1834. The Duke of Wellington recalls Lord Nelson in a conversation recorded by his friend, John Wilson Croker:
“Lord Nelson was, in different circumstances, two quite different men, as I myself can vouch, though I only saw him once in my life, and for, perhaps, an hour. It was soon after I returned from India. I went to the Colonial Office in Downing Street, where I found, also waiting to see Lord Castlereagh, a gentleman, whom I immediately recognised as Lord Nelson.
He could not know who I was, but he entered at once into conversation with me, if I can call it conversation, for it was almost all on his side, and all about himself, and in a style so vain and silly as to surprise and almost disgust me. Something that I happened to say may have made him guess that I was somebody and he went out of the room for a moment, no doubt to ask the office-keeper who I was, for when he came back he was altogether a different man. All that charlatan style had vanished, and he talked of the state of the country and affairs on the continent with a good sense, and a knowledge of subjects both at home and abroad; in fact, he talked like an officer and a statesman.
The Secretary of State kept us long waiting, and certainly, for the last half or three-quarters of an hour, I don’t know that I ever had a conversation that interested me more. Now, if the Secretary of State had been punctual, and admitted Lord Nelson in the first quarter of an hour, I should have had the same impression of a light and trivial character that others have had, but luckily I saw enough to be satisfied that he was really a very superior man; but certainly a more sudden and complete metamorphosis I never saw.”
1853. Johannes Brahms, 20, turns up unannounced at Robert and Clara Schumann’s house to play his music to the pair all morning. Clara wrote in her diary:
“Here is one who comes as if sent from God! He played us sonatas and scherzos of his own, all of them rich in fantasy, depth of feeling and mastery of form. It is truly moving to behold him at the piano, his interesting young face transfigured by the music, his fine hands which easily overcome the greatest difficulties (his things are very difficult), and above all his marvellous works. A great future lies before him.”
Robert’s diary entry for the day simply read:
“Visit from Brahms (a genius).”
1764. James Boswell, in Berlin, records in his journal:
“I dined at Rufin’s, where [Casanova], an Italian, wanted to shine as a great philosopher, and accordingly doubted of his existence and of everything else. I thought him a blockhead.”