And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

11 May

1676
John Evelyn,
writer

I dined with Mr Charleton, and went to see Mr Montague’s new palace, near Bloomsbury, built by Mr Hooke, of our Society, after the French manner [now the site of the British Museum].

A most excellent person

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1740
George Whitefield,
priest

‘Preached to about 15,000 People in the Morning, and observed a great Melting to follow the Word.’

Preaching with power

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1812
Charles Abbot,
lawyer and politician

‘The House of Commons being in Committee hearing evidence on the Orders in Council, at a few minutes after five, I was called down from my room into the house by a message that Mr [Spencer] Perceval [Prime Minister] was shot in the lobby.

As soon as I had taken the chair, the assassin, a bankrupt Liverpool merchant, John Bellingham, was forcibly brought to the bar. I detained him till a Magistrate was brought, who came almost instantly; and then the assassin was conducted to the prison room belonging to the Serjeant-at-Arms, where he was examined before Mr White, a Westminster Justice; and Mr Alderman Combe and Mr Taylor, two Members who were also Justices, and thereupon committed to Newgate for murder.

Mr Perceval’s body (for he fell lifeless after he had staggered a few paces into the lobby) was brought into my house, and remained in the first picture room till the family removed it (for privacy) at one o’clock in the morning to Downing Street.’

An agony of tears

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1817
Allan Cunningham,
botanist and explorer

‘It is as large as the northwest river which we intend to continue upon, and which we are induced from appearances to conclude will not be of long existence as a river. We fathomed the deepest part and found it did not exceed 19 ft. It is evident that these plains are inundated by the river in great floods from the eastward, for in fact the highest land (the few rocky hills excepted) is on the immediate bank of the river, so that the floods rising over the banks descend down upon the plains on each side this channel. On the plains we observed two native companions (Grus australasiana), and our people shot two swans. From the circumstance of having seen two bark canoes moored among the reeds on the river’s left bank, and from the body of smoke ascending above the small trees at the base of Mount Melville on the opposite side of the plain, it is evident that there are some natives existing in these parts. We, however, saw none.

It was a matter of surprise that we fell in with so very few natives, whose marks are daily before our eyes, but it appears sufficiently obvious that experience has taught them to retire from a river where a supply of food is extremely precarious, and where a sudden inundation would in a moment sweep them away. Choosing rather to retire to the hilly country where they are enabled to obtain a daily subsistence with greater facility, and are not liable to be surprised and overtaken by floods.

N.B. It appears they only visit the river in great drought, when there is but little water in its channel, and are then able to procure the large horse mussel from its muddy bottom, which they cannot possibly obtain in floods and strong currents. They have no idea of angling or have any method to catch that we know of. The viviparous Pancratium purpureum] grows extremely luxuriant on these slimy plains. An unfortunate accident happened us this day. The horse that usually carried the barometer fell beneath his load and broke that valuable instrument.’

In search of water

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1851
Henry Greville,
courtier and diplomat

‘I went yesterday for the first time to the Exhibition. It is really a marvellous place, beautiful and singular, but although filled with everything curious from all parts of the world, its immense size gives one a feeling of hopeless bewilderment. I did little more than walk through a part of it, glancing at the wondrous things it contains, and at the general effect of the building, and of the crowds of people who perambulated it without confusion or inconvenience, but I returned home jaded, with aching head and eyes from the glare, and with the sensation of being glad I had seen it, and (no doubt stupidly) with no desire to return there. Its success is great and universal, and when one recollects that seven months ago the building was not begun, and that now this stupendous edifice is finished, filled with everything most wonderful, and gathered from all corners of the world, it is nothing short of marvellous. The receipts are immense and daily increasing.’

I went with the Queen

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1852
Polly Lavinia Crandall Coon,
teacher

‘Traveled near about 16 miles & camped again on a large Prarie near a beautiful spring which we consider a great treat. After getting our tents pitched & supper nearly in readiness a heavy thunder shower struck us & we were nearly drenched but succeeded in keeping our beds tolerable dry.’

We hope for better times

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1882
Mountstuart Elphinstone Grant Duff,
politician

‘Attended the Wellington races and lunched with my staff, who have a pretty camp near the course. Wild weather, with thunder, rain, hail, and what not, cut short the proceedings, and we drove back in a deluge, accompanied by the largest flashes of lightning I ever beheld. The four horses never shied nor flinched.’

Good-natured books

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1906
Marie Curie,
physicist and chemist

‘My Pierre, I got up after having slept rather well, relatively calm. That was only a quarter of an hour ago, and now I want to howl again - like a wild beast.’

Without seeing you

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1947
Thor Heyerdahl,
ethnographer

‘Today a huge marine animal twice came up to the surface alongside us as we sat at supper on the edge of the raft. It made a fearful splashing and disappeared. We have no idea what it was.’

The Kon-Tiki man

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1967
James Gordon Farrell,
writer

‘Over a month since my last entry - an interval in which things went downhill at a fairly brisk pace, with the roaches multiplying in my room at the Belvedere faster than I could control them . . . In this time I took out Anita Gross a couple of times. She’s attractive, sure. But there’s something slightly wrong somewhere [. . .]

A week ago I came to Block Island to stay at the Surf Hotel under the aegis of Mr and Mrs Sears. He is a fat, genial chap and she is somewhat severe with elegantly rolled white hair that makes her look like an immigrant from Versailles. [. . .] At first I found myself eating with an English couple called Porter: she is a psychiatrist, he described himself as a ‘poet’ but I didn’t question him about this and he didn’t volunteer any further information. [. . .]

I’ve covered most of the island on foot in the past week and feel much healthier for it. The weather has been a mixture of terrible storms and sunny, windy days. Last weekend the ferry was unable to make the return trip because of a storm. Now the rain has returned I think I shall return to NY tomorrow.

While here I have made yet another ‘fresh start’ on my book - partly inspired by the charred remains of the Ocean View Hotel which stands, or stood, on a cliff overlooking the old harbour where the ferry comes in. It burned down a year or so ago. “A place with a thousand rooms,” Mr Porter (the poet) said. “200 to 300” said his wife. This morning I went up to look at the remains while the sun was still shining. Old bedsprings twisted with heat; puddles of molten glass; washbowls that had fallen through to the foundations; a flight of stone steps leading up to thin air; twisted pipes; lots of nails lying everywhere and a few charred beams. I think the way the glass had collected like candlegreas under the windows impressed me most. When you picked it up it was inclined to flake away into smaller pieces in your hand. I must remember to ask someone how many storeys it had. Anyway this gave me an idea, which seems to me a good one, for the dwelling place of the family.’ [Ocean View Hotel did, in fact, provide the catalyst for the Majestic Hotel in Troubles, and give him the structure for the novel.]

Catch some of my life

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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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