|Some commonplace books from our household|
Silva rerum is Latin for “forest of things”, a synonym from the 17th century for a commonplace book. A forest of things really does sum up what types of entries you might find in one of these journals. Commonplacing, or the act of keeping a commonplace book, is a worthwhile and vibrant activity for any reader. Think of the precious record you would have of your intellectual, emotional, and spiritual history. Think of how future generations might be blessed!
It is very helpful to read with a commonplace book or reading-diary, in which to put down any striking thought in your author, or your own impression of the work, or of any part of it; but not summaries of facts. Such a diary, carefully kept through life, should be exceedingly interesting as containing the intellectual history of the writer; besides, we never forget the book that we have made extracts from, and of which we have taken the trouble to write a short review. -Mason, Vol. 5 p. 260
For the new year, why not resolve to keep a commonplace book? Once you begin the habit, you can easily see the benefits. This type of book has been around for centuries but the name can be misleading for what you write in it is far from common. You write in it what you find striking, interesting, important, or intriguing. Plus, if you start now, your younger children will see this modeled and be more likely to find it a natural practice.
Charlotte Mason had students keeping their own commonplace books by around age 13. Here we have another living journal which keeps the education alive. (We have employed a method for younger children that helps to scaffold the formal commonplace book – I’ll tell you about that next time!)
I previously mentioned that Christina Rossetti (1820-1894) is our poet this term. In Georgina Battiscombe’s adequate biography, Christina Rossetti – A Divided Life I learned, much to my delight, that Christina’s mother, Frances, was once a governess and “kept a commonplace book for the benefit of her pupils…She continued the practice with her own children. The first extract in Christina’s hand, written when she was about thirteen, is George Herbert’s poem ‘Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright’ “.
Can you imagine possessing such a keepsake as your grandparents’ or even your parents’ journal? Recently, my friend Bobby Jo and her husband Josh were given his great grandfather’s commonplace books which were discovered amongst mouse-eaten magazines. One was in English and the other in German. It contained quotes from poetry, algebra problems, a few school lessons and a touching, original poem about the loss of a sibling.
|Here are my friend’s great grandfather’s books.|
Most people have heard about Thomas Jefferson’s commonplace books. The very readable biography by Clara Ingram Judson describes them nicely. My husband pointed out to me that his hero from a perennial, favorite read-aloud, Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, kept a commonplace book. It’s how Nathaniel Bowditch learned – reading, then writing, then reviewing what he wrote.
My friend, Laurie, has a blog “In My Notebook” where she records her commonplace and other notebook entries. Stop by there and see how different each entry can be – from the deep and meaningful to the light and humorous.
Do you keep a commonplace book? Do you plan on commonplacing soon?
Admiration, Hope and Love,
N.B. – The living journals that I write about will be listed on the right sidebar.