And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

31 October

1705
John Evelyn,
writer

‘I am this day arrived to the 85th year of my age. Lord teach me so to number my days to come, that I may apply them to wisdom!’

A most excellent person

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1838
Thomas Babington Macaulay,
politician and historian

‘One of the most remarkable days of my life. A day of interest and enjoyment. We were not required to be on board of the steamer again till six in the evening. Soon after seven in the morning I was in the streets of Genoa. Never had I been more struck and delighted. The Strada Balbi, the Strada Nuovissima, above all the Strada Nuovà quite enchanted me. Nothing mean or small to break the charm. One huge massy towering palace after another - forming an assemblage in which the finest houses of London would have seemed contemptible. What would Northumberland House, Lansdowne House, or Norfolk House have been there? Change Northumberland House from brick to variegated marble, and raise it to twice its present height and it might perhaps pass muster as a second-rate palace in Genoa. The vestibules beautiful - the flights of marble steps and the colonnades within far superior to anything in London or Paris. True it is that none of these magnificent piles is a strikingly good architectural composition. But the general effect is majestic beyond description. . .

I went over the Royal Palace - both that I might see the interior of one of these superior mansions, and that I might see the famous Paul Veronese. The house is very noble - magnificent flights of steps of the finest marble - long suites of gilded rooms - galleries adorned with a profusion of glasses - and many good pictures and tolerable sculptures. Of the pictures the Paul Veronese of Mary Magdalene anointing the feet of Christ is by far the most celebrated. . . The softness of Mary’s hands is much admired but there is no use in lying to one’s own self and I must say that I want taste to see the transcendant merit of the picture. The expression of the two principal countenances is quite insipid. Mary might be washing her hands and Christ might be sitting to be measured for shoes. There is no love or adoration on her side, nor has he the air of a superior being accepting graciously a sacrifice offered by sincere reverence and affection. The dog under the table is, I think, as well painted and seems as much interested in what is going on as any other character in the piece. . .

The terrace of the palace commands an incomparable view of the city, the port, the shipping and the Mediterranean. The sun was bright and the sea blue so that I saw this fine sight with every advantage.’

Such an idle man

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1852
Henri-Frédéric Amiel,
philosopher

‘Walked for half an hour in the garden. A fine rain was falling, and the landscape was that of autumn. The sky was hung with various shades of gray, and mists hovered about the distant mountains, a melancholy nature. The leaves were falling on all sides like the last illusions of youth under the tears of irremediable grief. A brood of chattering birds were chasing each other through the shubberies. and playing games among the branches, like a knot of hiding schoolboys. The ground strewn with leaves, brown, yellow, and reddish; the trees half-stripped, some more, some less, and decked in ragged splendors of dark-red, scarlet, and yellow; the reddening shrubs and plantations; a few flowers still lingering behind, roses, nasturtiums, dahlias, shedding their petals round them; the bare fields, the thinned hedges; and the fir, the only green thing left, vigorous and stoical, like eternal youth braving decay; all these innumerable and marvelous symbols which forms colors, plants, and living beings, the earth and the sky, yield at all times to the eye which has learned to look for them, charmed and enthralled me. I wielded a poetic wand, and had but to touch a phenomenon to make it render up to me its moral significance. Every landscape is, as it were, a state of the soul, and whoever penetrates into both is astonished to find how much likeness there is in each detail. True poetry is truer than science, because it is synthetic, and seizes at once what the combination of all the sciences is able at most to attain as a final result. The soul of nature is divined by the poet; the man of science, only serves to accumulate materials for its demonstration.’

The most beautiful poem

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1855
Jane Carlyle,
wife of philosopher

‘Rain, rain, rain! “Oh Lord, this is too ridiculous”! (as the Annandale Farmer exclaimed, starting to his feet, when it began pouring, in the midst of his prayer for a dry hay-time.) I have no hay to be got in, or anything else to be got in that I know of; but I have a plentiful crop of thorns to be got out, and that too requires good weather. . . The evening devoted to mending; Mr C’s trousers among other things! “Being an only child” I never “wished” to sew mens trousers - no never!’

I walked, walked, walked

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1881
George Whitwell Parsons,
lawyer and banker

‘Met Wyat Earp in hotel who took me in to see Virgil this evening, he’s getting along well. Morgan too. Looks bad for them all thus far.’

Gunfight at OK Corral

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1910
Sophia Tolstoy,
wife of writer

‘I haven’t eaten or drunk anything for four days, I ache all over, my heart is bad. Why? What is happening? Nothing to write about - nothing but groans and tears. Berkenheim came with some stupid doctor called Rastorguev, and a young lady fresh from medical school. These outsiders make it much more difficult, but the children don’t want to take responsibility. What for? My life? I want to leave the dreadful agony of this life . . . I can see no hope, even if L. N. does at some point return. Things will never be as they were, after all he has made me suffer. We can never be straightforward with each other again, we can never love each other, we shall always fear each other. And I fear for his health and strength too.’

He was my diary

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1982
Jimmy Boyle,
prisoner and sculptor

‘The last day! How can I possibly trust it to be? Every morning for the past 15 years I’ve wakened to these surroundings. This morning is no different except for the underlying feeling of excitement.

I am gaining first-hand experience of the process of freedom. Inside I am aware that many things are going on. There is a part that wants to be joyous about it all but another seemingly stronger part stopping this as something may go wrong at the last minute. This is a sort of ‘defence mechanism’ that has taken me through less joyful experiences. If I were to go over the top with good feeling and it went wrong then I would be devastated. Recovery would be very difficult. What could go wrong now? I have experienced enough to know that prison authorities are capable of anything. I distrust them considerably. [. . .]

I am aware that there is massive media interest in my release. So, immediately I’ll be on stage. For the first time I’ll be free to speak to them. These past years they have followed my life and I haven’t been able to say anything. The gag will be off.’

This violent typewriter

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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.