And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

11 September

1834
Søren Kierkegaard,
philosopher

‘The reason I cannot really say that I positively enjoy nature is that I do not quite realize what it is that I enjoy. A work of art, on the other hand, I can grasp. I can - if I may put it this way - find that Archimedian point, and as soon as I have found it, everything is readily clear for me. Then I am able to pursue this one main idea and see how all the details serve to illuminate it. I see the author’s whole individuality as if it were the sea, in which every single detail is reflected. The author’s spirit is kindred to me; he is very probably far superior to me, I am sure, but yet he is limited as I am. The works of the deity are too great for me; I always get lost in the details. This is the reason, too, why people’s exclamations on observing nature: It’s lovely, tremendous, etc. - are so frivolous. They are all too anthropomorphic; they come to a stop with the external; they are unable to express inwardness, depth. In this connection, also, it seems most remarkable to me that the great geniuses among the poets (such as Ossian and Homer) are represented as blind. Of course, it makes no difference to me whether they actually were blind or not. I only make a point of the fact that people have imagined them to be blind, for this would seem to indicate that what they saw when they sang the beauty of nature was not seen with the external eye but was revealed to their inward intuition. How remarkable that one of the best, yes, the very best writer about bees was blind from early youth. It seems to indicate that however much one believes in the importance of the observation of externals, he had found that [Archimedian] point and now by a purely spiritual activity had deduced from this all the details and had reconstructed them analogously to nature.’

Mock and real turtles

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1900
Rainer Maria Rilke,
writer

‘A fine evening at the Overbecks’. The blond painter was with me for the length of the twilight; I showed her some Russian books, the pictures of Nadson and Garshin, Droshin’s portraits, and other mementos. In the evening she sat next to me, and there was much conversation between us. The table was nicely set; small chamomiles slanted to one side framed the simple white runner, which was accented by blue-and-red-embroidered signatures of guests who had preceded us. Dr. Hauptmann and I added our names to this roll. Hauptmann was in rare form, made many cutting remarks regarding the temper of our time, always in the most charmingly ingenuous way. [. . .]

Clara Westhoff had come on her bicycle, But she walked almost the whole way back to Westerwede, since while we were talking I had passed by my gate and continued on at her side. It was about two hours past midnight. The skies were gray, quiet, and the landscape could be seen, completely without color, stretching far in the distance . . . The birch trees stood like candles beside long trails. The only thing white was a white cat, which would appear from behind the bushes in silent leaps, then vanish in the mistless meadows. It was a melancholy cat that staged a solitary dance. In the garden everything green was a shade darker. Almost black, the full bushes leaned against the white railing of the forecourt. Around the urns there was depth and air.’

Art but no artists

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1914
Michael Macdonagh,
journalist

‘The lights of London were lowered last night for the first time. [. . .] Only a few of the street lamps were alight, and these had shades. Lights in shop windows were reduced. Blinds must be drawn before lights are lit in upper windows of all houses.

As I was going home from the Houses of Parliament last night I could not read my evening paper, so dim was the lighting of the Clapham train. The car was also specially fitted with blinds, and before we crossed Westminster Bridge these were drawn by the conductor for the purpose, he explained to us, of disguising the course of the river from hostile airmen, should they attempt a raid on London

Two workingmen in the car were very contemptuous of the Zeppelins. “They could never get here,” said one. “I hope they will come,” said the other. “We’ll stick pins in their bloody gas-bags.” ’

The drama of London in WWI

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1914
Charles de Foucauld,
priest

‘Noon post to hand. Captain de Saint-Léger orders M. de La Roche to remain at Ahaggar with his whole force. I forward the order by express. Bad news; we are retreating all along the frontier, before superior forces. We cannot help Belgium. The Germans occupy Brussels.’

From playboy to ascetic

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1938
David Gascoyne,
writer

‘Last Monday, recommenced work on ‘Son of the Evening’. [. . .] The other day, conceived the plan of a new novel: ‘The Anointed’, but I suppose I shall have to try to finish the other one first. ‘On n’ecrit pas les livres qu’on veut’, as one of the Goncourt remarked. One needs tremendous determination to do creative work of any sort in a world so disordered and uncertain as the world today. Crise de la politique, crise de l’homme, crise de l’esprit ...’

The poet’s destiny

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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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