And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

7 December

1684
John Evelyn,
writer

‘I went to see the new church at St James’s, elegantly built; the altar was especially adorned, the white marble inclosure curiously and richly carved, the flowers and garlands about the walls by Mr Gibbons, in wood: a pelican with her young at her breast; just over the altar in the carved compartment and border environing the purple velvet fringed with I. H. S. richly embroidered, and most noble plate, were given by Sir R. Geere, to the value ( as was said) of £200. There was no altar anywhere in England, nor has there been any abroad, more handsomely adorned.’

A most excellent person

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1784
William Windham,
politician

‘Ten minutes past two PM. After waiting some short time in the adjoining room, I was admitted to Dr Johnson in his bedchamber, where, after placing me next him on the chair, he sitting in his usual place on the east side of the room (and I on his right hand), he put into my hands two small volumes (an edition of the New Testament), as he afterwards told me, saying, ‘Extremum hoc munus morientis habeto.’ He then proceeded to observe that I was entering upon a life which would lead me deeply into all the business of the world; that he did not condemn civil employment, but that it was a state of great danger; and that he had therefore one piece of advice earnestly to impress upon me that I would set apart every seventh day for the care, of my soul; that one day, the seventh, should be employed in repenting what was amiss in the six preceding, and for fortifying my virtue for the six to come; that such a portion of time was surely little enough for the meditation of eternity. [. . .] I then took occasion to say how much I felt, what I had long foreseen that I should feel, regret at having spent so little of my life in his company. I stated this as an instance where resolutions are deferred till the occasions are past. For some time past I had determined that such an occasion of self-reproach should no longer subsist, and had built upon the hope of passing in his society the chief part of my time, at the moment when it was to be apprehended we were about to lose him for ever! I had no difficulty of speaking to him thus of my apprehensions; I could not help, on the other hand, entertaining hopes; but with these I did not like to trouble him, lest he should conceive that I thought it necessary to flatter him. He answered hastily that he was sure I would not; and proceeded to make a compliment to the manliness of my mind, which, whether deserved or not, ought to be remembered that it may be deserved.’

Windham’s love of Johnson

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1831
Henry Crabb Robinson,
lawyer

‘Brighton. Accompanied [John James] Masquerier [a British painter] to a concert, which afforded me really a great pleasure. I heard Paganini [Niccolò Paganini, an Italian musician and composer]. Having scarcely any sensibility to music, I could not expect great enjoyment from any music, however fine; and, after all, I felt more surprise at the performance than enjoyment. The professional men, I understand, universally think more highly of Paganini than the public do. He is really an object of wonder. His appearance announces something extraordinary. His figure and face amount to caricature. He is a tall slim figure, with limbs which remind one of a spider; his face very thin, his forehead broad, his eyes grey and piercing, with bushy eyebrows; his nose thin and long, his cheeks hollow, and his chin sharp and narrow. His face forms a sort of triangle. His hands the oddest imaginable, fingers of enormous length, and thumbs bending backwards.

It is, perhaps, in a great measure from the length of finger and thumb that his fiddle is also a sort of lute. He came forward and played, from notes, his own compositions. Of the music, as such, I know nothing. The sounds were wonderful. He produced high notes very faint, which resembled the chirruping of birds, and then in an instant, with a startling change, rich and melodious notes, approaching those of the bass viol. It was difficult to believe that this great variety of sounds proceeded from one instrument. The effect was heightened by his extravagant gesticulation and whimsical attitudes. He sometimes played with his fingers, as on a harp, and sometimes struck the cords with his bow, as if it were a drum-stick, sometimes sticking his elbow into his chest, and sometimes flourishing his bow. Oftentimes the sounds were sharp, like those of musical glasses, and only now and then really delicious to my vulgar ear, which is gratified merely by the flute and other melodious instruments, and has little sense of harmony.’

Weeds don’t spoil

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1845
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,
writer

‘I know not what name to give it, not my new baby, but my new poem. Shall it be ‘Gabrielle,’ or ‘Celestine,’ or Evangeline’?’

Gabrielle, Celestine or Evangeline?

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1849
Gustave Flaubert,
writer

‘Set out at noon for the Pyramids. Maxime is mounted on a white horse that keeps jerking its head, Sassetti [a Corsican-born servant] on a small white horse, myself on a bay, Joseph [guide and interpreter] on a donkey. We pass Soliman Pasha’s gardens. Island of Roda. We cross the Nile in a small boat: while our horses are being led aboard, a corpse in its coffin is borne past us. Energy of our oarsmen: they sing, shouting out the rhythm as they bend forward and back. The sail swells full and we skim along fast.

