And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

27 December

Mary Berry,

‘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


George Brinton McClellan,

‘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


Julia Ward Howe,

‘Let me live until to-morrow, and not be ridiculous! I have a dinner party and an evening party to-day and night, and knowing myself to be a fool for my pains, am fain to desire that others may not find it out and reproach me as they discover it.

Got hold of Fichte [German philosopher] a little which rested my weary brain.

My party proved very pleasant and friendly.’

I complained to Chev


Alfred Doten,

‘Several shocks of earthquake felt this PM and evening . . . Evening Mrs M went with Ben Denton to a Masonic supper & ball . . . I was at Theater a short time . . .’

Plenty of ladies at the ball


Thomas Cairns Livingstone,

‘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


Rob Ellis,

‘(This was the first entry I ever wrote in my diary, misspelling and all.) Well Christmas is past and everyone happy. I got a wristwatch, billfold, DeMolay pin, and the usual hetregeneous collection of sox, ties and handkerchiefs. Went to the students’ dance at the Kewanee Club last night. Took Barbara. Not so hot. Had fun there, though. Am reading a book about the World War. Had trouble with Tom Pierce about ushering at the theater. All right now. I’m paid 25 cents afternoons and 50 cents evenings.’

A fat little rascal


Aldo Leopold,

‘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


Aleksander Rodchenko,

‘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


Edward Falaise Upward,
teacher and writer

‘The only reason I am not in ill thoughts at present is that I’m not attempting to write the novel.

Is it worth writing something that one knows to be poor stuff? Possibly, for practice and in the tenuous hope that one day one will be able to write satisfactorily.

I’ve got to see this novel as in some way attractive, or I shall never write it? But I shall never see it as something attractive. Therefore I can only write it from a sense of duty.

There’s not one scene throughout the whole book that attracts me. Why? Because I have lost faith in the world of imagination.

I fool myself if I think that “the whole world wd be changed for me” if I could get on with the novel. Probably it wd make me feel even worse than quiescence.

What should I do? The best thing to do wd be to go on struggling, if only sanity will stand up to that. It’s the uncontrollable misery of the struggle that I fear.

Try common sense. Here I am with eight free months before me. I have started the novel for which I obtained a year’s leave of absence from teaching. The novel is, so far, poor stuff, and doesn’t look like getting any better, in fact it might well get worse. Shall I abandon it? Against such a line of action (inaction) there are several objections. 1) It’s a surrender and admission of failure. 2) What shd I do with my time? But on the other hand there are objections to continuing with the bk, the main one being that it makes me so miserable that I begin to fear for my sanity. A possible solution wd be to regard the novel as of no importance but to continue it as a daily task. But that wd be more miserable than anything.’

Panic & muddleheadness


David Sedaris,

‘Christmas afternoon. Dad pulled out his film projector and a half dozen Super 8 movies from the late ’60s and early ’70s. I recall him standing in front of us with the camera back then, but, like the photos he takes of us on the stairs every year, I never knew what became of them. Two friends of Lisa’s had dropped by, and though nothing could be duller than watching someone else’s home movies, none of us cared. The moment we saw Mom, we forgot about our guests. They mumbled something on their way out - “Merry Christmas,” or maybe “Your kitchen is on fire,” whatever.

I never knew my mother had been captured on film moving. The first reel was from St. John in 1972. Mom Dad, Aunt Joyce, and Uncle Dick. We see the island. Boats. More island. More boats, and then there’s Mom, who waves good-bye before ducking into a thatched hut. Then the camera is handed to someone else, and we see Dad pull her out. He is young and handsome - he is always handsome. When he points at the camera. Mom buries her head in his chest. Then he lifts her chin and they kiss.

Watching this, Dad stomped his foot on the floor, the way you might if you just missed the bus and knew that another wasn’t coming for a long while. He rewound the film and replayed it a second time, then a third.

“Again,” we called. “Play it again.” To see them both on an island, so young and happy. I couldn’t believe our luck: to have this on film!’

Sedaris gets the call


Joan Collins,

‘Did a little shopping at a men’s shop, then came home to the dreadfully sad news on my answering machine that Jean-Claude Tramont had died. Sue Mengers had left the message and she sounded dreadful. I was terribly, terribly upset. It was only seventeen weeks ago that he was in the South of France, frolicking in the pool, playing poker, full of life and jokes. We just adored him, so it’s a terrible blow. Went in the pouring rain with Jeffrey to a party at Ian and Doris La Frenais’s place. A lot of reasonably interesting people there, like Kiefer Sutherland, Helmut Newton and his wife June, Dani Janssen, Wendy Stark and John Morrissey. The food was good and it was great seeing Ian, who’s always fun and cheered me up.’

What is the answer? Money!


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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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.

For any other use of these diary extracts other than browsing please refer to the original sources.

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, several times a week. Now over ten years old, The Diary Review is the secondary source for the extracts in this online anthology.