Special Collections Department
DIARIES, SCRAPBOOKS, AND OTHER AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL EFFORTS
Why do people create self works?
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.
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
- My dearest William
On this eighteenth of April 1835 (being the birthday of my dear father) I begin, as
I have long intended, to note down, such imperfect recollections of him as I can
remember, or gather from old letters, or other papers. And I think it will be
gratifying to you to know something of your grandfather...
- Reader! for goodness sake, forbear
To change one word that's written here,
Bless'd be the man that spares my scribbling,
But curs'd be he that would be nibbling.
In hopes that they may be read with some indulgence, & that my Fellow Beings
may not only find amusement, but some good hints & morals useful to
Truth has & shall be the Polar Star, by which I shall shape the course of my
Adventures; I consider it my duty to report as I find: my motto is, "Nothing
extenuate, nor set down ought in malice."
"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
- November 1835 My object in filling these pages is my own improvement and
pleasure: Improvement not in acquiring skill and readiness in composition
merely, but my religious moral & intellectual improvement. I write here for
myself only. I design that this shall be a kind of chronicle of my life; an imperfect
record of my feelings & emotions, my thoughts & my actions. Not that I expect to
be minute & particular, or systematic in this, but only to inscribe occasionally
some few things which I may deem most important, & which may serve to call to
mind many others with which these were connected. I design that thus the few
scattering facts here noted shall be as guide-posts & mile-stones to direct my
recollections as may traverse back & forth, from time to time, my past life.
My Journal: Thou mayest now, thyself, justly claim existence & Identity. Listen, therefore, while I speak a few words in thine own ear. Thou shalt be my companion & friend. Thou shalt accompany me in all the journey of Life: & as we pass along, I will advise you of some of the chief events which occur, of my deeds & exploits, of my thoughts & feelings, & sometimes, perhaps, I shall make thee my confident, & unbosom my heart to thee, & reveal to thee things which no one else must know. All these things thou shalt keep in thy mind, & from time to time as I may desire, thou shalt remind me of them. I will often converse with thee, & thou shalt sometimes afford me pleasure, sometimes perhaps pain, but always, as I hope, profit & instruction by refering me to the past. When friends desert me & I feel forsaken & alone, thou shalt be company for me. If misfortune & affliction shall come upon me like a flood & I shall be bow'd down to the earth with sorrow & grief, disconsolate & wretched, thou shalt do what thou canst to console & comfort me. And if at any time, overwhelmed with disappointment, & surrounded with difficulties & discouragement, I shall be disheartened & despairing, though, by refering me to former times & views, plans, feelings etc. then cherished, shalt cheer & encourage me. I have thus, my dear friend (for such I shall now call thee) shown to thee some of the leading points of thy duty. I might mention many more particulars, were it necessary, but these you will learn as they occur. Perform thy duty faithfully now, my child, & let it be said of thee at the end of thy course, that thy existence has not been in vain, but that thou has done some good.
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.
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 .
1 volume (242 pp.)
from Diaries, Journals, Ships' Logs
- ...having retired from the cares of that active business life, I had much leisure and
unemployed time resting on my hands, that it occurred to me, in order to keep my
mind and humble self properly employed to advantage, it might be well to take a
long look backwards with an eye of retrospection and review the past, and
endeavor from memory to record some of the more prominent incidents and
reminiscences, (at least) that have occurred with me during my pilgrimage across
the bridge of life...
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.
Brian Coffey, 1905-1995.
Self Book, 1976-1977.
from Brian Coffey papers
- June 1976 Tuesday 8 71 years old today, and beginning these writings for my
wife, my children, my grandchildren and those who come after them in the
succession -- as much of what I see as can reasonably is expressed in words, if the
time available -- how long? -- allows. ... I shall write what I can, shall, will, at
least once each day.
What do I see as coming in this book -- 1) copies of all the poems I like, including my own, 2) translations of poems 3) stories including ----- 4) notes that might have been the philosophical work I once planned 5) new thoughts on events & books 6) collage jokes 7) expressions & opinions 8) drawings 9) anything else.
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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