And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

3 September

1596
Samuel Ward,
theologian

‘My complayning to Mr. Pott and Mr. Glover of Mr. Hutchinson, and my proud thoughtes with Mr. Montague when he said we should go se the crocodile. Also my proud and wild thoughtes in that I had so many places offrd, as one by Sir Hornby. Truly when God is favorable and merciful to me I begin to be proud and to attribute to myne oven desert sathanically. My unthankfulness for Godes benefits. My immoderate desire of the meat left for the sizer.’

Longing after damsens

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1839
William Griffith,
botanist and explorer

‘We proceeded from Topehee to Bamean, a distance of twelve miles, for two and a half miles down Topehee ravine. The road is a decent descent, although steepish: from thence turning abruptly at the Bamean valley, we cross the river, which is of considerable size, but fordable, although rapid. The road then extends along the left bank, not in the valley which is occupied by cultivation, but winding over and round the bases of low hills and cliffs, forming a northern boundary; throughout this part the road is villainous, often impeded by huge blocks. After a distance of about ten miles it improves, the valley expanding into a cultivated plain.

Topehee valley narrows towards its mouth or exit, which is walled in by high, red, raviny cliffs; above, in its upper parts it is well cultivated with beans, barley, wheat, and oats, and contains two villages: it opens into the Bamean valley at a village also called Topehee, there the Bamean valley is well cultivated, with oats intermixed with barley or wheat, trefoil, etc., it then narrows, forming the bed of a ravine occupied by Hippophæ, Tamarisk, etc., then it widens again.

The structure of the hills is curious, and generally exhibiting the appearance of having been much acted on by water. They are often cliffy, composed either of limestone or a soil of red clay, with which salt occurs in abundance, conspicuous from the white appearance, or springs. Crystals of carbonate of lime are frequent, limestone, or coarse conglomerate with large rounded stones, occurs; together with a curious laminated clayey rock, with white and ochraceous layers intermixed. The tints most various, as well as the sculpture of the mountains: here ravines representing tracery occur: there, columnar curiously carved cliffs, exhibiting all sorts of fantastic forms: here, as it were, a hill thrown down with numberless blocks into the stream, scattered in every direction; and here, but this is rare, very red horizontal strata, colours various, generally rosy, especially the clayey cliffs: here and there the colour of the rock is ochraceous, at one place its structure is slaty. The curious intermixture of these colours owing to the weather, is striking. [. . .]

Caves occur throughout the wide portion of the valley, but chiefly on the northern side; they also extend a little way into the narrow portion, where they seem to be excavated into clayey-looking, red, earthy limestone, or more commonly conglomerate, of coarse grey, or reddish colour. The caves are most common in two cliffs composed of conglomerate mixed with transverse strata of the same rock, 3,400 feet high, presenting a rugged outline; and between the two, which are 800 yards apart, large idols are carved. These cliffs in some places have suffered little from the action of the elements, as testified by the perfect nature of the opening of the caves, and the corners, etc. of the niches enclosing idols; in others they are furrowed by the action of water; in others again slips have taken place to such extent in some, as to cause the fall of all their caves, or of their greater portion, thus exposing the galleries, etc.

The base of the cliffs is irregular, formed of the same conglomerate and clay, but covered more or less by boulders, evidently brought down by the river; by these many caves are choked up, so that originally the cliff might have been perpendicular to the edge of the base, and if so, the caves in the cliffs, and the idols, are of later date than those of the rugged base. But more probably the cliffs, and the caves, are much as they were originally, the boulders having been a subsequent deposit.

The western corner of the cliff beyond the large idol, is much destroyed; on this, the force of the current would have acted: a breakwater occurring along the returning face.

The caves are very numerous, but are confined chiefly towards the base of the cliffs. [. . .] The largest caves are those about the idols, but I see none of any size. They are often domed, the spring of the dome is ornamented with a projecting frieze, some of these are parallelogramic, in one instance with an ornamented border thus. Some of the caves are situated as high as, or even above the tops of the idols; all parts within the rock are lighted by small apertures.

Access to the large idol is destroyed; the smaller one is gained by a spiral staircase of rude construction, and by galleries. The floor of the galleries is rugged, the steps and the cement of the conglomerate having worn out from between the masses of rock. The images all occupy niches in the face of the hill: two are gigantic, the rest not very large. They are generally in the usual sitting posture, and rather high up, while the larger ones are erect, and reach the base of the cliffy portion of the rock. They are all male, and all obviously Boodhistical; witness the breadth, proportion, and shape of the head, and the drapery; both are damaged, but the smaller is the more perfect, the face of the large one being removed above the lower lip; the arms are broken off, showing they were occupied by galleries. The drapery is composed of plaster, and was fixed on by bolts which have fallen out, leaving the holes. The arms in the smaller one are supported by the falling drapery. The height of the large image in the niche is 135 feet.

