And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

1 December

1551
King Edward VI

‘The duke of Somerset cam to his triall at Westmyster halle. [The record mentions three indictments: 1) that he had designed to have seized the King’s person, and to have governed all affairs; 2) that he, with one hundred others, intended to have imprisoned the earl of Warwick, afterwards duke of Northumberland; and 3) that he had designed to have raised an insurrection in the city of London.]

He answerid he did not entend to raise London, [. . .] His assembling of men was but for his owne defence. He did not determin to kill the duke of Northumberland, the marquis, etc., but spake of it and determined after the contrary; and yet seamid to confess he went about there death. The lordis went togither. The duke of Northumberland wold not agree that any searching of his death shuld bee treason. So the lordis acquited him of high treason, and condemned him of treason feloniouse, and so he was adjuged to be hangid. He gave thankis to the lordis for there open trial, and cried mercy of the duke of Northumberland, the marquis of Northampton, and th’erle of Penbroke for his ill meaning against them, and made suet for his life, wife and children, servauntes and dettes, and so departed without the ax of the Toure. The peple, knowing not the matter, shouted hauf a douzen times, so loud that frome the halle dore it was hard at Chairing crosse plainly, and rumours went that he was quitte of all.’

Edward VI, the Boy King

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1885
Friedrich von Holstein,
civil servant

‘No one could say that our foreign service is now being efficiently run. To-day, for example, we are still without news of the terms laid down by Bulgaria for the conclusion of peace. The terms are printed in the newspapers already. Our representatives abroad are cowed, and yet it occurs to no one at this end to tell them occasionally which problem or which object should occupy their attention.

The Chancellor’s ideas have lost all coherence - he changes his mind overnight. During the recent colonial debate he began by saying it was legalistic casuistry to regard the German colonies as foreign territory. But the previous day he had written with his own hand in the margin of a document: ‘The colonies are foreign territory.’

The trouble is not that he sometimes confuses or forgets things - any one else would do the same - but that no one dares to point out his mistakes.

The Chancellor told Bleichröder that it would be our duty to collaborate more with England now. And yet Salisbury tells Hatzfeldt that the two proposals at the conference which England finds unacceptable were introduced not by the Russian delegate but by Radowitz. I think, indeed I know, that Radowitz is vain, and easy game for the shrewder Nelidov; even so R. would not go so far unless he had secret instructions from Herbert, who pursues a policy of his own behind his father’s back.

We are now entering upon a critical phase: Russia and Austria are extremely incensed against each other. I wonder how the Chancellor will extricate himself from the difficulty. If he entrusts the affair too much to his son, it may turn out badly.’

The Gray Eminence

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1886
Friedrich von Holstein,
civil servant

‘Herb. Bismarck recently told me Prince Wilhelm would soon be working in the Foreign Ministry. Herbert said that whenever he was too busy to give the Prince instruction he would send him to me. I replied: ‘Since this is an official request I cannot refuse, but I should find such association with the Prince highly undesirable. In the first place, he gossips about everything he hears - we have had examples of this very recently.’ (I cited several instances.) ‘But in addition my love of the truth would get me into trouble. You see, if he asks me my opinion I shall have to tell him; and my opinion differs from yours in quite a few essentials.’ ’

The Gray Eminence

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1900
Isabelle Eberhardt,
writer

‘El Oued, at the house of Salah ben Taliba. The beginning of this month of December is curiously reminiscent of the same time in that deadly year of 1897. Same weather, same violent wind lashing against my face. In those days, though, I had the vast, grey Mediterranean for a horizon, breaking furiously against the black rocks with a deafening, cataclysmic sound. I was still so young, and even though recently bereaved, I still had a full measure of joie de vivre.

Since then, however, everything has changed, everything; I have aged and matured thanks to this strange destiny of mine.

Yes, everything has changed indeed. Augustin has found his haven at long last, and it does look as if he is meant never to leave it again. After all those ups and downs and twists of fate have settled down at last, however oddly.

I could never be content with the genteel pleasures of city life in Europe. My idea of heading for the desert to satisfy my need for both adventure and peace required courage, but was inspired. I’ve found domestic happiness, and far from diminishing, it seems to grow stronger every day.

Only politics threatens it . . . But alas! Allah alone knows what is hidden in the sky and the earth! and no one can predict the future.

Barely two weeks ago I went to meet my beloved in the night, as far as the area south of Kouïnine. I rode Souf in a darkness so dense it made my head spin.

