And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

20 June

1791
Axel von Fersen,
soldier and diplomat

‘Both said to me that they must leave at all costs. We arranged the hour of day etc. In the event of their arrest I was to go to Brussels and try to do something for them. On taking leave of me the King said: ‘M de Fersen, whatever may happen, I shall never forget all you have done for me.’ The Queen of France, Marie Antoinette] wept a great deal. At six I left her and then she went for her customary walk with the children without any special safety precautions. I went home to get ready . . .’

For the love of Marie

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1833
David Cargill,
priest

‘This day I have lived twenty-four years. My life has been hitherto a life of many mercies. I feel condemned for my ingratitude, & the small progress I have made in divine things. I have indeed been a cumberer of the ground. O Lord, revive thy work in my heart! Enable me to make an unreserved dedication of the members of my body & the faculties of my soul to thy service.

Most of the inhabitants of this Colony are sunk very low in the mire of iniquity. And even the piety of professing Christians is very superficial. The profligacy of the wicked, & the lukewarmness of professors, call loudly for divine vengeance. There are but few encouragements for the labourer in this part of the vineyard. To use the expression of the venerable & respected Mr McAllum, preaching to the Majority of the inhabitants, is like ‘plowing among rocks.’ But although the society do not appear to consider one another to provoke one another to love and good works, it is nevertheless to be expected that some of the seeds of grace are sown in good ground. There are a few who possess a leaven of piety & love. But their ardour is so damped by the prevailing lukewarmness, that they are entirely thrown into the background. May the happy day soon dawn when the inhabitants of this Colony shall have been raised from their moral degradation!

I am engaged in attending to Mr Orton’s appointments during his absence: And have frequently to preach 5 or 6 times in Sydney during the week. The Lord has been pleased so far to honour me as to make my services useful in the conviction & conversion of two or three persons who it is hoped, will be living stones in the temple of God. My time is chiefly occupied in preparing for the pulpit, & visiting the people, so that I have had but little time to improve my stock of general knowledge . . .’

Like wolves and hyaenas

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1837
Queen Victoria

‘I was awoke at 6 o’clock by Mamma, who told me that the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Conyngham were here, and wished to see me. I got out of bed and went into my sitting-room (only in my dressing-gown) and alone, and saw them. Lord Conyngham (the Lord Chamberlain) then acquainted me that my poor Uncle, the King, was no more, and had expired at 12 minutes past 2 this morning, and consequently that I am Queen. Lord Conyngham knelt down and kissed my hand, at the same time delivering to me the official announcement of the poor King’s demise. The Archbishop then told me that the Queen was desirous that he should come and tell me the details of the last moments of my poor good Uncle; he said that he had directed his mind to religion, and had died in a perfectly happy, quiet state of mind, and was quite prepared for his death. He added that the King’s sufferings at the last were not very great but that there was a good deal of uneasiness. Lord Conyngham, whom I charged to express my feelings of condolence and sorrow to the poor Queen, returned directly to Windsor. I then went to my room and dressed.

Since it has pleased Providence to place me in this station, I shall do my utmost to fulfill my duty towards my country; I am very young and perhaps in many, though not in all things, inexperienced, but I am sure that very few have more real good-will and more real desire to do what is fit and right than I have.

Breakfasted, during which time good, faithful Stockmar [a German nobleman and friend] came and talked to me. Wrote a letter to dear Uncle Leopold [Belgian king] and a few words to dear good Feodore [her stepsister]. Received a letter from Lord Melbourne [the Prime Minister] in which he said he would wait upon me at a little before 9.

At 9 came Lord Melbourne, whom I saw in my room, and of course quite alone, as I shall always do all my Ministers. He kissed my hand, and I then acquainted him that it had long been my intention to retain him and the rest of the present Ministry at the head of affairs, and that it could not be in better hands than his. He again then kissed my hand. He then read to me the Declaration which I was to read to the Council, which he wrote himself, and which is a very fine one. I then talked with him some little time longer, after which he left me. He was in full dress. I like him very much and feel confidence in him. He is a very straightforward, honest, clever and good man. I then wrote a letter to the Queen. At about 11 Lord Melbourne came again to me, and spoke to me upon various subjects. At about half-past 11 I went downstairs and held a Council in the red saloon.

I went in of course quite alone and remained seated the whole time. My two Uncles, the Dukes of Cumberland and Sussex, and Lord Melbourne conducted me. The Declaration, the various forms, the swearing in of the Privy Councillors of which there were a great number present, and the reception of some of the Lords of the Council, previous to the Council, in an adjacent room (likewise alone) I subjoin here. I was not at all nervous and had the satisfaction of hearing that people were satisfied with what I had done and how I had done it. . .

Wrote my journal. Took my dinner upstairs alone. Went downstairs. Saw Stockmar. At about twenty minutes to 9 came Lord Melbourne and remained till near 10. I had a very important and a very comfortable conversation with him. Each time I see him I feel more confidence in him; I find him very kind in his manner too. Saw Stockmar. Went down and said good-night to Mamma, etc. . .’

