And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

13 December

William Windham,

‘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


Benjamin Banneker,

‘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


George Washington,

‘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


Marie-Henri Beyle (Stendhal),

‘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


Mary Berry,

‘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


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


Eric Gill,
sculptor and designer

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

Very beautiful things


Blanche Dugdale,

‘Stanley Baldwin is quite unmoved by his personal prestige. He says he was on a pinnacle before (at the time of the General Strike) and within six weeks all were abusing him. The House of Lords were such mugs that they went on with business after the King abdicated and a Special Act may have to be passed to indemnify them from treason!’

Baffy on Edward’s abdication


John Rabe,

‘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


Joseph Goebbels,

‘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


Iris Murdoch,

‘I need a strongbox to keep this damn diary in. Probably I ought to destroy all the entries of the last 3 weeks. Why am I unwilling to? . . . Must root out the weak desire for an audience (the lurking feeling eg that I write this diary for someone - E[lizabeth], P[hilippa], D[onald], or X, l’inconnu, I still believe in l’inconnu -? ). Way to sincerity, a long way.’

On Magpies, on!


Paul K. Lyons,

‘DIANA LETS THE SIDE DOWN: I am upset by the news this week that Prince Charles and his wife Diana are to separate. The royal family has had a bitch of a year but this news is the worst of the lot. Charles is in line to be King and Diana to be Queen, therefore anything they do and say matters. The separation (and ultimate divorce) of Prince Andrew and Fergie does not matter half as much. By refusing to accept the strictures of royal family life, Diana has betrayed the trust and responsibility invested in her. We the people, do not shout and wave and adore Diana herself, we wave, shout, love and adore her because she is a symbol of the royal family, she has accepted the role and the responsibility that goes with it. She is sorely mistaken if she thinks she can carry on as a famous and important person, and be treated as such everywhere she goes, now that she has stabbed the whole system in the back. Royal families cannot expect to live like ordinary people; they have immense privileges and there are costs that go with them. Diana appears to want her cake and to eat it. And how on earth can she go on speaking for the marriage guidance charity Relate, when she doesn’t have the stamina for her own marriage. She and Charles, like many royal families, already live separate lives; what does Diana hope to gain by proving to the world that she is not living a dream happy marriage as shown in cornflake advertisements. In five or ten years time, Diana will realise what a terrible mistake she has made. She will not find whatever is missing in her relationship with Charles anywhere else, other than for a few moments, or hours or days - like everybody else. Life is about getting on with the business and making it as bearable as you can. Whatever she chooses to do, it will be the same in the end, yet as Queen she could have had the most fascinating and interesting of lives.

And poor old Charlie must be in the very pits of depression - he has failed to provide the leadership to the people that he so desperately wants to give, he has failed personally to hold his marriage together, and he has failed the whole historic tradition of the royalty in this country by choosing the wrong wife.

The Annus Horribilis, as Queenie has called 1992, begins to sound like an understatement, a pathetic statement of personal frustration. Yet the tragedy is of historic proportions, and the Queen herself must take a huge chunk of the blame; all three of her children who married are now separated. The fact that one of them, Anne, remarried this weekend does nothing at all to mitigate the historic fall of the House of Windsor.’

The Queen and I


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And so made significant . . .
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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, several times a week. Now over ten years old, The Diary Review is the secondary source for the extracts in this online anthology.