And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

9 March

1847
George B McClellan,
soldier and engineer

‘. . . We were removed from the Orator to the steamer Edith, and after three or four hours spent in transfering the troops to the vessels of war and steamers, we got under weigh and sailed for Sacrificios. At half past one we were in full view of the town [Vera Cruz] and castle, with which we soon were to be very intimately acquainted.

Shortly after anchoring the preparations for landing commenced, and the 1st (Worth’s) Brigade was formed in tow of the Princeton in two long lines of surf boats bayonets fixed and colors flying. At last all was ready, but just before the order was given to cast off a shot whistled over our heads. ‘Here it comes’ thought everybody, ‘now we will catch it.’ When the order was given the boats cast off and forming in three parallel lines pulled for the shore, not a word was said everyone expected to hear and feel their batteries open every instant. Still we pulled on and on until at last when the first boats struck the shore those behind, in the fleet, raised that same cheer which has echoed on all our battlefields we took it up and such cheering I never expect to hear again except on the field of battle.

Without waiting for the boats to strike the men jumped in up to their middles in the water and the battalions formed on their colors in an instant our company was the right of the reserve under [Lieut.-] Colonel Belton. Our company and the 3rd Artillery ascended the sand hills and saw - nothing. We slept in the sand - wet to the middle. In the middle of the night we were awakened by musketry a skirmish between some pickets. The next morning we were sent to unload and reload the ‘red iron boat’ - after which we resumed our position and took our place in the line of investment. Before we commenced the investment, the whole army was drawn up on the beach. We took up our position on a line of sand hills about two miles from the town. The Mexicans amused themselves by firing shot and shells at us all of which (with one exception) fell short.’

Musket fire in Vera Cruz

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1882
Edmond de Goncourt,
writer

‘Dinner at Zola’s. A gourmet’s dinner, flavoured by an original conversation on matters pertaining to food and to the imagination of the stomach, at the end of which Turgenev undertakes to provide us with Russian snipe, the finest game-bird in the world.

From the food the conversation passes on to wines, and Turgenev, with that pretty art of description, with the artistic little touches which he alone of us all possesses, tells us about a draught of an extraordinary Rhenish wine drunk in a certain German inn.

First, the introduction into a room at the back of the hotel, putting distance between himself and the noise of the street and the rolling of carriages; then the grave entrance of the old innkeeper coming to be present, as a serious witness of the operation, at the same time as the arrival of the innkeeper’s daughter, a true Gretchen, with her hands an honest red, and marked with little white freckles, like the hands of every German school-teacher . . . and the religious uncorking of the bottle, spreading an odour of violet through the room; then, finally, the scene in all its details, described with the minute observation of a poet.

This conversation and the succulent food are from time to time interrupted by moans and complaints on our “beastly trade,” on the little happiness which good luck brings us, on the profound indifference which overcomes us for our successes, and on the annoyances which the least things opposed to our life can cause us.’

Journal des Goncourt

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1933
Elizabeth Smart,
writer

‘On the bus [. . .] there was only one seat on top which a nondescript man was trying to camouflage. However, I was resolute and made him move over - sitting uncomfortably and precariously on the edge. Soon, the seat in front was completely empty and I moved into it - it was the very front seat. In a couple of moments a lady who had been sitting beside someone else came and sat beside me. She was not startling, but if you looked into her face it was queer and uncanny - you could see she lived in a very different world from most people. [. . .] When the conductor came up to collect the tickets she said to him in a very loud voice, “Why don’t you stop there and get some petrol. We might get on a bit quicker.” I smiled at her when she seemed to be muttering her hates to me - but I didn’t speak for fear of bringing down on my head the accusations of an insane person - though I wished I had later when she left. [. . .]

I went to the Tate Gallery on a 2 bus and was inspired and thrilled and imagitated by William Blake’s illustrations - especially the one of Dante and Virgil approaching the angel who guards the gates of Purgatory - there are mystical yellow and red lights and rays upon the water - and you can look into it and into it - and you feel a sacred feeling like the light of twilights and dreams when you were little. Strange, lost beautiful things and imaginings and forgotten inspirations.’

Everything is sunshining

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1941
Etty Hillesum,
young woman

‘Here goes, then. This is painful and well-night insuperable step for me: yielding up so much that has been suppressed to a blank sheet of lined paper. The thoughts in my head are sometimes so clear and so sharp and my feelings are so deep, but writing about them comes hard. The main difficulty, I think, is a sense of shame. So many inhibitions, so much fear of letting go, of allowing things to pour out of me, and yet that is what I must do if I am ever to give my life a reasonable and satisfactory purpose. It is like the final, liberating scream that always sticks bashfully in your throat when you make love. I am accomplished in bed, just about seasoned enough I should think to be counted among the better lovers, and love does indeed suit me to perfection, and yet it remains a mere trifle, set apart from what is truly essential, and deep inside me something is still locked away.’

Let us go gracefully

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1943
Joseph Goebbels,
politician

‘The Fuehrer shares my worries about the carrying through of the 800,000-manpower programme. He has now become rather distrustful of Sauckel, who lacks the ability to carry through in practice the necessary transition process for this programme. He depends too much upon the labour offices, which arc quite unsuitable for this purpose. [. . .]

I related some incidents illustrating conditions in the occupied areas to the Fuehrer, but he already knew most of them. In this connection we happened to talk about the case of the Governor General [of Poland], Dr. Frank. The Fuehrer no longer has any respect for him. I argued with the Fuehrer, however, that he must either replace Frank or restore his authority, for a governor general - in other words, a viceroy - of Poland without authority is of course unthinkable in these critical times. Added to everything else, Frank is unfortunately mixed up in a divorce, about which he is not exactly behaving nobly. The Fuehrer refused to let him get a divorce. This, too, serves to play havoc with the Fuehrer’s relationship to Frank. Nevertheless he wants to receive him within the next few days to determine whether he can still be saved, and if so, to strengthen his authority once more. Frank is not acting very sensibly in this whole situation. He vacillates between brusque outbursts of anger and a sort of spiritual self-mortification. That’s no way, of course, to lead a people. One must have absolute self-assurance, as it is the only thing which can radiate assurance to others.’

The Nuremberg ten

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1956
Sydney Moseley,
journalist

‘(Bournemouth) Today is my 68th birthday - and it is time I finally closed my diaries! Would that it were possible to close my mind with equal emphasis. Thoughts, ideas, views continue to chase each other. . . How will it really end?

What comparisons can one make with the past? Were my times the ‘good old days’? Or were they, as our modern progressives call them, the ‘bad old days’? Well - where are we today? We have: penicillin; hydrogen bombs; radio; plastics; Teddy-boys; modern plumbing; Bikini suits; pheno-barbitone; television; cafetarias; automobiles for all; telephones for all; a broken sound-barrier; long-playing records; inflation; diesel engines; higher wages; guided missiles, and aspirin tablets which dissolve much more quickly than ever before. Are we any happier? - more secure? - really better off? One could write much on the subject, and the ensuing discussion would go on ‘far, far into the night’.’

Saw television!

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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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Any author, publisher or other copyright holder who takes the view that I am unacceptably breaching their copyright please let me know. I have tried to remain sensitive to copyright rules (using far fewer quotes, for example, when a book, by an author still alive, remains in print and popular), but it is not practical for me to seek authorisation for every quote and article, since I maintain these websites without any funding or advertis-ing. I take the view that publicity for the source books is a quid pro quo for my use of the extracts, but I am more than happy to remove the extracts if asked.

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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, usually several every week. The blog has been publishing for over five years, and is the secondary source for the diary extracts in this online anthology.