Beatnik William Burroughs’s dreams, English art critic John Ruskin’s chess moves, and Bob Dylan’s never-ending tour would seem to have little in common.
All three, however, are chronicled in a remarkable exhibit at The Morgan Library and Museum on personal diaries. Long before there were blogs, people actually wrote their jottings in notebooks.
The exhibition in New York, titled “The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives,” which is open until May 22, shows just how varied such entries can be. Visitors can squint at Charlotte Bronte’s tiny letters, which are nearly impossible to read without a magnifying glass. Forget English diarist Samuel Pepys’s entries altogether: He wrote in a shorthand that resembles a kind of military code. Diaries allow the viewer to tune in (so to speak), to the thoughts and action of Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame) on the opening night of “Pirates of Penzance.” (Spoiler: He downs 12 oysters and a glass of champagne.)