And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

3 June

John Quincy Adams,

‘Boston. When I returned to my lodgings at the close of the evening, upon opening a letter from my father, which I had just before taken from the postoffice I found that it contained information that Edmund Randolph, Secretary of State of the United States, had, on the morning of the day when the letter was dated, called on the writer, and told him that the President of the United States had determined to nominate me to go to the Hague as Resident Minister from the United States. This intelligence was very unexpected, and indeed surprising. I had laid down as a principle, that I never would solicit for any public office whatever, and from this determination no necessity has hitherto compelled me to swerve.’

Election of a president


Thomas De Quincey,

‘Rise between 11 and 12 - go to W’s; - read out “Henry the Fourth”; (part 1st) which Mrs. E. pronounces “a very pretty play.” Almost immediately after this is finished . . . dinner is announced; - I go without seeing Mr. W.; walk, by French prison and lane, to windmill on shore; - turn back along shore; cross over to French prison; - go to C’s; - dine there again by myself; - open a volume of the Encyclopaedia; read 2 pages of the life of Frederick the Great of Prussia . . . containing the origin of his acquaintance with Voltaire - his mode of spending the time as described by Voltaire; then read the article “French” (language) in the same volume; - open no other book; - go to W’s; ring and ask if the ladies are really gone, as they talked of doing, to Mossley; - find they are gone in spite of the rain; - walk to Everton; - find postman at door; - decypher a letter; - lend Miss B. 2s 3d to pay the postage of one; - the other (2s 2d) she leaves unpaid, though I offered to lend her the money; - both come from the coast of Africa; - Miss B. seems wild with joy; - has received money I suppose; I drink coffee.’

My imagination flies


David Douglas,

‘LONDON: left Charing Cross by coach for Liverpool. Morning very pleasant; had rained through the night, country very fine for seventeen miles from the metropolis; found during time of changing horses Conferva egerops (Ball) confer. Beautiful fields at Woburn Abbey tastefully laid out and divided by hedgerows in which are planted Horse-chestnuts (Aesculus Hippocastanum) at regular distances, ail in full flower; had a very imposing appearance. Menyanthes nymphoides, for the first time I ever saw it in its natural state. Northampton at 2.30 o’clock p.m., rested 25 minutes; reached Lancaster quarter to 10 p.m., took supper, started again half past 10, rain during the night; very cold. Arrived at Liverpool 4 o’clock afternoon. After calling on Messrs. Monal & Woodward and learning that the Ann Maria of New York was to sail the following morning, in which a passage had been taken for me, I arranged my business as to my departure and made for Botanic Garden. Mr. Shepherd received me in the most handsome manner; showed me all his treasures (of which not a few were from North America).’ 

Plant hunting in America


John Ruskin,
writer and art critic

‘I walked up this afternoon to Bloney, very happy, and yet full of some sad thought; how perhaps I should not be again among these lovely scenes; as I was now and ever had been, a youth with his parents - it seemed that the sunset of to-day sunk upon me like the departure of youth.

First I had a hot march among the vines, and between their dead stone walls. Once or twice I flagged a little, and began to think it tiresome; then I put my mind into the scene, instead of suffering the body only to make report of it; and looked at it with the possession-taking grasp of the imagination - the true one; it gilded all the dead walls, and I felt a charm in every vine tendril that hung over them. It required an effort to maintain the feeling; it was poetry while it lasted, and I felt that it was only while under it that one could draw, or invent, or give glory to, any part of such a landscape. I repeated, ‘I am in Switzerland’ over and over again, till the name brought back the true group of associations, and I felt I had a soul, like my boy’s soul, once again. I have not insisted enough on this source of all great contemplative art. The whole scene without it was but sticks and stones and steep dusty road.’

John Ruskin’s birthdays


Paul Klee,

’My Italian trip now lies a month behind me. A strict review of my situation as a creative artist doesn’t yield very encouraging results; I don’t know why, but I continue nonetheless to be hopeful.

Perhaps from the realization that at the root of my devastating self-criticism there is, after all, some spiritual development.

