And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

16 December

1686
John Evelyn,
writer

“I carried the Countess of Sunderland to see the rarities of one Mr Charlton in the Middle Temple, who showed us such a collection as I had never seen in all my travels abroad either of private gentlemen, or princes. It consisted of miniatures, drawings, shells, insects, medals, natural things, animals (of which divers, I think 100, were kept in glasses of spirits of wine), minerals, precious stones, vessels, curiosities in amber, crystal, agate, etc.; all being very perfect and rare of their kind, especially his books of birds, fish, flowers, and shells, drawn and miniatured to the life. He told us that one book stood him in £300; it was painted by that excellent workman, whom the late Gaston, Duke of Orleans, employed. This gentleman’s whole collection, gathered by himself, traveling over most parts of Europe, is estimated at £8,ooo. He appeared to be a modest and obliging person.’ [This collection was later bought by Sir Hans Sloane and formed part of the British Museum.]

A most excellent person

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1879
Wilford Woodruff,
priest

‘I dreamed at night that President Taylor was sealing all in the Church, plural marriages to them that wished it. We met in the Council of the 12. I thought the glory of God rested upon us and we did all our work openly and the government had no power over us and we rejoiced together.’

Oh how weak is man

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1934
Peter Fleming,
writer

‘Good Chinese breakfast with Chow. First meal since light lunch yesterday. Drove to bus station (one pagoda, one big Jap restaurant). Via Mission. Saw Mrs. B_, drawn mouth, sandy, bad with Chow. Bus starts late. Slow, uneven journey, delayed by breakdowns of truck. Mountains and donkeys. Sweet cakes at one halt. Peanuts and Manchus at another. One man has a little owl in a cage. Boy holds new-born calf by its tail. All stare. Soldiers in bus friendly. Fat Jap hits Chinese for no great cause. Lovely blue at twilight. Pass long bulbous caravan of donkeys, mules, and ponies carrying cotton. Alternately sleepy and exalted. Thick with dust.’

Dust all day like a fog

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1937
Minnie Vautrin,
missionary

‘Tonight I asked George Fitch [a Chinese-born American missionary head of the YMCA in Nanking] how the day went, and what progress they had made toward restoring peace in the city. His reply was ‘It was hell today. The blackest day of my life.’ Certainly it was that for me too.

Last night was quiet, and our three foreign men were undisturbed, but the day was anything but peaceful. [. . .]

There probably is no crime that has not been committed in this city today. Thirty girls were taken from Language School last night, and today I have heard scores of heartbreaking stories of girls who were taken from their homes last night - one of the girls was but 12 years old. Food, bedding and money have been taken from people - Mr Li had $55 taken from him. I suspect every house in the city has been opened, again and yet again, and robbed. Tonight a truck passed, in which there were 8 or 10 girls, and as it passed they called out ‘Giu ming’ ‘Giu ming’ - save our lives. The occasional shots that we hear out on the hills, or on the street, make us realize the sad fate of some man - very probably not a soldier. [. . .]

Mr John Rabe told the Japanese commander that he could help them get lights, water and telephones service but he would do nothing until order was restored in the city. Nanking is but a pitiful broken shell tonight - the streets are deserted and all houses in darkness and fear.’

In darkness and fear

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1947
Wilhelm Reich,
doctor

‘The Food and Drug Administration retracted its vice suspicion; but now “I am sending out orgone accumulators to cancer patients”? The FDA is surely pushed by someone all out to kill the accumulator. This is a fight of Pest + State + Politics against open, honest work. The BIG GAME is on.’

The existence of orgonity

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1965
Noel Coward,
writer and performer

‘Sixty-six years ago today I was propelled from the womb. There were no electric trains, and motor cars were exciting curiosities. There was not even the thought of an aeroplane in the winter skies, and horse-buses clopped through the London streets. There were no buses in Teddington.’

A glittering occasion

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1965
Waguih Ghali, writer

‘I have not been to work since - and I certainly can’t face going. I have handed in my notice for the 15th of January and will play sick as long as possible . . . et après?. . . après ça la deluge, as we know well from experience. But deluge or not, I can’t really worsen very much. I seem to have improved slightly during the last week [. . .].

Here is my day: I go to bed about 2 a.m., having drunk myself to sleepiness. In the morning I force myself to go on sleeping as long as possible. I am usually up at about two in the afternoon. Wash, have two coffees and many cigarettes, then I drive to town for another coffee. I walk about a bit [. . .] and return home. I try and write, but it is nearly impossible. I do write, though, a few pages of a play I am writing together with Kurt Flocken - the same Kurt Flocken of Liselotte days. When I say ‘with’ him I mean I write it in English, then when he comes he takes it down in German (usually my German) . . . For someone who pretends to have literary leanings, he is hopeless. Anyway, my dictating to him is not unpleasant, and it forces me to write a few pages a day because I know he will be coming. After that we go to a pub and drink till 1 or 2 a.m . . . and a new day starts. I ward off the depression with those pills, but have decided to go without them, and without the booze for a few days. [. . .]

Diana Athill’s letters have been short and not too affectionate lately. How well I understand that and sympathise with what I take to be the inevitable revulsion I must now unconsciously cause in her. Those horrible moaning and weeping letters I have inflicted on her for so long. She would have been a monster if she didn’t finally react with some sort of disgust. And then, of course, this lunatic, selfish and absolutely egoistical proposal of mine for her to let me live in her flat for six months or so AT HER OWN COST!! Obviously I was looney to propose such a thing . . . yet. Bless her, she at once wrote to the Home Office to try and get me permission to live in London for six months . . .

Brenda Laring, who strangely turned very affectionate and friendly lately, and concerned about me, hasn’t replied to me last letter . . . a detailed description of my state of despair and fear . . .

But I remember the state I was in as I wrote to Diana suggesting she bring me to England . . . literally begging for her mercy. I remember how I was, how I feared for my sanity . . . how I could foresee that what I was going through is just simply, medically let us say, physiologically . . . unbearable.

As I said, except for this sudden attack this afternoon . . . and coupled with a sudden yearning for Brigitta, I seem to have been steadily improving. And my finances? I have been regularly winning lately. In fact if I add all I have won the last two months, it must add to about DM 200 [. . .]

I have calmed down since that attack (I played patience while it seized me) . . . I am sitting cosily, even the radio on (something I couldn’t bear to listen to until lately). Sometimes I get very hungry and eat a lot, but usually I am on an empty stomach. About my finances, le déluge will start at about the beginning of February I suppose . . .

I have discarded the novel because it started with unrequited love, and it reminds me of B. I have also read Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum and again saw what literature can be . . . what insipid caca’s [sic] most of us write. [. . . ]

My mother has sent me two very affectionate letters . . . No word from Ketty or Samir. I think they would like to be left alone.

There was something I wanted to mention. During the last two years, I have suffered terribly from matters of the heart, and anyone reading this Diary, and reading the affair with Liselotte, and then Brigitta, would laugh . . . This, to me, is one of the cruellest things I am experiencing, the fact that, in essential, it is a laughable matter. What is this ‘love’ I am talking about? Liselotte . . . Brenda . . . Iricka . . . Brigitta . . . all in the space of one year or so? I can see it too, and how cruel and terribly bitter that what is laughable distresses so intolerably. And with those last wise words, will end today’s reportage.’

Death in my heart

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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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