And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

1 September

1592
Duke of Württemberg

‘His Highness was shown in London the English dogs, of which there were about 120, all kept in the same enclosure, but each in a separate kennel. In order to gratify his Highness, and at his desire, two bears and a bull were baited; at such times you can perceive the breed and mettle of the dogs, for although they receive serious injuries from the bears, are caught by the horns of the bull, and tossed into the air so as frequently to fall down again upon the horns, they do not give in, that one is obliged to pull them back by the tails, and force open their jaws. Four dogs at once were set on the bull; they, however, could not gain any advantage over him, for he so artfully contrived to ward off their attacks that they could not well get at him; on the contrary, the bull served them very scurvily by striking and butting at them.’

34 heads on London Bridge

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1804
Peter Hawker,
soldier and hunter

‘Romney. In a bad country we had never been in before Major Pigot and I bagged nine brace and a half of birds, exclusive of several we lost. We sprung one covey too small to fire at; Major Pigot picked out the old hen and I the cock, and bagged them both. There were sportsmen in almost every field. In the course of the day, my old dog Dick caught 8 hedgehogs.’

A life spent hunting

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1838
Benjamin Haydon,
artist

‘Went to Gravesend with my family for a day of relief & pleasure. First we got into an Omnibus & were jolted & suffocated [to] the Bank. Second the Steamer at the Bridge had just gone. Third we had to wait amongst the Porters & Packages 3/4 of an hour for the next. 4th we got on board the sunny side in a cabin, close to the Boiler, & were alternately baked by the sun & broiled by the steam pipe. Fifth we got to Gravesend tired & hungry. 6th we walked to a romantic love lane, which was a garden straight walk with dirty wooden seats, and sundry evidences that people in Gravesend had good digestions & sound peristaltic motion. 7th we ordered Roast Beef for Dinner, and my dear Mary kept her appetite to enjoy a hearty meal, when the Landlord put down lamb she hated & so did I. 8th we had rum as hot as aqua-fortis, & then old port as weak as children pap. We all got aboard with indigestion. I fell asleep on Deck & got a pain in my head, and we got home tired, grumbling, ill humoured, had tea & crept to bed.

Today I am heated, discontented, & indignant, & it will take 24 hours more to recover in. For this earthly happiness I paid 2.12.6. - enough to feed us for a week! - so much for pleasure.’

Thirst after grandeur

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1843
Louisa Alcott,
writer

‘I rose at five and had my bath. I love cold water! Then we had our singing-lesson with Mr Lane. After breakfast I washed dishes, and ran on the hill till nine, and had some thoughts, it was so beautiful up there. Did my lessons, wrote and spelt and did sums; and Mr Lane read a story, “The Judicious Father”: How a rich girl told a poor girl not to look over the fence at the flowers, and was cross to her because she was unhappy. The father heard her do it, and made the girls change clothes. The poor one was glad to do it, and he told her to keep them. But the rich one was very sad; for she had to wear the old ones a week, and after that she was good to shabby girls. I liked it very much, and I shall be kind to poor people.

Father asked us what was God’s noblest work. Anna said men, but I said babies. Men are often bad; babies never are. We had a long talk, and I felt better after it, and cleared up.

We had bread and fruit for dinner. I read and walked and played till supper-time. We sung in the evening. As I went to bed the moon came up very brightly and looked at me. I felt sad because I have been cross to day, and did not mind Mother. I cried, and then I felt better, and said that piece from Mrs Sigourney, “I must not tease my mother.” I get to sleep saying poetry, I know a great deal.’

I flied the highest

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1854
Charles Ash Windham,
soldier

‘Arrived at Constantinople this morning, and heard that the Army was embarking for Sebastopol, and would probably sail on the 3rd.

