Sunday, November 20, 2011

Beginning a Journal


‘[Edinburgh,] November 20, 1825.—I have all my life regretted that I did not keep a regular Journal. I have myself lost recollection of much that was interesting, and I have deprived my family and the public of some curious information, by not carrying this resolution into effect. I have bethought me, on seeing lately some volumes of Byron's notes, that he probably had hit upon the right way of keeping such a memorandum-book, by throwing aside all pretence to regularity and order, and marking down events just as they occurred to recollection. I will try this plan; and behold I have a handsome locked volume, such as might serve for a lady's album. Nota bene, John Lockhart, and Anne, and I are to raise a Society for the suppression of Albums. It is a most troublesome shape of mendicity. Sir, your autograph—a line of poetry—or a prose sentence!—Among all the sprawling sonnets, and blotted trumpery that dishonours these miscellanies, a man must have a good stomach that can swallow this botheration as a compliment…’

Walter Scott finally began his journal, on this day, November 20th, 1825.  There seems to be a range of prefatory remarks among the famous diarists.  Samuel Pepys published no lofty goals, and no real introduction.  He just delved into his work, beginning, as many of us might, at the beginning of the new year, in 1660.

‘Sunday 1 January 1659/60

Blessed be God, at the end of the last year I was in very good health, without any sense of my old pain, but upon taking of cold.1 I lived in Axe Yard having my wife, and servant Jane, and no more in family than us three. My wife … gave me hopes of her being with child, but on the last day of the year … [the hope was belied.] The condition of the State was thus; viz. the Rump, after being disturbed by my Lord Lambert, was lately returned to sit again…’

The famous journal keeper James Boswell, began his London Journal at the beginning of his trip from Scotland.  Like Scott, Boswell began in November; on the 15th, in 1762.  Also like Scott, Boswell prefaced his work.

‘ The ancient philosopher certainly gave a wise counsel when he said “Know thyself.”  For surely this knowledge is of all the most important.  I might enlarge upon this.  But grave and serious declamation is not what I intend at present.  A man cannot know himself better than by attending to the feelings of his heart and his external actions, from which he may with tolerable certainty judge “what manner of person he is.”  I have therefore determined to keep a daily journal in which I shall set down me various sentiments and my various conduct, which will be not only useful, but very agreeable…’

There’s no bad time to begin one’s journal, but November saw the launching of at least two famous efforts.  Maybe it’s time to start yours.

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