And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

28 March

1860
William Marjouram,
soldier

‘Late last night, the bodies of two English boys were found at Omata, both fearfully mutilated. Surely the Lord will avenge the blood of the defenceless and unarmed on the heads of these savage butchers! The Rev. Mr Brown with two or three English families, being still at Omata, and great doubts being entertained of their safety, a strong body of troops, under command of Colonel Murray, had been ordered to proceed by different routes for the purpose of removing them from so dangerous a neighbourhood. They had scarcely arrived before they were attacked by the rebels, who had taken up their position in a gully thickly studded with trees. Soon a smart fire commenced on both sides, and our rockets did much execution. The action continued until after dark, about which time Captain Cracroft with a portion of the Niger’s crew rushed to the pa and seized the enemy’s colours. Unfortunately, at this critical moment, an order arrived for the troops to return at once. I need hardly add that it was most reluctantly obeyed. We arrived in town about midnight, our loss being two killed and about fourteen wounded. We ascertained that the natives had lost by this affray ten chiefs and ninety killed or wounded.’

Frightfully tomahawked

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1891
Thomas Cobden-Sanderson,
craftsman

‘On Wednesday last I went to the British Museum to see a collection of drawings arranged by Sidney Colvin, and later I went to Hammersmith to see Morris. I found Mrs Morris very happy, for he was very much better. He was having his supper - oysters etc. When he finished, I went into his room, and found him sitting in a chair by the fire with a large silk handkerchief spread over his knees. He looked - despite his supper! - a little empty, his clothes hanging somewhat loosely upon him. But he was cheery and hopeful, and fell to talking about the new book (The Glittering Plain) now in the course of printing at the Morris Press. It promises to be a very beautiful book.’ [The Glittering Plain, a novel by Morris, is considered to be one of the first in a genre now called fantasy.]

Innumerable ripples; countless diamonds

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1936
Ivan Chistyakov,
soldier

‘Day greets me with a ray of sunlight on the wall, shining through a crack. I experience a moment of sheer joy, like that sunbeam, then BAM immediately crushes it and our life here falls into even starker contrast. A life of never knowing and . . . can’t come up with a name for it because everything here is just dreadful.

1 Squad have lost it, which is no surprise. They’re stuck out in the forest with none of the amenities human beings need to live, e.g., food for the soul or the mind. They’re out of touch with civilization and have food only for their stomachs, so they end up behaving like animals. Even wolves gather and play together. But us? It is forbidden for two commanders of the same educational level to serve together. What sort of policy is that? They shift you from one place to another saying you were getting too close. We have screwball superiors who couldn’t understand human psychology even if they were allowed to and just demoralize you. I’ll stick it out till autumn, and at the end of September, that’s it! Freedom or jail! I now have one idea for getting discharged - a report or speech at a meeting. I have seven months to think something up. I do want to see the Far East Region in the summer, then I’ll have savoured all the seasons.

Bystrykin, a platoon commander, has TB but doesn’t want to leave. Why? Because for him this life is perfect and he gets fed. For me, it would be hip, hip, hurray!

Golodnyak has arrived. Why have the top brass moved him here? Is it clemency or does he scare them? I got talking to a doctor in the canteen and learned an interesting fact. One of our doctors qualified as a bookkeeper but is said to ‘know about diseases’. How amusing.’

The general emptiness

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1985
Anthony Powell,
writer

‘To London, mainly for another Prime Minister’s dinner party [. . .] At dinner, to my great surprise, I was put on Mrs Thatcher’s right, with Vidia Naipaul on her left; on my other side was John Vincent. At one time or another I had read a lot of reviews by Vincent, some of them no great shakes, so far as I remembered, others pretty good. He has a notably prognathous jaw, perfectly civil manner. We did not have much talk, as I was fully occupied keeping my end up with the Prime Minister, while Vincent probably thought he had to make some sort of showing with his fellow don, Tony Quentin, on his other side.

I continue to find Mrs Thatcher very attractive physically. Her overhanging eyelids, hooded eyes, are the only suggestion of mystery (a characteristic I like in women, while totally accepting Wilde’s view of them as Sphinxes without a secret). Her general appearance seems to justify Mitterrand’s alleged comment that she has the eyes of Caligula and the lips of Marilyn Monroe; the latter a film star I never, in fact, though particularly attractive. Mrs Thatcher has a fair skin, hair-do of incredible perfection, rather dumpy figure, the last seeming to add a sense of down-to-earthiness that is appropriate and not unattractive in its way. She was wearing a black dress, the collar rolled up behind her neck, some sort of gold pattern on it. On her right hand was a large Victorian ring, dark red, in an elaborate gold setting. She only likes talking of public affairs, which I never find easy to discuss in a serious manner. In fact I felt myself taken back to age of nineteen, sitting next to a beautiful girl, myself quite unable to think of anything to say. Mrs T. is reputed to have no humour. I suspect she recognizes a joke more than she is credited with, if probably jokes of a limited kind, and confined to those who know her well. [. . .]

The talk at this Downing Street dinner, as before, was introduced at a certain stage by Hugh Thomas. It ranged over East Germany, to the condition of Young People in this country, topics on which I am not outstandingly hot. Mrs T. did, however, please me by saying that everything from which we are now suffering is all discussed in the plainest terms in Dostoevsky’s The Possessed (as I prefer, The Devils); a fact I have been preaching for decades. I wonder when, how, she got round to this. Did she read the novel, see its contemporary relevance herself, or was that pointed out to her by someone? I fear probably the latter.’

Speaking of The Possessed

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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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