The French and English have suffered severely from sickness in Bulgaria. For my part I never felt better, and I sincerely hope I may be preserved to return home; but, above all things, I do earnestly pray that God will grant me strength and courage to behave as becomes a man and a soldier, come what may. It will be my first battle, and no man can say what effect that may have on him, so I repeat that, above all things, I pray for a stout heart and a clear head when the battle rages fiercest, particularly should we be unsuccessful.’

When the battle rages

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1900
John Hutton Bisdee,
soldier

‘Twenty of us sent on patrol in the afternoon under Captain Brooke and Lieutenant Wylly to secure some cattle. Had a terrible experience, which I shall never forget. We were led through a narrow neck into a veritable death trap. I cannot understand how the officers did not realise the danger. This neck led into a sort of basin with steep rocky hills rising in front. They opened fire on our five advance guardsmen at short range, and upon all of us, and how we got away at all is most wonderful. As it was we had four wounded. Wylly slightly, and Sergeant G. Shaw and Willoughby and Corporal E.S. Brown rather worse, and G.H. Brown very seriously, and the guide also seriously wounded. The two latter fell into the hands of the Boers, and we fear that they are in a critical state. The others are being attended to by the ambulance. The bullets came round us as thick as hail, and exploded with loud report as they struck. Captain Brook was unhorsed. I gave him mine, running alongside myself, as he received a slight wound in the leg.

Corporal E.S. Brown's horse was shot, and Wylly gave him his horse, as he was wounded in the lower leg, the Boer pellet lodging in a coin he had in a small leather purse in his puttees. The family still has the purse and coin - with a deep concavity in it.

Groom then picked up Wylly on his horse, and we rode for our lives. Two men Clarke and Blackaby lost their horses (Clarke gave his to Willoughby), but managed to evade the Boers, and arrived in camp late. Walters horse was shot and, he stopping with G.H. Brown was captured by the Boers, who let him go to report upon E.S. Brown's case, and send an ambulance in. Altogether it has been a terrible experience, and seems so utterly foolhardy to go into such a place without scouts well out in front and good supports behind. All for the sake of a few cattle.’

For a few cattle

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1909
Henry Peerless,
businessman

‘Stroll out shopping, as Millie wants a pair of warm gloves for driving. She certainly buys a pair long enough, as they go nearly up to her shoulder.

At eleven o’clock, seven of us get on one of those hotel char-à-bancs and start for our drive, through very pretty wooded hills till we stop and water the horses at Rockford - a very sweet spot with the tumbling noise little river on our left. We push on to Badgeworthy Farm House, Malmsmead, where we partake of mutton, stewed fruit and clotted cream ad libitum.

After lunch, with a cheery ‘Now then horse’ from our driver, we clatter off. In a short time we reach Oare Church, famous as the place in which Jan Ridd and Lorna Doone were married, at the conclusion of which ceremony readers of Lorna Doone will recollect Lorna was shot by Carver Doone through the church window from the branches of an old oak-tree in the churchyard. Several of us tried to get into the church, but we had to content ourselves by peeping through the windows.

By Glenthorne and through the village of Countisbury, an episode occurred which might have had a very unhappy ending.

We were driving down carefully with the skid-pan on the wheel and the brakes on, when a motor came struggling, puffing and blowing up. To pass each other required care because of the narrow space. We drew in alongside an excavation on the hill on our left hand; the motor, nearly spent with the tug up the hill, stopped also, and a lot of steam escaped from the fore part of the car.

Then our near-side horse refused to pass, and our driver shouted out to the motorist: ‘It’s the steam she is afraid of, shut it off can’t you, then she’ll go by.’

‘It’ll lie down presently,’ says Mr Motorist.

Well there we stood, and our horses began to plunge and swerve, bringing some passengers’ hearts into their mouths. Our driver was very skilful and quiet, and in two or three minutes the steam subsided, and with a slap of the whip we were by and the danger was passed - but I should not expect to get off Scot-free in similar situations.

