And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

26 February

Ezra Stiles,

‘Giving Directions respect the Planetarium six feet Diam. now construct in the College Library by Joseph Badger a Jun. Sophister of a mechanical Genius, and a Joyner. We have been describing the Zodiac & signs & adjusting the Perihelia & Eccentricities & drawing the Ellipses of the orbits of Saturn & Jupiter, and the 3 Comets of known Revolutions. The Planet Herschel is put on. The whole is constructed with an internal Wheel Movement to exhibit the Places of the Planets revolving on the face of the Planetarium.’

Great grief and distress


Hermann Ludwig von Löwenstern,

‘My present way of life is as follows: Mornings I get up depending on my watch, early or late, drink my coffee; and smoking tobacco, I chat [with others] and go up and down during the morning, because you cannot get anything to read here at all. Immediately after table at two o’clock I go on land to my music master, stay there an hour, and afterwards visit Budberg, Fanaberia, or Salaguboff. If I find a boat, I usually go on board at five o’clock. In the evening I study my seamanship. After the evening meal I drink a glass of grog and go to bed in good time. Thus, one day follows the next. Only seldom do I visit Count Mammona (or Mammont, as the others call him) because I cannot speak the language. Sometimes I also go, if I have to wait for a boat, to the casino (actually an inn) and watch the hazard game. Sometimes I amuse myself by excursions in the six-rudder longboat, etc.’

At sea with Von Löwenstern


Edmund Franklin Ely,
missionary and teacher

‘Was much amused, this evening, in the wigiwam, to hear a Child 3 Yrs old, sing several of Our Indian Hymns - in tunes whh the Children have learned from me. This family left here last fall & went down the river. The Child has learned them of its Br. & Sister.’

Not counting hedge hogs


Fanny Kemble,

‘My dearest E, I write to you to-day in great depression and distress. I have had a most painful conversation with Mr –, who has declined receiving any of the people’s petitions through me. Whether he is wearied with the number of these prayers and supplications, which he would escape but for me, as they probably would not venture to come so incessantly to him, and I, of course, feel bound to bring every one confided to me to him, or whether he has been annoyed at the number of pitiful and horrible stories of misery and oppression under the former rule of Mr K –, which have come to my knowledge since I have been here, and the grief and indignation caused, but which can not, by any means, always be done away with, though their expression may be silenced by his angry exclamations of ‘Why do you listen to such stuff?’ or ‘Why do you believe such trash? don’t you know the niggers are all d–d liars?’ etc, I do not know; but he desired me this morning to bring him no more complaints or requests of any sort, as the people had hitherto had no such advocate, and had done very well without, and I was only kept in an incessant state of excitement with all the falsehoods they ‘found they could make me believe.’ How well they have done without my advocacy, the conditions which I see with my own eyes, even more than their pitiful petitions, demonstrate; it is indeed true that the sufferings of those who come to me for redress, and, still more, the injustice done to the great majority who can not, have filled my heart with bitterness and indignation that have overflowed my lips, till, I suppose, is weary of hearing what he has never heard before, the voice of passionate expostulation and importunate pleading against wrongs that he will not even acknowledge, and for creatures whose common humanity with his own I half think he does not believe; but I must return to the North, for my condition would be almost worse than theirs condemned to hear and see so much wretchedness, not only without the means of alleviating it, but without permission even to represent it for alleviation: this is no place for me, since I was not born among slaves, and can not bear to live among them.’

Remembering Fanny Kemble


Sophia Louisa Jex-Blake,

‘Oh, keep Thou my foot when I go up into Thy house of prayer. O how difficult it is to fix the mind for even that short time! Miss X. will treat me unlike any other human being, but that is no reason for transgressing the commandment of my God. She says she does not like to hear me name the name of Christ for I do not depart from iniquity, she thinks I had better not hold conversations on sacred subjects.

A complaint having been made of rudeness from one of the girls, Miss X. said it was just like one of Sophy’s tricks, heaven knows with what ground. All these things have aggravated me, and I fear I have sadly given way to temper and pride, not remembering Him who bare the contradiction of sinners against Himself though He never offended in word or deed. If sometimes unjustly spoken to, how often have I escaped my desert and how few are the faults the strictest find compared with an all-seeing God. Oh, for the charity that beareth all things ...’

Pioneering women’s education


Aleksandr Nikitenko,
teacher and writer

‘All week I’ve been busy thinking about the proposal to join the committee and have been involved in discussions with them about it. I was invited to a meeting on Monday, the 23rd, where I came face to face with Count Adlerberg, Timashev and Mukhanov.

I was received very courteously, particularly by Count Adlerberg. I had made up my mind to express frankly both my convictions and my views on the committee, so they could decide for themselves whether I could participate in their affairs. They listened to me very attentively.

I told them of the public’s negative attitude toward the committee; that it considered it another April 2nd committee; that I personally considered it an impossibility today and thought their committee could not be either repressive or reactionary; that its sole function was to serve as an intermediary between literature and the emperor and to influence public opinion by getting the government’s views and aims across via the press in much the same way as literature did by bringing its ideas to the public.

They took all this very well. Then I added that if I were to sit on the committee, it would have to be with the right to vote. It was decided that I would give them a memorandum containing the gist of my remarks and that I would bring it with me on Thursday.

Today, Thursday, I read my memorandum to them in which I outlined my ideas in greater detail. Enlarging upon the thesis that literature did not nurture any revolutionary schemes, I took the position that there wasn’t the slightest reason to take repressive measures against it; that ordinary censorship measures were completely adequate; that literature couldn’t and shouldn’t be restrained by administrative measures; and that, perhaps, the committee should limit itself, according to the emperor’s wishes, to keeping a watchful eye on the mood of the public and to guiding public opinion, rather than literature, on to the right path.

