And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

3 May

Karl Varnhagen von Ense,
diplomat and soldier

‘In the evening, at the Princess of Pueckler’s, the long-promised lecture by Herr von Humboldt. The lecture was very fine, and made an excellent impression. I had a conversation with General von Ruhle on Humboldt’s genius. He totally agreed with me, saying, ‘When he shall have died, then only shall we understand well what we have possessed in him.’ ’

Humboldt’s genius


Alfred Domett,
prime minister and poet

‘At Edinburgh for my first time! A wonderful place with all that a town should have, in compactness and completeness unmatched - a perfect ideal of a city! Romantic site of hill and vale - fine buildings and monuments mediaeval and modern; palace and castle; antiquated gloomy wynds and closes and lofty houses towering up like cliffs, dotted with windows like loopholes; all teeming with associations, historical, poetical, scientific - national and individual - heroic, tragic, comic, quaint, terrible or humorous; all in their appropriate places, disposed like a scene in a theatre - all as it were within a space to be seen almost at a glance! . . .’

Browning’s friend Domett


Alfred Kazin,
literary critic

‘Interview with T S Eliot, at his offices (Faber & Faber). Eliot now, if I calculate correctly, must be 57; face has aged and relaxed greatly, so that one’s first impression of him physically is of a rather tired kindness as opposed to the otherworldliness & hauteur of his early pictures. He was extremely kind, gentle, spoke very slowly and hesitatingly, livened up a bit when I pushed the conversation on to literary topics (at first, because of my official business, he spoke a little about popular education and his own experiences teaching for the WEA and LCC). He looks like a very sensitive question mark - long, winding, and bent; gives the impression that his sensibility is in his long curling nose and astonishing hands. I was so afraid that he would be standoffish or just reluctant that I spoke more than I wanted to, just to keep the conversation going. He said things which just verged on “you Americans,” but I grinned when he spoke of Truman and Missouri and he grinned back. . .’

The literary profession


Carolina Maria de Jesus,
rubbish collector

‘I went to the market at Carlos de Campos Street looking for any old thing. I got a lot of greens. But it didn’t help much, for I’ve got no cooking fat. The children are upset because there’s nothing to eat.’

There’s nothing to eat


Leonid Brezhnev,

‘Weight - 85.300. Talk with Ryabenko. Talk on phone with Storozhev? I know what he wants. Talk with Chernenko K.U.-? About PB agenda Tailors - gave the grey suit, got the leather double-breasted casual jacket Rang Yu.V. Andropov - he came and we chatted Worked with Doroshina’

To every historian’s despair


May Sarton,

‘My eightieth birthday. It seems quite unbelievable that I have lived eighty years on this earth. It makes no sense, and I do not believe it. Today, here at Wild Knoll, a very English morning with mist, the daffodils come up through the mist - romantic, and intimate.

As I lie here on my bed all dressed, I am looking at delphiniums, the first flowers that came, which are from someone I do not know, a fan in Oregon, and they have been so beautiful. The delicate, yet brilliant blue against white walls. What a joy they have been!

But this whole birthday is such an ascent of celebration that I can hardly believe I have arrived, as though I were at the top of a mountain. These last days, full of cards, many from readers, and all so moving. I was going to say “too many presents” simply because it is tiring for me opening things now - I feel like a little child at Christmas - but I am so touched by all the people who wanted to remember this particular birthday.

There are too many lists to cross off one by one because nowadays I am sending Endgame, my journal, to friends. I also have copies of the little book of my new poems that Bill Ewert has given me for my eightieth birthday to send out. Without Susan, who is here for the weekend, it would all be quite impossible. She creates order out of chaos.

We shall celebrate my birthday today, doing everything with ceremony. How rare the sense of ceremony is! Susan in a beautiful dress last night helped my heart. [. . .]

The whole day has been a festival of love and friendship. And as I say goodnight I think of my mother and of how glad she must have been when I finally came out of her, alive and all right, and she took me in her arms.’

The scarlet tanager


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And so made significant . . .
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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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