And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

20 November

1807
Harman Blennerhassett,
lawyer and aristocrat

‘Having determined last wednesday, I wd not see two days more pass away, without leaving my ultimatum with Burr, I set out this morning for his quarters, resolved to burst the cobweb of duplicity of all his evasions with me upon money-matters. It will be seen every where in these notes, how long and how insidiously he has trifled with my claims upon him, fr. the time, when he assured Barton, I was a bankrupt, and denied to him, my possessing any legal claims upon Alston or himself, whilst at the distance of 1,500 miles he was writing most affectionately to me, ‘till the last interview I have this day, had with him, in which, he treated me, not as a faithful associate ruined by my connection with him, but rather as an importunate creditor invading his leisure or his purse with a questionable account.’

Breaking with Burr

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1810
Mary Berry,
writer

‘We drove to the West Cliff. The extent of Brighton along the cliff to the Crescent, the furthest houses on the East Cliff, cannot be much less than two miles. Went to the play (‘The Rivals,’ and the ‘Agreeable Surprise’), which had been bespoken. The house was more than three parts empty; and the company in the Prince’s box, which is always given to the lady who bespeaks the play, talked so loud by way of being so very genteel, that one could hardly hear the players.’

My only anxiety

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1825
Walter Scott,
writer

‘I have all my life regretted that I did not keep a regular Journal. I have myself lost recollection of much that was interesting, and I have deprived my family and the public of some curious information, by not carrying this resolution into effect. I have bethought me, on seeing lately some volumes of Byron’s notes, that he probably had hit upon the right way of keeping such a memorandum-book, by throwing aside all pretence to regularity and order, and marking down events just as they occurred to recollection. I will try this plan; and behold I have a handsome locked volume, such as might serve for a lady’s album. Nota bene, John Lockhart, and Anne, and I are to raise a Society for the suppression of Albums. It is a most troublesome shape of mendicity. Sir, your autograph, a line of poetry, or a prose sentence! Among all the sprawling sonnets, and blotted trumpery that dishonours these miscellanies, a man must have a good stomach that can swallow this botheration as a compliment.’

Death of a bandit

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1826
Richard Lander,
explorer

‘The sultan sent a messenger for me this morning, and after waiting in a coozie an hour, I was introduced to him. He informed me of his having received a letter from my father (after the death of Dr. Morrison I always passed for my master’s son), desiring him to send me to Soccatoo, with the whole of the property intrusted to my care. I had myself received a letter from my master only two days previously, in which he expressed no such intention; but, on the contrary, said he should be with me shortly. In that letter he complained of a violent pain in his side, to which he had been for some time subject; and I fancied, by his not writing me to-day, he had died; and that, from motives of delicacy, the king had withheld the news from me.’

Lander in West Africa

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1857
Nassau William Senior,
lawyer and political thinker

‘The northerly winds have given Mrs. Senior a cough. She has called in Dr. Macas, a Greek, who appears to treat her exceedingly well. There are several good physicians in Athens. Her cough prevented her from accompanying me this evening to a hall at the palace. We were invited at a quarter before nine. Sir Thomas Wyse took me. We found, in the first of three large rooms, about one hundred and fifty ladies, sitting on one side, and about two hundred men standing on the other. The women were dressed, some in an ordinary European costume, some wore the red velvet cap, long tassel, and short jacket of Greece; and some had their heads and necks wrapped in a large handkerchief, which showed only the face. This is the head-dress of Hydra. Of the men, some were in uniform, some in plain black suits, and some wore the Albanian dress, which the Hellenes have adopted as national: a jacket, either of red and then embroidered with gold, or grey and then embroidered with silver, an open collar, a white petticoat called a fustanelle, plaited like a ruff, reaching from the waist to the knees, and long gaiters, red or blue. Several of the older men looked, what I was told that they had been, robbers. They had risen from that profession to be partisan soldiers, and had been made aristocrats partly by plunder, and partly by gifts from the crown of the national domains.

At about half-past nine, the king and queen came in. A circle was formed of men, and they walked round it, not together, but with a considerable interval. He is a gentlemanlike man, with quiet, easy manners. He wore the Albanian dress. The queen wore a Parisian dress, with an enormous crinoline or cage. She talked much and gaily, particularly to the Prussian minister. The circle lasted long, perhaps three quarters of an hour. During that time the women kept their seats, and the men stood in the other part of the room, the circle being between them.

At last the queen took Sir Thomas Wyse’s hand, the king that of the Russian ambassadress, and walked a polonaise, to which a waltz succeeded, and it being about half-past ten I went away.’

Senior’s conversations

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1878
Marie Bashkirtseff,
writer and artist

‘I looked all of a sudden so beautiful, after I had taken my bath this evening, that I spent fully twenty minutes admiring myself in the glass. I am sure no one could have seen me without admiration; my complexion was absolutely dazzling, but soft and delicate, with a faint rose tint in the cheeks; to indicate force of character there was nothing but the lips and the eyes and eyebrows. Do not, I beg of you, think me blinded by vanity: when I do not look pretty I can see it very well; and this is the first time that I have looked pretty in a long while. Painting absorbs everything. What is odious to think of is that all this must one day fade, shrivel up, and perish!’

Bashkirtseff’s inward fire

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1911
Roger Casement,
diplomat

‘. . . Stopped at Mucuà at 4 p.m. and saw two rubber trees in tapping. Young Cearense of Sobral still there - splendid stern, thighs and testeminhos - a lovely boy. . . Fonseca at Santa Theresa higher up - it is Peruvian territory. [On blotter] Got some mails by “Manco” today at 10.30 a.m. meeting “Hamburgo” on her way up . . . Saw fine Indian boy in Janissius canoe that brought him over. A big strong fellow - nice face and great thick stiff one which he felt often under grey pants.’

Casement’s black reputation

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1945
Hana Pravda,
actor

‘I am in Prague. It’s eight years since you kissed me for the first time, Sasha.

After my show tonight we went to the U Šupů Restaurant, but it was all closed up, and inside it was completely dark. Now I am sitting in our favourite coffeehouse, the Union, at our table in the middle room. I’m warming my hands on a cup of tea, just as I used to in the old days. The street hasn’t changed at all. You’re sitting opposite me. Your mother has just left us. You’re the only person for me in the whole world. [. . .] The only one. The world is empty and I can’t stand it. I want to die.’

Writing for you, Sasha

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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.