The Human Tradition of Keeping A Diary

Since time immemorial people have been recording their lives and surroundings.  As far back as the Stone Age people recorded the world around them on the walls of caves in the form of art.  They depicted the animals they shared an environment with and recorded hunting events.  They reflected on the world around them and set it to stone in the same way we set it to paper today.

This reflection on the world and our place in it is an unavoidable aspect of being human.  It’s what we do.  We observe both our internal and external worlds, and try to make sense of them.  Naturally, with the rise of literacy came the rise of the diary as daily record for the masses.

“Swiftly, swiftly, record your thoughts before they are forever lost in time.”
Trevor Wright

The earliest reference to a diary as a book in which one recorded daily life was in Ben Jonson’s 1605 comedy, Volpone.  In 17th century England diary keeping became quite popular with people recording all kinds of different aspects of life.   Like today, there were many kinds of diaries you could commit to keeping.

In John Beadle’s 1656 Diary of a Thankful Christian he wrote:

“‘We have our state diurnals, relating to national affairs. Tradesmen keep their shop books. Merchants their account books. Lawyers have their books of pre[c]edents. Physitians have their experiments. Some wary husbands have kept a diary of daily disbursements. Travellers a Journall of all that they have seen and hath befallen them in their way. A Christian that would be more exact hath more need and may reap much more good by such a journal as this. We are all but stewards, factors here, and must give a strict account in that great day to the high Lord of all our wayes, and of all his wayes towards us’.” (Source)

While Beadle was making use of the diary genre to keep a record of his life as a Christian for God, many others were using it to record other elements of life that were important to them.  Four centuries later we continue to do the same.

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