And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

15 June

1732
Carl Linnaeus,
scientist

‘This day afforded me nothing much worthy of notice. The sea in many places came very near the road, lashing the stony crags with its formidable waves. In some parts it gradually separated small islands here and there from the main land, and in others manured the sandy beach with mud. The weather was fine.

In one marshy spot grew what is probably a variety of the Cranberry (Vaccinium Oxycoccus), differing only in having extremely narrow leaves, with smaller flowers and fruit than usual. The common kind was intermixed with it, but the difference of size was constant. The Pinguicula grew among them, sometimes with round, sometimes with more oblong leaves.

The Bilberry (Vaccinium Myrtillus) presented itself most commonly with red flowers, more rarely with flesh-coloured ones. Myrica Gale, which I had not before met with in Westbothnia, grew sparingly in the marshes.

In the evening, a little before the sun went down, I was assailed by such multitudes of gnats as surpass all imagination. They seemed to occupy the whole atmosphere, especially when I travelled through low or damp meadows. They filled my mouth, nose and eyes, for they took no pains to get out of my way. Luckily they did not attack me with their bites or stings, though they almost choked me. When I grasped at the cloud before me, my hands were filled with myriads of these insects, all crushed to pieces with a touch, and by far too minute for description. The inhabitants call them Knort, or Knott, (Culex reptans, by mistake called C. pulicaris in Fl. Lapp. ed. 2. 382.)

Just at sunset I reached the town of Old Pithoea, having previously crossed a broad river in a ferry boat. Near this spot stood a gibbet, with a couple of wheels, on which lay the bodies of two Finlanders without heads. These men had been executed for highway robbery and murder. They were accompanied by the quartered body of a Laplander, who had murdered one of his relations.

Immediately on entering the town I procured a lodging, but had not been long in bed before I perceived a glare of light on the wall of my chamber. I was alarmed with the idea of fire; but, on looking out of the window, saw the sun rising, perfectly red, which I did not expect would take place so soon. The cock crowed, the birds began to sing, and sleep was banished from my eyelids.’

Father of modern taxonomy

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1758
Jeffrey Amherst,
soldier

‘The Redoutes not finished, I ordered them to be palisaded. A good deal of firing in the night at sea. I sent away everything to Br. Wolfe that he asked, added to his Artillery two 18-inch and two 13-inch Mortars. I could not yet get any artillery on Shore. At night two deserters from Volontaires Etrangers, said the 13th they had 40 wounded in the Skirmish, 5 killed. Fine weather today. Sir C. Hardy came back and anchored off the Harbour, I was afraid last night as the Harbour was open the Enemy might have warped a Ship out and took our ordinance and Sloops at the Mackarel Cove and Lorembeck.’

Canada for the British

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1803
Thomas De Quincey,
writer

‘I just said - “My imagination flies, like Noah’s dove, from the ark of my mind . . . and finds no place on which to rest the sole of her foot except Coleridge - Wordsworth and Southey.” This morning (and indeed many times before) I said - “Bacon’s mind appears to me like a great abyss - on the brink of which the imagination startles and shudders to look down” - Of that gilded fly of Corsica - Bonaparte - I said just now (what I have applied to others too - using it as a general curse) “May he be thirsty to all eternity - and have nothing but cups of damnation to drink.” ’

My imagination flies

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1816
Franz Schubert,
composer

‘It usually happens that we form exaggerated notions of what we expect to see. At least, I found it so when I saw the exhibition of pictures of native artists, held at Saint Anna. The work I liked best in the whole exhibition was a Madonna and Child, by Abel. I was much disappointed by the velvet mantle of a prince. I am convinced that one must see things of this sort much more frequently, and give them a longer trial, if one hopes to find and retain the proper expression and impression intended to be conveyed.’

Schubert’s diary fragment

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1839
Thomas Moore,
poet and singer

‘Went to the British Museum, and, having been told that it was a holiday, asked for Panizzi, who was full of kindness, and told me the library should be at all times accessible to me, and that I should also have a room entirely to myself, if I preferred it at any time to the public room. He then told me of a poor Irish labourer now at work about the Museum, who, on hearing the other day that I was also sometimes at work there, said he would give a pot of ale to any one who would show me to him the next time I came. Accordingly, when I was last there, he was brought where he could have a sight of me as I sat reading; and the poor fellow was so pleased that he doubled the pot of ale to the man who performed the part of showman. Panizzi himself seemed to enjoy the story quite as much as I did.’

Doomed to sing

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1849
Thomas Huxley,
scientist

‘Boats out sounding to find us a new anchorage nearer the land. We saw seven or eight canoes with 8-10 men in each, but none of them would come near us. Several however went to the Bramble. I suppose they thought she was smaller and less able to do them harm.

They had some of them the large bushy heads of hair of the Papuans but others were without this distinctive mark and they varied considerably in colour. For the most part they were coppery. The canoes have a single outrigger and a good deal resemble those we saw at Cape York. The sail consists of three sheets of some fibrous substance, and shortening sail is performed by taking down each sheet separately and laying it along the gunnel. The upper end of each sheet has a great many little pennants streaming from it.

