Diary of a somebody

"I never travel without my diary," declared Oscar Wilde. "One should always have something sensational to read on the train."

The earliest recorded diary was aimed at the unsensational citizens of Breslau, Poland, when Bernhard Cracker published his Neu und Alter Schreib Kalendar in 1594 (to jot down their forthcoming power lunches).

It was over a century before the first recorded pocket diary was produced in Stuttgart in 1707. And it was not until 1816 that John Letts of London launched his desk diary in Britain.

The word diary comes from the Latin diarium, which derives from dies (day) and referred to a personal daily record of one's life and times. One of the earliest surviving diaries is the Kagero Nikki, kept by a Japanese noblewoman between 954 and 974AD. The earliest diary in English was by Edward VI, who came to the throne in 1547.

Samuel Pepys kept his diary meticulously from 1 January 1660 to 31 May 1669, but in a code which was not cracked until 1825. His contemporary John Evelyn scribbled away at his own records from 1641 to 1706. Jonathan Swift wrote his Journal to Stella from 1710 to 1713 and Boswell made his Journal last from 1762 to 1776. John Wesley spun his Journal out for 55 years and by the time Fanny Burney signed off from her diary in 1840 she had clocked up an incredible six decades.

The most moving diary was written in secret by Ann Frank and funniest was written by George and Weedon Grossmith. The title of their fictional work sums up most of those which will be started on next week: Diary of a Nobody.

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