And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

25 December

1735
John Perceval,
politician

‘Christmas Day, communicated at the King’s Chapel. Dr. Couraye dined with me. Went in the evening again to chapel, and from thence to the coffee house, where Mr. John Banks, late member for Corfe Castle in Dorsetshire, told several of the company who were sitting together that Justice Robe, now living at Clerkenwell, cured his butler of an inveterate rheumatism by a powder he called his magnetic powder. The man had been long so ill that he had lost the use of his hand, when Robe, who was an acquaintance of Mr. Banks’ father, ordered him to be laid in bed, after he had saved about three pints or two quarts of his urine made in quantities after a considerable retention. This urine the justice set on the fire and put into it some of his powder, stirring it round with a stick that had several notches in it (which Mr. Banks thought was to show there was some mystery in the thing). The whole family stood by the bed, as did some friends called in to watch if the Justice gave the man anything inwardly, but he never approached him, continuing at the fire and stirring the urine and saying at times, “Now in three minutes you shall see your butler begin to sweat; now in five minutes he shall sweat stronger; now in three minutes he shall sweat plentifully”: all which they observed to be true. At length, having finished his operation, he bid the man remain an hour in bed and cool gradually, and then to get up and dress himself by the fire, and stay an hour in the room, after which he might go out about his master’s business. The man followed his directions, and from that day to this never ailed anything, being perfectly cured. Mr. Banks asked him if he was dry all the time he sweated, or found any particular affection. He replied, No, only that he lay as one in a trance quite listless of using his limbs. He also expressed his apprehension to the Justice that if he took his servant into the country where he was going the rheumatism might return, and what should he do in that case? The Justice replied he need but write him word of it, for he would bottle up the urine, and it would serve to recover him a second time though at a hundred miles distance. This is a plain instance of sympathetic cure, though very extraordinary, but nobody doubted Mr. Banks’ veracity, and besides Governor Peachy, who was present, declared he knew another instance of Justice Robe’s making a like cure the same way.’

The 1st Earl of Egmont

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1840
Elizabeth Smith,
writer

‘Christmas day. What a pity - I forgot teetotalism when I mixed the puddings, and not one of the outside men would taste them. Now when those unruly people have such self-command where they think it a sin to yield to temptation, is it not plain that properly educated they would be a fine and a moral race, almost equally plain that those thousand crimes they do commit they have not been taught to consider sins.’

A Highland diarist in Ireland

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1870
Cosima Liszt Wagner,
wife of composer

‘About this day, my children, I can tell you nothing - nothing about my feelings, nothing about my mood, nothing, nothing, nothing. I shall just tell you, dryly and plainly, what happened. When I woke up I heard a sound, it grew even louder, I could no longer imagine myself in a dream, music was sounding, and what music! After it had died away, R came in to me with the five children and put into my hands the score of his Symphonic Birthday Greeting. I was in tears, but so, too, was the whole household; R had set up his orchestra on the stairs and thus consecrated our Tribschen forever! The Tribschen Idyll - thus the work is called. - At midday Dr Sulzer arrived, surely the most important of R’s friends! After breakfast the orchestra again assembled, and now once again the Idyll was heard in the lower apartment, moving us all profoundly (Countess B was also there, on my invitation); after it the Lohengrin wedding procession, Beethoven’s Septet, and, to end with, once more the work of which I shall never hear enough! - Now at last I understood all R’s working in secret, also dear Richter’s trumpet (he blazed out the Siegfried theme splendidly and had learned the trumpet especially to do it), which had won him many admonishments from me. ‘Now let me die,’ I exclaimed to R ‘It would be easier to die for me than to live for me,’ he replied. - In the evening R reads his Meistersinger to Dr Sulzer, who did not know it; and I take as much delight in it as if it were something completely new. This makes R say, ‘I wanted to read Sulzer Die Ms, and it turned into a dialogue between us two.’

Music was sounding

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1877
Cosima Liszt Wagner,
wife of composer

‘Real brilliant sunshine, the first time for two months! R says to me, ‘Your birthday is my Sunday!’ He decides on a walk with the children before lunch, we go into the palace gardens, Siegfried’s new suit, in old Germanic style, gives us much pleasure. A merry meal, R solemnly proposes my health. In the evening the history of the Arabs again, after which R reads the first 3 cantos of the Divina commedia, to our great delight; then I ask him for something from Parsifal, and he plays Gurnemanz’s narration, the entry of Parsifal - divine blessings for my birthday!’

Music was sounding

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1893
Lady Aberdeen,
philanthropist

‘Such a horrible muggy day for our first Canadian Christmas. Yesterday & to-day it has been thawing vigorously - & in the space of a few days there have been differences of temperatures of 60°, which are rather trying. Great lamentations over no skating or snow sports for to-day.

