And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

17 December

1762
James Boswell,
writer

‘I mentioned to Sheridan [Thomas Sheridan, actor, and father of Richard Brinsley Sheridan] how difficult it was to be acquainted with people of fashion in London: that they have a reserve and a forbidding shyness to strangers. He accounted for it thus: “The strangers that come here are idle and unemployed; they don’t know what to do, and they are anxious to get acquaintances. Whereas the genteel people, who have lived long in town, have got acquaintances enough; their time is all filled up. And till they find a man particularly worth knowing, they are very backward. But when you once get their friendship, you have them firm to you.” ’

Young Boswell in London

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1832
Charles Cavendish Fulke Greville,
civil servant

‘On Sunday I heard Anderson preach. He does not write his sermons, but preaches from notes; very eloquent, voice and manner perfect, one of the best I ever heard, both preacher and reader.

The borough elections are nearly over, and have satisfied the Government. They do not seem to be bad on the whole; the metropolitans have sent good men enough, and there was no tumult in the town. At Hertford Buncombe was routed by Salisbury’s long purse. He hired such a numerous mob besides that he carried all before him. Some very bad characters have been returned; among the worst, Faithful here [George Faithful - a nonconformist preacher and attorney - was one of the first two MPs returned for Brighton after it was created a Parliamentary Constituency]; Gronow at Stafford; Gully, Pontefract; [. . .]

Gully’s history is extraordinary. He was taken out of prison twenty-five or thirty years ago by Hellish to fight Pierce, surnamed the ‘Game Chicken,’ being then a butcher’s apprentice; he fought him and was beaten. He afterwards fought Belcher (I believe), and Gresson twice, and left the prizering with the reputation of being the best man in it. He then took to the turf, was successful, established himself at Newmarket, where he kept a hell, and began a system of corruption of trainers, jockeys, and boys, which put the secrets of all Newmarket at his disposal, and in a few years made him rich.

At the same time he connected himself with Mr Watt in the north, by betting for him, and this being at the time when Watt’s stable was very successful, he won large sums of money by his horses. Having become rich he embarked in a great coal speculation, which answered beyond his hopes, and his shares soon yielded immense profits. His wife, who was a coarse, vulgar woman, in the meantime died, and he afterwards married the daughter of an innkeeper, who proved as gentlewomanlike as the other had been the reverse, and who is very pretty besides. He now gradually withdrew from the betting ring as a regular blackleg, still keeping horses, and betting occasionally in large sums, and about a year or two ago, having previously sold the Hare Park to Sir Mark Wood, where he lived for two or three years, he bought a property near Pontefract, and settled down (at Ackworth Park) as John Gully, Esq., a gentleman of fortune. [. . .]

When Parliament was about to be dissolved, he was again invited to stand for Pontefract by a numerous deputation; he again hesitated, but finally accepted; Lord Mexborough withdrew, and he was elected without opposition. In person he is tall and finely formed, full of strength and grace, with delicate hands and feet, his face coarse and with a bad expression, his head set well on his shoulders, and remarkably graceful and even dignified in his actions and manners; totally without education, he has strong sense, discretion, reserve, and a species of good taste which has prevented, in the height of his fortunes, his behaviour from ever transgressing the bounds of modesty and respect, and he has gradually separated himself from the rabble of bettors and blackguards of whom he was once the most conspicuous, and tacitly asserted his own independence and acquired gentility without ever presuming towards those whom he has been accustomed to regard with deference. His position is now more anomalous than ever, for a member of Parliament is a great man, though there appear no reasons why the suffrages of the blackguards of Pontefract should place him in different social relations towards us than those in which we mutually stood before.’

The King’s bathing habits

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1886
Robert Earl Henri,
artist

‘My drawing of one day was as good (better than one) as many of the drawings of five days, not that it had finish - mine was rough but looked like the man.’

Make the draperies move

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1903
Orville Wright,
aviator

‘When we got up, a wind of between 20 and 25 miles was blowing from the north. We got the machine out early and put out the signal for the men at the station. . . . After running the engine and propellers a few minutes to get them in working order, I got on the machine at 10:35 for the first trial. The wind, according to our anemometers at this time, was blowing a little over 20 miles (corrected) 27 miles according to the Government anemometer at Kitty Hawk. On slipping the rope the machine started off increasing in speed to probably 7 or 8 miles. The machine lifted from the truck just as it was entering on the fourth rail. Mr. Daniels took a picture just as it left the tracks. I found the control of the front rudder quite difficult on account of its being balanced too near the center and thus had a tendency to turn itself when started so that the rudder was turned too far on one side and then too far on the other. As a result the machine would rise suddenly to about 10 ft. and then as suddenly, on turning the rudder, dart for the ground. A sudden dart when out about 100 feet from the end of the tracks ended the flight. Time about 12 seconds (not known exactly as watch was not promptly stopped). The lever for throwing off the engine was broken, and the skid under the rudder cracked. After repairs, at 20 min. after 11 o'clock Will made the second trial.’ [The day of the first flight.]

Famous flight at Le Mans

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1937
John Rabe,
businessman

‘Two Japanese soldiers have climbed over the garden wall and are about to break into our house. When I appear they give the excuse that they saw two Chinese soldiers climb over the wall. When I show them my party badge, they return the same way. In one of the houses in the narrow street behind my garden wall, a woman was raped, and then wounded in the neck with a bayonet. I managed to get an ambulance so we can take her to Kulou Hospital. [. . .] Last night up to 1,000 women and girls are said to have been raped, about 100 girls at Ginling Girls’ College alone. You hear nothing but rape. If husbands or brothers intervene, they’re shot. What you hear and see on all sides is the brutality and bestiality of the Japanese soldiers.’

The Schindler of China

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1995
Frank Pakenham,
politician

‘Another hectic week. One major television appearance, four radio programmes and a speech on penal matters in the House of Lords. One radio interviewer introduced me thus: ‘My next guest is Lord Longford, to talk about Myra Hindley, pornography and Rose West.’

I have not yet found anybody on these programmes to say to my face that Myra ought to stay in prison. I was accused by one friend afterwards of being arrogant and dismissing so-called public opinion. Maybe so. But when you have known somebody for twenty-seven years it is difficult to be patient with a ‘man in the street’ who only knows what the tabloid press tells him about.

Once again I am profoundly conscious of the gap between informed opinion and uninformed public emotions. I keep coming back to the taxi driver who told me that he felt cheated out of revenge when he heard that Fred West had committed suicide. But he knew that it was wrong to feel that way. I have to accept the fact that feelings similar to those of the taxi driver will always be widely held by the so-called general public.

Those who deal with prisoners at first-hand, the Prison Service and the Probation Service, for example, cannot fail to recognise them as fellow human beings. But to the so-called general public they will always be an alien and even menacing force. It is the business of those who care for humanity and justice to make far more effort than they have made previously to guide the public in the direction of the enlightened taxi driver. It is easy for someone like myself to say we must hate the sin and love the sinner, but it is hard enough to achieve that balance after a lifetime’s experience, still more after a moment’s reflection.’

Love the sinner

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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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