We puny mortals

Image: NASA, ESA, STScI, J. Hester and P. Scowen (Arizona State University)

On 2nd November 1995, NASA released a photograph that would become one of the most iconic images of space ever captured: the Hubble Space Telescope’s view of the gas pillars in the Eagle Nebula, known as the Pillars of Creation. One of the millions of observers that weekend was Sir Alec Guinness, a titan of stage and screen who was awestruck by the image, its enormity and beauty throwing his own experiences and world events into stark relief. In the days that followed, Guinness contemplated the contrast in his diary.

The Diary Entry

Monday 6 November [1995]

An extraordinary photograph, taken by the Hubble space telescope, has appeared in the papers over the weekend. It shows wild columns of gas and dust six million million miles high giving birth, we are told, to new stars. Two current catchphrases come to mind—’How do they do that?’ and, ‘I don’t believe it!’

When sorrows come, they come not single spies,
But in battalions.1

On Saturday evening Matthew2 was viciously struck on the back of his head. He was taken to hospital for X-ray; reports are OK.

Rabin3 has been assassinated in Tel Aviv.

A police horse has been stabbed in the head by a football hooligan.

There seems to be no end to the senseless wickedness done on this little planet in a minor solar system, and we puny mortals appear to be decreasing in importance so far as the universe is concerned. Faith, Hope and Charity are easy to pray for but I fear that in my case they are receding at the speed of light. For the moment anyway. The past few days have been worse than I am prepared to commit to paper.

Further Reading

Sir Alec Guinness’ original diaries live at the British Library, who acquired the actor’s papers in 2013. Sadly just two volumes of those diaries have been published so far, collectively spanning a slim portion of his life:


Diary entry from My Name Escapes Me: The Diary of a Retiring Actor © Alec Guinness 1996. Reprinted with permission.

  1. Claudius in Hamlet, Act IV, Scene V ↩︎
  2. His son ↩︎
  3. Yitzhak Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel ↩︎

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