And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

11 January

1740
George Whitefield,
priest

‘Went this Morning, with some Friends, to view a Tract of Land, consisting of 500 Acres which Mr H. whom I left School-Master of Savannah, was directed, I hope by Providence, to make Choice of for the Orphan-House. It is situated on the Northern Part of the Colony, about 10 miles off Savannah, and has various Kinds of Soil in it; a Part of it very good. Some Acres, through the Diligence of my Friend, are cleared. Has has also stock’d it with Cattle and Poultry. He has begun the Fence, and built a Hut; all which will greatly forward the Work. I choose to have it so far off the Town, because the Children will then be more free from bad Examples, and can more conveniently go upon their Lands to work. For it is my Design to have each of the Children taught to Labour, so as to be qualified to get their own Living. Lord, do though teach and excite.’

Preaching with power

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1841
Henry Cockburn,
judge

‘I returned yesterday from holding the Glasgow Winter Circuit.

On Monday the 4th, my daughter Elizabeth, Miss Rosa Macbean, and I, went, amidst heavy snow and bitter cold, to my daughter Mrs. Stewart’s at the Manse of Erskine. I stayed there all night, and went next morning to breakfast at Moore Park, near Govan, where my colleague Lord Medwyn was, at his nephew’s, Charles Forbes, banker. We went from that, in procession, to Court.

There were 68 cases, of which 65 were tried, the other three being put off from absence of witnesses or of culprits. There were two cases which occupied a whole day from nine one morning till four next morning, yet, except one immaterial case which Medwyn remained to try to-day (Monday), the whole business was leisurely and patiently gone through on Saturday night, and I came home (still through snow and frost) yesterday.

Medwyn, though more of a monk in matters of religion or politics than any man I know, is an excellent, judicious, humane, practical judge, with great industry, and a deep sense of official duty. Though pious, and acquainted, by long administration of the affairs both of the innocent and the guilty poor, with the feelings of the lower orders when in distress, he agrees with me in the uselessness, if not the hurtfulness, of the judge preaching to every prisoner who is undergoing sentence.

We had three capital cases, a murder, a rape, and a robbery. But though each was as clearly proved as if the commission of the fact had been actually seen, and each was a very aggravated case of its kind, such is the prevailing aversion to capital punishment, that no verdict inferring such a punishment could be obtained, and these horrid culprits were only transported. It can’t be helped as yet, perhaps, but this want of sympathy between law and the public is very unseemly. The public is wrong.

We had also a bad case of bigamy, for which, according to our usage, we could only send the heartless, perfidious villain for one year to jail. This, till lately, was the English punishment also, but within these two years they have got a statute extending it to seven years transportation. I have already renewed my recommendation to the Lord Advocate (A. Rutherfurd) to try to pass such an Act for Scotland.’

Of murder and raptus

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1848
Sanford Fleming,
engineer

‘The balance of the 1st Quarters rent is due today amounting to £3.10. £1.10 being paid on taking the house. Reed 10/ from Scobie & Balfour to make up the balance. Mr. Holland promised to give me 4 dollars for making a plan for Mr Bethune.’

Adieu to my youth

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1852
Henry D. Thoreau,
philosopher and scientist

‘What need to travel? There are no sierras equal to the clouds in the sunset sky. And are not these substantial enough? In a low or level country, perchance, the forms of the clouds supply the place of mountains and precipices to the eye, the grosser atmosphere makes a mountainous country in the sky.

The glory of these afternoons, though the sky may be mostly overcast, is in the ineffably clear blue, or else pale greenish-yellow, patches of sky in the west just before sunset. The whole cope of heaven seen at once is never so elysian. Windows to heaven, the heavenward windows of the earth. The end of the day is truly Hesperian.

R. W. E. showed me yesterday a letter from H. Greenough, the sculptor, on architecture, which he liked very much. Greenough’s idea was to make architectural ornaments have a core of truth, a necessity and hence a beauty. All very well, as I told R. W. E., from Greenough’s point of view, but only a little better than the common dilettantism. I was afraid I should say hard things if I said more.

