And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

30 July

James Boswell, writer

‘Mr [Samuel] Johnson and I took a boat and sailed down the silver Thames. I asked him if a knowledge of the Greek and Roman languages was necessary. He said, “By all means; for they who know them have a very great advantage over those who do not. Nay, it is surprising what a difference it makes upon people in the intercourse of life which does not appear to be much connected with it.’

“And yet,” said I “people will go through the world very well and do their business very well without them.”

“Why,” said he, “that may be true where they could not possibly be of any use; for instance, this boy rows us as well without literature as if he could sing the song which Orpheus sung to the Argonauts, who were the first sailors in the world.” He then said to the boy, “What would you give, Sir, to know about the Argonauts?”

“Sir,” he said, “I would give what I have.” The reply pleased Mr Johnson much, and we gave him a double fare.

“Sir,” he said, “a desire of knowledge is the natural feeling of mankind; and every man who is not debauched would give all that he has to get knowledge.”

We landed at the Old Swan and walked to Billingsgate, where we took oars and moved smoothly along the river. We were entertained with the immense number and variety of ships that were lying at anchor. It was a pleasant day, and when we got clear out into the country, we were charmed with the beautiful fields on each side of the river. [. . .]

When we got to Greenwich, I felt great pleasure in being at the place which Mr Johnson celebrates in his London: a Poem. I had the poem in my pocket, and read the passage on the banks of the Thames, and literally “kissed the consecrated earth.” ’

Young Boswell in London


Caroline Herschel,

‘I wound up the sidereal timepiece, Field’s and Alexander’s clocks, and made covers for the new and old registers.’

I swept from ten till one


Elizabeth Agassiz,
naturalist and writer

‘Off Maceió. Last evening, when the rain was over and the moonlight tempted every one on deck, we had a long conversation with our pleasant travelling companion, Mr. Sinimbu, senator from the province of Alagôas, on the aspect of slavery in Brazil. It seems to me that we may have something to learn here in our own perplexities respecting the position of the black race among us, for the Brazilians are trying gradually and by installments some of the experiments which are forced upon us without previous preparation. The absence of all restraint upon the free blacks, the fact that they are eligible to office, and that all professional careers are open to them, without prejudice on the ground of color, enables one to form some opinion as to their ability and capacity for development. Mr. Sinimbu tells us that here the result is on the whole in their favor; he says that the free blacks compare well in intelligence and activity with the Brazilians and Portuguese. But it must be remembered, in making the comparison with reference to our own country, that here they are brought into contact with a less energetic and powerful race than the Anglo-Saxon. Mr. Sinimbu believes that emancipation is to be accomplished in Brazil by a gradual process which has already begun. A large number of slaves are freed every year by the wills of their masters; a still larger number buy their own freedom annually; and as there is no longer any importation of blacks, the inevitable result of this must be the natural death of slavery. Unhappily, the process is a slow one, and in the mean while slavery is doing its evil work, debasing and enfeebling alike whites and blacks. The Brazilians themselves do not deny this, and one constantly hears them lament the necessity of sending their children away to be educated, on account of the injurious association with the house-servants. In fact, although politically slavery has a more hopeful aspect here than elsewhere, the institution from a moral point of view has some of its most revolting characters in this country, and looks, if possible, more odious than it did in the States. The other day, in the neighborhood of Rio, I had an opportunity of seeing a marriage between two negroes, whose owner made the religious, or, as it appeared to me on this occasion, irreligious ceremony, obligatory. The bride, who was as black as jet, was dressed in white muslin, with a veil of coarse white lace, such as the negro women make themselves, and the husband was in a white linen suit. She looked, and I think she really felt, diffident, for there were a good many strangers present, and her position was embarrassing. The Portuguese priest, a bold, insolent-looking man, called them up and rattled over the marriage service with most irreverent speed, stopping now and then to scold them both, but especially the woman, because she did not speak loud enough and did not take the whole thing in the same coarse, rough way that he did. When he ordered them to come up and kneel at the altar, his tone was more suggestive of cursing than praying, and having uttered his blessing he hurled an amen at them, slammed the prayer-book down on the altar, whiffed out the candles, and turned the bride and bridegroom out of the chapel with as little ceremony as one would have kicked out a dog. As the bride came out, half crying, half smiling, her mother met her and showered her with rose-leaves, and so this act of consecration, in which the mother’s benediction seemed the only grace, was over. I thought what a strange confusion there must be in these poor creature’s minds, if they thought about it at all. They are told that the relation between man and wife is a sin, unless confirmed by the sacred rite of marriage; they come to hear a bad man gabble over them words which they cannot understand, mingled with taunts and abuse which they understand only too well, and side by side with their own children grow up the little fair-skinned slaves to tell them practically that the white man does not keep himself the law he imposes on them. What a monstrous lie the whole system must seem to them if they are ever led to think about it at all. I am far from supposing that the instance I have given should be taken as representing the state of religious instruction on plantations generally. No doubt there are good priests who improve and instruct their black parishioners; but it does not follow because religious services are provided on a plantation, the ceremony of marriage observed, &c., that there is anything which deserves the name of religious instruction. It would be unjust not to add the better side of the question in this particular instance. The man was free, and I was told that the woman received her liberty and a piece of land from her master as her marriage dower.’

