And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

19 November

1857
Nassau William Senior,
lawyer and economist

‘We started at six yesterday evening, and after a rough passage reached the Piraeus at five this morning. We landed at eight, found carriages and custom-house officers waiting on the beach, had our baggage examined and loaded in less than half an hour, and reached Athens before ten. The day is dark and stormy; the Acropolis and Lycabettus looked down upon us during the whole road, from a background of black clouds charged with snow, none of which, however, fell in Athens. Hymettus to the east, Parnes and Pentelicus to the north and west, attracted it.

We are lodged in cold splendour, in large bedrooms and a salon thirty feet square, looking north-west, with a Lilliputian stove.

The scenery of Athens wants nothing but trees and a river. The Cephisus is a brook, and can be traced only by the long strip of olives which it waters. The Ilissus is a rill. Though we are now towards the end of the rainy season, I stepped across it three or four times to-day. Parnes, Hymettus, and Pentelicus, once waving with forests, do not seem to bear a tree. A garden has been planted round the palace, which 100 years hence, if the trees, now as close as those of a nursery garden, are properly thinned, will be beautiful. It is not more than pretty as yet. Every other tree in and near Athens, except one noble palm in a convent garden, was destroyed during the war, and those which have been planted in their room are still saplings.

When Wordsworth visited Athens in 1832, it did not contain half a dozen inhabited houses. Its present population amounts to 36,000 persons, which supposes about 5000 houses. These are scattered irregularly over about a square mile, to the north of the Acropolis. Those nearest to it, which mount about half way up its side, are fortunately the worst. I say fortunately, because it is supposed that they cover valuable remains, which cannot be recovered until they have been demolished. The better houses are those of an English watering-place, but lower and more scattered; each good one has its little garden. The calcareous soil, and the dryness of the climate, render the streets clean but dusty. Their comparative smoothness is a delicious contrast to the rocky pointed pavements which tormented us during the whole of our residence in Turkey.’

Senior’s conversations

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1913
Wanda Gág,
artist and author

‘Today I was out in the hall waiting for Sketch Class and two second-year students, Dave Hendrickson and Bob Brown, came along and stopped to look at my sketches. Bob Brown declared that my technique was very good (technique is Greek to me) and he said that I did not work in lines and that was a good thing. They think it’s so funny that I sit up nights and draw, and they think it’s funny too that I sketch myself. I thought all people who aspired to be artists drew as much as I do but it seems they don’t. I thought too that all, or at least a good many, of the art school students would be queer, but they aren’t; and it sometimes makes me wish that I weren’t so different. For I am - there is absolutely no getting around it. And a whole lot of my new acquaintances are in that stage now where they misunderstand me. I will stick to my old theory which is this: That I usually make a fairly good impression (I don’t mean to compliment myself by saying this, but it’s true and it only serves to make it so much harder afterwards) but that after they know me for a while they are disappointed in me. Then, if they have the faith to stick by me thru this second stage, they will find my true nature - at least as much of it as I ever show. Roughly speaking, at first they think I’m jolly, then they think I’m frivolous, and finally they find out that, after all, I am more serious than anything else. Paula has been the only one that I know of who has not come to the second stage after a year of my acquaintance. She stood by me for four years but even she is beginning to doubt me. Larry Morse said that I was “giddy” and altho Paula does not agree there, the remark has served to make her think-to think that perhaps he was not so far wrong. I am frivolous sometimes - giddy too, and silly - I can’t deny it. But often I act that way only to hide my real feelings. Besides (and I told this to Paula) if I were not frivolous once in a while, I am afraid I’d go mad or something like that, because I’d think too much. No one can know what it is to be I.’

The giddy Wanda Gág

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1968
Richard Burton,
actor

‘Famed as we are, rich as we are, courted and insulted as we are, overpaid as we are, centre of a great deal of attention as we are, [we] are not bored or blasé. We are not envious. We are merely lucky. I have been inordinately lucky all my life but the greatest luck of all has been Elizabeth. She has turned me into a moral man but not a prig, she is a wildly exciting lover-mistress, she is shy and witty, she is nobody’s fool, she is a brilliant actress, she is beautiful beyond the dreams of pornography, she can be arrogant and wilful, she is clement and loving, Dulcis Imperatrix, she is Sunday’s child, she can tolerate my impossibilities and my drunkenness, she is an ache in the stomach when I am away from her, and she loves me!’

I bought her a jet plane

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1989
Paul K Lyons,
journalist and writer

‘There appears to be no stopping the unfolding of extraordinary events on the other side of the iron curtain. Poland and Hungary are already being embraced by the West, having overhauled their political systems in the space of a very short period; they are being garlanded with loans and aid and pretty speeches from capitalist world leaders. Now East Germany has joined the throng. Almost overnight the leader fell, the government fell, and the Berlin Wall was, metaphorically speaking, knocked down.

The rush of events in Berlin were so fabulous, that almost every serious mainline radio and TV news programme decamped to that divided city. Freeing the border and allowing unfettered movement from East to West and back again, allowed literally millions of people to explore what they had only ever seen on television, allowed them to visit relatives and friends. Every interview on the subject included questions about the re-unification of Germany, even though the possibility must be many years down the road.

More than Poland and more than Hungary, East Germany’s status is that most likely to affect the emotions of those in the West. The terrible war left not only a divided nation but a divided city as a loud vivid actual symbol of the resulting Cold War. The possibility of greater integration between East and West again exists most seriously through the border of the Germanys: they speak the same language; until just a few decades ago shared the same culture; they are the same people.’

The fall of the Wall

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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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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, 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.