And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

29 June

1861
Mary Boykin Chesnut,
wife of political aide

‘[We] drove in a fine open carriage to see the Champ de Mars. It was a grand tableau out there. Mr. Davis rode a beautiful gray horse, the Arab Edwin de Leon brought him from Egypt. His worst enemy will allow that he is a consummate rider, graceful and easy in the saddle, and Mr. Chesnut, who has talked horse with his father ever since he was born, owns that Mr. Davis knows more about horses than any man he has met yet.’

Chesnut’s Civil War diary

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1885
John Dearman Birchall,
businessman

‘Fishmonger had caught a sturgeon this morning at Awre, 9 ft. long, weight 260 lbs. It was still breathing when I saw it.’

The tricycle diaries

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1908
Lady Minto,
philanthropist

‘Went with Captain Goldie to see Lady Duff. She has made her house charming, quite the most English-looking abode I have seen in India. She has wall-papers which make the rooms much more cosy, they are a rare luxury out here. Each room is entirely of one colour, the shades all thought out with the greatest care.’

Lady Minto’s Indian diary

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1927
Richard E. Byrd,
explorer

‘Left 4.25 standard [Eastern Standard Time]

4:29 altitude 300 feet turning. After turn completed 400. Raining slight.

5:50 Altitude 2200 feet. Not so much vibration now. Well beyond Cape Cod. Still visible few ships. Few ships. Cold. Having quite [a] time keeping Bert [Acosta] on course. Balchen still aft with us. Cans [of] gas affect standard compass. Must get them out of way soon.

As I looked through our trap door passing north of Halifax a cl[o]ud was under us and the shadow of the America on the cloud had a beautiful rainbow around it. Oil leak near [illegible]. Leak fixed with glue.

Sometimes have difficult time attracting attention ahead [from other crew members] to send radio or change course. Lights don’t work so well. Found a long stick and hit Noville on shoe with that.

Went forward at 3:15 to pilot. I got caught in passage way.

For ten hours we have seen no land or water. It’s now ten A.M. I sit here wondering if the winds have been with us. If they haven’t we don’t reach land.

8:30 Impossible to navigate.’

Flying over the Poles

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1944
Iris Origo,
writer

‘The Germans have gone. [Later] Not only have they gone, but the Allies are here! The first good news came to Antonio, who (while standing beside one of the Germans who are still left in town) was hurriedly summoned by a partisan: some English soldiers, he said, were looking for him. He accordingly hurried down into a wheatfield, and there found a small patrol, headed by a subaltern in the Scots Guards, who had actually come from La Foce. He wanted information as to the number of Germans who are still in town, the lie of the land, the bridges that had been blown up, and so on, all of which Antonio gave him, and in return, he gave us fairly good news of La Foce. The house has only been hit in two or three places, and though the damage inside is considerable, it is not irremediable. All this conversation took place hurriedly, hidden in the wheat, with sentries posted, and just as it was over, a pretty peasant-girl came up with a basket on her head, on her way to town. What next? She said she would hold her tongue, but it seemed safer for the soldiers to take her off with them for a few hours, to which indeed she agreed very willingly. The plan is for the regiment to occupy the town this afternoon. Meanwhile, we are having some German shelling for a change, and Palazzo Ricci and some other buildings have been hit. La Foce has had the honour of being mentioned in the midday bulletin as ‘liberated’ - together with Pienza and Montalcino. But we can hardly listen to the news now: we want to see with our own eyes. Every minute, now, the Allies may arrive!’

La Foce is liberated

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1945
John F. Kennedy,
politician

‘Kathleen and I went down this afternoon to Eastbourne in southern England to Compton Place. Eastbourne is a small village and Compton Place is in the center of it, though for its quietness it might be in the middle of a large forest.

Its owner, the Duke of Devonshire, is an eighteenth-century story book Duke in his beliefs - if not in his appearance. He believes in the Divine Right of Dukes, and in fairness, he is fully conscious of his obligations - most of which consist of furnishing the people of England with a statesman of mediocre ability but outstanding integrity.

Datid Ormsby-Gore maintains that in providing the latter service the Aristocracy, especially the country squires, really earn their sometimes extremely comfortable keep.

The Duke was a good friend of Neville Chamberlain. He went on several fishing trips with him, but he said that he could never understand Chamberlain’s idea of confiscating part of his land providing some “compensation” was made by the State. “But,” said the Duke, “what compensation can there be by handing over my property to a middle-class official who can’t administer it half as well.” And there you have the social philosophy of Edward, tenth Duke of Devonshire.

He had a number of interesting stories. One was about Lady Violet Bonham-Carter, daughter of Herbert Asquith, former Prime Minister. Lady Violet had a great habit of bringing her face gradually closer and closer to the subject of her conversation until finally only several inches separated her from the recipient of her remarks. Duff-Cooper, Ambassador to France, finally became so infuriated with this habit that, at a dinner party, he suddenly picked up a potato with his fork and dashed it into her mouth saying, “Excuse me, I thought it was mine.”

He was interesting on the subject of Nepal - an independent country from which the famous Ghurka warriors come. Great Britain was unable to conquer this principality so since the nineteenth-century conquest they have lived in peace with the Maharaja in close alliance.

The Ghurka soldier - crack troops - are mercenaries, who, being Moslems and therefore unable to cross the sea, have to go through an elaborate purification process before being allowed to enter their country after their tour of duty is complete. Part of this purification process consists of bathing in cow urine and eating some cow manure.

As far as India on the whole, the Duke (Undersecretary of State for Colonies) sees little hope for the future - due to the terrific hostility of the Moslems and the Hindu’s on the one hand and the completely mystic and debasing position of the 30 million “Untouchables” on the other. It is a poor foundation on which to build a democracy. He admits, however, that England would also suffer if she were cut off completely from India, but the commercial lies are steadily becoming weakened by the growth of Indian heavy industry and the influx of the goods of other countries.

In the Levant, France had been consistently warned. It was France’s traditional policy of domination of this part of the middle East which was carried out at a time when French prestige and power was too weak to successfully carry it through.

Although the Duke is an anachronism with hardly the adaptability necessary to meet the changing tides of present day, he does have great integrity and lives simply with simple pleasures. He has a high sense of noblesse oblige, and it comes sincerely for him. He believes that Labor will win an overwhelming victory. He is the only Conservative that I have heard state this view. His wife, grand-daughter of Lord Salisbury, Prime Minister of England, is a woman of intense personal charm and complete selflessness.’

JFK‘s diary strikes gold

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1984
Kenneth Williams,
actor and writer

‘Up at 6.40. Got papers round corner at 6.45. Went out at 9.20 to get fags. Returned at 9.50 and Almanac asked where Louie was… Nosey nit… He’s left telephone directories lying in foyer for DAYS. HE pointed to them and told me ‘that’s what they waste your money on!’ and railed against wastage. Never heard such humbug.

Did the accounts for the month and walked with them to Smee handing the stuff over to Lynn. Walked home via Aldwych. Reflected that nothing really changes. I’m still walking about this city dragging my loneliness with me, putting on a front, whistling in the dark. It is getting darker all the time.

Went to Tesco’s and got fish and ham and tomatoes and had that at 5.30. Tried doing a bit more writing but my heart, it isn’t in it. Think I’ll have to leave it for a bit. Feel more like weeping.’

Carry on carping

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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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