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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2003
Paul K. Lyons,
writer

‘I’ve been helping Andrew to sort out the mess in a house once owned by Aviva Simon, who died earlier this year. Aviva, a spinster, was the daughter of Sir Leon Simon and Lady Ellen Simon. Sir Simon was Postmaster General for 20 years, he was also a well-known zionist leader and he translated the works of the Zionist leader Ahad Haam. He also wrote a biography of the man. Lady Ellen Simon’s maiden name was Umanski. Her brother, Arthur Umanski, changed his name to Underwood. He was a chemical engineer and something of an academic in the subject too. As far as I can work out, Aviva inherited 154 Hanover Road (near Willesden Green) from her mother, who must have inherited it from her brother. The house, which is an unbelievable tip, contains personal effects belonging not only to Aviva, but also to Leon Simon, Ellen Simon and Underwood. But there is no order to any of the things in the house, and most of everything is hidden inside plastic bags, inside plastic bags, inside plastic bags.

Andrew has been employed by David, who is the father of Offra (who lives in Spain and who I know), who is an executor (although Andrew has been using the word trustee - so I must check on that) of Aviva’s estate. David is related to Aviva somehow, but I’m not clear on that either. Andrew is being paid £120 a day to clear out the house, plus he’ll get 10% of the income he raises from selling the effects. The idea is to try and raise some cash from the belongings, rather than just getting in a house clearance service. So, Andrew is determined to pick through every last plastic bag, every last matchbox, every last tin (there’s a lot of old tins), every last drawer in search of treasures. When he told me about the job, and the 1,000s of books, I volunteered to help.

I went up on Monday. Since he’d arranged for a book dealer friend to come in during the afternoon, our first priority was to try and expose all the books. There was one large room, which Andrew hadn’t yet touched, and so I set to on that one. Although the room, like the rest of the house, was a complete tip (imagine a rubbish dump with 200 plastic bags piled up around old furniture), there were no rats or live insects; and generally everything was clean rather than dirty - although very dusty. So, it was not such a trial to work through everything. Andrew kept hoping to find a holy grail, something worth a lot of money, but I only found things worth a modest amount - a few nice pieces of material, gold fillings, a few old coins. For me, the interest was in the books and the papers. There were so many papers, so many letters and correspondence; every suitcase, every handbag, every drawer, every sturdy file, was crammed with papers of one description or another, from bills to share certificates, to invitations to Simon’s 70th birthday, to discussions about what should be done with Simon’s books. Andrew has little interest in books, or in the papers, he likes the trinkets, the crockery and the paintings.

Andrew’s friend Piers came and stayed a couple of hours. A day later he phoned through with an offer of £3,000, which was a lot more than I was expecting. Andrew said Piers had found three valuable books - but we don’t know whether that means they’re worth £500 a piece or triple that; nor do we know which books they are. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if Piers had invented the three books of value, I mean it might be two or four, and by telling us three he’s guarding against Andrew or I informing any other bookdealer to look for three gems (for if they’re are only two, another dealer might search to midnight and not find the third, or if they’re are four, he might stop looking at number three) - seems a bit paranoid though. I suggested we should get another quote, and I volunteered to organise that. But it was only once I got on the phone that I realised I didn’t have enough information about the collection, and so I wasn’t able to sell it sufficiently to prospective viewers. I have though, in the end, got two people coming. But now I feel I need to get the books into a better order than they are, which means I’ll have to spend the rest of the week there.

Part of the interest for me has been uncovering the family histories and connections, through the letters. It took a while, but I finally worked out that a library in Oxford had already received most of Leon Simon’s books, once in 1993, when his wife died, and more recently when Aviva’s sister, who had a separate lot of her father’s books, donated 600 volumes. I also discovered that Underwood lectured at University College and had an equation named after him!’

How I saved the Balfour papers!

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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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