And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

3 January

1766
John Bartram,
scientist

‘Clear cold morning; thermometer 26. wind N. W. The ground was froze an inch thick on the banks: this was the fatal night that destroyed the lime, citron, and banana trees in Augustine, many curious evergreens up the river, that were near 20 years old, and in a flourishing state: the young green shoots of the maple, elm, and pavia, with many flowering plants and shrubs never before hurt: Set out from Clement’s Bluff, rowed by much rich swamp and marsh; saw many elder-trees in flower (which grow in plenty close to the river next the water reeds) and many alligators, though so very cold that it had froze the great convolvolus and coreopsis, yet the great shrub after held out: The banks were in several places 2 or 3 foot high, shelly, and two rood broad; then fell back to a fine rich grassy swamp, chiefly ash, elm, and cypress, but much more open than down the river below the great lake, with more frequent patches of marsh and high grass and small maples, willows, and cephalanthus thinly scattered upon them; the higher banks with live and water-oaks. Landed about noon on the east-side on a bluff, 6 or 8 foot high, and 150 yards broad, but soon falls back to a cypress-swamp, at the upper end of which oaks and palmettos join the river, and a little back the pines begin.’

The father of American botany

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1820
Francis Edward Witts,
priest

‘Left Upper Slaughter for Bath in the hope that another course of the waters may essentially strengthen my dear wife’s constitution. Having sent forward my manservant and horse we travelled post with Edward and a maid. The weather very cold, frost and snow; more of the latter between home and Cirencester and between Petty France and Bath, than between Cirencester and Petty France. The road very slippery and though a horse fell in the chaise in the streets of Tetbury, we providentially escaped any accident.’

Upper Slaughter’s squire

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1833
William Macready,
actor

‘Went home to breakfast. Spent an idle, but in all other respects a happy day. A well-spent day is pleasing while it lasts, and pleasant to remember when for ever gone; a day of mere pleasure is agreeable in its passage, but regret attends its close in the reflection that time which God has given for employment has been squandered, or lost in idleness. Compunction is injurious if unproductive of improvement; let my revision of this day enable me to be more resolute in my resistance of future temptations, and teach me for my own and my children’s good the necessity of blending activity with enjoyment. In my absence from home I am sometimes inclined to question the prudence of living so far from town; but when, on reaching home, I taste the fresh air of the country, look over its extent of prospect, feel in a manner the free range of thought and sense through the expanse of earth and sky surrounding me, I confess to myself, in the delightful sensations I experience, that such enjoyment is worth some sacrifice.’

Acted Macbeth very unequally

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1848
Sanford Fleming,
engineer

‘At work again, engraving a view of St Peters Church, Cobourg. It is very tedious work. Would rather be in the country chopping. It may be so but one is never content with their present condition.’

Adieu to my youth

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1867
Heinrich Hertz,
engineer

‘I have a new satchel and a new pen case that I have already used at school, Mama hopes I shall bring home only good reports in the new satchel. I hope so too, but I do not believe it. Yet I will try hard.’

Hertz and his radio waves

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1892
André Gide,
writer

‘Shall I always torment myself thus and will my mind never, O Lord, come to rest in any certainty? Like an invalid turning over in his bed in search of sleep, I am restless from morning till night, and at night my anxiety awakens me.

I am anxious to know what I shall be; I do not even know what I want to be, but I do know that I must choose. I should like to progress on safe and sure roads that lead only to the point where I have decided to go. But I don’t know; I don’t know what I ought to want. I am aware of a thousand possibilities in me, but I cannot resign myself to want to be only one of them. And every moment, at every word I write, at each gesture I make, I am terrified at the thought that this is one more ineradicable feature of my physiognomy becoming fixed: a hesitant, impersonal physiognomy, an amorphous physiognomy, since I have not been capable of choosing and tracing its contours confidently.

O Lord, permit me to want only one thing and to want it constantly.

A man’s life is his image. At the hour of death we shall be reflected in the past, and, leaning over the mirror of our acts, our souls will recognize what we are. Our whole life is spent in sketching an ineradicable portrait of ourselves. The terrible thing is that we don’t know this; we do not think of beautifying ourselves. We think of it in speaking of ourselves; we flatter ourselves; but later our terrible portrait will not flatter us. We recount our lives and lie to ourselves, but our life will not lie; it will recount our soul, which will stand before God in its usual posture.

This can therefore be said, which strikes me as a kind of reverse sincerity (on the part of the artist): Rather than recounting his life as he has lived it, he must live his life as he will recount it. In other words, the portrait of him formed by his life must identify itself with the ideal portrait he desires. And, in still simpler terms, he must be as he wishes to be.’

Gide’s self-scrutiny

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1901
August Strindberg,
playwright

‘Have been plagued for a couple of months by a smell of Celery; everything tastes and smells of Celery. When I take off my shirt at night it smells of Celery. What can it be?’

H-t was with me

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1925
Richard E. Byrd,
explorer

‘Is the human race an accidental by-product of the cosmical processes? If God directs us, remaining silent and inscrutable to us, then he means either that he does not want us to know him or he is indifferent or he has made the knowing of him a difficult task.’

Flying over the Poles

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1970
Ulick O’Connor,
writer

‘Peter Sellers, the film actor, at dinner, at Aileen [the Hon. Mrs Brinsley] Plunket’s, Lutterellstown Castle. Seems down after his separation from Britt Ekland. Tears stream down his cheeks.

‘Knife in my heart, excuse me if I cry.’

I suggest that all men cry for the lost belief in the goodness of womanhood. Lolita. He tells me that when Britt ran out of money, he went back to her.

‘I didn’t kick her when she was down.’

When I told him he looked in good shape he said he worked out in the gym every day with weights. Was this wise since he had had heart surgery? He said not only was it safe but it actually improved his condition. He had always been interested in sport anyway. He talked of his uncle Brian Sellers, Captain of Yorkshire and England Selector, who he said used to take him to matches when he was a small boy. I was surprised at this because I always assumed Peter was a Bow Bells boy. Not so. I am touched by his affection for Uncle Brian and put a note about the relationship in my Sunday Mirror column. Later I receive an angry note from Brian Sellers denying he is related to ‘that bloody little cockney’. How extraordinary to invent a sporting pedigree on the spur of the moment.’

Pulsing like a python

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1985
John Lowe, miner

‘Tried this afternoon to talk to some of the afternoon shift – as distasteful as it feels, it’s the only fresh tack left open to us. One of the lads talked for fifteen minutes and was really sick of it – he would only promise to think about rejoining us and to talk to his wife. If we could get two or three out again, it would really boost the lads; unfortunately it would take a bloody miracle.

Board and media campaign getting into gear now, with figures of six hundred returns given for the last two days. F***** liars!’

How bloody corrupt

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

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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, several times a week. Now over ten years old, The Diary Review is the secondary source for the extracts in this online anthology.