And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

5 September

1666
John Evelyn,
writer

‘It crossed toward Whitehall; but oh! the confusion there was then at that Court! It pleased his Majesty to command me, among the rest, to look after the quenching of Fetter-lane end, to preserve (if possible) that part of Holborn, while the rest of the gentlemen took their several posts, some at one part, and some at another (for now they began to bestir themselves, and not till now, who hitherto had stood as men intoxicated, with their hands across), and began to consider that nothing was likely to put a stop but the blowing up of so many houses as might make a wider gap than any had yet been made by the ordinary method of pulling them down with engines. This some stout seamen proposed early enough to have saved near the whole city, but this some tenacious and avaricious men, aldermen, etc., would not permit, because their houses must have been of the first. It was, therefore, now commended to be practiced; and my concern being particularly for the Hospital of St. Bartholomew, near Smithfield, where I had many wounded and sick men, made me the more diligent to promote it; nor was my care for the Savoy less. It now pleased God, by abating the wind, and by the industry of the people, when almost all was lost infusing a new spirit into them, that the fury of it began sensibly to abate about noon, so as it came no farther than the Temple westward, nor than the entrance of Smithfield, north: but continued all this day and night so impetuous toward Cripplegate and the Tower, as made us all despair. It also broke out again in the temple; but the courage of the multitude persisting, and many houses being blown up, such gaps and desolations were soon made, as, with the former three days’ consumption, the back fire did not so vehemently urge upon the rest as formerly. There was yet no standing near the burning and glowing ruins by near a furlong’s space.

The coal and wood wharfs, and magazines of oil, rosin, etc. , did infinite mischief, so as the invective which a little before I had dedicated to his Majesty and published, giving warning what probably might be the issue of suffering those shops to be in the city was looked upon as a prophecy.

The poor inhabitants were dispersed about St. George’s Fields, and Moorfields, as far as Highgate, and several miles in circle, some under tents, some under miserable huts and hovels, many without a rag, or any necessary utensils, bed or board, who from delicateness, riches, and easy accommodations in stately and well-furnished houses, were now reduced to extreme misery and poverty.

In this calamitous condition, I returned with a sad heart to my house, blessing and adoring the distinguishing mercy of God to me and mine, who, in the midst of all this ruin, was like Lot, in my little Zoar, safe and sound.’

10,000 houses in one flame

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1666
Samuel Pepys,
civil servant

‘I lay down in the office again upon W. Hewer’s quilt, being mighty weary, and sore in my feet with going till I was hardly able to stand. About two in the morning my wife calls me up and tells me of new cryes of fire, it being come to Barkeing Church, which is the bottom of our lane. I up, and finding it so, resolved presently to take her away, and did, and took my gold, which was about £2,350, W. Hewer, and Jane, down by Proundy’s boat to Woolwich; but, Lord! what a sad sight it was by moone-light to see the whole City almost on fire, that you might see it plain at Woolwich, as if you were by it. There, when I come, I find the gates shut, but no guard kept at all, which troubled me, because of discourse now begun, that there is plot in it, and that the French had done it. I got the gates open, and to Mr. Shelden’s, where I locked up my gold, and charged my wife and W. Hewer never to leave the room without one of them in it, night or day. So back again, by the way seeing my goods well in the lighters at Deptford, and watched well by people.

Home, and whereas I expected to have seen our house on fire, it being now about seven o’clock, it was not. But to the fyre, and there find greater hopes than I expected; for my confidence of finding our Office on fire was such, that I durst not ask any body how it was with us, till I come and saw it not burned. But going to the fire, I find by the blowing up of houses, and the great helpe given by the workmen out of the King’s yards, sent up by Sir W. Pen, there is a good stop given to it, as well as at Marke-lane end as ours; it having only burned the dyall of Barking Church, and part of the porch, and was there quenched. I up to the top of Barking steeple, and there saw the saddest sight of desolation that I ever saw; every where great fires, oyle-cellars, and brimstone, and other things burning. I became afeard to stay there long, and therefore down again as fast as I could, the fire being spread as far as I could see it; and to Sir W. Pen’s, and there eat a piece of cold meat, having eaten nothing since Sunday, but the remains of Sunday’s dinner.

Here I met with Mr. Young and Whistler; and having removed all my things, and received good hopes that the fire at our end is stopped, they and I walked into the town, and find Fanchurch-streete, Gracious-streete, and Lumbard-streete all in dust. The Exchange a sad sight, nothing standing there, of all the statues or pillars, but Sir Thomas Gresham’s picture in the corner. Walked into Moorefields (our feet ready to burn, walking through the towne among the hot coles), and find that full of people, and poor wretches carrying their goods there, and every body keeping his goods together by themselves (and a great blessing it is to them that it is fair weather for them to keep abroad night and day); drank there, and paid twopence for a plain penny loaf. Thence homeward, having passed through Cheapside and Newgate Market, all burned, and seen Anthony Joyce’s house in fire. And took up (which I keep by me) a piece of glasse of Mercers’ Chappell in the streete, where much more was, so melted and buckled with the heat of the fire like parchment. I also did see a poor cat taken out of a hole in the chimney, joyning to the wall of the Exchange, with the hair all burned off the body, and yet alive.

