And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

5 August

1754
Henry Fielding,
writer and lawyer

‘In the night at twelve, our ship having received previous visits from all the necessary parties, took the advantage of the tide, and having sailed up to Lisbon, cast anchor there, in a calm, and a moonshiny night, which made the passage incredibly pleasant to the women, who remained three hours enjoying it, whilst I was left to the cooler transports of enjoying their pleasures at second-hand; and yet, cooler as they may be, whoever is totally ignorant of such sensation, is, at the same time, void of all ideas of friendship.’

Voyage to Lisbon

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1885
John William Horsley,
priest

‘A woman, aged 36, has been eight years free, but has suffered five and seven years’ penal servitude. She must have begun young! She was turned out of doors “for cheek” by her stepfather when she was 15, then fell in with thieves and got five years when 15 for robbing a man of £63 in the street. She is not old, but she has outlived the possibility of a schoolgirl being sent to penal servitude for her first theft. There is such a thing as State-created crime.

A woman, aged 27, remanded for drunkenness and trying to rescue her husband, who was apprehended for being drunk and assaulting the police when they both had been “chucked out” of a public curse. They had regular work and are in comfortable circumstances; but then one must enjoy Bank Holiday. They have had seven children; one is living: of course this has nothing to do with their intemperance.

Justice Manisty sentences a man to two years for outraging a child aged 10, and regrets the law does not allow him to give more. The same copy of the paper records an exactly similar case in America - only there the man got twenty years. Oh our beautiful and righteous laws! “Who steals my purse, steals trash” - but can get penal servitude for so doing. Who steals the virtue of a child - cannot be punished half so severely. Oh these laws! “Proputty, proputty, proputty, that’s what I hear ‘un say.” [A quote from Tennyson.] Protect our spoons of course as long as they exist, but a national tumult is necessary to get protection for our girls.’

State-created crime

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1914
Michael Macdonagh,
journalist

‘ “Britain at War!” So London is informed this morning in bold black letters on the placard of The Times. In the House of Commons to-day, Asquith made officially the inevitable announcement. “Since eleven o’clock last night a state of war has existed between Germany and this country.” ’

The drama of London in WWI

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1917
Nicholas II,
emperor

‘During the trip along the Tura, I slept very little. Alix and I had one very uncomfortable cabin, and all the girls were together in the fifth cabin down the corridor. Further toward the bow was a good sitting room and a small cabin with a piano. Second Class is under us, and this is where all the soldiers from the First Regiment who are traveling with us stay. All day we went topside, and stayed in the pleasant air. The weather was overcast but dry and warm. In front of us was a mine sweeper and behind another steamship with the soldiers from the 2nd and 4th Infantry Regiments and the rest of the baggage. We stopped two hours to load firewood. Toward night it got cold. We have our kitchen staff here on the steamship. Everybody went to sleep early.’

Hope remains above all

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1931
Benjamin Roth,
lawyer

‘The town is stunned by the news that The Home Savings and Loan Co. has suspended payments and would demand 60 days notice of withdrawals. This is followed quickly by similar announcements from The Federal Savings and Loan Co. and The Metropolitan Savings and Loan Co. All of these loan companies paid 5 ½% on savings deposits and earned their money by lending on real estate. With the coming of the depression people stopped payments on their mortgages; mortgages became frozen and the banks had no ways to get cash. Mortgages are a safe investment but cannot be liquidated quickly and are not a good investment for a bank which has agreed to pay out its deposits on demand. For the past three days these institutions have been besieged by hysterical depositors demanding their money.’

‘I went to the fruit market house this evening. It was almost deserted. The farmers cannot sell their produce because men are not working and it has become fashionable for each family to have its own vegetable garden.’

Banks suspend payments

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1939
Ivan Maisky,
diplomat

‘Went to St Pancras railway station to see off the British and French military missions. Lots of people, reporters, photographers, ladies and young girls. I met General Doumenc, head of the French mission, and a few of his companions. The heads of the British mission - Admiral Drax (head), Air Marshal Burnett and Major General Heywood - were my guests for lunch yesterday and we greeted one another like old acquaintances.

On my way home, I couldn’t help smiling at history’s mischievous sense of humour.

In subjective terms, it is difficult to imagine a situation more favourable for an Anglo-German bloc against the USSR and less favourable for an Anglo-Soviet bloc against Germany. Indeed, the spontaneous preferences of the British ‘upper ten thousand’ most definitely lie with Germany. In his sleep, Chamberlain dreams of a deal with Hitler at the expense of third countries, i.e. ultimately at the expense of the USSR. Even now the PM still dreams of ‘appeasement’. On the other side, in Berlin, Hitler has always advocated a bloc with Britain. He wrote about this fervently back in Mein Kampf. Highly influential groups among the German fascists, bankers and industrialists also support closer relations with England. I repeat: the subjective factor is not only 100%, but a full 150% behind an Anglo-German bloc.

