And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

20 August

1637
Robert Woodford,
lawyer

‘I prayed alone and I and my deare wife prayed in private this morninge to beseech the Lord for his blessing uppon the sacrament of Baptisme to our poore child this that the inward grace might goe a longe with the outward signe &, and that the Lord would make it an Instrument of some service to him in his Church in time to come and a Comfort to us the parents and surely the Lord hath heard us in m[er]cye we prayed not to be hindred in our sanctifcacon of his Sabath this day & to order Conveniences &. Mr ffisher preached in the morninge, but my hart somewhat heavy Lord p[ar]don my dulnes.’

I pray increase my estate

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1789
William Wilberforce,
priest

‘At Cowslip Green [Somerset] all day.’

God’s work against slavery

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1804
Thomas Asline Ward,
young man

‘Mr Dalby and I walked to Hungerford Stairs, where we took a boat, and landed near Billingsgate. Having inspected this famous fishmarket, we walked to the Tower, where we saw wild beasts kept there, the regalia and the armouries. The ancient armour is interesting, and the modern is beautiful; for the swords, pistols, musquets, etc. quite clean and ready for service, are ranged in the most perfect order, and with the nicest art are placed so as to imitate columns, stars, and other devices.

After seeing the curiosities of the Tower, we sailed to the new docks, appropriated for the vessels in the West India trade, of which 300 homeward bound may lie in the basin at one time, and a dock for those outward bound is making. The fleet was arrived only 2 or 3 days, and we saw an immense crowd of them pressing towards the yards to discharge their lading. The buildings are of stone, 7 stories high, built very strong to contain the heavy stores which are frequently put in them. A moat, wall, and palisade surround the whole, and sentinels are placed to prevent depredations. The circumference is great, but I cannot guess at it.’

City of virtue and vice

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1833
John Kirk Townsend,
explorer

‘At about daylight this morning, having charge of the last guard of the night, I observed a beautiful, sleek little colt, of about four months old, trot into the camp, whinnying with great apparent pleasure, and dancing and curvetting gaily amongst our sober and sedate band. I had no doubt that he had strayed from Indians, who were probably in the neighborhood; but as here, every animal that comes near us is fair game, and as we were hungry, not having eaten any thing of consequence since yesterday morning, I thought the little stranger would make a good breakfast for us. Concluding, however, that it would be best to act advisedly in the matter, I put my head into Captain W.’s tent, and telling him the news, made the proposition which had occurred to me. The captain’s reply was encouraging enough, “Down with him, if you please, Mr. T., it is the Lord’s doing; let us have him for breakfast.” In five minutes afterwards, a bullet sealed the fate of the unfortunate visitor, and my men were set to work making fires, and rummaging out the long-neglected stew-pans, while I engaged myself in flaying the little animal, and cutting up his body in readiness for the pots. 

When the camp was aroused, about an hour after, the savory steam of the cookery was rising and saluting the nostrils of our hungry people with its fragrance, who, rubbing their hands with delight, sat themselves down upon the ground, waiting with what patience they might, for the unexpected repast which was preparing for them.

It was to me almost equal to a good breakfast, to witness the pleasure and satisfaction which I had been the means of diffusing through the camp.

The repast was ready at length, and we did full justice to it; every man ate until he was filled, and all pronounced it one of the most delicious meals they had ever assisted in demolishing. When our breakfast was concluded, but little of the colt remained; that little was, however, carefully packed up, and deposited on one of the horses, to furnish, at least, a portion of another meal.

The route, this morning, lay along Boisée. For an hour, the travelling was toilsome and difficult, the Indian trail, leading along the high bank of the river, steep and rocky, making our progress very slow and laborious. We then came to a wide plain, interrupted only by occasional high banks of earth, some of them of considerable extent, across which ran the path. Towards mid-day, we lost sight of these banks, the whole country appearing level, with the exception of some distant hills in the south-west, which we suppose indicate the vicinity of some part of Snake river.

We have all been disappointed in the distance to this river, and the length of time required to reach it. Not a man in our camp has ever travelled this route before, and all we have known about it has been the general course.

In the afternoon, we observed a number of Indians on the opposite side of the river, engaged in fishing for salmon. Captain W. and two men immediately crossed over to them, carrying with them a few small articles to exchange for fish. We congratulated ourselves upon our good fortune in seeing these Indians, and were anticipating a plentiful meal, when Captain W. and his companions returned, bringing only three small salmon. The Indians had been unsuccessful in fishing, not having caught enough for themselves, and even the offer of exorbitant sums was not sufficient to induce them to part with more.

