The Diary of Samuel Pepys

Source: Samuel Pepys, Diary, entry for 19 August 1666, online version

Text: Sunday 19 August 1666

(Lord’s day). Up and to my chamber, and there began to draw out fair and methodically my accounts of Tangier, in order to shew them to the Lords. But by and by comes by agreement Mr. Reeves, and after him Mr. Spong, and all day with them, both before and after dinner, till ten o’clock at night, upon opticke enquiries, he bringing me a frame he closes on, to see how the rays of light do cut one another, and in a darke room with smoake, which is very pretty. He did also bring a lanthorne with pictures in glasse, to make strange things appear on a wall, very pretty. We did also at night see Jupiter and his girdle and satellites, very fine, with my twelve-foote glasse, but could not Saturne, he being very dark. Spong and I had also several fine discourses upon the globes this afternoon, particularly why the fixed stars do not rise and set at the same houre all the yeare long, which he could not demonstrate, nor I neither, the reason of. So, it being late, after supper they away home. But it vexed me to understand no more from Reeves and his glasses touching the nature and reason of the several refractions of the several figured glasses, he understanding the acting part, but not one bit the theory, nor can make any body understand it, which is a strange dullness, methinks. I did not hear anything yesterday or at all to confirm either Sir Thos. Allen’s news of the 10 or 12 ships taken, nor of the disorder at Amsterdam upon the news of the burning of the ships, that he [De Witt] should be fled to the Prince of Orange, it being generally believed that he was gone to France before.

Comments: Samuel Pepys (1663-1703) was a British naval administrator, MP and diarist. In between the speculations on astronomy, using a telescope of some kind, is the earliest account in English of a magic lantern. London optician Richard Reeves was a manufacturer of optical instruments and the first person to sell magic lanterns in Britain (from 1663), from his shop in Long Acre, London, though the Reeves referred to here is believed to be one or other of his sons, John and Richard. Three days after this account, Pepys purchased a ‘lanthorne’ (“and so home, and there find Reeves, and so up to look upon the stars, and do like my glasse very well, and did even with him for it and a little perspective and the Lanthorne that shows tricks, altogether costing me 9l. 5s. 0d” i.e. £9 5s). A projecting lantern with lens is generally accepted to have been invented by the Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens in 1659.

Links: The Diary of Samuel Pepys

Life, Letters and Diary of Horatio Hollis Hunnewell

Source: Horatio Hollis Hunnewell, Life, Letters and Diary of Horatio Hollis Hunnewell, born July 27, 1810; died May 20, 1902; with a short history of the Hunnewell and Welles families, and an account of the Wellesley and Natick estates (New York, The De Vinne press, 1906), p. 223

Text: 25 December 1897

Christmas day. Coldest day so far; thermometer 8°. Had our usual family gathering, — twenty at the large table and ten at the small one at dinner. Charlotte Sorchan and Isabella Harriman, with their husbands, came on from New York. In the evening had dancing and a kinetoscope entertainment.

Comments: Horatio Hollis Hunnewell (1810-1902) was an American banker, horticulturalist and philanthropist. His diary entry is a very early record of a home cinema entertainment. The use of the word ‘kinetoscope’ probably indicates motion pictures in general, rather than the Kinetoscope peepshow itself, and the entertainment is likely to have been projected on a screen. At the time he was resident at Wellesley, Norfolk County, Massachusetts.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Diaries and Letters 1930-39

Source: Harold Nicolson (ed. Nigel Nicolson), Diaries and Letters 1930-39 (London: Collins, 1971), p. 72

Text: 4th May, 1931
Go with Leonard and Virginia Woolf to see the French talking-film, Le Million. The theatre is crowded with intellectuals, from which it is evident that this form of intelligent talkie has a great future before it. The French talent for amusing dialogue finds an enormous scope in this rapid motion and will render American films completely old-fashioned.

Comments: Harold Nicolson (1886-1968) was a British diplomat, politician and diarist. His wife Vita Sackville-West had an affair with Virginia Woolf. The musical comedy Le Million (France 1931) was directed by René Clair and starred Annabella and René Lefèvre.

Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years

Source: Michael Palin, Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2006), p. 71

Text: Thursday, February 10th, 1972
Assembled for an all-Python writing meeting at Terry’s at 10.00. John sends word that he is ill. Extraordinarily sceptical response. However we work on, and for a laugh decided to write a truly communal sketch. Accordingly all for of us are given a blank sheet of paper and we start to write about two exchanges each before passing on the paper. After an hour and a half we have four sketches – with some very funny characters and ideas in them. They may all work if interlocked into a four-sketch mixture. Eric suggested that we all be very naughty and go to see Diamonds are Forever, the latest of the James Bond films at the Kensington Odeon. After brief and unconvincing heart-searching we drive over to Kensington – but, alas, have not been in the cinema for more than 20 minutes when the film runs down. After a few minutes there is much clearing of throat, a small light appears in front of the stage and a manager appears to tell us that we are the victims of a power cut (this being the first day of cuts following four weeks of government intractability in the face of the miners’ claim). For half an hour there is a brief, British moment of solidarity amongst the beleaguered cinemagoers, but, as we were shirking work anyway, it looked like a shaft of reprobation from the Great Writer in the sky.

Comment: Michael Palin (born 1942) is a writer, television presenter and member of the Monty Python’s Flying Circus television comedy team. The other members of the team referred to here are John Cleese, Terry Jones and Eric Idle. The coal miners’ national strike ran from 9 January to 25 February 1972. Power cuts were introduced to conserve electricity.

The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh

Source: Michael Davie (ed.), The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1976), p. 176.

Text: Hampstead, Monday 1 September 1924
Most of the day writing this diary. In the afternoon to a cinema. Resolved to go to no more cinemas promiscuously.

Wednesday 3 September 1924
In spite of my earnest resolution never again to waste time at a cinema I have spent both yesterday and this afternoon in that unprofitable way. I am ashamed and more than ever strengthened in my resolution …

Thursday 4 September 1924
Last night I slept ill; I think through excess of cinemas. I went to two yesterday. One, alone, to fill in the time until dinner, and one after dinner with Adrian …

Comment: Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966) was at this stage in his life an unknown, struggling to complete a first novel (The Temple of Thatch, which he would eventually abandon). He was a regular cinemagoer and had made several amateur dramatic films with friends.

The Journals of Sydney Race

Source: Ann Featherstone (ed.), The Journals of Sydney Race 1892-1900: A Provincial View of Popular Entertainment (London: The Society for Theatre Research, 2007), pp. 78-79

Text: Saturday January 20th, 1897
Caldwells have been showing the ‘Living Pictures’ in their shop on Long Row for some time past now and tonight I went there to see them. This marvellous invention which only appeared last year is, I take it, a development of Edison’s Kinetoscope. In each case, I believe, an enormous number of photographs, taken consecutively, are whirled with speed of lightning, before your eyes. In this case the pictures are thrown onto a screen by a magic lantern. The screen at Caldwells was placed between us and the operator and when all the lights had been put out the pictures were thrown on it, in size about five feet by three or four I should think. The following were among the views I saw:

Place of the Opera, Paris with numerous buses, cabs and passengers continuously passing.

Some children skipping with a gentleman or two playing about with others, a boy watering the garden with a hose, and at the rear the traffic of a street seen through the railings.

Two gentlemen playing cards in a Restaurant. One accuses the other of cheating and after an argument they fight, the table, etc., at the finish being cleared off by a grinning waiter.

The sea washing over the promenade and some watering place. The photograph did not bring out the waves very clearly, but we could see them dashing up and down and at times leaping the promenade.

Three girls in a skirt dance. These showed up well.

Fire engines turning out of the Fire Station.

Two men wrestling.

A scene, apparently at an Exhibition; a fountain in the centre and a circular train coming in and discharging its passengers.

The Czar in Paris. This was very good. We first saw the road lined on each side with mounted soldiers. At his side was a row of Cuirassiers and it was very strange to see a horse shake its head while the man sat quite motionlessly. The effect of standing figures making a sudden movement was the most curious of all in the pictures. Down this road pressed by the military came the procession; squadrons of cavalry, carriages, a troupe of Arabs (easily distinguished by their dress and manner of riding), more carriages and more cavalry and then the Czar and Czarina and their escort. The cavalry rode in bunches and you could almost hear them trotting so lifelike was their manner, and it was curious to notice officers, every now and then, forging ahead of their troops.

