And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

22 December

Luca Landucci,

‘A plot was discovered against the Gonfaloniere, a certain man called Prinzivalle having intended to murder him. He was the son of Luigi della Stuffa, of Bologna, and it was said that he had proposed three ways of killing Soderini; first, to murder him in the Council-chamber; secondly, in his own room; and, thirdly, when he went out. A woman discovered this, and it was imparted to Filippo Strozzi, who as soon as he heard of it, went immediately to warn the Signoria; and they sent for Luigi della Stufa, the man’s father, and detained him in the Palagio.’

Earthquakes in Florence


John Newton,
sailor and priest

‘I dedicate unto thee, most blessed God, this clean, unsullied book; and at the same time renew my tender of a foul, blotted, corrupt heart. Be pleased, O Lord, to assist me with the influences of Thy Spirit to fill the one in a manner agreeable to Thy will, and by Thy all-sufficient grace to overpower and erase the ill impressions sin and the world have from time to time made in the other, so that both my public converse and retired meditation may testify that I am indeed thy servant, redeemed, renewed, and accepted in the sufferings, merit, and mediation of my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, to whom, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, be glory, honour, and dominion, world without end. Amen.’

The extraordinary Mr Newton


Joseph Wolff,

‘We pitched our tent in the plain of the village Arish, where there are an old castle, and some cannon. They asked me there whether the English Sultan is allied with that of Islam, I said. Yes; Hamd Lelah was the answer.’

Read the Word of God


William Crookes,

[Part of a very long entry for this day] ‘At about 11 a.m. I was watching the sun through my opera glass protected by dark glasses, when I detected a distinct indentation a little above the centre, on the right. The eclipse for which we had travelled so many hundreds of miles, and spent so much time, trouble, and money had commenced. Ten seconds afterwards a cloud came over and nothing more could be seen till 11.8, when the advance was clearly visible. At 11.10 thick clouds covered the sun for several minutes. 11.25 sky quite overcast. 11.30 clouds breaking. 11.40 sun visible, and occasionally so till 12.10, when it disappeared behind light fleecy clouds. At 12.15 the sun totally disappeared, and was no more visible till about half an hour after totality. At 12.20 the whole sky was overcast. Here and there a few patches of blue sky could be seen in various parts to windward, and over the landscape patches of sunshine were seen sweeping along as the clouds moved. At 12.28 approximately, at which time totality was to commence, the sky was anxiously scanned for blue patches. One approached, but passed too much to the north, and on going out of the tent at 12.25 I saw that there was not the least chance of the next blue patch coming across our meridian for at least a quarter of an hour, whilst it seemed certain then to pass to the north of the sun. The light was now declining rapidly, and although there was no sign of break in the density of the obscuring clouds, I went to the eye-piece of the instrument and looked in on the chance of seeing something. Not a trace of a spectrum could be seen, and I had to decide rapidly whether to stay there in the absolute certainty of seeing nothing, or to go outside and at all events see something of the general effect of the approaching darkness on the landscape. Had there been the faintest chance of seeing anything with the spectroscope I should have stayed at it, but as it was I decided to go outside, where most of the observers were already. 

On the distant horizon and here and there in the far east gleams of bright light and patches which looked like sunshine were tantalisingly visible. The western horizon was of a dark blue-black, the sky overhead was like indigo. Suddenly a dark purple pall seemed to rise up behind Santa Cruz, the high ground on our west, and rapidly cover us in deep gloom spreading to the east almost as far as the eye could see. The sky overhead looked as if it were crushed down on to our heads, and the sight was impressively awful. The darkness was not so great as I had expected, for at no time was I unable to read small newspaper type, or see the seconds hand of my watch, but the colour of the darkness was quite different from that of the ordinary darkness of night, being of a purple colour. The high range of mountains in the extreme south (about _ miles off), which were out of the line of total phase, were visible the whole of the time, whilst some light fleecy clouds in the north, where the sky was not so thoroughly overcast, showed reflected sunlight all the time. This, however, made our darkness more impressive.

The reappearance of the light was much more sudden and striking than its disappearance. A luminous veil with a comparatively sharp upper boundary shot up from behind the western hills. It passed over us and spread its illumination towards the east before we could fairly realise the fact that the long-expected total phase of the eclipse of 1870 was over without any of our observers seeing anything of it.

Ten minutes after totality Captain Noble and I went to the telegraph office and sent messages announcing the failure of our expedition to the London daily papers. He sent a short message to the Daily News. I sent a message of 19 words to The Times (cost 20 frs. 80 c.), and one of 40 words to the Daily Telegraph (cost, 41 frs. 60 c.). Owing to the rupture of the cable between Gibraltar and Lisbon, the messages had to go through Algiers, Malta, Gibraltar, Madrid, Lisbon, and Falmouth. [. . .]’

