And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

8 May

1813
Benjamin Haydon,
artist

‘Sir Joshua’s exhibition opened. The first impression on my mind was certainly that of flimsiness. They looked faint, notwithstanding the effect was so judiciously arranged. Sir Joshua’s modes of conveying ideas were colour & light and shadow; of form, he knew nothing. The consequence was he hinted to his eye & untrained hand, and with great labour & bungling, modeled out his feelings with a floating richness, an harmonious depth, and a gemmy brilliancy that was perhaps encreased by his perpetual repetitions, and which renders him as great a master of colour as ever lived. Of poetical conception of character as it regards Portrait, he had a singular share. How delightful are his Portraits, their artless simplicity, their unstudied grace, their chaste dignity, their retired sentiment command us, enchant us, subdue us.

The exhibition does great credit to the Directors of the British Gallery. It will have a visible effect on Art; it will raise the character of the English School; it will stop that bigotted, deluded, absurd propensity for Leonardo Da Vincis & insipid Corregios, and as men who shared Sir J’s friendship and been soothed by his manners, it does credit to their hearts as men.’

Thirst after grandeur

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1814
Neil Campbell,
soldier

‘Before landing from the frigate, Napoleon requested that a party of fifty marines might accompany him to remain on shore. This intention was afterwards changed; and one officer of marines and two sergeants, to act as orderlies, together with a lieutenant of the navy, were sent.

One of the sergeants, selected by himself, sleeps outside the door of his bedchamber, upon a mattrass, with his clothes on, and a sword at his side. A valet de chambre occupies another mattrass at the same place. If he lies down during the day, the sergeant is called to remain in the antechamber.’

OfNapoleon, and a turtle

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1892
Henry James,
writer

‘Can’t I hammer out a little the idea - for a short tale - of the young soldier? - the young fellow who, though predestined, by every tradition of his race, to the profession of arms, has an insurmountable hatred of it - of the bloody side of it, the suffering, the ugliness, the cruelty; so that he determines to reject it for himself - to break with it and cast it off, and this in the face of every sort of coercion of opinion (on the part of others), of such pressure not to let the family honour, etc. (always gloriously connected with the army), break down, that there is a kind of degradation, an exposure to ridicule, and ignominy in his apostasy. The idea should be that he fights, after all, exposes himself to possibilities of danger and death for his own view - acts the soldier, is the soldier, and of indefeasible soldierly race - proves to have been so - even in this very effort of abjuration. The thing is to invent the particular heroic situation in which he may have found himself - show just how he has been a hero even while throwing away his arms. It is a question of a little subject for the Graphic - so I mustn’t make it ‘psychological’ - they understand that no more than a donkey understands a violin. The particular form of opposition, of coercion, that he has to face, and the way his ‘heroism’ is constatée. It must, for prettiness’s sake, be constatée in the eyes of some woman, some girl, whom he loves but who has taken the line of despising him for his renunciation - some fille de soldat, who is very montée about the whole thing, very hard on him, etc. But what the subject wants is to be distanced, relegated into some picturesque little past when the army occupied more place in life - poetized by some slightly romantic setting. Even if one could introduce a supernatural element in it - make it, I mean, a little ghost-story; place it, the scene, in some old country-house, in England at the beginning of the present century - the time of the Napoleonic wars. - It seems to me one might make some haunting business that would give it a colour without being ridiculous, and get in that way the sort of pressure to which the young man is subjected. I see it - it comes to me a little, He must die, of course, be slain, as it were on his own battle-field, the night spent in the haunted room in which the ghost of some grim grandfather - some bloody warrior of the race - or some father slain in the Peninsular or at Waterloo - is supposed to make himself visible.’ [about what would become Owen Wingrave]

Hammer out a little idea

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1914
Charles de Foucauld,
priest

‘Began to make a fair copy of the whole Tuareg-French dictionary.’

From playboy to ascetic

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1935
Leon Trotsky,
politician

‘Old age is the most unexpected of things that can happen to a man.’

Trotsky’s indispensability

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1944
Denton Welch,
writer and artist

‘When you long with all your heart for someone to love you, a madness grows there that shakes all sense from the trees and the water and the earth. And nothing lives for you, except the long deep bitter want. And this is what everyone feels from birth to death.’

