I often wonder how many present-day writers keep diaries. I wish The Bookman would conduct a questionnaire on the subject. I have a suspicion that Charley Towne keeps one–probably a grim, tragic parchment wherein that waggish soul sets down its secret musings. I dare say Louis Untermeyer has one (morocco, tooled and goffered, with gilt edges), and looks over its nipping paragraphs now and then with a certain relish. It undoubtedly has a large portmanteau pocket with it, to contain clippings of Mr. Untermeyer’s letters to the papers taking issue with the reviews of his books. There is no way for the reviewer to escape that backfire. I knew one critic who was determined to review one of Louis’s books in such a way that the author would have no excuse for writing to the Times about it. He was overwhelmingly complimentary. But along came the usual letter by return of post. Mr. Untermeyer asked for enough space to “diverge from the critique at one point.” He said the review was too fulsome.
I wish Don Marquis kept a diary, but I am quite sure he doesn’t. Don is too–well, I was going to say he is too–but after all he has a perfect right to be that way.
It’s rather an important thing. Every one knows the fascination exerted by personal details of authors’ lives. Every one has hustled to the Cafe de la Source in Paris because R.L.S. once frequented it, or to Allaire’s in New York because O. Henry wrote it up in one of his tales, and that sort of thing. People like to know all the minutiae concerning their favorite author. It is not sufficient to know (let us say) that Murray Hill or some one of that sort, once belonged to the Porrier’s Corner Club. One wants to know where the Porrier’s Corner Club was, and who were the members, and how he got there, and what he got there, and so forth. One wants to know where Murray Hill (I take his name only as a symbol) buys his cigars, and where he eats lunch, and what he eats, whether pigeon potpie with iced tea or hamburg steak and “coffee with plenty.” It is all these intimate details that the public has thirst for.
Now the point I want to make is this. Here, all around us, is fine doings (as Murray Hill would put it), the jolliest literary hullabaloo going. Some of the writers round about–Arthur Guiterman or Tom Masson or Witter Bynner or Tom Daly, or some of these chaps now sitting down to combination-plate luncheons and getting off all manner of merry quips and confidential matters–some of these chaps may be famous some day (posterity is so undiscriminating) and all that savory personal stuff will have evaporated from our memories. The world of bookmen is in great need of a new crop of intimists, or whatever you call them. Barbellion chaps. Henry Ryecrofts. We need a chiel taking notes somewhere.
Now if you really jot down the merry gossip, and make bright little pen portraits, and tell just what happens, it will not only afford you a deal of discreet amusement, but the diary you keep will reciprocate. In your older years it will keep you. Harper’s Magazine will undoubtedly want to publish it, forty years from now. If that is too late to keep you, it will help to keep your descendants. So I wish some of the authors would confess and let us know which of them are doing it. It would be jolly to know to whom we might confide the genial little items of what-not and don’t-let-this-go-farther that come the rounds. The inside story of the literature of any epoch is best told in the diaries. I’ll bet Brander Matthews kept one, and James Huneker. It’s a pity Professor Matthews’s was a bit tedious. Crabb Robinson was the man for my money.