Dwelling along the pages of the diary

history of diaries

The charm of the world resides in some of its most simplest of musings- snippets of nostalgia bolstering the experience of sipping a cup of tea at leisure, long ambling abouts in the open with ruminations taking a stronghold over the subconscious, ordinary moments of just another day making for a chance encounter with especialness along the yellowed pages of a dust covered diary, the opportunities are endless when it comes to seeking out the most fondest desires treasured by the human heart. But it isn’t just sensations that such experiences fulfil nor are they strictly wistful means of gaining inroads into an elusive past. They indeed are all of that and much more, and more specifically with diaries, the keeping of which is today an art almost lost to the tides of time, the emotion is somewhat even exclusive, or perhaps somewhat eccentric even. To equate diaries and journals of a time now hidden under the age of the digital to the blogs that emerged instead to dwell in their own prestige would be an erring in the realisation of both. But even when both these forms of preserving moments of today to evoke emotions later as being memories of the past are essentially similar in their identification, the quest and therefore the appeal still is unique to each one of them.

It’s not exactly difficult to define what a diary is but to offer an accurate, universal description of what it tends or intends to be would be a pursuit in almost wholesome futility. For, diary keeping is an art and no art in the history of the world have ever gone by a set dictum of rules that are compact enough to define their identity in clear terms. Diaries might be classified in different ways into different categories but imbued somewhere along each leaf of them perhaps is a certain privacy, a personal touch that makes each one of them exclusively individual a harbinger of specific identities. Bring to mind some of the most famous diaries the world has had the privilege of sneaking a look into and you would know why and how, despite all their humble premise of recording events of the day, they are some of the most extravagant ensembles of expressions to ever be. First of course is Anne Frank’s diary, a Jewish victim of the Holocaust notable in her identity as a diarist recording the events of that time in history in as personal a manner as diaries encompass the style of in essence but holding up to the world a view of all that transpired during that period, without which it would have been incomplete in its conjuring of the view it does today of that specific era. A significant heralder therefore of history itself, of which it was a phenomenal part is this journaling by Anne Frank as The Diary of A Young Girl that today manifests as a fine specimen of this art form, gradually losing however its yielding of power to such alternatives that, despite all their popularity and ingeniousness falls short of the historical reach that diaries have been capable of administering, as their sprawl of common concern.

anne frank unaltered diary
Source: History.com

Frank though is not the first and not certainly the only diarist despite her collection of recollections classifying as being the most read book in the world, next only to the Bible. Diaries in fact had been prevalent much commonplacely since really ancient times, with the Diary of Meyer probably being the first of its kind known to have existed. Dating back to times of the 27th century BC, this very recent 21st century discovery is intriguing in bearing quite significant accounts of such details that concerned the construction of the Great Pyramid making it therefore asserting of the universality that diaries span despite their largely individualist premise. The world’s oldest diaries to still survive to the present day emerge much later, only in the 2nd century AD. Attributable to the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, this Greek work known today as the Meditations fits more appropriately the private determinants of what diaries most commonly are. Diaries with such accounts maintained in order of date and therefore closest to the modern day idea of what these almost obscure passageways through time tend to be some Arabic recordings, most notably that of Ibn Banna’ in the 11th century who profiled his travel tales of Northern Europe in such manner of chronology. The Medieval Era also has its own definite dimension of diary defining with such recordings of daily notes by the mystics that offered mostly spiritual interpretation of even ordinary life happenings.

The dawn of the era of the Renaissance spurred further the diary dwellings as more personalized accounts of happenings as well as an outlet for unhindered expression of emotions and assertion of awarenesses, as mostly anonymous entities that sits in sync with the idea we evoked at the beginning of diaries being special somethings rooted in routine. It also was only after this period that the term diary itself came to refer to a written daily record, with the first documented use occurring in 1605. Diarising gained further prominence in the years that followed, as the years of the 17th century saw the birth of the first ever diarist Samuel Pepys as well as his equally great contemporary John Evelyn. Pepys’ collection of personal accounts though were first transcribed and published in 1825 even as Evelyn’s record of life in 17th century England saw publication even earlier in 1818. Both these accounts make for a significant encompasser of the history of that time, providing real accounts of such events as the Great Plague of London, as well as the Great Fire of London.

The 1800s also had been significant in exploring the art of diary keeping as a medium for literature to discover more appeal in, with Samuel Anderson’s Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded being published in 1740. Widely considered to be one of the first true English novels, this bestseller of its time rode on its essence of manifesting a fragment of the epistolary identity that though wasn’t exactly the bearer of this whole genre within the literary realms. Whatever that might be though, this mode of literary expression took off indeed with its diversely definite appeal, as the expansion of the diarism element in its innately personal deliverance, even when outside the realms of the confidential made readings feel like more relatable in delivering first hand accounts of happenings. The real world popularity of diaries continued alongside their venture into the ambits of fiction as literacy rates rose and the masses gaining more concerned with the self and the publications of diaries showed an uptrend every year during the 1820s and the 30s. This led to the pursuit of commercialised diaries and large formatted diaries occupied the market to cater to the surge of diarism that took over.

First more pursued by men and later becoming more a mode of expressive acquaintance for the ladies, diarising sustained its essence across a range of aspects. Whether it be simply the habit of keeping a tab on daily life for future reminiscence or indulging in as a past time writing spree or the more elevated pursuits of exploring the inner reaches of the soul and dwell on elaborating the musings that stemmed of them, each to their own, individualistically, personally, exclusively of a desire that however was all the more universal, diaries continued to capture the fancies in their transcendental as well as practical scope. And though such diaries that kept record of business dealings in business ledgers or the ones maintaining instead military events were still in prevalence beyond the fore of what comprised the more abstract, personal understandings of them, these compilers of many an accounts of occurrence and tidbits of information branched out further into more specific types. Much like travel diaries, there emerged also ones wholly dedicated to food or health, or academics and work even as wedding diaries and the like evolved to be rather ‘fashionable’ modes of diary keeping for fond remembrance and handy reference.

Literary diaries too persisted as a world of their own and Japan in fact had also its own genre of literary diary Nikki bungaku to delve deeper into. Translating as poetic diaries, these often took the form of travel books or pillow journals, the latter deriving their interesting identity from the fact that they used to be tucked in or under the pillow. Introspective in their nature and of course personal therefore in their being, these literary diaries continue to assert still as an important element of culture and personal expression in Japan much like what they did when they first emerged during the Heian period. Traditionally composed of a series of poems held together by prose sections, these poetic diaries though came to assume the specific identity of Nikki bungaku only sometime in the 20th century despite being in existence by then over a century or so.

As a largely personal narrative that is what is understood in the most basic sense of the term that a diary stands for, these jots on the pages is very evidently therefore a release for the human mind, a pouring into of their souls, an upholding of their spirits and perhaps a validation of the selves in their most intricate awareness. Affording profoundly a quietude from the clamour of the cluttered thoughts that return to haunt our existence every now and then or the seemingly mild but purgatory enough succouring that comes to rest on us through a mere outlet of inscribing for eternity very typical experiences of life, the art of diarising and the medium of the diary both acts as therapy for the immensely vulnerable human fancy that seeks but a constant in their lives to which they can return to confide and confess at the end of the day, mostly metaphorically but likewise literally as well in this case. In being the recluse of comfort that enables us to bare ourselves thoroughly while at the same time bearing the promise of serving our scrounges for respite from the present state to the forever beloved good ol’ times, diaries are the bubble of utopia in a starkly real world that we choose to tread because we know there is no bursting this fantasy of the practical, in all its overwhelming sincerity.