Slavery in Brazil


Anna Klumpke,

‘Late this afternoon Rosa Bonheur came into the studio where I was working on the portrait’s accessories. She looked it over absentmindedly and gave me a compliment or two. Then she turned around and placed her hands on my shoulders. While I gazed at her in surprise, she asked in tones of tender supplication: ‘Anna, will you stay here and share my life? I’ve grown attached to you. Life will seem so sad after you’re gone. I’ll be so alone again.’ ’

Let the paint dry


Horace Plunkett,

‘Irish office, Treasury, J[oh]n Sinclair, Tommy, Caroe, & Conny & Raymond took the whole day.

Consulted Haig the Vegetarian. Chief points were, Reduce tea gradually. Morning worst time for tea. His patients got the early morning brightness without it. Breads better not brown - Hovis anathema. Nuts a complete food, walnuts, hazel, pine kernel. Best almonds but less digestible - roast them but don’t use salt - provokes cancer. Cheeses Caerphilly, Gruyere. Cheaper sorts best because less fat. 3 lemons in quart of milk in 2 hours produces 6 oz curd. Eat like Devonshire cream. Fish whiting or haddock boiled the best. Pruritis will certainly disappear with vegetarian diet & certainly not without. Avoid acids with starchy foods.’

House blown up


Reginald Marsh,

‘I worked painting nearly all the morning painting things. Afterwards Bill & I went for a swim off the float and we took a swim around. Nothing special doing in the afternoon. Saw a fellow get hit with a rotten egg so he fell in the water and washed it off being in swimming.’

Pictures and vaudeville


Robert Charles Benchley,
writer and actor

‘Europe seems tottering on the brink of a general war over the Austria-Servia affair, but I can’t make it seem possible that they really will fall back so far into the middle ages after having come so far.’

I hope not a ‘what it was’


Cynthia Asquith,

‘Glittering, scorching day and the town teeming like an anthill. No signs of war, save for the poor, legless men whom Michael tried to encourage by saying, ‘Poor wounded soldiers - soon be better.’ There is no doubt that Brighton has a charm of its own, almost amounting to glamour. I am beginning to be quite patriotic about this end of the town - Kemp Town as it is called - in opposition to the parvenu Hove, which has less character and is to this rather what the Lido is to Venice.

We joined the children on the beach - painfully hot and glaring. We took them in a boat to try and get cooler. Beb and I bathed from the rather squalid bathing machines - perfect in the water, except for the quantity of foreign bodies.’

Heartbreaking day


Florence Farmborough,

‘About 70 wounded came during the night while I was on duty. I have heard that the 103rd Regiment has managed to cross the River Koronez and occupy Dubenko, half of which town had been in its possession for several days past. The 102nd Regiment has gone into reserve for three days after three and a half months in the trenches.

Our next attack is timed for 4 p.m. The guns have been blazing away. Mamasha and I slipped away for a few minutes, climbed a small hill and crouched on its summit among waving corn and wild flowers. From our vantage point, we could see the Front spread before us. Shells were falling, throwing up blackish clouds of earth about our trenches; farther away, our shells were engaged in similar action near the enemy’s defensive ramparts. Shrapnel was exploding in mid-air, leaving puffs of slowly dissolving smoke behind, and scattering bullets and metal particles to right and left. We picked a few flowers and returned to our quarters.

Dusk had scarcely descended when cartload after cartload of wounded made their appearance. Difficulty arose regarding transport; the highways round Barish were under fire and our ambulance-vans in urgent request alongside the Fighting Lines. We placed the men on the straw-strewn earth in the empty sheds, told them to rest awhile and, at the earliest opportunity, they should be driven to the Base. A young Tatar, heavily wounded, was carried to the operating-table. He could speak no Russian and vainly tried to whisper something to us which we could not understand. One of our Tatar drivers was sent for; he stooped low over the prostrate form, but no answer came to his eager questioning. “He’s gone!” said a voice. The weather-beaten face of the older tribesman stiffened with emotion as he walked away. An infantry officer whose thigh-wound had been dressed and bandaged, declared that he could walk without difficulty; he was most anxious to help and assured us that he had taken a first aid course before joining the Army. He was allowed to tend the more lightly wounded and this he did with considerable skill, but insisted on wearing rubber gloves which, he said, gave him greater confidence and grip.’

Guilty of murder


André Gide,

‘At times it seems to me, alas! that I have passed the best time for writing. I feel painfully in arrears with myself. And if you wish me to say: in arrears with God, I don’t mind doing so, all the same. This simply means that I sometimes fear having waited too long, that I fear not only lacking time, but also fervor and that unsubdued exigence of thought that urges it to manifest itself. You resign yourself to silence, and nothing is more to be feared from old age than a sort of taciturn resignation. Even of those we most admire and know best, who can claim that we know the best and that they were permitted to say what mattered most to them? Just when one would like to speak, voice fails one and, when it returns, one expresses but memories of thoughts. Montaigne’s strength comes from the fact that he always writes on the spur of the moment, and that his great lack of confidence in his memory, which he believes to be bad, dissuades him from putting off anything that comes to mind with a view to a more skillful and better- ordered presentation. I have always counted too much on the future and had recourse to too much rhetoric.’

Gide’s self-scrutiny


Benjamin Roth,

‘Magazines and newspapers are full of articles telling people to buy stocks, real estate etc. at present bargain prices. They say that times are sure to get better and that many big fortunes have been built this way. The trouble is that nobody has any money. On account of numerous bank failures, the few people who have money are afraid to spend it and are buying government securities. From the extreme of speculation in 1929, people have now turned to the extreme of caution. In my own case I find it a problem to take in enough to pay expenses and there is nothing left for investment.’

Banks suspend payments


Christopher McCandless,


Beautiful blueberries


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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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