And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

6 March

Mary Clavering Cowper,

‘At Court. An extraordinary Light in the Sky, described to me since by Dr. Clarke, who saw it from the Beginning. First appeared a black Cloud, from whence Smoke and Light issued forth at once on every Side, and then the Cloud opened, and there was a great Body of pale Fire, that rolled up and down, and sent forth all Sorts of Colours like the Rainbow on every Side; but this did not last above two or three Minutes. After that it was like pale elementary Fire issuing out on all sides of the Horizon, but most especially at the North and North-west, where it fixed last. The Motion of it was extremely swift and rapid, like Clouds in their swiftest Rack. Sometimes it discontinued for a While, at other Times it was but as Streaks of Light in the Sky, but moving always with Swiftness. About one o’Clock this Phenomenon was so strong, that the whole Face of the Heavens was entirely covered with it, moving as swiftly as before, but extremely low. It lasted till past Four, but decreased till it was quite gone. At One the Light was so great that I could, out of my Window, see People walk across Lincoln’s Inn Fields, though there was no Moon. Both Parties turned it on their Enemies. The Whigs said it was God’s Judgement on the horrid Rebellion, and the Tories said that it came for the Whigs taking off the two Lords [see below] that were executed. I could hardly make my Chairmen come Home with me, they were so frightened, and I was forced to let my Glass down, and to preach to them as I went along, to comfort them. I’m sure Anybody that had overheard the Dialogue would have laughed heartily. All the People were drawn out into the Streets, which were so full of people One could hardly pass, and all frighted to Death.’ [This was a display of the Northern Lights, once dubbed Lord Derwentwater’s Lights because the coffin of Lord Derwentwater, a young Jacobite executed for treason, had been brought to London that night.]

All sorts of colours


Philip Hone,
businessman and politician

‘A committee of the House of Representatives has been appointed to investigate the circumstances attending the late duel between Messrs. Graves and Cilley, with power to send for persons and papers. In the Senate, Mr. Prentiss, of Vermont, has introduced a bill to prevent duelling in the District of Columbia, making it death for the survivor, and imposing ten years’ imprisonment upon all persons concerned in sending a challenge.’

A jewel beyond price


Eugène Delacroix,

‘After a good night’s rest I went back to the studio where I recovered my good humour. I am looking at the ‘Hunts’, by Rubens. The one I prefer is the hippopotamus hunt; it is the fiercest. I like its heroic emphasis, I love its unfettered exaggerated forms, I adore them as much as I despise those gushing empty-headed women who swoon over fashionable portraits and M. Verdi’s music.’

The workings of Delacroix


William Sydney Clements,

‘Inquired into the cutting off of the tail of Thompson’s cow in Farnaught. Found that there was every reason to believe that the tail was cut by young Malachy Fanning and his brother Charles. Thos Cunnion of Farnaught and Edward Corr of Farnaught were with Malachy Fanning in his father’s house. The father Fanning was absent. Ordered that Fanning pay Thompson £1.’

Splinters fell on me


Raja Varma,

‘We paid a visit to the Nawab [+++] the premier noble of the state. He sent a carriage and [+++] two of his sowars for us. His palace is a very big and extensive pile of buildings. He is confined with rheumatic complaint. Ms Pestonji, his wife, daughter and son-in-law came this evening to see our pictures.’

Painting with brother


Paul Klee,

‘Singing instructions are no longer given by the clear-voiced sergeant, but by Corporal Bruckner. A neat man with a slight squint that doesn’t look bad. First we all read the text together, then he sings the first stanza, fearfully off-key, so that our ears cringe. Then we sing it. Today we learned a horrible piece of trash called Flag Song. I am living with apes. I realize this seeing them take this unadulterated rubbish with such seriousness.’

Colour possesses me


Alexander Berkman,

‘At the first session of the newly elected Moscow Soviet, Kamenev was in the chair. He reported on the critical food and fuel situation, denounced the Mensheviki and Social Revolutionists as the counter-revolutionary aids of the Allies, and closed by voicing his conviction about the near outbreak of the social revolution abroad.

A Menshevik deputy ascended the rostrum and attempted to refute the charges brought against his party, but the other Soviet members interrupted and hissed so violently he could not proceed. Communist speakers followed, in essence repeating the words of Kamenev. The exhibition of intolerance, so unworthy of a revolutionary assembly, depressed me. I felt that it grossly offended against the spirit and purpose of the august body, the Moscow Soviet, whose work should express the best thought and ideas of its members and crystallize them in effective and wise action.

After the close of the Soviet session began the first anniversary meeting of the Third International, in the Bolshoi Theater. It was attended by practically the same audience, and Kamenev was again Chairman. It was a most significant event to me, this gathering of the proletariat of all countries, in the persons of its delegates, in the capital of the great Revolution. I saw in it the symbol of the coming daybreak. But the entire absence of enthusiasm saddened me. The audience was official and stiff, as if on parade; the proceedings mechanical, lacking all spontaneity. Kamenev, Radek, and other Communists spoke. Radek thundered against the scoundrelism of the world bourgeoisie, vilified the social patriots of all countries, and enlarged upon the coming revolutions. His long and tedious speech tired me.’

Exhibition of intolerance


Albert Einstein,

‘Excursion to Toledo concealed through many lies. One of the finest days of my life. Radiant skies. Toledo like a fairy tale. An enthusiastic old man, who had supposedly written something of import about (Goy) El Greco, guides us. Streets and market place, views onto the city, the Tagus with stone bridges, stone-covered hills, charming plain, cathedral, synagogue, sunset on the homeward trip with glowing colors. Small garden with vistas near synagogue. Magnificent painting by El Greco in small church (burial of a nobleman) is among the profoundest images I have ever seen. Wonderful day.’

Einstein’s wonderful day


Joseph Goebbels,

‘I had a very lengthy talk with Seyss-Inquart. He is an enthusiastic supporter of my policies and has great expectations for them in the occupied areas. He reported that our generals sometimes get weak in the knees. But that, after all, has always been the case with the generals! I can see from this talk that the chances for the success of my political directives are everywhere on the increase.’

The Nuremberg ten


Pope John XXIII

‘Just when I thought my heavenly visits were over, the Madonna comes to me once again. She seems tired of the heartache she must share with me. My heart aches to see him hurting so. The news, again foreboding. In the early 1990s there will be a period of deadly natural disasters. She says paradise will be struck by powerful winds and wails, while killer floods and violent earthquakes will shatter man’s dwellings. By the middle of the decade, regional skirmishes will develop into full-fledged conflicts. As the casualties mount, world-wide famine will strike. The devastation will be like none ever seen, especially throughout Africa where millions will perish.’

A pope’s view of Mussolini


Alec Guinness,

‘Memories of Brighton crowded in on me as we drove home, from visits as a schoolboy to appearances at the Theatre Royal in later life; from doing the officer training course (for RNVR) at HMS King Alfred at the far edge of Hove (it now looks like some sort of leisure complex) to weekends during the fifties at the Royal Crescent Hotel at the eastern end of Brighton front. [. . .] What I liked most about Brighton as a boy was the little electric railway which ran from near the Palace Pier to Black Rock and had a section of its line, all too short for my money, running out over the sea. When the sea was a bit rough this was a thrill; when it was really rough the cissy little train didn’t function. I must have spent many happy, if lonely, hours to’ing and fro’ing. Not absolutely lonely. I have always found the sea, in whatever mood it was in, good and sufficient company.’

I noticed my feet


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And so made significant . . .
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Notes and Cautions
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.