And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

3 March

1612
Richard Boyle,
landowner and politician

‘Captn Robert Tynt was married in my studdy in yoghall by my cozen Richard Boyle dean of Waterforde to my Kinswoman Mrs Elizabeth Boyle als. Seckerston widdow; and I gaue her unto him in marriadge, and I beseech god to bless them wth good agreement and many vertuous children.’

The Great Earl of Cork

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1753
Ralph Jackson,
landowner

‘In the morning I went to Mary’s and got my Tea, then I came in & Copyed over 3 bills into the Books, after I carried them to my Master. He let some ink fall upon one of them and spoiled it so I rode down to Shields upon my Master’s mair, I got Jno Campion to go with me on Board his Bror. where I got the Bill renewed, it was for £30-12s-4d. I came from Shields as I cou’d and got back against dinner time, after dinner I went to old Mr Ackenheads & passed the above Bill to him, I brot. the money to my Master and went down to the Cann hos. till Jno. Paid the Keelmen, then I came away and came into the Office were I did a good deal of my Master’s business . . . I sat up with Billy till my Master came in, after he came in he smoaked a pipe for he was a little in Liquor . . .’

Apprentice Hostman and squire

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1819
Henry Fynes Clinton,
classicist

‘My love of letters begins to revive, which has been dormant or extinct for some time past; and an inward alacrity and cheerfulness consequently succeeds to that spirit of despondency and dissatisfaction which I have lately felt. I perceive that I can never be a public speaker; but I observe that those whose lives have been passed as eminent public speakers, have not, in general, the faculty of being good writers: they generally fail in purity of style and language, points in which they might especially be expected to excel. Mr Pitt weakened the effect of his speeches by attempting to retouch those of them which appeared in print; and the published specimens of his eloquence do not justify to us who have not heard him the splendid testimony of his auditors. Mr Fox, when he applied himself to written composition, produced the feeble and languid history of James the Second. The style of Mr Wilberforce, in his treatise on Christianity, is verbose and heavy, and never rises above mediocrity. Although therefore I have not faculties for public speaking, which requires extempore powers, yet I may be capable of written composition, which is the fruit of meditation, diligence, care, and labour.

Nor is it perhaps to be granted that oratory is necessarily the highest effort of the faculties of man: it is only an exhibition of them in a particular form. The orator possesses from nature or practice the talent of putting forth all his powers at once; the writer produces his best efforts by meditation, time, and revision of his subject. But in a comparative estimate of genius, it will be inquired, not by what steps excellence is reached, but at what point of excellence men arrive at last. The orator indeed is always regarded with more indulgence than the writer can hope to receive. He possesses the advantage of being only measured against his contemporaries. He who is the best orator of his own age acquires all the present benefits that eloquence can confer. Demosthenes and Cicero were no more than this; although the standard of excellence in different times and countries may have been very different. But the writer, on the contrary, is compared with the compositions of other times and countries. He is measured with those who have cultivated the same kind of writing in all past times; and the wit and genius of ages are set in the balance against him. The standard, then, of excellence is more defined and ascertained, and more difficult to be reached, in written compositions, than in eloquence. The one is absolute, the other relative. He who is eminent as a public speaker, owes much of his fame to particular circumstances: but the reputation of a writer is founded upon a higher kind of merit.

I will not, then, because Nature has denied me the gifts of an orator, unwisely overlook or neglect the advantages and the usefulness of that literature of which I may yet be capable. There is a field in which I may still successfully labour. One advantage, and that the highest of all, I have already gained by literary occupations. Nine years are this day completed since I returned to these occupations upon my arrival in Dean’s Yard, after the events in 1810. In surveying my own mind during that period, I perceive that whenever I have been occupied and interested in literary labours, I have been safe, and innocent, and satisfied, and happy. But those periods in which I have deserted my habitual studies, have been intervals of danger, of temptation, of discontent, of evil thoughts. Can I have a stronger motive for continuing that course of studies? or shall I say that my labours have failed in being profitable, even though they produce no returns of fame or interest?’

The writer vs the orator

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1833
William Macready,
actor

‘I am forty years of age! Need I add one word to the solemn reproof conveyed in these, when I reflect on what I am, and what I have done? What has my life been? a betrayal of a great trust, an abuse of great abilities! This morning, as I began to dress, I almost started when it occurred to me that it was my birthday.

Last night I began reading parts of Faublas [by Jean-Baptiste Louvet de Couvrai], and, as is my custom with novels, sat up late and continued it in bed until half-past five this morning. I rose late, and was shocked and ashamed to think that I had wasted, or rather misused, so much precious time over such immoral, irrational and debasing stuff.’