And yet, the bloc fails to materialize. Slowly but unstoppably, Anglo-German relations are deteriorating and becoming increasingly strained. Regardless of Chamberlain’s many attempts to ‘forget’, to ‘forgive’, to ‘reconcile’, to ‘come to terms’, something fateful always occurs to widen further the abyss between London and Berlin. Why? Because the vital interests of the two powers - the objective factor - prove diametrically opposed. And this fundamental conflict of interests easily overrides the influence of the subjective factor. Repulsion is stronger than attraction.

The reverse scenario holds for Anglo-Soviet relations. Here the subjective factor is sharply opposed to an Anglo-Soviet bloc. The bourgeoisie and the Court dislike, even loathe, ‘Soviet communism’. Chamberlain has always been eager to cut the USSR’s throat with a feather. And we, on the Soviet side, have no great liking for the ‘upper ten thousand’ of Great Britain. The burden of the past, the recent experience of the Soviet period, and ideological practice have all combined to poison our subjective attitude towards the ruling elite in England, and especially the prime minister, with the venom of fully justified suspicion and mistrust. I repeat: the subjective factor in this case is not only 100%, but a full 150% against an Anglo-Soviet bloc.

And yet the bloc is gradually taking shape. When I look back over the seven years of my time in London, the overall picture is very instructive. Slowly but steadily, via zigzags, setbacks and failures, Anglo-Soviet relations are improving. From the Metro-Vickers case to the military mission’s trip to Moscow! This is the distance we have covered! The abyss between London and Moscow keeps narrowing. Field engineers are successfully fixing beams and rafters to support the bridge over the remaining distance. Why? Because the vital interests of the two powers - the objective factor - coincide. And this fundamental coincidence overrides the influence of the subjective factor. Attraction proves stronger than repulsion.

The military mission’s journey to Moscow is a historical landmark. It testifies to the fact that the process of attraction has reached a very high level of development.

But what an irony that it should fall to Chamberlain to build the Anglo-Soviet bloc against Germany!

Yes, mischievous history really does have a vicious sense of humour.

However, everything flows. The balance of forces described above corresponds to the present historical period. The picture would change dramatically if and when the question of a proletarian revolution outside the USSR becomes the order of the day.’

An old, leaky, faded umbrella!

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1950
Kenneth Younger,
politician

Parliament rose a week ago. Ernie Bevin is due back in the office on Monday and I am due to leave for three weeks’ holiday on the same day. I am hoping not to have to put my feet inside the office from now to 1st September. That probably ends the long period during which I have in effect been continuously ‘in charge of the office’, and as continuously overworked. It has been a great experience and on the whole I have come through it with reasonable credit. I do not think I have made many glaring mistakes and I think I have taken as much of the burden off Ernie [Bevin] and the P.M. as was practicable. Obviously with matters like Korea & the Schuman Plan, many of the decisions could only be taken by senior ministers acting together if not by the whole cabinet. I am not able to sway the cabinet as Ernie might, & I would have been wrong to try. All I could do was to know my stuff, put my points clearly & persistently & rely on the P.M. to handle the Cabinet if necessary. In point of fact there has been surprisingly little disagreement over most of the issues of recent weeks. . .

I shall not trouble to write much about the substance of the work I have been doing. Much of it has related to Korea, which is a matter of history. With most of the decisions being taken in Washington, & with the Security Council sitting in New York [,] there has been a daily rush to clear and send out urgent instructions almost every day. Often we have had to face situations caused by the hamhandedness & excitability of the Americans who are, understandably, in an emotional and difficult state. At the present time they are engaged in a desperate effort to stabilise a front which is little more than a bridgehead around Pusan.

It is not sure that they will succeed and their prestige is of course very much involved. In consequence they are not inclined to pay much attention to the longer-term issues arising from their lack of policy in the Far East, and we are fighting a constant battle to prevent them from deliberately courting trouble with China, over Formosa and other matters.

Underneath what often seem petty disagreements and misunderstandings there is I think an important difference of viewpoint between us. The Americans, with only a few exceptions[,] seem to have decided that a war with ‘the communists’ is virtually inevitable & likely to occur relatively soon, say within 3-5 years. They regard all communists alike, no matter what their nationality[,] and assume that they are all dancing to Moscow’s tune & are bound to do so in future. It follows from this that the main problem is how to win the war when it comes, & there is no room for any subtleties in dealing with the Chinese. They are enemies & must be recognised as such.

