And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

8 January

1848
Sanford Fleming,
engineer

‘Winter morning - snowing. Started for Toronto, our ride was through the bush, only one house for about 10 miles. Arrived at Newmarket where the Hon Robert Baldwin is here with his party, they having defeated our friend Mr. Scobie by 260 majority. Went up to Sharon and saw David Willson & Temple.’

Adieu to my youth

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1889
Amy Lowell,
poet

‘Oh! Wouldn’t I like to be a man . . . [B]eing a man would be fine; no dependence, go where you please, do what you please . . . Oh well, what me be must be. I would like to be a man. Now.’

I would like to be a man

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1916
Gabrielle West,
policewoman and carer

‘Not a very cheerful outlook when I first arrived. Miss B. was to have met me at the station, but was not there, and by some mistake I eventually got out at North Camp instead of South Famborough, so that was a nice 2 miles to bicycle to our lodgings. I had with me a despatch case, fibre trunk, camp bed, mattress and a hamper, also Rip [her dog]. I had to leave all except Rip and the despatch case and arrange for the rest to be returned to South Famborough. Did a melancholy 3 miles peddling through the mud, with Rip tailing disconsolately behind. Several airplanes flew low across the road, and each time Rip squatted flat in the road petrified and refused to come on. As the road was full of traffic, it gave me several bad spasms.

At last I arrived at ‘Ye Olde Farm House’, as it is called, and was told Miss B. had not been able to meet me, but would I go down to the factory to see her. So I splashed back to the factory. Here I was met at the gates by an armed sentry who refused flatly to let me in. I went round to the other gate and was held up by a policeman. Returned to first gate and found a baker’s cart also trying frantically to get to ‘the new canteen’. We were told there was no new canteen, and we ought to have passes and he wasn’t going to let strange people into the factory etc. However, by the simple process of just ‘remaining’ until he got tired of the look of us, we were let in.

Then I had to find the canteen. No one had ever heard of it and it was rather like hunting a needle in a haystack - you are told it is near the head office and you find they are talking of the men’s canteen. Then you are told to turn left when you get to the oil store and you have to find out which is the oil store. Then you are told, ‘It’s no good going that way, the mud is too deep, you’d better go round by V department and then do the sleeper road till you get to the machine shop etc. Well, after a bit I arrived at the end of a long series of planks, which led across a huge morass to a wee little wooden hut, but there was no Miss Buckpitt, so I had to go away and come back later.

This time I found a very forlorn looking figure sitting on a box in the empty canteen, no table, no chairs, pots or pans, no cupboards or shelves only three tiny gas stoves, Miss Buckpitt and the box, and at the far end two men slowly and solemnly washing the floor. They had only bucket, one piece of soap and one flannel between them so their progress was not exactly rapid. The equipment was supposed to be on the road, so we sat and waited for its arrival. It turned up at about 7.30 and we worked like slaves the rest of the evening till nearly ten, unpacking and putting it in order. As the canteen was to open on Monday, there wasn’t much time to waste.’

No larking or slacking

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1942
Felipe Buencamino III,
journalist

‘Malinta Tunnel. I don’t like this place. Yes, it’s safer and bombproof but the air is damp and stuffy. Give me the cool mountain breezes and the starlit skies of Bataan anytime. . . Corregidor is a wreck. The docks have been bombed and rebombed. The chapel is partially destroyed and nothing remains but the cross and the altar. . .

Mrs. Quezon brought me to President Quezon. The President was wearing a white shirt and white riding pants, a striking contrast to the khaki of the soldiers in the Rock. He was carrying a short whip. He looked thin but smart and snappy. The President said that he was glad to see me fighting for my country. He said: “I was in Bataan too during the revolution as an aide to Gen. Mascardo. I know every nook and corner of that place. I got malaria there too.” . . .

