On Journal Writing, from the London Magazine, reprinted in the Deseret News 16 July 1862
From the Deseret News, July 16, 1862
If a man keeps no diary, the path crumbles away behind him as his feet leave it; and days gone by are but little more than a blank, broken by a few distorted shadows. His life is all confined within the limits of today. Who does not know how imperfect a thing memory is? It not merely forgets; it misleads. Things in memory do not merely fade away, preserving as they fade their own lineaments so long as they can be seen; they change their aspect; they change their place; they turn to something quite different from the fact.
In the picture of the past, which memory unaided by any written record sets before us, the perspective is entirely wrong. How capriciously some events seem quite recent, which the diary shows are really far away; and how unaccountable many things look far away, which in truth are not left many weeks behind us! A man might almost as well not have lived at all, as entirely to forget that he has lived, and entirely forget what he did on those departed days. But I think that almost every person would feel a great interest in looking back day by day upon what he did or thought that day twelve months, that day three or five years ago.
The trouble with writing the diary is very small. A few lines, a few words, written at the time, suffices, when you look at them, to bring all (what the Yankees call) the “surroundings” of that season before you. Many little things come up again which you know quite well you never would have thought of again, but for your glance at those words, and still which you feel you would be sorry to have forgotten.
There must be a richness about the life of a person who keeps a diary, unknown to other men. And a million more little links and ties must bind him to the members of his family circle, and to all among whom he lives. Life to him, looking back, is not a bare line, stringing together his personal identity; it is surrounded, intertwined, entangled with thousands and thousands of slight incidents, which give it beauty kindliness, reality.
Some folks’ life is like an oak walking stick, straight and varnished; useful, but hard and bare. Other men’s life (and such may yours and mine, kindly reader, ever be), is like that oak when it was not a stick but a branch, and waved, leaf-enveloped, and with lots of little twigs growing out of it, upon the summer tree. And yet more precious than the power of the diary to call up again a host of little circumstances and facts, is its power to bring back the indescribably but keenly felt atmosphere of those departed days. The old time comes over you. It is now merely a collections, an aggregate of facts, that comes back; it is the soul of days long ago; it is the dear Auld lang syne itself! The perfume of Hawthorne hedges is there; the breath of breezes that fanned our gray hair when it made sunny curls, often smoothed down by hands that are gone; the sunshine on the grass where those old fingers made daisy chains; and snatches of music compared with which anything you hear at the opera is extremely poor. Therefore keep you a diary, my friend. –London Magazine