Quote – Thoreau on journals and life

I have been thinking a lot about this Thoreau quote.  I seem to get something new from it every time I read it…

“My Journal is that of me which would else spill over and run to waste, gleanings from the field which in action I reap.  I must not live for it but in it for the gods.

“They are my correspondents, to whom daily I send off this sheet post-paid.  I am clerk in their counting-room, and at evenings transfer the account from day-book to ledger.  It is as a leaf which hangs over my head in the path.  I bend the twig and write my prayers on it; then letting it go, the bough springs up and shows the scrawl to heaven.  As if it were not kept shut in my side; it is vellum in the pastures; it is parchment on the hills.  I find it every-where as free as the leaves which troop along the lanes in autumn.  The crow, the goose, the eagle carry my quill, and the wind blows the leaves as far as I go.  Or; if my imagination does not soar, but gropes in slime and mud, then I write with a reed.”

H.D. Thoreau – 8th February 1841

It’s funny.  Someone who could not write so elegant a quote is someone who could not claim to truly feel the sensation he describes, since the kind of personality that dictates a lifetime of compulsive journaling is a pre-requisite for having that type of feeling.

That’s why I read it with awe and not a little hidden envy, since I know I could never have that pure a feeling about the art of writing.

It is a great example of the commonly read but not-often followed refrain of “if you want to become a good writer, write a lot, every day.”

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Keeping letters – so meta

“Some were soil’d and tattered fragments, joined with care where words were torn.  Some were crumbling into atoms, by incessant readings worn… Yet all precious, and all priceless.  In their hastening decay, were these loved and voiceless witnesses of hours passed away.”

Sometimes when you are panning for ink, you find these golden nuggets.

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The impermanence of our written thoughts, brought to you by the Internet.  (from the Bronte Family Collection – Harry Ransom Center, reproduced under fair use)

I stumbled across this great poem (below) in a commonplace book kept by a woman named Mary Pearson.  Mary is another of those ‘common’ people who have not distinguished themselves in history apart from the fact that once in her life she had a short brush with a person of historical importance.

In Mary’s case, it was with Patrick Branwell Brontë, the brother of the famous Brontë sisters – another soul whose life was shaped (and perhaps destroyed) by his being close to the orbit of celebrity.

When Mary was around twenty, she had a lodger at the family hotel for a few short weeks.  Branwell Brontë penned some sketches in four pages of her commonplace book.  This resulted in her journal being considered historically worthy.  Thus, it is now part of the Brontë Family Collection and therefore her thoughts are now available for anyone to read via high definition scans.

And so now anyone in the world with an internet connection can read Mary Pearson’s words, including her transcription of an anonymous poem about the fleeting nature of words and “love letters”.  We can read it on the frayed and yellowing paper of her journal, and in her neat but hurried pen strokes.  Of course, nowadays I can read it from thousands of miles away, and that yellowed paper and fading ink is now in fact as permanent as a high-resolution and carefully archived digital record can allow.

From what little I can gather about Mary’s personality via her commonplace book, I think she would find that quite amusing.

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Old poem (Anonymous) – in the Lincoln Courier, 1st September 1849

 

Quote – New Years diary

“Having omitted to carry on my diary for two or three days, I lost heart to make it up, and left it unfilld for many a month and day.  During this period nothing has happend worth particular notice.  The same occupations, the same amusements the same occasional alterations of spirits, gay or depressd, the same absence of all sensible or rationale cause for the one or the other – I half grieve to take up my pen, and doubt if it is worth while to record such an infinite quantity of nothing.  But hang it!  I hate to be beat so here goes for better behaviour.” Sir Walter Scott – 1st January 1829 (The Journal of Sir Walter Scott – edited by W. E K Anderson).

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