On 20th November 1825, shortly after reading the diaries of Samuel Pepys and Lord Byron for the first time, Scottish poet and novelist Sir Walter Scott began his own diary by way of the following opening entry. Fifty-four at the time, Scott had already established himself as a literary colossus, but he harboured regret for not documenting the journey thus far. He committed to this diary until his death seven years later. When posthumously published it immediately cherished by an adoring public and has since ascended to the ranks of the greatest diaries ever kept.
The Diary Entry
November 20th. I have all my life regretted that I did not keep a regular [diary]. I have myself lost recollection of much that was interesting and I have deprived my family and the public of some curious information by not carrying this resolution into effect.
I have bethought me on seeing lately some volumes of Byron’s notes that he probably had hit upon the right way of keeping such a memorandum-book, by throwing aside all pretence to regularity and order and marking down events just as they occurd to recollection. I will try this plan & behold I have a handsome locked volume such as might serve for a Lady’s Album. Nota Bene John Lockhart and Anne [his daughter] & I are to raise a society for the suppression of Albums. It is a most troublesome shape of mendicity—Sir, your autograph—a line of poetry—or a prose sentence among all the sprawling sonnets and blotted trumpery that dishonours these miscellanies—a man must have a good stomach that can swallow this botheration as a compliment.
I was in Ireland last summer and had a most delightful tour. It cost me upwards of £500 including £100 left with Walter and Jane [his son and daughter-in-law] for we travelld a large party and in stile.
There is much less exaggerated about the Irish than is to be expected. Their poverty is not exaggerated—it is on the extreme verge of human misery—their cottages would scarce serve for pig-sties even in Scotland—and their rags seem the very refuse of a rag-shop and are disposed on their bodies with such ingenious variety of wretchedness that you would think nothing but some sort of perverted taste could have assembled so many shreds together. You are constantly fearful that some knot or loop will give and place the individual before you in all the primitive simplicity of Paradise. Then for their food they have only potatoes and too few of them. Yet the men look stout and healthy and the women buxsome and well coloured.
Dined with us being Sunday Will. Clerk and Chas. Kirkpatrick Sharpe. W.C. is the second son of the celebrated author of Naval Tactics. I have known him intimately since our college days and to my thinking never met a man of greater powers or more complete information on all desirable subjects. In youth he had strongly the Edinburgh pruritus disputandi [“itch for argument”] but habits of society have greatly mellowed it & though still anxious to gain your suffrage to his opinion he endeavours rather to conciliate your opinion than conquer it by force. Still there is enough of tenacity of sentiment to prevent in London Society, where all must go slack and easy, W.C. from rising to the [passage continues on following page] very top of the tree as a Conversation man, who must not only wind the thread of his argument gracefully but also know when to let go. But I like the Scotch taste better: there is more matter, more information, above all more spirit in it.