Gizeh. Mud houses as at ‘Atfeh - palm grove. Two waterwheels, one turned by an ox and the other by a camel. Now stretching out before us in an immense plain, very green, with squares of black soil which are fields most recently plowed, the last from which the flood withdrew: they stand out like India ink on the solid green. I think of the invocation to Isis: ‘Hail, hail, black soil Egypt!’ The soil of Egypt is black. Some buffaloes are grazing, now and again a waterless muddy creek, in which our horses sink to their knees; soon we are crossing great puddles or creeks.

About half-past three we are almost on the edge of the desert, the three Pyramids looming up ahead of us. I can contain myself no longer, and dig in my spurs; my horse bursts into a gallop, splashing through the swamp. Two minutes later Maxime follows suit. Furious race. I begin to shout in spite of myself; we climb rapidly up to the Sphinx, clouds of sand swirling about us. At first our Arabs followed us, crying ‘Sphinx! Sphinx! Oh! Oh! Oh!’ It grew larger and larger, and rose out of the ground like a dog lifting itself up.

View of the Sphinx. Abu-el-Houl (Father of Terror). The sand, the Pyramids, the Sphinx, all gray and bathed in a great rosy light; the sky perfectly blue, eagles slowly wheeling and gliding around the tips of the Pyramids. We stop before the Sphinx; it fixes us with a terrifying stare; Maxime is quite pale; I am afraid of becoming giddy, and try to control my emotion. We ride off madly at full speed among the stones. We walk around the Pyramids, right at their feet. Our baggage is late in arriving; night falls. . .’

Flaubert the Realist

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1867
John Sarsfield Casey,
civil servant

‘Morning cloudy - raining at intervals with Dr off hospital diet - half starved on it - wind coming in fitful gusts - extremely cold all day & last night - On look out for flying Dutchman - amusing to see passengers with terror depicted on their countenances at idea of meeting him - Sea very rough - Day has a very strange & ominous aspect. The surface of the ocean & glassy & scarcely a breath of air disturbed the solemn stillness that prevailed. The ship lay motionless yielding only to that never ceasing swell that heaves the bosom of the broad Atlantic - the sails reposed uselessly against the masts or flapped to and fro in dead compliance with the breathing sea. The sky vas of a dull grey leaden hue - no clouds could be seen but the XXX XXX vault of heaven was wrapped in one dark impenetrable veil whose dreariness was made much more dreary by reflection in the waters beneath. This universal stillness reigned during the morning broken only by the shriek of the sea bird as it skimmed over the surface of the waters. About mid-day the rain poured down in torrents such as they only who have witnessed can conceive - This lasted for two or three hours yet the sea remained a perfect calm - the air cold thick and still. When the rain ceased all was silent as the grave - 6 OC. Ignorant of danger we sat down to our customary amusements which were only interrupted by an XXXXXXX ocassional wish to have a breeze spring up - At 6 OC Sails were shortened & everything on deck and aloft made ready for a wild night. At 7 OC the ship was sailing under closely reefed topsails & Mr J Flood who came down informed us that the hatchways were nailed down - At 8 OC we retired to rest but scarcely had two hours elapsed before a dull roaring sound was heard in the distance growing louder and louder as it approached until it seemed to burst over us. In a few minutes the sea dashed into fury & the ship speeding through on a gale of terrific violence - Sleep was impossible - The noise on deck.’

The Galtee Boy

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1941
Robert Hailey,
sailor

‘G.Q. [General Quarters] at 0538 - routine drill! Shortly before 0800 no. 1 Higgins boat was placed over the side after we had anchored just off Johnson Is. Before other boats could be placed over the side or any trys made dispatches were received that P.H. [Pearl Harbor] Had been bombed by Japanese planes. All plans for landing on Johnson Is. were abandoned. Boats and planes hoisted aboard - no fuel to the 5 DMS with us - course set for interception of enemy forces south of Hawaii - these forces proceeding from the south, last reported near Palmyra - 8 large ships and one Jap sub sunk by planes off PH. - two carriers engaged just outside P.H. several miles - Hickam - Ford Island - residential Honolulu near the Pali bombed. - G.Q. about noon because of what appeared to be a sub - false alarm but not a drill. War has been declared - now there is to be much required from us all.

Afternoon - dispatches, newscasts and “scuttlebutt dope” has kept the day a busy one. Division put on a full wartime basis - all excess gear stowed below. We have changed rendezvous several times - mostly in an effort to intercept the fleeing carriers. P.H. seems to have suffered severely, Hickam damaged badly - 350 men killed in a bombed barracks, oil tanks at P.H. afire Oklahoma hit by bomb, is afire - no word on other damage-rumors Honolulu also damaged.

Manilla definately bombed - Wake & Guam uncertain. Condition II throughout day & tonight - Everyone excited but with only one thought - glad to get things underway and have uncertainty over. No one can understand how this attack was executed and the Japs gotten so close - why carriers not sunk is also not understandable.

Anticipate with what the chance that we may encounter then and get a whack at them- it would be an enjoyable sensation after today’s activity.’