We ultimately reach Lynmouth. It is too much of a drag for our horses to take us up to Lynton, so Mr G., Millie, and I walk up the zig-zag path and find it a trying climb. The opinion seems to be ‘never again’.’

A Peerless jolly day

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1939
W. H. Auden,
poet

‘Woke with a headache after a night of bad dreams in which C[hester] was unfaithful. Paper reports German attack on Poland ... 6.0 pm. Benjamin [Britten] and Peter Piers [sic] came to lunch. Peter sang B’s new settings of Les Illuminations and some H. Wolf ... which made me cry. B played some of Tristan which seems particularly apposite today. Now I sit looking out over the river. Such a beautiful evening and in an hour, they say, England will be at war ... 10.30 Went to the Dizzy Club. A whiff of the old sad life. I want. I want. Je ne m’occupe plus de cela. Stopped to listen to the news coming out of an expensive limousine’

Able at times to cry

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1939
Marielle Bennett,
actor

‘Walked over the heath and saw the balloon barrage etc. Help my parents to put up rolls of brown paper and tape for the black out. Does not prove to be very successful.’

The cost of stockings

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1939
Victor Klemperer,
teacher and writer

‘On Friday morning the young butcher’s lad came and told us: There had been a wireless announcement, we already held Danzig and the Corridor, the war with Poland was under way, England and France remained neutral, said to Eva, then a morphine injection or something similar was the best thing for us, our life was over. But then we said to one another, that could not possibly be the way things were, the boy had often reported absurd things (he was a perfect example of the way in which people take in news reports). A little later we heard Hitler’s agitated voice, then the usual roaring, but could not make anything out. We said to ourselves, if the report were even only half true they must be already putting out the flags. Then down in town the dispatch of the outbreak of war.’

Klemperer collecting life

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1939
Naomi Mitchison,
writer

‘Woke from nightmare to realise that at least it hadn’t happened yet: so until after breakfast. Got the news at 10:30. Two of the boys had been out all night herring fishing so were asleep still; the others came in and listened. At the end Dick said ‘That’s torn it’. Thought I had better at once return the cups and saucers borrowed from the [Women’s Rural Institute] and the school urn, and see what news there was of children to be evacuated. Felt a bit sick. Went into the garden, and saw Willie, very white; he had been listening to Hitler ‘working them up’ - Willie himself conducts a choir. Talked a little to him and James Downie, all felt it had got to come now. We talked of the ordinary people in Germany and tried to hope this would mean the end of privilege everywhere. So to the stables; Lachie was filling up the car, so I waited talking to Eddie and Taggie, both of them curiously without enmity towards Germany; we discussed ploughing up the fields for potatoes, and they argued as to whether they would bear two crops in succession and I said I hoped they wouldn’t have to. Taggie talked about his young brother who is a C. O. said ‘They’ll shoot him before he goes’ and then ‘It’s no free country where they can do that’. I said I thought it important that there should be some real pacifists in any community, and they agreed; I said I would do what I could for the boy. Both agree that the ordinary people in Germany don’t want this. Lachie brought the car back; I said ‘Bad news’, and he soberly said ‘Aye’.’

Ordinary people

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1942
Robert Wyse,
airman

‘Hurried in to lorries at 10 a.m. and departed shortly after, no waiting around with the Japanese. Lovely drive through thickly populated country to Soerabaja, the largest sea port in Java. Our prison here is a former race course and fair grounds, thick concrete walls, sentry boxes at the four corners, and guards perpetually patrolling through the atap huts. Every Nippon guard seen even at a great distance must be saluted or bowed to, and one must stand rigidly at attention until they are out of sight. Another search of our meagre possessions on arrival, very thorough and much more of our stuff taken. Saw a small British flag being stamped on. About 1,000 British troops here already, about 3,000 Dutch, some Australian, American, and all other nationalities represented. Managed to get some bed space on some bamboo raised up from the ground, most of the troops on the ground here, but it is the dry season.’

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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

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