Foreword - by Dr Irving Finkel
Diaries are a wonderful - and often not appreciated – human phenomenon. They are usually intensely personal documents, compiled under myriad circumstances, and for very diverse reasons. Perhaps a majority of diarists never stop to ask themselves why they make such a painstaking record, but for many it becomes as necessary a prelude to going to bed as cleaning one's teeth. Diaries vary, of course, in their content, and therefore their interest to other readers, but the genre as a whole should be valued as a unique form of human testament. Small scribbled pages will outlive their author in a way that few ever visualise, and with the passage of time they come to encapsulate, in some small measure, both an individual's lifetime, and the times in which he or she lived. Diarists write for themselves, and usually tell the truth as they see it. Private diaries must rank, therefore, among the most valuable of historical records.
This status does nothing to ensure their survival. While the diaries of famous or celebrated individuals – such as the unusual Conan Doyle child-development journal given in this book - are usually cherished, the diaries of private individuals do not survive so readily. Many individuals stipulate that their diaries are to be destroyed on their death. Countless unwanted diaries are unthinkingly burned or thrown away when inherited, since people think they must be private, or too hard to decipher, or simply too bulky to look after. In this way a great historical resource slips from our grasp. But what might be private now will not be, so urgently, in one hundred years time. For this reason the present writer has started a rescue campaign to ensure the survival of unwanted private diaries, of any type, so that they can be stored and protected, to form a major resource for future historians. In this way the quiet voices of many faded generations will find a later echo, and convey their unlooked-for message to an ever more remote and unimaginable readership.
Dr Irving Finkel
Department of the Ancient Near East
The British Museum