And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

5 November

1605
Roger Wilbraham,
lawyer

‘The Lords &; Commons attended to expect the King’s coming the begynning of this parliament then to be held by prorogation: A week before, the Lord Mountegle imparted to the King & Council, a letter sent to his hands by one unknowen &; fled: wherein he was advised to be absent from the parliament, for that undoutedlie, some great calamitie wold happen soddainlie by unknowen accident, which wold be as soddaine as the fyring of the letter: wherupon the king after one serch about Parliament Howse grew so ielouse he caused a secrett watch, &; discovered one Johnson practizing about midnight to make a traine to fyre 34 barrels powder, hidden under billettz in a vault iust under the Upper Howse of Parliament, confessed by one Johnson servant to Thomas Percy, a pentioner, to have ben preparing 8 moneth to blow up the King, his Queen, children, nobles, bishops, iudges &; all the commons assembled, if it had not been so happelie discovered. So the parliament was proroged till this Saterdaie.’

[Editor’s notes: The letter was not shown to the King until November 9. The first search was made by Suffolk as Lord Chamberlain on November 4, at about 3 o’clock. At 11 o’clock the same night was made the further search which resulted in the capture of Fawkes.]

Some great calamitie

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1773
John Baker,
lawyer

‘Up Holborn and walked St James’s Park half an hour or more; on going out saw the King get into his chaise and 4 black horses. I went to Blue Posts - had beef steak etc. then to Covent Garden, ‘Beggar’s Opera’ and ‘Commissary’; found the Pit not one fifth full, and on the 4th bench from Orchestra orange woman showed me Pol. Kennedy alias Mrs Bivon [Irish actress successfully playing male parts], on which I went and sat immediately before her and talked with her much during the play.’

Ham at window

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1788
Frances (Fanny) Burney,
writer

‘Oh, dreadful day! My very heart has so sickened in looking over my memorandums, that I was forced to go to other employments. I will not, however, omit its narration. ‘Tis too interesting ever to escape my own memory, and my dear friends have never yet had the beginning of the thread which led to all the terrible scenes of which they have variously heard.

I found my poor Royal Mistress, in the morning, sad and sadder still; something horrible seemed impending, and I saw her whole resource was in religion. We had talked lately much upon solemn subjects, and she appeared already preparing herself to be resigned for whatever might happen.

I was still wholly unsuspicious of the greatness of the cause she had for dread. Illness, a breaking up of the constitution, the payment of sudden infirmity and premature old age for the waste of unguarded health and strength, - these seemed to me the threats awaiting her; and great and grievous enough, yet how short of the fact!

I had given up my walks some days; I was too uneasy to quit the house while the Queen remained at home, and she now never left it. Even Lady Effingham, the last two days, could not obtain admission; she could only hear from a page how the Royal Family went on.

At noon the King went out in his chaise, with the Princess Royal, for an airing. I looked from my window to see him; he was all smiling benignity, but gave so many orders to the postillions, and got in and out of the carriage twice, with such agitation, that again my fear of a great fever hanging over him grew more and more powerful. Alas! how little did I imagine I should see him no more for so long - so black a period!

When I went to my poor Queen, still worse and worse I found her spirits. She had been greatly offended by some anecdote in a newspaper - the Morning Herald - relative to the King’s indisposition. She declared the printer should be called to account. She bid me burn the paper, and ruminated upon who could be employed to represent to the editor that he must answer at his peril any further such treasonable paragraphs. I named to her Mr Fairly, her own servant, and one so peculiarly fitted for any office requiring honour and discretion. ‘Is he here, then?’ she cried. ‘No,’ I answered, but he was expected in a few days.

I saw her concurrence with this proposal. The Princess Royal soon returned. She came m cheerfully, and gave, in German, a history of the airing, and one that seemed comforting.

Soon after, suddenly arrived the Prince of Wales. He came into the room. He had just quitted Brighthelmstone. Something passing within seemed to render this meeting awfully distant on both sides. She asked if he should not return to Brighthelmstone? He answered yes, the next day. He desired to speak with her; they retired together.

I had but just reached my own room, deeply musing on the state of things, when a chaise stopped at the rails; and I saw Mr. Fairly and his son Charles alight, and enter the house. He walked lamely, and seemed not yet recovered from his late attack.

Though most happy to see him at this alarming time when I knew he could be most useful, as tliere is no one to whom the Queen opens so confidentially upon her affairs, I had yet a fresh start to see, by his anticipated arrival, though still lame, that he must have been sent for, and hurried hither.

Only Miss Planta dined with me. We were both nearly silent: I was shocked at I scarcely knew what, and she seemed to know too much for speech. She stayed with me till six o’clock, but nothing passed, beyond general solicitude that the King might get better. . .

Meanwhile, a stillness the most uncommon reigned over the whole house. Nobody stirred; not a voice was heard; not a step, not a motion. I could do nothing but watch, without knowing for what: there seemed a strangeness in the house most extraordinary.

At seven o’clock Columb came to tell me that the music was all forbid, and the musicians ordered away!

This was the last step to be expected, so fond as His Majesty is of his Concert, and I thought it might have rather soothed him: I could not understand the prohibition; all seemed stranger and stranger.’

