Discomposed with Octavius

NOT the Reverend Temple
NOT the Reverend Temple


Am discomposed with Octavius, who grows very rude and troublesome. Holidays too long. What uneasiness do children give one from the very first. Miss Stephens came before we had finished dinner. In the evening, Bowyer again but read with no pleasure. Harassed, out of spirits. Make no progress, do nothing. How difficult it is to be regular in any thing one wishes!

That’s from the diary of the Reverend William Johnstone Temple, friend of Boswell and Thomas Gray, acquaintance of Samuel Johnson but no admirer, and pastor to Bishop Keppel.  It’s easy to look back to the good old days and think how easy and calm everything was, it is for me anyway, but I see that the Reverend Temple might disagree, put out as he is by his children and frustrated in his study.  I guess the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.


Something Loose Knit and Yet Not Slovenly . . .

Miscellaneous Musings on Wednesday


Reading diary excerpts again and stumbled across this from Miss Virginia Wolfe:

“I got out this diary and read, as one always does read one’s own writing, with a kind of guilty intensity. I confess that the rough and random style of it, often so ungrammatical, and crying for a word altered, afflicted me somewhat. I am trying to tell whichever self it is that reads this hereafter that I can write very much better; and take no time over this; and forbid her to let the eye of man behold it. And now I may add my little compliment to the effect that it has a slapdash and vigour and sometimes hits an unexpected bull’s eye. But what is more to the point is my belief that the habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments. Never mind the misses and the stumbles. Going at such a pace as I do I must make the most direct and instant shots at my object, and thus have to lay hands on words, choose them and shoot them with no more pause than is needed to put my pen in the ink. I believe that during the past year I can trace some increase of ease in my professional writing which I attribute to my casual half hours after tea. Moreover there looms ahead of me the shadow of some kind of form which a diary might attain to. I might in the course of time learn what it is that one can make of this loose, drifting material of life; finding another use for it than the use I put it to, so much more consciously and scrupulously, in fiction. What sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something loose knit and yet not slovenly, so elastic that it will embrace anything, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into my mind. I should like it to resemble some deep old desk, or capacious hold-all, in which one flings a mass of odds and ends without looking them through. I should like to come back, after a year or two, and find that the collection had sorted itself and refined itself and coalesced, as such deposits so mysteriously do, into a mould, transparent enough to reflect the light of our life, and yet steady, tranquil compounds with the aloofness of a work of art. The main requisite, I think on re-reading my old volumes, is not to play the part of censor, but to write as the mood comes or of anything whatever; since I was curious to find how I went for things put in haphazard, and found the significance to lie where I never saw it at the time. But looseness quickly becomes slovenly. A little effort is needed to face a character or an incident which needs to be recorded. Nor can one let the pen write without guidance; for fear of becoming slack and untidy.” Diary of Virginia Wolfe

I don’t usually like to post long quotes, but this particular excerpt, in spite of its length, rather concisely conveys some of the best advice on writing I’ve found. It should be framed and hung on my wall somewhere I can spy it every day.


imageSpeaking of diaries, I can’t help but wonder if anyone reads them anymore, especially the famous ones, like that of Samuel Pepys. Ever heard of him? He started writing on 1 January 1660 and wrote daily for the next 3,468 days, missing only 11 days in the interim. He was, I think, anything but loose knit or slovenly; from all those pages one gets a pretty complete picture of the hedonistic, self-serving, vain, Mr. Pepys. For all his personal failings on display, and despite it’s antiquity, it’s still great reading to this day. In the process of all this work, done in addition to his work in the British Admiralty, he pretty much invented the diaristic art form. I wonder if he shouldn’t be considered the first distant ancestor of the blogging world of today? The patron saint of bloggers?  Then again, what does that say about bloggers.


I’m tempted at times to ask myself what is the greatest problem facing the Church today and I’m tempted to answer: the Church. It reminds me of the old Cold War joke about some old Communist, a delegate from the Soviet Union, came to visit the Vatican and boldly told one of the Cardinals that the Soviets intended to destroy the Church completely from the face of the earth. “Good luck,” the old Cardinal replied, “We’ve been trying to do it for 2,000 years.” I wonder if we’ll ever stop trying?


The clarinet lessons continue on. It was a terrible week for practice; seemed more like I was at war with the thing than playing it. There was a time or two I thought it would be best to take the thing back to the music store and start rubbing the cat’s ears instead. The question comes to mind, though, if that isn’t the kind of experience that leads to true improvement. I guess I’ll find out.

The Cutting of Bread

tumblr_mun303qvSZ1qb597yo1_1280I love reading old diaries and today I came across this excerpt from the diary of Katherine Mansfield, a writer from early in the 20th century.

10 January. Dreamed I was back in New Zealand.

Got up to-day. It was fine. The sun shone and melted the last trace of snow from the trees. All the morning big drops fell from the trees, from the roof. The drops were not like rain-drops, but bigger, softer. More exquisite. They made one realize how one loves the fertile earth and hates this snow-bound cold substitute.

The men worked outside on the snowy road, trying to raise the telegraph pole. Before they began they had lunch out of a paper. Sitting astride the pole. It is very beautiful to see people sharing food. Cutting bread and passing the loaf, especially cutting bread in that age-old way with a clasp-knife. Afterwards one got up in a tree and sat among the branches working from there, while the other lifted. The one in the tree turned into a kind of bird, as all people do in trees – chuckled, laughed out, peered from among the branches. Careless. At-tend! Ar-ret! Al-lez!

I love that description of the very ordinary event of the putting up of a telegraph wire.  I wonder if she intended the Eucharistic allusion?  That excerpt was written in 1922,  who writes like that anymore?  It’s just magnificent.  I think Miss Mansfield must have loved words.