When the Library of America published a two-volume selection of Emerson’s multi-volume journal in 2010 I had to have it. Had to. Not only because I could not afford to buy the complete set of something like ten volumes that Harvard published, but because I also loves me my Emerson (after all I have a cat named Waldo which is what Emerson went by among his friends). And in spite of splurging on both volumes right then, I haven’t started reading them until now.
Of course the LOA volume one begins at the beginning with Emerson’s first journal begun when he started at Harvard at the age of 17 in 1820. Emerson titled his early journals, “The Wide World.” I have read the complete first few years of his early journals before but I can’t find if I ever posted about them. No matter.
Emerson was 17, a bit of a romantic and very silly. Quite the contrast from the sober man of his famous essays. He begins his journal by invoking the aid of witches and fairies:
O ye witches assist me! enliven or horrify some midnight lucubration or dream (whichever may be found most convenient) to supply this reservoir when other resources fail. Pardon me Fairy Land! rich region of fancy & gnomery, elvery, sylphery, & Queen Mab! pardon me for presenting my petition to your enemies but there is probably one in the chamber who maliciously influenced me to what is irrevocable; pardon & favor me! – & finally Spirits of Earth, Air, Fire, Water, wherever ye glow, whatsoever you patronize, whoever you inspire, hallow, hallow, this devoted paper.
And this is only the first entry. When he has been remiss about writing in his journal he asks for the fairies to forgive him. And, in one entry a month later he spins a fancy Arthurian daydream.
I can’t help but giggle. But I can’t giggle too much. I have incriminating diaries too. Here is my very first one:
It begins on February 24, 1978. I was ten. I have no recollection what the occasion was since it was too far away from Christmas and my birthday was a little over a month in the future. Unfortunately I wrote it mostly in pencil that is now terribly fading. But there is this single entry in bright green marker:
It is the next to last entry in the book. The first week of the diary I wrote every day. Then a week goes by before another entry. Then a couple weeks. Then a spread of a few weeks between entries. The green marker entry in May is followed by an entry dated September. So much for diary-keeping.
It wasn’t my last diary though. I have several half-finished diaries before it managed to become a habit. At seventeen, it was a habit and so I thought I’d pull out that diary to compare to Emerson’s. I was smug, I would NEVER invoke fairies. Are you kidding me? Get real. My smugness quickly turned to chagrin when I say the cover of the diary I began the day after my seventeenth birthday in 1985:
Yup, that’s a velveteen cover embossed with a silver unicorn.
To my credit though I just dove right into writing about my birthday the day before. Thank goodness both my handwriting and my spelling improved over the years:
While my diary has no invocation to fairies and witches, I did give it an epigraph:
From now until the end of time no one else will ever see life with my eyes, and I mean to make the most of my chance.
Of course I neglected to provide attribution for the quote. A Google search says it is from Chrisopher Morley’s Philadelphia. I have not read it so I suppose I copied it from some other source, probably Reader’s Digest which my mom had a subscription to and in which I loved to read the jokes and the inspirational quotes. I was big on inspirational quotes as a teenager.
I can’t laugh at 17-year-old Emerson as much as I’d like without also laughing at my 17-year-old self. Perhaps it just goes to show that 17-year-olds aren’t that different across the years.