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Diaries–Moral, Historical, And Critical
by [?]

We converse with the absent by letters, and with ourselves by diaries; but vanity is more gratified by dedicating its time to the little labours which have a chance of immediate notice, and may circulate from hand to hand, than by the honester pages of a volume reserved only for solitary contemplation; or to be a future relic of ourselves, when we shall no more hear of ourselves.

Marcus Antoninus’s celebrated work entitled [Greek: Ton eis eauton, Of the things which concern himself, would be a good definition of the use and purpose of a diary. Shaftesbury calls a diary, “A fault-book,” intended for self-correction; and a Colonel Harwood, in the reign of Charles the First, kept a diary, which, in the spirit of the times, he entitled “Slips, Infirmities, and Passages of Providence.” Such a diary is a moral instrument, should the writer exercise it on himself, and on all around him. Men then wrote folios concerning themselves; and it sometimes happened, as proved by many, which I have examined in manuscript, that often writing in retirement, they would write when they had nothing to write.

Diaries must be out of date in a lounging age, although I have myself known several who have continued the practice with pleasure and utility.[1] One of our old writers quaintly observes, that “the ancients used to take their stomach-pill of self-examination every night. Some used little books, or tablets, which they tied at their girdles, in which they kept a memorial of what they did, against their night-reckoning.” We know that Titus, the delight of mankind, as he has been called, kept a diary of all his actions, and when at night he found upon examination that he had performed nothing memorable, he would exclaim, “Amici! diem perdidimus!” Friends! we have lost a day!

Among our own countrymen, in times more favourable for a concentrated mind than in this age of scattered thoughts and of the fragments of genius, the custom long prevailed: and we their posterity are still reaping the benefit of their lonely hours and diurnal records. It is always pleasing to recollect the name of Alfred, and we have deeply to regret the loss of a manual which this monarch, so strict a manager of his time, yet found leisure to pursue: it would have interested us much more even than his translations, which have come down to us. Alfred carried in his bosom memorandum leaves, in which he made collections from his studies, and took so much pleasure in the frequent examination of this journal, that he called it his hand-book, because, says Spelman, day and night he ever had it in hand with him. This manual, as my learned friend Mr. Turner, in his elaborate and philosophical Life of Alfred, has shown by some curious extracts from Malmsbury, was the repository of his own occasional literary reflections. An association of ideas connects two other of our illustrious princes with Alfred.

Prince Henry, the son of James I., our English Marcellus, who was wept by all the Muses, and mourned by all the brave in Britain, devoted a great portion of his time to literary intercourse; and the finest geniuses of the age addressed their works to him, and wrote several at the prince’s suggestion. Dallington, in the preface to his curious “Aphorisms, Civil and Militarie,” has described Prince Henry’s domestic life: “Myself,” says he, “the unablest of many in that academy, for so was his family, had this especial employment for his proper use, which he pleased favourably to entertain, and often to read over.”

The diary of Edward VI., written with his own hand, conveys a notion of that precocity of intellect, in that early educated prince, which would not suffer his infirm health to relax in his royal duties. This prince was solemnly struck with the feeling that he was not seated on a throne to be a trifler or a sensualist: and this simplicity of mind is very remarkable in the entries of his diary; where, on one occasion, to remind himself of the causes of his secret proffer of friendship to aid the Emperor of Germany with men against the Turk, and to keep it at present secret from the French court, the young monarch inserts, “This was done on intent to get some friends. The reasonings be in my desk.” So zealous was he to have before him a state of public affairs, that often in the middle of the month he recalls to mind passages which he had omitted in the beginning: what was done every day of moment, he retired into his study to set down.–Even James the Second wrote with his own hand the daily occurrences of his times, his reflections and conjectures. Adversity had schooled him into reflection, and softened into humanity a spirit of bigotry; and it is something in his favour, that after his abdication he collected his thoughts, and mortified himself by the penance of a diary.–Could a Clive or a Cromwell have composed one? Neither of these men could suffer solitude and darkness; they started at their casual recollections:–what would they have done, had memory marshalled their crimes, and arranged them in the terrors of chronology?