And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

27 December

1843
Mary Berry,
writer

‘I have had a severe fit of illness in the form of influenza. Repose, solitude, and a book are all I can attempt. I still make an effort to gather together some sparks of life for my sister’s sake. My only anxiety! my only one! is thinking what I can do to secure her some comfort of society after I am gone. I think of this without ceasing.’

My only anxiety

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1846
George Brinton McClellan,
soldier

‘We had our horses saddled at reveille and before sunrise were upon the banks of El Rio de San Fernando - a clear, cold and rapid mountain stream, about 40 yards wide and two and a half feet deep - bottom of hard gravel. We crossed the stream and found ourselves the first American soldiers who had been on the further bank. The approaches to the stream from the town required some repairs, nothing very bad - it was horrible on the other side. As we again crossed the stream we halted to enjoy the beautiful view - the first rays of the sun gave an air of beauty and freshness to the scene that neither pen nor pencil can describe.

With a detail of 200 men and our own company we finished our work before dinner. Walked up into the town in the afternoon. On this day General Pillow overtook us. He had a difficulty with a volunteer officer who mutinied, drew a revolver on the General, etc., etc. The General put him in charge of the guard - his regiment remonstrated, mutinied, etc., and the matter was finally settled by the officer making an apology.’

McClellan’s war in Mexico

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1920
Thomas Cairns Livingstone,
bookkeeper

‘We got a few more cards. We all went to the Majestic at night, seeing this is Boxing Day. Tommy troubled with a certain looseness of the bowels. It will be the turkey we didn’t have.’

The turkey we didn’t have

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1937
Aldo Leopold,
ecologist

‘Floyd took us over the Perdita Mesa and back down Turkey Ridge. Saw one buck near the Chocolate Drop but few other deer. Much turkey sign on the hogback leading up to Perdita from the west and also a good deal of deer sign on the north rim of the mesa bordering Smoke Canyon. No shots with either bow or gun.’

The sweetest fish ever eaten

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1944
Aleksander Rodchenko,
artist

‘I’m not working. We’re living bunched into one room, three or even four, also Mulia’s Kolya. It’s plus five degrees in the studio.

It’s cold. The gas isn’t on. Kerosene is 30 rub. a liter.

Electricity from six in the evening until six in the morning, that’s until January 1st. From January they’ll turn off the allocation on household necessities. I’m working as head artist in the House of Technology, I get 3,000 rub. a month. My student, Volodya Meshcherin, set it up, he’s a head engineer now, and a professor.

We wash ourselves now in parts in a cold kitchen.

I do my own laundry.

The war still isn’t over. . . There’s still another year left of it.

We are gallivanting across Europe with cannons. We’re taking Budapest. But there’s still no end.

And we ourselves don’t have firewood or fuel in Moscow.

We’re wearing rags, the bathhouses aren’t working. . .’

Photos to surprise and amaze

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2010
Zygmunt Bauman,
sociologist and writer

On the friends you have and the friends you think you have. Professor Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary anthropologist in Oxford, insists that ‘our minds are not designed [by evolution] to allow us to have more than a very limited number of people in our social world’. Dunbar has actually calculated that number; he found that ‘most of us can maintain only around 150 meaningful relationships’. Not unexpectedly, he’s called that limit, imposed by (biological) evolution, the ‘Dunbar number’. This hundred and a half is, we may comment, the number reached through biological evolution by our remote ancestors, and where it stopped, leaving the field to its much nimbler, more agile and dexterous, and above all more resourceful and less patient successor - called ‘cultural evolution’ (that is, triggered, shaped and driven by humans themselves, and deploying the teaching and learning process rather than changing the arrangement of genes). [. . .]

Electronic sustained ‘networks of friendship’ promised to break through recalcitrant, intrepid limitations to sociability set by our genetically transmitted equipment. Well, says Dunbar, they didn’t and will not: the promise can’t but be broken. ‘Yes.’ says Dunbar in his opinion piece for the New York Times of 25 December, ‘you can “friend” 500, 1,000, even 5,000 people with your Facebook page, but all save the core 150 are mere voyeurs looking into your daily life.’ Among those thousands of Facebook friends, ‘meaningful relationships’, whether serviced electronically or lived off-line, are confined as before within the impassable limits of the ‘Dunbar number’. [. . .]

Dunbar is right that the electronic substitutes for face-to-face communication have brought the Stone Age inheritance up to date, adapting and adjusting the ways and means of human togetherness to the requirements of our nouvel age. What he seems to neglect, however, is that in the course of that adaptation those ways and means have also been considerably altered, and that as a result ‘meaningful relationships’ have also changed their meaning. And so must the content of the ‘Dunbar number’ concept have done. Unless it is precisely the number, and only the number, that exhausts its content. . .’

Sense and senselessness

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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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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.