In the afternoon, a grouse and a beaver were killed, which, added to the remains of the colt, and our three little salmon, made us a tolerable supper. While we were eating, we were visited by a Snake chief, a large and powerful man, of a peculiarly dignified aspect and manner. He was naked, with the exception of a small blanket which covered his shoulders, and descended to the middle of the back, being fastened around the neck with a silver skewer. As it was pudding time with us, our visitor was of course invited to sit and eat; and he, nothing loath, deposited himself at once upon the ground, and made a remarkably vigorous assault upon the mixed contents of the dish. He had not eaten long, however, before we perceived a sudden and inexplicable change in his countenance, which was instantly followed by a violent ejectment of a huge mouthful of our luxurious fare. The man rose slowly, and with great dignity, to his feet, and pronouncing the single word “shekum,” (horse,) in a tone of mingled anger and disgust, stalked rapidly out of the camp, not even wishing us a good evening. It struck me as a singular instance of accuracy and discrimination in the organs of taste. We had been eating of the multifarious compound without being able to recognise, by the taste, a single ingredient which it contained; a stranger came amongst us, who did not know, when he commenced eating, that the dish was formed of more than one item, and yet in less than five minutes he discovered one of the very least of its component parts.

It would seem from this circumstance that the Indians, or it may be the particular tribe to which this man belongs, are opposed to the eating of horse flesh, and yet, the natural supposition would be, that in the gameless country inhabited by them they would often be reduced to such shifts, and thus readily conquer any natural reluctance which they might feel to partake of such food. I did not think until after he left us, that if the chief knew how the horse meat he so much detested was procured, and where, he might probably have expressed even more indignation, for it is not at all unlikely that the colt had strayed from his own band.’

Snake chief doesn’t like horse

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1892
Beatrix Potter,
writer

‘Still somewhat disposed. After breakfast taking Mr. Benjamin Bunny to pasture at the edge of the cabbage bed with his leather dog-lead, I heard a rustling, and came a little wild rabbit to talk to him, it crept half across the cabbage bed and then sat up on its hind legs, apparently grunting. I replied, but the stupid Benjamin did nothing but stuff cabbage. The little animal evidently a female, and of a shabby appearance, nibbling, advanced to about three strap lengths on the other side of my rabbit, its face twitching with excitement and admiration for the beautiful Benjamin, who at length caught sight of it round a cabbage, and immediately bolted. He probably took it for Miss Hutton’s cat.’

Beatrix and Benjamin

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1897
Euclides da Cunha,
engineer and writer

‘Still awaiting, awkwardly, the next departure for the backcountry, I walk - unknown and lonely - like an ancient Greek in the streets of Byzantium the old streets of this great capital, in a persistent inquiry about its beautiful traditions and retaining its interesting old-town features coming almost intact from the past to these hectic days.

And I regret that the capital and exclusive purpose of this trip prevents me from studying it better and transmitting the impressions received.

Because this cross current of strange and diverse sensations is really inevitable, irresistibly invading the subject and pre-established programs.

In one hour sometimes the most mismatched impressions assail me.

Visiting the São Bento Monastery recently, for example, where the arriving wounded now accumulate, after traversing through extensive rows of constricted beds, I descended to the lower floor.

I crossed the long aisles cautiously, with calculated steps, my eyes fixed on the ground, trying not to tread on the grave limbs on which all devotees tread indifferently and where they still read, half-erased by the persistent friction of boots, names among them - oldest in our history. And stripping me of all the purpose that led me there - bending over the slabs that appear as the undiscovered palimpsest of marble in the remotest days, I remained long, absorbed.

What a huge transition in just five minutes, in this insensitive and quick passing, as I descended a staircase, from a busy, noisy present to the silent gloom of the indefinite past.

Fortunately, as I went on, I senselessly struck the wide doorway and as I passed through it, I suddenly turned back to the present.

Assomava, forced uphill and into Castro Alves Square, in a beam of glittering bayonets, the 4th infantry battalion. It comes from far, from the south - it's the last one we wait for.

With it are twenty-five battalions of line, to which are added the police corps here, of Sao Paulo, Pará, Amazonas and contingents of Artillery and Cavalry.

I calculate with a reasonable approximation of at least 10,000 men the troop that will fight the rebellion in the backlands.

And in the face of this armed multitude, it haunts me more than the natural dangers of war, the incalculable sum of efforts to feed it through regions almost impractical by the sharp unevenness of the roads that straighten into the mountains and narrow into long gorges.

A quick calculation shows us that this 10,000-necked minotaur will be sick, fasting almost one hundred and fifty sacks of flour and two tons of meat a day.

And this excludes elementary foodstuffs that constitute a luxury under the strict conditions of war.

This fact expresses one of the most serious and difficult conditions of the campaign: it is the tenacious, inglorious and frightening combat to an enemy who dies and revives every day, involving in the same trances friends and adversaries - hunger.

The natural conditions of the terrain, making it difficult to transport quickly, creating all sorts of stumbling, have already determined, as is well known, the appearance of that in our army - living forces at the mercy of chance, from imbu roots, or damp stalks of mandacarus sap, or hunting the scapegoats of the plateaus, in bold mounts in the caatingas.

Now this unfortunate situation is only attenuated today and every train that arrives deceives it for only one day.

Imagine now the series of difficulties that will come with the greatest accumulation of men.

