And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

20 May

1846
Benjamin Haydon,
artist

‘Continually attending to Exhibitions is dreadful and if you do not, you get robbed. These things an Artist should have nothing to do with; details of business injure my mind and when I paint I feel as if Nectar was floating in the Interstices of the brain. God be praised, I have painted today.’

Thirst after grandeur

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1846
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,
writer

‘Tried to work at Evangeline. Unsuccessful. Gave it up and read Legard’s letters, which give one a favorable idea of his abilities and aims. In the afternoon drove to town. Dined at Prescott’s at five [the eminent historian William H. Prescott, author of The History of the Conquest of Peru among others]. He received us in his library, where I found Rev. Mr. Young, Rev. Mr. Ellis, and West the painter, looking at the two rival Mexican editions of the Conquest of Mexico. Near by, Theophilus Parsons and Alexander Everett talking together. Felton, Sumner, and Hillard came in later. We discussed the French liquid ll, whether it should be heard or sunk into a y. Then marched down to dinner. Many matters discussed at table; among others the Puritans; then the Fathers of the Revolution.’

Gabrielle, Celestine or Evangeline?

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1855
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,
writer

‘Sumner just returned from New York, where he has been lecturing on Slavery to huge audiences in theatres. A great success, and a great sign of the state of the public mind.’

Gabrielle, Celestine or Evangeline?

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1863
Charles Brooke,
ruler

‘The boat was launched, the two guns again fired off with heaviest of cartridges, and at mid-day we started. My crew were mostly old followers and servants who had been with me for years. Our boat was in very perfect order, well painted, and decorated with flags; for nothing tells so much as pride instilled and esprit de corps encouraged in the minds of the people. My fellows, however, had been dilatory in making a start. The last farewell and good wish given to the wife and family, the lord and master marches from his house with due decorum, stepping carefully to avoid any approach to a trip or fall, as bad consequences would then be predicted. The Mahomedans (Malays) permit no kissing and embracing in public, but their expressions of farewell are much the same as with us. [. . .]

Many go through the form of their forefathers in listening to the sounds of omens; but the ceremony now is very curtailed, compared with what it was a few years ago, when I have known a chief live in a hut for six weeks, partly waiting for the twittering of birds to be in a proper direction, and partly detained by his followers. Besides, the whole way in advancing, their dreams are religiously interpreted and adhered to; but, as in all such matters, interpretations are liable to a double construction. The finale is, that inclination, or often fear, is most powerful. A fearful heart produces a disagreeable dream, or a bad omen in imagined sounds from bird or deer; and this always makes a force return. But they often loiter about so long, that the enemy gains intelligence of their intended attack, and is on the alert. However absurdly these omens lead the human race, they steadily continue to follow and believe in such practices. Faith predominates and hugs huge wonders, and tenaciously lives in the minds of the ignorant. Some of the Dyaks are somewhat shaken in the belief in hereditary omens, and a few follow the Malay custom of using a particular day, which has a strange effect on European imaginations. [ . . .]

The effect of these signs on myself was often very marked; and no Dyak could feel an adverse omen more than myself when away in the jungles, surrounded by these superstitious people. Still I could sympathise with the multitude; and the difficulty lay in the question, whether my influence would be sufficient to counteract such phantoms. It must not be thought that I ever attempted to lead the Dyaks to believe that I was an owner of charms or such absurdities, which could not have lasted beyond a season, and could never be successful for a length of time. My desire was always to extinguish such an idea; but natives persisted in their belief. A Maia’s (orang utan) head was hanging in my room, and this they thought to be my director to successful expeditions.’

The Sarawak coast is safe

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1881
John Dearman Birchall,
businessman

‘Went to stay at Enderby [the Drummonds]. Garden Party on the Saturday. Two bands and plenty of lawn tennis, and 5 splendid fire balloons. Emily came out in her terracotta aesthetic dress and Clara in her summer costume. No one looked half as nice.’

The tricycle diaries

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1915
Albert Jacka,
soldier

‘Great battle at 3am. Turks captured large portion of our trench. D. Coy called into the front line. Lieut. Hamilton shot dead. I led a section of men and recaptured the trench. I bayoneted two Turks, shot five, took three prisoners and cleared the whole trench. I held the trench alone for 15 minutes against a heavy attack. Lieut. Crabbe informed me that I would be recommended.’

I bayoneted two Turks

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1938
David Gascoyne,
writer

‘It is raining today. Bent stayed with me here last night again, but he has gone to the atelier now, and I am alone.

I have done no work since I returned to Paris. I have been entirely consumed by the intensity of the experience of Bent. Today I wanted to produce a poem; but I have not yet recovered enough force. I see the Light, beyond, but I cannot reach it; I know the Voice is always speaking, but I cannot hear the words.

To be alone; to make the sacrifice. I wish to become an Instrument, but I am suspended. Will the Energy return? How can I attain the power that would enable me to speak what I know?

Flesh, spirit. ‘Le combat spirituel est aussi brutal que la bataille d’hommes.’ All states reside in me, but they are unresolved. All I can do is wait. I still have faith; I shall always believe that there is another plane. I also know that in order to be able to reach it and to speak of it, one must lose everything, and be destroyed: I am trying to prepare myself to accept loss and destruction, even to desire them.

The power of Poetry alone redeems the world, and reunites the blind, confused and fragmentary elements of universal experience within the circle of significance. The supreme task: that of synthesis. How to invoke the welding flame? Ideally, the poet’s destiny is the most glorious of all. And in a period such as the Present, when death and the diabolic are manifest on every side, most difficult of all.’

The poet’s destiny

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1944
Henry Agard Wallace,
politician

‘Gen. Gaffney, born in Massachusetts, raised in Texas, strong for the North. Prefers it to the tropics. Likes to hunt. Tells of unpreparedness in Alaska. Japs could have taken Seward. We had no cruisers up there. Army high command was convinced Japs would not strike at Alaska. Thinks there are great mineral and agricultural possibilities in northwest territory. Prof. Blackfoot of University of Alberta thinks there are enormous possibilities for dairying and hog possibilities. Soil marvelous, deep, black . . .’

The 33rd vice president

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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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