And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

23 November

1807
Mary Berry,
writer

‘A dismal, rainy, and to me melancholy day, for I was out of humour with myself. A number of little circumstances lately have served to convince me that my manner is often tranchante, my voice often too loud, and my way of meeting opposition unconciliating. All these circumstances are exactly the contrary from what they ought to be, to make me what I wish, and what alone I can be, at my time of life. It is odd that I, who have been always thinking of growing old, and have such clear ideas of what alone can make a woman loved and amiable after her youth is past, what her views and manners should be, and what can ensure her any degree of consideration - it is odd, I say, that I should fall into the very faults I am the most aware of, and put myself into the situation I have always deprecated; but it is not too late, and at least I am not too old to mend.

In Madame Neckar’s ridiculous Remains, published by her husband, are some of the very best rules and advice for the manners and conduct of a woman no longer young in society. I will read them again. They always strike me as most justly conceived.’

My only anxiety

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1824
Gideon Mantell,
doctor and fossil hunter

‘A severe hurricane and occurring at the spring tide, the low tracts along the coast were inundated and considerable damage occasioned thereby. I drove to Brighton and arrived there between one and two, at the time the sea was raging with the greatest violence, the surf dashed over the pier and occasionally hid it from our view. So soon as the water was retired so as to allow of walking on the esplanade, we went to the Pier, which was much damaged by the waves; the railing in many places washed away, and the platform destroyed, so as to render access to the Pier-head difficult and dangerous: however we ventured to the farthest end although every now and then a sea dashed over us, and completely drenched us, but the awful grandeur of the scene more than compensated for the inconvenience of our situation.’

Gideon Mantell - geologist

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1851
George Templeton Strong,
lawyer

‘Fearful calamity at a public school in Ninth Ward Thursday afternoon, a false alarm of fire, a panic, a stampede downstairs of 1,800 children, and near fifty killed on the spot and many more wounded - a massacre of the innocents. The stair banisters gave way, and the children fell into the square well round which the stairs wound, where the heap of killed and wounded lay for hours before help could reach them. The doors opened inwards. The bodies were piled up to the top of the doors; they did not dare burst them open and had to cut them slowly away with knives.’

Wall Street palpitating

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1855
George Templeton Strong,
lawyer

‘I must ascertain whether the mighty bug-destroyer Lyons has no modification of his cockroach powder that will exterminate organ-grinders. We suffer peculiarly here, for the street is very quiet, and they play all round the square before they leave it and are more or less audible at each successive station. I have been undergoing the performances of one of the tribe for an hour and a half and have heard “Casta Diva,” “Ah, Non Giunge,” the first chorus of Ernani, and some platitude from the Trovatore languidly ground out six times each. It makes me feel homicidal. If Abel had gone about with hand organs, I shouldn’t censure Cain so very harshly. There goes “Casta Diva” for the seventh time!’

Wall Street palpitating

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1858
Christian Gottlieb Ferdinand Ritter von Hochstetter,
geologist

‘Fancy dress ball given by the citizens of Sydney to the Right Worshipful Mayor & Lady Mayoress to reciprocate the ball recently given by the Mayor (reputedly at a cost of £800). The Commodore and all the officers had been invited to attend, and so I went there at about 9 o’clock. The ball took place in the Prince of Wales Theatre. The company was very mixed, there was pushing and shoving. Very few respectable families. Hill was also there. By chance I was introduced to a certain Dr. Berncastle, a local doctor, who looks and behaves like an adventurer. He claimed to have earned the gratitude of the Expedition because he had shown Dr Hochstetter the shortest route to Bathurst! This gentleman made a terrible fool of himself later on which served him right for his arrogance.’

The father of NZ geology

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1870
Francis Turner Palgrave,
civil servant and poet

‘The war still, but with more than one difference. In so great and complex an action and where so much human feeling is mixed, a cause cannot remain true to itself: initial right and justice are insufficient to leaven the vast mass of after events. It seems clear that the French will die as a nation, sooner than make a surrender of defeat.’

Professor of poetry

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1911
Roger Casement,
diplomat

‘Lovely day. We are steaming very well and expect to be in Iquitos before 10 a.m. tomorrow. Read letters and drafted a long despatch to F.O. giving as my opinion the unlikelihood of Peruvian Government acting seriously . . . lots of logs still - often striking them hard. At 8 p.m. a huge one nearly swept away a man and case of rubber. . . Return to Iquitos.’

Casement’s black reputation

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1917
Michael Macdonagh,
journalist

‘The joybells of the London churches to-day gave voice to the popular rejoicing at a great victory on the Western Front. It is the first time the peals have been rung since the outbreak of War. [. . .] I went up Ludgate Hill to hear St Paul’s carillon starting the City chimes at noon. This carillon is very rarely rung. It has not been heard since it celebrated the declaration of Peace after the South African War. There was a big crowd on the Cathedral steps and in the forecourt. After the clock had struck twelve, the big bell known as “Great Paul” - the bell that tolls for prayers - first boomed out, and was followed by the full peal of bells, twelve in number, which were a gift from the City Companies. The people cheered and cheered, exchanging greetings and smiles. The bells of the other churches, joining in with St Paul’s, helped to swell the wings of sound carrying the joyful news to offices, shops and warehouses.’

The drama of London in WWI

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1938
Bertolt Brecht,
writer

‘finished LIFE OF GALILEO. it took three weeks. the only difficulties arose with the last scene. just as in the case of ST JOAN, i needed a neat stroke at the end to ensure that the audience had the necessary detachment. even somebody empathising without thinking must now feel the a-effect when he empathises with galileo. with rigidly epic presentation an acceptable empathy occurs.’

The concept of decadence

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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, 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.