And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

19 September

1692
Samuel Sewall,
businessman

‘About noon, at Salem, Giles Corey was press’d to death for standing Mute; much pains was used with him two days, one after another, by the Court and Capt. Gardner of Nantucket who had been of his acquaintance: but all in vain.’

Samuel Sewall in Salem

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1830
James Fenimore Cooper,
writer

‘In the evening, at 7 o’clock, General La Fayette came for me, in his carriage. We drove to the Rue de Rivoli, and took up Mr MeLane and Mr Thorne. We then went to the Palais Royal to be presented. So little ceremony was used, that General La Fayette, who had previously made his arrangements with the other gentlemen, first proposed the presentation to me at 2 o’clock. In consequence of a remark of mine, however, he had written a note, directly to the King, to apprise him of our wish.

We found the ante-chamber crowded, chiefly with officers, but no ladies. Following La Fayette, we penetrated to an inner room, where most of the high dignitaries were assembled. I observed Marshals Soult, and Maison, Cuvier, the Due de Bassano, & c., among them. When the door opened, the King was seen directly before them; and the Queen, Mademoiselle d’Orleans, and the Princesses, with the younger children, stood in a group on the left. The King was dressed in the uniform of the National Guards, the duc d’Orleans as a Hussar, and the ladies with great simplicity the Queen and Mademoiselle d’Orleans in striped-silk dresses.

We were introduced on entering, each receiving a few complimentary words. The ladies were polite, and, when we had passed them, they left their places to come and speak to us again. It struck me there was an evident desire to do honor to the American friends of the General. It was evident, however, that the presence of La Fayette gave uneasiness to a great many. The affectations and egotisms of rank are offended by his principles, and there is a pitiful desire manifested by the mere butterflies of society to turn his ideas and habits into ridicule. I am amazed to find how very few men are able to look beyond the glare of things.

After we had been presented, we would have retired, but our venerable friend insisted on our remaining. He retired with the King, and the room began to empty. An aid then came and requested us to approach a side-door. The King and La Fayette soon came out together, and we had a short conversation with the former. He spoke of his visit to America with pleasure, and used very courteous though unaffected language. We withdrew when he retired. In passing out of the room, a young officer said, ‘Adieu, l’Amerique!’ The fear of losing their butterfly distinctions and their tinsel, gives great uneasiness to many of these simpletons. The apprehension is quite natural to those who have no means of being known in any other manner, and it must be pardoned.’

The news from Belgium

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1840
Edward John Eyre,
explorer and administrator

‘This morning I unloaded the dray of every thing except the water casks, and pitching my tent among the scrub took up my quarters alone, whilst I sent back the man, the native boy, the dray, and all the horses with Mr. Scott to Baxter’s range. As they made an early start, I gave them instructions to push on as rapidly as possible, so as to get the range that night, to rest the horses next day and fill the casks with water, and on the third day, if possible, to return the whole distance and rejoin me.

Having seen them fairly away, I occupied myself in writing and charting during the day, and at night amused myself in taking stellar observations for latitude. I had already taken the altitude of Vega, and deduced the latitude to be 32 degrees 3 minutes 23 seconds S.; leaving my artificial horizon on the ground outside whilst I remained in the tent waiting until Altair came to the meridian, I then took my sextant and went out to observe this star also; but upon putting down my hand to take hold of the horizon glass in order to wipe the dew off, my fingers went into the quick-silver - the horizon glass was gone, and also the piece of canvass I had put on the ground to lie down upon whilst observing so low an altitude as that of Vega. Searching a little more I missed a spade, a parcel of horse shoes, an axe, a tin dish, some ropes, a grubbing hoe, and several smaller things which had been left outside the tent, as not being likely to take any injury from the damp.

It was evident I was surrounded by natives, who had stolen all these things during the short time I had been in my tent, certainly not exceeding half an hour. The night was very windy and I had heard nothing, besides I was encamped in the midst of a very dense brush of large wide-spreading tea-trees and other bushes, any of which would afford a screen for a considerable number of natives. In daylight it was impossible to see many yards in distance, and nothing could be discerned at night. The natives must have watched the dray go away in the morning, and waited until dark for their opportunity to rob me; and most daringly and effectually had they done it. At the time that I lay on the ground, taking the star’s altitude, they must have been close to me, and after I went into the tent, they doubtless saw me sitting there by the light of the candle, since the door was not quite closed, and they had come quite in front to obtain some of the things they had stolen. The only wonder with me was that they had not speared me, as they could scarcely have been intimidated by my individual presence.

