And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

5 October

1694
John Evelyn,
writer

‘I went to St Paul’s to see the choir, now finished as to the stone work, and the scaffold struck both without and within, in that part. Some exceptions might perhaps be taken as to the placing columns on pilasters at the east tribunal. As to the rest it is a piece of architecture without reproach. The pulling out the forms, like drawers, from under the stalls, is ingenious. I went also to see the building beginning near St Giles’s, where seven streets make a star from a Doric pillar placed in the middle of a circular area; said to be built by Mr Neale, introducer of the late lotteries, in imitation of those at Venice, now set up here, for himself twice, and now one for the State.’

A most excellent person

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1726
Benjamin Franklin,
politician

‘This morning we saw a heron, who had lodged aboard last night. It is a long-legged, long-necked bird, having, as they say, but one gut. They live upon fish, and will swallow a living eel thrice, sometimes, before it will remain in their body. The wind is west again. The ship’s crew was brought to a short allowance of water.’

Founding Father Franklin

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1796
Thomas Green,
lawyer

‘Pursued Boswell’s Life of Johnson. Johnson’s coarse censure of Lord Chesterfield, “that he taught the morals of a whore, and the manners of a dancing master”, is as unjust as it is harsh. Indeed I have always thought the noble author of Letters to his Son, hardly dealt with by the Public; though to public opinion I have the highest deference. How stands the case? Having bred up his son to a youth of learning and virtue, and consigned him to a tutor well adapted to cultivate these qualities, he naturally wishes to render him an accomplished gentleman; and, for this purpose, undertakes, in person, a task for which none surely was so well qualified as himself. I follow the order he assigns, and that which his Letters testify he pursued. Well! but he insists eternally on such frivolous points - the graces - the graces! Because they were wanting, and the only thing wanting. Other qualities were attained, or presumed to be attained: to correct those slovenly, shy, reserved, and uncouth habits in the son, which as he advanced in life grew more conspicuous; and threatened to thwart all the parent’s fondest prospects in his child, was felt, and justly felt, by the father, to have become an imperious and urgent duty; and he accordingly labours at it with parental assiduity, an assiduity, which none but a father would have bestowed upon the subject. Had his Lordship published these Letters; as a regular System of Education, the common objection to their contents would have, had unanswerable force: viewing them however in their true light, as written privately and confidentially by a parent to his child - inculcating, as he naturally would, with the greatest earnestness, not what was the most important, but most requisite - it must surely be confessed, there never was a popular exception more unfounded. But he - I admit it: he touches upon certain topics, which, a sentiment of delicacy suggests, between a father and son had better been forborne: yet those who might hesitate to give the advice, if they are conversant with the world, and advert to circumstances, will not be disposed to think the advice itself injudicious.’

Dipped into Bacon’s essays

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1974
Peter Pears,
singer

‘Ben called early, very clear to hear.

I did go to the rehearsal at 10:30 of Act I, and I started well and got most of it right. Then suddenly at about 11:45, I lost memory, courage and all, and left the rehearsal in despair. However, before doing so I made a date with Richard Voitach, the understudy for Steuart Bedford and a junior conductor on the Met staff, to work with him on D in V at 4 o’clock. We spent a MOST VALUABLE 1 3/4 hours on the opera, which restored my confidence and made me feel much BETTER. A nice helpful man. The Met’s acoustics are so good that a small voice like mine well-protected will sound perfectly clear and good! Let’s hope so. . .

Was stopped by a boy with a beard as I left Met who had heard D in V at Aldeburgh. Madly enthusiastic. Had just seen Don Giovanni matinee. ‘How was it?’ ‘Well, it was was well conducted.’

6:30. Home to a gin and my view over Central Park. The trees darken, the lights go on, the other side (East) looks like a chalk cliff, with a pale glow above. Reminded me of the olive trees below Delphi!!

Still taking ANTIBIOTICS. Back to Milton. Paradise Lost: splendid scene of Lucifer massing his forces, who move ‘in perfect phalanx to the Dorian mood of flutes and soft recorders’. Poor instruments! Do they belong to the devil?’

Peter Pears centenary

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1979
Stephen Spender,
poet

‘I wrote a poem about Derwentwater. One of my best, at this moment, I think. Why do I have such resistance to writing poetry? Since when I am writing it I can become very absorbed, happy, fascinated. The resistance comes first from the sense not so much of failure as of non-recognition. I can’t really convince myself my poetry gives pleasure to anyone. I feel apologetic sending it to a friend, humiliated sending it to an editor, as though asking for a favour. Next, writing it is a test in which all one’s best qualities are brought in confrontation with all one’s incapacitiy. Next, poetry is not ‘work’. And there is always ‘work’ elbowing its way in and pushing poetry aside. [. . .]

Being a minor poet is like being minor royalty, and no one, as a former lady-in-waiting to Princess Margaret once explained to me, is happy as that.’

The ghost of a reader

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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.