We sometimes find ourselves living fast, - unprofitably and coarsely even, - as we catch ourselves eating our meals in unaccountable haste. But in one sense we cannot five too leisurely. Let me not live as if time was short. Catch the pace of the seasons; have leisure to attend to every phenomenon of nature, and to entertain every thought that comes to you. Let your life be a leisurely progress through the realms of nature, even in guest-quarters.

This reminds me that the old Northman kings did in fact board round a good part of the time, as schoolmasters sometimes with us.

But as for Greenough, I felt as if it was dilettantism, and he was such a reformer in architecture as Channing in social matters. He began at the cornice. It was only how to put a core of truth within the ornaments, that every sugar-plum might in fact have an almond or carroway seed in it, and not how the inhabitant, the in-dweller, might be true and let the ornaments take care of themselves. He seemed to me to lean over the cornice and timidly whisper this half truth to the rude indwellers, who really knew it more interiorly than he. What of architectural beauty I now see, I know has gradually grown from within outward, out of the character and necessities of the indweller and builder, without even a thought for mere ornament, but an unconscious nobleness and truthfulness of character and life; and whatever additional beauty of this kind is destined to be produced will be preceded and accompanied, aye, created, by a like unconscious beauty of life. One of the most beautiful buildings in this country is a logger’s hut in the woods, and equally beautiful will be the citizen’s suburban box, when the life of the indweller shall be as simple and as agreeable to the imagination, and there is as little straining after effect in the style of his dwelling. Much it concerns a man, forsooth, how a few sticks are slanted under him or over him, what colors are daubed upon his box! One man says, in his despair, “Take up a handful of the earth at your feet, and paint your house that color!” What an abundance of leisure he must have on his hands! An enterprise to improve the style of cottage architecture! Grow your own house, I say. Build it after an Orphean fashion. When R. W. E. and Greenough have got a few blocks finished and advertised, I will look at them. When they have got my ornaments ready I will wear them. What do you take up a handful of dirt for? Why don’t you paint your house with your blood? with your sweat? Thin not the paint with spirits of turpentine. There’s a deal of nonsense abroad.

The question is not where did the traveller go? what places did he see? - it would be difficult to choose between places - but who was the traveller? how did he travel? how genuine an experience did he get? For travelling is, in the main, like as if you stayed at home, and then the question is how do you live and conduct yourself at home? What I mean is that it might be hard to decide whether I would travel to Lake Superior, or Labrador, or Florida. Perhaps none would be worth the while, if I went by the usual mode. But if I travel in a simple, primitive, original manner, standing in a truer relation to men and nature, travel away from the old and commonplace, get some honest experience of life, if only out of my feet and homesickness, then it becomes less important whither I go or how far. I so see the world from a new and more commanding point of view. Perhaps it is easier to live a true and natural life while travelling, as one can move about less awkwardly than he can stand still.’

Cows in the river

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1910
Arnold Bennett,
writer

‘Grand rolling weather. Foamy sea, boisterous wind, sun, pageant of clouds, and Brighton full of wealthy imperative persons dashing about in furs and cars. I walked with joy to and fro on this unequalled promenade. And yet, at this election time, when all wealth and all snobbery is leagued together against the poor, I could spit in the face of arrogant and unmerciful Brighton, sporting its damned Tory colours.’

Brighton in diaries

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1918
Bruce Lockhart,
diplomat

‘At 12 noon met Litvinov, Russia’s new Bolshevik Ambassador, with Rothstein and Leeper at Lyons’ comer shop in the Strand. Litvinov, more sluggish and slower, heavily built with broad forehead did not strike me as a bad fellow. He does not like German goverment [sic] who banished him from Germany. Both men are Jews. Litvinov is married to an Englishwoman.’

Secret agent in Moscow

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2009
Kim Dae-jung,
politician

‘I love and respect my wife, and without her, I might not be here now and even now, I think living without her would be difficult.’

Believing in history

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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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