A railway station. A porter and one or two officials came bustling along and then the train came slowly in. Passengers got out and hurried off and others got in and after an interval the train moved off, some in carriages put their heads out of the windows as it did so. It was funny to see a door open and a lady and gentleman jump out, apparently from a flat surface containing nothing.

There were other scenes which I do not remember and the affair was distinctly novel and wonderful. The pictures lasted about a minute and unlike the Kinetoscope did not seem to disappear almost as soon as they appeared. You had time to take in the scene fully and there was a leisurely air about it though you know that the operator was working as fast as his machine would allow him.

Comment: Sydney Race (1875-1960) was the working-class son of a cotton mill engineer and worked as an insurance clerk in Nottingham. His private journal documents the different kinds of entertainment he witnessed in Nottingham. This show featured either Lumière or possibly Pathé films.

The Diaries of Franz Kafka

Source: Max Brod (ed.), The Diaries of Franz Kafka, 1910-1923 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1964), p. 238

Text: 20 November 1913

Was at the movies. Wept. Lolotte. The good pastor. The little bicycle. The reconciliation of the parents. Boundless entertainment. Before that a sad film, Catastrophe at the Dock, after the amusing Alone at Last. Am completely empty and meaningless, the electric tram passing by has more living meaning.

Comment: Franz Kafka (1883-1924) was an occasional cinemagoer in the early 1910s. His fleeting references to film, combined with fuller accounts by his friend Max Brod, have been collated and analysed in Hanns Zischler, Kafka Goes to the Movies (Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 2003). Zischler identifies the films to which Kafka refers as being L’Enfant de Paris [i.e. Lolotte] (France 1913), Katastrofen I Dokken (Denmark 1913) and Endlich allein, oder Isidors Hochzeitsreise (Germany 1913). Kafka lived in Prague, then part of Austria-Hungary.

The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh

Source: Michael Davie (ed.), The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1976), p. 168.

Text: Wednesday, 9 July 1924
I made a pilgrimage to the Coliseum to see a new sort of film called ‘Plastigram’. They claim for it that by means of stereoscopic photography they can obtain an impression of a third dimension. There was an elaborate apparatus of coloured celluloid to fit over one’s nose and so far as we were concerned a most ineffective impression of depth. There were gasps of amazement and admiration behind us, however, so perhaps it seemed better in the more distant seats. The rest of the show was pretty good.

Comment: The novelist Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966) was a frequent cinema-goer in the 1920s, though this particular show was held at the Coliseum theatre in London. Plastigram was a steroscopic process devised by Frederic E. Ives and Jacob Leventhal for which the audience saw the 3D effect by donning spectacles with coloured cellophane (not celluloid).

The Diaries of a Cosmopolitan

Source: Count Harry Kessler (translated and edited by Charles Kessler), The Diaries of a Cosmopolitan 1918-1939 (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson). p. 325

Text: Thursday, 11 August 1927 / Berlin
In the evening I saw the American film What Price Glory?, the best war film I have so far seen and the only one that has had the courage to show war as it really is, in the round and from all sides, without concealment. During various scenes the audience broke into stormy applause.

Comment: Count Harry Kessler (1868-1937) was an Anglo-German aristocrat and diplomat. His diaries are an exceptionally vivid and observant account of art and politics in Weimar Germany. What Price Glory? (USA 1926 d. Raoul Walsh) stars Edmund Lowe and Victor McLaglen and tells of the rivalry between two US marines serving in France during the First World War.

R.D.B.'s Diary

Source: R.D. Blumenfeld, R.D.B.’s Diary: 1887-1914 (London: W. Heinemann, 1930), p. 69

Text: 1 October 1900
I looked in at the Empire last night and saw some Boer War pictures on the bioscope. They were very lifelike, and almost free from flicker, which usually makes these moving pictures so objectionable.

Comment: Ralph David Blumenfeld (1864-1948) was the American-born editor of the British newspaper Daily Express 1902-1932. The Empire is probably the Empire Theatre of Varieties in London’s Leicester Square. The Anglo-Boer War ran from October 1899 to May 1902.

Copy at Hathi Trust Digital Library (under the title In the Days of Bicycles and Bustles)