Victorian eclipse diary


Heinrich Hertz,

‘This evening I am going to Hamburg for the holidays. Since my last entry I have had a very busy time at the office as the stock exchange roof neared completion, which entailed strenuous calculations, as did the new bridge across the Upper Main in the past few days. On the other hand, I did practically no work at home, because I did not want to start anything big before Christmas. Joyful anticipation of Christmas has been my main feeling. I have made so many plans of what to make on the lathe and in the laboratory while I am at home, that I fear very little of it will come to fruition. Yesterday and today were still full of interest. An unusually interesting lecture was held at the Physics Club, in which Prof. Boettger demonstrated a new piece of apparatus, in which a set of rotating vanes in vacuum is set in motion by light alone (radiometer).’

Hertz and his radio waves


Heinrich Hertz,

‘Experimented. Phase effect in the wire. Radical experiments on the velocity of propagation of the electrical effects.’

Hertz and his radio waves


David Lindsay,

‘The news of Livio’s death touches me closely - he was one of the most powerful intellects I ever knew, but so diffident in manner and so self-disparaging that he always did himself an injustice. He died at Padua while in training. The name recalls to me the gay times of my happy and irresponsible youth when I spent a joyous week in its colonnades celebrating the tercentenary of Galileo. I was then an undergraduate - representing the Oxford Union at the festivities, and had a succès fou with the Italian students. How gloomy these colonnades must have seemed to Aunt Ada during the last week of Livio’s life.’

Congealed personalities


Thomas Dooley,

‘Pretty day - sunshine - Inspection 1:00 p.m. by Jap Quartermaster general. Breakfast + dinner - no good. Supper better - some gabi today - bridge - Gen. Wainwright sent Xmas greetings to English + Dutch. Choir + octette practice. Thoughts of home at this time make me ache.’

To Bataan and Back


James Gordon Farrell,

‘This is addressed to an absent third party . . . in all respects like me, but not me. Alright then, the idea of this diary is to help me to get control of my talent for writing. I hope that it will help me in the following ways:

1) That I shall bring myself face to face with things that I normally discard through sheer mental laziness.

2) That I shall be able to remember things people say that make an impression on me as well as things I read.

3) Get in the habit of discussing problems with myself.

4) Catch some of my life before I forget it. I’m appalled to think how little I can remember of my first trip to America, even though it was only ten years ago. However, avoid being garrulous or it will become a chore. Avoid self-pity and sentimentality. Avoid haranguing myself uselessly like this.

On Monday I had lunch with Mike Roemer. He was busy and somewhat harassed; I noticed for the first time how he tends to talk too loud, as if afraid that he won’t be able to assert himself if he doesn’t. He had been to see Polanski’s Cul de Sac and hadn’t liked it. I was unable to understand his reasons for not liking it. He said he thought it was badly written; that it hadn’t gone far enough if it was supposed to be black humour etc. Well, perhaps I do partly see what he means. For all that, he couldn’t convince me (he didn’t try) that it was a bad film. I still find parts of it sublime: the kitchen scene at the beginning and the visit of friends [. . .] Roemer told me had once dined with E. M. Forster and been very impressed with his modesty and simplicity. F. had only wanted to talk about films. In the course of lunch R. repeated his theory that writers use up their experience when young, then go through a middle period of hard work before they can learn to invent their own material. In return I talked to him of intuitive writers, citing Edna O’Brien as one who had gone off the rails once she had begun to think about it. [. . .] I don’t think either of us were particularly convinced by this. Nothing, anyway, will convince R. that writing is not a field in which one only succeeds by hard and ruthless work. With deep misgivings I gave him a copy of The Lung.

Reading Virginia Woolf’s diary in the train to N. Caroline to spend Christmas with Bob. Odd and curious flashes of contempt for the lower classes appear every now and then that seem sadly out of date (these are the only things that seem unusual for a person like V. W. by today’s standards).’

Catch some of my life


Peter Maxwell Davies,

‘The engines stop, and 33 scientists, Judy and I file down a rope ladder into a launch already bulging with boxes, barrels, crates. We are delivering supplies to the tiny station of Port Lockroy, and dropping off Dave Burkitt and Rod Downie who will man the place, alone for three months. It was established in 1944, and abandoned in 1962. In 1996 it was restored by the U.K. Antarctic Heritage Trust, and now boasts a small museum and post office, to open in summer for visits by cruise ships and private yachts.

The pack ice has broken up enough for us to land without problems - a very small, rocky island, with gentoo penguins nesting everywhere, so that you must take great care not to disturb them, right away upon beaching. The smell of penguin guana crinkles your nose - all pervasive bad fish. Everybody carries the cargo into the store-shed or up to the house: each case is clearly marked, and checked on a tally by Dave, who semaphores the operations. The privilege of raising the British flag to the top of its mast, at the highest point by the house, falls to Linda, on behalf of BAS, and me. Such an unaccustomed honour makes me very nervous, as I fumble with intransigent ropes, tugging ineffectively and desperately. A great relief when the flag ascends and unfurls.

