Friday, November 7, 2014

Some November 7ths

Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun. Madame de Staël en Corinne.
1809. Oil on canvas, 140 x 118 cm. Musée d'Art et
d'Histoire, Geneva .(Wikipedia.)
Today, November 7th—an ordinary day, like any other—I thought it would be fun to look back at a few other "ordinary" November 7ths as seen through the letters and diaries of a few famous writers. Read on for Samuel Pepys's art-buying habits; a glimpse of Madame de Staël's passionate love affairs; Dorothy Wordsworth tending her sick brother William; and Virginia Woolf plotting the early stages of The Waves...


Samuel Pepys's diary (1666)
7th. Called at Faythorne's to buy some prints for my wife to draw by this winter, and here did see my Lady Castlemaine's picture, done by him from Lilly's, in red chalke, and other colours, by which he hath cut it in copper to be printed. The picture in chalke is the finest thing I ever saw in my life, I think; and I did desire to buy it; but he says he must keep it awhile to correct his copper-plate by, and when that is done he will sell it me. By the Duke of York his discourse to-day in his chamber, they have it at Court, as well as we here, that a fatal day is to be expected shortly, of some great mischief; whether by the Papists, or what, they are not certain. But the day is disputed; some say next Friday, others a day sooner, others later, and I hope all will prove a foolery. But it is observable how every bodys fears are busy at this time.

Madame de Staël to Adolph Ribbing (1794)
... Mr de Narbonne received a letter from his mother that seems to promise a reconciliation. Convinced that you'd make up your mind not to spend your whole life with him, I quite encouraged him to go to Italy. He thought he caught a glimpse in these conversations of the plan to draw him away from me and, for the first time in four months, he surrendered himself to an extraordinary despair. He wanted to tell me that he was making a continual effort for the past four months and he finished by swearing that he'd kill himself if I separated his life from mine. I was moved, distressed; but I hoped that once he was with his mother again, he'd find some happiness in the place where he was; I spare you everything he told me about the miseries to which I was going to expose myself to by loving you. My fate is in my heart; you'll know what my destiny is and shall be by asking it. ...

Dorothy Wordsworth's diary (1800)
A cold rainy morning [William] still unwell. I working & reading [Tom Jones' novel] Amelia. The Michaelmas daisy droops. The pansies are full of flowers. The Ashes opposite are green, all but one but they have lost many of their leaves. The copses are quite brown. The poor woman & child from Whitehaven drank tea—nothing warm that day. Friday 7th. A very rainy morning—it cleared up in the afternoon. We expected the Lloyds but they did not come. [William] still unwell & melancholy A rainy night.

Virginia Woolf's diary (1928)
... People say [Orlando] was so spontaneous, so natural. And I would like to keep those qualities if I could without losing the others. But those qualities were largely the result of ignoring the others. They came of writing exteriorly; & if I dig, must I not lose them? And what is my own position towards the inner & the other? I think a kind of ease & dash are good;—yes: I think even externality is good; some combination of them ought to be possible. The idea has come to me that what I want now to do is to saturate every atom. I mean to eliminate all waste, deadness, superfluity: to give the moment whole; whatever it includes. ...

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