The pictures are much damaged, the plaster on which they were painted being mostly very deficient, all the faces are damaged by bullets or other missiles: their execution is indifferent, not superior to modern Burmese paintings; the colours however are good, the figures are either grouped or single, and one is in the style of the time of Henry VIII, with a hat and plume, others represent groups flying - one a golden bird, another a man with a hemispherical helmet, all are much damaged. The hair in some is dressed as in the modern Burmese top-knot, often surrounded by a circle.

Otherwise the niches are not ornamented, except in one instance, as above alluded to; the head of the smaller figure was formerly covered by the roof, as evident from holes or troughs for timbers in the gallery. These holes are now inhabited by pigeons, and the lower ones by cows, donkeys, fowls, kids, dogs; some are filthy apertures blocked up by stone and mud walls; the doors irregular, and guarded between two giants.

An old tope occurs near some small figures, it is composed of stones very much disintegrated, with curious blocks of kucha work, and large Babylonish bricks; the smaller figures are much destroyed, some completely; all are in alto-relievo.’

Large idols are carved

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1854
Charles Ash Windham,
soldier

‘Went on shore and saw Lord Raglan, Sir George Brown, General Airey, Admirals Dundas and Lyons. Drew some necessaries for servants and the detachment of the 46th Regiment, now on board here. I did what I could to find out what I had to do, but, as to this, got but little information.

I was glad to see Lord Raglan looking so well, and as to General Brown, he looks the freshest man here; and I do not doubt he will lead the Light Division “like a good ‘un.”

For my part, what I fear is the condition of the men. They are so dispirited and downcast by sickness that I very much question their fighting in the resolute way I am sure they would have fought had this expedition been undertaken months ago.

I think that, from a strategical point of view, Odessa is the place to attack.

Why we should choose to fight the Russians with a strong fortification to assist them, instead of fighting them with an open town near us that would probably offer no resistance, is more than I can understand. From what I can learn the French seem to be opposed to the attack (on Sebastopol); the English think it too late in the year, and a great many of our superior officers look upon it as hazardous and doubtful. And no one seems in the right spirit to do it.

The French have lost a frightful number of men by sickness, and will only be able to embark twenty thousand ; we shall send twenty-two or twenty-three thousand, and I understand the Turks will send ten thousand.

One thing is certain, we must all do our best.’

When the battle rages

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1908
John Churton Collins,
writer and literary critic

‘Very good news - rest from awful depression. Then came on a terribly acute attack.’

I thought I was out of the woods

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1939
Ivan Maisky,
diplomat

‘Today, the denouement really did take place . . . the prime minister went on air at 11.15 a.m. and declared that, as of then, Britain was at war with Germany.

Half an hour later the air filled with the bellowing sounds of the siren. People scampered off to their houses, the streets emptied, and cars stopped in the road. What was it? A drill? Or a genuine raid by German bombers?

Fifteen minutes of tension and anxiety - then we heard the prolonged siren wail: ‘all clear’! It had been just a drill. There were no enemy planes.

I got to Parliament by midday. I was a couple of minutes late because of the alarm. I took the first available seat in the second row. Chamberlain was already speaking. A darkened, emaciated face. A tearful, broken voice. Bitter, despairing gestures. A shattered, washed-up man. However, to do him justice, the prime minister did not hide the fact that catastrophe had befallen him.

‘This is a sad day for all of us,’ he said, ‘and to none is it sadder than to me. Everything that I have worked for, everything that I hoped for, everything that I have believed in during my public life - has crashed into ruins.’

I sat, listened and thought: ‘This is the leader of a great Empire on a crucial day of its existence! An old, leaky, faded umbrella! Whom can he save? If Chamberlain remains prime minister for much longer, the Empire is ruined.’ . . .’

An old, leaky, faded umbrella!

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1934
George Kennan,
diplomat

‘Here human flesh lives in one seething, intimate mass - far more so, even than in New York. It streams slowly, endlessly, in thick, full currents, along the boulevards, between the dark trees, under the gleam of the street lights; it is carried, as herded, tired animals are carried, in box-cars, in the long trains of street cars. And it is human life in the raw, human life brought down to its fundamentals - good and evil, drunk and sober, loving and quarrelling, laughing and weeping - all that human life is and does anywhere, but all much more simple and direct, and therefore stronger.