At about noontime, I walked with Nini to the hospital lateral. Then suddenly the lights went out. The tunnel walls began to shake. Japs were dropping 1000 pounders. Air inside tunnel was pressing against the lungs. More bombs dropped. Detonation reverberates louder in tunnel than outside. Nurses started mumbling prayers. Salvos of AA guns shook cement under our feet. Then I saw a flashlight. It was Mrs. Quezon. She was looking for her children. Nini said: “We are here mama.” Mrs. Quezon was afraid Nini and Baby were out in the open and felt relieved. There we were - Mrs. Quezon, Nini and I - cramped between soldiers and laborers who rushed inside the tunnel when the raid started. It was the equality of war. Then came the parade of the wounded. Filipino soldiers were rushed in on stretchers. There were cries of pain. Many were unconscious. I saw Fr. Ortiz giving blessings, hearing last minute confessions. He was here, there, everywhere. I saw an American whose leg was covered with blood being rushed to the medical department. Gen. Valdes who is an expert surgeon was busy assisting the wounded. The raid continued. I tried to remain cool even as the tunnel shook with the detonation of bombs and the firing of AA guns, but inside I was getting afraid. I kept telling myself it is safer in the tunnel, not like in Bataan. But I guess fear is contagious and there something about the tunnel that makes one feel asphyxiated. . .’

Aurora Quezon’s bomb fuse

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1954
Leopold Tyrmand,
writer

‘ “To thine own self be true. To thine own self be true - this above all!” cries Hamlet, as everyone knows. This is an apt bidding. Today it’s tormenting me more than usual. Because I am not myself. But who, then? The devil knows. I have been so determined to be seen as stifled and bypassed by the revolution, the historical moment, my society, and even my own self that I don’t recognise myself. Now I’ll probably never sort it out.

This diary is a substitute for creativity. It’s my justification of myself to myself, and not an independent construction, in and of itself legitimate and fully formed. And is this at all what I am? I always believed and judged that a man must express himself through action, I looked for the call to action, to do my duty - everything else is masturbation, and sooner or later it disgusts. I have been denied creation and action. By whom? It’s embarrassing to keep repeating it.

A diary somehow cannot accommodate what is to be told, what can be told only through creative work, epitome, and metaphor, which are literary devices. There’s always something in this text that doesn’t make it for me, doesn’t satisfy me. What? The right, or privilege to detach myself from the concrete, to cobble together my own law, in harmony with a wider law one must seek with one’s imagination. To be permitted, unrestrained by anything, my own composition of the detail. When I take the bus across Warsaw, my city, which I know better than most people, I can’t note everything faithfully and adequately or I’d fall into idiotic nominalism that would force me to fill up several dozen pages a day. Yet every morning I read my notes from the preceding days and something is missing, something it seems to me I failed to grasp: here, the period, there, insights, yet elsewhere, myself, and instead of them, there are trivialities and cliches, which I’ve already completely forgotten. What I wrote yesterday about McCarthy strikes me today as awkward and shallow. But is this diary supposed to serve as an outlet for someone whom communism has denied the right to have his say about America, who doesn’t have the right to publish what is of immediate value and should be read from day to day? [. . .]

While eating, conversing, touching Bogna, I think impatiently about what I must not lose, what must be captured and recorded. Cramming preserves into a jar, which may never be consumed. This raises the question: were Pepys, Chłędowski, and Gide also crushed by the elephantiasis of the writer’s imperative, or did they know how to confine their diary writing to the margins of their mental and manual effort, endowing it rather with the charm of an evening spent pleasantly jotting memoirs in one’s bathrobe?’

Cramming preserves into a jar

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1968
Eric Morecambe,
performer

‘Waldorf Astoria, New York. Well, I’m going back home tonight - back to the 35,000 feet up again bit and this time I’m not sorry. It’s 29 degrees below freezing, and that to me is cold. I’m going tonight on the ten o’clock flight from New York, but this time it’s BOAC. I’ve checked out of the hotel and took all my cases to the Essex House. Taxi at 7.15, airport at eight VIP room 8.30, 9.15 not drunk but happy. Great. Thirty five thousand feet up again, on the way home. Did the Sullivan last night and did well - maybe the best we have done. In a few moments the pilot has asked me to go up front while we are landing. This should be a thrill.’

Hammers inside my head

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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, usually several every week. The blog has been publishing for over five years, and is the secondary source for the diary extracts in this online anthology.