And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

13 December

1784
William Windham,
politician

‘While I was writing [. . .] , received the fatal account, so long dreaded, that Dr Johnson was no more! May those prayers which he incessantly poured from a heart fraught with the deepest devotion, find that acceptance with Him to whom they were addressed, which piety so humble and so fervent may seem to promise!’

Windham’s love of Johnson

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1797
Benjamin Banneker,
farmer

‘I Dreamed I saw some thing passing by my door to and fro, and when I attempted to go to the door, it would vanish and reapted [?] it twice or thrice, at length I let in the infernal Spirit and he told me that he had been concerned with a woman by the name of Beckey Freeman (I never heard the name as I remember) by some means we fell into a Skirmish, and I threw him behind the fire and endeavored to burn him up but all in vain- I know not what became of him but he was an ill formed being- Some part of him in Shape of a man, but hairy as a beast, his feet was circular or rather globular and did not exceed an inch and a half in diameter, but while I held him in the fire he said something respecting he was able to stand it, but I forget his words. B. Banneker’

Looking for a snowbow

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1799
George Washington,
president

‘Morning Snowing & abt. 3 Inches deep. Wind at No. Et. & Mer. at 30. Contg. Snowing till 1 Oclock and abt. 4 it became perfectly clear. Wind in the same place but not hard. Mer. 28 at Night.’

Washington’s domestic felicity

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1810
Marie-Henri Beyle (Stendhal),
writer

‘Outside the D of R (whom I sleep with once a week), I’m as chaste as the devil. As the result, I’m getting fatter. It seems to me that since I’ve been an Auditor I’ve forgotten my amorous disposition. Possibly it feeds the fire in my head. I believe I could easily lose the habit of women. I lack almost entirely the talent of possessing common women, otherwise I’d have struck up a conversation a hundred times with Mme Boucher (I believe), of the Buffa, and at the end of six days I’d have had her.

Yesterday, I wrote to the little Bereyter. I had some fun Tuesday with Amélie and Mimi. “You are very agreeable, I take great pleasure in seeing you.” The next thing is to pinch their thighs and be capable of giving myself up to all possible gaiety. I sang aloud a superb song, for I composed the words and music as I went along. [. . .]

I wrote some letters to the terrible Probus, but I never speak to him and hardly ever see him. I haven’t spoken to him about business in his office since the day he railed at me a bit after a three-hour conference with M Six and M Costaz. The latter is a model of self-importance. That’s the only way to hold your own with a man of Probus’s kind, and all the mighty ones are somewhat alike in that respect. It makes me indignant to be obliged to put on the soporific mask of the most kill-joy silliness in order to succeed with the bores in power.’

Pinch their thighs

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1811
Mary Berry,
writer

‘Went with Lady Charlotte to hear the military band in the Prince’s Pavilion. Luckily, we only heard two pieces, for the noise of so many loud instruments in a room (the dining-room) which could hardly hold them, was not a remedy for my headache. After the music, having an order, we saw the apartments of the Pavilion. All is Chinese, quite overloaded with china of all sorts and of all possible forms, many beautiful in themselves, but so overloaded one upon another, that the effect is more like a china shop baroquement arranged, than the abode of a Prince. All is gaudy, without looking gay; and all is crowded with ornaments, without being magnificent. The interior of the stables is imposing, though badly arranged for the comfort of the horses, and will only accommodate sixty beneath this large building. The riding house, which is attached to it, perfectly suits its purpose, and is, I think, likely not to be finished, though it is the only part of the habitation of the Prince which deserves preservation. He ought to have a tennis court of the same size, making a pendant to the riding house.’

My only anxiety

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1922
John Reith,
businessman and politician

‘This morning I had the interview about the BBC. Sir William Noble [head of the committee selecting a candidate to manage the BBC] came out to get me and he was smiling in a confidential sort of way. Present, McKinistry, Binyon and one other [representatives of the wireless manufacturers]. I put it all before God last night. They didn’t ask me many questions and some they did I didn’t know the meaning of.’ [Note inserted later: ‘The fact is I hadn’t the remotest idea as to what broadcasting was. I hadn’t troubled to find out. If I had tried I should probably have found difficulty in discovering anyone who knew.’] ‘I think they had more or less made up their minds that I was the man before they saw me and that it was chiefly a matter of confirmation. . . They asked what salary I wanted and I said £2,000. Noble came to the door with me and almost winked as if to say it was all right.’

Reith on Hitler, Churchill

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1929
Eric Gill,
sculptor and designer

‘Bath. Continued experiment with dog after and discovered that a dog will join with a man.’

Very beautiful things

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1937
John Rabe,
businessman

‘It is not until we tour the city that we learn the extent of destruction. We come across corpses every 100 to 200 yards. The bodies of civilians that I examined had bullet holes in their backs. These people had been presumably fleeing and were shot from behind. The Japanese march through the city in groups of ten to twenty soldiers and loot the shops [. . .] I watched with my own eyes as they looted the café of our German baker Herr Kiessling. Hempel’s hotel was broken into as well, as almost every shop on Chung Shang and Taiping Road.’

The Schindler of China

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1942
Joseph Goebbels,
politician

‘The question of Jewish persecution in Europe is being given top news priority by the English and the Americans. . . At bottom, however, I believe both the English and the Americans are happy that we are exterminating the Jewish riff-raff. But the Jews will go on and on and turn the heat on the British-American press. We won’t even discuss this theme publicly, but instead I give orders to start an atrocity campaign against the English on their treatment of Colonials. Efforts are under way to declare Rome an open city, so that it won’t be bombarded. The Pope is studying the question of air raids on Italian cities and seems to be exerting pressure on the English to spare at least certain districts. The declarations issued by the Vatican on this question are extremely clever and cannot but win favor for the Pope, at least in Italy. But the Italians are willing to accept any help offered them in this painful situation. The Italians are extremely lax in the treatment of Jews. They protect the Italian Jews both in Tunis and in occupied France and won’t permit their being drafted for work or compelled to wear the Star of David. This shows once again that Fascism does not really dare to get down to fundamentals, but is very superficial regarding most important problems. The Jewish question is causing us a lot of trouble. Everywhere, even among our allies, the Jews have friends to help them, which is a proof that they are still playing an important role even in the Axis camp. All the more are they shorn of power within Germany itself.’

We can conquer the world

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