University of Delaware Library

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Why do people create self works?

Write often for thy secret eye: so shalt thou grow wiser.
"Proverbial Philosophy" - Lucien Cyrus Boynton, 1835

Perhaps surprisingly, considering the implied privacy of the record they are creating, many writers express their intention for producing journals or other autobiographical efforts. Presented as an apology, or as justification, it is not unusual to find an explanation for such self-indulgence. Sensitive to historical value of family lore, many create their contemporary accounts or retrospective stories for descendants. This is true for several of the individuals whose self works are included in this exhibition. Margaret Hazlitt addressed her recollections to her nephew, explaining that she wanted to give him some idea of his famous father's early life and education; the planned project instead focused on her own lasting impressions of the family's 1783 migration to America. Milton Fisher's 1834 travel narrative was a long letter kept for his parents. And the Irish poet, Brian Coffey, getting on in age, shared a bit of his creative self with his family by admitting he kept his "self books" partly for their entertainment.

The close of the nineteenth century raised consciousness of achievement and progress. Coupled with the popular trend of writing memoirs, testimony of personal accomplishments and life adventures was another commonly expressed reason for writing about one's self. Richard Champney saw a great deal of the world and revised his early diaries to present a flowing narrative of his life adventures. John Brinck's "biographical sketch" reflects a classic American life story of advancement from a log cabin to a successful business career.

Lucien Cyrus Boynton ambitiously articulated a multi-faceted purpose for keeping his Journal. He bestowed it with an identity, blessed it with hopes that it would be a true companion which he could trust with his confessions, and expected it to be a proving ground for his own religious, moral, and intellectual improvement. He also recognized his journal's future usefulness for any retrospective consideration he wanted to give his life. Boynton waited nearly a year before he penned his introduction and commenced regular entries. He gave very deliberate thought about his intentions for keeping a journal, showing acute awareness of his self efforts.

Margaret Hazlitt, 1771-1844.
Recollections, 1835-1838.
1 volume (185 pp.). Inscribed "To my good friends Mr. & Mrs. Johns from theirs affectionatly, Margaret Hazlitt, Crediton, Decbr 10th, 1836."
from Diaries, Journals, Ships' Logs

Image of page from Hazlitt's Recollections
Margaret Hazlitt's justification for writing a recollection of her father, the Unitarian minister William Hazlitt, and her noted brother, William Hazlitt, the British literary critic and essayist, for her nephew diminishes her role as a participant in the story of her family's 1783 journey to America and their sojourn in Philadelphia and Boston where her father preached and lectured. Nonetheless, it is Margaret's testimony and her vivid impressions of what was experienced, learned, and remembered that makes this recollection as much about her self as it is about her more famous family members. Her lengthy accounts of the sea voyages to America and England include memories of violent storms and amusing observations of fellow passengers, including a menagerie of mockingbirds, a rattlesnake, and American foxes on the return trip. Her observations of early America's natural bounties glow: "The woods are filled with a variety of game, the number of pidgeons are incredible, & the wild turkeys are very large & fine, and their colours very beautiful & they make a grand appearance, when standing, being from four to five feet in height."

Title page from Champney's Journal Richard Champney.
Journal of travels, commencing from the year 1798, through various parts of England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Spain, Portugal, Canada, United States of North America, Denmark, Germany, Holland, and the Netherlands, etc. Ellerker, Yorkshire, 1828.
4 volumes
from Diaries, Journals, Ships' Logs

"Illness and wont of occupation" afforded Richard Champney the time necessary for the many hours of revision which resulted in the four indexed volumes (with appendices) of his Journal of Travels. As a young boy in 1798, Champney accompanied his parents, brother, and sister from London, England, to Lexington, Kentucky, where his father had acquired property in settlement of a debt. The trip to the American Wilderness and five-year struggle to live there was an experience which whetted Champney's persuasion for a life of adventure and travel. After returning to England and completing his schooling, Champney briefly considered a life in agriculture, but the desire to visit more foreign countries led him to a sailor's life. Following several years of peril and hardship on the sea, Champney joined the militia and served in Wellington's Peninsular Campaign. Throughout his life, Champney kept journals. His four-volume work is an 1828 revision of those earlier journals, drawing as well from the journals kept by his mother and father in America. With a nineteenth-century mind, Champney indexed each volume ("Self leaping over a spare top-mast, sprained my ankle") and summarized his travel compulsions with appendices in each volume of "Towns, Villages, Rivers, Lakes, Mountains, Territories, & Shires, seen by Land & Water & the number of Miles traveled over."

Lucien Cyrus Boynton, 1811-1886.
Journal, or a running record of some thoughts, feelings, and events of my life, 1835-1853.
1 volume (437 pp.)
from Diaries, Journals, Ships' Logs

My Journal, Thou mayest now...

The prayerful tone of his introduction is not surprising, given that Lucien Cyrus Boynton was a student at Andover Theological Seminary when he began this introspectively intimate journal. The book served as Boynton's companion through gloomy moods, spiritual reflections, and lonely days as a teacher preferring scholarly solitude to the responsibilities of caring for his charges in academies in Wilmington, Delaware, and Buckingham and Northumberland counties in Virginia. It was partly through his journal that he confronted the truth that he would "not be successful or happy as a clergyman" and worked out his decision to pursue a profession in the law. After four years of reading the law, he returned to the Northeast and was admitted to the bar in 1846.

