And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

14 June

1770
Charles Burney,
music historian

‘This being Fete Dieu or Corpus Chrifti Day, one of the greateft holidays in the whole year, I went to fee the proceffions, and to hear high mafs performed at Notre Dame. I had great difficulty to get thither. Coaches are not allowed to ftir till all the proceflions, with which the whole town fwarms, are over. The ftreets through which they are to pafs in the way to the churches, are all lined with tapestry; or, for want of that, with bed-curtains and old petticoats: I find the better fort of people, (les gens comme il faut) all go out of town on thefe days, to avoid the embarras of going to mafs, or the ennui of ftaying at home. Whenever the hoft ftops, which frequently happens, the priefts fing a pfalm, and all the people fall on their knees in the middle of the ftreet, whether dirty or clean. I readily complied with this ceremony rather than give offence or become remarkable. Indeed, when I went out, I determined to do as other people did, in the ftreets and church, otherwife I had no bufinefs there; fo that I found it incumbent on me to kneel down twenty times ere I reached Notre Dame. This I was the lefs hurt at, as I faw it quite general and many much better dreffed people than myfelf, almoft proftrated themfelves, while I only touched the ground with one knee. At length I reached the church, where I was likewife a conformift; though here I walked about frequently, as I faw others do, round the choir and in the great aifle. I made my remarks on the organ, organift, plain-chant, and motets. Though this was fo great a festival, the organ accompanied the choir but little. The chief ufe made of it, was to play over the chant before it was fung, all through the Pfalms. Upon enquiring of a young abbe, whom I took with me as a nomenclator, what this was called? C’eft prefer, ‘Tis profing, he faid. And it fhould feem as if our word profing came from this dull and heavy manner of recital. The organ is a good one, but when played full, the echo and reverberation were fo ftrong, that it was all confufion; however, on the choir organ and echo ftops I could hear every paffage distinctly. The organift has a neat and judicious way of touching the inftrument; but his paffages were very old fafhioned. Indeed what he played during the offertorio, which lafted fix or eight minutes, feemed too ftiff and regular for a voluntary. Several motets, or fervices, were performed by the choir, but accompanied oftener by the ferpent than organ: though, at my firft entrance into the French churches, I have frequently taken the ferpent for an organ; but foon found it had in its effect fomething better and fomething worfe than that inftrument. Thefe compofitions are much in the way of our old church fervices, full of fugues and imitation; more contrivance and labour than melody. I am more and more convinced every day, that what I before obferved concerning the adapting the Englifh words to the old canto fermo, by Tallis, at the Reformation, is true - and it feems to me that mufic, in our cathedral fervice, was lefs reformed than any other part of the liturgy.

At five o’clock I went to the Concert Spirituel, the only public amufement allowed on thefe great feftivals. It is a grand concert performed in the great hall of the Louvre, in which the vocal confifts of detached pieces of church mufic in Latin. I fhall name the feveral performances of this concert, and fairly fay what effect. each had upon myfelf, and upon the audience, as far as a ftander-by could difcover. . .’

The wonderful echo

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1804
Peter Hawker,
soldier and hunter

‘Romney. Shot an avoset (swimming). This is a bird rarely to be met with but on the Kentish coast. The above is its name in natural history; it is here known by the name of cobbler’s awl, owing to the form of the beak, which turns up at the end like the awl.’

A life spent hunting

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1816
Franz Schubert,
composer

‘After the lapse of a few months, I took once more an evening walk. There can hardly be anything more delightful than, of an evening, after a hot summer’s day, to stroll about on the green grass: the meadows between Währing and Döbling seem to have been created for this very purpose. I felt so peaceful and happy as my brother Carl and I walked together in the struggling twilight. “How lovely!” I thought and exclaimed, and then stood still enchanted. The neighbourhood of the churchyard reminded us of our excellent mother. Whiling the time away with melancholy talk, we arrived at the point where the Döbling road branches off, and I heard a well-known voice issuing as though from heaven - which is our home: the voice came from a carriage which was being pulled up. I looked up, and there was Herr Weinmüller, who got out and greeted us with his hearty, manly, cheerful-toned voice. How vainly does many a man strive to show the candour and honesty of his mind by conversation equally sincere and candid! - how would many a man be the laughing-stock of his fellow-creatures were he to make the effort! Such gifts must come naturally; no efforts can acquire them.’

