And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

22 December

1510
Luca Landucci,
tradesman

‘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

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1875
Heinrich Hertz,
engineer

‘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

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1887
Heinrich Hertz,
engineer

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

Hertz and his radio waves

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1942
Thomas Dooley,
soldier

‘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

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1966
James Gordon Farrell,
writer

‘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

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1997
Peter Maxwell Davies,
composer

‘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

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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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Any author, publisher or other copyright holder who takes the view that I am unacceptably breaching their copyright please let me know. I have tried to remain sensitive to copyright rules (using far fewer quotes, for example, when a book, by an author still alive, remains in print and popular), but it is not practical for me to seek authorisation for every quote and article, since I maintain these websites without any funding or advertis-ing. I take the view that publicity for the source books is a quid pro quo for my use of the extracts, but I am more than happy to remove the extracts if asked.

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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, usually several every week. The blog has been publishing for over five years, and is the secondary source for the diary extracts in this online anthology.