And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

17 June

1675
Robert Hooke,
scientist

‘At Mr. Montacues and at the ground with Mr. Russell and Montacue. Noe councell. Society Read Dr. Grew. Outlandish physitian. Oldenburg a Rascall. I propounded my theory about the digestion of liquors, about Putrefaction, about the parts of Liquors working one upon another etc. Received from Brounker order for receiving from Chest. Received it from Collonel Richards. Received also Hay Grains his bowle of silver from him. Gave J. Clay 5 shill.’

Boglice round the neck

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1850
Leo Tolstoy,
writer

‘Rising at 8 o’clock, I did nothing until 10. From 10 to 12 I read and posted my diary; from 12 to 6 I had luncheon and a rest - then reflected on music, and dined; 6-8, music; 8-10, estate affairs. This is the second day when I have been indolent and failed to carry out all that I had set myself. Why so? I do not know. However, I must not despair: I will force myself to be active. Yesterday, in addition to leaving undone what I had set myself, I betrayed my rule.

I have noticed that when I am in an apathetic frame of mind a philosophical work never fails to rouse me to activity. At the moment I am reading Montesquieu. I think that I grow indolent because I have undertaken too much, and keep feeling that I cannot advance from one occupation to another so long as the first one be undone. Yet, not to excuse myself on the score of having omitted to frame a system, I will enter in my diary a few general rules, with a few relating to music and estate management. One of my general rules: That which one has set oneself to do, one should not relinquish on the ground of absence of mindlor distraction, hut, on the contrary, take in hand for the sake of appearances. Thoughts will then result. For example, if one shall have planned to write out rules, one should take one’s notebook, sit down to the table, and not rise thence till one has both begun and finished one’s task.’

I have been indolent

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1861
John Addington Symonds,
writer

‘We started at seven this morning in a carriage and two horses. The journey has been one of uninterrupted beauty. The natural splendour of the country was heightened by the massy clouds which kept ever changing from peak to peak, altering the effect of light and shade, and making the distance clear and brilliant. The wild flowers are innumerable, orchids, rhododendrons, columbines, saxifrage, salvias, vetches, pinks. We broke the journey at Bonneville, where we had breakfast. Up to this point the road was comparatively tame, though behind us rose the Jura, and in front the Alps were shadowy. But at Bonneville is the very port of the Mont Blanc Alps, and of this stands sentinel the great green Mole. From Bonneville to St. Martin, the valley of the Arve is narrow, one series of vast precipices cut by rivulets and pine-clad hills on either side. At St. Martin we first saw Mont Blanc, swathed in clouds, which slowly rose and left the monarch nearly bare. He did not seem quite so huge as I expected. The amphitheatre of mountains from the bridge over the Arve is splendid; especially that corner where stands the Aiguille de Varens. Here we learned that a bridge on the road to Chamonix had been swept away by a torrent, and that no carriages could pass. However, they telegraphed for carriages to meet us on the other side of the temporary plank bridge, and we set off, through avenues of apple-trees bordering gardens of wild flowers, beneath the park-like swellings of the hills, among whose walnut-bowered hollows slept innumerable chalets. Soon the ascent began, every turn discovering some great snowpeak or green mountain furrowed with the winter streams. At the bridge we found a one-mule carriage, and continued our journey, Mont Blanc growing on us momently. As we came into the Valley of Chamonix the highest peak was very clear, and all along the bold sharp crags swaddled in clouds, and glorified by the far setting sun, were gorgeous in their brilliancy and colours. We arrived at 7.30, and got two high rooms with a good [vi]ew of the mountains.’

A splendid liquid sky

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1868
Sully Prudhomme,
writer

‘I have recently been asked why I do not write novels or plays. I did not dare to say it. The study of philosophy has reduced to me all human affairs. The variable is indifferent to me; to create a scene, to make live this or that individual, to make him take his cane, to dress him, to make him sit, I find that pitiful, miserable. I’d rather take the essence of a passion, a pain, regardless of any adventure, and look for the rhythm, the rhythm that is its eternal and necessary accompaniment. The contingent is odious to me. It has become impossible for me to read a novel, and I do not go to the theatre because we now substitute the plot for the character. The facts do not interest me, they are only the flowering of the only essential causes.

Go tell that to a gentleman you see for the first time!

I realise with regret that I have lost the sense of comedy. I laugh much harder than before, and I am quite surprised to see my friends laughing at certain things. I took care, two or three years ago, of the essence of laughter, of the causes that provoke it, I will resume this study.

It seems to me, by rule of thumb, that there are no laughable abstractions and that a form is always engaged in the reason for laughter. Perhaps the form alone is ridiculous, perhaps it is by a disconnection with the idea. It is to be examined.

Midnight; I had dinner with young people; an hour in the cafe: lost time, nonsense, boredom. Is this nothing but an evening of life? I did not do more than mentally calculate the hours.’