In addition to slow marches, the lack of freighters makes the ammunition carried very small. Because, we must say frankly, what lies beyond Monte Santo, and even beyond Queimadas, is the desert in the meaning of the term - arid, harsh, unpopulated.

The scattered surrounding populations were lost far away, hiding in the woods, populating the most remote camps, abandoning houses and possessions, terrified by the terrifying scarecrow of war. Yes, you're right.

The narrative of the journey of those who have come, however free from the primitive ambushes, striking across the roads that radiate from Monte Santo, unfold through the absolutely empty and monotonous backcountry.

Only at one point and another as a sinister variant: for a refinement of satanic wickedness the jagunços arranged serially on the two sides of the road the bones of the dead from previous expeditions.

Uniforms, caps, gallons, talines, glittering red trousers, broad cloaks, ragged shirts, saddles, and blankets, hanging from the tree limbs, sway gloomily over the head of the grounded traveler passing through two rows of arranged skulls, lined at the sides.

It is a dreadful picture, capable of disturbing the most robust soul.

The unsuccessful Colonel Tamarindo - an old jovial soldier as there were few - was recognised by his uniform in this fantastic setting; without a head, stuck in a dry branch of Angico and having on his bare shoulders, hung like a hanger, and down the skeleton, down the skeleton.

The whole first column passed in amazement at the formidable spectre of the old commander.

All of these causes justify the indescribable panic that is currently raging in the backcountry and the disorderly ebb of entire populations to the remotest points.

The army is now raging in a desert of thirty lightning bolts, and it is absolutely necessary that the action of this expedition - which will be the last - be swift and fulminating in spite of all necessary sacrifices.

I believe we leave after all these days. I will then judge, in situ, what I have known so far through narratives that do not always fit the same conclusions.

And may that wild but interesting nature, that barbaric nook of our land, under the persistent attraction of its still unknown aspect, make light and quick these hours of longing that I cannot define.’

The war at the end of the world

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1912
Reginald Marsh,
artist

‘Had an exciting game of croquet. Ralph, Phillip Arnold & I stood Jack and Lloyd and we won. Gee it was great. Afterwards we all went swimming off the float.’

Pictures and vaudeville

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1961
Robertson Davies,
writer

‘Lay late reading Final Curtain by Ngaio Marsh. Dye my beard too dark - must look into this. Loafed all day never stirring from the place and found this very refreshing: my condition of mind asks for inactivity; worked on my speech. I am indeed changing: trying to purge my writing of ornament and mere eccentricity and my thinking of bile, emotionalism, and vulgarity. Oh! that I may make some progress in these things!

Robertson Davies as diarist

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1978
Edith Roller,
cult victim

‘I was up at 8.00.

Read news from the pavilion boards. For breakfast pancakes and coffee worked on journal items.

At 12.00 I worked in the African map in the pavilion. I completed the outline for all countries, though there are some loose ends to be tied up. I still have a problem in the seacoast area where Zaire and Angola join. I plan to cut out the outlines of all the countries have a game in class in which the students looking at atlas maps can pin the outlines of the separate countries on a sheet, thus learning the position of some of them. Also we will be able then to ascertain where the map is insufficiently accurate. At the same time we can get a complete list of each country.

Had a shower and shampooed my hair.

Sewed, continuing with my skirt.

Ate dinner at 5.00 and we had rice with pork, okra, french fried eggplant in a batter.

I sewed.

Mark Gosney was giving Edith Cordell trouble; she had a cold. She turned him over to Vern Gosney.

The guest was expected tomorrow and entertainment was being prepared for him in the Pavilion. Intended to go up about 8;00, people were gathering but I didn’t hear any music so assumed he had not arrived yet. Then I heard Jim in the loudspeaker. He was annoyed because people were waiting in the pavilion instead of being in the library studying the news.

I finished sewing about 9.30. I went up to the library, read as much of the news I could over the heads of the crowd. Dick Tropp and Jack Beam were explaining the backgrounds of some of the news. As the guest had not yet arrived I went home and went to bed but I didn’t sleep.

Then we received orders to come to the pavilion. I went up. I expected to find it difficult to get a seat but Jim had earlier ordered young people to get up and give their seats to seniors. A young man led me to seat in front, asking the little boy occupying it to sit on the floor with the other children. The guest, a young looking man, was seated with those assigned to talk to him at a table in the middle of the pavilion. A musical program was given.

We were dismissed at 2.00. A heavy rain fell.’

Life at Jonestown

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2015
Axel Lindén,
farmer

‘Someone asked me what sheep smell like. I don’t really know, never thought about it. That will be up to the beholder’s . . . nose. The ewes have a gland right next to their teats. It looks like a suppurating wound, which makes finding out what it smells like pretty off-putting. The gland helps guide the newborn lamb, presumably by scent alone. My family often say I smell of sheep when I’ve been shearing them. I think the smell is like that of a well-worn sweater, still bearable, but in need of a wash.’

I hope the ewes heard me

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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 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.