And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

27 September

1852
Henri-Frédéric Amiel,
philosopher

‘To-day I complete my thirty-first year. [. . .]

The most beautiful poem there is, is life - life which discerns its own story in the making, in which inspiration and self-consciousness go together and help each other, life which knows itself to be the world in little, a repetition in miniature of the divine universal poem. Yes, be man; that is to say, be nature, be spirit, be the image of God, be what is greatest, most beautiful, most lofty in all the spheres of being, be infinite will and idea, a reproduction of the great whole. And be everything while being nothing, effacing thyself, letting God enter into thee as the air enters an empty space, reducing the ego to the mere vessel which contains the divine essence. Be humble, devout, silent, that so thou mayest hear within the depths of thyself the subtle and profound voice; be spiritual and pure, that so thou mayest have communion with the pure spirit. Withdraw thyself often into the sanctuary of thy inmost consciousness; become once more point and atom, that so thou mayest free thyself from space, time, matter, temptation, dispersion, that thou mayest escape thy very organs themselves and thine own life. That is to say, die often, and examine thyself in the presence of this death, as a preparation for the last death. He who can without shuddering confront blindness, deafness, paralysis, disease, betrayal, poverty; he who can without terror appear before the sovereign justice, he alone can call himself prepared for partial or total death. How far am I from anything of the sort, how far is my heart from any such stoicism! But at least we can try to detach ourselves from all that can be taken away from us, to accept everything as a loan and a gift, and to cling only to the imperishable - this at any rate we can attempt. To believe in a good and fatherly God, who educates us, who tempers the wind to the shorn lamb, who punishes only when he must, and takes away only with regret; this thought, or rather this conviction, gives courage and security. Oh, what need we have of love, of tenderness, of affection, of kindness, and how vulnerable we are, we the sons of God, we, immortal and sovereign beings! Strong as the universe or feeble as the worm, according as we represent God or only ourselves, as we lean upon infinite being, or as we stand alone.

The point of view of religion, of a religion at once active and moral, spiritual and profound, alone gives to life all the dignity and all the energy of which it is capable. Religion makes invulnerable and invincible. Earth can only be conquered in the name of heaven. All good things are given over and above to him who desires but righteousness. To be disinterested is to be strong, and the world is at the feet of him whom it cannot tempt. Why? Because spirit is lord of matter, and the world belongs to God. “Be of good cheer,” saith a heavenly voice, “I have overcome the world.”

Lord, lend thy strength to those who are weak in the flesh, but willing in the spirit!’

The most beautiful poem

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1954
Hugh Casson,
architect and designer

‘In lovely weather - warm sun, cold breeze, clear blue days and Mediterranean nights - the week passes crammed with sightseeing. At our request we eschew factories and clinics, mines and blast-furnaces. For us, day after day, are spread out the delights of temples and gardens, of palaces and lakes, of secret courtyards and absurd pavilions with delicious elegant names: ‘The Palace of Pleasant Sounds’, ‘The Studio of Pure Fragrance’, ‘The Hall of Last Virtue’, ‘The Pavilion for Watching the Spring’. All are beautifully kept, affectionately restored, crowded with visitors - soldiers strolling with linked fingers, old ladies tottering on misshapen feet, pale-faced Europeans hung with light-meters and scribbling in notebooks, parties of school-children in scarlet scarves.

There can be few more visually exciting experiences than to wander through the courts of the Forbidden City as though through the rooms of some vast roofless mansion. First the great approach, paved and straight, that even within living memory was lined every day at dawn by kneeling elephants who guarded the approach of Court officials and mandarins. . . Then through the Great Gateway with the court yards set about with halls of state designed for splendid ceremonials. Each hall is surrounded with smaller halls and pavilions, with terraces, bridges, staircases and ramps all in marching, rhythmic perspective. Every column, every roof, every silhouette and every colour is the same - yet all are different because each time they are viewed from a slightly different aspect or different level. Courts give way to temples, to stairways, to courts again. Everywhere roofs are golden, ceilings blue, green and gold, walls and columns blood-red. The floors inside and out are carefully paved, great marble slabs, diagonally tooled along the main pathways - elsewhere grey rectangular bricks or stones. Balustrades are of white marble, richly carved. Great bronze vessels as high as your hat stand sentinel beneath trees every branch of which has been studied and, if necessary, twisted in growth to create the required effect. Within the State rooms are set out the furniture, the silks, the bronzes and porcelains that once belonged to the Imperial Court - some beautiful, some strangely hideous - carved monkeys made out of what looks like chocolate spaghetti; cranes in coloured cloisonné; clocks let into the bellies of elephants. Owing to the risk of fire, buildings are not fitted with electric lighting, and in the scarlet twilight of these great halls the atmosphere is sinister and smells of tyranny.

But once outside in the gardens and grottoes of the surrounding parks the magic returns. [. . .]

Day after delightful day we stroll along beautifully patterned pathways past the agonised rocks and twisted cypresses of the Winter Palace where an old man, white-masked against the dust, sits silently appraising the goldfish. We descend through a dark twisted cave in the Peilhai Park to reach a canopied ferry in which we are carried across a lake to the Emperor’s fishing pavilion. We drink tea in the shade of the Temple of Heaven, eat a picnic lunch among the yet unrestored ruins of the Summer Palace, doze in the sun beside the hulk of the old iron steam yacht (a present from the Emperor of Japan to the Dowager Empress of China) that lies mildewing and desolate upon a marble quay. We watch butterflies by silent pools, and listen to magpies in the bamboo groves. We are taken to see Mr Ching Chin-yi, who, in the shade of a little pavilion, is busy engraving the Stockholm Peace Appeal upon a grain of rice.’

Red Lacquer Days

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1956
David Ben-Gurion,
politician

‘This morning we held a consultation - Golda [Meir], [Peretz| Naftali, Pinhas Sapir, Moshe D[ayan] . . . Shimon Peres and myself - regarding the French proposed. . . I made three negative assumptions: (1) We shall not be the ones to open [hostilities]. (2) We shall not participate unless there is British agreement and their agreement must also include our defence against a Jordanian and Iraqi attack. (We on our part will promise not to attack either Jordan or Syria.) (3) That no action will be taken contrary to U.S. opinion and without it being informed. Our final decision will be made here following their return [from France] . . .

Upon the conclusion of the Eden-Selwyn Lloyd talks in Paris with the French Government a communiqué was issued saying that both governments hold the same views as to the steps that must be taken in the present crisis. Have they really reached an agreement on an ‘operation’ and did they also discuss the plan of our participation?. . .

Next Sunday things will become clearer following the departure of our delegation.

Tonight, the last ship bringing French arms is due to arrive. On it are the last 20 Super-Shermans, accessories and ammunition.

Following my disclosure of this ‘military secret’, several weeks ago, the newspaper editors, who were true to their word, were taken today to watch the unloading of this precious ‘merchandise’.’

We must not budge

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