And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

26 January

1643
William Dowsing,
farmer

’19. SAXMUNDHAM, JAN. the 26th. We took up 2 superstitious Inscriptions in Brass.

Breaking superstitious pictures

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1842
Richard Henry Dana Jr.,
lawyer

‘Letter from T. Colley Grattan (“High-ways and By-ways”) saying that Dickens wishes to see me, and is surprised that I have not called before, and fixing two P. M. for a call. At two P. M. call at Tremont House and am told that he is engaged. Send up name and am shown up. Kept disengaged on purpose to see Longfellow and myself. Talk a few minutes when Longfellow comes in with Sumner. Disappointed in D.’s appearance. We have heard him called “the handsomest man in London,” etc. He is of the middle height (under if anything), with a large, expressive eye, regular nose, matted, curling, wet-looking black hair, a dissipated looking mouth with a vulgar draw to it, a muddy olive complexion, stubby fingers, and a hand by no means patrician, a hearty, off-hand manner far from well-bred, and a rapid, dashing way of talking. He looks “wide awake,” “ up to everything,” full of cleverness, with quick feelings and great ardor. You admire him, and there is a fascination about him which keeps your eyes on him, yet you cannot get over the impression that he is a low-bred man. Tom Appleton says, “Take the genius out of his face, and there are a thousand young London shop-keepers about the theatres and eating-houses who look exactly like him. He has what I suppose to be true Cockney cut.

He inquires for father, and wonders he has not been to see him. Offers to call on him if he is unwell.’

The slurs of vessel owners

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1848
Sanford Fleming,
engineer

‘I have been thinking for some time that, the charcoal light of the magnetic battery might be brought to some practical use. I only require one experiment, but it would be an expensive one for me unless I could meet with a powerful battery, but I dont think there is one in Canada. It is to try if more than one light can be formed with one set of wires by masking the connection and interposing charcoal points. If this is the case, we have a good and cheap substitute for Gas, would give a much better light, and at least could be easily adapted to lighting streets or churches just by having a wire like the Telegraph ones, with a charcoal apparatus here & there. Worth trying.’

Adieu to my youth

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1890
Amy Lowell,
poet

‘Nobody could ever love me I know. I am but a contemptible being, but I want love, love, love. I know I am making a fool of myself but shurely there are others who have such thoughts. . . If I were a man I’d ask [Patty Storrow, a friend] to be my wife. But I am a woman. I can only ask her to love me and and I cannot do that. . . Men I could not love. My ideal is too high. But I want, need, yearn, for the love of a strong, tender woman. Oh God! Bless her and help me! Amen!’

I would like to be a man

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1919
Breckinridge Long,
diplomat

‘The League of Nations. I think I see so clearly the President’s purpose in trying to establish it. The allied and associated governments have been held together by the danger of the common enemy. Now that has ceased to be a binding force. The centripedal forces are exchanged for centrifugal ones. Each nation, except us, has special and in many cases conflicting claims. They are impossible of settlement in detail by the present Conference because it will take too long. It must soon (in 2 or 3 months) adjourn. People are tired of war. They all want peace proclaimed. That means public opinion will soon force it to sign a peace and adjourn. That peace can in the nature of things be only a settlement of 1) The guilt of Germany, including the official persons; 2) The indemnities Germany & Austria must pay and the reparation they shall make; 3) General principles each nation can and will subscribe to as fundamental doctrines, the specific applications of which to certain cases will be determined by sub-committees which will report their findings and recommendations to the next succeeding body, the World Congress, which will receive them and determine the rights, and which will be the League of Nations in Congress assembled. It will be the authoritative body which will work out the details of the matters now before the Peace Conference. He sees the necessity of committing each nation to the general principles but first of having their agreement to the League and their concurrent acceptance of the condition that they shall submit all their differences to the court of last resort. Once the League is subscribed to, they are bound. Without that obligation they might not be able to agree to terms of Peace; one would be trading its desires and claims for the support of another; combinations, of which special interests of each of the combining parties would be the cement, would jeopardize the successful conclusion of all rights on a just basis. The League, once created, is the solution - & is the prime consideration. He sees it. His critics, who demand ‘peace first & then let’s consider the League’ do not see there can be no peace without it - at least no reasonable prospect of an immediate and proper peace without it.’

