“It would be a form of suicide”.
Many people ask me what Dick Perceval would have thought about his journals being made public in this way. I have no way of knowing, although a couple of weeks ago, I received an email from a friend of Dick’s who said of the series, “Dick would be very touched...he was an emotional person and would have been shy at the attention but deeply appreciative...”
I have often wondered if Dick intended his journals to reach an audience. Here are some of the journal entries from over the years, where he mulls over what his journals are for, and if they are intended for a wider audience.
In 1928, when he is 19 years old and working at a business called Steels and Co, he writes,
“I don't know that there is really much point into keeping a diary any more, I don't know quite why I write, or why I ever started writing a diary. It was so long ago, when I was still boy, a child, when I was free still. I believe I intended it to be help to me when I wrote my memoirs when I was a famous diplomat, or something like that. How pathetic. But now a business man does not need to write his memoirs. May 12th 1928
The next day, he continues,
It is worth while keeping a diary, even now. For in it is the spirit of my boyhood and the deeds of earlier days. All are in it, captured forever. So that when I am old I shall always have my youth, my past with me. My diary could have an influence on me. I shall try to write it solely with the view to capturing the present, so that it may always be there, always real. I look upon my diary in quite a new light. I have new faith in my diary. The past shall always be present." May 13th 1928
A year later, on buying a new notebook, he writes.
“This is rather awful book to be my diary, especially after the last one, but I cannot afford such a book again and then, I fear my thoughts and doings are no longer worthy of such a book. However, this book is very practical and one should judge a book by its contents, rather than by the quality of the paper and the binding. Anyway, I’m delighted to keep a diary once more, it is like returning to an old friend whom one is just as glad to meet in a little bungalow as in the palace.
But now I keep a diary for a very different purpose than before. I think there will never be a biography, and never be a Sir Richard, not now. And yet, there may be a Sir Richard, though he is not likely to be knighted by any human living king. I shall write here for one purpose only now – that my youth may live forever and never be lost to me.” Feb 17th 1929
In 1930, he reads back through his old journals...
"I read all my diaries through from beginning to end last week. Some of the early parts gave me a pain in the stomach. Most of it seems awfully silly. I must stick to my rule only to put the beautiful things of my life into my diary, the things I shall like to remember." May 25th 1930
In 1931, he writes of the pleasure that writing in his diary gives him, and suggests what should happen to them on his death.
“I never get any time for writing here nowadays which is great pity, as there is a particular pleasure in writing a diary. It is a mad kind of pleasure really, quite useless, merely an enjoyable way of spending an idle hour or so. It is a more profitable occupation than doing one of the crosswords perhaps, but surely far less profitable than reading a good book or writing to Frida – at least she would benefit if I were to do that. No, there is no excuse for keeping a diary of this sort except that it is a pleasant recreation. The mere gliding of my pen over the paper is, in itself, delightful. I like forming the very letters with an occasional flourish, or squiggle, as I may feel inclined. I am rather peculiar person. No other young man of my age would ever write such a diary. Most probably it is just a form of acute egotism. However, it is a very harmless form and my life is interesting to me, not so much because it is my life, but because it is the only life I shall ever know really intimately. My diary forms an interesting record of the life of the young man. And then, it is not true to say that what I have written has been wholly unprofitable to me. No, the truth is that this kind of writing is really my metier. For me is quite effortless and amusing. Of course, it is very formless and perhaps without any literary merit, but that doesn’t matter. C’est moi. It is the natural expression of myself. At least it has the advantage of not being written to make money, which sometimes makes me suspect that my diary is pure literature. I am not sure.
The funny thing is that I hardly ever read again what I have written and, during my lifetime, it is not likely anyone else will read it either. When I die, I do not think I shall destroy my diaries. I shall probably leave them to some discrete person to do what he likes with them. But as long as I live they are written to myself alone”.