Lost my way several times. Had strange impressions down in those plains, where the horizon seems to rise in the shape of dunes, and villages look like hedges made of djerid.

I was thinking about the passage in Aziyade about Istanbul graves lit by dim and solitary lights, when I suddenly spotted the gate to the Teksebet cemetery’s dome.

Every afternoon for several days in a row I have been along the road to Debila, either with Khalifa Taher or by myself. One day, as I was on a solitary outing, I had a strange feeling of familiarity [i], of a return to a past that was dead and buried. Going through the shott I stopped my horse beneath the palm trees. I closed my eyes, and listening to the sound of the wind rustling in the foliage, I was off in a dream. I felt as if I were back in the big woods along the Rhone and in the Parc Sarrazin on a mellow summer evening. The illusion was almost perfect. It was not long before a sudden movement of Souf’s brought me back to reality, though. I opened my eyes . . . an endless succession of grey dunes rolled out before me, and above my head the foliage rustled on the tough djerids.

At the foot of the dune behind our house, next to an enclosure containing three low palm trees, stands a small African-looking mosque built of ochre-coloured plaster that looks like mud. It only has a tiny, fortified dome, a koubba, ovoid in shape. Behind it stands a splendid date palm which, seen from our rooftop, seems to grow out of the koubba itself.

Yesterday, I went up there at maghreb time. In the blaze of the setting sun I could see grey silhouettes drenched in scarlet light move by the post office in the distance. While the little dome seemed to be on fire and the muezzin’s slow and languorous voice recited the evening prayer in the direction of every corner in the sky, men came down the dune on my right-hand side in the splendour of that melancholy hour.

Poignant memories of the end of the White Spirit’s life have come to haunt me these last few days.’

The magnificent Sahara

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1934
Peter Fleming,
writer

‘Wasted the morning waiting for Tumanov the detective, who had promised to take us round the opium dens. Met Yankovsky from N. Korea, who had some wonderful hunting photographs and was nice. Also the Vremya journalist, who seemed perplexed about Roerich having been run out. Also the Red railway worker, who said he was going to stay in Harbin but that 80% of the others were going back: a very vague man. The nice desk man, having applied for a rise on 40 dollars, is going after 9 years to turn porter in the hopes of earning more. The Italian consul turned up, a charming droll with an eyeglass and an inexhaustible fund of anecdotes. We bought some presents for Debedeev’s family and had an enormous lunch with Bryner and his kind wife, talking till dusk about Kolchak, whose betrayal Bryner’s brother, then in British uniform as a liaison officer, knew all about; and about Roerich and about Kaspe. Then K. saw the doctor and was forced to go to bed, and I wrote some letters and gave them to Lady Muriel Paget, who was going through on the express and seemed very nice and effective. She had one amusing rumour about Mme. Chiang. A local journalist turned up, a truculent and gloomy man, possibly drunk. He blamed Chambon over the Kaspe business.’

Dust all day like a fog

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1944
Alexander Cadogan,
civil servant

‘Went to see P.M. (in bed) with Alexander, Lyttelton and Bevin, about Italian prisoners. P.M., who looked a bit ruffled, said ‘Excuse me receiving you like this, but this is the morning after the night before.’! He must have had a hell of a birthday party!’

Went to see P.M. (in bed)

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1966
Mohammed Ayub Khan,
soldier and politician

‘Ayub Awan and the governor of West Pakistan and the defence minister came to see me to transact business. Bhutto’s acrobatics on politics were brought up by every one of them.

Mr Farooqui and the architect showed me the plan and model of president’s house in Islamabad. It looked very attractive. I told them that the cost should be kept as low as possible.

Gave a reception to the dignitaries of the Colombo Plan. The conference was held in Karachi. About seventy guests attended.

I saw a telegram from the ambassador in New Delhi that Chagla had gone back on his earlier desire to meet our foreign minister in Geneva. He refuses to discuss Kashmir. It just shows what twisters the Hindus are. They have no word of honour.’

Diaries of a Pakistan leader

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1968
Thomas Merton,
priest

‘It is hardly like any December or Advent I have ever known! A clear, hot sky. Flowering trees. A day coming. I woke at the sound of many crows fighting in the air. Then the booming drum at the Temple of Buddha’s Tooth. Now, the traffic of buses and a cool breeze sways the curtains. The jungle is very near, it comes right to the top of the city and is visible a bare hundred yards from this window. Yet I am on a very noisy corner as far as traffic is concerned!’

Befriending the Dalai Lama

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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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