And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

6 November

1797
Marianne Fortescue,
landowner

‘Fortescue has had no sympton this day of gout, however he seems a little better. He sat up till nine, but has not eat any meat these three or four days past. Matt seems still a little feverish. Anna & I are pretty well. We quit our lodgings in Argyle Buildings at about two o’clock this day & came to No. 7 Milsom Street & are very comfortably fix’d. Fanny dined with us: this day has been very fine. Fortescue went at one to the Pump Room in a chair & took a glass of water.’

The Fortescues go to Bath

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1811
Thomas Creevey,
lawyer and politician

‘We were again at the Pavilion last night . . . the party being still smaller than ever, and the Prince, according to his custom, being entirely occupied with his musick.’

Dining at the Pavilion

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1888
George Bernard Shaw,
playwright

‘When I got to Birmingham I went to a vegetarian restaurant in Paradise St. and dined.’

GBS dines out

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1903
Raja Varma,
artist

‘Early this morning we paid a visit to Mr Puroshotram Vishram Moraji in whose house on the Kalbadevi Road we had put up during the first few days of our arrival here. He is a man of taste and is writing a history of Shivaji the great Mahratta Hero. He has visited all the scenes connected with his exploits. He has got some good pictures and picture books. There are few Bhalias with artistic and literary taste.’

Painting with brother

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1922
Carl Van Vechten,
writer and photographer

‘Tea at 5 at Waldorf with Hugh Walpole [English writer] (No tea. We sit in his room and talk.) I give a lunch at the Russian Inn for Boyd & Ettie Stettheimer. Andrew Dasburg & Antonio de Sanchez join us. I give The Blind Bow-Boy to Alfred [Knopf]. Tom Beer at the Yale Club at 7, gives me a bottle of absinthe. Cocktail with Joe Hergesheimer at Algonquin. Dinner at Algonquin with Fania. . .’

Lunch at Algonquin

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1923
Mikhail Bulgakov,
writer

‘Kolya Gladyrevsky has just gone; he’s creating my illness. After he’d left I read Mikhail Chekhov’s poorly written and second-rate book on his great brother. I’m also reading Gorky’s brilliant My Universities.

I’m now full of thoughts, and have just begun to realize clearly that I need to start being serious about things. And, what’s more, that writing is my entire life. I’ll never return to any sort of medicine. I don’t like Gorky as a person, but he’s such a huge, powerful writer, and he makes such terrifying and important points about writing.

Today, at about five, I was at Lezhnev’s, and he said two things of significance to me: firstly, that my short story ‘Psalm’ (published in On the Eve) was magnificent, as “a miniature” (“I would have published it”), and, secondly, that On the Eve was universally despised and loathed. That doesn’t frighten me. What does frighten me is the fact that I’m thirty-two, and the years I have wasted on medicine, my illness and my weakness. I’ve already had two operations on the idiotic tumour behind my ear. <...> They’ve written from Kiev to say 1 should begin radiotherapy. Now I’m afraid that the tumour will spread. And I’m afraid that this blind, stupid, detestable disease will interrupt my work. If I’m able to carry on, I’ll write something better than ‘Psalm’.

I’m going to start studying from now on. My voice may sometimes trouble me, but it cannot be anything other than prophetic. Quite impossible. And I cannot be anything other than a writer.

Let’s wait and see, learn and be silent.’

Manuscripts don’t burn

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1930
Henry Louis Mencken,
writer

‘When I got to New York yesterday afternoon from West Chester, Pa., I found a message from a Swedish news agency, saying that Sinclair Lewis had been given the Nobel Prize. It was splendid news to me, for it was very bad news for all the professors. The Swedes rubbed it in by saying that, after “Babbitt,” they were chiefly impressed by “Elmer Gantry.” This book, which is dedicated to me, aroused all the pedagogues and patriots at home, and got very few good notices.

In the evening I was at the Philip Goodmans’, and they discovered that Lewis and his wife, Dorothy Thompson were in town. We called upon them at their hotel in 50th street at 11 p.m. Lewis, when we got to the hotel, was in his dressing-gown. There was a bottle of whiskey on the table, but he was fairly sober. When the Associated Press called him up with the news he thought it was a joke. Convinced at last, and asked what he had to say, he said, “Another great wet Democratic victory!” The A.P. did not send this out. He and his wife are going to Stockholm in a few weeks. After that they plan to go to Russia.

Lewis, of course, made a great mistake in not refusing the Nobel Prize, as he some time ago refused (at my suggestion) the Pulitzer Prize. If I had got to him in time I’d have tried to induce him to do so. But by the time Goodman and I arrived it was all over. Dorothy was all aglow. She would have fought my proposal, and no doubt beaten me. She married a novelist somewhat in decay, and far gone in liquor - and now finds herself the wife of a Nobel prizeman, with a triumphal tour to Sweden ahead of her.

Nathan told me today that Ralph Barton, the comic artist, lately attempted suicide by poison. He has been in a low state for months, and has done very little work. Nathan says he moans for his third wife, now married to Eugene O’Neill, and has proposed to her that she leave O’Neill and return to him. She naturally refuses. O’Neill is now rich and has a country place in France.’

Mencken’s disagreeable character

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1935
Ivan Chistyakov,
soldier

‘The frost is really setting in. Minus 18. I’ve put on my felt boots, a very good invention. We go through another one of our farces, searching the zeks for knives etc. They are so indignant. People need to be able to slice bread, peel potatoes, chop firewood, don’t they? If they had any serious weapons, they certainly wouldn’t store them in the huts. Budnikova (Article 35) rightly protests, and very forcefully. I would have done the same.

I give them a talk in the evening. They listen silently, mistrustful of every word. There is tension whenever we are present. I decide to leave. Budnikova has a way of petulantly kicking off her shoes. They dream of having boots, glance at my leather coat and say, ‘Nice boots that would make up into.”

“I’ll nick silk stockings just for you, but only tell me yes or no,” a baby-faced zek serenades me sarcastically.’

The general emptiness

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1937
Galeazzo Ciano,
politician

‘This morning we signed the Pact. One could sense an atmosphere very different from the usual diplomatic ceremonies. Three nations engaged down the same path, which could lead to war. A necessary fight if we want to break this mold that suffocates the energy and aspirations of young nations. After the signing we went to see the Duce. Few times have I seen him so pleased. It is no longer the situation of 1935. Italy has broken its isolation and is at the center of the most formidable political and military alliance that has ever existed.

In the afternoon a three-man meeting between the Duce, Ciano, and Ribbentrop. It was a meeting of great interest: I took minutes in a notebook.

In the evening gala dinner at the Palazzo Venezia. The two very pro-fascist Japanese military attaches were beaming. They wish the military pact well. They were happy when I told them, in the presence of the Duce, that they will have to occupy Vladivostok, which is a pistol pointed against Japan.’

I like Mussolini, very much

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1944
Ayn Rand,
writer and philosopher

‘The art of writing is the art of doing what you think you’re doing. This is not as simple as it sounds. It implies a very difficult undertaking: the necessity to think. And it implies the requirement to think out three separate, very hard problems: What is it you want to say? How are you going to say it? Have you really said it?

It’s a coldly intellectual process. If your emotions do not proceed from your intellect, you will not be able to apply it, even if you know all the rules. The mental ability of a writer determines the literary level of his output. If you grasp only home problems well, you’ll only be a writer of good homey stories. (But what about Tolstoy?)’

The champion of reason

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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.

For any other use of these diary extracts other than browsing please refer to the original sources.

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