We had a delightful home-like service in the new Chapel, conducted by Mr Winfield, who pending the time that he gets a charge is to be appointed chaplain & tutor to Archie & Marjorie in Latin & English Literature. We are very fortunate in finding him here ready to hand - he is an Oxford man & took orders in the English Church - was in W. Africa, the Bermudas, New Brunswick & then here in connection with the Reformed Episcopalian Church a small body seceding from the Anglican church on account of High Church doctrine. It is supposed that there is not much in the way of ritualistic practices, but v. High Church teaching. Mr Winfield has latterly felt it utterly unsatisfactory to belong to a Church without a past & without a future & so resigned his charge & has joined the Presbyterian Church. But he reads the English service in new chapel quite willingly. He is a cultured man, & is v. fond of children having one little boy of his own of eight. He is a great admirer of H.D.

The children had a day of games with Cosmo in their company all day. We went over to the Cottage to see Carry this afternoon - it was raining though it had begun to freeze again - & it was ridiculous to see the rain freezing as it fell & making it quite difficult to shut one’s umbrella.

Marjorie has made a lot of wonderfully neat Christmas presents this year - & has sent 15 home & given twenty here. She made a little bookcase for me & a printed maple leaf almanack for her Father - & lots of pretty little things for people in the house. Archie carved a ruler for me very well, & made a little model cottage covered with birch bark & thatched with straw as a letter box for his Father.

For the staff we had some enamelled maple leaf brooches & pins made by Birks which were eminently successful. Lord Ava was most lavish in his presents all round. We had a Christmas tree decoration for the dinner table to-night which looked well, with the Irish silver-gilt potato rings.’

God save the Queen

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1893
Ethel Turner,
writer

‘H. went down by the 10 am. had an unChristmassy Christmas, nothing to mark it but goose, pudding and almonds. In afternoon read Some Emotions and A Moral. Night Lil, Rose, Rex and I went to church.’

Seven Little Australians

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1910
Jean Sibelius,
composer

‘Christmas - ! Aino sick . . . Continue to work. Money worries begin again! Of my State Prize only 400 remains. Eight doctors’ bills unpaid. Misery wherever one turns.’

An inner confession

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1918
George Allardice Riddell,
businessman

‘Long talk with Kitchener, who said that LG’s alleged statement as to the number of troops in France was inaccurate and that what LG had really said was that the number of troops ‘overseas’ amounted to thirty-six divisions. I referred to the speech, in which the words were ‘over there’. K said, ‘Well, if he said that he was wrong, and the speech must be put right in Hansard.’ He asked Brade to see that this done.

K commented upon what he called ‘Newspaper embroidery’ and complained of the criticisms as to the inconsistencies between his statements and those of the PM as to the efficiency of our output of munitions of war. He asked my opinion. I replied that they seemed inconsistent and that this was the general opinion. K said, ‘The Times has been the most virulent critic, I am told, but I never read it.’ He asked me to look up the speeches, which I did subsequently, and wrote to him setting out the two passages. He said that Northcliffe was acting very badly and that it was difficult to know how to deal with him.’

Riddell and Lloyd George

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1943
Charles McMoran Wilson, doctor

‘To Early Service with Mrs Churchill. It was held in a barn with a few officers and men of the Coldstream Guards as communicants. During the service a dove flew in and perched on a rafter. The men said it meant that there would soon be peace.

An officer asked me, a little wistfully, how long the war would last. They are out of it all for a week or two guarding the Prime Minister, but they must know that when they go back the odds are against them; that it is just a matter of time. These highly civilized young men, who are so meticulous in the discharge of their duty, feel the utter beastliness of war, though they never speak of it. They have been brought up by their fathers to think that there is no sense in war, that it brings the solution of nothing.’

A third dose of pneumonia

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1964
Arthur C. Clarke,
writer

‘Stanley delighted with the last chapters, and convinced that we’ve extended the range of science fiction. He’s astonished and delighted because Bosley Crowther of the New York Times has placed Dr. S on “Ten Best Films” list, after attacking it ferociously all year. I christen Bosley “The Critic Who Came In from the Cold.” ’

Dreamed I was a robot

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1971
Michael Palin,
comedian and writer

‘A rather fine, sunny morning, and for the first time in our marriage we woke on Christmas morning in our own home.

Thomas saw James across the road, and then they both saw Louise looking out of her window, and soon there was an impromptu gathering of little children comparing presents on the pavement outside our house. The quiet of the day, the sunny morning and the neighbours all talking made me feel very glad - about staying in London, and about living in Oak Village. If it doesn't sound too pedantic, I felt that this was how city life should be.’

Cleese, also in a bikini

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1995
Brian Eno,
musician

‘Great morning excitement as the girls open their gifts. A Barbie horse and carriage for Darla that takes me about two hours to put together. I imagine all over the western hemisphere disgruntled unshaven fathers doing the same thing. And then no pissing batteries (but the Indian shop was open). Anthea and I decided to postpone presents for each other, but nonetheless she bought me some gloves, a key-locator (which goes off every time Darla laughs) and a book by the BMA about drugs and medicines, and I bought her a negative-ionizer/room-perfumer, a book about vitamins and minerals, and an electric car-perfumer.

Van Creveld: war is being pushed into corners where modem weapons don’t work. So the effect of more sophisticated weaponry is to remove the conduct of war further away from the terms on which we prefer to fight it. Insecticides.’

Happy birthday Brian Eno

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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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