The Arnold Bennett book Self and Self Management: Essays about Existing (1918, containing articles from a decade or so earlier) has a chapter called "The Diary Habit" in which Bennett talks about the value of making near-daily notes about events in one's life. He muses about how hard it is to tell the full (often embarrassing) truth when writing, how nervous and self-critical most people get when they try to write, and how much effort (sheer will power) it takes to do diary entries regularly --- but how important it is to try. Bennett writes: "I have kept a diary for over twenty-one years, and I know a little about it. I know more than a little about the remorse --- alas, futile! --- which follows negligence. In diary-keeping negligence cannot be repaired. That which is gone is gone beyond return."
Why should one keep a diary? Part III of "The Diary Habit" advises:
Having discouraged, I now wish to encourage. Many who want to keep diaries and who ought to keep diaries do not, because they are too diffident. They say: "My life is not interesting enough." I ask: "Interesting to whom? To the world in general or to themselves?" It is necessary only that a life should be interesting to the person who lives that life. If you have a desire to keep a diary, it follows that your existence is interesting to you. Otherwise obviously you would not wish to make a record of it. The greatest diarists did not lead very palpitating lives. Ninety-five per cent. of Pepys's Diary deals with tiny daily happenings of the most banal sort --- such happenings as we all go through. If Pepys re-read his entries the day after he wrote them, he must have found them somewhat tedious. Certainly he had not the slightest notion that he was writing one of the great outstanding books of English Literature.
But diaries are the opposite of novels, in that time increases instead of decreasing their interest. After a reasonable period every sentence in a diary blossoms into interest, and the diarist simply cannot be dull --- any more than a great wit such as Sidney Smith could be unfunny. If Sidney Smith asked Helen to pass him the salt, the entire table roared with laughter because it was inexplicably so funny. If the diarist writes in his diary, "I asked Helen to pass me the salt," within three years he will find the sentence inexplicably interesting to himself. In thirty years his family will be inexplicably interested to read that on a certain day he asked Helen to pass him the salt. In three hundred years a whole nation will be reading with inexplicable and passionate interest that centuries earlier he asked Helen to pass him the salt, and critics will embroider theories upon both Helen and the salt and will even earn a living by producing new annotated editions of Helen and the salt. And if the diary turns up after three thousand years, the entire world will hum with the inexplicable thrilling fact that he asked Helen to pass him the salt; which fact will be cabled round the globe as a piece of latest news; and immediately afterwards there will be cabled round the globe the views of expert scholars of all nationalities on the problem whether, when he had asked Helen to pass him the salt, Helen did actually pass him the salt, or not. Timid prospective diarists in need of encouragement should keep this great principle in mind.
You will say: "But what do I care about posterity? I would not keep a diary for the sake of posterity."
Possibly not, but some people would. Some people, if they thought their diaries would be read three hundred years hence, or even a hundred years hence, would begin diaries to-morrow and persevere with them to the day of death. Some people of course are peculiar. And I admit that I am of your opinion. The thought of posterity leaves me stone cold.
There is only one valid reason for beginning a diary --- namely, that you find pleasure in beginning it; and only one valid reason for continuing a diary --- namely, that you find pleasure in continuing it. You may find profit in doing so, but that is not the main point --- though it is a point. You will most positively experience pleasure in reading it after a long interval; but that is not the main point either --- though it is an important point. A diary should find its sufficient justification in the writing of it. If the act of writing is not its own reward, then let the diary remain for ever unwritten.
(For other Arnold Bennett items see ^zhurnal 29 April 1999 (BennettOnStoicism), 5 December 1999 (HumanNature), 22 February 2000 (ConflictAversion), 19 March 2000 (BennettOnLife), 28 November 2000 (HowToWrite), 8 December 2000 (PersonalEnergy), and 23 December 2000 (ChristmasFaith).)
Monday, March 19, 2001 at 05:45:01 (EST) = Datetag20010319