And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

26 December

Joseph Wolff,

‘Arrived at Gaza. There came Samson, and it was told the Gazites, saying, Samson is come hither, and they compassed him in, and laid wait for him all night, saying: In the morning, when it is day, we shall kill him: and Samson lay till midnight, and arose at midnight, and took the doors of the gate of the city, and the two posts, and went away with them, bar and all, and put them upon his shoulders, and carried them up to the top of a hill that is before Hebron.

It is now a little town inhabited by Mussulmen, and 100 Greek Christians, who have a very old church, which, by the account of the Greek priest on whom I called, was built in the time of Constantine the Great They are in possession of an old Arabic manuscript of the Gospel, which is kept sacred in the church. I asked them whether they would sell it to me, the priest replied, it would be an Haram Allah to sell any thing belonging to the church. All the Greeks throughout the East, are now in anxious expectation of the success of their brethren, fighting against their oppressors. Those at Gaza wept, and expected to hear from me good tidings, news of victory, on which I pointed them to the Lord, from whence their help will come. The chamack of the Grand Pasha of Acre, at the custom-house of Gaza, was very kind to me; he invited me to drink coffee with him, and procured me a room in the Han, which was not very handsome: he sent me some of his dates, and candles, and all this he did without reward, but I gave him before my departure, a present of three dollars. He was once in the service of the famous Djezzar, Pasha at Acre, and he knew Dr Clarke the traveller, and Mr. Smith, and he is the friend of Lady Esther Stanhope.’

Read the Word of God


Henry Crabb Robinson,

‘Brighton. This was a remarkable day. So much snow fell, that not a coach either set out for or arrived from London - an incident almost unheard of in this place. Parties were put off and engagements broken without complaint. The Masqueriers, with whom I am staying, expected friends to dinner, but they could not come. Nevertheless, we had here Mr Edmonds, the worthy Scotch schoolmaster, Mr and Mrs Dill, and a Miss Robinson; and, with the assistance of whist, the afternoon went off comfortably enough. Of course, during a part of the day, I was occupied in reading.’

Weeds don’t spoil


George Brinton McClellan,

‘Marched 20 miles to San Fernando where we arrived a little after sunset. Road level until we arrived within about 5 miles of San Fernando, when it became rocky and hilly but always practicable. About 4 miles from San Fernando we reached the summit of a hill from which we beheld a basin of hills extending for miles and miles - not unlike the hills between the Hudson and Connecticut opposite West Point. About two miles from San Fernando are some wells of pretty good water - the men were very thirsty - Gerber offered a volunteer half a dollar for a canteen full of water. My little mare drank until I thought she would kill herself. The Alcalde and his escort met General Patterson at this place. He was all bows, smiles and politeness. Murphy of whom more anon had the honor of taking San Fernando by storm. He was the first to enter it, mounted on his gallant steed. We first saw San Fernando as we arrived at the summit of a high hill, the last rays of the sun shining on its white houses, and the dome of the “Cathedral” gave it a beautiful appearance. It was a jewel in the midst of these uninhabited and desert hills. We encamped in a hollow below the town had a small eggnog and dreamed of a hard piece of work we had to commence on the morrow. Mañana [tomorrow morning] por la mañana.’

McClellan’s war in Mexico


Alfred Doten,

‘. . . At 6 PM violent shock of an earthquake - heaviest yet here - followed within a few minutes by 2 others - shook houses terribly - shook fire wall down off Taylor’s brick building corner of B & Taylor st, etc, etc . . . down to theater - Johnny Thompson’s Minstrels - $190 house . . . Visited Dan in station house - getting better - staid with him 1½ hours talking - Home at 11½ - Bed at 12 . . . [erasure] -’

Plenty of ladies at the ball


Thomas Cairns Livingstone,

‘Went to church this morning, after my usual manner. Agnes got a touch of the cold and is a little fatigued after her labours, so she did not go out. After dinner I took a walk round the town. Tommy at Sunday School. Gave the clocks their final wind-up of the year.’

