And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

9 June

1638
Robert Woodford,
lawyer

‘The Lord doth graciously carry me on through diffcultyes: he is with me in the fire & in the water blessed be his name.’

I pray increase my estate

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1797
André-Marie Ampère,
scientist

‘I was prevented from giving a lesson on account my cough; I went away rather early, taking with Gresset, and the third volume of the Histoire de France. Julie shows me the trick of solitaire, which I had guessed the evening before; I seated myself near Julie, and remained by her till the end.

Incidentally, referring to some airs and songs, I left C’est en vain que la nature on the table. I ate a cherry she had let fall, and kissed a rose which she had smelt; in the walk I twice gave her my hand to get over a stile, her mother made room for me on the seat between herself and Julia; in returning I told her that it was long since I had passed so happy a day, but that it was the contemplation of nature which had charmed me the most; she spoke to me the whole day with much kindness.’

Ampère falling in love

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1810
Mirza Abul Hassan Khan,
diplomat

‘I went with Sir George Ouseley [. . .] to visit the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich [. . .]. There are not enough pages in this journal to describe its wonders.

We went first to the house of the General commanding the Arsenal. He and several colonels accompanied us to the brass foundry, where they make brass cannon and shot of various sizes. The foundry operates for twenty-four hours a day. We watched as the necessary ingredients were melted in furnaces and then poured into cannon-shaped moulds which are placed near the furnaces. Twelve cannon are cast at one time. The moulds are slightly larger than the size desired: after cooling, the cannon are lifted from the moulds by a six-horsepower crane; a steam-powered metal drill is used to bore the cannon-mouths and to smooth the barrels. There were ten men each working one of these machines: without steam the work would require 100 men.

In another place they make gun-carriages and other things out of iron. The iron is melted in a large furnace and buckets are used to pour the molten iron into moulds. There are steam-driven circular saws made of iron or steel capable of cutting timber into 100 pieces in one minute. Other machines perform other jobs; for example, a special attachment makes it possible to taper an iron bar as easily as if it were wood. The machines and tools in this workshop were invented only two years ago.

In another place lead is melted in huge cauldrons which hang over constantly burning fires. The lead is used to make shells and bullets. Children are employed to make bullets for firearms. In still another place workers prepare gunpowder and grenades.

In several open fields, cannon made of iron or brass are arranged according to size. There are also two yards for the storage of shot, arranged so that you can tell at a glance how many there are. [. . .]

There is also a dockyard at Woolwich where one hundred warships of all sizes are built yearly to replace ships lost to the enemy or which have become obsolete. Because of the high cost of armaments and machinery, the Government is usually in debt and forced to borrow from the public.’

I was utterly amazed!

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1825
Thomas Robert Malthus,
economist

‘Tower in the Market Place. Church of Notre Dame: Carved Pulpit. Statue of the Virgin by Michaelangelo. Tombs of Charles the Bold & his daughter. St Salvador. Baptism of John by Van Os. Resurrection not yet put up.

Church of Jerusalem not worth going to. Black Manteau’s. Some of the whitened houses do not suit the antient character of the Town.

At the Hotel Fleur de Bled Vin de Bordeaux ordinaire 2.f.’

The cost of men and food

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1833
Henry Crabb Robinson,
lawyer

