And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

10 September

1863
Mary Boykin Chesnut,
wife of political aide

‘Then we went to the President’s, finding the family at supper. We sat on the white marble steps, and General Elzey told me exactly how things stood and of our immediate danger. Pickets were coming in. Men were spurring to and from the door as fast as they could ride, bringing and carrying messages and orders. Calmly General Elzey discoursed upon our present weakness and our chances for aid. After a while Mrs. Davis came out and embraced me silently. “It is dreadful,” I said. “The enemy is within forty miles of us - only forty!” “Who told you that tale?” said she. “They are within three miles of Richmond!” I went down on my knees like a stone. “You had better be quiet,” she said. “The President is ill. Women and children must not add to the trouble.” She asked me to stay all night, which I was thankful to do. [. . .] Early next morning the President came down. He was still feeble and pale from illness. Custis Lee and my husband loaded their pistols, and the President drove off.’

Chesnut’s Civil War diary

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1896
Alfred Dreyfus,
soldier

‘I am so worn out, so broken in body and soul, that I am bringing my diary to a close to-day, not knowing how long my strength will keep up or how soon my brain will give way under the strain of so much misery.

I will close it with this last prayer to the President of the Republic, in case I should succumb before seeing the curtain fall on this horrible drama:

Monsieur le President,

I take the liberty of asking you to allow this diary, which has been written day by day, to be sent to my wife. It may perhaps contain, Monsieur le President, expressions of anger and disgust relative to the most terrible conviction that has ever been pronounced against a human being, and a human being who has never forfeited his honour. I do not feel equal to the task of re-reading, of going over the horrible recital again. I now reproach nobody; every one has acted within his faculties, and as his conscience dictated. I simply declare once more that I am innocent of this abominable crime, and still ask for one thing, the same thing, that search may be made for the true culprit, the author of this abominable deed. And on the day when the light breaks, I beg that my dear wife and my dear children may receive all the pity that such a great misfortune should inspire.

END OF MY DIARY’

History unmasks all secrets

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1908
John Churton Collins,
writer and literary critic

‘Last night I was so calm and contented when I went to bed I thought I was out of the woods. I felt perfectly well; but, alas, morning came and I had a terrible relapse into utter depression. Better after breakfast. Now, sitting on the porch at 12 o’clock, I feel calm.’

I thought I was out of the woods

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1923
John Reith,
businessman and politician

‘Everything is now in shape for the BBC magazine and from various alternatives I chose Radio Times for the title.’

Reith on Hitler, Churchill

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1938
Bertolt Brecht,
writer

‘in literary articles in journals edited by marxists the concept of decadence is appearing more and more frequently of late. i discover that decadence includes me. this is naturally of great interest to me. a marxist actually needs the concept of decline. it serves to identify the decline of the ruling class in the political and economic spheres. it would be stupid for him to refuse to recognise decline in the artistic sphere. eg literature cannot exclude the great shackling of productive capacity by the capitalist means of production. i am restricting myself in the first instance to my own production. my first book of poems, the DEVOTIONS FOR THE HOME, is undoubtedly branded with the decadence of the bourgeois class. under its wealth of feeling lies a confusion of feeling. under its originality of expression lie aspects of collapse. under the richness of its subject matter there is an element of aimlessness,. the powerful language is slack. etc etc. seen in this light the subsequent SVENDBORG POEMS represent both a withdrawal and an advance. from the bourgeois point of view there has been a staggering impoverishment. isn’t it all a great deal more one-sided, less ‘organic’, cooler, ‘more self-conscious’ (in a bad sense)? let’s hope my comrades-in-arms will not let that go by default, they will say the SVENDBORG POEMS are less decadent than DEVOTIONS FOR THE HOME. however i think it is important that they should realise what the advance, such as it is, has cost. capitalism has forced us to take up arms. it has laid waste our surroundings. i no longer go off ‘to commune with nature in the woods’, but accompanied by two policemen. there is still richness, a rich choice of battlefields. there is originality, originality of problems. no question about it: literature is not blooming. but we have to beware of thinking in terms of outdated images. this notion of bloom is too one-sided. you can’t harness ideas of value, definitions of power and greatness, to an idyllic conception of organic flowering; it would be ridiculous. withdrawal and advance are not separated according to dates in the calendar. they are threads which run through individuals and works.’

The concept of decadence

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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.