I forgot to mention that, on Monday, after my discussion with the committee, I went to see the minister and told him that I was demanding voting rights. He completely supported my demand and tried to persuade me to accept the position of administrative director of the committee on that condition, since the voting right would put me in a position where I could undoubtedly be a force for good.

He also told me that, on Sunday, at the ball, he had spoken to the emperor about me and referred to me as one, who, in his opinion, could be more useful on the committee than anyone else. The emperor turned to Adlerberg and said: “Hear that, Aleksandr?” Earlier, too, while the committee was being formed, the minister had proposed my name for membership along with the names of Vyazemsky, Tyutchev, Pletnyov, and E. P. Kovalevsky (his brother).

After all this my memorandum was accepted, and tomorrow a report goes to the emperor. The die is cast. I am now embarking on a new career in public service. I shall certainly encounter difficulties - and enormous ones, too. But it would be wrong and dishonest of me to evade them, to refuse to do my part. There will be a great deal of gossip. Perhaps many will reproach me because I, with my spotless reputation, have decided to sit on a tribunal which is considered repressive. But that’s exactly the point, gentlemen. I want to stifle its appetite for repression. If I can work effectively - fine. If I can’t. I’ll leave.

In any case, I am absolutely determined to fight to the bitter end against repressive measures. But, at the same time, I am convinced that literature ought not to sever all its ties with the government and assume a hostile stance. If I am right, then it is incumbent on one of us to hold on to this tie and to assume the role, so to say, of a connecting link. I shall try to be that link.

Perhaps I shall succeed in convincing the committee that it must approach this sort of business in broad statesmanlike fashion; that it should not war with ideas, with literature, or with anything at all, because it is not a clique but a public figure; that it should not irritate people; that it has an enormous responsibility toward Russia, the emperor and posterity, and that because of this responsibility, it must not get involved in petty literary squabbles, but should look beyond all that and view literature as a social force which can do a great deal of good for society. Yes, I shall assume this new responsibility, if I am given the right to vote. Tyutchev, Goncharov, and Lyuboshchinsky warmly endorse my decision.

I think even the committee understood the purity of my intentions. Not a word was mentioned there about any kind of benefits or rewards. As far as salary is concerned, I shall be satisfied with the first figure to be named. As far as my other activities are concerned, it goes without saying that I shall have to curtail them.’

Making of a Russian censor


Rudyard Kipling,

‘Eye all right. W said it wasn’t and so lost my work for the day - served him right. Went to hospital [?] cocaine and was impressed. To Cinderella in the evening and was impresseder.’

Something of myself


A C Benson,
teacher and writer

‘Monday: hateful day of fierce, arid, consuming work, done, not for the improvement of the boys - indeed, apart from them - but to satisfy my critical colleagues. I go from school to school, with pupils and piles of exercises crammed in. I walked up to Windsor: some gleams of sun. Came down: saw Ainger and Cornish setting off for a walk, a thing they have done at 3:45 on Monday for thirty-five years - if only people would do something different! Ainger walks solidly, religiously, gravely. The boys all coming out of school, by the cannon - one talking to Bowlby with his hat off; they were doing this twenty-six years ago when I was a boy; and here I have been practically ever since, fast bound. I beat against the wires. What an odd poor thing life is - and yet should I be happier free? And that is the poorest thing of all, that the cage, the burrow, the haunt grows so dear. Watched a robin sing in my garden - hard-worked to keep himself fed; I suppose he was born, lived all his life and will die in this privet-hedge. Why should not I be content to do the same? And then it comes over me in a flash that I am nearly forty, and yet don’t feel as if the serious business of life had begun, or as if I had really settled down to a profession - as if that was to come.’

A C Benson’s inner life


Dorothy Shakespear,

‘He (Ezra) has passed by the way where most men have only dreamed of passing. He has done with a Soul, that might be saved or damned - He has learned to live beside his body. I see him as a double person - just held together by the flesh.

His spirit walks beside him, outside him, on the left-hand side - He has conquered the needs of the flesh - He can starve; nay, is willing, to starve that his spirit may bring forth the ‘highest of arts’ - poetry. He has no care for hunger & thirst, for cold; of an ordinary man’s evils he takes no notice - “It is worth starving for” he said one day. He has attained to peace in this world, it seems to me. To be working for the great art, to be living in, and for, Truth in her Greatness - He has fond the Centre - Truth.’

Are you a genius?


Edna St. Vincent Millay,

‘Today has been wonderful. I have done so many things. Wasn’t late to breakfast. Did a big washing in the laundriette. Translated about ten pages of French on the roof (glorious!), dressed, and wasn’t late to luncheon. Started for Barnard about quarter to two, and wasn’t late to French (translated the rest of my lesson on the subway), went over to Morningside Drive and had tea and a delightful talk with Miss Rittenhouse, her mother, and Mrs. Kendall (?). Got home at ten minutes past six, dressed, and wasn’t late to dinner. Had another birthday party (all the Jan. & Feb. birthday girls) and a lovely carnation. Mrs. Trowbridge asked me to read some of my poems aloud after dinner, and I did. Later translated 2 1/2 pages of Horace.’

Mrs Grundy’s Easter hat


Bruce Lockhart,

‘Saw Trotsky twice today. Loud in his blame of the French and said the Allies had only helped Germany by their intrigues in Russia. American Embassy left for Vologda with Robins. Sent Ransome down with them. Trouble with Petrov about passport. Determined to stay under all circumstances if Bolsheviks can put up any show.’

Secret agent in Moscow


Virginia Woolf,

‘The fat woman had a louche large white muffin face. T’other was slightly grilled. [. . .] Brighton a love-corner for slugs. The powdered the pampered the mildly improper.’

Brighton in diaries


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