7 November 2016

Yesterday's Thought Is Worth Considering Again

Stephen Graham, The Gentle Art of Tramping  (London: Robert Holden & Co., 1927), pp. 73-74:
The artist's notebook is free for sketches, notes, impressions of moments, bon mots, poems, things overheard, maps and plans, names of friends and records of their idiosyncrasies, paradoxes, musical notations, records of folk-songs and other songs which you copy in order that you may sing for years afterwards. But it should not contain too much banal detail, such as petty accounts, addresses, druggists' prescriptions, number of season-ticket and fire-insurance policy, memos to send rent. These things are apt to clutter up your book, and when you come to Old Year's Night, and sit waiting for the chime of bells which rings in another year — and you have your day book before you, and you go over its pages, you do not want to pause on a scrawled laundry list or some Falstaffian account of wine and bread consumed at such and such an inn.

The artist's day-book is his own living gospel  — something coming after Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — and should be sacred to him, if he is not merely a flippant and cynical fellow seeing life in large part as a buffonade.

A thought recorded, one that is your own, written down the day when it occurred, is a mental snap-shot, and is at least as valuable as the photographs you may make on your journey. Yesterday's thought is worth considering again, if only as the stepping-stone of your dead self.

The thoughts of some people are constant, but of others varying and contradictory. It is like landscape. Some live their lives in the sight of a great range of mountains — they live in the presence of certain ever-abiding thoughts; others change their mental scenery from day to day, in the shallows and flats of the low country. But we all have our epochal days, our epochal thoughts. We turn to a page in our note-book and say: "On this day the thought occurred to me in the light of which I have lived ever since." You draw two candles there, with light rays, to show the thought of the year.
Ibid., pp. 215-216:
It is in the description that the keeping of a diary becomes artistic. All description is art, and in describing an event, an action or a being, you enter to some extent into the joy of art. You are more than the mere secretary of life, patiently taking down from dictation, more than life's mere scribe; you become its singer, the expressor of the glory of it. With a verbal description goes also sketching, the thumb-nail sketch, the vague impression, the pictorial pointer. There is no reason for being afraid of bad drawing in one's own personal travel diary; the main thing is that it be ours and have some relationship to our eyes and the thing seen.

I have seldom gone on a tramp, or a long vagabondage, without seeing things that made the heart ache with their beauty or pathos, and other things that set the mind a-tingle with intellectual curiosity. I do not refer to great episodes, glimpses of important shows and functions, but to little things, unexpected visions of life! Some were unforgettable in themselves and seemingly needed not tablets other than those of memory, and yet it was a great addition to inner content and happiness to describe them as they occurred in my day-book of travel.

It is good also, after describing something that has specially affected one, to add one's observations, the one line perhaps that records one's mind at the time.

For these, and for other reasons, the artists note-book, the diary, the common and uncommonplace book, the day-book of the soul are to be placed as part of the equipment of life, when faring forth, be it on pilgrimage, be it on tramp, or be it merely on the common round of daily life. Every entry is a shade of self-confession, and the whole when duly entered is a passage of self-knowledge.
A related post: The Diarist