Bound diaries and journals have not always been secured by a padlock or hidden between the boxspring and mattress. Thoreau and his Transcendentalist friends, in fact, often wrote them with the knowledge that they would be read, whether in their lifetimes or posthumously.
According to an article in the local Brookline TAB this week (11.1.07), which announces the publication of a new compilation of Thoreau’s journal entries called I to Myself (YUP 2007),
Keeping a journal to share with friends was a far more common activity for people of all educational levels in Thoreau’s era than today. “Back then almost everyone kept a journal, even farmers and definitely educated people,” says [Jeffrey S.] Cramer. People shared their journals. When Thoreau writes in his journal, you feel like he’s talking to you. In his journals he’s definitely writing to a reader.”
Verification for this remark appears in the chapter “Thoreau in His Journal” in the Cambridge Companion to Henry David Thoreau (CUP 1995). Yes, the Transcendentalists were devoted journal keepers who wrote, often, for each other. So were other Concord residents — clergy, teachers, naturalists, businessmen, lawyers, housewives, unmarried women, students, farmers (109) — writing in and keeping journals. About his own massive journals, which were circulated so often they became a kind of “lending library,” Bronson Alcott, the father of Louisa May, wrote that the collection:
…gathers up the fragments, and preserves in transcript, whatever there may be for future value & use, so that nothing of life shall be wantonly contemned or irretrievably lost…. The history of one human mind… would be a treasure of inconceivably more value to the world than all the systems which philosophers have built concerning the mind up to this day. (111)
I ask you, fellow bloggers, are we not participating in a grand tradition? Like our 18th and 19th century forebears, today’s electronic journals are also built on timeless topics — among more contemporary ones like restaurants, sex, movies, and baseball — such as these mentioned in the Cambridge Companion:
• domestic operations;
• reading records;
• travel narratives;
• notes on changes of seasons or weather;
• medical observations;
• flora and fauna;
• introspective registers;
• private histories;
• political or other social and institutional goings-on; and
• of course, combinations of several, perhaps many, of these. (108-109)
And none under lock and key.
Image of pink diary from Smythson of Bond Street catalog.