And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

29 July

1786
Caroline Herschel,
astronomer

‘I paid the smith. He received to-day the plates for the forty-foot tube. Above half of them are bad, but he thinks there will be as many good among them as will be wanted, and I believe he intends to keep the rest till they return. Paid the gardener for four days which he worked with the smith. I registered sweeps to-day. By way of memorandum I will set down in this book in what manner I proceed.

I began some time ago with the last sweep which is booked in the old register (Flamsteed’s time and P. D.), viz., 571, and at different times I booked 570, 569, 568, 567, 566, 565. To-day I booked 564; 563 is marked not to be registered; 560 and 561 I was obliged to pass over on account of some difficulty. The rest of the day I wrote in Flamsteed’s Catalogue. The storm continued all the day, but now, 8 o’clock, it turns to a gentle rain.’

I swept from ten till one

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1953
François Mauriac,
writer

‘At my age, the conflict between the Christian and the novelist has moved on to another plane. It’s much less a question of the Jansenist scruples that used to trouble me in describing the passions than a kind of disenchantment with everything to do with art in general, and with my own art in particular. A feeling that art is literally an idol, that it has its martyrs and its prophets, and that for many people it is a substitute for God. And not art alone, but the word - the word that has not been made flesh. [. . . Having resumed work on a new novel, L’Agneau, he is determined not to put it aside] ‘until I have found the balance that I’m looking for, and the young saint, my hero, is burning at the heart of the furnace.’

Burning at the heart

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

1969
Dang Thuy Tram,
doctor

‘The war is extremely cruel. This morning, they bring me a wounded soldier. A phosphorus bomb has burned his entire body. An hour after being hit, he is still burning, smoke rising from his body. This is Khanh, a twenty-year-old man, the son of a sister cadre in the hamlet where I’m staying. An unfortunate accident caused the bomb to explode and severely burned the man. Nobody recognizes him as the cheerful, handsome man he once was. Today his smiling, joyful black eyes have been reduced to two little holes - the yellowish eyelids are cooked. The reeking burn of phosphorus smoke still rises from his body. He looks as if he has been roasted in an oven.’

I stand frozen before this heartbreaking tableau.

His mother weeps. Her trembling hands touch her son’s body; pieces of his skin fall off, curled up like crumbling sheets of rice cracker. His younger and older sisters are attending him, their eyes full of tears.

A girl sits by his side, her gentle eyes glassy with worry. Clumps of hair wet with sweat cling to her cheeks, reddened by exhaustion and sorrow. Tu (that’s her name) is Khanh’s lover. She carried Khanh here. Hearing that he needed serum for a transfusion, Tu crossed the river to buy it. The river was rising, and Tu didn’t know how to swim, but she braved the crossing. Love gave her strength.

The pain is imprinted on the innocent forehead of that beautiful girl. Looking at her, I want to write a poem about the crimes of war, the crimes that have strangled to death millions of pure and bright loves, strangled to death the happiness of millions of people, but I cannot write it. My pen cannot describe it all, even though this is one case I feel with all my senses and emotions.’

The crimes of war

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

1978
Roland Barthes,
philosopher and literary critic

‘(Saw the Hitchcock film Under Capricorn) Ingrid Bergman (it was made around 1946). I don’t know why, and don’t know how to express it, but this actress, the body of this actress, moved me, has just touched something in me which reminds me of Mam. Her carnation, her lovely, utterly natural hands, an impression of freshness, a non-Narcissistic femininity.’

Barthes and his mother

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

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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.