And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

1 January

1684
John Evelyn,
writer

The weather continuing intolerably severe, streets of booths were set up on the Thames; the air was so very cold and thick, as of many years there had not been the like. The smallpox was very mortal.

A most excellent person

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1712
William Byrd
, plantation owner

‘I lay abed till 9 o’clock this morning to bring my wife into temper again and rogered her by way of reconciliation. I read nothing because Mr Mumford was here, nor did I say my prayers, for the same reason. However I ate boiled milk for breakfast, and after my wife tempted me to eat some pancakes with her. Mr Mumford and I went to shoot with our bows and arrows but shot nothing, and afterwards we played at billiards till dinner, and when we came we found Ben Harrison there, who dined with us. I ate some partridge for dinner. In the afternoon we played at billiards again and I won two bits. I had a letter from Colonel Duke by H-l the bricklayer who came to offer his services to work for me. Mr Mumford went away in the evening and John Bannister with him to see his mother. I took a walk about the plantation and at night we drank some mead of my wife’s making which was very good. I gave the people some cider and a dram to the negroes. I read some Latin in Terence and had good health, good thoughts, and good humor, thank God Almighty. I said my prayers.’

A planters life!

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1819
Henry Fynes Clinton
, classicist

‘Occupied with drawing out a plan of future studies, and in writing my Journal of former years.

It is now the ninth year since I returned to Greek literature. Within this period I have accomplished the following . . . 33,700 pages will give about 3,750 for the average number read in each year. I possess therefore nine Poets of the first rank; and among nine of the second rank, three principal ones, Theocritus, Lycophron, Apollonius: the three Historians, Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon: all the Orators: the twelve Scriptores, except Dion Cassius: of the ten Scriptores, Polysenus and Dio Chrysostom: of the forty, Stobseus: among the Philosophers, Diogenes Laertius, about half of Plato, the best of Aristotle. I have consumed too much time and labour, perhaps, in the Scholiasts.’

The writer vs the orator

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1841
Ralph Waldo Emerson
, writer and philosopher

‘I begin the year by sending my little book of Essays to the press. What remains to be done to its imperfect chapters I will seek to do justly. I see no reason why we may not write with as much grandeur of spirit as we can serve or suffer. Let the page be filled with the character, not with the skill of the writer.’

The drollest mushroom

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1916
Robert Laird Borden
, politician

‘A rather melancholy New Year with both of us confined to bed under charge of Doctor and trained nurse. Pain still very severe at times. The nurse, Miss McCurdy, seems very faithful and competent. If I make the slightest movement in the night she is at the door at once. My message to the Canadian people published today seems to be very well received. Many telegrams of congratulation, one especially fervent from Dr. Chown, one also from Hon. Edw. Brown, a member of the Manitoba Gov’t. News from front unimportant but Russians seem to be fathering way. Asquith evidently having great difficulty with his conscription measure which threatens to disrupt his Gov’t.’

Russian cavalry and jams

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1943
George Adamson,
conservationist

‘While we were walking along Bally was some way behind, Joy suddenly caught me by the hand and said she loved me. I was flabbergasted and felt very embarrassed.’

A life of Joy and lions

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1950
Cesare Pavese
, writer

‘At great periods you have always felt, deep within you, the temptation to commit suicide. You gave yourself to it; breached your own defenses. You were a child. The idea of suicide was a protest against life; by dying, you would escape this longing for death.’

I won’t write any more

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

1983
Donald Friend
, artist

‘It was diverting for a while to leaf through it [a youthful diary] reviving old memories until gradually the full horror dawned: I haven’t developed at all! - what seems quaint and even charming in a precocious adolescent is horrifying to find undisciplined and unimproved in oneself approaching one’s 68th birthday.

Self-centred, conceited, atrociously snobbish, frivolous, obsessed with aristocratic delusions, adept at self-deceit. None of that’s changed. Already I was infatuated with the spectacle of myself as a superior being, a genius destined for fame moving wittily around in a world composed of romantic subject-matter, arranged for my own delectation.’

Friend’s diaries found

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1987
John Poindexter
, naval officer and security adviser

‘These so-called findings on Iran - I’ll be honest - I don’t remember any of them, and I don’t believe that they were even signed by the president, frankly. But sometimes there are meetings over in the White House with Shultz, NSC guy, Casey and Weinberger, and they make some decisions that the president signs off on. . . And the facts are that the Vice President is not in the decision making loop.’

Poindexter, Reagan and Bush

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1995
Alec Guinness
, actor

‘Through a chink in the bedroom curtains my unenthusiastic eye caught an early-morning glimpse of the New Year: it looked battleship grey. As I reluctantly swung out of bed I noticed my feet - never something on which I like to dwell. They appeared to be crumbling, sandstone monuments, the soles criss-crossed with ancient, indecipherable runes, which probably hold the secrets of eighty years of living and partly living - of happiness and fears, of distresses, of rather embarrassing successes and expected failures. I drew open the curtains and found the sky was in fact cloudless blue and the tops of the trees promised sunlight. It was all very different exactly fifty-one years ago when I was wrecked in a hurricane in the Adriatic, chucked around by thirty-foot waves and a wind of 120 m.p.h. I never liked New Year’s Day anyway; it has too often felt like a day of foreboding.

No resolutions have been made. Experience has taught me they barely survive a week. But I have made a few negative wishes for other people. I never wish to see again any reproduction of Andy Warhol’s portrait of Marilyn Monroe. Also I am anxious about that elderly lady lying on her face at the bottom of her stairs, clutching the accident alarm which is meant to alert her neighbours. She has been prostrate there for about two years and still no one has come to her aid. And I long for twelve months when no politician will used the word ‘clear’ to describe what is manifestly muddy or incomprehensible. Would all BBC (and other) announcers please read and inwardly digest Robert Burchfield’s The Spoken Word? It is slim, pocketable, authoritative and, after all, a BBC publication by a great lexicographer.

A sudden little blizzard made us too apprehensive to drive the couple of miles to Mass in the evening, so I threw a log on the fire and mixed a lethal cocktail called, I believe, the Claridge. (Half and half gin and French vermouth, with a good dash of Cointreau and apricot brandy.) That kept our eyes, slightly unfocused, on the TV production of Cold Comfort Farm.’

I noticed my feet

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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.