And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

17 May

1634
Sir William Brereton,
soldier and spy

‘We departed from London by water; we came to Gravesend about eight of the clock In the evening; we came in a light-horseman [small boat]; took water about three clock in afternoon. A dainty cherry orchard of Captain Lord’s, planted three years ago, near unto Thames, not forty roods distant. The stocks one yard and a half high; prosper well; but I conceive the top will in a short time be disproportionable to the stock. Very many of the trees bear. It is three acres of ground; planted four hundred and forty-odd trees. An old cherry orchard near adjoining nothing well set: this year the cherries sold for £20: it is but an acre of ground: the grass reserved and excepted. A proper ship came from Middleborough on Saturday at noon, 17 May.

Stiff N.W. wind all Sunday; turned E. on 19 Monday morn. Passed by Gravesend on Monday about four. Captain Boare went from Gravesend on 15 May; went to Rotterdam; returned thither 20. Another ship came in twenty-four hours from Brill to Gravesend.

A delicate kiln to burn chalk lime; it is the Duke of Lenox, near Gravesend, upon the river side; it is made of brick, narrow at bottom, round, and wider at top; it is emptied always at the bottom; they hook out so much as is cold, until they pull out fire, and then cease. It is supplied with fire and chalk at top; one basket of sea-coals proportioned to eight of chalk; the fire extinguisheth not from one end of the year to the other. When it is kindled, fire is put to the bottom: it is sold for a groat, one hoop burnt. The pit is in the side of an hill, which is thirty yards high; one of the workmen fell (with whom I conferred) from top to bottom, not slain, but bruised and still sore. An horse stuck by the fore-legs, and held and cried out like a child, and stuck until he was helped up by men.’

Drawing up the sluices

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1739
George Whitefield,
priest

‘Preached, after several Invitations thither, at Hampstead-Heath, about five miles from London. The audience was of the politer Sort, and I preached very near the Horse-course, which gave me Occasion to speak home to their Souls concerning our spiritual Race. Most were attentive, but some mocked. Thus the Word of God is either a Savour for Life unto Life, or of Death unto Death. God’s Spirit bloweth when, and where it listeth.’

Preaching with power

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1810
Mirza Abul Hassan Khan,
diplomat

‘I drove my carriage to Cavendish Square, where there was a crowd of some 3,000 people. It was cold and raining heavily. Nonetheless, ten lords and distinguished gentlemen had taken the place of their drivers in splendid and shining four-horse carriages and were preparing to race each other along a road which had been closed to traffic. I was amazed that these gentlemen should choose to dress in livery of carriage-drivers and apparently enjoy driving in pouring rain! My friends assured me that in this season it is the custom for these gentlemen to parade in drivers’ livery and demonstrate how well they can drive their own carriages. Still, I felt sorry for them in the rain.

I thought about this sport and concluded that these young men are trying to impose some kind of discipline on their idle lives: they do nothing all day long but write letters or walk about town twirling their watch-chains; and their evenings are spent at the theatre or at parties, dancing in shoes much too small for them in order to impress the ladies.

There are 900,000 people of low and high estate in this vast city; but it is true that only a small number are dissolute dandies. Compared with other cities, most Londoners are well mannered and sensible; and if there are a few tearaways, they do little harm.

The English are always happy when it rains because it is good for the crops.’

I was utterly amazed!

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1855
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,
writer

‘A beautiful morning. Went and sat an hour with Lowell in his upper chamber among the treetops. He sails for Havre the first of June.’

Gabrielle, Celestine or Evangeline?

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1898
Rainer Maria Rilke,
writer

‘No human being can raise so much beauty out of himself that it will cover him over completely. A part of himself will always gaze out from behind it. But in the peak times of art a few have erected before themselves, in addition to their own beauty, so much noble heritage, that the work no longer needs them. The curiosity and custom of the public will seek and of course find their personality; but that misses the point. In such times there is an art, but there are no artists.

There is an ever-recurring cycle of three generations. One finds the god, the second arches the narrow temple over him and in doing so fetters him, while the third slides into poverty and takes stone after stone from the sanctuary in order to build meagre and makeshift huts. And then comes one which must seek god again; and to such a generation these belonged: Dante and Botticelli and Fra Bartolommeo.

The element of reconciliation and loveliness that one treasures in the works of Raphael is a triumph that only seldom occurs; it signifies a high point of art, but not a high point of the artist.

Pre-Raphaelites: simply a caprice. Tired of smooth beauty, one seeks the effortful - not so? How facile a proposition! Tired of art, one seeks the artist, and in each work looks for the deed that elevated the man, the triumph over something within him, and the longing for himself.

In notes jotted down day after day vis-a-vis the paintings of the quatrocento, I could have offered nothing more than the tourists’ handbooks do. For they have formulated with unsurpassable cogency the measure of abstract beauty that inheres in the things. So much so that in fleeting consideration one employs quite unconsciously those infamous half-scientific terms that, once sharp and pregnant, have through so many mindless uses become dull and vacuous.

A handbook on Italy, if it wanted to teach pleasure, would have in it but one single word and one single piece of advice. Look! Whoever has a certain culture in him must make do with this guidance. He will not acquire pearls of knowledge and it will scarcely occur to him to ask whether this work is from the late period of an artist or whether in that work “the broad manner of the master” holds sway. But he will recognize an abundance of will and power that came from longing and from apprehension, and this revelation will make him better, greater, more thankful.’

Art but no artists

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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, 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.