1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Diary

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DIARY, the Lat. diarium (from dies, a day), the book in which are preserved the daily memoranda regarding events and actions which come under the writer’s personal observation, or are related to him by others. The person who keeps this record is called a diarist. It is not necessary that the entries in a diary should be made each day, since every life, however full, must contain absolutely empty intervals. But it is essential that the entry should be made during the course of the day to which it refers. When this has evidently not been done, as in the case of Evelyn’s diary, there is nevertheless an effort made to give the memoranda the effect of being so recorded, and in point of fact, even in a case like that of Evelyn, it is probable that what we now read is an enlargement of brief notes jotted down on the day cited. When this is not approximately the case, the diary is a fraud, for its whole value depends on its instantaneous transcript of impressions.

In its primitive form, the diary must always have existed; as soon as writing was invented, men and women must have wished to note down, in some almanac or journal, memoranda respecting their business, their engagements or their adventures. But the literary value of these would be extremely insignificant until the spirit of individualism had crept in, and human beings began to be interesting to other human beings for their own sake. It is not, therefore, until the close of the Renaissance that we find diaries beginning to have literary value, although, as the study of sociology extends, every scrap of genuine and unaffected record of early history possesses an ethical interest. In the 17th century, diaries began to be largely written in England, although in most cases without any idea of even eventual publication. Sir William Dugdale (1605-1686) had certainly no expectation that his slight diary would ever see the light. There is no surviving record of a journal kept by Clarendon, Richard Baxter, Lucy Hutchinson and other autobiographical writers of the middle of the century, but we may take it for granted that they possessed some such record, kept from day to day. Bulstrode Whitelocke (1605-1675), whose Memorials of the English Affairs covers the ground from 1625 to 1660, was a genuine diarist. So was the elder George Fox (1624-1690), who kept not merely “a great journal,” but “the little journal books,” and whose work was published in 1694. The famous diary of John Evelyn (1620-1706) professes to be the record of seventy years, and, although large tracts of it are covered in a very perfunctory manner, while in others many of the entries have the air of having been written in long after the event, this is a very interesting and amusing work; it was not published until 1818. In spite of all its imperfections there is a great charm about the diary of Evelyn, and it would hold a still higher position in the history of literature than it does if it were not overshadowed by what is unquestionably the most illustrious of the diaries of the world, that of Samuel Pepys (1633-1703). This was begun on the 1st of January 1660 and was carried on until the 29th of May 1669. The extraordinary value of Pepys’ diary consists in its fidelity to the portraiture of its author’s character. He feigns nothing, conceals nothing, sets nothing down in malice or insincerity. He wrote in a form of shorthand intelligible to no one but himself, and not a phrase betrays the smallest expectation that any eye but his own would ever investigate the pages of his confession. The importance of this wonderful document, in fact, lay unsuspected until 1819, when the Rev. John Smith of Baldock began to decipher the MS. in Magdalene College, Cambridge. It was not until 1825 that Lord Braybrooke published part of what was only fully edited, under the care of Mr Wheatley, in 1893-1896. In the age which succeeded that of Pepys, a diary of extraordinary emotional interest was kept by Swift from 1710 to 1713, and was sent to Ireland in the form of a “Journal to Stella”; it is a surprising amalgam of ambition, affection, wit and freakishness. John Byrom (1692-1763), the Manchester poet, kept a journal, which was published in 1854. The diary of the celebrated dissenting divine, Philip Doddridge (1702-1751), was printed in 1829. Of far greater interest are the admirably composed and vigorously written journals of John Wesley (1703-1791). But the most celebrated work of this kind produced in the latter half of the 18th century was the diary of Fanny Burney (Madame D’Arblay), published in 1842-1846. It will be perceived that, without exception, these works were posthumously published, and the whole conception of the diary has been that it should be written for the writer alone, or, if for the public, for the public when all prejudice shall have passed away and all passion cooled down. Thus, and thus only, can the diary be written so as to impress upon its eventual readers a sense of its author’s perfect sincerity and courage.

Many of the diaries described above were first published in the opening years of the 19th century, and it is unquestionable that the interest which they awakened in the public led to their imitation. Diaries ceased to be rare, but as a rule the specimens which have hitherto appeared have not presented much literary interest. Exception must be made in favour of the journals of two minor politicians, Charles Greville (1794-1865) and Thomas Creevey (1768-1838), whose indiscretions have added much to the gaiety of nations; the papers of the former appeared in 1874-1887, those of the latter in 1903. The diary of Henry Crabb Robinson (1775-1867), printed in 1869, contains excellent biographical material. Tom Moore’s journal, published in 1856 by Lord John Russell, disappointed its readers. But it is probable, if we reason by the analogy of the past, that the most curious and original diaries of the 19th century are still unknown to us, and lie jealously guarded under lock and key by the descendants of those who compiled them.

It was natural that the form of the diary should appeal to a people so sensitive to social peculiarities and so keen in the observation of them as the French. A medieval document of immense value is the diary kept by an anonymous curé during the reigns of Charles VI. and Charles VII. This Journal d’un bourgeois de Paris was kept from 1409 to 1431, and was continued by another hand down to 1449. The marquis de Dangeau (1638-1720) kept a diary from 1684 till the year of his death; this although dull, and as Saint-Simon said “of an insipidity to make you sick,” is an inexhaustible storehouse of facts about the reign of Louis XIV. Saint-Simon’s own brilliant memoirs, written from 1691 to 1723, may be considered as a sort of diary. The lawyer, Edmond Barbier (1689-1771), wrote a journal of the anecdotes and little facts which came to his knowledge from 1718 to 1762. The studious care which he took to be correct, and his manifest candour, give a singular value to Barbier’s record; his diary was not printed at all until 1847, nor, in its entirety, until 1857. The song-writer, Charles Collé (1709-1783), kept a journal historique from 1758 to 1782; it is full of vivacity, but very scandalous and spiteful. It saw the light in 1805, and surprised those to whom Collé, in his lifetime, had seemed the most placid and good-natured of men. Petit de Bachaumont (1690-1770) had access to remarkable sources of information, and his Mémoires secrets (a diary the publication of which began in 1762 and was continued after Bachaumont’s death, until 1787, by other persons) contains a valuable mass of documents. The marquis d’Argenson (1694-1757) kept a diary, of which a comparatively full text was first published in 1859. In recent times the posthumous publication of the diaries of the Russian artist, Marie Bashkirtseff (1860-1884), produced a great sensation in 1887, and revealed a most remarkable temperament. The brothers Jules and Edmond de Goncourt kept a very minute diary of all that occurred around them in artistic and literary Paris; after the death of Jules, in 1870, this was continued by Edmond, who published the three first volumes in 1888. The publication of this work was continued, and it produced no little scandal. It is excessively ill-natured in parts, but of its vivid picturesqueness, and of its general accuracy as a transcript of conversation, there can be no two opinions.

(E. G.)