William Prynne (1660-1669), a contemporary of Samuel Pepys and a Puritan attorney, was rigorous on the subject of diaries. He held a grudge against William Laud, the Archbishop of Canterbury, a diarist, his political enemy and prosecutor. Prynne served time in the Tower of London, prosecuted by Laud, and eventually had his ears cropped after alienating the queen by publishing a pamphlet condemning actresses as whores (Queen Henrietta had acted in a play). Later, when Laud was imprisoned under another government, Prynne went so far as to dig up Laud’s diary in his room in the Tower of London. He published a redacted edition of the diary, and Laud was eventually executed.
Prynne said about diaries:
An exact Diary is a window into his heart that maketh it and therefore pity it is that any should look therein but either the friends of the party or such ingenuous foes as will not, especially things doubtful, make conjectural comments to his disgrace.”
Diaries are dangerous, perhaps more dangerous than ever in the age of the internet.
A friend told me that she didn’t dare write down anything that might offend her husband or children. I couldn’t imagine what she found to write. Gossip made the best copy for my own diaries. I stopped keeping them years ago, but I still have one, a record of the social life of my friends and (fr)enemies in college. It makes me laugh. It is, of course, not for publication.
I suppose the most dangerous forms of diaries these days are email, Facebook, and Twitter. People have lost jobs for tidbits in email, which go around and around and around forever, and Facebook, which anybody can read. Divorce attorneys use Facebook in their cases against cheaters. Twitter has made some people look really bad: Alice Hoffman called a reviewer who belittled her book a moron and published her phone number.
Some of my favorite blogs, since deleted, were personal. I was fascinated by the life of a witty woman in Texas–barbecues, tennis, and baking– and a photographer in Cambridge. When the photographer announced he was stepping down, he promised me he would let me know if he started another blog. I haven’t heard from him yet.