And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

18 November

1499
Cesare Borgia,
priest and politician

‘On Monday, the 18th of November, 1499, Cesare Borgia returned secretly through the Porta Cavallegieri to Rome with a chamberlain and the brother of the deceased John Marades and stayed with the Pope in the palace until Thursday, the 21st. On the morning of this day he departed and rode away secretly with an escort of papal soldiers to the city of Imola, which he took over soon afterward by force together with the castle. The Lords of the city, the sons of the deceased Count Girolamo Riario, nephew of Cardinal Riario, were robbed with violence.’

An orgy in the Vatican

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1755
John Adams,
politician

‘We had a severe Shock of an Earthquake. It continued near four minutes. I was then at my Fathers in Braintree, and awoke out of my sleep in the midst of it. The house seemed to rock and reel and crack as if it would fall in ruins about us. 7 Chimnies were shatter’d by it within one mile of my Fathers house.’

A spirit to our honour

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1793
Axel von Fersen,
soldier and diplomat

‘The Queen [of France, Marie Antoinette] always slept fully dressed in black because she expected to be killed or guillotined at any moment and she wanted to go to the scaffold dressed in mourning. [. . .] I shall love the proud, unhappy princess as long as I live. [. . .] Oh, how my life is changed - how small are the prospects for happiness - to think that once upon a time my life was among the most beautiful and enviable in the world.’

For the love of Marie

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1807
Harman Blennerhassett,
lawyer and aristocrat

‘To day however I did a little shopping, before I came home to dress for Burr’s party, which I joined at half past 4 [. . .] The party was as insipid as possible. Burr is evidently dejected, and tho’ he often affected to urge and enliven the conversation it languished - thro’ the stupidity of Randolph, the unconcern of Pollock, the vacant reserve of Cummins, the incapacity of Butler, the nothingness of Biddle and the aversion of myself to keep it up till 8 o’clock - when it expired and I took leave soon after the entrance of a General Nichol who seemed another of Burr’s gaping admirers [. . .] Thus ended the last invitation I shall ever probably receive fr this American Chesterfield, who is fast approaching the limits of that career he has so long run thro’ the absurd confidence of so many dupes and swindlers.’

Breaking with Burr

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1819
William Dunlap,
artist and writer

‘Mr More, the painter above mentioned as introducing himself to me, hearing that I was going towards Richmond, suggested my stopping at Surry Court house to paint the family of a Mr Price & a Doctor Graves, who wished him to do it, but he had no oilapparatus, he asked 50 dolls for a portrait. On talking to Mr Glen he knowing Price, I write to day to him, & offer to come thither on an engagement for at least 4 portraits at 30, 50, or 75 dolls according to size. Paint on Glen. We have in the house Mr Wrifford a teacher of writing, a New England man, a character, he affords me entertainment, by shrewd remarks & eccentric manners. He is a singer & has a noble voice. Evening read in Kings. How does Elisha’s words “take my life for I am not better than my fathers” agree with the notion of his being an incarnate Angel? The book says 7000 had not bowed the knee to Baal, the Commentator says 7000 does not mean 7000 but a great many thousand, a majority of the nation, soon after the fighting men of Israel are number’d at 7000 & the commentator laments that Israel was so thinned, so reduced in number. “A Wall fell upon 27000 men & crush’d them” says the Com: “probably a burning wind is meant” We are told that what is translated ashes may mean bandage or fillet. Again ‘‘Gan Yirek may mean Garden of herbs or Grass plat. “Naboth did blaspheme God & the King” may be render’d “Naboth hath blessed God & the King” and the word barac may mean either bless or curse. How then is a sincere man to read this book? Again Ahab walked softly may be “barefooted” or groaning or with down hanging head. This curious Book must then it would appear be read with constant doubt as to the meaning of the original independent of all other doubts.’

Dunlap, painter and playwright

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1831
Benjamin Haydon,
artist

‘This day my dear little child Fanny died, at 1/2 past one in the forenoon, aged 2 years, 8 months, & 12 days being born on March 6th, 1829. Dear Little Soul, she had water in the head, all the consequences of weakness & deranged digestion, and was one of those conceived creatures, born when the Mother has hardly any strength from the effects of a previous confinement. Good God! She never spoke, or was not able to utter syllable, & never walked. Reader, whoever thou are, shrink not from Death with apprehension. Death was the greatest mercy an Almighty could grant.’

