life;” she answered, “Indeed I am very foolish, but I shall be better in a day or two.” That night pass’d over, but, poor man, next day at tea-time he was nowhere to be found; when she heard this, she flew about like a wild creature into every room. Going into their bedchamber and not seeing him, she was running out of it when the youngest child says, “Mamma, perhaps papa is in the closet,” and throwing open the door, there he lay dead; she immediately fainted, and what she must that instant have felt is hardly to be imagined. She has never been in that room or the library since, and if anybody mentions dreams, only says, “Pray don’t talk on that subject.” We spent a most agreeable week there, there being a good deal of company, fourteen of us in the parlour, but tho’ our party was large, it did not hinder our seeing places every day we were there, and the first place, as the nearest, we went to was Blenheim. . . . The environs of Blenheim have been amazingly improved by Brown since I was last there, many rooms furnish’d and gilt, and as there are many fine pictures, must be always worth seeing. A fine ride round the park of five miles which we went, and afterwards three round the shubbery. The Duke, Duchess, and many of their children, with other company, were driving about in one of those clever Dutch vehicles call’d, I think, a Waske, a long open carriage holding fifteen or sixteen persons. As forms are placed in rows so near the ground to step out, it must be very heavy, but that, as it was drawn by six horses, was no inconvenience, and ’tis quite a summer machine without any covering at the top.’

Such interesting anecdotes

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1816
Mary Shelly,
writer

‘Write my story and translate. Shelley goes to the town, and afterwards goes out in the boat with Lord Byron. After dinner I go out a little in the boat, and then Shelley goes up to Diodati. I translate in the evening, and read Le Vieux de la Montagne, and write. Shelley, in coming down, is attacked by a dog, which delays him; we send up for him, and Lord Byron comes down; in the meantime Shelley returns.’

Write. Read Homer

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1885
John William Horsley,
priest

‘I wonder if this flower-girl, aged 18, used to sing the popular song, “We are a happy family.” She is in for assaulting her mother with a poker, and has twice previously been in for drunkenness: the mother is living apart from her husband, and has spent ten months out of twelve in Millbank doing short terms for drunkenness: a younger brother and sister have been sent to Industrial Schools. Yet the wonder is that any members of some families do right, and not that many do wrong. On what a pinnacle of virtue, inaccessible to a countess, is the daughter of a convict father and gindrinking mother who keeps straight!

Twice this week have I written to the Reformatory and Refuge Union to set their special officer on children that I find to be living in houses of ill-fame, of which the denizens or keepers come here. In one case, at any rate, there seemed a dereliction of duty on the part of the police, who, when they apprehended the mother, should have rescued the children.

Fate is the convenient scapegoat of those whose “can’t” is a shuffling substitute for “won’t” or “don’t like.” This man is in for theft from a public-curse; he is badly consumptive through drinking long and heavily; his father died of alcoholic phthisis; he has often tried to abstain, but never for more than six weeks; he has been warned by a physician at a hospital of how he is committing suicide; but he “supposes it is Fate.” ’

State-created crime

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1887
Jean-Martin Charcot,
doctor

‘It is agreed that I will give a few medical consultations; they implored me to do so. A few people have been referred by the consul, or by M. Alvans, the military envoy, who never tires of being helpful.

Here come the patients, 5 or 6 of them, all Jews. They file into the patio. I sketch one who presents a beautiful case of Parkinson’s. Nothing very interesting from the point of view of diagnosis. But all are nervous cases. Yesterday, on the square, they showed me a Jew who remained mute, so they say, during his entire childhood but who eventually began to speak. Was he a case of hysteria?

The consultation is over. I must see the town some more so as to take with me an indelible visual impression. Along the way, on one of the most densely inhabited streets, we hear in the distance a sort of chanting, mixed and monotonous at the same time: the voices of men. They appear in a cortege of about a hundred persons; they are walking quickly, they seem to be in a hurry. “The dead go quickly.” In fact it is a burial. The deceased is carried on a kind of cot, nude in a white shroud which hides him completely, the head too. It seems to me that no one stirs nor extends greetings. We don’t either: that is not the custom here. We let the cortege pass, we will meet it again momentarily, in the cemetery.’

The father of neurology

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1910
Jean Sibelius,
composer

‘This business of concerning yourself with practical affairs when you are a creative artist. Think of all the time and energy you waste on them every day. For you this is corrosive. But press on, in spite of all the derision and abuse. Worked well today on the development of the first movement. Don’t lose the sense of life’s pain and pathos!’

An inner confession

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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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