“Dear Diary…”

Tomorrow, 22 September, is #DearDiaryDay.  Do you keep a daily diary?  Have you ever tried?  Apparently, it can be great for your mental health!  Studies have shown that expressing our thoughts in a written form on a daily basis reduces anxiety and stress.

Photograph of S.M.Rich "in sports coat" taken in 1902 or 1903 [MS 168 AJ217/1 p. 34 (Friday 3 February)]

Photograph of S.M.Rich “in sports coat” taken in 1902 or 1903 [MS 168 AJ217/1 p. 34 (Friday 3 February)]

The Special Collections holds a variety of diaries and journals, some providing exhilarating accounts by Arctic explorers and of expeditions to the Nile.  However, a more everyday – but incredibly charming – record comes from Samuel Morris Rich.  We have in our strongroom an impressive 45 of his diaries dating from 1904 until his death in 1945: we like to think of him as our own twentieth-century Samuel Peyps (without the scandalous bits!).  Samuel was born in 1877 and for 40 years worked as a teacher at the Jews’ Free School in London; he was also heavily involved in the South London Liberal Jewish Synagogue.  He was married to Amy (nee Samuel) and they had two children, Connie and Sidney.

Photograph of Samuel's wife Amy. [MS 168 AJ217/1]

Photograph of Samuel’s wife Amy [MS 168 AJ217/1]

Samuel includes a photograph of  Amy at the beginning of his first volume (1905) and notes:

This portrait of Amy taken in the summer of 1898 makes a fitting frontispiece to the whole series of diaries. The dress & hat she wore on the first occasion I “took her out” – to the Crystal Palace – we met at Kennington Gate.

People have different objectives when starting a daily journal: they can be useful in resolving issues and achieving goals.  One of Samuel’s aims, it seems, was to improve his reading habits.  On New Year’s Eve 1904 he wrote this preface to his diary for the coming year:

I started a journal on Nov 26th of this year which I hope to continue until that day on which I join the great majority. The practice is useful for many reasons chief among which is the check it puts upon the method of spending one’s days.

The next day, 1 January, he expanded on his intentions:

On the last day of every month I will make a list of all books, essays or pamphlets read during the month: this will serve as an excellent check on my reading and I will be able to examine whether I have neglected to ready any good book whatever during the month.

A glance through various volumes indicates that Samuel didn’t stick to this initial intention; despite this lapse, it is hard to be critical of such a diligent diarist.

Photograph of Samuel and Amy Rich, 1901 [MS 168 AJ217/1]

Photograph of Samuel and Amy Rich, 1901 [MS 168 AJ217/1]

Samuel’s diaries provide a fascinating record of everyday life in the first half of the nineteenth century.  The timespan covers several world changing events including two world wars. On 28 July 1914 – the official date for the outbreak of the First World War – he records that he and his wife caught the 160 bus to Reigate and had “a good steak”.  He does, however, include a newspaper clipping which records that war had been declared by Austria-Hungary: he includes several of these during this period. The end of the War, 100 years ago in November this year, is recorded with great relief and celebration.

It is interesting to consider who Samuel was writing for; was it solely for his own benefit? Perhaps he wished to leave a record of his life for his children and grandchildren? His diaries are now packaged in acid-free boxes and stored in our climate-controlled strongroon: what would he made of that?! Could he ever have imagined that his diaries  would one day be preserved indefinately as a public record?

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