Introducing: DailinessLetters & Essays
On January 1, 1660, the British politician Samuel Pepys began recording the events of his life in a private diary. The subjects were largely mundane and intimate — accounts of meals eaten, bills paid, disagreements with his wife and colleagues, thoughts about his friends and the political factions in Parliament. Over nearly ten years, he put down more than a million words, revealing his jealousies, insecurities, and trivial concerns and — somewhat accidentally — creating a document that would live on for centuries after his death.
Today, Pepys is among the most celebrated diarists in the English language. His words, which are variously funny, scathing, and boring, and which were originally meant for his eyes only, have been translated and published in more than 25 languages. In some ways, Pepys’s diaries reveal more about what life was like in 17th-century England — it’s texture and rhythms, anxieties and frustrations — than any formal history could ever hope to.
As a journaler myself, I have for a long time been fascinated by diary-keeping as a practice and a literary form — the impulse to preserve everyday moments, the discipline it requires, as well as what is revealed when people write to and for themselves about their own lives. Following a year in which time seemed at various points to stand still, move in reverse, stretch like taffy in both directions, and hurdle by at dizzying speeds, we are introducing Dailiness, a new weekly column from Hesperios about notable diaries from throughout history.
My name is Cornelia Channing. I’m an editor here at Hesperios, and each week, I will highlight a diary entry from the annals of history for discussion. I will source these diaries from far and wide — from the notebooks of famous 20th-century novelists to the prayer journals of Cistercian monks to the logbooks of ancient Egyptian merchants. The hope is that these glimpses into the lives of record-keepers of various kinds may offer insight into the writers’ private thoughts and observations, and the manifold ways individuals document the passage of time. At the very least, I will try to choose examples that feel unexpected, entertaining, and noteworthy in some way.
I hope you’ll enjoy reading along — and feel free to send me thoughts and recommendations at firstname.lastname@example.org.