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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1912
Reginald Marsh,
artist

‘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

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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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1916
Florence Farmborough,
nurse

‘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

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1928
André Gide,
writer

‘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

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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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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, several times a week. Now over ten years old, The Diary Review is the secondary source for the extracts in this online anthology.