And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

6 February

955
Ki no Tsurayuki,
writer

[New Year’s Day] ‘Still they remained at the same place. The byakusan had been placed for safe-keeping during the night in the ship’s cabin; but the wind which is usual at this time of year got up and blew it all into the sea. They had nothing left to drink, no potatoes, no seaweed and no rice-cakes; the neighbourhood could supply nothing of this kind, and so their wants could not be satisfied. They could no nothing more than suck the head of a trout. What must the trout have thought of everybody sucking it in turn! That day he could think of nothing but the Capital, and talk of nothing but the straw rope stretched across the Gates of the Imperial Palace, the mullet heads and the holly.’ [These foods etc. are all to do with the then customs of New Year.]

The earliest literary diary

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1805
Washington Irving
, writer

‘This morning, Lieuts Murray and Gardner, and Capt Hall, of the ship President, Capt Dent of the Nautilus, and myself, set off to pay another visit to the Ear of Dionysius. We despatched beforehand a midshipman and four sailors with a spar and a couple of halyards. On arriving there, we went to the top of the precipice immediately over the mouth of the cave. Here we fastened ourselves to one of the halyards, and were lowered successively over the edge of the precipice (having previously disposed the spar along the edge of the rock so as to keep the halyard from chafing) into a small hole over the entrance of the Ear, and about fifteen feet from the summit of the precipice. The persons lowered were Murray, Hall, the midshipman, and myself, the others swearing they would not risk their necks to gratify their curiosity.

The cavern narrows as it approaches the top, until it ends in a narrow channel that runs the whole extent, and terminates in this small chamber. A passage from this hole or chamber appears to have been commenced to be cut to run into the interior of the rock, but was never carried more than ten or fifteen feet. We then began to make experiments to prove if sound was communicated from below to this spot in an extraordinary degree. Gardner fired a pistol repeatedly, but it did not appear to make a greater noise than when we were below in the mouth of the cavern. We then tried the conveyance of voices; in this we were more successful. One of the company stationed himself at the interior extremity of the Ear, and applying his mouth close to the wall, spoke to me just above a whisper. I was then stationed with my ear to the wall in the little chamber on high and about two hundred and fifty feet distant, and could hear him very distinctly. We conversed with one another in this manner for some time. We then moved to other parts of the cavern, and I could hear him with equal facility, his voice seeming to be just behind me. When, however, he applied his voice to the opposite side of the cave, it was by no means so distinct. This is easily accounted for, as one side of the channel is broken away at the mouth of the cavern, which injures the conveyance of the sound. After all, I doubt very much whether the cave was ever intended for the purpose ascribed to it. The fact is, that when more than one person speaks at a time, it creates such a confusion of sound between their voices and the echoes, that it is impossible to distinguish what they say. This we tried repeatedly, and found to be invariably the case.’

‘But,’ writes Pierre Irving about these journal entries, ‘the antiquities of Syracuse did not engage the exclusive attention of the traveller. He found a romantic interest in visiting the convents, and endeavoring to get ‘a sly peep’ at the nuns [and the] following extract from his journal shows him seeking amusement in another scene.’

Echoes in the Ear

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1810
Mirza Abul Hassan Khan,
diplomat

I went [. . .] to a glass and mirror manufactory, where we observed stones and other ingredients combined and melted in furnaces to produce clear, jewel-like glass. I enquired about the glass and mirror industry and asked if there were any other, superior, manufacturers of mirrors. The man replied honestly: “English artisans are highly skilled and unrivalled throughout Europe. But the French produce a better-quality mirror because of the different materials they use.” The fairness of the master’s reply pleased me and I ordered two qalians [water pipes] from him. They made two sets for me by hand.

From there we went to a crystal-cutting factory. We looked around and were told the prices of various patterns. English cut-crystal is superior to that of other countries because the English have a greater appreciation of art.

