And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

30 January

1623
William Whiteway,
politician

‘This day about one a clocke in the afternoone this towne tooke on fire in the house of mr John Adin in the higher parish, burnt 27 houses in that parish thereabouts, to the value of £3500 sterling. One man was burnt in William Shepherds house, to wit Edmond Benvenue, who running home, all blacke and deformed by the fire, and being followed by some friends, they Laboured to stay him to have him drest, was met by mr Cokers man Jaspar Arnold. He thinking him to be some felon, had a pole in his hand, and beate him with it greivously, and stroke him downe. He died within two daies. The Kings Majestie granted for it a Collection over all England.’

The towne took on fire

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1785
Mary Coke,
noblewoman

‘I passed an hour with Mr Walpole this evening and was surprised to find him so much recovered though still weak; he told me he had a bad fall the day before by imprudently rising from his chair without his stick and hurt himself so much that he imagined it would bring the gout again but contrary to his expectations he had slept the whole night and was quite well in the morning.’

Violent, absurd and mad

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1886
William Daunt,
politician

‘Parnell and his party have turned out the Tory Government. . .’

The Irish Difficulty

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1918
Bruce Lockhart,
diplomat

‘Reached Petrograd 7.30 p.m. Streets in a dreadful state, snow had not been swept away for weeks. Everyone looks depressed and unhappy.’

Secret agent in Moscow

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1924
Siegfried Sassoon,
writer

‘The last ten days have been mostly night for me. January 20 was the last day on which I ‘lunched’ before 4 p.m. Mrs Binks encourages me to carry on my routine as if the Turners weren't here, and brings me up kippers etc. at 5 p.m. (rather to the annoyance, I suspect, of Turner). But I’ve been making full use of my D.N.B. exploration impulse.

It was in October 1920 that I began to file my way out of prison by a systematic effort to form an individual vocabulary. In the last few days (particularly when I read the New Statesman proof of ‘Primitive Ritual’) I have felt as if the door is beginning to swing slowly back.

Yesterday morning, after lying awake from 4.15 to 7.15, I got up to get a drink of water in the bathroom. Watching the milkman looming at our gate in foggy twilight, Chatterton came into my thoughts, with a sense of exquisite emotion. I skipped him in the D.N.B. when I was searching for clowns, criminals, eccentrics, and forgotten poets, and knew little of his work or the details of his life. But the picture in the Tate Gallery has always appealed to me, with its glimpse of summer daybreak through the garret window, and the ‘home from the ball’ beauty of the dead boy on the bed. So I have since read about him in the D.N.B. (‘It is wonderful how the whelp has written such things’ said Dr Johnson) and cursed Horace Walpole for not sparing him twenty guineas which might have saved a second Spenser to the world; and ended by reading ‘Sweet his tongue as a throstle’s note’ in the Oxford Book of English Verse. As I went to the club ‘I thought of Chatterton, the marvellous boy’, and when I got there I searched the library for books about him.

All this excitement has ended in a sonnet and I am feeling pleased. How rarely one gets that sort of excitement about literature. (And how little authentic information there is about Chatterton.)’

A fool’s paradise of poetry

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1936
Harold Nicolson,
politician and writer

‘Dr Broadbent has telephoned to say that B.M. [Lady Sackville] cannot live through the day. Vita goes down by the 12 noon train and I promise to follow as soon as I have put off all my engagements. Reach Brighton at 2 p.m. and go to White Lodge. Go straight up to B. M.’s room and find that she has died some three minutes before, quite painlessly and without recovering consciousness. Take Vita into the other room. Rhind [Lady Sackville’s secretary] is much upset but behaves well. The solicitor arrives and also the priest. The latter is disgusting and refuses to have a service over B.M. if she is to be cremated. She has left a pathetic little typewritten notice saying that she was to be cremated and the ashes flung into the sea. Vita is much harassed and shattered, but inwardly, I think, relieved.’

For one’s great-grandson

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1933
Harry Kessler,
diplomat and writer

‘At two o’clock Max came to lunch and brought with him the news of Hiltler’s appointment as Chancellor. I was astounded. I did not anticipate this turn of events, and so quickly at that. Downstairs our Nazi concierge inaugurated exuberant celebrations.

In the evening dinner at the Kaiserhof followed by Coudenhove’s lecture on ‘Germany’s European Mission’, which he of course interprets as fulfilment of his Pan-European idea. What I dislike is that he wants to see it established as a preventive against Soviet Russia and thereby plays into the hands of those imperialists and propagandists who want a war of annihilation against the Bolsheviks. He expressly quoted Churchill and Amery as supporting his Pan-European concept.

In the discussion which followed, Hoetzsch very properly told him that the notion of playing off western Europe against Russia is one to appeal only to the generation aged over fifty: European youth as a whole (including right-wingers) is already far too imbued with collectivist and socialist theories to go along with him. Coudenhove’s trains of thought are logically cogent but remain unconvincing because they derive from far too narrow and biased a selection of facts. All the same, he speaks clearly and has a humanely appealing approach; un homme de coeur.

