And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

24 September

1710
William Byrd,
landowner

‘The Governor’s horses got away but Colonel Hill sent men after them and got them again. We had chocolate for breakfast and about 10 o’clock rode home to my house, where we refreshed ourselves and then the Governor and I went to church in the coach and my wife was terribly out of humor because she could not go likewise. Mr. Anderson preached very well and pleased the Governor. After church I invited abundance of gentlemen home where we had a good dinner. My wife after much persuasion came to dinner with us. The company went away in the evening and the Governor and I took a walk on the river side. The Governor was very willing to favor the iron works. We sat up till 9 o’clock.’

A planters life!

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1874
Gerard Manley Hopkins,
poet

‘Very bright and clear. I was with Mr. Rickaby on the hill above the house. All the landscape had a beautiful liquid cast of blue. Many-coloured smokes in the valley, grey from the Denbigh lime-kiln, yellow and lurid from two kilns perhaps on the shoulders of a hill, blue from a bonfire, and so on.

Afterwards a lovely sunset of rosy juices and creams and combs; the combs I mean scattered floating bats or rafts or racks above, the creams, the strew and bed of the sunset, passing north and south or rather north only into grey marestail and brush along the horizon to the hills. Afterwards the rosy field of the sundown turned gold and the slips and creamings in it stood out like brands, with jots of purple. A sodden twilight over the valley and foreground all below, holding the corner-hung maroon-grey diamonds of ploughfields to one keeping but allowing a certain glare in the green of the near tufts of grass.’

Sunset of rosy juices

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1914
Charles de Foucauld,
priest

‘Received news on September 11 from In-Salah and on 3rd from Paris. Always falling back; Government sits at Bordeaux.’

From playboy to ascetic

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1942
Henry Arnold,
soldier

‘[Noumea, New Caledonia] First Nimitz, then Ghormley, finally McCain: “Your bombers are doing no good over in England; your fighters are being wasted in Europe; here is where they can be of use; here is the only place where they can get results; MacArthur may need them but we need them more than he does.” The whole question revolves around: Where is this war to be won? What is our plan for winning the war? Is this not a local affair and should it not be treated as such? In any event, everyone from the Chief of Naval Operations on down should be indoctrinated with one plan for winning the war. So far everything we have seen indicates the necessity of having one theatre extending from Honolulu to Australia; one commander who can dictate an operating policy against one foe; one man who can move his forces to the place where they will be most effective; one plan for using all our forces and rotating them to be used as reinforcements and as replacements.

Two airports for landing at Noumea: (1) Plaines des Graiacs, 150 miles out of town; (2) Ton Tou Ta, much smaller. 40 miles from town. (l) has long 500 [sic] [5.000] foot runways made of iron ore; everything turns red and engine cylinders get badly scored; (make] low approaches and anything can land; most of planes parked here were well-dispersed; men live in tents, no town anywhere in sight. (2) shorter runways only used for fighters and transient planes, 40 miles to town over fair road.

Noumea reminds me of New Orleans insofar as buildings and signs are concerned. Natives are black but not negros, make excellent soldiers, not spoiled. Absence of wild life although deer and wild boar are supposed to be in hills. No citrus fruits, mangoes or coconuts.’

A five star general

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1944
Hans Fallada,
writer

‘ “If I ask myself today whether I did the right thing or the wrong thing by remaining in Germany, then I’d still have to say today: “I did the right thing.” I truthfully did not stay, as some have claimed, because I didn’t want to lose my home and possessions or because I was coward. If I’d gone abroad I could have earned more money, more easily and would have lived a safer life. Here I have suffered all manner of trials and tribulations. I’ve spent many hours in the air-raid shelter in Berlin, watching the windows turn red, and often enough, to put it plainly, I’ve been scared witless. My property had been constantly at risk, for a year now they have refused to allocate paper for my books - and I am writing these lines in the shadow of the hangman’s noose in the asylum at Strelitz, where the chief prosecutor has kindly placed me as a ‘dangerous lunatic’, in September 1944. Every ten minutes or so a constable enters my cell, looks curiously at my scribblings and asks me what I am writing. I say, “A children’s story” and carry on writing. I prefer not to think about what will happen to me if anyone reads these lines. But I have to write them. I sense that the war is coming to an end soon, and I want to write down my experiences before that happens: hundreds of others will be doing the same after the war. Better to do it now - even at the risk of my life. I’m living here with eighty-four men, most of them quite deranged, and nearly all of them convicted murderers, thieves or sex offenders. But even under these conditions I still say: “I was right to stay in Germany. I am a German, and I would rather perish with this unfortunate but blessed nation than enjoy a false happiness in some other country.!”

[. . .]

But if we happened to be in Berlin and came across formations of brownshirts or stormtroopers marching through the streets with their standards, singing their brutish songs - one line of which I still remember clearly: “. . . the blade must run with Jewish blood!” - then my wide and I would start to run and we would turn off at the next corner. An edict had been issued, stating that everyone on the street had to raise their arm and salute the standards when these parades went past. We were by no means the only ones who ran away rather than give a salute under duress. Little did we know at the time that our then four-year-old son would one day be wearing a brown shirt too, and in my own house to boot, and that one day I too would have to buy a Nazi flat and fly it on ‘festive days’. If we had had any notion of the suffering that lay ahead, perhaps we would have changed our minds after all and packed our bags.’

I did the right thing

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1947
Arthur Crew Inman,
poet and recluse

‘I’m wondering if perhaps there isn’t some mean between the consuming concentration I formerly directed to the keeping of the entries and the comparative laxness of attention I have devoted to the diary since the atomic bomb fell upon history. I have often thought about cooks. They plan; they work. In a trice the result of their efforts vanishes down the red lane, and if a remembrance of their culinary art remains in the mind of the one who has eaten, that is generally the apogee of reward any cook can expect. Cooks come and go, and people eat on, and very seldom in history does a name or reputation survive. Yet often the most inconspicuous and unappreciated cooks take real pleasure in their remunerative labour.

So it should be, perhaps, with the keeping of a diary. If the long record of private thoughts, emotions, experiences, observations ends by being annihilated, the mind should not dwell upon that probability but permit itself, as a traveler journeying to no destination yet enjoying the act of traveling, to enjoy the simple daily exercise.’

Consuming concentration

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1968
Thomas Merton,
priest

‘At the far end of a long blue arm of water, full of islands. The bush pilot flies low over the post office thinking it to be the Catholic Church - to alert the priest we are arriving.

The old town of Valdez, wrecked by earthquake, tidal wave. Still some buildings leaning into shallow salt water. Others, with windows smashed by a local drunkard. I think I have lost the roll of film I took in Valdez & the mountains (from the place).

Most impressive mountains I have seen in Alaska: Drum & Wrangell & the third great massive one whose name I forget, rising out of the vast birchy plain of Copper Valley. They are sacred & majestic mountains, ominous, enormous, noble, stirring. You want to attend to them. I could not keep my eyes off them. Beauty & terror of the Chugach. Dangerous valleys. Points. Saws. Snowy nails.’

Befriending the Dalai Lama

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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.

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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.