As soon as I missed my horizon glass, and entertained the suspicion of natives being about, I hurried into the tent and lighting a large blue light, run with it rapidly through the bushes around me. The effect of this was very beautiful amidst the darkness and gloom of the woods, and for a great distance in every direction objects could be seen as well as by day; the natives, however, were gone, and I could only console myself by firing a couple of balls after them through the underwood to warn them of the danger of intruding upon me again; I then put every thing which had been left outside, into the tent, and kept watch for an hour or two, but my visitors came no more. The shots, or the blue light, had effectually frightened them. They had, however, in their turn, produced as great an effect upon me, and had at least deprived me of one night’s rest.’

Along the Rocky river

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1854
Ford Madox Brown,
artist

‘Rain so had out the picture of ‘Last of England’ & scraped at the head of the female, afterwards worked at it 2 hours without model & four hours with - using zinc white. Afterwards retouched ‘Beauty’ which with constant wetting was much blurred - in the eveng fixed it in frame, lettered it, & pasted loosse drawing up in my big book (7 1/2 hours).’

The Last of England

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1916
Cynthia Asquith,
writer

‘Heartbreaking day. Came downstairs in high spirits, opened newspaper and saw in large print: ‘Lieutenant Asquith Killed in Action’. Darling, brilliant, magically charming Raymond [her brother-in-law] - how much delight and laughter goes with him! It seems to take away one’s last remains of courage. One might have known that nothing so brilliant and precious could escape, but after each blow one’s hopes revive, and one reinvests one’s love and interest. Now I feel I have really relinquished all hope and expect no one to survive.’

Heartbreaking day

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1949
Joe Randolph Ackerley,
writer

‘I see there is a correspondence between tapeworms and my sister - perhaps women generally. Tapeworms are two or three yards long and composed of segments. A well-grown worm may consist of 800-900 segments. Each of these segments is hermaphrodite, and though it is not certain how fertilization occurs, it must sometimes be incestuous. A ripe segment, ready to fall off the end of the worm, contains 30,000-40,000 eggs, each already developed into a little six-hooked embryo and protected by a shell.

To the worm’s monstrous body is attached a blind and mouthless head no bigger than a pin’s, by a neck as thin as sewing cotton. But how aggressive it is, grappling itself to the wall of its host’s gut by four strong muscular suckers, and a circle of rose-thorn hooks to make doubly sure. What chance has one to get rid of a thing like that? As it lives a long time - probably its length of life is only limited by the death of the host. One man was known to keep the same tapeworm for thirty-five years. It is stubborn, resisting all attempts to get rid of it; even if you manage to get rid of the main body, the head remains and soon grows a new one, inch by inch. However, it takes no holidays, and Nancy is going off for one on Wednesday for three weeks. Bunny comes to take her place.’

Ackerley and his women

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1952
Guy Liddell,
intelligence officer

‘Bacteriological trials have been going on from Stornoway, to ascertain whether or not bubonic plague germs could or could not be used in wartime. The experiment involved the release of a number of these germs - I imagine over some vessel containing a number of unfortunate animals. At the critical moment, when the cloud had passed over, a fishing trawler from Iceland was bearing down on the scene of the experiment. It disregarded the signals to keep away, and it was calculated that it might have been on the outer fringe of the cloud. The question then arose as to what action should be taken. High level conferences went on, when the rather courageous decision was made to limit the precautions to informing the medical officer at Fleetwood, and also the skipper of the ship, that if during the course of the next three weeks any member of the crew, or anybody in Fleetwood developed boils, isolation precautions should be taken immediately. The alternative would have been to innoculate all members of the crew and all the rats on board with strepto-myoscin, or some other drug, thus making the nature of the experiment quite clear with all the resulting publicity and criticisms.’

He shines in the dark

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2002
Clare Short,
Politician

‘Was feeling very, very irritated with TB and that he and US were determined on war at any price. Asked to see V + [Vauxhall Cross - headquarters of SIS] and told not allowed. Even more irritated. Made a fuss then got briefing. V+ said SH had masses chem and biol dispersed across country. Nuclear not imminent but would get. Military option target elite - no repeat Gulf war + big humanitarian effort.’

No. 10 hostile to me

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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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