English Diarists: Evelyn and Pepys

English Diarists: Evelyn and Pepys

English Diarists: Evelyn and Pepys

English Diarists: Evelyn and Pepys

Excerpt

What is the impulse that prompts men and women to keep diaries? History shows that the practice may spring from a variety of motives. John Wesley's aim in recording his missionary journeys and spectacular conversions was mainly evangelical. Fielding kept a journal of a voyage taken to Lisbon during his last illness in the hope that its publication might help provide for his family after his death. Noting with delicate precision every detail of the seasons' and weather's changes in Somerset and at Grasmere, Dorothy Wordsworth confessed that she wrote her journals 'to please William'. Captain Scott's account of his last journey, found beside the bodies in his tent on the Ice Barrier, was written in the growing certainty that none of the explorers would survive to tell their tale.

Yet these are the exceptions. The inveterate diarist has no such practical purpose, nor indeed an eye on any kind of public. That the essence of his impulse is self-expression rather than self-exposure is nicely illustrated by Fanny Burney's addressing her juvenile journal to 'a Certain Miss Nobody'. Committing himself and his life to the pages of a private notebook for his own satisfaction, the habitual writer of a diary sets out not to communicate his experience, but to record it. For him, translating the ephemeral stuff of everyday existence into words lends an illusion of permanence to what is passing, of completeness to the inconclusive. It both intensifies and imposes a satisfying sense of order upon the fragmentary business of living; so that in the . . .

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