Thirst after grandeur

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1942
Patricia Highsmith,
writer

‘The Lesbian, the classic Lesbian, never seeks her equal in life. She is . . . the soi-disant male, who does not expect his match in his mate, who would rather use her as the base-on-the-earth which he can never be.’

Finally, it is worth noting that one of Highsmith’s novels is about a diary - Edith’s Diary (1977). Unlike many other novels written in diary style, Edith’s Diary is much more fundamentally about the diary form. As Edith Howland’s life becomes harsh, a promotional blurb explains, her diary entries only become brighter and brighter: ‘She invents a happy life. As she knits for imaginary grandchildren, the real world recedes. Her descent into madness is subtle, appalling, and entirely believable.’

My guiding darkness

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1917
Edwin Montagu,
politician

‘Lord Chelmsford, Maffey and I left last night at a quarter to eleven for Gagrania. We slept in the train, had an early breakfast, and an excellent but very hard day’s snipe shooting. Net result, thirty-five brace. I think we all shot very well, considering it was very hot and we were up to our knees in water, having to pull our legs each time out of the mud, so that by half-past three we were all exhausted, Chelmsford and I physically, and Maffey being unable to shoot straight. It was a jolly, long gheel completely overgrown - the old bed of the Jumna. All the arrangements, including the carriage to drive five miles, and the bullock wagons, three, to drive one, had been made by a little local Nawab. Bitterns, demoiselle cranes, marsh harriers, fish eagles, big white-breasted blue kingfisher, a jackal, seven sisters, sparrow hawks, shrikes, innumerable doves were the chief birds we saw, and one cattle egret and a large heron. Two of the snipe were painted, and there was a large proportion of jacks in the morning.

The day was by no means wasted. I got far closer to Chelmsford than I have ever got before. I like him better than ever, but I cannot find any vigour or personality in him: great conscientiousness, eager desire for smooth running, complete armoury of consultation. He assured me that he was one of the majority of his Committee. He tells me that the Council were unanimous about Mrs. Besant. I am to see Tilak in a deputation, but not in an interview. He feels that the cross-examination which I submit people to is doing a lot of good. He seems hardening against the splitting of the Viceroyalty. I ventured to come closer to expressing the inadequacy of the Government of India scheme, but I would not express an opinion until I had seen my colleagues.

I forgot to record on Saturday night that we had just had the most depressing information that General Maude was critically ill with cholera. Just before leaving late on Saturday night we heard the news that he had taken a slight turn for the better. I gather that any improvement in cholera is usually hopeful.

We have just heard that General Maude died last night. It is a horrible tragedy at the most critical moment in the Mesopotamian trouble. After consultation with Lord Chelmsford, I felt that I should send a telegram to London suggesting that Sir Charles Munro should go at once to Mesopotamia, and that Kirkpatrick, whom Chelmsford assures me could carry on here, should act as Commander-in-Chicf, subject to the possibilities that the Acts of Parliament permit this arrangement. However, I saw Munro on Monday morning, and although he admits the advantage that he probably knew more intimately Maude’s plans than any other living man, he feels himself, with much regret, too old for Mesopotamia, and as he is very lame and looks very old, I think this is probably true. I hear to-night (Monday) that the War Office have appointed Marshall.’

Montagu and the Indian tiger

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1975
Roy Strong,
historian

‘I took Dame Bridget D’Oyly Carte, a lively and distinguished lady, out to lunch to celebrate the gift of things to the Theatre Museum. She was fascinating on the subject of Harold Wilson who was now a Trustee of the Company and had been asked to their hundredth anniversary at the Savoy Theatre. He loved it, made a speech on stage and now she needed him to help save the Company. So he keeps on ringing her up, much to her embarrassment, denouncing the elitism of Covent Garden as against the populism of Gilbert and Sullivan.’

Happy Birthday Roy

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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, several times a week. Now over ten years old, The Diary Review is the secondary source for the extracts in this online anthology.