From The Siegfried Sassoon Diaries 1923-1925:
After strolling about the Backs, I went into the Fellows' Garden at Pembroke and sat there unhappily from 6 to 7. In a newspaper shop I'd bought a vulgar postcard of two cockatoos in bed, one of them saying: "Shall we ask mother to sty with us?". This I sent to O. Sitwell, about whom i was still in an internal tantrum. [The card was reference to Max's caricature of O. and S., with parrots on their fists saying: "Well done, Osbert" and "Well done, Sacheverell".] Contemptible bad taste on my part, of course. So I sat in the pleasant garden, tearing myself to tatters and wishing I hadn't sent the card, while enjoying the idea of paining O.S.
Then I discovered that I'd been locked in the garden, and I had to get over the twelve-foot wall by a ladder, which I found by a tool-shed. I pulled it up after me and let it down into Free School Lane, and then threw it back over the wall, to the astonishment of a passing don.
I'm very much in a diary mood right now, and I've been thinking about diaries a lot recently.
As I've mentioned before, I've been keeping a diary since June 24 2015. I began it on impulse, inspired by a section of Brideshead Revisited which very vividly describes a voyage on an ocean liner, and which made me want to capture the immediacy of my day-to-day life.
I kept my diary on a website called Penzu.com until late November of last year. My Penzu diary is 1.3 million words long. I eventually stopped keeping a computer diary because I became frustrated at the amount of time I spend looking at screens, and I felt the urge for a physical diary.
Since then I have used a page-a-day diary, written in longhand. I asked the secretary in my job if she had any page-a-day diaries left for 2018, since we use them a lot. It turned out she did, so I used that for the rest of the year. Then I bought two page-a-day diaries for 2019. One page is very often not enough to chronicle my day. (I knew it wouldn't be, since in the case of my 2018 diary I often had to continue an entry on the pages from before November.)
The Penzu website lets you export your entries as a PDF. I have several copies of that PDF saved in different places. I also scan and save my paper diary entries, for fear of losing them.
I haven't failed to chronicle a single day since I started, which gives me great satisfaction. I regret I didn't start keeping a diary as soon as I could write. (I did in fact keep several, but they are lost. None were even nearly as long as my current one.)
I keep a diary for several reasons. One is my terrible memory-- or rather, my extraordinarily selective memory. My ability to forget things is astounding. Very recently I was sitting in a kitchen where I have spent a great deal of time and someone mentioned that, some years ago, it had been divided into two rooms, but the wall had subsequently been removed. This might seem like a small thing, but it gave me quite a jolt. I knew this, but I'd completely forgotten it. My wife often tells me about things we've done together and I realize I have no memory of them-- even when . So that's part of it.
However, I don't write a diary simply to capture the things normal people would remember anyway. I write a diary to remember all the little things that any normal person would forget. I don't want these to be lost, although it's hard to explain exactly why.
For instance, I've been meeting a friend for coffee every Thursday for many years now, with a few interruptions when he has been abroad. I record the topic of our conversations. I'm intrigued by the fact that, if I did not record these at the time, there would be no way to remember them. That knowledge would become utterly unobtainable, no matter how you tried to retrieve it-- there is absolutely no way either of us would remember what we spoke about on a given day, in ordinary circumstances. What would be so awful about that? Well, nothing, perhaps. But I'm fascinated how a little bit of effort, a mere line or two, preserves something for years, perhaps decades, which would otherwise be utterly gone beyond hope of recall, in a day or two.
I also keep my diary to record my reading, thinking, emotions, and ideas. This is often material for future "public" writing.
Enough of my own diary. Right now I am interested in other peoples' diaries, as well. But it's hard to find a diarist who really suits me. I have little interest in extroverted diaries which are mostly focused upon exciting and specific events, such as a war or a government administration. I look for diaries which drawn on the whole of life, including the less obviously exciting parts. I like diaries which find a place for dreams, conversations, curious incidents, public affairs, meals, reading, introspection, the weather, and everything that goes to make up the rich tapestry of daily life.
Sassoon's is pretty good in this regard. The diaries are from the 'twenties. As a person, he seems to have been quite full of life and enthusiasm, so they are not filled with the well-bred ennui which is too typical of many writers' diaries. The balance between incident and commentary is about right-- I reckon it should be about half and half.
To close, here is another entry from Sassoon which I found particularly interesting:
What a disappointing man Elgar is! When I met him a week or two ago I told him I was sending him a copy of Recreations and mentioned that there is a reference to his Concert in the piece called "Philharmonic". To-day he writes: "Many thanks for the book. I cannot quite follow you through it all. I gather from the "Philharmonic" that you most judiciously fled from the Concerto. I am sorry you didn't like it. Yrs (scribble) E.E." I replied, "Dear Sir Edward, Let me reassure you (in case my admiration is of any value to you) that I have heard the Violin Concerto eleven times, and its beauty has moved me to an increasing degree. Why should I have sent you my book if it contained a sneer at your music? And how could I have sent it to you unless I admired your work? You surprise me. I merely wished to show my gratitude. Yours sincerely." But Elgar is always behaving like that. He is on the look out for affronts, and probably thinks that all the "younger generations" despises his music.