Eighteenth-century diaries and journals. That’s what I’ve been reading the past few days. And I’ve found some really fascinating stuff. Part of what makes them so interesting is the fact that the individual entries are not very far removed in time from the events that they describe, something I had discussed in an earlier entry on eighteenth-century epistolary fiction.
A significant difference with these documents, though, is that they describe events that (presumablyl) really happened, and this can have a poweful effect on a reader. I read a couple of decades of one man’s life, month by month, from the time when the loneliness of the itinerant preaching life made him long for some kind of companionship, to when he met a young woman, to their marriage and their first children, to his sons dying, to his wife dying and him spending an entire month without preaching, changing his clothes, going to bed, or even leaving the house. It’s hard not to be affected, though he died almost two hundred years ago.
His hands held these notebooks and the pen that put the ink to the paper. There’s something of Walter Benjamin’s “aura” in all of this.