Aug 27th 1931
In 1932, aged 23, he considers again whether these journals were being written for publication. He reads The Journals of Arnold Bennett, although he feared that it might influence how he approaches the writing of his own journals https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.45427
“I saw at once that whereas Bennett was chiefly, almost entirely concerned with descriptions of the world outside, mine is more a record of the inner world. I have mostly recorded only that which has been connected with my own personal development, either directly or indirectly. Mine is a record of life as it affects me, whereas Bennett’s journals are, in the most part, sketches of life quite independent of its relation to Bennett.
I’m very glad to have read the volume. The points which occurred to me are that I must read only worthwhile books, apart from those I have to review. Secondly, my own diaries will henceforth be promoted to the dignity of the term journals – quite justifiably I think.
His journals made me think much about my own, and their raison d’être. I also try to include more of the outside world and avoid excessive introspection. But chiefly I have wondered whether to keep my own journal more seriously henceforth, and with a definite object of publication (if it should be thought of sufficient interest) to take place only after my death, and then only if it should be sufficiently edited to avoid hurting any living person or causing any unnecessary grievances. I shall be giving considerable thought to this matter during the next few days. It seems to me however that there must be comparatively few journals recording man’s life from his 15th year onwards in a similar fashion. Whilst there is little or no attempt to create a work of art in any of the entries, they do, nevertheless form a sincere record of the life of a young man and therefore are not without a certain value, perhaps a greater value than an autobiography wherein it is easy for the writer to be wise after the event in retrospection. It is my opinion that my diaries, whilst displaying little enough literary merit, would be of value to readers who were intelligent enough to be able to draw conclusions from the clues which are often quite unconsciously given. The two qualifications necessary, honesty and a certain talent for selection." June 26th 1932
The very next day he writes,
"Decided today that I don’t care a damn what happens concerning my diary, And that I shall continue writing it just how and when I feel inclined, And without any ulterior motive.
It is a habit, and that is all there is to be said." June 27th 1932
In 1933, he reflects on what he will and will not write about in his diary. He writes,
"Sorina was so sweet to me last night. I felt more glad to have Sorina than ever before. All is so good between us now – unbelievably good.
Too lovely for me to spoil it by writing about it? Why do I not write about it? I have a feeling that it is better not to write about the most precious moments we have together. It is the fear of compromising Sorina. What she gives me, is for me alone, and must remain a sweet secret between us. Which shows that I do not really write this diary for myself alone –whatever I may think. But events of this nature are for myself alone, and I do not need to write of them as there is no possibility of my ever forgetting them." March 16th 1933
In 1966 aged 57, he returns to the question of his journal being read by someone else after his death. He feels that to destroy them would be a form of suicide.
"Joan and Gordon McKenzie came to dinner one night and we much enjoyed having them. Knowing that he keeps a diary regularly every day, like me, I discussed the subject with Mac. The point which I had in mind was whether one really writes for oneself alone or with an eye to a future reader. I asked him if, say, a cousin had been staying with them for a week, he would write “ Theresa stayed for a week” or “My cousin Theresa stayed for a week?" He said that he would write the latter and agreed that he had a future reader largely in mind when keeping his diary. That is probably how the best diaries are written, although Peyps is certainly an exception. Originally, I wrote from a kind of necessity to do so and partly because I felt that what I wrote would be useful to me to know in future years. More recently I have been trying to clarify my own, present thoughts on the subject. On the one hand, I suppose that truthful account of any persons life, if well written, can have a certain value of its own; on the other hand, as I grow older, I am increasingly aware that for whatever purpose one may write, a diary is liable to be read by someone else after one’s death - unless one expressly ensures its destruction, which I imagine that very few diary writers can in fact bring themselves to do. It would be a form of suicide." November 25th 1966
In 1974, aged 65, as he reaches the end of another notebook, he writes,
"Now that I have come to the end of this volume I am seriously wondering whether there is any point in continuing these journals. It is now just 50 years since I first started writing them. I feel rather like a ship which has come to the end of its voyage and is laid up in harbour. Life has become so uneventful here and at my present age." July 21st 1974