Black, dead, inhuman

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1945
Tony Simmonds,
teenager

‘VICTORY IN EUROPE DAY - I was at work - when I came back from lunch at 2 pm I found everyone in a hustle and bustle. The Manager said we were going to get out by 3.30. We did. Even then we had time to rush out to hear Churchill’s speech at 3 o’clock and a fine speech it was too.

We all knew something would happen in the evening and it did. It came right up to my fullest expectations. I just can’t describe the scene. I was alone most of the time and spent almost five hours around the Clock Tower. People just went mad - dancing, singing, chanting, shouting - the crowd just surged this way and that - The Academy, the Odeon and the Regent were all floodlit for the first time in almost six years - fire crackers, flares and even pre-war ‘jumpers’ were thrown about the streets - even into busses - all policemen ‘had their eyes shut’.

I left at just after 11 pm leaving behind me a riot going on outside the Regent - where a drunken sailor was protesting against a charge of 10/6d for a dance in the Regent Dance Hall. What a day - I shall never forget it for the rest of my life.

Our house is decorated up - four flags - a shield and red, white & blue streamers. Even Mrs Guild next door has her standard flying. As for the town itself - well I never knew there were so many flags manufactured. My bike has a big rosette and streamers on its handlebars.’

Victory in Europe Day

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1945
Vera Brittain,
writer

‘Felt disinclined to hear a “Victory” service so went to the little meeting of the London Mission at Kingsway Hall to hear Donald Soper give a really inspiring address on thanksgiving, penitence and dedication. After lunch again went back to Whitehall determined to end this War near Westminster as I ended the last. Flags now everywhere; ‘planes flying over crowds; bells ringing; mounted policemen moving back a throng which grew immense between 2.0 & 3.0; yet sense of anti-climax persisted in contrast with spontaneity of Armistice Day 1918; it was all so formal & “arranged”.

At 3.0 Churchill’s voice duly announced the end of the War & after silence the crowds cheered. Typically he ended with the words “Advance Britannia!” & introduced no phrase of constructive hope for a better society which renounces war. Caught a glimpse of him standing in his car as he went from Downing St. to the H. of Commons surrounded by cheering crowds, waving his hat, with the usual cigar & self-satisfied expression.

Walked half the way home for tea with Mother, thinking how strange it was that, though this time I have kept (so far) all my private world which last time I had totally lost, not one of them is here, & again I experience the end of a European war half-exasperated & half-saddened by the triviality of her preoccupations in contrast to the immensity of world events.

Dined at Rembrandt with J. von R., talked to her till past 11 p.m., when we walked to Sloane Avenue & looked at partially flood-lit buildings & a display of searchlights half-obscured by a cloudy sky; saw it from the roof of the flat. Left her at S. Kensington station & walked home with the War officially (at 1 minute past midnight) as well as actually over in Europe. Bonfires in St Luke’s Churchyard & elsewhere; Chelsea Town Hall floodlit; people in streets, but everything orderly & controlled.’

Victory in Europe Day

**************************************************************************************

1945
Frances Partridge,
writer

‘At three o’clock Churchill delivered the promised announcement. Afterwards we drove to Newbury to get the other Inkpen [village west of Newbury] children from school. Every cottage had a few flags hung out, and in most of them a dummy-like figure of an old person could be seen at an upper window. Near Newbury we had a narrow escape from a drunken lorry-driver veering from side to side of the road - he made the V-sign as we passed. Bicyclists were hurrying in to Newbury dressed in their best; little girls wore satin blouses and red, white and blue bows in their hair.’

Victory in Europe Day

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1953
Frida Kahlo,
artist

‘Yesterday, the seventh of May
1953 as I fell
on the flagstones
I got a needle stuck in
my ass (dog’s arse).
They brought me
immediately to the hospital
in an ambulance.
suffering awful pains
and screaming all the
way from home to the British
Hospital - they took
an X ray - several
and located the needle and
they are going to take it out one
of these days with a magnet.
Thanks to my Diego
the love of my life
thanks to the Doctors’

Thanks to my Diego

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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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