The paddles are something like the ace of spades with a long handle. They sail up near to the place they wish to reach, then strike sails, masts and all, and paddle up. The only articles of barter they brought to the Bramble were yams, cocoa-nuts and tortoiseshell. They were very greedy for iron and stole one of the crutches wh. happened to be lying loose on the thwart of a boat astern. Like any dexterous London thieves they passed it from hand to hand and concealed it at the far end of their canoe, and when charged with the theft looked as innocent and impassive as M. de Talleyrand himself could have looked under similar circumstances.

But when from the threatening attitude the Brambles put on they saw it was “no go” they passed the crutch over again and paddled off as hard as they could paddle - more ashamed of the failure than the theft, I fancy.’

Grandfather’s Rattlesnake diary

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1850
Leo Tolstoy,
writer

‘Yesterday I carried out all that I had set myself.

For June 15th. From 4.30 to 6, out in the fields, estate affairs, and bathing; from 6 to 8, continuation of my diary; from 8 to 10, a method of music; from 10 to 12, the piano; from 12 to 6, luncheon, a rest, and dinner; from 6 to 8, rules and reading; from 8 to 10, a bath and estate affairs.’

I have been indolent

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1864
John L. Ransom,
soldier

‘I am sick; just able to drag around. My teeth are loose, mouth sore, with gums grown down in some places lower than the teeth and bloody, legs swollen up with dropsy, and on the road to the trenches. Where there is so much to write about, I can hardly write anything. It’s the same old story, and must necessarily be repetition. Raiders now do just as they please, kill, plunder and steal in broad daylight, with no one to molest them. Have been trying to organize a police force, but cannot do it. Raiders are the stronger party. Ground covered with maggots. Lice by the fourteen hundred thousand million infest Andersonville. A favorite game among the boys is to play at odd or even, by putting their hand inside some part of their clothing, pull out, what they can conveniently get hold of and say: “Odd or even?” and then count up and see who beats. Think this is an original game here. Never saw it at the North. Some of the men claim to have pet lice, which they have trained. Am gradually growing worse. Nothing but the good care I have taken of myself, has saved me thus far. I hope to last some time yet, and in the mean time, relief may come. My diary about written through. It may end about the same time I do, which would be a fit ending.’

See maggots squirming

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1908
Lady Minto,
philanthropist

‘Went to church, and then had a quiet day, reading letters and papers. It is rather amusing that the Times should accuse the Government of India of inaction, and express a hope that they will not go to sleep again. It is not altogether probable that the people who are affected by the bombs and outrages should have any desire to fall asleep! It is easy to criticise from a distance of 5,000 miles. I hear Chirol has been ill, and is hors de combat at present. It is rather unlucky that the Times have taken on as Indian correspondent a man called Eraser who used to be on the staff of the Times of India; he got into trouble owing to drink and was dismissed; he also wrote for the National Review; he is very clever with his pen. He is a tremendous partisan, and I suppose because we were succeeding Lord Curzon he began to write spiteful articles before we reached India; these continued from time to time; then he made a most violent attack on me about the Nursing Scheme, saying I had simply made use of Lady Curzon’s work, &c., &c. It is rather strange to think of the power a man like this has, and that the British public accept as Gospel truth whatever views the most wrong-headed correspondent chooses to give vent to.’

Lady Minto’s Indian diary

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1924
Aldo Leopold,
ecologist

‘Fried lake trout for breakfast were positively the sweetest fish ever eaten.

All the trout on stringers were dead. Have never yet found a way to keep trout alive, short of a tight pen in the water.

A fine chorus of white-throated sparrows when the sun came up. Their note sounds like ‘Ah, poor Canada!’ Thank the Lord for country as poor as this.

We had a laundering and sewing bee around camp. Then explored the lake and found tomorrow’s portage into Trout Lake. Trolled to the sand beach, where we found fresh moose tracks and had a fine but brief swim, the water being cold. Coming back to camp we photographed the mallard nest. The nest consisted of a hollow pushed into the dry litter under the overhanging branches of a little spruce. It had a perfect circle of a rim consisting of the gray down of the hen. The behavior of the hen was entirely different when approached from the water instead of the land - from the land she played cripple, whereas from the water she sprang directly into the air and hardly quacked. Only eight eggs and nest full.

While we were boiling tea for lunch, Starker caught another trout. After a nap all round we engaged in the very serious occupation of catching perch minnows to be used as bait for the evening fishing. Later I made Starker a bow of white cedar. In the evening we caught a few trout, one of which we had for supper. It was a female and had pink flesh, whereas the previous ones had white flesh. Only small fish were caught on first casts, indicating that big ones get used to a spoon and no longer get excited about it. The first three minnows also drew bites, but later minnows wouldn’t work.

Carl and I learned something while casting in a bay behind camp. The water was covered with willow cotton, which gummed up the line and the ferrules so as to make casting nearly impossible.

At dark a solitary loon serenaded us with his lonesome call, which Fritz imitates very well. This call seems to prevail at night, while the laughing call is used during the day. Carl remembers the laughing call at night, however, on the trip we made to Drummond Island with Dad about 1905.

The Lord did well when he put the loon and his music into this lonesome land.’

The sweetest fish ever eaten

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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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