So home at night, and find there good hopes of saving our office; but great endeavours of watching all night, and having men ready; and so we lodged them in the office, and had drink and bread and cheese for them. And I lay down and slept a good night about midnight, though when I rose I heard that there had been a great alarme of French and Dutch being risen, which proved nothing. But it is a strange thing to see how long this time did look since Sunday, having been always full of variety of actions, and little sleep, that it looked like a week or more, and I had forgot almost the day of the week.’

10,000 houses in one flame

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1822
Eugène Delacroix,
artist

‘Went out shooting with my brother; the heat was stifling. I shot a quail as I swung round and Charles congratulated me. What is more, it was our only success, although I had three shots at rabbits.

In the evening we went to meet Lisette, who was coming to mend some shirts for me. I took advantage of being a little behind the others to kiss her; she struggled, and it vexed me because I could see she meant it seriously. When we next met I tried again, but she quickly shook me off saying that if she wanted to she’d be sure and let me know. Then my feelings were really hurt and I pushed her away and strolled up and down in the lane under the rising moon. I came across her once more as she was drawing water for supper, but although I felt inclined to sulk and not go back to her I finally yielded to temptation. ‘Then you don’t love me?’ - ‘No!’ - ‘Do you like anyone else?’ - ‘I don’t love anybody’, or some such ridiculous answer, meaning, ‘Let me alone!’ This time, hurt and annoyed, I crossly let go her hand and turned my back on her. She gave a faint laugh, it was not really a laugh but the remains of her half-serious protest, but it has left a disagreeable taste.’

The workings of Delacroix

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1826
Francis Edward Witts,
priest

‘The Stratford and Moreton railway was opened this day for the conveyance of goods from the former to the latter place, and a vast concourse of persons assembled at Moreton-in-Marsh. The market of this town, disused for a very long period, has on this occasion been revived with great spirit and will in some respects be injurious to the market at Stow-on-the-Wold. At an early hour in the evening all the provisions of the town were exhausted, the roasted ox demolished and neither bread nor beer to be had for love or money. The committee preceded the coal waggons with a band of music, and all was joyous. Behind the scenes, however, the proprietors have reason to mourn over mismanagement, exhausted means, and scant hopes even of distant remuneration; but the public will doubt be considerable gainers.’

Upper Slaughter’s squire

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1919
Alex Sabine,
writer

‘A paroled prisoner of war happened to come in quest of milk. My peasant landlord wanted to know what Denikin’s political platform was. The soldier mentioned among other things “the one and indivisible Russia.” “That is right,” said my landlord, with an air of supreme satisfaction stroking his long gray beard: “What’s mine is mine, and I ain’t got to divide it with no riff-raff as they wants it done under this here Communism.”

Jailed for making soap

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1944
Arthur Crew Inman,
poet and recluse

‘I am forty-nine. There is no hope in my heart that I shall ever recover from a state of limited semi-invalidism.

My day is divided somewhat as follows: The curtains in my bedroom are dropped some fifty minutes before sunrise to keep the room dark so that I may avoid headaches. Breakfast is at 6:30am, after which I wash and go back to bed unto 8:10am, when I get up. I ride at nine or ten for varying amounts, after having scanned the newspapers, listened to the news and waltzes on the radio, perhaps written in here without using my glasses, though I use them when driving. On returning home, I eat something, work, dictate, write in here. Lunch comes shortly after noon. I nap in my darkened room for a few minutes around one o’clock. Then Janice massages the soft tissue in my neck. With myself still in the dark and Evelyn or Janice on the other side of a curtain where the light is, I correct from three until shortly before six. Then I play the talking-book and the radio until 7:15pm, when Fulton Lewis’ talk ends, when I eat my supper. Thereafter, I listen to the radio, the talking-book or am read to or talked to for the evening, which extends until midnight or twelve-thirty.

My principle pleasure consists of writing in here, correcting, studying. I cannot work a tithe of the time I would wish to. I have no faith in God, the reality of progress, the predominance of good. I feel myself born under an unlucky star. I value my friends. I place more value upon money than formerly. I fear many things up to a certain point - always anticipating trouble and usually getting it. People, by and large, are very good to me, and I strive to return as I am able their affection and their efforts in my behalf. I am bitter and disillusioned with existence and wait for it to end but until it does attempt to achieve some measure of normality, to be cheerful and equable.’

Consuming concentration

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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, 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.