I sat at a small table between Coudenhove and the celebrated Herr von Strauss, formerly of the Deutsche Bank, who talked very big about his intimate association with Hitler. The latter, he claimed, has promised to fulfil whatever wish he may acquaint him with. I permitted myself to chaff him wickedly by saying that a few days ago I was pleased to learn, from someone who ought to know, that Otto Wolff has paid Hitler’s debts for him. Strauss, very red in the face, was extremely cross and growlingly denied my story. Simons, the former Supreme Court president, was at our table. So was Seeckt, who invited me to attend one of his wife’s regular Monday afternoon at-homes. Gossip included the titbit that the first Cabinet meeting this morning already saw a row between Hugenberg and Hitler.

Tonight Berlin is in a really festive mood. SA and SS troops as well as uniformed Stahlhelm units are marching through the streets while spectators crowd the pavements. In and around the Kaiserhof there was a proper to-do,with SS drawn up in double line outside the main door and inside the hall. When we left after Coudenhove’s address, some secondary celebrities (Hitler himself was in the Chancellery) were taking the salute, Fascist style, at an endless SA goose-stepping parade.

I drove with S. to the Furstenberg beer hall. SA troops were also marching back and forth across the Potsdamer Platz, but the peak of the festive mood was reached inside the hall. Five of us were sitting with S. at a table when a couple of blonde tarts appeared on the scene. They promptly accepted his invitation to sit down and we spent the rest of the evening, until two o’clock in the morning, in their company. At first I was under the impression that the pair were old acquaintances of S. This turned out to be a mistake. He became more and more embarrassed as time moved on but they did not. They swallowed down with hearty appetite whatever was offered them, suggested that he tutoyer them, and called him ‘grandad’. It was a worthy ending to, and appropriate to the general temper of, this ‘historic’ day.’

Dined with the Einsteins

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1945
Charles McMoran Wilson,
doctor

‘I turned in soon after we were in the air to get some sleep, as we were to land at Malta between four and five in the morning; an hour later Sawyers pulled my curtain back and said that the P.M. had a temperature - a good beginning to a winter journey of three thousand miles. The P.M. blames my sulphaguanadine tablets, which he has been taking during the day. As they are not absorbed from the gut, they could not be responsible, but the P.M. has views on everything, and his views on medicine are not wanting in assurance.

He was restless, and I soon gave up any attempt to sleep. He asked me if I would like to send for Whitby, the pathologist, and what about Clemmie? - the Moscow performance over again. He has developed a bad habit of running a temperature on these journeys.

It is not the flesh only that is weaker. Martin tells me that his work has deteriorated a lot in the last few months; and that he has become very wordy, irritating his colleagues in the Cabinet by his verbosity. One subject will get in his mind to the exclusion of all others - Greece, for example.

Winston stayed in bed in the plane till noon, when he was taken to H.M.S. Orion. He rested until the evening, when Harriman came to dinner. Only this morning he was in the doldrums when, turning his face to the wall, he had called for Clemmie. Surely this bout of fever should put sense into his head. But Winston is a gambler, and gamblers do not count the coins in their pockets. He will not give a thought to nursing his waning powers. And now, when it was nearly midnight, he demanded cards and began to play bezique with Harriman. Damn the fellow, will he never give himself a chance?’

A third dose of pneumonia

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1997
William Burroughs,
writer

‘To Kansas City. Pleasant trip. Good breakfast at Nichols’. Back by the freeway.

David made an especially good dinner, small roast, thick, toothsome, and new potatoes and carrots and peas.

My god, how dull these English diaries can get.

I expect Trant - or is it Glen? - will soon be jolted out of his apathy - and his greenhouse, and his green iguana.

Fold sweet etcetera to bed with Ovaltine.

So what does happen?

“Trant thought the frescos were becoming more and more morbid - each of the Martyrs had died in a different way - one by roasting.” (In a Rube Goldberg machine). “A saint carrying his own skin - lifelike in the extreme - the child was timing him to see how long he took” (to find out there was something to be tooked.)

He did something the others had not done: he laughed.

I once questioned in a dream an evil Italian Mountebank Spirit:
“Like, who are you?”

And he laughed and laughed - and went on laughing, in a marble dark lagoon, chintzy Italian decor - and he was deliciously evil.

As someone said about this evil spirit goes around sucking out the last breath from a dying youth:
“It was tasty.”

The child looking quite radiant. He was in fact a Radiant Boy, suck the breath out of an old queen.

He’s got a name, that Eyetye spirit - the Harlequin?

“You must leave now. Follow me.”

Few things are less inspiring than muddy snow. It’s an uncreative accident. (Bacon speaks of “the creative accident.”)

A road of dirty, muddy snow splattered accidental enough - like a pig wallow.’

Beat writer‘s last months

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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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