Acted Macbeth very unequally

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1847
Eugène Delacroix,
artist

‘Today, Wednesday, repainted the rocks in the background of the ‘Christ’ and finished the lay-in, the Magdalen, and the naked figure in the foreground. I wish I had applied the paint rather more thickly in this lay-in. It is incredible how time smooths out a picture; my Sibyl seems to me to have sunk into the canvas, already. It is a thing I must watch carefully.’

The workings of Delacroix

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1909
Leonard Woolf,
civil servant and writer

‘I was woken at 3am by the Stock Inspector’s messenger. My wrath was appeased by learning that it is not rinderpest. I heard today that all the contractors who are removing salt from Palatupana on Government account at Rs1.70 per ton had left the lewaya [shallow lagoon]. This was a strike to force my hand and make me pay Rs2 per ton. In the evening I got hold of the previous contractor and I was determined that he should take another contract. Eventually with great difficulty and a certain amount of pressure I induced him to enter into a contract to remove 10,000 cwts a month until all the salt on this side of the lewaya is removed. As he will probably pay the carters about Rs1.50 a ton, I feel that I have scored. He undertakes with me to do it at Rs1.80 per ton which is the old rate.’

Woolf on rinderpest and salt

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1942
Alexander Cadogan,
civil servant

‘10.45 meeting with A. and others about this wretched message to Stalin. P.M. evidently reacted strongly last night against our alterations. I still say that it’s worse that nothing to send the P.M.’s original draft painting a black picture with a hint of blacker to come. But A. evidently thinks he can’t over-persuade P.M. . . . Department produced yet two more drafts of P.M. message as a result of our meeting this morning. I can do no more - I am confused by drafts: there are now at least five. If the P.M. accepts any it will be the one nearest to his original. Heard later from Ismay that A. had approved both the new drafts! I don’t know what that means, as they were quite different! Fact is P.M. is in a sour mood - ill, I think - and frightens anyone - including A. I quite sympathise with them!’

Went to see P.M. (in bed)

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1945
Kim Malthe-Bruun,
sailor

‘Yesterday I was sitting at the table. I looked at my hands in amazement. They were trembling. I thought about it for a moment. There are some things which produce a purely physical reaction. Suddenly, as I was sitting here, I was possessed by the desire to draw something. I got up and started to sketch on the wall. I was fascinated and became more and more absorbed. Under my hand suddenly appeared a farmer, standing by a barbed-wire fence. I sat down, got up and made some changes, sat down again and felt much better. All day I worked on it. There were so many things which I couldn’t make come out the way I wanted them to. I studied it, stretched my imagination to the utmost and was suddenly completely exhausted. I erased all of it and since then even the idea of drawing makes me sick.

I’ve been thinking about this strange experience a good deal. Right afterwards I had such a wonderful feeling of relief, a sense of having won a victory and such intense happiness that I felt quite numb. It seemed as if body and soul became separated, one in a wild and soaring freedom beyond the reach of the world, and the other doubled up in a horrible cramp which held it to the earth. I suddenly realized how terrifically strong I am (but perhaps I only tried to talk myself into this). When the body and soul rejoined forces, it was as if all the joys of the world were right there for me. But it was as with so many stimulants; when the effect wore off the reaction set in. I saw that my hands were shaking, something had given inside. It was as if there had been a short circuit in the roots of my heart which drained it of all strength. I was like a man hungry for pleasure and consumed by desire. But still I was calm and in better spirits than ever before.

Although I feel no fear, my heart beats faster every time someone stops outside my door. It’s a physical reaction.

Strange, but I don’t feel any resentment or hatred at all. Something happened to my body, which is only the body of an adolescent, and it reacted as such, but my mind was elsewhere. It was aware of the small creatures who were busying themselves with my body, but it was in a world of its own and too engrossed to pay much attention to them.

I’ve learned something by being alone. It is as if I’d reached rock bottom in myself, which usually can’t be seen for all the layers of egotism, conceit, love, and all the ups and downs of daily life. It is this which makes me feel as if I’d had a short circuit within me. When I’m with the other people, their interests, their conversation, act as a balm, covering the rock bottom in myself with a warm compress. When I’m alone, it is as if layers of skin were being scraped away. Your mind is not at ease, you can’t concentrate on reading, the spirit as well as the body must keep pacing up and down. I suddenly understood what insanity must be, but I knew that this was like everything else which has happened to me, and in a couple of days I’ll be myself again.’

My heart beats faster

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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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