Friday, February 11, 2011

The Moving Finger Writes

A few years ago I visited the Morgan Library and Museum. I knew very little about its collection but was delighted to learn that Morgan specialized in collecting "works on paper." I am very devoted to the art of hand written letters, calligraphy and keeping a journal, so I visit the Morgan Museum often.

Here you will find musical manuscripts of Mozart, Beethoven and Stravinsky; lyrics written by Bob Dylan on a napkin, Guttenberg Bibles, diaries, liturgical books and a wide variety of incunabula.

Their current exhibition, The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives features the personal journals of some of the world's greatest thinkers and writers.

On display are the original diaries of Hemingway, Charlotte Bronte, Thoreau, Anais Nin, Samuel Pepys, John Steinbeck, William S. Burroughs and Lt. Steven Mona's 9/11 journal. Albert Einstein's diary is part memoir and part textbook as he searched for a general theory of relativity; mathematical formulae meets memoir.

Text messages and email have their benefits, to be sure, but I assure you a hundred years from now a bundle of email written by Barack Obama will not be nearly as interesting as reading his personal hand written journal.

Memoir is very different from autobiography which is written with the intention of publishing for a reading  audience. Autobiography allows one to edit scenes from one's life: to paint a self portrait of how we wish to be viewed or remembered. Memoir is less self conscious of its own existence - it has no idea  that others will eventually be reading its pages. The diarist's life, loves, dreams, hopes and desires are laid bare on the page giving the reader a rare opportunity to commune privately with the author.

The Morgan Library & Museum is located on Madison Avenue at 36th Street. While there, visit their wonderful  gift shop.

The Moving Finger writes, and having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all your tears wash out a Word of it.

Quattrain 12 from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

Scribo Ergo Sum

Clifford Jacobs

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