Finally we visited a gunsmith renowned for the manufacture of shotguns and pistols. The perfection of his workmanship is universally recognized - he has no peer in all of Europe.

The artisans of London excel in every craft with the exception of brocade-weaving. But European brocades are rarely used here because their import is prohibited by Royal decree. English leather and metal-work are also of high quality. But prices are high in London. For example: a knife coasts four ‘guineas’. (A ‘guinea’ is the equivalent of one Iranian toman, sometimes more.) Even the drinking water is sold and brings a revenue of 90,000 tomans a year.

I was utterly amazed!

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1822
Phebe Orvis,
housewife

‘Stormy. began to find myself on the road to Vermont. eight sleighs in company. rode eight miles to Oliverts. prepared breakfast for the whole. in good spirits rode ten miles to Robinson’s, ten miles to Bankers. left Bird and Eastman. rode six miles to Gordon’s, Plattsburg village. crossed on Cumberland head. snowed so we could scarcely perceive the Bushes in the cracks put up at Fletcher’s on the Grand Isle. prepared tea. visited late with the Ladies. they were preparing for Installation tomorrow.’

An extraordinary ordinary woman

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1840
Elizabeth Smith,
writer

‘Very fine hunting morning, bright but cold. Had cold luncheon ready in the hall for the hunters, no one called in but the Doctor who made a good dinner and gave Janey and me a Latin lesson, and told us Lady Milltown was not well, complaining of no one ever calling on her, out of spirits. Her Lord complaining that she never dresses till near dinner-time, an idle slovenly habit she learned in France, never stirs out, she that used to be so active, he don’t know on earth what to do with her; so it must be for she has no pursuit. With that beautiful house [Russborough] full of the choicest works of art she has no pleasure in it but to see it now and then dusted, her fine family of children are no resource to her. She is incapable of assisting in their education. No reader, beyond a novel which only wearies the spirits, no worker.

And here let me remind you, dear little girls, of an old saying of dear Grandmama’s that a woman who had not pleasure in her needle was never happy, and very seldom good, it may sound a little forced but it is nevertheless perfectly true. A woman has so many solitary hours. Reading through all would be very far from profitable to her, a scientifick pursuit or a devotion to some particular art would withdraw her attention too much from these numberless little duties upon which the happiness of all around her depends.

Besides this want of occupation poor Lady Milltown has had the misfortune to yield to a vile, irritable, jealous, malicious temper which has alienated every friend, and of what avail to her is all her wit and her talent and her rank of which she is so vain now that she is getting old? The spirits that once carried her through are deserting her and she has nothing to replace them with, no one loves her, not even her children, I can’t excuse her failings though I make every allowance for her entire want of education, her early marriage to a profligate man, her later marriage to an unprincipled one, for she knows the right way, and won’t pursue it.’A Highland diarist in Ireland

A highland diarist in Ireland

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1908
Lady Minto,
philanthropist

‘Violet, Francis, and I motored into the slums of the city and witnessed the worship of the Goddess of Wisdom by hundreds of little Hindu children. They sang a sort of chant, and then offered flowers. They have all sorts of strange traditions - if any worshipper of Saraswati does not abstain from using pen and ink on the feast day, they expect to be struck dumb. I believe they all prayed that I might have some share in the wisdom that the goddess freely dispenses; this no doubt will benefit me greatly during remainder of the year. The priest were delighted at my visit, and I departed covered with garlands, and scattering petals of flowers that clung to my garments.’

Lady Minto’s Indian diary

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1937
Zorina Gray,
actress

‘Today Saturday. The reviews are fabulous. All kinds of people call to congratulate - my bathtub is an ocean of flowers. Very good performance. A man came from Fox films and wants to make a test.’

My knees felt like macaroni

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1983
Andy Warhol,
artist

‘Went to church. Worked some more on drawings. Went to bed early. The phone didn’t ring all day.’

The Andy Warhol Diaries

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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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