We on the other hand, despite growing pessimism, still give first place to the effort to prevent war. We do not accept it as inevitable, & we are therefore unwilling to prepare uninhibitedly for an early war if by so doing we make war more likely or seriously impair our ability to raise our own & other living standards over a longer period of years. I do not suppose the Americans would admit to the point of view I have mentioned. They may not even be conscious of it. But most of their soldiers act on it & it is only upon that assumption that US political behaviour makes any sense at all. This applies particularly in their attitude to China. They are simply not interested in our view that China, if properly handled, could in the long run be separated from Moscow. Because such a development does not seem likely to happen quickly, the Americans discount it. There will, they argue, be a war anyway before anything useful can happen.

All this is very dangerous. We now have the two great powers both apparently believing, for different reasons, that a major war is bound to come, & that in itself makes war much more likely.

When I left the office today William Strang said ‘I do not suppose things will have changed much by the time you get back.’ I can certainly see no prospect of a change for the better. The most likely changes, if there are any at all, would be the defeat of the Americans in Korea & their complete evacuation (which is still a possibility) and a Chinese attempt to take Formosa, which the Americans would resist. Either of these events would lead to a serious deterioration of the whole Far Eastern position.

I made a vain attempt to get the Cabinet to discuss the consequences of a US-Chinese clash over Formosa, but Ernie wouldn’t have it. He was afraid of some decision which might tie his hands when the time came. My view is that by backing the Americans we would endanger everything that we have achieved in Asia by our forward policy in India, Burma etc. and that we might split the Commonwealth irretrievably into white and coloured. All the same, refusal to back the Americans would be a great shock to the worldwide alliance, the Atlantic Pact and the collective effort against Soviet communism. Faced with the choice, my own very reluctant view is that we would have to go with the Americans. Either way the prospects for world peace, let alone progress, would be immensely bleak.

Already unpleasant results of this are making themselves felt in the shape of increased arms production, and the prospect of having to renounce further progress on the economic & social front for some years. Such a situation may well put an end to social democratic parties in the west, including even the Labour Party. If our main effort is to be military, and everything else becomes almost stagnant, it is hard to see how our policy can differ from the Tories[’] except perhaps in ensuring somewhat greater equality of sacrifice. Moreover rearmament & large armed forces arouse enthusiasm among the Tories and nothing but despondency among us and our supporters. It is doubtful whether we can in such circumstances maintain national leadership for more than a limited period. If things get worse, coalition will loom up, official Labour & the Tories will get identified, and the communists and fellow travellers will get a big chance to take over the leadership of the opposition. I cannot foresee what I might do in such circumstances. I might easily find a coalition policy impossible, but whether I should find any more acceptable political resting place I do not know. I have a feeling that I should be obliged to rethink my basic position all over again in terms of the new situation.

I do not find much comfort in most of my colleagues on such subjects. Very few of them are, I think, interested in first principles at all. Their approach is pragmatic, and anyway they are mostly too busy to go in for political philosophy or ideological thinking. I have been too busy myself in recent months. Nye Bevan is, of course, an exception. I usually agree with him in Cabinet, though he occasionally goes off on a wild tangent. His position is none too strong just now & he is not a member of the inner circle who really decide things. If therefore there should be any spiritual crisis within the [Labour] movement or the government, Nye would probably take a line of his own and I should be very tempted to follow him.

I admire both the P.M. and Cripps in their different ways. Intellectually Cripps is really remarkable, & Attlee certainly has an authority which would surprise outside observers. It is true that he does not frame policy personally. He leaves that to Cripps, Morrison & Bevin. He is however a very good coordinator & executive, and his detachment from personal relationships makes him quite formidable within his well recognised limitations. I can’t say the rest of the Cabinet impresses me much. As a body the Cabinet shows little cohesion or basis of common thinking. Many members would be at least as happy in a Tory government, and happiest of all in a coalition. The younger members - Harold Wilson, Hector McNeil & Patrick Gordon Walker - are very competent in their jobs, but politically I don’t warm to any of them. The two latter are too obviously on the make. It appears that they have been grooming themselves to succeed Ernie if he has to pack up! It looks as though he will disappoint them for a while at least. Equally Herbert Morrison is waiting impatiently for Clem Attlee to go. At present I think he would be bound to succeed to [the] leadership, but I should be very sorry to see him there. He is a very astute politician but in my view lacks real stature. Although in many ways he is far abler than Clem, I do not think he has as broad or as elevated a conception of national & world affairs as Clem. As P.M. I believe he might let us down badly. . .’

Not particularly exhilarated

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1992
Christopher McCandless,
hiker

‘DAY 100! MADE IT!. BUT IN WEAKEST CONDITION OF LIFE. DEATH LOOMS AS SERIOUS THREAT. TOO WEAK TO WALK OUT. HAVE LITERALLY BECOME TRAPPED IN THE WILD - NO GAME.’

Beautiful blueberries

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