And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

18 October

1814
Vere Hunt,
landlord and politician

‘Arrived in Bruff at half past one. Fair day there and meet many friends in Bennett’s Inn, all in desponding strains, lamenting the decreased value of fat cattle, the best fat cows bringing this day but twelve guineas each. Milch cows high from £18 to £20, pigs tolerably high, sheep low. Set out at two o’clock for Tipperary and meet near Kilballyowen a very fine threshing machine for Decourcy O’Grady. Soon after I had the misfortune to find myself in a crashing machine, for, crash went the front spring of the crazy depository in which I was journeying, and, having extricated myself by a judicious leap-out from the ill-fated vehicle, I perambulated ankle-deep to the aforesaid Bruff, when, then and there arriving, I found the parlour of the Inn occupied by Cork butchers and discontented farmers to whose society I would have unfortunately been consigned for the day but for the hospitality of John Bennett who invited me to his house, where I fared capitally both in board and bed. I was highly pleased at seeing there in a very small square pond opposite his hall door, duck, mallard, cooter and various other wild fowl in great abundance and perfect tameness, and I was particularly amused by the eccentricities of Standy Bennett who, in his way, is both clever and entertaining ... he is about to publish a book of poems, which of course I will be among the first to have. In bed at eleven and sleep like a top.’

Vere Hunt in a crashing machine

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1838
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,
writer

‘Wrote a chapter in Hyperion. Thus slowly goes on the work. Well or ill, I must work right on, and wait for no happier moments. This is a glorious autumn day. The coat of arms of the dying year hangs on the forest wall,as the coat of arras on the walls of a nobleman’s house in England, when he dies.’

Gabrielle, Celestine or Evangeline?

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1849
Edward Hodges Cree,
surgeon

‘5.30 weighed and made sail; rounded Go-to-shan Point. Noon, hove to in a pretty bay with sandy beach and fishing village, backed by wooded hills whose sides were cultivated with the sweet potato, a kind of convolvulus. The day was cloudy and pleasant, with a fresh breeze, and we enjoyed the sail along this beautiful coast lined with picturesque little islands. A high range of mountains of about 8,000 feet are seen far inland, lower ones near the coast, with serrated tops like enormous teeth.

On turning the point of another island the Columbine suddenly came on a fast boat, which Wang pronounced to be one of Shap-‘ng-tsai’s fleet. We immediately gave chase and all had long shots at her. She made all sail and got out her long sweeps and got away into shallow water, where we could not follow. The Phlegethon, which drew less water, followed her into the bay, putting some shots into her. She attempted a narrow passage between the islands, but seeing the steamer gaining fast upon her, ran her aground. All her crew escaped up the hill, which was covered with jungle, where a party of men searched in vain.

On returning to the junk she was found to stowed with smoke-balls, small arms and ammunition, and carried six guns, but no cargo, showing her character, so we set her on fire and she continued to blaze away all night on the beach.

We anchored here in the bay; it came on to blow and rain - a dirty night.’

Pirate hunting expedition

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1949
Fred Bason,
writer

‘It seems to me very nearly impossible to access the pleasure other people get out of life or of their own way of living. I’ve known in my time some remarkably rich people and for the most part I didn’t find them uncommonly happy. Indeed, some seemed happy being miserable or got their pleasures by making others miserable. I have known poor people who’s eyes reflected the genuine happiness they got from life. They have a smile and a cheerfull word for everyone. You seldom see them angry or wearing frowns and yet you know they are extremely poor people. Money or the lack of it doesn’t seem to really trouble them.

I’ve been awfully hard up from time to time and when I’ve been hungry I’ve been bloody miserable and full of self pity and felt that the world owed me a slim living. But I know a chap in Hastings who I’m positive hasn’t £1 in all the world and wouldnt know where to borrow a pound. He has in a kit bag 4 tooth combs, 2 ordinary combs, several books, washing utensils and a pair of socks and 3 white collars. I am pretty positive he hasn’t got anything else - oh, except, maybe, 10s. or 12s. but he is happy. He will travel the whole of the South coast dish washing and sleeping rough. He will work for his food and maybe a few bob over. He’s 46. He has no home and no relations. He is ever so happy! I don’t believe a really rich man could be happier. I was proud and happy to meet him. We had a long chat. He is ever so wise. He says ‘possessions are a hindrance to adventure.’

On the other hand there is Lady T. out in Switzerland. Recently she complained to me about the rate of exchange, the price of The Saturday Book, the servant problem, the weather, the prospects of a 3rd War and the low class of visitors from England to Switzerland all in one letter! I know her to be quite rich. I know her now to be a miserable old bitch and I want no part of her. If you want to let off steam and have a bloody good moan surely you can do it on your own doorstep - or like me keep a journal and get it out of your system by writing it all down.

I’ve a strange idea that with all his fame and fortune Ivor Novello is not a particularly happy man. I’ve an even stronger idea that the astounding and remarkable Aldous Huxley is also none too happy. Right at the top of the tree - surely all their dreams have come true! When a man has one million pounds it seems he wants another to keep it company. I do not understand this at all. I never shall! I know a Welsh Novelist who rubs along on less than 150 pounds a year. I’ve never once seen him miserable or at cross purposes with the world. I believe its something within one, some part of one’s make up, some gland that causes happiness and it has nothing to do with fame or fortune.

