And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

5 December

1791
Benjamin Banneker,
farmer

5 December 1791

‘On the night of the fifth of December 1791, Being a deep Sleep, I dreamed that I was in a public Company, one of them demanded of me the limits of Rassanah Crandolph’s Soul had to display itself in, after it departed from her Body and taken its flight. In answer I desired that he show me the place of Beginning “thinking it like making a Survey of the Land.” He replied I cannot inform you but there is a man about three days journey from Hence that is able to satisfy your demand, I forthwith went to the man and requested of him to inform me place of beginning of the limits that Rasannah Crandolph’s soul had to display itself in, after the Seperation from her Body; who gave me answer, the Vernal Equinox, When I returned I found the Company together and I was able to Solve their Doubts by giving them the following answer Quincunx.’

Looking for a snowbow

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1838
William Charles Macready,
actor

‘Dickens brought me his farce, which he read to me. The dialogue is very good, full of point, but I am not sure about the meagreness of the plot. He reads as well as an experienced actor would - he is a surprising man.’

A surprising man

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1867
John Sarsfield Casey,
civil servant

‘Morning dark heavy & inclined for rain - a dead calm - very disagreeable on deck - a thick mist falling. Sailing under a cloud of canvas yet scarcely making any progress.’

The Galtee Boy

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1916
Cynthia Asquith,
writer

‘Lunched Bluetooth - he was very sad about Bron and perturbed about political situation. He seemed still to hope that the P.M.’s resignation might be averted. He said, rather reproachfully, that Montagu had secured his position with both parties. He twitted me again with my (according to him) reputed incapacity for loose talk.

I was dining early with Oc for his last night, but he telephoned to say dinner was postponed until 8.45 as the P.M. was in after all and the theatre was abandoned. It was great luck for me to dine at Downing Street on so historic a night. The atmosphere was most electric. The P.M. had sent in his resignation at 7.30 - a fact I was unaware of when I arrived and only gradually twigged. Oc, the Crewes, Eddie, Cis, and Elizabeth and Margot were dining.

I sat next to the P.M. - he was too darling - rubicund, serene, puffing a guinea cigar (a gift from Maud Cunard), and talking of going to Honolulu. His conversation was as irrelevant to his life as ever. Our subjects were my mandrill riddle (which Beb had told to a startled party the other day), and this wonderful brand of cigars. I asked for one to give Beb for Christmas and he gave it to me. Cis afterwards offered me ten shillings for it. I had a great accès of tenderness for the P.M. He was so serene and dignified. Poor Margot on the other hand looked ghastly ill - distraught (no doubt she was, as she always claims, ‘rumbling’) - and was imprecating in hoarse whispers, blackguarding Lloyd George and Northcliffe.

When we first came out Elizabeth, Lady Crewe and I had an à trois - Margot joined us. When the men came out she, Mr Asquith and the Crewes played bridge. Violet came in, bringing with her Mr Norton and Sir Ian Hamilton - the latter to say goodbye to Oc. Of course, the whole evening was spent in conjecture and discussion - most interesting. I tried to absorb as much as I could, but I am not quick about politics. I gathered that, before dinner, Mr Asquith had said he thought there was quite a chance of Lloyd George failing to form a Government at all. The Tories - in urging him to resign - had predicted such a failure. In any case, most people seemed to think that any Government he could succeed in forming would only be very short-lived. Of course Lloyd George would greatly prefer Bonar to be Prime Minister, in order himself to avoid incurring the odium of responsibility. The King had sent for Bonar but, of course, it would be very difficult for him to accept the office on the terms which had made Asquith resign it. The King is alleged to be very terribly distressed and to have said, ‘I shall resign if Asquith does’. The prospective attitude of the Liberal ministers was discussed. Everyone was convinced that not one of them would take office under Lloyd George, with the possible exception of Montagu. Bluetooth had assured me that the latter would, but nearly all the Asquith family repudiated the idea. George had been a very wily, foxy cad, and the Government whips must have been very bad, as apparently the P.M. was very much taken by surprise.

It had been a well-managed plot. According to Margot and others, Northcliffe has been to Lloyd George’s house every day since the beginning of the war, the imputation being that George feeds him with Cabinet information, telling him the next item of the Government programme, so that he is able to start a Press agitation, and thus gain the reputation of pushing the Government into their independently determined course of action. It was said that the F.O. was really Lloyd George’s ambition, and during the last weeks he has been going to the Berlitz School and reading histories of the Balkans. I believe the French like him, but he is loathed in Russia and Italy. He has had to cart Winston - whose exclusion was, I believe, one of Bonar’s conditions. Certainly one cannot imagine a crazier executive titan George, Carson, and Bonar, Of course, it would virtually be only George.

Was it my last dinner at Downing Street? I can’t help feeling very sanguine and thinking the P.M. will be back with a firmer seat in the saddle in a fortnight. I only hope to God he is - disinterestedly because I really think him the only eligible man. Incidentally, what could happen to all our finances I daren’t think! Certainly it is a most painfully interesting situation - deeply to be deplored at this juncture I think - and it’s rather disgusting that such seething intrigue should survive war atmosphere.

Oc saw me off in the tube. Very sad to say goodbye and he had a tear in his eye. Lost my head and passed through Charing Cross three times owing to political excitement. Got home very late. Talked to Papa. The P.M. said The Volunteer was incomparably the best war poem.’

Rubicund, serene, puffing

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1979
Alasdair Maclean,
writer

I came today to a corner on the seaward edge of the dunes where a mummified thistle, one of last summer’s crop, still held its form against rain and gale. It was not a Carline Thistle, so attractive and about here so rare. These commonly survive as husks sometimes well into the next season. This fellow was an ordinary Spear Thistle, brown and shrunken, like an old man dead in all but will. It might have been nature’s master copy, struggling to preserve the idea of a thistle for the next generation of plants. Two or three of its heads lolled brokenly in the wind, yet its spikes stuck out more prominently than ever from its withered leaves. I thought of a cornered dog, retracting its gums the better to show its teeth. How admirable it was, how puritanically beautiful! I stood beside it for a long time, studying it and trying to fix it in my mind.’

An antiphonal chorus

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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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