And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

30 October

Richard Rogers,

‘Among other medit[ations] this was one in this month: that I beholding how graciously the lord hath hedged me in on every side, what sweet knowledg of his will, in comparison of that which I was like to have attained to, he hath geven me, and other bless[ings], good will and a good name with the godlier sort, communion with them and such manifold comfort in my life and with his people, with liberty in my ministery, I looked back to the yeare 1570 and thereabout, how lik it was that all this should have been holden from me and I, before I had ether learning or goodnes, to have been drawen to mar[ry] and to have lived in that doungehil of abhominacion where I was borne, whereas by all liklehood I must have been undone both in body and soule.

Then this one thing much occupied me, that, as I and some other of us here have obtained mercy of the lorde to beleve in him, to be comforted exceedingly by him so that we might grow and that our profiting might appear to all men, that we might see in what partic[ulars] we were chaunged as well concerneing knowledge as pract[ise]. Somewhat in the right use of the world I seemed to my self to have gotten of my selfe, to determine in this great abomi[nation] not to be hunting, gapeing for more with discontent[ment], torment, or such affections as might hinder my course in godlines, wherein, since our last fast, I thancke god I may say with some comfort that I have been better in watchfullnes about my hart and lif more continual and stayed, more constant also in keepeing that my covenaunt of wary walkinge with the lord. And surely god hath been veary merciful to me in this time to awak me againe when I have been declineinge or growing weak or wearisome in well doeinge to offer me occasions many wayes of continuaunce by good company, as Cul[verwel]. So that I must needes with admiracion say, Oh lord how wonderfull are thy mercies.

Then also exceedinge free we have been from the biteinges of evil men, etc. Although this I must say with much grief that there breaketh out of me much corruption, though nether so often nor so strongue, yet by occasions, espec[ially] when I am not watchfull, before I perceive, some harde speaches, for I count them so which are not milde, some riseing of hart against m., and glaunceing at myne old sin, but in none of these abideinge. So that I thanck god for his goodnes which I have felt this month.

My studie as time hath suffred hath not been unpleasaunt to me nor much neglected, save that I have been much abroad in good company and visitinge the sick. Once in this while, to see mine untowarde hart to my study, it appeared so grose to me that I twitted myself thus: I who now in a maner doe want nothinge and yet am oft untoward to my book which is my calling would thinck that liberty and estat happy which I inioy if the lord should bringe me low as it might please him to do many wayes, in povertie, in continual trouble, abroad in all weather, whereas it would be dainty to have liberty to study, and, except I labour to maintaine a delight in me that way, I look for no other but that the lord shall cast uppon me some grose blindnes to imbrac the worlde or plundg me into many grevous calamities or notorious offences, as I may see with mine eies many to have been throwen downe because thei kept not in their place with humility. This I desire to feare so as I many never fall into it.

It is an other thing that I desire, to know mine owne hart better, where I know that much is to be gotten in understaunding of it, and to be acquainted with the diverse corners of it and what sin I am most in daunger of and what dilig[ence] and meanes I use against any sin and how I goe under any afflic[tion]. To conclude, I hope it shal somewhat further my desire and purpose to please god which I taught yesterday, Exod[us] 18:21, that it is the worck and occupation of a Christian to learne to understande the lawes of god and to walk in his wayes, and thus that should be the chiefest thinge which should be looked after and from thing to thinge practized.’

Diverse corners of my heart


John Evelyn,

‘I went to Kew to visit Sir Henry Capell, brother to the late Earl of Essex; but he being gone to Cashiobury, after I had seen his garden [later to become the famous Kew Gardens] and the alterations therein, I returned home. He had repaired his house, roofed his hall with a kind of cupola, and in a niche was an artificial fountain; but the room seems to me overmelancholy, yet might be much improved by having the walls well painted á fresco. The two green houses for oranges and myrtles, communicating with the rooms below, are very well contrived. There is a cupola made with pole-work between two elms at the end of a walk, which being covered by plashing the trees to them, is very pretty; for the rest there are too many fir trees in the garden.’

A most excellent person


Cotton Mather,

‘Yesterday, I first saw my Church-History, since the Publication of it. A Gentleman arrived here, from New Castle in England, that had bought it there. Wherefore, I sett apart this Day, for solemn THANKSGIVING unto God, for His watchful and gracious Providence over that Work, and for the Harvest of so many Prayers, and Cares, and Tears, and Resignations, as I had employ’d upon it.

