Tales of Lives Richly Lived, but True?





“I have tried to keep diaries before,” John Steinbeck writes in a giant ledger book filled with his methodical script, “but they didn’t work out because of the necessity to be honest.”

This particular journal, on display at the Morgan Library & Museum in a compelling exhibition that opened on Friday, “The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives,” has such a modest goal — chronicling Steinbeck’s work on “The Grapes of Wrath” — that it probably does not bend the truth too much. But spend some time with these diaries, intelligently culled from the Morgan’s archives by Christine Nelson, the museum’s curator of literary and historical manuscripts, and you see how fervently the keepers of journals labor to shape accounts of themselves.

These diaries span more than the three centuries of the exhibition’s subtitle. They are the chronicles of the famous (Nathaniel Hawthorne) and obscure (Adèle Hugo, Victor’s daughter); royalty (Queen Victoria recounting her journeys in the Highlands) and pirates (Bartholomew Sharpe, who preyed on the Spanish in the 17th century); and child writers (J. P. Morgan as a 9-year-old) and writers for children (E. B. White, who used his own diaries as a sometime source). Bob Dylan’s 1973-74 travel journal of his tour with the Band is opened to his sketch of a view from a Memphis hotel room; Einstein’s 1922 travel diary is open to calculations related to electromagnetism and general relativity, written on the page’s flip side....



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