And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

4 August

1763
James Boswell,
writer

‘This is now my last day in London before I set out upon my travels, and makes a very important period in my journal. Let me recollect my life since this journal began. Has it not passed like a dream? Yes, but I have been attaining a knowledge of the world. I came to town to go into the Guards. How different is my scheme now! I am upon a less pleasurable but a more rational and lasting plan. Let me pursue it with steadiness and I may be a man of dignity. My mind is strangely agitated. I am happy to think of going upon my travels and seeing the diversity of foreign parts; and yet my feeble mind shrinks somewhat at the idea of leaving Britain in so very short a time from the moment in which I now make this remark. How strange must I feel myself in foreign parts. My mind too is gloomy and dejected at the thoughts of leaving London, where I am so comfortably situated and where I have enjoyed most happiness. However, I shall be the happier for being abroad, as long as I live. Let me be manly. Let me commit myself to the care of my merciful creator.’

Young Boswell in London

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1835
Elizabeth Gaskell,
writer

‘It seems a very long time since I have written anything about my little darling, and I feel as if I had been negligent about it, only it so difficult to know when to begin or when to stop when talking thinking or writing about her. [. . .]

How all of a woman’s life, at least so it seems to me now, ought to have a reference to the period when she will be fulfilling one of her greatest & highest duties, those of a mother. I feel myself so unknowing, so doubtful about many things in her intellectual & moral treatment already, and what shall I be when she grows older, & asks those puzzling questions that children do? I hope I shall always preserve my present good intentions & sense of my holy trust, and then I must pray, to be forgiven for my errors, & led into a better course.’

My dear little girl

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1914
Robert Charles Benchley,
writer and actor

‘Germany has declared war on England and Turkey on Servia. It is almost ludicrous in its immensity, yet frightful.’

I hope not a ‘what it was’

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1914
Michael Macdonagh,
journalist

‘To-day is the day of days. It is a day of action, in contra-distinction to yesterday, which was a day of words. What counts with militaristic Germany is deeds not words. She has paid no attention to Sir Edward Grey’s speech. [. . .] [Prime Minister Herbert] Asquith stood at the Bar holding up another document. “A message from His Majesty signed by his own hand,” said he. At the words, all Members uncovered and the Speaker rose from his Chair. The Prime Minister then walked up the floor to the Table and handed the paper to the Speaker, who read the message to the House. It was a proclamation of the mobilisation of the entire Army. The Navy is already mobilised. This also was received in silence: a wonderful example of restraint and seriousness. Thus it can be said that the House of Commons declared war in no mood either of national vainglory or racial animosity. [. . .]

It was in the streets after the House of Commons had adjourned that I found myself in an atmosphere of real passion. Parliament Street and Whitehall were thronged with people highly excited and rather boisterous. A brilliant sun shone in a cloudless sky. Young men in straw hats were in the majority. Girls in light calico dresses were numerous. All were already touched with the war fever. They regarded their country as a crusader - redressing all wrongs and bringing freedom to oppressed nations. Cries of “Down with Germany!” were raised. Germany was the aggressor. She must be made to ask humbly for peace. The singing of patriotic songs, such as “Rule Britannia,” “The Red White and Blue,” and also “The Marseillaise,” brought the crowds still closer together in national companionship. They saw England radiant through the centuries, valiant and invincible, and felt assured that so she shall appear for ever.

There were opponents, of course. Making my way through the crowds to Trafalgar Square, I found two rival demonstrations in progress under Nelson’s Pillar - on one side of the plinth for war, and on the other against! The rival crowds glared at each other. [. . .] I looked up at the effigy of Nelson - “sailing the sky with one arm and one eye” to see whether in imagination I could notice any change in his attittude. But no! He was still gazing steadily in a south-easterly direction - towards France, the enemy! - as he had been placed on his pillar some eighty years ago.

Suddenly, amidst the cheering and booing, a cry was raised, “The King! The King! On to Buckingham Palace!” [. . .] At Buckingham Palace the crowd sang “God Save the King” with tremendous fervour. His Majesty came out on to the balcony overlooking the forecourt, wearing the uniform of an Admiral of the Fleet. [. . .] He had to appear on the balcony three separate times during the evening, because of the chanting of the crowd, slowly and with emphasis, betokening that they would have no refusal. [. . .]

From the Clock Tower of the Houses of Parliament came the light and gladsome chimes of the four quarters [. . .] then followed the slow and measured strokes of Big Ben proclaiming to London that it was eleven o’clock. We listened in silence. ’

The drama of London in WWI

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1973
James Lees-Milne,
historian and writer

‘It is too easy to be impatient with and censorious of sex when one is 65: the squalor of it, the repetition, the inanity. Yet there’s ground for disagreement that to be in communion with God all carnal appetites should be eschewed because the very actions of fornicating, over-eating, over-drinking are ephemeral, finite. Lusts being mortal are in consequence negative, without injury to man’s immortal gnosis. Whereas cerebration, devotional exercise, worship being perdurable and victorious remain unaffected by them. I daresay the old Fathers would dispute this ratiocination.’

Lees-Milne’s centenary

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Notes and Cautions
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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Any author, publisher or other copyright holder who takes the view that I am unacceptably breaching their copyright please let me know. I have tried to remain sensitive to copyright rules (using far fewer quotes, for example, when a book, by an author still alive, remains in print and popular), but it is not practical for me to seek authorisation for every quote and article, since I maintain these websites without any funding or advertis-ing. I take the view that publicity for the source books is a quid pro quo for my use of the extracts, but I am more than happy to remove the extracts if asked.

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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.