Diary Habit

Arnold Bennett, British novelist/essayist, endorsed journal-keeping in his article "The Diary Habit" published ca. 1910 (see DearDiary here, (2001-03-19)). Perhaps in rebuttal A. A. Milne, the author of Winnie the Pooh, wrote a hilarious essay with the same title. An excerpt:

A newspaper has been lamenting the decay of the diary-keeping habit, with the natural result that several correspondents have written to say that they have kept diaries all their lives. No doubt all these diaries now contain the entry, "Wrote to the Daily — to deny the assertion that the diary-keeping habit is on the wane." Of such little things are diaries made.

I suppose this is the reason why diaries are so rarely kept nowadays—that nothing ever happens to anybody. A diary would be worth writing up if it could be written like this:—

MONDAY.—"Another exciting day. Shot a couple of hooligans on my way to business and was forced to give my card to the police. On arriving at the office was surprised to find the building on fire, but was just in time to rescue the confidential treaty between England and Switzerland. Had this been discovered by the public, war would infallibly have resulted. Went out to lunch and saw a runaway elephant in the Strand. Thought little of it at the time, but mentioned it to my wife in the evening. She agreed that it was worth recording."


Alas! we cannot do this. Our diaries are very prosaic, very dull indeed. They read like this:—


Wednesday.—"Played dominoes at lunch and won fivepence."

If this sort of diary is now falling into decay, the world is not losing much. But at least it is a harmless pleasure to some ... But there is another sort of diary which can never be of any importance at all. I make no apology for giving a third selection of extracts.

Monday.—"Rose at nine and came down to find a letter from Mary. How little we know our true friends! Beneath the mask of outward affection there may lurk unknown to us the serpent's tooth of jealousy. Mary writes that she can make nothing for my stall at the bazaar as she has her own stall to provide for. Ate my breakfast mechanically, my thoughts being far away. What, after all, is life? Meditated deeply on the inner cosmos till lunch-time. Afterwards I lay down for an hour and composed my mind. I was angry this morning with Mary. Ah, how petty! Shall I never be free from the bonds of my own nature? Is the better self within me never to rise to the sublime heights of selflessness of which it is capable? Rose at four and wrote to Mary, forgiving her. This has been a wonderful day for the spirit."


(for the full text of Milne's essay "The Diary Habit" see [1]; it also appears in the collection "Not That It Matters" [2] or [3]) - ^z - 2010-01-09