Saturday, July 13, 2013



Most of my life I have kept a diary. I am now on the 102nd volume.  Most are 300 page Record Books I have bought at stationary stores or black covered bound artist sketch books of about 200 pages that I have bought at Barnes and Noble.  I started in 1948 using speckled composition books.  My inspiration for keeping a diary was Samuel Pepys.  I read aloud to my high school English class from Pepys’s description of the London fire of 1666 and the plague year before that and trembled with excitement as I realized he was writing this as it happened.  History was unfiltered. A few months later I bought a set of Pepys’s diaries at a used bookstore  on 59th street in Manhattan and paid 50 cents a week (my allowance) until I paid for all 12 volumes.  Pepys is, as far as my readings go, what I would call the first modern man to write about himself. He was ambitious, talented, loved good food, cheated on his wife although he loved her, collected books, played and composed music, sucked up to power (especially the court of King Charles), recorded gossip and relished it, took bribes, served as secretary of the Royal Society, rebuilt the British Navy and made it the world’s most powerful fleet.  He kept his diary for eight years and then his eyesight began deteriorating and he quit.  In his later career he was accused of Catholic sympathies (Pepys was tolerant of many points of view, especially in his religious beliefs) and because his wife was French and his accusers claimed her conversion to the Church of England was insincere. He was to be tried of plotting to overthrow the King.  His accuser, John Scott  (from Setauket on Long Island in New York), was a scoundrel who sold colonial lands to the British that did not belong to him).  Pepys did not go to trial because Scott murdered another man in a bar room brawl and fled the country.

               My life is not as adventurous as that of Pepys.  What I admired was his simple narrative style of recording the day.  He did not use his diary to meditate or create an image of himself for the future readers of his diary.  He wrote it to capture the day.  That is what I have tried to do.  But my diary has also given me the gift to never feel writer’s block, to write in a narrative style that is as comfortable as breathing, and to have as a resource for checking dates and events in my family’s lives. Some of my diaries I have donated to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory library archives.  I plan to do so with the rest of them.   

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