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Friday, December 30, 2011

Silva Rerum - Commonplacing as a Habit


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,

Nancy

N.B. - The living journals that I write about will be listed on the  right sidebar.

13 comments:

  1. I started another Common Place Book in a journal from a son's girlfriend that had TO BE OR NOT BE from Hamlet on the leather cover. Started with several books : Socrates in the City by Eric Metaxas, Belief by Francis Collins , Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse. Putting a link to this to my FB page for my high school tutorial! Thanks!

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  2. I keep a few notebooks going - I love writing on paper (much more than typing on the laptop). I thank you for the nudge to encourage my 13yo to start a commonplace book. I think she would enjoy it very much (and her future self will enjoy it as well, years down the road).
    Here's to a great 2012!

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  3. I enjoy reading my great-aunt's common place journals about the everyday. Written so small in tiny journals I need a magnifying glass. But learning wonderful things about life when my mother was a child, from her aunt's perspective. Here from Bonnie's... happy new year!

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  4. Hi Nancy:

    Yes, I keep a Commonplace Book and have been doing it for ages. I write in the margins of books, and underline passages that I want to add to the collection. Currently it consists of two volumes with about 500 pages each. Quite a treasure.

    I've written about Commonplace Books on my blog, www.marksinthemargin.com and in recent books, A Commonplace Primer and earlier In the Country of Books.

    I appreciate your beautiful posting on the subject, one that isn't often blogged about. Thank you very much.

    Richard Katzev,
    rkatzev@teleport.com

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  5. Thank you so much for this post, Nancy. I can't wait to read about your commonplace book ideas for younger children.

    I recently read Carry On, Mr B and really enjoyed it, and I've been thinking to look for a bio of T Jefferson. I just ordered the one you mentioned.

    Thanks again ...

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  6. Hi Nancy~
    I've been stopping by here often--such good stuff! I also sent you an email. :o) Hope to hear from you soon.
    Blessings~
    Tina

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  7. I love this. I just got a journal for my oldest to use as a commonplace book, which will double as handwriting practice (since we want it to be beautiful and neat). She's excited that she gets to choose things that are meaningful to her, and it will be great to have such a lovely keepsake.

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  8. I learned about your blog from Richard K. My Twitter account is actually a commonplace book. Obviously only my very short quotes end up there! I've been using Evernote to "file" my quotes in general. I like that they are all in one place and I can word-search them. http://twitter.com/Skoobwoman
    .

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  9. This is a lovely idea, I hope to incorporate into our daily habits soon. I really appreciate the point of the parents setting the example and then the children will take it as a normal thing to do. So I need to get started!

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    1. Dear Erica,
      Most everything done in a Mason education should be practiced and modeled by the teachers - who know how "living" it all is! Please share about your progress sometime - I'd love to hear about it.

      Ring true,
      Nancy

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  10. I've tried to keep a commonplace book. I think I will try again. My daughter will be starting her own commonplace book as well. She will appreciate it even more later but I think she will enjoy it as she is filling it also.

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    1. Dear North Laurel,
      I hope you and your daughter can make it the rich, rewarding habit that it is! Keep me posted on your progress!

      From joy to joy,
      Nancy

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  11. Hi, Nancy! My oldest is soon to keep a commonplace journal, and I was searching for advice on introducing the concept or examples when I ran across your blog! :) Thanks (once again) for sharing!

    Sunshine,
    Beth Ann

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