And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

10 January

1702
George Rooke,
naval commander

‘Delivered a scheme to his Majesty for the prosecution of services at sea, &c., the next summer. That forthwith fifty sail of English and thirty Dutch of the line be appointed for the main fleet, thirty English and twenty Dutch to go abroad with 8,000 English and Dutch soldiers to attempt something on Spain or Portugal, the other thirty sail, with frigates, &c., to remain at home for the security of the Channel.’

Rooke’s Battle of Vigo Bay

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1822
William Cobbett,
journalist

‘Lewes is in a valley of the South Downs, this town is at eight miles distance, to the south-south-west or thereabouts. There is a great extent of rich meadows above and below Lewes. The town itself is a model of solidity and neatness. The buildings all substantial to the very outskirts; the pavements good and complete; the shops nice and clean; the people well-dressed; and, though last not least, the girls remarkably pretty, as, indeed, they are in most parts of Sussex; round faces, features small, little hands and wrists, plump arms, and bright eyes. The Sussex men, too, are remarkable for their good looks. A Mr. Baxter, a stationer at Lewes, showed me a farmer’s account book, which is a very complete thing of the kind. The inns are good at Lewes, the people civil and not servile, and the charges really (considering the taxes) far below what one could reasonably expect.

From Lewes to Brighton the road winds along between the hills of the South Downs, which, in this mild weather, are mostly beautifully green even at this season, with flocks of sheep feeding on them. Brighton itself lies in a valley cut across at one end by the sea, and its extension, or wen, has swelled up the sides of the hills and has run some distance up the valley. The first thing you see in approaching Brighton from Lewes, is a splendid horse-barrack on one side of the road, and a heap of low, shabby, nasty houses, irregularly built, on the other side. This is always the case where there is a barrack. How soon a reformed parliament would make both disappear!

Brighton is a very pleasant place. For a wen [a large overcrowded city] remarkably so. The Kremlin, the very name of which has so long been a subject of laughter all over the country, lies in the gorge of the valley, and amongst the old houses of the town. The grounds, which cannot, I think, exceed a couple or three acres, are surrounded by a wall neither lofty nor good-looking. Above this rise some trees, bad in sorts, stunted in growth, and dirty with smoke. As to the “palace” as the Brighton newspapers call it, the apartments appear to be all upon the ground floor; and, when you see the thing from a distance, you think you see a parcel of cradle-spits, of various dimensions, sticking up out of the mouths of so many enormous squat decanters. Take a square box, the sides of which are three feet and a half, and the height a foot and a half. Take a large Norfolk-turnip, cut off the green of the leaves, leave the stalks nine inches long, tie these round with a string three inches from the top, and put the turnip on the middle of the top of the box. Then take four turnips of half the size, treat them in the same way, and put them on the corners of the box. Then take a considerable number of bulbs of the crown-imperial, the narcissus, the hyacinth, the tulip, the crocus, and others; let the leaves of each have sprouted to about an inch, more or less according to the size of the bulb; put all these, pretty promiscuously, but pretty thickly, on the top of the box. Then stand off and look at your architecture. There! That’s “a Kremlin!” Only you must cut some church-looking windows in the sides of the box. As to what you ought to put into the box, that is a subject far above my cut.

Brighton is naturally a place of resort for expectants, and a shifty ugly-looking swarm is, of course, assembled here. Some of the fellows, who had endeavoured to disturb our harmony at the dinner at Lewes, were parading, amongst this swarm, on the cliff. You may always know them by their lank jaws, the stiffeners round their necks, their hidden or no shirts, their stays, their false shoulders, hips and haunches, their half-whiskers, and by their skins, colour of veal kidney-suet, warmed a little, and then powdered with dirty dust. These vermin excepted, the people at Brighton make a very fine figure. The trades-people are very nice in all their concerns. The houses are excellent, built chiefly with a blue or purple brick; and bow-windows appear to be the general taste. I can easily believe this to be a very healthy place: the open downs on the one side and the open sea on the other. No inlet, cove, or river; and, of course, no swamps. I have spent this evening very pleasantly in a company of reformers, who, though plain tradesmen and mechanics, know I am quite satisfied more about the questions that agitate the country than any equal number of lords.’

Doomed to beggary

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1832
Barclay Fox,
businessman

‘2 Aunts came to breakfast, we all read our poems to them. After breakfast, I went with Papa to Perran to try the intensity of the magnet [Barclay’s father experimented with magnetism] with William Henwood, first in the valley and then on the top of the hill. We found the needle varied half a degree. In the evening, we 3 went to the Bank and read our poems again to Grandmamma and Aunts. Rather wet day.’

The day came at last

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1914
Gertrude Bell,
writer and archaeologist

Disgusting day, cold, wind and sleet. We got out of camp and rode to the station where I waited for the baggage. Jusef Chowwish and 4 soldiers with us. A little way from the station we saw soldiers - it was the Q. who turned back to Zuwaideh [el-Juweiyida] by another road. When we reached Zuwaideh he had gone on to ‘Amman with the Yuzbashi. Hurried on and got to the hill down to ‘Amman, with little rain. I walked down, got onto Jusef’s horse and cantered up to the Serai, where I found the Q, Halim Beg Abu Sha’r, the Yuzbashi, Ishaq Effendi, and the Mudir, Muhammad Beg. All very friendly. I explained my doings, laid my complaint before them about the Yuzbashi and convinced Halim Beg that I was harmless. He telegraphed the same to Damascus. Two young men, Hanna Bsharra, and Ferid, son of Habib Effendi with whom I lodged at Salt. Hanna presently explained to me that Halim, a Xian, did not want to take any responsibility and I had better telegraph to Devey, which I did. My men pitched tents in pouring rain, below the theatre and before the Odeon.’

The Arabian Diaries

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1957
Kenneth Williams,
actor and writer

‘I’ve had my hair cut short again so it doesn’t blow about in the wind. Eden has resigned. That equally mediocre fossil-Macmillan has taken over! The Tory situation is quite pathetic since that old hypocritical ratbag Churchill left. He excelled so greatly in the oratorical sense - in the corruption of the poetic consciousness.’

Carry on carping

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1980
Alasdair Maclean,
writer

‘How trusting-hungry are the small birds now! When I scattered crumbs at the garden gate this afternoon (later than usual for it was dusk and town-bred birds would have been well-filled to bed an hour before), a dozen of sparrows hung precariously in the gusts, a bare yard or two from my hand. Though the gale thrust them constantly downwind, away from the source of food, still they persisted, flapping like little machines in an effort to keep pace with their own lives. At times they took the whirling nourishment on the wing.

I wonder now, sitting over my late journal, in what corner of this many-cornered village do these birds roost? Surely there is no hiding-place here that can so well hug its angles to itself but that the wind pokes a long cold finger in? Yet somewhere they crouch, fluffed out and twittering, and their thin blood slowly crystallizes as the stars wheel overhead.

Not all survive such nights. You find them here and there in the mornings, on their backs, their claws tenaciously gripping air. Even when they live who can tell what transformations may not haunt them as they perch the dark away? When a night like this comes along I think it is a little hibernation that sees these sparrows through. Ghost birds I think they become, for the space of a few hours; approximate creatures. Yet when day appears, or even the appalling masquerade that may substitute for it at this time of year, out from bush or cave they tumble, like toy trumpets from a lucky dip.’

An antiphonal chorus

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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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