And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

6 May

1676
Henry Teonge,
priest

‘This morning early (as is the custom all summer long) at least forty of the English, with his worship the consul, rode out of the city about four miles to the Green Plat, a fine valley by a riverside, to recreate themselves where a princely tent was pitched; and we had several pastimes and sports as duck-hunting, fishing, shooting, handball, cricket, scrofilo, etc; and then a noble dinner brought thither, with great plenty of all sorts of wines, punch, and lemonades; and at 6 we return all home in good order, but soundly tired and weary.’ [When staying in Aleppo, now part of Syria]

Base ball and cricket records

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1682
Jacob Bee,
tradesman

‘The first day that men and women servants presented themselves to be hired in Durham markett.’

Very fiery comets

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1749
Pehr Kalm,
explorer and botanist

‘The Mulberry-trees (Morus rubra) about this time began to bloffom, but their leaves were yet very fmall. The people divided them into male and female trees or flowers; and faid that thofe which never bore any fruit were males, and thofe which did, females.’

Toast, joints, mulberry trees

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1830
Anne Chalmers,
young woman

‘Heard as usual in the morning the varied intonations of the London cries, from the staccato of the old clothes man to the long of the men selling boxes. To-day for the first time I saw a Bishop in his lawn apron. He was a fine-looking man, upon whose countenance a pleasing smile was lighted up as he crossed the street to speak to a gentleman. This last turned out to be MrLockier, who called on us and told us it was the Bishop of London we had seen, a very talented man. Walked through the Horse Guard House and by the side of St James’s Park and through the court of St James’s Palace, where Papa showed us the identical spot at which he had received a curtsey to himself alone from Queen Charlotte many years ago.

We dined with Lord Barham. I was particularly interested by a Mrs O’Brien, who seems a compound of talent, naivete, and gaiety. She is the most lovable person I ever saw. I like Lord Barham. He looks melancholy, and though he is not old, he has laid three wives in the grave. His last wife died about six months ago. It is customary here to hang the escutcheon of the family painted on a black ground on the walls of the house when the head of the family dies.’

Anne Chalmers in London

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1859
Charlotte Grimké,
teacher and anti-slavery campaigner

‘Had a splendid ride of three miles, on horseback, to L.’s greenhouse. Before I reached it the air was laden with the fragrance of mignonette and heliotrope. Within was a scene - beautiful as fairy land - roses verbenas, clematic [sic], all kinds of flowers, in full bloom. One division of the greenhouse was filled with geraniums in bloom - the finest collection I’ve ever seen. My sturdy old horse - “Joe” - came back quite rapidly, and I enjoyed the sunset ride perfectly. No exercise is so thoroughly exhilarating and delighful to me as horseback riding. It makes me feel younger and happier.’

A free black female

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1861
Edmond de Goncourt,
writer

‘At four o’clock we were at Flaubert’s, who had invited us to a reading of Salammbô, together with a painter called Gleyre whom we found already there. From four till six, Flaubert read to us in his booming, sonorous voice, which cradles you in a sound like a bronze murmur. At seven we dined, and after dinner and a pipe, the reading was resumed, taking us by way of readings and summaries of what was omitted, to the end of the last chapter, the copulation of Salammbô and Mathô. It was then two in the morning.

I am now going to write what I think, in my heart of hearts, of this work by a man I like - and there are not many such men - and whose first book I greatly admired. Salammbô is less than what I expected from Flaubert. His personality, so well dissembled, so completely absent from that impersonal work, Madame Bovary, comes through here, blown up, melodramatic, resorting to bombastic writing and crude colouring, one might almost say illumination. Flaubert sees the Orient, and what is more the Orient of antiquity, in the guise of an Algerian bazaar. Some of his effects are childish, others ridiculous. The attempt to rival Chateaubriand is the great defect of the book, robbing it of originality: Les Martyrs keeps coming through. Then there is nothing more wearisome than the everlasting descriptions, the button-by-button portrayal of the characters, the miniature-like representation of every costume. [. . .] His characters’ sentiments are not the product of a certain conscience, lost with a certain civilization: they are the commonplace, universal sentiments of all humanity and not of Carthaginian humanity; and his Mathô is at bottom no more than an opera tenor in a barbaric poem.’

