And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

12 March

1627
William Whiteway,
politician

‘This day my Unkle John Pit of Bridport died, being 80 yeares old. He died of age, and of the Stone. This day my Cousin James Gould and I did ride to London, to Joine with the merchants of Exeter, in petitioning the king and the Counsell, that we might have as much french goods delivered us as we had arrested in france.’

The towne took on fire

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1674
Roger Lowe,
tradesman

12 March 1674

‘I went to Coz Robert Rosbothome to Rixham faire to seeke his mare that was stolne over night, and we mett with Mathew Cooke, who we conjecturd to be the theefe, and upon our wordes he fled and left a stolne mare, which we securd in town and was after ownd ownd [sic].’

In church, at the alehouse

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1844
William Charles Macready,
actor

‘Dickens’s misjudgment is as clear to me as the noonday sun, and much is to be said in explanation and excuse, but Dickens is a man who fills such a place in the world’s opinion, the people cannot think that he ought to need an excuse alas! the greatest man is but a man!’

A surprising man

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1847
William Charles Macready,
actor

‘Looked over The Old Curiosity Shop of Dickens. He is a great genius.’

A surprising man

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1915
Charles de Foucauld,
priest

‘Like you, I hope that from the great evil of this war will go forth a great blessing to souls - a blessing in France, where the sight of death will inspire serious thoughts, and where the accomplishment of duty in the greatest sacrifices will uplift souls and purify them, bringing them nearer to Him who is the uncreated good, and make them more fit to see the truth and stronger to live in conformity with it; - a blessing to our Allies, who in coming nearer to us come nearer to Catholicism, and whose souls, like ours, are purified by sacrifice - a blessing to our infidel subjects, who, fighting in crowds on our soil, learn to know us and get nearer to us, and whose loyal devotion will stir up the French to work for them more than in the past, and govern them better than in the past.’

From playboy to ascetic

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1918
Bruce Lockhart,
diplomat

‘Very depressing telegram from Foreign Office. Sent off long telegram re Trotsky. The other day Pravda published ail the documents against Trotsky and Lenin which they had been able to find, including some of English counter-espionage section! They are sportsmen!’

Secret agent in Moscow

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1940
Astrid Lindgren,
writer

‘Perhaps this is the very day when they’re deciding in Moscow whether there will be peace. Through Swedish mediation, a peace conference has taken place, even though the war is raging on. Ryti, Paasikivi and two others are there. Nobody knows anything yet about the terms on which Russia will make peace, and after all, Finland isn’t in a position that obliges her to agree to unreasonable demands. In actual fact, any terms are ‘unreasonable’, because why should Russia get a single scrap of Finland’s soil?

The Western powers don’t want peace between Russia and Finland at all. They like the idea of Russia being kept busy, so it can’t deliver anything to Germany. They are offering Finland all the help the country wants - but first they have to receive a request for help, and there hasn’t been one. This direct request has to come first, otherwise they can’t just march straight through Norway and Sweden. And that’s what they’d most like to do! So Sweden has been roundly scolded, particularly in the French press, which claims we have put pressure on Finland to persuade it to make peace. The Swedish government vehemently denies this; we only conveyed the peace offer from Russia. The Western powers think Germany has made us try to broker peace. But in fact Germany has probably been on at Russia to persuade them to make peace. Because a peace agreement seems to suit Germany too darned well and the Western powers too darned badly.

A little Finnish boy was supposed to come to us by plane from Åbo [Turku] today, but we’ve heard nothing. Maybe he’ll come tonight.

We’ve been entirely without hot water for over a week now.

Oh, if only there could be peace. If only Finland could have peace, at least, and we could help them rebuild their ravaged land.

I heard the news just now. No confirmed reports are available yet on the outcome of the negotiations. We’ll hear at 11 o’clock this evening, if any new reports have come in. God, let there be peace. A good peace, one that Finland can accept and at least keep its right of self-determination. Let there be peace!

PEACE?!?’

Let there be peace

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1944
Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr.,
soldier

’After lunch we went out with Adm. Turner in his barge and boarded our command ship the Eldorado. . . . We sailed shortly before six, a long looked-forward to occasion.

After sailing, Turner took me aside and dwelt on the difficulties and uncertainties of our mission which he characterized as a “son of a bitch” and asked what I thought about it. I expressed confidence and started to argue him out of his misgivings. I found then that he wasn’t worried at all, but was trying to find out if I was.

After supper, Turner talked to Post and myself about the shore party setup of the Marines whom he has less confidence in along these lines than he has in Army units. He said that the Marine shore party work at Iwo Jima was poor, particularly that of the V Corps and the 4th Div.’

The battle for Okinawa

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1972
Pete Seeger,
musician

‘We have a three-hour session at the home of the Artists’ Union, a big old mansion once the home of some French family. We hear a great variety of Vietnamese music, from the Western-influenced modern compositions to ancient traditional music. They mix it up, alternating old and new almost as I do. Later at 8 pm we have a similar session at the radio station.

Here are some of the instruments we see: A beautiful bird-like flute (the player tells us of performing this instrument for soldiers in sections where U.S. chemical sprays had killed all birds, and the bird calls he made on the instruments were the only ones to have been heard there in years).

Banjo-like instruments have two strings over very high frets, so the player can slur the notes. There is also an instrument like a cigar-box ukulele; a bowed instrument held between the knees of the player while seated; various wood-blocks, claves, drums, from huge to small; and harps like kotos.

All the Western instruments are there. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hanoi, like Tokyo, doesn’t have a first-rate symphony orchestra some day. (Hey, it does have a symphony, which I find out later.)

But what really gets me is an instrument completely new to me, a monochord - one stringed. The Vietnamese name for it is dan ban (pronounced “don bow” - as in bow and arrow - with falling pitch. The same words, if inflected differently, could mean “bullet pinches.”) Like a dulcimer, it is a horizontal box. Perhaps it was once set on the floor, or on the lap. The one we see stood on legs, and is amplified, so as to be heard by any audience bigger than five or ten.

The one steel string is tuned by a peg at the player’s right. His left hand holds a thin curved rod. By forcing this toward the string, he can gradually lower the pitch as much as four or even seven notes. Thus the dan ban is similar to a broomstick-wash-tub bass. When moved to the left, the rod raises the pitch, but no more than three or four notes.

While plucking, the player’s right hand momentarily dampens the string in order to sound the high harmonics, a bell-like tone. Thus if the string’s basic pitch is low C, the first usable note is middle C, and the few notes below that. So most melodies will be played in the 2 1/2 octaves above C. Without the left hand bending the curved rod, one could only play bugle calls. With the rod in action, one hears a warm sensuous melody. An old folk song saying has it: “Let the player of the dan ban be enraptured, by his own music. You, being a girl, should not listen to it.” But the dan ban was never puritanically outlawed, as the fiddle was in America.

A week later we are given a two-hour lesson in the dan ban or don bow, as I shall anglicize it. No one knows exactly how old it is - perhaps several hundred years, perhaps much more.

Our instructor, Doan Auh Tuan, a young man in his twenties, is a member of the Vietnam Traditional Music Ensemble, playing on radio and TV, concert tours, as well as performances for soldiers and for children in parks. He plays often as accompaniment, or with accompaniment. He says that in the old days a good player might be invited to perform at a feudal court. But it was usually in the peasants home or in the courtyard, where a few neighbors could gather to listen. 

They mix it up almost as I do

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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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