Pearl Harbour diaries

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1941
Louis P. Davis, Jr.,
sailor

‘Was peacefully reminicing in my bunk about last night. Had been to a party with the Wilhmots at the Hickam Field Officer’s club. Several alarm sounded the clock said 0800 so I surmised that they must be testing it. Heard a yell from passageway “Mr Davis, we are being attackd” I jumped up ran to the door of the Wardroom. As I went up a Japanese plane bellied up over Ford Island clearly showing the rising sun on it’s wings. Made the director in nothing flat to get battery firing. I am senior gunnery officer aboard and only one who knows how to work the director. I got the machine guns going about 0803. God damn locks on magazine.

Had a hell of a time getting 5” firing. About 0820 I got them ready with ammunition. During time I was getting ammunition for 5” battery I saw Utah capsize astern of us. We are second DD in Harbor to open up with machine guns, first with 5” Arizona is burning fiercely. Her back is broken. Raleigh is torpedoed astern of us Quickly gets bad list to port. All DDs are firing now. This is hottest part of harbor. Plane is attacking our west. “All guns fw’d train 45” “Fire when hearing” Fw’d machine guns are firing steadily. Several Machine seen bullets ricochet off sides of director and mast. One 6” from my head a bunch about a foot away. Glad this is my lucky day.

Gun #2 is firing. Machines guns hit planes burst into flame and crashes on hill dead ahead of ship. No one hurt yet. Port fw’d machine gun burning up “Fire until it blows up” Johny is getting ready to get underway. Plane just connected with 5” shell over Curtiss. Nothing left of him. 2nd attacks starting must be only about 0845. God it’s cold only have on skinny troa [trousers] Plane coming over “Give to him All guns fw’d” Tally two for us today; hope he fries in hell Quickest hangover I ever got rid of in my life. Jesus we need water and everything is shut off. Comparitive lull now. About ten planes shot down during their last visit near the DDs. These ships can sure shoot.

High altitude bomber. No power for director! Engines have been secured Whitney cannot supply enough for 5 ships. Cannot get near them with local control “Cease firing” Wonder whats happening over on battleship row? All DDs out here are safer. Cassen and Downes, other half of hour division burning furiously. Monaghan just sunk sub in harbor. My clothes got here. Must be 0945 California and West Virginia are sinking. Sub just torpedoed Nevada. She is burning fw’d. Wonder how Joe Taussig is? Am so mad am crying. First time in years. Damn dumb admirals and generals. Locking up all the ammunition Good thing we belted machine guns ammo yesterday 200 rds 5” expended no casualties 10,000 rds 50 Cal. expended one gun burned up. “Cut off all magazine locks.” God damn good thing no carriers and crusiers are in.

Only Helena is slighlty damaged and Raleigh Curtiss hit by bomb aft. Oklahoma just capsized. Poor S.O.B.’s

Captain and rest of officers returned.

“Mr. Davis single up.” 1005 under way “Mr Davis report to executive officer” Exec bawled me out for cutting locks off magazines. Says I act too quickly should wait and reflect first Goddamn fool sits home on his fat ass then comes out and tells we are all wet and gives us hell for the way we fought the battle. Ted says he was too scared move coming out. Hope he gets one in the gut So the big thing will spill all over the deck.

“Mr. Davis Captain says clear ship for action” Am hungry as hell. No breakfast. Thrown over all wood and canvas, all excess gear topside and below. “Mr Davis report to Executive officer” “What the hell are you doin you fool”

“Captain’s orders clear ship for action sir.”

Hope he fries in hell. They are bombing Honolulu. Can see them from ship. We are forming up to attack 77 destroyers and Detroit all that’s left of battle force. Passed Nevada in channel burning furiously “secure from GQ set condition three watch one” Rest at last its 1500. Of all the stupid cowards are exec is the worst. Ford at last. Have mid better get some sleep. What a day 5 battleships sunk 2 cruisers hit Agala sunk Half of our division sunk. All because people try to kid themselves.’

Pearl Harbour diaries

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1941
Robert W. Brockway,
young man

‘As I write today from the home of Mr. O’ Sullivan who very kindly took us in, we have experienced a Japanese raid. This morning at 8:00 a.m. I was awakened by loud booming. Believing them to be maneuvers I paid little heed. On going outside, I saw stukas diving and circling, but still paid no heed, until I saw the Rising Sun on wing tips. By then the depot hangars were in flame and gasoline blazed. We went to Burkes [?] and then returned home - everyone telling me that war was on. We then got the Haltermanns in our car and Mr. Willy and I hurried up Aiea heights. We saw a carrier burned to the water edge. Fren [friends?] at Hickam [Hickam Field]. We waited there and then returned. Most of our planes had been destroyed. Our fleet force crippled. The radio had just pronounced martial law. Our forces are supposed to be dealing with the sit[uation].’

Pearl Harbour diaries

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