My religious Friend, Mr. Bromfield, who had been singularly helpful to the Publication of that great Book, (of twenty shillings price, at London,) came to me at the Close of the Day, to join with me, in some of my Praises to God.

On this Day, my little Daughter Nibby, began to fall sick of the Small-pox. The dreadful Disease, which is raging in the Neighbourhood, is now gott into my poor Family. God prepare me, God prepare me, for what is coming upon me!

The Child, was favourably visited, in comparison of what many are.

It becomes impossible for me to record much in these Memorials; the vast Numbers of the Sick among my Neighbours and the Duties which I owe to the sick in my own Family, engrossing my Time exceedingly.

It being impossible for me, to visit the many Scores of sick Families in my Neighbourhood, and yett it being my desire to visit them as far as tis possible, I composed a Sheet which I entituled, Wholesome Words, or, A Visit of Advice to Families visited with Sickness. I putt myself to the small Expence of printing it; and then dividing my Flock into three Parts, I singled out three honest Men, unto whom I committed the care of lodging a Sheet in every Family, as fast as they should hear of any falling sick in it. The Lord makes this my poor Essay, exceeding acceptable and serviceable.

The Month of November coming on, I had on my Mind, a strong Impression, to look out some agreeable Paragraph of Scripture, to be handled in my public Ministry, while the two dreadful and mortal Sicknesses, of the Small Pox, and the Scarlet Feavour, should be raging among us. After earnest Supplications to the Lord, for His Direction, I used an Action, which I would not encourage, ever to be used in any divinatory Way. I thought, I would observe, whether the first Place that occurr’d at my opening of my Bible, would prove suitable or no; or such as might carry any Intimation of angelical Direction in it. Unto my Amazement, it proved, the History of our Lords curing the sick Son of the Nobleman, in the fourth Chapter of John. I saw, that the whole Bible afforded not a more agreeable or profitable Paragraph. So, I began a course of Sermons upon it.’

Cotton Mather, You Dog


Thomas Creevey,
lawyer and politician

‘Brighton. The Prince Regent came here last night with the Duke of Cumberland and Lord Yarmouth. Everybody has been writing their names at the Pavilion this morning, but I don’t hear of anybody dining there to-day. . . I presume we shall be asked there, altho’ I went to town on purpose to vote against his appointment of his brother the Duke of York to the Commandership-in-Chief of the Army.’

Dining at the Pavilion


Raja Varma,

‘In the morning we paid a visit to Mr Jagmohan Das Vandravandas Bhaiset our friend who had been suffering lately from [a] paralytic attack. He has fortunately escaped from the first attack and is now alright. In the evening Mr Bapuji and we two went to Mr Soundy and purchased tickets for the London Comedy Company’s play of ‘H.E. The Governor’. Next we attended a discourse on Mahabharat by a clever Banares Pandit as he spoke in Hindusthani we could well understand him.’

Painting with brother


Sophia Tolstoy,
wife of writer

‘I cry day and night and suffer dreadfully. It’s more painful and terrible than anything I could have imagined. Lev Nik. did visit his sister in Shamordino, then travelled beyond Gorbachevo - who knows where. What unspeakable cruelty.’

He was my diary


Cesare Pavese,

‘Suffering is by no means a privilege, a sign of nobility, a reminder of God. Suffering is a fierce, bestial thing, commonplace, uncalled for, natural as air. It is intangible; no one can grasp it or fight against it; it dwells in time - is the same thing as time; if it comes in fits and starts, that is only so as to leave the sufferer more defenseless during the moments that follow, those long moments when one relives the last bout of torture and waits for the next.’

I won’t write any more


Hélène Berr,
young woman

‘Place de la Concorde, I passed so many Germans! with women, and despite my wish for impartiality, despite my ideal . . . I was swept by a wave not of hate, because I don’t know hate, but of revolt, nausea, disdain. These men, without knowing it, took the joie de vivre from all Europe . . . And in this moment of disgust there was no consideration of my special case, I didn’t think of persecutions.’

Raining death on earth


Tage Erlander,

‘And what is it that you lust after so much? To have the pleasure of wrestling with unpleasant and complicated issues every day? To be subjected every day to a shower of insults and more or less hidden criticism from those who should support you? What is it that drives you? Is it a sense of duty, as we like to think it is? Nature must have some other strategem to get people to trick themselves into doing the necessary job.’

