Leading article: Writer's block

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The Independent Online

Lady Wyatt says she has been forbidden access to part of her husband's diaries - the 300,000-odd words that have not been published since his death in 1997. The widow of the chronicler of high society in the Thatcher era says she is upset that so many of his thoughts remain closed to her - unless Macmillan chooses to bring them to light in another volume.

It is easy to criticise Lord Wyatt for having, presumably, struck an agreement to that effect with his publishers. But he may have been inspired by higher motives than she realises. Many spouses, children or close friends of famous men and women have been so shocked by the unexpurgated thoughts of those they held dear that they wished to destroy them. Byron's friends burned many of his papers, to our great loss. The daughter of the radical politician and journalist John Wilkes burned his over-frank autobiography. The widow of the famous explorer, Sir Richard Burton, burned her husband's papers. Even Queen Victoria's diaries were mutilated by her daughter, Princess Beatrice, who cast the juicier jottings into the flames.

Samuel Pepys, of course, got round this difficulty by writing parts of his diary in code. But had he not, who knows what his family might have done to those intriguing descriptions of his sexual encounters?

The art of writing in code is probably beyond today's diarists, and handwriting is also in decline, which suggests that Lord Wyatt may not have many successors. In the meantime, we must assume that when he decided to shield his family from his unedited thoughts, he knew what he was doing.