There is something unmistakably healthy in it all: not the health we strive for by the elimination of microbes and danger and physical hardship, but the health bred of the experience and survival of all these ills. Revolution, like nature, is lavish and careless. Its victims are no more to it than the thousands of seeds which are cast to the wind, in order that one tree may grow. But in its blind masterfulness, it has at least given new scope for the survival of the fittest, the nervously and physically fittest, who are by no means the most intelligent, or the freest from dirt and disease. The principle of natural selection, deprived of its beneficial operation by vaccinations and nursing homes and birth control, has been allowed to come into its own in its full ruthlessness. This is the answer to the question: how do the Russians stand it? Many of them didn’t stand it. And these whom you see on the street: they are the elite, not the elite of wealth or of power or of the spiritual virtues, but nature’s own elite, the elite of the living, as opposed to the hoi polloi of the dead!

It is this tremendous health, this earthy vitality, which attracts the over-civilised, neurotic foreigner. The fact that he himself could not stand it for six months, that it would crush him as it crushes all forms of weakness, does not dissuade him. There is something in its very cruelty which appeals to his sick fantasy. It is a form of flagellum [flagellation] perhaps, like all deliberate self-abnegation.’

George Kennan’s diaries

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1939
W. H. Auden,
poet

‘War declared this morning at 7 a.m. Listened in the afternoon to a broadcast of the first 1½ acts of Tristan. Everyone very kind, some rather drunk. The frogs sang all night. We sang spirituals out on the lawn.’

Able at times to cry

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1939
Marielle Bennett,
actor

‘Hear the Chamberlain speech out of my window from a neighbouring wireless. Do not listen after I hear we are at war. The air-raid warning came as rather a surprise. Did the proscribed things, closing windows etc. Mother worried because my father is driving some greyhounds to the country and she did not know where he was. However all is over.’

The cost of stockings

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1942
Robert Wyse,
airman

‘Getting used to it but this is pretty hard living. Food even worse than at Malang and not so good for a Westerner. Small piece [of] bread in the morning with a cup of tea, bread very heavy and soggy. Lunch, boiled rice. It is generally too well cooked, naturally with no sugar, salt, or milk. Supper, steamed rice, a small ladle of stew (so called), no fat, no sugar. With a cup of tea, no accessories. That’s all there is, there ain’t no more. At the canteen you can buy cigarettes only - understand they used to sell tea and coffee.’

Goose Lane Editions

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1947
Nettie Palmer,
writer

‘V. looked through N.’s file of rejected printed articles and advised on keeping only a few. Notes already done are enough on general literary subjects: those need interweaving with more personal ones. Drew up a list of names that must be included in some way practising writers and their purposes. Must get some characteristic phrases and appearances for each from appropriate periods. V. began re-reading old family diaries V. had bought for me, 1934, fitting in with some literary notes on visitors: Pfeffer, Ravitch, Huebner. But need to follow our own writers now - it’s just a matter of sorting more than writing.’

N. tinkering with diaries

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2010
Zygmunt Bauman,
sociologist and writer

‘On the sense and senselessness of diary-keeping. I confess: as I am starting to write (it is 5 a.m.), I haven’t the slightest idea what, if anything, will follow, how long it will go on and how long I’ll need, feel the urge and wish to keep it going. And the intention, let alone the purpose, is anything but clear. The question ‘what for’ can hardly be answered. At the moment when I sat down at the computer, there was no new burning issue waiting to be chewed over and digested, no new book to be written or old stuff to be revised, recycled or updated, no new interviewer’s curiosity to be satiated, no new lecture to be sketched out in writing before being spoken - no request, commission or deadline . . . In short, there was neither a frame nailed together waiting to be filled, nor a plateful of podgy work in search of a mould and a form.

I guess the question ‘because of what’ is more in order in this case than the question ‘what for’. Causes to write are abundant, a crowd of volunteers line up to be noted, picked and chosen. The decision to start writing is, so to speak, ‘overdetermined’.

To begin with, I’ve failed to learn any other form of life except writing. A day without scribbling feels like a day wasted or criminally aborted, a duty neglected, a calling betrayed.

To go on, the game of words is for me the most heavenly of pleasures. I enjoy that game enormously - and the enjoyment reaches its peak when, after another reshuffle of the cards, the hand I get happens to be poor and I need to strain my brains and struggle hard to make up for the blanks and bypass the traps. Forget the destination; it is being on the move, and jumping over or kicking away the hurdles, that gives life its flavour. [. . .]

What, after all, is the difference between living and reporting life? We can do worse than take a hint from José Saramago, my lately discovered fount of inspiration. On his own quasi-diary he reflects: ‘I believe that all the words we speak, all the movements and gestures we make . . . can each and every one of them be understood as stray pieces of unintended autobiography, which, however involuntary, perhaps precisely because it is involuntary, is no less sincere or truthful than the most detailed account of life put into writing and onto paper.’ Exactly.’

Sense and senselessness

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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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