And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

15 May

1812
Charles Abbot,
lawyer and politician

‘House of Commons. Motion for an address and monument to Mr Perceval [assassinated Prime Minister] in Westminster Abbey carried by 199 to 26.’

An agony of tears

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1840
Henry Greville,
courtier and diplomat

‘The translation of Napoleon’s remains makes a great stir. Many people laugh at it, and think it a great piece of humbug - which no doubt it is - but it is a sort of humbug which goes down here exceedingly well. I am still confined to my couch, but people are very kind to me, [. . .]

The murder of Lord William Russell is still enveloped in mystery; and although there is evidence to connect the Swiss valet with the robbery, there is none to prove him guilty of the murder. Charles writes me word he had seen the prisoner in Tothill Fields prison; that he has a bad countenance, but was calm and even dejected, civil and respectful in his manner. Everything would tend to condemn him morally, but much doubt is entertained whether, legally, there be sufficient evidence to convict him.

The Duke of Wellington made an admirable speech the other night on a motion of Lord Stanhope on the Chinese question. It was well delivered, and, evincing an entire knowledge of the subject, and a total absence of all party feeling, he entered into a warm defence of Captain Elliott, showing that when an officer was, as he considered, unjustly attacked in the discharge of his duty, he never could allow any consideration of party warfare to prevent his upholding him against all detractors.

The Tories are very angry with the Duke, as their only object is to embarrass the Government, no matter at what hazard or cost.’

I went with the Queen

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1842
Wilford Woodruff,
priest

‘True information has just reached us that the noted Governor Boggs of Missouri who by his orders expelled ten thousand Latter-day Saints, has just been assassinated in his own house and fallen in his own blood. Three balls were shot through his head, two through his brains and one through his mouth, tongue and throat. Thus this ungodly wretch has fallen in the midst of his iniquity and the vengeance of God has overtaken him at last, and he has met his just deserts though by an unknown hand. This information is proclaimed through all the papers and by dispatched messengers and hand bills through the land. Thus Boggs hath died as a fool dieth and gone to his place to receive the reward of his works.’

Oh how weak is man

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1855
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,
writer

‘I am plagued to death with letters from all sorts of people, of course about their own affairs. No hesitation, no reserve, no consideration or delicacy. What people!’

Gabrielle, Celestine or Evangeline?

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1861
Rutherford B Hayes,
president

‘Judge Matthews and I have agreed to go into the service for the war, if possible into the same regiment. I spoke my feelings to him, which he said were his also, viz., that this was a just and necessary war and that it demanded the whole power of the country; that I would prefer to go into it if I knew I was to die or be killed in the course of it, than to live through and after it without taking any part in it.’

They cheered lustily

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1897
George Kemp,
engineer

‘I dismantled the Marconi transmitting apparatus on Flat Holme, leaving it at Penarth, and then arranged for a steamer to Brean Down on Monday.’

Signalling with Marconi

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1902
Alfred Edgar Coppard,
writer

‘When the late mr Reason was killed in Australia a big subscription was made by the men in order to buy something which could be placed in the new factory as a memorial of him [.] About £25 was collected & it was foolishly resolved to buy a drinking fountain to be placed in the courtyard. When at length the fountain appeared there was great disappointment it was so small, ludicrously small. At noon when the men came out for dinner they found some sacriligious wag had tied a notice to the paltry thing, “No bathing allowed here”!’

Prize money for books

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1940
Edmund Ironside,
soldier

‘This morning at 8 a.m., just as I was talking to Gort, the P.M. rang up and told me that he had been talking to Reynaud [on the telephone], who was thoroughly demoralized. He had said that the battle was lost. The road to Paris was open. Couldn’t we send more troops? Winston told him to keep calm, that these incidents happened in a war. We have no extra demands from Gamelin or Georges, both of whom were calm, though they both considered the situation serious. I told him this. Apparently the French are giving back at Namur and may bend back to Charleroi, still keeping a hold on us at Wavre. I shouldn’t be at all surprised if the line was back again upon the French frontier before long.

The Germans are using mechanized troops with very few infantry columns. The German tanks are very good and I think that there can be no doubt that the French have been caught unawares and that they have not fought well. That happened in the last war. Drastic steps had to be taken to put things right.

Winston told Reynaud that even if the French gave in we should fight on alone. He was quite calm and very firm.

Italy now seems certain to come in against us. Very soon too. . . Winston has asked the President of the U.S.A. to become nonbelligerent and to supply us out of stock - with forty destroyers amongst other things.

Then the Cabinet decided unanimously to bomb the Ruhr. It starts to-night. An announcement in the papers that the aerodromes of Holland would soon be completely in the hands of the Nazis and England would soon feel the weight of the bombing on her own body. We shall have had a start anyway. One never saw the necessity for courage and determination more [than] at this moment. It will be interesting seeing how the various people react. . . We at least have a Cabinet with some courage now.

I never saw anything so light up as the faces of the R.A.F. when they heard that they were to be allowed to bomb the oil-refineries in the Ruhr. It did one good to see it. They have built their big bombers for this work and they have been keyed up for the work ever since the war began. Now they have got the chance. I am wondering what the result in the way of reprisals is going to be. Shall we get it as soon as to-morrow night in return? It may be a diversion from the bombing in France. They may be too employed there to turn off from their targets.

The war is coming nearer and nearer to us and it makes one think all the more. We are living in a new phase of history the course of which no man can foresee. Nobody believed that we should be engaged in war, certainly not in a death struggle so soon. We made no preparations, even for war industry to be developed, and we cannot now catch up. It is too late. The year may see us beaten, but it cannot bring us to the defeat of Germany, unless it is by economic means.

I have a sort of feeling in the back of my head that if Italy comes in, and this seems pretty certain, she will be the Achilles heel of the Axis. . .’

A new phase of history

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1941
Charles Graves,
writer

‘Albany Street Barracks [near Regent’s Park] at 7:30am, where I found six corporals of the Guards and Sergeant Kirk. [. . .] The first thing we did was detonate our hand-grenades. [. . .] We next proceeded to the range from the throwing-pit and I was allowed to fire several rounds with a Lee-Enfield, lying, sitting, kneeling and standing. After that came the Bren gun [and] the anti-tank rifle. [. . .] Driving back in the truck we stopped at a pub, had a few pints each, and then lunched off bully-beef and cold cabbage in the sergeants’ mess. [. . .] Dined at home and then took Peggy to the Dorchester.’

A hell of a night

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1979
Tony Benn,
politician

‘State Opening of Parliament. [ . . .] Mrs Thatcher made a most impassioned speech, from notes, except for one passage about Rhodesia which had been typed up no doubt on the insistence of the FO - the most rumbustious, rampaging, right-wing speech that I’ve heard from the government Front Bench in the whole of my life. Afterwards I saw Ted Heath and told him, “I’ve never heard a speech like that in all my years in Parliament.” He said, “Neither have I.” [. . .]

I said I had some sympathy with Thatcher - with her dislike of the wishy-washy centre of British politics. He gave me such a frosty look that I daresay I had touched a raw nerve.’

Thatcher gives a cuddle

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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.

For any other use of these diary extracts other than browsing please refer to the original sources.

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, several times a week. Now over ten years old, The Diary Review is the secondary source for the extracts in this online anthology.