‘Liverpool. At twelve I got upon an omnibus, and was driven up a steep hill to the place where the steam-carriages start. We travelled in the second class of carriages. There were five carriages linked together, in each of which were placed open seats for the traveller, four and four facing each other; but not all were full; and, besides, there was a close carriage, and also a machine for luggage. The fare was four shillings for the thirty-one miles. Everything went on so rapidly, that I had scarcely the power of observation. The road begins at an excavation through rock, and is to a certain extent insulated from the adjacent country. It is occasionally placed on bridges, and frequently intersected by ordinary roads. Not quite a perfect level is preserved. On setting off there is a slight jolt, arising from the chain catching each carriage, but, once in motion, we proceeded as smoothly as possible. For a minute or two the pace is gentle, and is constantly varying. The machine produces little smoke or steam. First in order is the tall chimney; then the boiler, a barrel-like vessel; then an oblong reservoir of water; then a vehicle for coals; and then comes, of a length infinitely extendible, the train of carriages. If all the seats had been filled, our train would have carried about 150 passengers; but a gentleman assured me at Chester that he went with a thousand persons to Newton fair. There must have been two engines then. I have heard since that two thousand persons and more went to and from the fair that day. But two thousand only, at three shillings each way, would have produced £600! But, after all, the expense is so great, that it is considered uncertain whether the establishment will ultimately remunerate the proprietors. Yet I have heard that it already yields the shareholders a dividend of nine per cent. And Bills have passed for making railroads between London and Birmingham, and Birmingham and Liverpool. What a change will it produce in the intercourse! One conveyance will take between 100 and 200 passengers, and the journey will be made in a forenoon! Of the rapidity of the journey I had better experience on my return; but I may say now, that, stoppages included, it may certainly be made at the rate of twenty miles an hour!

I should have observed before that the most remarkable movements of the journey are those in which trains pass one another. The rapidity is such that there is no recognizing the features of a traveller. On several occasions, the noise of the passing engine was like the whizzing of a rocket. Guards are stationed in the road, holding flags, to give notice to the drivers when to stop. Near Newton, I noticed an inscription recording the memorable death of Huskisson.’

Weeds don’t spoil

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1839
Karl Varnhagen von Ense,
diplomat and soldier

‘Humboldt agrees with me in the assertion made by me at different times, that too much cannot be inferred from the silence of the historians. He refers to three highly important and undeniable facts, which are not mentioned by those whose first duty it should have been to record them. In the archives of Barcelona, no vestige of the triumphal entry held there by Columbus; in Marco Polo, no mention of the Chinese wall; in the archives of Portugal, nothing of the travels of Amerigo Vespucci, in the service of that crown.’

Humboldt’s genius

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1862
King Edward VII

‘At Sea – A lovely day. A[t] 7. A.M. we had a bathe from the ship, in spite of one of the sailors telllin telling us that a shark of 10 feet long had been seen. In the middle of the day, we went through the “Passage de L’Ours” past the Island of Caprera, & saw Garibaldi’s house in the distance, & then passed thro’ the Straits of Bonnifacio.’

Bertie in the Middle East

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1916
François Mauriac,
writer

‘Paris. Temptations. Passions go on velvet feet in the jungle. Huge beasts. Perfume of sensuality.’

Burning at the heart

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1943
Iris Origo,
writer

‘At four am in the Clinica Quisisana, my second daughter, Donata, is born. During the long night before her birth I heard from the room, through my own pain, the groans for morphia of a young airman whose leg had been amputated.’

La Foce is liberated

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1961
Ned Rorem,
composer

‘Three days ago at dawn I smashed my right thumb flat as a bedbug in Virgil’s bathroom door, was sped to a fourth-rate doctor in Les Halles who administered five stitches as I (blushing delirium) whispered “tu me plais”, and he replied with an antitetanus shot which, for the next twelve hours, left me hanging by a thread. (Like other chosen fools, my allergy to anything concerning horses is prodigious: to ride a horse, to smell horsemeat cooking, even to read about Swift’s Houyhnhnms, I swell like a bomb.) A week in bed, shivering, finger paralyzed. Then with a few sips of Chablis and a taste of saucisson (which, they say, is ground donkey fat) the tetanus symptoms recur worse than before. Bulges everywhere. The antiserum contagion twists even the forehead into knots of wet iron. Return to bed, every joint aching for days, pills, pills, body a gray grub, spirit a clod, thumb sticking out like a sore thumb as I ruminate on how I bring on these dramas because “life isn’t enough.” ’

Self-exposing massacre

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1991
Christopher McCandless,
hiker

‘MOOSE!

Beautiful blueberries

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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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