And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

23 February

John Evelyn,

‘I went to Sir John Chardin [. . .] Afterwards, I went with Sir Christopher Wren to Dr. Tenison, where we made the drawing and estimate of the expense of the library, to be begun this next spring near the Mews.’

Modesty, prudence, piety


Richard Hurrell Froude,

‘I have had a long idle fit, partly caused by circumstances; but I shall not throw it off without recording an idle day. K. says I ought to attend to nothing but my essay, till I have finished it.’

I have been relapsing


Reginald Marsh,

‘Jack Wilson came down because he had played hookey from school. We went down to the rain pond which had lowered five inches. It was covered with thin ice. Jack took a sled and coasted on it and went plunging into a hole and cut his hands badly then he ran out. On one part of the pond we walked on with safety when it got weak and awful pompey. Jack went in a lot of places up to his knees in water.’

Pictures and vaudeville


Clifford Odets,

‘The biggest shock I have experienced since the auto crash in Mexico a year ago was the reviews of the play today. Perhaps it was the serious lack of sleep which kept me so calm and quiet. I wanted to send the Times man a wire telling him I thought his notice stupid and insulting, but I gave up that idea after a while. Equally distressing to me was the attitude at the office, an ugly passivity. They are quite inured there to the humdrum commercial aspect of doing a play this way - close if the notices are bad.

My feelings were and are very simple. I feel as if a lovely delicate child, tender and humorous, had been knocked down by a truck and lay dying. For this show has all the freshness of a child. It was Boris A. who called the turn. He said, “This show is very moving to me, a real artwork, but I don’t think they will get its quality - it is not commercial.”

In the morning I cashed fifteen thousand dollars worth of the baby bonds I hold. I thought to spend it on advertising, to keep the show open, etc., but by the time I finished at the office in the afternoon it was easy to see the foolishness of that; the show costs almost ten thousand a week to run.

So, friend, this is the American theatre, before, now, and in the future. This is where you live and this is what it is - this is the nature of the beast. Here is how the work and delight and pain of many months ends up in one single night. This is murder, to be exact, the murder of loveliness, of talent, of aspiration, of sincerity, the brutal imperception and indifference to one of the few projects which promise to keep the theatre alive. And it is murder in the first degree - with forethought (perhaps not malice, perhaps!), not second or third degree. Something will have to be done about these “critics”, these lean dry men who know little or nothing about the theatre despite their praise of the actors and production. How can it happen that this small handful of men can do such murderous mischief in a few hours? How can it be that we must all depend on them for our progress and growth, they who maybe drank a cocktail too much, quarreled with a wife, had indigestion or a painful toe before they came to see the play - they who are not critics, who are insensitive, who understand only the most literal realism, they who should be dealing in children’s ABC blocks? How can the audience be reached directly, without the middleman intervention of these fools?

I think now to write very inexpensive plays in the future, few actors, one set; perhaps hire a cheap theatre and play there. Good or bad, these “critics” must never be quoted, they must not opportunistically be used. A way must be found to beat them if people like myself are to stay in the theatre with any health and love. Only bitterness results this way, with no will or impulse for fresh work. The values must be sorted out and I must see my way clearly ahead, for I mean to work in the American theatre for many years to come.

I have such a strong feeling - a lovely child was murdered yesterday. Its life will drag on for another week or ten days, but the child is already stilled. A few friends will remember, that’s all.’

Night music struck down


Basil Wolverton,

‘First enemy shells (from submarine off California coast) landed on U.S. continent in this war. One wonders what will happen a week, a month, or a year from now.’

He distorted body parts


Odd Nansen,

‘Today the whole Bergen gang was sent off. We couldn’t even say good-bye to them. We stood here at the office window and watched them as they moved off with their trunks and knapsacks, in civilian clothes and under a strong guard of roaring Germans. Bryn waved gallantly as he marched away downhill with the rest.

Otherwise life goes on as before; soon we shall be right back in the old familiar grooves. Yesterday there was even a distribution of tobacco - half a box of pipe tobacco each - as before.

On the very morning the escape took place, the Storm Prince had complained to the Terrace that he had too few men for guard duties. That’s what one may call a lucky hit, and it has most likely saved him from unpleasantness. New sentries have been posted, and things have been tightened up a little all round. In the future, it’s reported, no one may go into Oslo (except Rinnan, who enjoys the personal favor of the Storm Prince). But no doubt that too will gradually pass off, so that others can have their chance as well. In the meantime we must have patience and enjoy the many and various advantages of prison life as well as we can. For there are in fact certain advantages in this life. If we can’t exactly call it peace, still it offers much of what is called peace - no telephones, no bother, no nervous hurry to get this and that done in time, no meetings, no importunates coming to see one and to chatter about this and that, no oppressive responsibility for one thing and another.’

