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Diaries

DIARIES

DIARIES. Contemporary diaries and journals offer one of the most important sources of evidence for the social, economic, and cultural life of early modern Europe. An immense range of different types of serial memoranda were produced at a time when the personal memoir had not yet crystallized into its modern forms, the private diary and the autobiography. Taken as a whole, those diaries that have survived represent most segments of the European population except for the very young and the very poor. Both sexes kept diaries and journals, with authors ranging in age from teenagers like Sebald Welser, a Nuremberg Lutheran who recorded a semester at the Catholic University of Louvain in 1577, to "ancient" matrons like Sarah Savage, an English Nonconformist who continued to add entries to her spiritual diary at over eighty years of age. Although the bulk of personal memoranda from this period were composed by the educated elite, we have many examples from the middling sort and a few from the laboring classes, like the sporadic memoirs of Mary Hurll, a poor lacemaker's apprentice.

Among the earliest types of diary to have survived is the travel journal, generated by the voyages of explorers like Christopher Columbus (14921493) or Antonio Pigafetta (15191522), who accompanied Magellan on his circumnavigation of the globe. In subsequent years, European explorers, missionaries, diplomats, merchants, colonial settlers, and tourists of all kinds set down memoranda of journeys that ranged as far away as Africa and central Asia, North and South America, the Far East and Australia, and the Pacific Ocean. By the seventeenth century, female as well as male travelers had begun to offer accounts of their experiences. Celia Fiennes wrote detailed descriptions of the people, places, and material objects she encountered in her sightseeing trips around the length and breadth of England (c. 16821712), providing valuable information for economic and cultural historians.

Professional and occupational journals offer insight into the daily lives of a diverse group of men and women. Work diaries were kept by farmers and shopkeepers, physicians and midwives, politicians and civil servants, clerics and missionaries, artists and musicians, and a cluster of miscellaneous occupations and avocations. The Elizabethan theater manager Philip Henslowe noted particulars of the dramatic productions he supervised, while in the eighteenth century Humfrey Wanley, librarian to the first and second earls of Oxford, recorded book purchases and prices (17151726). Military diaries offer participants' views of early modern warfare both on land and at sea. Scholars have utilized parliamentary diaries and other private political memoranda to supplement, confirm, or contradict records generated by official bodies. Some sources, such as the diaries of Pierre de Blanchefort in France (1576) and Roger Morrice in England (16771691) offer information about parliamentary debates and political alliances that would otherwise have been inaccessible to historians.

Several prominent seventeenth-century scientists kept diaries that include a great deal of scientific observation and commentary, among them John Dee, Samuel Hartlib, Robert Boyle, and Robert Hooke. The "work-diaries" of Robert Boyle, which include notes on experiments, observations and measurements, travelers' reports, and other sporadic memoranda, are a valuable source of information about Boyle's evolving scientific interests and details of his experimental method. Robert Hooke, who kept a diary from 1672 until 1692, seems to have regarded his own day-to-day experiences as an object of research to be recorded as a species of scientific experiment.

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the most popular type of serial memoir was the religious diary, widely employed by a broad spectrum of the populace as a means of practicing the pious virtue of godly self-examination. Such diaries were most common in Protestant localities, where they fulfilled much the same purpose as auricular confession to a priest in Catholic areas. In England and other countries where literacy rates were relatively high (for example, in late-seventeenth-century London over half the female population could sign their names), great numbers of men and women kept spiritual journals and other occasional memoranda that were inspired by religious motives. Advice manuals offered instruction on why and how to keep a spiritual journal, like that of the cleric John Beadle, whose The Journal or Diary of a Thankful Christian (1656) became a best-seller. Beadle's neighbor Mary Rich, the pious countess of Warwick, was among those who followed his guidelines with diligence and discipline. From 1668 until her death in 1678 the countess made daily notations about her spiritual and secular life, resulting in five large manuscript volumes of diary entries.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the spiritual diary evolved along with various hybrid genres into two modern forms of serial memoranda, the secular personal diary and the financial journal or account book. Although Dame Sarah Cowper began her diary in 1700 avowedly for religious reasons, her daily entries over a sixteen-year period devote far more attention to familial and political concerns than to purely spiritual matters. Other early modern diarists transferred the model of daily spiritual self-examination from the religious to the material and fiscal realm. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, bookkeeping techniques that had been developed for Italian merchants as early as the thirteenth century spread widely throughout the European populace. In 1666, the businessman and moneylender William Smart began keeping a detailed financial journal in addition to his bookkeeping accounts, often transferring information from account books to personal diary and vice versa.

Some diarists combined the models of spiritual self-examination and fiscal accounting, transforming the resulting amalgam into a medium for expressing insights into their own individual identity vis-à-vis the world at large. Of the descriptive and introspective personal diaries produced during the early modern period, the greatest and most famous is that of Samuel Pepys (16331703), an English civil servant who eventually became secretary of the admiralty. Written in cipher (a form of shorthand), the diary was deciphered in the nineteenth century, but was not printed in full until the definitive eleven-volume edition by Robert Latham and William Matthews (published 19701983), which took more than thirty years to complete. Pepys' diary provides the ultimate insider's view of every aspect of seventeenth-century London life, offering as vivid, detailed, and comprehensive a picture of early modern England and its human inhabitants as we are ever likely to get from any single source.

See also Biography and Autobiography ; Pepys, Samuel .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Primary Sources

Fiennes, Celia. The Illustrated Journeys of Celia Fiennes 1685c. 1712. Edited by Christopher Morris. London and Sydney, 1982.

Pepys, Samuel. The Diary of Samuel Pepys. Edited by Robert Latham and William Matthews. 11 vols. London 19701983.

Pigafetta, Antonio. The Voyage of Magellan: The Journal of Antonio Pigafetta. Translated by Paula S. Paige. Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1969.

Secondary Sources

Havlice, Patricia Pate. And So to Bed: A Bibliography of Diaries Published in English. Metuchen, N.J., and London, 1987.

Matthews, William. British Diaries: An Annotated Bibliography of British Diaries Written between 1442 and 1942. Gloucester, Mass., 1967.

Mendelson, Sara H. "Stuart Women's Diaries and Occasional Memoirs." In Women in English Society 15001800, edited by Mary Prior, pp. 181201. London and New York, 1985.

Sara H. Mendelson

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