Actually, the main thing now is not to paint precociously but to be or, at least, to become an individual. The art of mastering life is the prerequisite for all further forms of expression, whether they are paintings, sculptures, tragedies, or musical compositions. Not only to master life in practice, but to shape it meaningfully within me and to achieve as mature an attitude before it as possible. Obviously this isn’t accomplished with a few general precepts but grows like Nature. Besides, I wouldn’t know how to find any such precepts. A Weltanschauung will come of itself; the will alone doesn’t determine which direction will yield the clearest path: this is partly settled in the maternal womb and is ordained by fate.

As a beginner in this profession I shall not be able to please people; they will ask things of me that any clever young person with talent might easily come up with. My consolation is that the sincerity of my intention will always be more of a check to me than my lack of skill. Starting from an awareness of the prevalence of law, to broaden out until the horizon of thought once again becomes organized, and complexities, automatically falling into order, become simple again.’

Colour possesses me


Florence Farmborough,

‘I was told that in Hut 131 a sick woman needed attention. At length I found her, a young mother, sick with typhoid, and her baby. We Sisters are doing our level best to instil into the village-folk the urgent need to boil all their drinking-water - an idea which seems unable to take root in the peasant mind. The same old argument is raised: his parents never drank boiled water, why should he? But we persist. They listen attentively, but their minds are quite impervious to the meaning of ‘pollution’ and ‘contamination’.

Before retiring for the night, it was whispered around that a great battle was expected within the next twenty-four hours, but we sceptically went off to sleep, having heard it so often before.’

Guilty of murder


Nicholas II,

‘After tea Kerensky suddenly came by car from the city. He stayed with me for a while. He asked me to send to the investigating committee some papers and letters having relations to internal policies. After my walk and until lunch I helped Korovichenko in an analysis of those papers. During the day he was helped by Kobylinsky. We sawed up the tree trunks in the first place we cut. During that time something happened to Alexis’s toy rifle. He was playing with it on the island; the sentry walking in the garden saw him and asked the officer to take it away from him.’

Hope remains above all


A C Benson,
teacher and writer

‘College photograph. I liked my handsome friendly well-mannered young men very much, and felt proud of them. Lunched [. . .] then out with Manning . . . We found a chalk-pit above Harlton [. . .] with a little wood above it, and winding paths and tiny glades - such a little paradise. We wound through it and came out on the wold - the air full of golden sunlight, and a honied breeze, with scents of clover and beans; afar lay Cambridge, very hazy, with smoke going up; down below little quaint house-roofs and orchard-closes, full of buttercup and hemlock. A sweet hour. . .’ [This is one of Benson’s last diary entries, since he died two weeks later.]

A C Benson’s inner life


Edward Abbey,

‘Cornwall. The way these short-skirted English women display their knobby knees and hairy shanks, you would think they thought they had something to show. You would think they thought. How’d I happen to notice? Well ... just habit.

Where am I? I’m on the north Cornish coast by the seashore near a little town called Bude, looking west, at the moment, toward America - the Promised Land.

The sea is beautiful. It’s a revelation: I’d almost forgotten how powerful and mysterious and beautiful the shore, the beach, the sun, sea and charging surf can be. Genuine surf here - big breakers three feet high and a sandy beach walled in by gray-green cliffs. Gulls and crows. Dark brown kelp sprawled wet and limp on the rocks, algae the color of pea-soup, pale blue English sky, mild English sun, wistful little English clouds floating around listlessly on the horizon. A pleasant charming setting, England at its best.

I’m all alone on the beach now. The English have all trotted off for three o’clock tea. An amazing people. If I didn’t admire them so much I could despise them far more satisfactorily.’

As big as the West


Sutan Sjahrir,

‘My memories and my thoughts turn and fly home, to my children, whom I wish to be more happy in a future, and better than me. I hope they will grow into edel human beings, which means honest, straight, lovingly disposed to all other human beings, and not proud of rank or distinctions. Certainly I hope that their brains will also be sharp, sharper and better trained than mine, but what I have said above can be best summarized with this most important word edel.’

Indonesia’s first prime minister


Leonid Brezhnev,

‘Received Chernenko - signed minutes worked with Galya Doroshina Rest - flew to Zavidovo - 5 boars.’

To every historian’s despair


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And so made significant . . .
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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, several times a week. Now over ten years old, The Diary Review is the secondary source for the extracts in this online anthology.