And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

30 July

1763
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

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1898
Anna Klumpke,
artist

‘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

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1914
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’

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1916
Cynthia Asquith,
writer

‘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

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1931
Benjamin Roth,
lawyer

‘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

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1992
Christopher McCandless,
hiker

‘EXTREMELY WEAK. FAULT OF POT. SEED. MUCH TROUBLE JUST TO STAND UP. STARVING. GREAT JEOPARDY.’

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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