The eve of some fever

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1836
Elizabeth Gaskell,
writer

‘There have been times when I have felt, oh! so cast down by her wrongdoing, and as I think I am very easily impressible, I have fancied there must have been some great mismanagement to produce such little obstinate fits, and whole hours of wilfulness. I do not however think that this has been often the case, and when it has, my cooler judgement has been aware of some little circumstance connected with her physical state that has in some measure accounted for it. For instance, she, (like her mother) requires a great deal of sleep.’

My dear little girl

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1884
James Hannington,
priest

‘What a bustle there is at the Liverpool Street Station! What an unusual amount of leave-taking! Even as the train moves out of the station many run alongside well-nigh the length of the platform to give one last look, one more parting blessing.

What does it all mean? Why that we are in the special train that is conveying P. and O. passengers to Tilbury, thence to embark for their several destinations.

It was but eighteen months ago that I was hurried along that same line in exactly the opposite direction. And with what different feelings! Each beat of the engine was then conveying me nearer home, and now it is tearing me away - but I must not soliloquise, for I have many things yet to say to those who have so kindly determined to see the last of us; nor can we refrain from enquiring who that queer old gentleman is in the corner. We learn that he is uncle to a noble earl, and is to occupy a berth in the same cabin as ourselves, so more of him by-and-by.

Wedged in on the steamer that is running up alongside the P. and O. boat we hear a voice at our elbow, “Hulloa! there is to be a bishop on board, won’t you get dosed with –!” with what I never heard, for just at that moment the speaker’s eye was raised from the list of passengers to the strings on my hat, thence it wandered to my gaiters, and finally stole a furtive peep at my face - where, to judge from the confusion that followed, it read in my enquiring glance, “Dosed with what, sir?”

What a motley crowd there was on deck! Officers in uniform (we learn with horror that there are three hundred troops on board), Lascars, British tars, Chinese, Indian ayahs, agents, and passengers, and nobody knowing exactly what to do or say next, until at length the bell rings, and relatives who have come to say farewell must do so now as best they can. The final wrench, the most agonising of all, because it breaks the last link with England and home.

There may be but little time for a man to get his cabin shipshape before he finds himself battling with the billows, so I take the initiative and slip below, put a week’s supply close at hand, and arrange a few little mysteries, as O. D. C, toilet vinegar, Eno, matches, and plenty of spare pocket-handkerchiefs. You expect, then, to catch a cold? No, but it might be rough for a few days!

Having completed my arrangements to my own thorough satisfaction, I was not sorry to hear the unmistakable peal of the dinner-bell; we congratulate ourselves that we are still in the Thames.’

The bishop in Buganda

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1910
Jean Sibelius,
composer

‘Worked well. Forged onwards into the finale. Wonderful day with snow interlacing the trees and their branches - typically Finnish.

A symphony is not just a composition in the ordinary sense of the word; it is more of an inner confession at a given stage of one’s life.’

An inner confession

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1940
Rodney Foster,
soldier

‘Frost in the morning and a fine sunny day. Huns came, passing over Folkestone, returning later with our fighters on them. At 10:30 am after a burst of firing I saw one of ours drop from the sky like a falling leaf then recover itself and stagger off to Lympne. At 11:30 am three Huns dived on the two from over Pedlinge and dropped bombs. Two fell on the Ranges, and one hit the quarters of the Quartermaster of the Small Arms School. The next hit and demolished the barricaded side of Nelson’s Bridge over the canal, spattering the small houses nearby with black canal mud, and the last fell on Hospital Hill, Sandgate, killing a Sapper from the section in Hillcrest Road. Shortly after, the rain came down. On my way up to mount the guard I saw the strafing of the French coast in retaliation for the shelling of Dover. It came down in buckets as I left the post and I was wet through. Hillcrest Road was full of lorries, some backing into the Choppings’, and there was great activity all night preparing to move the big gun. If the gun goes we ought to be able to return home. It is not pleasant having to go so far at night and sleep in a cold house.’

Huns flew over Hythe

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1943
Jerzy Feliks Urman,
child

‘ ‘Don’t leave any dinner for me because I have a meeting with a lady [in town].’ But later, after a longish time, Hela came back really furious because she had gone [in vain] to watch the executions and because she’d been told that today they were going to shoot a Ukrainian priest and 6 women. She hadn’t even finished dinner when Marysia [said]: ‘Come on now or you won’t see anything. We must secure a place in the first row if we want to see anything.’

Hela stopped eating at once. She dressed hurriedly and left. She was out of the house for a long time, a few hours later she came back. She entered the room without saying hello, and said nothing. We made a point of not asking her anything. In the end she couldn’t keep her mouth shut and betrayed to us that the executions were postponed until tomorrow. Genia told her they were shooting people for hiding Jews. [. . .]’

Jerzyk’s tragic story

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1977
Roland Barthes,
philosopher and literary critic

‘Sad afternoon. Quick shopping. At the pastry shop (pointlessness) I buy an almond cake. Serving a customer, the little female employee says, “Voilà.” That’s the word which I would say when I brought Mom something when I looked after her. Once, near the end, she half-unconsciously echoed, “Voilà” (I’m here, an expression which we used mutually during a whole lifetime). This employee’s remark brought tears to my eyes. I wept for a long time (after returning to the silent apartment).’

Barthes and his mother

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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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