And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

9 February

1665
John Evelyn,
writer

‘Dined at my Lord Treasurer’s, the Earl of Southampton, in Bloomsbury, where he was building a noble square or piazza [London’s first square, or at least one of the earliest], a little town; his own house stands too low, some noble rooms, a pretty cedar chapel, a naked garden to the north, but good air. I had much discourse with his Lordship, whom I found to be a person of extraordinary parts, but a valetudinarian.

I went to St James’s Park, where I saw various animals, and examined the throat of the Onocrotylus, or pelican, a fowl between a stork and a swan; a melancholy waterfowl, brought from Astrakhan by the Russian Ambassador; it was diverting to see how he would toss up and turn a flat fish, plaice, or flounder, to get it right into his gullet at its lower beak, which, being filmy, stretches to a prodigious wideness when it devours a great fish. Here was also a small water-fowl, not bigger than a moorhen, that went almost quite erect, like the penguin of America; it would eat as much fish as its whole body weighed; I never saw so unsatiable a devourer, yet the body did not appear to swell the bigger. The solan geese here are also great devourers, and are said soon to exhaust all the fish in a pond. Here was a curious sort of poultry not much exceeding the size of a tame pigeon, with legs so short as their crops seemed to touch the earth; a milk-white raven; a stork, which was a rarity at this season, seeing he was loose, and could fly loftily; two Balearian cranes, one of which having had one of his legs broken and cut off above the knee, had a wooden or boxen leg and thigh, with a joint so accurately made that the creature could walk and use it as well as if it had been natural; it was made by a soldier. The park was at this time stored with numerous flocks of several sorts of ordinary and extraordinary wild fowl, breeding about the Decoy, which for being near so great a city, and among such a concourse of soldiers and people, is a singular and diverting thing. There were also deer of several countries, white; spotted like leopards; antelopes, an elk, red deer, roebucks, stags, Guinea goats, Arabian sheep, etc. There were withy-pots, or nests, for the wild fowl to lay their eggs in, a little above the surface of the water.’

A most excellent person

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1901
Isabelle Eberhardt,
writer

‘Around five o’clock this afternoon, Abdallah ben Mohammed [her attacker] was put in a prison cell. I saw him arrive and studied him while he was being searched by soldiers . . . I had a profound feeling of pity for this man, the blind instrument of a destiny whose meaning he does not understand. And seeing that grey silhouette, standing with his head bowed, flanked by the two blue uniforms, I had perhaps the strangest and deepest impression I have ever experienced of mystery.

Much as I search my heart for hatred towards this man, I cannot find any. Even less contempt. What I do feel for him is curious: it seems to me that I am close to an abyss, in the presence of a mystery whose last word - or rather whose first word - hasn’t yet been spoken, and which would contain the whole meaning of my life. As long as I do not know the key to this enigma - and shall I ever know it! God alone knows - I shall not know who I am, or what is the reason or explanation of my destiny, one of the most incredible there has been. Yet, it seems to me that I am not meant to disappear without having plumbed the depths of this enigma, from its strange beginnings to the present.

“Madness,” sceptics will say, who like easy solutions and have no patience with mystery. They are wrong, because to see the chasms that life conceals and that three-quarters of the population don’t even suspect exist cannot be treated as folly, in the same way that an artist’s descriptions of sunset or of a stormy night would seem ridiculous to a man born blind.

If the strangeness of my life were the result of snobbery of a pose, yes, then people could say, “She brought those events on herself”, but no! No one has ever lived more from day to day and by chance as I have, and it is very much the events themselves, inexorably linked to one another, which have brought me to where I am and absolutely not me who has created them. Perhaps the strange side of my nature can be summed up in a single trait: the need to keep searching, come what may, for new events, and flee inertia and stagnation.’

The magnificent Sahara

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1937
Zorina Gray,
actress

‘Took photos the whole day in the theater until 4:30. In the evening, big party in the Café de Paris for Wiman and Lina - so sad that they had to leave already - but the party was divine. Wiman absolutely wants me to come to New York for him and a new show.’

My knees felt like macaroni

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1961
Robertson Davies,
writer

‘Bill Broughall lunched with me at the University Club. He tells me Vincent Massey says “a gentleman never takes soup with luncheon at his club” because Lord Curzon said it. I fear I shall run into many things a gentleman does not do, and which are unknown to me; but I am writer, and therefore a bit of a bounder.’

Robertson Davies as diarist

**************************************************************************************

1952
Charles Ritchie,
diplomat

‘I think that part of my reaction of boredom and distaste for Spender’s book comes from being reminded by it of countless pages of similar self-absorption in my own diaries. When I first knew E, I was surprised and rather disconcerted by her lack of concern with her own ‘interesting personality’. I found it difficult to accept when she, the leading psychological novelist of the day, told me that she was not interested in people and their motives and characters. I now understand what she meant. The exercise no longer amuses me. In fact it is only from obstinacy that I write this private diary at all.’

V happy with E

**************************************************************************************

1975
Antonia Fraser,
writer

‘Joyous, dangerous and unavoidable - Harold’s three words to Kevin Billington about us, quoted by Harold to me on the telephone. Not bad Pinteresque words.’

In love with Pinter

**************************************************************************************

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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.

For any other use of these diary extracts other than browsing please refer to the original sources.

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, usually several every week. The blog has been publishing for over five years, and is the secondary source for the diary extracts in this online anthology.