And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

14 December

1762
James Boswell,
writer

‘It is very curious to think that I have now been in London several weeks without ever enjoying the delightful sex, although I am surrounded with numbers of free-hearted ladies of all kinds: from the splendid Madam at fifty guineas a night, down to the civil nymph with white-thread stockings who tramps along the Strand and will resign her engaging person to your honour for a pint of wine and a shilling. Manifold are the reasons for this my present wonderful continence. I am upon a plan of economy, and therefore cannot be at the expense of first-rate dames. I have suffered severely from loathsome distemper, and therefore shudder at the thoughts of running any risk of having it again. Besides, the surgeons’ fees in this city come very high. But the greatest reason of all is that fortune, or rather benignant Venus, has smiled upon me and favoured me so far that I have had the most delicious intrigues with women of beauty, sentiment, and spirit, perfectly suited to my romantic genius.’

Young Boswell in London

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1796
William Bray,
lawyer and antiquary

‘My wife died about 5 in the afternoon; the most affectionate of wives, tenderest of parents, and most sincere of Christians; to her great prudence and discretion I owe the prosperity with which God has blessed me.’

A good state of health

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1832
Charles Cavendish Fulke Greville,
civil servant

‘Came here last Wednesday week; Council on the Monday for the dissolution [of Parliament]; place very full, bustling, gay, and amusing. I am staying in De Ros’s house with Alvanley; Chesterfields, Howes, Lievens, Cowpers, all at Brighton, and plenty of occupation in visiting, gossiping, dawdling, riding, and driving; a very idle life, and impossible to do anything. The Court very active, vulgar, and hospitable; King, Queen, Princes, Princesses, bastards, and attendants constantly trotting about in every direction: the election noisy and dull - the Court candidate beaten and two Radicals elected. Everybody talking of the siege of Antwerp and the elections. So, with plenty of animation, and discussion, and curiosity, I like it very well. Lord Howe is devoted to the Queen, and never away from her. She receives his attentions, but demonstrates nothing in return; he is like a boy in love with this frightful spotted Majesty, while his delightful wife is laid up (with a sprained ancle and dislocated joint) on her couch.’

The King’s bathing habits

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1842
Richard Henry Dana Jr.,
lawyer

‘I had sued Captain Perkins and his brother the mate of the bark Clarissa Perkins for assaulting two seamen named Singleton and Parsons. Singleton is likely to die of his wounds, so I made complaint, and had the captain bound over criminally. I was obliged to do this because the district attorney declined acting. I can conceive of no reason except that in arguing against Bryant he got his feelings settled in favor of the officers. Dehon, who defended Perkins, alluded to my forwardness in urging the complaint against the master as an interference. I took him to task for this, and we had a long talk which resulted in my feeling more affection and respect for Dehon than before. He is a good fellow and has honorable feelings.

I often have a good deal to contend with in the slurs or open opposition of masters and owners of vessels whose seamen I undertake to defend or look after. It is more unpleasant when this is retailed by the counsel. Young lawyers are apt to take up the excitement and prejudice of the clients, which they ought to allay and keep free from. I never have trouble with the upper class of merchants, but only with the small grinding machines and petty traders who save by small medicine chests and poor provisions.’

The slurs of vessel owners

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1900
Rainer Maria Rilke,
writer

‘Sometimes I remember in exact detail things and epochs that never existed. I see every gesture of people who never lived a life and feel the swaying cadence of their never-spoken works. And a never-smiled smiling shines. Those who were never born die. And those who never died lie with their hands folded, repeated in beautiful stone, on long level sarcophagi in the halflight of churches no one built. Bells that never rang, that are still uncast metal and undiscovered ore in mountains, ring. Will ring: for what never existed is what is on its way, on its way over to us, something in the future, new. And perhaps I’m remembering distant futures when what never existed rises up in me and speaks.’

Art but no artists

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1911
Roald Amundsen,
explorer

‘Thursday 15 Decbr.

So we arrived, and were able to raise our flag at the geographical South Pole - King Håkon VII’s Vidda. Thanks be to God! The time was 3pm when this happened. The weather was of the best kind when we set off this morning, but at 10am, it clouded over and hid the sun. Fresh breeze from the SE. The skiing has been partly good, partly bad. The plain - King H VII’s Vidda - has had the same appearance - quite falt and without what one might call sastrugi. The sun reappeared in the afternoon, and now we much go out and take a midnight observation. Naturally we are not exactly at the point called 90°, but after all our excellent observations and dead reckoning we must be very close. We arrived here with three sledges and 17 dogs. HH put one down just after arrival. ‘Hlege’ was worn out. Tomorrow we will go out in three directions to circle the area round the Pole. We have had our celebratory meal - a little piece of seal meat each. We leave here the day after tomorrow with two sledges. The third sledge will be left here. Likewise we will leave a little three man tent (Rønne) with the Norwegian flag and a pennant marked Fram.’

[By mistake, Amundsen’s calender was not put back when the Fram crossed the International Date Line, and when the mistake was discovered Amundsen decided it would be too difficult to revise all the diary and log entries, and so he kept the wrong calendar dates going - hence he actually arrived at the Pole on the 14th, even though his diary dates it the 15th. Håkon VII was King of Norway at the time.]

Race to the South Pole

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1922
John Reith,
businessman and politician

‘At 3:45 Sir William Noble phoned to ask if I would come along to see him at once, so took a taxi and went. He received me very nicely, . . The Committee had unanimously recommended that I be offered the general managership of the British Broadcasting Co. He said he had tried hard to get the salary of £2,000 but some of the others didn’t want it to start over £1,500, but that if things went OK I should get a rise soon. Later he recommended me to take £1,750 as he thought he could get that approved. After a cup of tea and a general talk, I departed. I am profoundly thankful to God in this matter. It is all His doing. There were six on the short list.’

Reith on Hitler, Churchill

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1973
Cecil Harmsworth King,
businessman

‘So the balloon has begun to go up. The PM announced yesterday that we shall be going on to a three-day industrial week to save electricity during the current trouble with the miners, the train drivers and the power engineers. There is to be a mini-Budget on Monday, despite all the denials. The PM put it all down to the miners and hardly mentioned the oil embargo. In fact, as Lord Robbins writes in the Financial Times today, this trouble was coming on us anyway, even if there had been industrial trouble and no oil embargo. I dare say one of the reasons for the three-day week (and how is to be enforced?) is to cause short-time working and so bring pressure on the miners and railwaymen from their fellow unionists. I doubt if this will work - the resentment is more likely to build up against the Government - and rightly so. Ted’s call for national unity on the box last night could not have been flatter or less inspiring.’

Cecil Harmsworth King

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1996
Peter Clark,
administrator

‘I am translating Sa’dallah’s play and am having difficulties. There is no problem getting the meaning but I am not getting the brio of the Arab text into English. I feel my present version is mechanical. The challenge is the dialogue that has to be spoken. It is different from translating a novel or story that has only to be read. I am now translating something with a production in mind.’

Damascus diaries

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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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