The League is the solution

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1947
Simone de Beauvoir,
philosopher and writer

‘In the dead of night and in my deep slumber a voice spoke without words: “Something has happened.” I was asleep and I did not know whether it was joy or catastrophe that had overtaken me. Perhaps I was dead as so often happens in my dreams, perhaps I would wake on the other side of the grave. Opening my eyes I felt frightened. Then I remembered: this was not altogether the world of beyond. This was New York.

This was no mirage. New York was here, it was real.

Suddenly the truth burst on me through the deep blue sky, the soft, damp air. It was even more triumphant than the doubtful enchantments of the night before. It was nine o’clock on a Sunday morning, the streets were deserted, one or two neon signs still glowed. But there was not a person in sight, not a car in the street; nothing to break the rectilinear course of Eighth Avenue. Cubes, prisms, and parallelograms - the streets were concrete abstract designs, their surface looked like the abstract intersection made by two books; building materials had neither density nor texture; space itself had been poured into the moulds. I did not move. I looked. At last I was here, New York belonged to me. I felt again that joy I had known for fifteen years. I was leaving the station, and from the top of the monumental stairway I saw all the roofs of Marseilles spread out below me; I had a year, two years to pass alone in an unknown city; I did not move and I looked down, thinking: it is a strange town. It is my future and it will be my past. Between these houses that have existed for years without me are streets laid out for thousands of people to whom I do not, and never did, belong. But now I am walking, going down Broadway. It’s me all right. I walk in streets that were not built for me, and where my life has not yet left its tracks; here is no perfume of the past. No one knows of my presence; I am still a ghost, and I glide through the city without disturbing anyone. And yet henceforth my life would conform to the layout of the streets and houses; New York would belong to me, and I to it.

I drank an orange juice at a counter and sat down in a shoe-shiner’s booth on one of three armchairs raised on a short flight of steps; little by little I came to life and grew accustomed to the city. The surfaces were now facades, the solids houses. In the roadway dust and old newspapers were drifting on the wind. After Washington Square all mathematics went by the board. Right angles are broken, streets are no longer numbered but named, lines get curved and confused. I was lost as though in some European town. The houses have only three or four floors, and deep colours varying between red, ochre and black; washing hangs out to dry on fire escapes that zig-zag up the buildings. Washing that promises sun, shoe-shine men posted at street corners, terraced roofs - they vaguely recall some southern town, and yet the faded red of the houses reminds one of London fogs. But this district does not resemble anything I know. I feel I shall love it.

The landscape changes. The word landscape is appropriate to this city abandoned by men and invaded by the sky - the sky that soars above the skyscrapers, plunges down into the long straight streets, and is too vast for the city to annex it. Everywhere the sky overflows; a mountain sky. I walk between high cliffs in the depths of a canyon where the sun never strikes; there is the tang of salt in the air. The history of man is not inscribed on these buildings whose equilibrium is so nicely calculated: they are nearer to prehistoric caverns than the houses of Paris or Rome. In Paris, in Rome, history has percolated to the very roots of the soil. Beneath the underground railways, the drains and heating plants, the rock is virgin, not touched by man. Between this rock and the open sky, Wall Street and Broadway, deep in the shadows of their gigantic buildings, belong to nature. The little russet church, with its cemetery filled with flat tombstones, is as unexpected and as moving in the middle of Broadway as some Calvary on the wild seashore.

The sun was so beautiful, the waters of the Hudson so green, that I got on the boat which takes the provincials from the Middle West to the Statue of Liberty. But I did not get off at the little island which looks like a small fort. I only wished to see the Battery as I had so often seen it at the cinema. I saw it. From a distance its campaniles seem fragile. They rest so exactly on their vertical slopes that the slightest tremor would make them collapse like card houses. As the boat approaches, their foundations appear firmer. But their steepness still fascinates. What fun to bombard them!

Hundreds of restaurants, but on Sunday all are closed. The one I eventually found was crowded; I ate hastily, pressed by the waitress. . . ’

My entire soul

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1956
Bill Haley,
musician

‘Got my new 1956 Fleetwood Cadillac today. It’s pink and the most gorgeous car I’ve ever seen. Everyone loves the car. The sad part is I leave tomorrow morning for a 10-day tour of one-nighters. I hate to leave home again. But maybe soon we can slack off work.’

The rock and roll life

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1975
Antonia Fraser,
writer

‘Thought of Harold. I suppose I’m in love with him, but there are many other things in my life. . .’

In love with Pinter

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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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