More About: A Diary of the Century by Edward Robb Ellis

I suppose I am drawn to the diary of Edward Robb Ellis because of his insatiable curiosity about everything and his desire to learn more about whatever came into his life.  He certainly had a reporter’s eye for news and what makes an interesting story.  Yet he went beyond the average reporter with “behind-the-curtain” observations on “the real story.”  I enjoyed his descriptive vignettes of the people, famous and not, that he met in his life.  I, too, study human behavior and find how people act endlessly fascinating.

He was fond of saying that an intellectual is a person excited by ideas, a concept he attributes to his wife, Ruth.  This 556 page edited diary is a page-turner for the intellectual reader.  I think the best diaries not only tell what happened, but how the diarist felt and what the diarist thought about his/her life and the world they lived in.

Ellis and I agree with Robert Louis Stevenson who said “There are not words enough in all Shakespeare to express the merest fraction of a man’s experience in an hour.”  The best diaries, like the best writing, know what to leave out.  But I am always stunned when someone tells me “I can’t keep a diary because I just don’t know what to write about.” Now that would be a person who is dead long before their death.   Ellis seemed to know what to leave out and what to bring in focus.  Some of the entries are long descriptive passages and others are short reflections only a few sentences long.  The impact can be the same.

I know that taking nearly 70 years of someone’s journal and reducing it to one book would show you only the cream of the writing.  What I suspect was left out was what I desired to read more of – the personal.  I could have been satisfied with less of the famous people and more sketches of the average.  What was kept in, that leapt from the pages, was his love of his wife Ruth and the extreme sense of loss he suffered for the 33 years without her.   Overall, this is a big, beautiful book and I highly recommend it to those who are attempting to record the story of their life.

Here are some samples of the reflections of Edward Robb Ellis:  “I define knowledge as a body of facts, and wisdom as knowledge of oneself.”  “The only thing that is really shocking is cruelty.”   “The most beautiful sound in the world is the laughter of children.”   “Occasional solitude is as necessary as food and drink.”   “As one ages time flows faster.”   “A single detail may reveal the universal in the particular.” “Years ago I made heroes of men and women with brilliant minds.  Now I admire people who are compassionate.” “Tragedy is unfulfilled potential.”  “I give you my all when I give you my attention.” “The only evil is hurting another or yourself.” Ellis believed “the invisible more significant than the visible.  For example – love.”  “Never in my life have I had an original thought.  The artist creates nothing; all he does is rearrange the pieces of reality that were born when the universe was born.  Truth slumbers within everyone.”

In 1976 Ellis published a plea for setting up an “American Diary Repository,” long before I had the same idea.  A Diary of the Century was published in 1995.  I read it in early 2001 and immediately wanted to fly to New York and meet him.  I was a few years too late.


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