A magical spot, an island surrounded by mainland cliffs, monumental white mountains. The all-pervasive sound is of broken packice lifting on and off the shore rocks - a Gargantuan cocktail shaker. Add to that the gentle buzz of conversation among the ubiquitous penguins, with the occasional raised squawk as a sheathbill - a small grubby white seabird - lunges towards a penguin egg - and that’s the island's sound spectrum.

The mainland is only 100 yards away from one point, but safety regulations determine that the keepers are not allowed to have a boat. Their accommodation is sparse but solid - there is plenty of coal still from the forties - and the museum has relics evocative of that time - ancient cans of food, oatmeal packets, tools in situ, all with excellent explanatory displays.

Once we have determined that the radio link to the main station at Rothera is operative, we pile back into the launch and return to the RRS James Clark Ross. This was the first time I had worn any of the Antarctic gear issued by BAS - it was surrealistic being kitted out at headquarters in Cambridge last July, pulling on the layer after layer of thermals and waterproofs on one of the hottest days ever - but here we would not survive without these. It is a great relief to take them off for lunch - particularly the huge guana-smeared boots. There are strict dress codes for meals on board, to be transgressed at one’s peril.

This afternoon we glide through the Lemaire Strait - a narrow passage between the almost vertical sides of mountains jutting thousands of feet up into cloud. Apart from the gentle hum of the boat’s engines - the JCR is extremely quiet, to facilitate very precise sonar experiments - the silence is profound. There is hardly any talk, either on the bridge or on deck - everyone is so over-awed by the grandeur, the power of the unfolding spectacle. My words can give no suggestion of the self-transendence invoked, and I fear, too, that any music I eventually write can only give the palest hint. One of the most serendipitous moments came when a snow avalanche poured and billowed down the mountain directly to starboard - imagine the mightiest, gentlest, longest whisper ever - we were enveloped for a space in mad, dancing flakes, a white-out - a moment that will last a lifetime.

Shortly after 4 p.m. a small party descended a very long rope ladder into a very small launch, to take Christmas mail to Vernadsky, the Ukranian Antarctic Expedition base. This base was formerly British, named Faraday after Michael Faraday, the Physicist and was handed over to the Ukrainians in 1995. John Harper, the mate of the JCR, was in charge, standing tall at the stem, shouting instructions and semaphoring to the wheel-house, to ensure a safe passage through the ice-flows. Even the unfrozen sea-water was like oil, thickly viscous. A gaggle of long huts on a small rise, where we tie up, welcomed enthusiastically, and are helped through deep snow to the Christmassy domestic warmth of the settlement. Such a joyful, beautiful welcome from the dozen or so men and women - we take off our boots and layers of gear, and troop up to the bar. This is the biggest and most famous bar in the Antarctic - a riot of decorative carving, made by over-enthusiastic British joiners, who, for the waste of time and wood, were promptly sent home.

Delighted hosts and guests, excellent black coffee of the kind that dissolves the spoon and scalds your tonsils, chocolate, generous globes of Ukrainian cognac. A welcoming speech from Vladimir Okrugin, the head of the team, and we are shown round the base by Svetlana, a meteorologist, climbing champion, guitarist and computer expert. Many things - equipment, notices, photographs - have been left as they were when the British ran the station. Up a ladder into a loft office, where we met Daphne, a Dobson spectrophotometer, the piece of scientific equipment, from 1957, which was the means of discovering the hole in the ozone layer. A speech by Julian Paren, generous vodka all round, stirring Ukranian music, and we are bobbing our way through corridors of ice back to the RRS James Clark Ross. A huddle of figures waving on the jetty: one wonders when anyone will visit them next. Pete Bucktrout, our official photographer, asks why all international and diplomatic relations can’t be like this. Why indeed?! I sport the badge of the Ukranian Antarctic Expedition, and clutch a book about their homeland.’

The longest whisper ever


Axel Lindén,

‘The sick ewe appears to be recovering. She’s grazing along with the others. Her name is 195. Using numbers might seem a bit impersonal but it feels appropriate nonetheless. Sheep are flock first and foremost and not individuals. We only use real names for the stud rams. Not because we have more respect for them but because for a brief period they have a duty to perform as individuals.’

I hope the ewes heard me


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And so made significant . . .
is the world’s greatest online anthology of diary extracts. It is presented in the same way as popular books like The Assassin’s Cloak and The Faber Book of Diaries, i.e. by calendar day, but contains more, and many longer, extracts than is possible in published books. Moreover, for each quoted extract there’s a link to a Diary Review article with some or all of the following: further extracts, biographical information, contexts, a portrait, and links to online sources/etexts. Furthermore, new extracts are added on a regular basis.

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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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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.