Boynton was born in Weathersfield, Vermont, in 1811. His journal reflects vital intellectual activities and sensibilities of his time. He read Coleridge, Byron, Shakespeare, and the classics; philosophy, law, religion, histories, biographies, and about phrenology. Boynton traveled widely, following teaching positions, but also making trips to visit the Natural Bridge in Virginia and Niagara Falls. He heard Henry Clay debate in the Senate, and went to Boston to hear lectures by John Quincy Adams, abolitionist Wendell Philips, William Lloyd Garrison, and Horace Mann. Boynton's journal documents his self-education and -improvement -- through all his commentary on what he was reading, thinking, doing, and hoping, he was working on building the self he wanted to be.

My Ever Honoured Parents... Milton M. Fisher.
Diary of Journey taken for health in 1834 from Franklin South to Mount Vernon, Virginia, and back through western part of Maryland, Pennsylvania, Western New York, Niagara, Canada, Rochester, Oswego, then home, from April 21 to August 14; April 21- August 29, 1834.
1 volume (99 pp.)
from Diaries, Journals, Ships' Logs

Milton Fisher left his "paternal roof" on the morning of April 21, 1834, and that day addressed his "Ever Honoured Parents" that he intended to record daily in his journal, to inscribe to them "whatever may be interesting to you relating to myself personally, to my success in business, to the distance from town to town, to the character of the soil, roads, rivers, etc, to the manners of the people and to all things coming withing the scope of my observation which may be worthy to be remembered and will on review excite pleasing emotions in my own breast."

Fisher's journey south was taken partly for health, but also seems to have been a canvassing trip which allowed him to gather information about slavery and to distribute pamphlets of the American Anti-Slavery Society. His commentary takes in road conditions, lodgings, sites and businesses of each town, local politics, sermons, and conversations. He traveled by horseback or horse-drawn rail road from Rhode Island through Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Delaware, Baltimore, Washington, D.C. and Alexandria to Mount Vernon; returning through western Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, and Canada. Along the way, he visited churches, schools and universities, a deaf and dumb asylum, a retreat for the insane, and commercial ventures. In Philadelphia, he marveled at the beauty of the Waterworks at Fairmount; in Delaware City he conversed with an African-American preacher, C.N.W. Cannon, who had refused to go to Liberia; in Washington, on June 2, he heard the Senate debate a resolution presented by Henry Clay (and recorded his impression of every senator who spoke); and at Mount Vernon he met an old female slave who had had nine of her eleven children sold in the slave trade.

[John C. Brinck] b. 1811.
A Biographical Sketch [1890].
1 volume (242 pp.)
from Diaries, Journals, Ships' Logs

First page of Biographical Sketch

Though he never reveals his or his family's name, the author is elsewhere comprehensive and articulate in reflecting upon the previous seventy-nine years of his life in this "biographical sketch." This memoirist writes with deliberation and perspective of appreciation for his eventful life and a remarkable awareness of the significant accomplishments of his century. John Brinck's (identified by reference to his firm's name and New York City directories) ancestors emigrated from Holland in 1659 and settled in Ulster County, New York, where Brinck was born in 1811. After boyhood in a log cabin "homestead," he left home to teach in nearby Walkill, Orange County, then pursued a mercantile career in a country store. With an eye for adventure and advancement, he moved to New York City in 1833 where he found employment as a retail clerk with monthly wages of six dollars and board. Brinck did advance, entering a partnership to establish the firm of Brinck & Russell. This autobiographical sketch presents a businessman's life of achievement, as partner or sole proprietor in dry goods businesses which moved from Hudson Street to Bleecker Street to Canal Street to Broadway to Sixth Avenue. Other "prominent incidents" include his service in the 7th Regiment State Militia (New York National Guard) when he was involved in the Astor Place Riot of 1849 and his service as an honor guard for the funeral procession of John Quincy Adams. Reminiscence of train travel in the 1870s to Minneapolis to visit his son-in-law, C.S. Gilson, gave occasion to remark on the progresses of the nineteenth century. Throughout his self sketch, Brinck reviews the influences and events which shaped his character and contributed to his fortune.

Two self books & photo of Paris 1930-31 Brian Coffey, 1905-1995.
Self Book, 1976-1977.
1 volume
from Brian Coffey papers

Brian Coffey's "self books" were the inspiration for the title of this exhibition. The Irish poet, artist, teacher, and publisher had a reputation, fully born out in these creative journal/workbooks, for experiment and the avant garde in expression. The books are a preservationist's nightmare: collages and scrapbooks of poor quality paper, bulging with bits and pieces of photographs, postcards, newsclippings, greeting cards, artwork, etc. -- items laid in or adhered with scotch tape, glue, or pins. And yet they are the reflection of a vitally creative mind, a self attracted to ideas, images, and words. In the beginning of a "self book" started on his seventy-first birthday, Coffey works out his intention for keeping these journals.

Considering self works Creating self works Living & learning Domestic diaries
Business & adventure War diaries Keepsakes Word & deed
Inner journeys Travel diaries Professional writers Avocational efforts

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