And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

13 January

1798
William Wilberforce,
politician

‘Three or four times have I most grievously broke my resolutions since I last took up my pen alas! alas! how miserable a wretch am I! How infatuated, how dead to every better feeling yet - yet - yet - may I, Oh God, be enabled to repent and turn to thee with my whole heart, I am now flying from thee. Thou hast been above all measure gracious and forgiving. . . .’

God’s work against slavery

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1858
Nassau William Senior,
lawyer and political thinker

‘This is the Greek New Year’s Day. A great ball was given at the Palace. I went at about nine, and found the rooms, which are very large, full. [. . .] I was introduced to Mr. Rangaby, the minister of foreign affairs. He asked me “what were the improvements of which Greece seemed to me to be most in want?” I said roads; that if I could appoint a prime minister for Greece, it should be one of the Macadam family.

“It is true,” he answered, “that the absence of roads is a barbarism which we have inherited from the Turks. In this country, intersected by torrents, bridges are wanted every two or three miles. The government by law ought to make the bridges, the demoi [people] the roads. The government has totally neglected its duty. The demoi have sometimes performed theirs, but their roads, having become useless from the want of bridges, have gone to ruin. But we are now seriously at work. We have passed a law, requiring every man to contribute from six to twelve days’ work on the roads every year, and the minister of the interior promises us bridges. As we know nothing of roads, we have sent to France for a road-maker.

The Ponts-et-Chaussée have given us M. Galiani. We pay him three times as much as we pay to any of our ministers. But he says that he can do nothing with Greek workmen. So some cantonniers are to be sent from France to help them. In the mean time he is repairing the Piraeus road.”

“He is repairing it,” I answered, “by throwing on it a bed, about a foot thick, of unbroken shingle taken from the beach, which will never bind, through which it is difficult to force the wheels of a carriage. I fear that you have made a bad beginning. Another subject of complaint, “I continued, “is the collection of your land revenue.”

“The collection of it in kind,” he answered, “is a serious evil, but we cannot substitute a money payment until we have a cadaster - a general valuation of all the lands in the country.”

“At least,” I said, “you might require the farmers of the revenue to send and take their tithe, instead of requiring all the grain of every district to be sent to the areas at an enormous expense of labour and time.”

“I fear,” he answered, “that to require the farmer of the land revenue to send for his tithe would involve so much expense, and so thorough a change of system, that I despair of its being attempted. We must wait for a cadaster, and then take payment in money.” ’

Senior’s conversations

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1943
George Adamson,
conservationist

‘Yesterday at our midday halt, Joy and myself were sitting on the ground next each other skinning a Vulturine guinea fowl. Presently we touched and it was like an electric current through me. It would be a very dirty trick to take advantage of the situation.’

A life of Joy and lions

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1944
Jerzy Feliks Urman,
child

‘My one and only Son! Two months have passed since that terrible day when evil people caused your death. Here I am writing that word, though I still can’t believe it. Sometimes it feels as if you’re just absent for a while, and sometimes I try to convince myself that we’ve hidden you in a safe place, to protect you from the degradation and atrocities of this incredible war until it’s over. Surely since the world began, there can never have been such a terrible disaster, devised by Satanic minds. Dear Son, Mother Earth has proved extremely merciful. She clasps everyone to her bosom, rich and poor alike, the poorest and the richest, people of any denomination and nationality, and is not governed by the cruel laws invented by our assassins, which hold that only people of ar [Aryan] origin are allowed to walk on her surface, whatever their worth of ability, to render service to to anyone else in life. My dear Son, now you’ve gone to another mother, surely more worthy of such a treasure than I, who failed to protect you. I envy her for hiding so many children in her bosom, but my little Kitten, you were all I had, and now I’m on my own. I no longer visit you twice a day [he was buried in the garden] as I used to, because I’m afraid to attract the attention of the klemp [dimwit]. I only say ‘Good morning’, and ‘Good night’, once, on Fridays before bed. Every time Daddy has tears in his eyes, because he’s reminded of home and all the happy times we spent together. Who could have foreseen that we were destined for such terrible homelessness, and that such a painful blow lay ahead of us! I’m perfectly aware that we’re not the only ones, but for us that’s poor consolation.’

Jerzyk’s tragic story

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1956
Bill Haley,
musician

‘Finished picture. $20,000 for picture. Started 7.30 am on sixth day of picture. Had my big talking scenes today. Finished work on picture at 3 pm. Now it’s up to the public whether we’re movie stars or not. Worked in El Monte, California tonight - $1,500. Poor crowd. Promoter says disc jockeys are mad at me because I haven’t been able to see them. You can’t win. Hope I can straighten things out. Met Harry Tobias today. He gave me some songs for our firm.’

The rock and roll life

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1972
Cecil Harmsworth King,
businessman

‘Dinner at home last night for Mrs Thatcher and others. She comes across in the newspaper and on television as an aggressive sort of woman, creating enemies wherever she goes. This is not at all the sort of impression she makes in the flesh. She is attractive, highly intelligent and very sensible. She says the so-called liberals (the left-wingers, the long-haired, and all that group) are determined to get her out of office and will doubtless succeed.’

Cecil Harmsworth King

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2001
Harold Frederick Shipman,
doctor

‘So depressed. If ?[illegible] says no then that is it. There is no possible way I can carry on, it would be a kindness to [].’

I’m looking at dying

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