Am I completely finished


Witold Gombrowicz,


I must (because I see that no one will do this for me) finally formulate the main problem of our times, one that completely dominates the entire Western episteme. This is not a problem of History, or a problem of Existence, or a problem of Praxis or Structure or Cogito or Psychology or any other of the problems that have spread across our field of vision. Our main problem is the problem of the smarter, the dumber.

I return to it, although I have brushed up against it on many occasions. . . The Stupidity that I sense is getting stronger all the time, in a way that is increasingly humiliating, that crushes and weakens me; it has gotten stronger since I moved closer to Paris, the most blunting of cities. I do not assume that I am alone in feeling I am within its reach; it seems to me that all those who participate in the great march of modem consciousness have not been able to muffle in themselves its acompanying step. . . its tearing through the undergrowth right here, right here. . . I wondered and I still wonder how to settle on a Law that would most concisely describe the specific situation of the European spirit. I see nothing except


Actually I am not talking about a certain contingent of stupidity, not yet overcome, that development will come to terms with sooner or later. This would be a matter of stupidity progressing hand in hand with reason, which grows along with it. Have a look at all the picnics of the intellect: These conceptions! These discoveries! Perspectives! Subtleties! Publications! Congresses! Discussions! Institutes! Universities! Yet: one senses nothing but stupidity.

I must warn you that I am formulating the law the smarter, the dumber without a bit of jesting. No, this is really so. . . And the principle of inverse proportionality seems to get at the very essence of this, for the more noble the quality of reason, the more despicable the category of stupidity; stupidity has become cruder thanks to nothing but its own coarseness, and it eludes the increasingly more subtle instrument of intellectual control . . . our reason, too smart to defend itself against stupidity that is too stupid. In the Western episteme what is stupid is stupid in a gigantic way - and that is why it is elusive.

I will allow myself by way of an example to indicate the stupidity accompanying our, ever more rich, system of communication. Everyone will admit that this system has been splendidly developed of late. Precision, wealth, the profundity of language in not just brilliant expositions but even in peripheral ones, bordering on publicism (like literary criticism), are worthy of the greatest admiration. But the inundation of wealth brings about a flagging in attention, therefore increasing precision is accompanied by increasing disorientation. The result: instead of a growing understanding, you have a growing misunderstanding.

And there are even cruder complications marching onto the scene. Because the critic (let us stick with this example) is, it is true, learned, saturated with readings, oriented, but also overworked, overscheduled, bored, barren; he races to one more premiere, to see one more play, and, after such a onetime look, to hurriedly dash off one more review - which will be thorough and superficial, excellent and slapdash. And, unfortunately, I don’t see that the Western episteme will be capable of solving the contradictions of the communication system, it cannot even register them, as they are beneath its level. . . The vulnerability of the episteme when faced with the most blatant stupidity is a characteristic feature of our times.

An acquaintance of mine told me a story from before the war. They were drinking a nightcap on the veranda when Uncle Simon showed up. “What?” I asked. “Why, Simon has been resting in the cemetery for the past five years!” “Well, yes.” she replied. “He came from the cemetery in the suit he was buried in, he greeted us, sat down, drank some tea, chatted a bit about the crops, and returned to the cemetery.” 

“What?! And what did you do?! . . .” “What did you want us to do, my dear, in the face of such cheek. . .” And this is why the episteme cannot muster a riposte: it is too shamelessly stupid!

But - what luxuries!

L’ecriture n’est jamais qu’un langage, un système formel (quelque verité qui l’anime); à un certain moment (qui est peut-être celui de nos crises profondes, sans autre rapport avec ce que nous disons que d’en changer le rhythm), ce langage peut toujours être parlé par un autre langage; écrire (tout au long du temps) c’est chercher à découvrir le plus grand langage, celui qui est la forme de tous les autres. (Roland Barthes)

Hm . . . what? . . . One has to admit: they do not lack cheek!

We so-called artists are mountain climbers from birth; this kind of intellectual-verbal hike really agrees with us; if only it did not make us dizzy.’

Dark as soaring pine


Indira Gandhi,
prime minister

‘If I die a violent death as some fear and a few are plotting, I know the violence will be in the thought and the action of the assassins and not in my dying; for no hate is dark enough to overshadow the extent of my love for my people and my country and no force strong enough to divert me from my purpose and my endeavour to take this country forward.’

If I die a violent death


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And so made significant . . .
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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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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, several times a week. Now over ten years old, The Diary Review is the secondary source for the extracts in this online anthology.