Journal des Goncourt

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1885
Louis David Riel,
politician

‘I see the white man with his battle helmet. The white man is tall. He sees far enough, but his steps do not take him very far, they lead him behind. The white man stumbles; his two feet slowly slide to the wrong side. He cannot stand up; he is effaced little by little; he gradually disappears; he vanishes - because his heart only has room for evil. To be more precise, he has no heart. When I speak of white men. I do not mean brown men.

Here I am, squarely arrived at the time God has marked in the order of things to come. With my own eyes, I saw all the signs of the times which were shown us before now. I did not want to believe that they were really signs of the times. But finally I had to recognize what they were. Yes, before me lies the time identified in many ways, the time announced with all the signs that are supposed to accompany it, as we are told in the Scriptures.

Boue-Chaire-Vile, previously such a fine place, is abandoned! The once fair city of Boue-Chaire-Vile now has no one to protect it. I am calling for help. I would like to wake those who sleep in the profound slumber of sin. They do not hear me, they do not listen to me, they do not obey me. The enemy is coming up the river, he is arriving, he is going to bombard the city. How is it going to resist? No one takes its interests to heart. It is going to fall into the hands of the conqueror. For, having first abandoned God, it is now abandoned by God. It is done. Oh, how many times will you come true, O prophecy? Oh, how many times each century! Oh, how many times each generation?

The Spirit of God has made me see that my prayers and obeisances are good, that they are pleasing to Him. But the government is harming me; the government’s army is waging war upon me. And yet, however harmful that obstacle may have been to me, I am surprised at how easily I have removed it from my path. Anyone who wanted to stop me from praying has been put in his place. When you have confidence in God and Jesus Christ, nothing is difficult any more.

The Spirit of God made me realize the extent of the rights which the Indian possesses to the land of the North-West. Yes, the extent of the Indian rights, the importance of the Indian cause are far above all other interests. People say the native stands on the edge of a chasm. It is not he who stands on the edge of a chasm; his claims are not false. They are just. The land question will soon be resolved, as it must, to his complete satisfaction. Every step the Indian takes is based upon a profound sense of fairness.’

Canada’s rebel hero

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1887
Beatrice Webb,
economist and social reformer

‘This morning I walked along Billingsgate from Fresh Wharf to the London docks. Crowded with loungers smoking bad tobacco, and coarse, careless talk with the clash of a halfpenny on the pavement every now and again. Bestial content or hopeless discontent on their faces. The lowest form of leisure - senseless curiosity about street rows, idle gazing at the street sellers, low jokes - and this is the chance the docks offer.’

Webbs on the Web

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1937
Benjamin Britten,
composer

‘Sketch another song for Hedli in the morning. Lunch & excessive political arguments with Peter Floud at Baker Street - I am in a damned muddle trying to compromise between Pacifism and Communism. Back here in aft. & then meet & walk Harry Morris - a charming kid - protege of Barbara’s who is very keen on music & very good draughtsboy.

Then after tea Kit takes us round looking for car’s - find a possible Lee Francis in Highgate, Kit stays to dinner - having delivered the child to his home in Hampstead. After dinner general slack & then Kit drops me at Paddington at 10.45 & I meet Peter Pears & travel with him in a packed dirty train to Reading where we arrive about mid-night - & set out for the Behrend’s house (Burclere) on his motor-bike, in the pouring, pouring rain. After wandering helplessly in the maze of roads over the common - very cold & damp, to our skins - & me pretty sore behind, being unused to pillion riding - we knock up people in the only house with a light in we meet at all, & get some rather vague instructions from them. Wander further & quite by accident alight on the house - at about 1.45 or 50. Have hot baths & straight to bed. The Behrends themselves are in town.’

Benjamin Britten’s centenary

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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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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.