Why does anyone keep a diary? For a man conscientious about his career perhaps it is in order to keep a record of his mounting success and developing ambition. For a writer it may be to record notes for future use in his books. For those close to great men and great events possibly it is for history’s sake. Perhaps for some it is the desire to record something of one’s life for one’s descendants so that it does not utterly vanish down the years – no man’s life should be left a blank for his children and grandchildren. But to me the best reason is simple and clear. The 19th century English diarist Francis Kilvert expresses it like this: “Why do I keep this voluminous diary? I can hardly tell. Partly because life appears to me such a curious and wonderful thing that it almost seems a pity that even such a humble and uneventful life as mine should pass altogether away without some record as this.”
- The fragility of freedom and democracy. William Hazlitt, the best essayist England has ever produced except possibly for George Orwell, said it for all of us for all time: “Liberty is short and fleeting, a transient grace that lights upon the earth by stealth and at long intervals … But power is eternal.” There is not a day that passes when mankind is free from “the claims of barefaced power” (another Hazlitt phrase). And power has so many expert ways of recruiting public opinion on its side through force, fraud, reward or flattery that it is hard to resist in any age. Man is attracted to power and to freedom – the tug-of-war is eternal and power usually wins. “Ye are many – they are few”, Shelley said, addressing, he believed, the lovers of liberty. He was wrong. Power appeals directly to our interests, freedom appeals to our opinion. And it requires immense resolution for anyone to give up his interest to assert his opinion. A country is fortunate when it has its fair share of such resolute men and women. Only the strongest and clearest conviction can support them when they are in the losing minority in the power game. Thank god for them.
- The bedrock of marriage. You can generally recognize a good marriage, but it is hard to tie down the details. Generally it is made up of quiet, contented days succeeding one another for all the time allowed. But it need not be so. A good marriage can last through tempests. Consider the marriage of the playwright Enid Bagnold and Sir Rodwrick Jones, chief of Reuters: it was a continual tumult, each had several liaisons, yet they both considered their marriage the greatest success. On their 25th anniversary she wrote: “Oh, my beloved companion …what fun we have had … I couldn’t live without you”. Behind the curtains of their life were “the entrancing gossip of bedroom life, the crackles of spirited annoyance, the candlelit battleground, the truces, the fun, the rage, the love”. But no description or explanation can easily capture the essence of a good marriage.