Schubert’s diary fragment

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1850
Leo Tolstoy,
writer

‘Again I betake myself to my diary - again, and with fresh ardour and a fresh purpose. But for the what-th time? I do not remember. Nevertheless, even if I cast it aside again, a diary will be a pleasant occupation, and agreeable in the re-reading, even as are former diaries.

So many thoughts enter my head, and some of them appear very remarkable; they need but to be scrutinized to issue as nonsense. A few, however, are sensible, and it is for their sake that a diary is required, since a diary enables one to judge of oneself.

Also the fact that I find it necessary to determine my occupations beforehand renders a diary additionally indispensable. Indeed, I should like to acquire a habit of predetermining my form of life not merely for a day, but for a year, several years, the whole of the rest of my existence. This, however, will be too difficult for me, almost impossible. Nevertheless I will make the attempt - at first for a day in advance, then for two. In fact, as many days as I may remain loyal to my resolutions, for so many days will I plan beforehand.

By resolutions I mean, not moral rules independent of time and place, rules which never change and which I compile separately, but resolutions temporal and local, rules as to where and for how long I will abide, and when and wherewithal I will employ myself.

There may arise occasions when these resolutions may need to be altered; but if so, I will permit myself to make deviations only in accordance with rule, and, on all such occasions, explain their causes in this diary.

For June 15th. From 9 to 10, bathing and a walk; from 10 to 12, music; from 6 to 8, letters; from 8 to 10, estate affairs and office.

At times the three years past which I have spent so loosely seem to me engaging, poetical, and, to a certain extent, useful: wherefore I will try frankly, and in as much detail as possible, to recall and record them. This will constitute a third purpose for a diary.’

I have been indolent

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1902
Victor Trump,
sportsman

‘No play. Rain. Saw Opera, Covent Garden. L’elisir d’amor, The Elixir of Love . . . good. HC with me.’

Ran about all day

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1941
Hannah Senesh,
soldier

‘This week I leave for Egypt. I’m a soldier. Concerning the circumstances of my enlistment, and my feelings in connection with it, and with all that led up to it, I don’t want to write. I want to believe that what I’ve done, and will do, are right. Time will tell the rest.’

Israel’s Joan of Arc

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1944
Ingeborg Bachmann,
writer

‘My mind’s still in a whirl. Jack Hamesh was here, this time he came in a jeep. Naturally, everyone in the village stared and Frau S. came over the stream twice to have a look in the garden. I took him into the garden because Mummy’s in bed upstairs. We sat on the bench and at first I was all of a tremble so that he must have thought I’m mad or have a bad conscience or God knows what. And I’ve no idea why. I can’t remember what we talked about at first but all at once we were on to books, to Thomas Mann and Stefan Zweig and Schnitzler and Hofmannsthal. I was so happy, he knows everything and he told me he never thought he’d find a young girl in Austria who’d read all that despite her Nazi upbringing. And suddenly everything was quite different and I told him everything about the books. He told me he was taken to England in a kindertransport with other Jewish children in ’38, he was actually eighteen then but an uncle managed to arrange it, his parents were already dead. So now I know how he comes to speak such good German, then he went into the British army and now in the zones of occupation there are lots of former Germans and Austrians working in the FSS offices, because of the language and because they know conditions in the country better. We talked until evening and he kissed my hand before he left. No one’s ever kissed my hand before. I’m out of my mind I’m so happy and after he’d gone I climbed up the apple tree, it was already dark and I cried my eyes out and thought I never wanted to wash my hand again.’

Bachmann’s diary fragment

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1977
Bernard Donoughue,
politician

‘I worked in the office in the morning. Lunch with Robin Butler at his club. Great pleasure to see him again. He told me one little story. While at No 10 there arrived on his desk a large brown envelope addressed personally to H Wilson, and forwarded from Lord North Street. He opened it and it was a current account sheet from the offshore Swiss bank which went broke with an illegal deposit in it for Wilson. Robin just resealed it and passed it on.’

Donoughue’s Downing Street play

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1992
Christopher McCandless,
hiker

‘Maggots already! Smoking appears ineffective. Don’t know. Looks like disaster. I now wish I had never shot the moose. One of the greatest tragedies of my life.’

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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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.