The crown hurt me

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1855
Andrew Peterson,
farmer

‘I went for the second time to Alexander and John to help them with the logshanty. [. . .] I was cutting gras (for hay) and did a rake. In the afternoon we had a meeting with holy communion, and decided to make a united Parish.’

The Swedish emigrant

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1873
Thomas Hardy,
writer

‘By evening train to Cambridge. Stayed in College - Queens’ - Went out with H. M. M. after dinner. A magnificent evening: sun over ‘the Backs’.

Next morning went with H. M. M. to King’s Chapel early. M. opened the great West doors to show the interior vista: we got upon the roof, where we could see Ely Cathedral gleaming in the distant sunlight. A never-to-be-forgotten morning. H. M. M. saw me off for London. His last smile.’

White phantoms, cloven tongues

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1925
Richard E. Byrd,
explorer

‘The 20th has come at last and we left Wiscassett [Maine] at 2:45 PM today on schedule date. As anxious as I have been to get started on the expedition, I have felt so sad at leaving my precious family that I haven’t been able to mention the subject to Marie. I am doing her (apparently) a miserable mean trick in causing her to go through all the apprehensions she has felt for weeks and will for weeks to come. I feel mightily low and wicked today on account of it and the wonderful send off we got from thousands of people has meant absolutely nothing to me for nothing could matter with this terrible ache I have tried so hard to hide.

Dear little Dickie [Richard Byrd Jr.] didn’t realize what it was all about and that made me feel still more useless. Poor little fellow. He is too young to realize what an irresponsible “dad” he has. Marie as always was a wonderful sport.

With all this on my mind, I had to make a speech on the City Common to hundreds of people and also accept for the naval unit wonderful hunting knives presented to the personnel by the National Aeronautic Association of Maine.’

Flying over the Poles

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1936
Joseph Goebbels,
politician

‘Yesterday: Schwanenwerder. We were waiting for Max Schmeling’s fight with Joe Louis. We were on tenterhooks the whole evening with Schmeling’s wife. We told each other stories, laughed and cheered. . . In round twelve, Schmeling knocked out the Negro. Fantastic, a dramatic, thrilling fight. Schmeling fought for Germany and won. The white man prevailed over the black, and the white man was German. I didn’t get to bed until five.’

We can conquer the world

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1938
Thomas Wolfe,
writer

‘Left Portland, University Club, 8:15 sharp - Fair day, bright sunlight, no cloud in sky - Went South by East through farmlands of upper Willamette and around base of Mount Hood which was glowing in brilliant sun - Then climbed and crossed Cascades, and came down with suddenness of knife into the dry lands of the Eastern slope - Then over high plateau and through bare hills and canyons and irrigated farmlands here and there, low valley, etc., and into Bent at 12:45 - 200 miles in 4 1/2 hours -

Then lunch at hotel and view of the 3 Sisters and the Cascade range - then up to the Pilot Butte above the town - the great plain stretching infinite away - and unapproachable the great line of the Cascades with their snowspired sentinels Hood, Adams, Jefferson, 3 sisters, etc, and out of Bend at 3 and then through the vast and level pinelands - somewhat reminiscent of the South for 100 miles then down through the noble pines to the vast plainlike valley of the Klamath? - the virgin land of Canaan all again - the far-off ranges - infinite - Oregon and the Promised Land - then through the valley floor - past Indian reservation - Capt Jack - the Modocs - the great trees open approaching vicinity of the Park - the entrance and the reservation - the forester - the houses - the great snow patches underneath the trees - then the great climb upwards - the foresting, administration - up and up again - through the passes the great plain behind and at length the incredible crater of the lake - the hotel and a certain cheerlessness in spite of cordialness - dry tongues vain-licking for a feast - the return, the cottages, the college boys and girls who serve and wait - the cafeteria and the souvenirs - the great crater fading coldly in incredible cold light - at length departure - and the forest rangers down below - long, long talks - too long with them about “our wonders”, etc - then by darkness the sixty or seventy miles down the great dim expanse of Klamath Lake, the decision to stay here for the night - 3 beers, a shower, and this, reveille at 5:30 in the morning - and so to bed!

First day: 404 miles

The gigantic unconscious humor of the situation - C “making every national park” without seeing any of them - the main thing is to “make them” - and so on and on tomorrow’

The last manuscript

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1964
Arthur C. Clarke,
writer

‘Finished the opening chapter, “View from the Year 2000,” and started on the robot sequence.’

Dreamed I was a robot

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1988
Paul Bowles,
writer

‘Very little to write about. I’ve been receiving clippings in various languages, all of them announcing Bertolucci’s intention of filming The Sheltering Sky. But in the cinema world any statement can be construed as propaganda, so I still have no idea as to whether or not he’ll make the movie. People find it hard to believe that Helen Strauss included no time-limit clause in the contract when she sold the film rights back in the fifties. So if Bertolucci has acquired them, I don’t know from whom.’

The Sheltering Sky

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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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