I can’t in truth say that I am always happy. I keep seeking - and at times I don’t know what I seek. If I knew that though I’d be happier. And it ain’t religion either, for I’ve known some remarkably miserable Vicars! It ain’t sex. Many tarts are happy women!

Oh, it’s so strange - people I mean. ‘Nothing is stranger than people and their moods.’ Sax Rohmer wrote this (in red ink) to me years ago. The older I get the more I agree with his mouth-full. But I do believe that faith in a God does help. I often feel less restless after saying simple prayers.’

The Loud Bassoon

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1885
Friedrich von Holstein,
civil servant

‘[…] I had advised Hohenlohe to replace Hofmann, the State Secretary, by Puttkamer, the Under State Secretary, as soon as possible and in addition to appoint a vigorous senior Landrat as his Chef de Cabinet. I enclose his evasive reply. If he retains the present stick-in-the-mud he will do badly, but I wash my hands in innocence. […]’

The Gray Eminence

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1941
Charles Ritchie,
diplomat

‘My bed smells of her over-sweet violet scent. It is queer that she uses such an obvious scent - the perfume that goes with blondes and floating veils and sentiment . . .

I am reading The Death of the Heart in her special edition. It is an exact description of her house and of her husband. The position of the sofa in the drawing-room, the electric fire in his ‘study’ are all described exactly as they are. What is alarming is the husband is an unsparing portrait of A. I read this novel with most curious feelings as ‘a work of the imagination’; it has been destroyed for me by my knowledge of the particular circumstances. . . . She took that from here, she copied that turn of speech, that must be so-and-so, these thoughts go through my mind as I am reading. It is like eating an elaborate dish after seeing the materials of which it is made up lying about in the kitchen, or being so near the ballet that you can see the make-up.’

V happy with E

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1943
James Meade,
economist

‘Spent the morning at the Embassy with Liesching and Shackle, making final revisions to the text of the joint Anglo-American statement on Commercial Policy, the Agenda Outline (derived from this statement and for communication to the Russians, Chinese and eventually the other United Nations), and the similar Agenda of the Cartels group. Lunch with Hawkins, Pasvolsky and Liesching at the Cosmos Club, where we discussed future procedure on Commercial Policy. It is clear that each side must now do two things: (i) prepare the way by technical studies to see, for example, which of the tariff formulas are practicable and by what means; (ii) obtain certain major decisions or guidances on policy from their Ministers (on our side particularly on the subject of preferences). Then we shall be prepared to renew our meetings, by next January or February. Meanwhile, and after our next series of meetings, we must decide how to introduce the subject to other nations. For this, it was agreed, the Agenda Outline, posing the questions covered by our joint statement, will be very useful. After Hawkins had left we had some further conversation with Pasvolsky about the extent to which we should in the near future give a lead to the other Europeans and smaller United Nations. Pasvolsky was inclined to argue that when approached by them we should ask them what they wanted instead of telling them what they should do. His reason was mainly that they should not be in a position later if anything went wrong to maintain that they had no responsibility. There is no doubt some force in this; but 1 think that we must nevertheless give a very strong lead. In Commercial Policy in particular these countries just are not in a position to say what they want until they have some idea what the USA and UK are likely to do; and even if they could be persuaded to say what they wanted without knowing what we intended, they would be very likely to say quite the wrong thing, whereas with a little prompting they might quite genuinely be persuaded to ask for the right things. [. . .]

Went to a cocktail party at the Brighton Hotel, at which drinks on a copious scale were provided for the entertainment of the Board of Trade permanent delegation in Washington by us visitors from the Board at home. Miss Dalgleish mixed strong and frequent drinks. The party went through the symptoms of incipient alcohol poisoning, which I observed as an impartial spectator, confining myself to tomato juice. Liesching made a good pep-talk speech telling the Washington delegation what good people they were; and every effort, unsuccessful but only just unsuccessful, was made to get Liesching laid out on the floor. The party broke up and I returned, with Joan Carmichael and Mary Williamson, to a late supper at 2820 N. Street.’

UK-US talks on commercial union

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1965
Waguih Ghali,
writer

‘I am beginning to hate this Diary somehow - it has become a ‘person,’ who goes on and on putting up with my complaints and groans . . . and whenever I look at it, see it, it is only a reminder of the utter misery that I am. How the weekend dragged - and dragged. Again utterly dead and empty inside. Sunday swimming and racquets again, then a few beers with Kurt and Zander in the evening. Zander’s mother had invited me to lunch, where I learnt from Zander that Brigitta was with Bubbi on Saturday evening.

As I said, I am just absolutely and utterly empty inside. Thoughts of suicide, the whole hog. Damn.

Evening

I think I shall not write this Diary for some time. It depresses me to look at it.’

Death in my heart

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1999
Chris Mullin,
politician

‘Another exchange about leylandii with Hackland. ‘The climate in Downing Street is not right,’ he asserted. ‘What climate?’ I say. ‘I bet the Prime Minister hasn’t devoted more than 30 seconds of his time to the matter.’ Reluctantly Hackland disgorged two names, Jonathan Powell and Anji Hunter.

‘Hunter? Where does she fit in?’ ‘The Prime Minister values her political antennae.’

So, our entire effort is paralysed on the whim of the Prime Minister’s Special Assistant. Come back Marcia Falkender.’

Mullin and leylandii

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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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