And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

29 September

Horatio Nelson,
naval commander

‘Fine weather. Gave out the necessary orders for the Fleet. Sent Euryalus to watch the Enemy with the Hydra off Cadiz.’

Nelson’s diary, and left hand


Francis Edward Witts,

‘They say the march of intellect is wonderful these days. Men navigate by steam, tram carts travel by steam; but this is nothing to the present fashion of travelling by paper kites. To-day we witnessed the experiment made at Gloucester. For some days I had noticed two large paper kites hovering over the town. They were hoisted by a school master who amused himself with mechanical pursuits, letting off balloons etc. The wind being westerly, was favourable for an excursion to Cheltenham so he orders out his gig, or rather I think it was a four wheeled chair, attaches it to two paper kites, mounts with two or three companies and away they go, not very rapidly, not at a very regular pace, but progressing.’

Upper Slaughter’s squire


Arthur Graeme West,

Rainy and depressing. Up to trenches again by T_ Wood. Seven men killed by a shell as soon as we got in the trench; beastly sight! I went up to find the way at G_ at night. I got back to find a Buszard’s cake - jolly evening. Slept on the floor of a dug-out. Stomach troubles.’

Shambles in the dug-outs


Henry Fountain Ashurst,

‘Washington is now a boom city; it is rushing, shouting, building and hurrying. Owners of lots are letting contracts here for the construction of more hotels and theatres, although wages and the price of material have “skyrocketed” within the past thirty days. In the olden days of the West, we had “boom towns,” such as Virginia City, Gold Hill, Placerville, Carson City, Leadville, Tonapah, Goldfield, Brodie, Rawhide, Tombstone, Cripple Creek, Dawson et al, but Washington is our first “boom city.” ’

A kindly and witty diarist


Kathleen Scott,

‘We had a dinner party, oh such a funny dinner party! There were Stephen McKenna, Gilbert Cannan, Sidney Russell Cooke, Geoffrey Dearmer and me. In the middle a very bad air raid started. A strange girl came in who was going to dance later. The parlour maid came in hysterical and collapsed on the drawing room sofa. The cook panted behind, and Wink [Peter’s nanny] arrived with her hair down. We fetched Pete down in his pyjamas - we were a mottled party. First we watched from the balcony then we shut shutters, lit lights and Sidney turned on the pianola. Gilbert never uttered a word. Stephen sat and made magic - ‘evil magic’, he said. Sidney and I sustained animated conversation, to which Pete contributed a good deal of sound information about aerial matters. More people came as the night went on, and we danced until three am.’

Kathleen Scott as diarist


Albert James Sylvester,
civil servant

‘I have been sizing up a row which has suddenly developed between L.G. and Frances. Yesterday morning he packed his bags and came up from Churt alone in the car. Frances has been on the telephone a number of times to me, and I am trying to straighten it out.’

He is a very great man


Marie Belloc Lowndes,

‘The crisis is not over, as so many people seem to think, but it certainly is suspended and I should be much surprised if it comes to war now. I still entirely believe that Hitler was bluffing and - I think it will come out in time - that if only he had been told quite plainly that the three great countries were going to war if he attacked the Czechs, he would have drawn back exactly as he did in May. Though there can be no doubt Chamberlain meant it for the best, I am convinced that had he not flown to Germany, but contented himself with simply sending a threat from London he would actually have done better for the whole world than he has done now, for it is plain that whatever happens, the Czechs will be to a great extent sacrificed.

All the main roads out of London are an astonishing sight jammed with cars, and the scenes at the railway stations are also extraordinary: as a man said to me, “Just like an August Bank Holiday!”

The Westminster boys were all sent home yesterday. I hear that the Dulwich boys have also gone - each parent paying £3 so that proper army huts might be built on the Kent-Sussex border. This flight from London is a great misfortune for tradespeople and indeed anyone connected with trade in any way. Large numbers of people have given their servants a week’s notice and a week’s money, so London is full of servants with no jobs.

Yesterday a great rush for provisions began. One lady I heard of has her house quite full of tinned foods of every kind. The only thing I bought was my special brand of China tea: I have got 14 lbs which will last me for a year. I also got last week rather more methylated, rice and matches than usual, but nothing out of the way.

I was guided by my experience in the last year. The fact that I had a gross of matches in the early August of 1914 was of the greatest value. It is one of the things - strange to say - in which there quickly becomes a shortage. I also found then the great value of rice when cooked and mixed with fried onions and a little butter: it really makes a meal for anyone. I ran out of methylated in the last war and had great trouble making my early morning tea before my work - in fact, I was forced to use the Tommy Cookers and the stuff people used for heating their hair tongs, both expensive and unpleasant to use.