Lofty idealism, artistic perfection

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1883
Charles de Foucauld,
priest

‘In vain do we try to find a way of entering into the Rif: many of the Jews whom we consulted declare that one can only enter by Nemours with the protection of a certain Moroccan sheikh who will perhaps come here in a fortnight or a month, perhaps later; and even this means would be uncertain; they add that it is as difficult in starting from here to cross the Rif as it is easy in setting out from Tetuan, where men of influence can give efficacious recommendations. I do not wish to wait a fortnight or month at Nemours; much better reach Tetuan by sea and begin my journey from there.’

From playboy to ascetic

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1918
Edward Stanley,
politician

‘Routine work. Saw Mrs. Henshaw, Canadian Red Cross lady who is doing good work in helping to evacuate French people from the shelled areas. She comes from Victoria B.C. and knows Annie and Victor well.

Luncheon. Pichon and wife. Dumesnil and wife, both very nice people. He is the Minister for Aviation. Paul Reinach, the Greek Minister, also nice, and Grahame. Very amusing discussion after. Poor Reinach of course likes to hear himself do all the talking and tries to do it but met more than a match in Madame Pichon who is [a] most amusing old thing and chaffed him unmercifully. Really a very pleasant luncheon.

After luncheon saw Horodyski who is I think a sort of secret agent with the Poles. I thought him one of the most villainous fellows I had ever come across. Could not look you straight in the face and I should be very much surprised if he is straight. He is the nephew of the General of the Jesuits and for that reason I think is backed up by Eric Drummond who is a Catholic. Personally I cannot help thinking this Catholic clique will get us into trouble because all that is done goes straight to the Pope and we all know he is in direct contact with the Austrians.

Charlie and I went to tea at the Tiraux Pigeons with Mme de Montescieu. Lot of nice people there but these sort of teas are abominable institutions. I believe they are extremely popular here but I mean to avoid them for the future. Charlie and I dine alone together. News from Italy seems quite good.’

An ambassador’s war diary

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1930
Aleš Hrdlička, scientist

‘The Kuskokwim River. Rain. cold, all night. Leaky roof in school, doors cannot be closed, floor sagging, walls also. A little cat-wash in a ditch - no water in school, no rain barrel. At 7 at Mrs H.’s house, breakfast with her and Miss Martin, an exceptionally good Indian teacher. Then pack, carry a good-sized box of specimens to my place - almost a mile - and then again patients. A lot of chronic conditions.’

Hrdlička’s Alaska diary

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1948
Jack Kerouac,
writer

‘Madly, painfully lonesome for a woman these June evenings . . . and on I work work. I see them walking outside and I go crazy . . . “no time, no money.” - but my desire for a woman is at its highest pitch right now. If my ego were attached to love, as it should be, instead of to work, I’d have me that woman tonight and forever. “No time, no money . . .”

Or, yet, why is it that a man trying to do big work by himself, alone, poor, cannot find one little wisp of a woman who will give him her love and time? Why is it that a man with money and success has to drive them away . . . or as Hal Chase says, a man with a woman belonging to him, sporting her odor, has to drive them away ... the Lesbians! This experience is going to make me bitter, by God. But an idea just came to me. (Meanwhile, of course, you see, I do believe that ‘feeling sorry’ for oneself is one of the truest things on earth because you can’t deny that someone like me, healthy, sexual, even poetic, slashed, pierced, riven with desire and affection for any pretty girl I see, yet unable because of ‘time and money’ to make love now, now, in youth, as they parade indifferently by my window . . . well Goddamit, you just can’t deny it! It isn’t right! There’s too much aloneness in a world yearning, yearning, yearning . . . and too many whores, real true whores. To hell with them? No . . . the point is, I want them. Someday I’ll go to France, to Paris, that’s what . . . where, like Jean Gabin if you can find a pretty love at the carnival in the night.) (In the night, in the night, in the sky-night and lights, the soft warm knees parting, the breathless clasp, the gasp, the tongue, and best of all, the low murmuring voice and what it says.) Well, as I say, I’m going to be bitter about this. This may be sexual inadequacy (no time, no money), but . . . just wait, woman, just wait.

Went to bed, after irritating work with a faulty typewriter-hand, with a .350 average.’

The rush of what is said

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1956
Charles Ritchie,
diplomat

‘Sad, lonely, undemanding letter from E. The truth is that I am anaesthetized to this existence, even quite enjoy it. Someone said I look ten years younger. I am all right if I keep going - much more cheerful than this diary shows.’

V happy with E

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1975
Jimmy Boyle,
prisoner and sculptor

‘This morning I awoke fresh and feeling much better.

Received a letter from Paul Overy, The Times art critic, saying he stumbled over my exhibition by accident and what a find he said. He has put a short piece in The Times and it is a good review. I was pleased.’

This violent typewriter

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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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