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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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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