I have committed one act of great extravagance: I have bought a new wireless for Wimbledon. For many years I have had an ordinary battery model, given me by a dear friend. It cost £30 but is hopelessly out of date, a great worry and perpetually having to be mended. I said to myself it would be a frightful thing for me should war come, to be out at Wimbledon with no wireless, so yesterday I telephoned a man I know who is in a big radio concern.

He brought me out the best new Ecko model and fixed it up for me with an aerial. I decided to do so when I realized that if war should come any money I get from America would be enormously more in pounds than in dollars. The day before yesterday I should have made 4/- on every pound.’

A plot mind is curiously rare


Cesare Pavese,

‘I shall have to stop priding myself on being unable to find pleasure in the things ordinary men enjoy - high days and holidays; the fun of being one in a crowd; family affection and so on. What I am really incapable of is enjoying out-of-the-ordinary pleasures - solitude and a sense of mastery, and if I am not very good at sharing the sentiments of the average man it is because my artless assumption that I was capable of something better has rusted my natural reactions, which used to be perfectly normal. In general we feel rather pleased with ourselves when we do not enjoy common pleasures, believing this means that we are ‘capable of better things’. But incapacity in the one case does not presuppose capacity in the other. A man who is incapable of writing nonsense may be equally incapable of writing something pleasing.

We hate the thing we fear, the thing we know may be true and may have a certain affinity with ourselves, for each man hates himself. The most interesting, the most fertile qualities in every man are those he most hates in himself and in others, for hatred includes every other feeling - love, envy, ignorance, mystery, the urge to know and to possess. It is hate that causes suffering. To overcome hatred is to take a step towards self-knowledge, self-mastery, self-justification, and consequently towards an end of suffering. When we suffer, it is always our own fault.’

I won’t write any more


James Meade,

‘A morning free from meetings, which I spent at the Embassy clearing up many odd points with Liesching, reading papers etc. I also spoke with Robbins on the subject of the British attitude on the currency problem. He seems to realise clearly that the question whether the Fund deals in national currencies or in Unitas is really of secondary importance. We must not allow there to be a break on such a senseless issue. Had lunch with two men from the State Department, Phelps and Gay, who wished to discuss the problem of state trading. I argued that we should set certain price rules and criteria for state trading which would correspond to the price rules with private enterprise as modified by permitted subsidies and tariffs. After lunch I saw Rasminsky for twenty minutes. He has come from Ottawa to talk with Keynes and others on the currency discussion. He is in exactly the same sense of perplexity as myself. Why must the British fight so on a point which is of so little substance as the monetisation of Unitas? In the afternoon another meeting of the Anglo-American group on commercial policy. First we discussed export taxes and restrictions, on which subject the Americans accepted our suggested rule without any difficulty. Then I introduced the general subject of the formation of the Commercial Union and of its institutions. The Americans are in very much the same mind as ourselves on these issues; but they want it to be made compulsory for members of the Commercial Union not to extend the advantages of membership to non-members. Later I dined with Galbraith and his wife at the Cosmos Club and then went on to their home in Georgetown to talk. He is the ‘relentless’ type of radical, believes that Russia should be permitted to absorb Poland, the Balkans and the whole of Eastern Europe in order to spread the benefits of Communism, that the outlook for American politics is very black because even if the Roosevelt administration wins the next election the liberal New Dealers are now all a crowd of tired, cautious and conservative liberals, etc. I think he may be a little embittered at the punishing experience he had at OPA where there was a witch-hunt against liberal College professors of which he was the main victim. He is off to New York to join the editorial board of Fortune.’

UK-US talks on commercial union


Ned Rorem,

‘If I weren’t a musician I’d have more time for music. Far more informed than I is the Music Lover, the amateur; nor is his information necessarily more superficial. At a time when it counted - before the age of twenty - I did learn the piano catalogue of Chopin, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Debussy, Ravel, and a bit less of Liszt and Schumann. But most of these weren’t mastered. To hear them no longer tempts me. Seldom at a concert don’t I feel I should be home writing my own music.’

Self-exposing massacre


Arthur C. Clarke,

‘Dreamed that shooting had started. Lots of actors standing around, but I still didn’t know the story line.’

Dreamed I was a robot


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And so made significant . . .
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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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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, several times a week. Now over ten years old, The Diary Review is the secondary source for the extracts in this online anthology.