What darkens prison life


Fred Bason,

Agate’s last laugh. Yesterday in a parcel of books I’d bought to aid a charity there was a copy of the Oxford Book of English Verse, edited by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (when I asked for his autograph more than 30 years ago I thought I was asking Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). Now, verse has never been much in my line, but something prompted me to look up and read for the first time in my life The Ancient Mariner by Coleridge. And I’ve had quite a SHOCK!

Dear old James Agate, so long after his departure to some land far from ours, has played a neat trick on me and must at this moment be having such a good laugh, for I have been landed with a title for my last book which was given to me long years ago by him! ‘When you want to end your diaries call the last one The Last Bassoon, my boy. It comes from the Ancient Mariner and will suit you down to the ground.’ Now, diary, I had a lifelong admiration for Mr Agate and always took what he said for gospel. Maybe to some slight degree I even patterned my own life something on his lines. I knew him long before he became famous, and fame at no time changed him for me. Bless his heart, he’s had a LAST LAUGH. He must have known that I would take what he said as correct, that The Last Bassoon was in this notable poem, but I find that all that’s mentioned is the loud bassoon!

I am stuck with a title and can do nothing whatever about it. Well, let him have his last laugh. I do not begrudge it him. He was a kindly old man with his own brand of humour, and this is probally an extreemly good sample of it!

Have I ever been the loud Bassoon? On my oath I don’t think so. I’ve mostly walked away from the limelight. I know it has been too much I and not enough Thou, but no one but Lizzie would share my life, and without relations it just had to be I, or spend my life in some humdrum manner. And that I didn’t want to do, for in my heart I longed to become another Samuel Pepys. Stanley Rubinstein said several times that the mantel of James Agate had most certainly fallen on me. Well, from under its covering I can hear at this moment a chuckle; it’s Jimmy saying, ‘I had you, my boy ... I had you. You know I’m a kidder.’ Perhaps his kindly interest is watching over me, and The Last Bassoon is a better title. We shall see, as the years roll on.’

The Loud Bassoon


Rob Ellis,

‘In the office today Ed Wallace and I discussed Allen Ginsberg, who worked as a copyboy here at the World-Telegram in 1953. Having just read Ginberg’s poem called Howl, solemn-faced Wallace said; “Ginsberg might become immortal - if Robert Frost beat him to death with a wet squirrel.”

A fat little rascal


John Lowe,

‘Used the last of our coal today. We’ve been lucky right through, managing to get the odd bag given and burning it sparingly with logs; our good neighbour has helped out us and others and we owe him gratitude.

The kids on holiday in Belgium are due home this evening; another set are due to go to France shortly and at Easter yet another lot go to Amsterdam. We must never forget our brothers over the Channel.

The Board are offering an immediate advance of £100 to those returning now. How bloody corrupt are they prepared to be.’

How bloody corrupt


Roger Black,

‘I’ve moved on in leaps and bounds since October. My body still gives me problems but I can run with them. The left foot is much better due to the taping and the orthotics and the exercises.

My hip is still very sore but that’s life. In January I confronted the reality that my hip will never be 100 per cent and I have a choice. It can stop me running or I can run with it. Only the clock can tell me if I can get better.’

Worse by training


Brian Eno,

‘A future for air travel: inflight docking facilities above countries, so that ‘Rome’ - a huge Italian mall - hooks up as you fly over Italy. Aircraft and mall then move as a unit.

Bought three books about Egypt from the Travel Bookshop. Long flight - one whole book’s worth. Bought a camera!

Getting off the plane - a hint of sewage in the air, but somehow exotic and alluring. My driver tells me it’s Ramadan. We share a cigarette as we sit in Mercedes-rich traffic between beautiful orientalist buildings. Crowded, battered vehicles. Soft, cool air.

Apartments studded with air conditioners. It’s nice arriving somewhere at night - night cloaks the mundane with intrigue. Solid traffic, people weaving in and out nonchalantly, drivers cursing very chalantly. A five- or six-year-old boy, arms full of cartons of cigarettes, dances thru five lanes of fast cars. Terrifying. The more wrecked the vehicle, the more shit stuck on it. People on mopeds - carrying kids, huge baskets, an oil-drum.

At the hotel, opening the curtains in my room and looking out into the night, I see, dimly, a dark amber against a hazy sky: the Great Pyramid of Cheops. Now there’s a justifiable use of capital letters.

Ate dolmas, watched TV, listened to echoey laughing Arabs outside. Jay Leno, that stultifyingly unfunny man, on TV. The pyramids in the dim night outside. And yet I am watching Jay Leno (better reception).’

Happy birthday Brian Eno


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And so made significant . . .
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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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