The turkey we didn’t have


Harold Nicolson,
politician and writer

‘A cold slate-grey day. I write an article on Parliament in 1942. I weed the lime-border in the afternoon. Viti is at work on her poem The Garden. She is finding it very difficult, and alternates between depression and elation.

Darlan has been assassinated by a Frenchman with an Italian mother. Giraud says he hopes de Gaulle will join him.’

For one’s great-grandson


Harold Nicolson,
politician and writer

‘We go over to Long Barn. I walk sadly in the damp fog thinking of all the happy days of youth passed among those poplars and meadows. Fifteen years was Long Barn my dear home, and now it is to be sold to a film magnate called Soskin. It is looking very pretty. Viti and I rather sadly measure furniture to see what we shall take to Sissinghurst. Afterwards the refugee children sing carols for us.’ [Long Barn was used during the war for displaced children.]

For one’s great-grandson


Mary Berg,

‘This time we got away with only a scare. The Nazi commission has vanished and the whole camp, Jews and non-Jews, breathed with relief.

This year our Chanukah feast coincided with Christmas, and many Jews and Gentiles felt that this fact was symbolic. Chanukah candles are lit in many of the rooms occupied by Jews, while the Christmas tree in front of the church is decorated with tinsel. Perhaps our common suffering and persecutions will finally eradicate blind race hatred?’

The Germans are here


Barbara Castle,

‘Papers full of pictures of me. My appointment the sensation. The fact that I couldn’t drive had almost, as Harold predicted when I tried to use this as an argument against appointing me, turned out to be an asset. Ted and I drove back to London so that I could kiss hands. Then into the Ministry with Tony to introduce him and say last farewells. I could hardly tear myself away from my beloved desk. (Andrew later sent me a letter I shall treasure all my life.)

So home at last to Christmas, punctured by various phone calls which I refused to take. Stephen Swingler nobly took over the ministerial comments on the road accident figures; also stood by for twenty-four hours for a meeting with George Brown about the railways’ ‘early warning’ of their intended fares increase due to expire on 28 December. On Christmas Eve Stephen phoned to say all attempts to locate George had failed. He had been doing a tour of office parties and just wouldn’t reply to messages. That morning he was still hors de combat and the meeting clearly could not be held. Apparently this sort of thing has happened before.’

King of the Castle


Paul K. Lyons,

26 December 1978

‘Durrell completely entrances me with his writings - but completely.’

A book out of these scraps


Alan Clark,

‘I’m very depressed - not from hangover, as had drunk little, though Christmas lunch was always lovely and I consumed (sic) three glasses of Stolichnaya with the caviar, then more Roodeburg than Andrew with the turkey and pudding. (His young lady Sarah, was a success.)

I’m concerned, somewhat profoundly, at the recandescence of my nose place; my sexuality seems to be diminishing again. I’m dust off the dial in terms of political insignificance - Bruce Anderson no longer makes contact, but he wouldn't ‘chuck’ like this if he thought I rated. Also, of course. I’m miserable about dear little ‘x’, away in some French ski resort while I mope around here trying to get old cars to start and splitting firewood. That’s something else that is going to come to a head this year (if it hasn't done so already).

Well it’s no good moping.

I must pull myself together ... I will ‘hold the line’ at the Department - might even get in a couple more jolly trips. Then it’s cutting peat in the Highlands and the fallow period of editing the diaries - and inventorising the contents and dispositions.

I wonder how long I’ve got? I have this nasty feeling that things are going to go so badly this year that I will be ‘on the way out’ next Christmas. My hair is white in certain back lighting. When I’m 65, sadly, I will actually look 65. Shopping for Jane on Christmas Eve I ‘happened on’ a ski shop in Folkestone’s main street, thought to buy her an anorak and also found myself buying a ski suit for myself. It made me feel ten years younger. Oh if only I could really regenerate!’

They are real diaries


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And so made significant . . .
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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.