Common Place Books

“Paradoxically though it may seem, it is none the less true that life imitates art far more than art imitates life.”
–Oscar Wilde

When I was little, I kept a notebook, notebooks actually and journals.  I would write almost everything- everything in my line of interest.


I noted birth dates, anniversary dates, dates that were of significant meaning to me. I noted in  words whose meanings/definition I had no idea (so I could later look them up). I did most of my random writing there. I noted quotes, extracted paragraphs and statements from novels and books I would be reading.


They were my best friends these books; they were the only ones with whom I could freely express my self  and say what exactly was on my mind.I still have most these scrapbooks; I lost my favourite one however, a pocket notebook, which included some of my best quotes.

Anyhow, what is this all about again?

Today I was going through wordpress good reads and stuff, and I stumbled upon a link  where people post their quotable quotes.   


 Kay asks if people have any quotes from commonplace books.

People ask what a commonplace book is.

Kay posts a definition from Wikipedia.


“Commonplace books (or commonplaces) emerged in the 15th century with the availability of cheap paper for writing, mainly in England. They were a way to compile knowledge, usually by writing information into books. They were essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: medical recipes, quotes, letters, and poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas.

Readers, writers, students, and humanists used commonplaces as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts they had learned. Each commonplace book was unique to its creator’s particular interests.

… Both Emerson and Thoreau were taught to keep commonplace books at Harvard (their commonplace books survive in published form). Commonplacing was particularly attractive to authors. Some, such as Coleridge and Mark Twain, kept messy reading notes that were intermixed with other quite various material; others, such as Thomas Hardy, followed a more formal reading-notes method that mirrored the original Renaissance practice more closely. The older, “clearinghouse” function of the commonplace book, to condense and centralize useful and even “model” ideas and expressions became less popular over time.

Critically, many of these works are not seen to have literary value to modern editors. However, the value of such collections is the insights they offer into the tastes, interests, personalities and concerns of their individual compilers. From the standpoint of the psychology of authorship, it is noteworthy that keeping notebooks is in itself a kind of tradition among litterateurs. A commonplace book of literary memoranda may serve as a symbol to the keeper, therefore, of the person’s literary identity (or something psychologically not far-removed), quite apart from its obvious value as a written record.

That commonplace books (and other personal note-books) can enjoy this special status is supported by the fact that authors frequently treat their notebooks as quasi-works, giving them elaborate titles, compiling them neatly from rough notes, recompiling still neater revisions of them later, and preserving them with a special devotion and care that seems out of proportion to their apparent function as working materials.” 

Just thought its great to have this on my blog; especially because I had no idea that my numerous little notebooks had a name- Commonplace Books.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Hey Phebes. Love this post. I kept so many notebooks too! They’re all in storage in New York. When my stuff was stolen last year I canceled my credit card and forgot all about the storage place. They tried to call me, but of course, I was in Africa! They were about to incinerate my stuff when they finally got ahold of my mom who gave them my new credit card number. All I could think was, thank goodness! My journals! I didn’t care about all my old shoes or clothes, I feel so distant from those, but my old writing, that I want to keep forever.

    I love Oscar Wilde too. Have you read “A Portrait of Dorian Gray”? It’s one of my FAVORITE books of all time. I hope you can get it here. Maybe Aristoc at Garden City?? If not, I’ll bring it for you when I go to the States in December. It’s a long way off, but seriously, this book is worth the wait! But you have to remind me before I go!

    I also used to have a book where I wrote down quotations I liked. It’s also in storage, so I can’t remember some of the more obscure ones, but here’s one I remember and I could find on google:

    “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea”
    Antoine de Saint-Exupery. (by the way, he’s also super cool if you google that dude)

  2. Phoebe says:

    and that’s why I love you SL. am going to check out Aristock
    if they dont have it, then i will wait until december
    And Oscar Wilde is one of my heroes.

    thank you, am begining to feel confortable with
    my love (and watever else) for numerous note books and journals, i used to think
    i was the only one.

  3. antipop says:

    mourning my common place books

    not that i knew thats wat they were called before i read this
    but i am in mourning for mine
    ever since i could read and write(make that 13yrs)
    i took down everything that made me shake wit laughter, ponder the intricacies of life, or that was just plain stupid.
    infact, my journals got me in trouble wit my dad once coz well, lets just say i was not exactly friendly to him there in.

    as a result, i learned to move wit my little books everywhere i went and that is how i lost them.
    once at caampus, we left the tap open in the night, and when i woke up the next morning, my room was flooded. i had an early morning exam so i left my room mate to do the cleaning up.

    it was weeks later when i checked under my bed only to find that she had thrown away the stash of some wet old books! i never forgave her.

    today i feel lost, cheated, robbed and defiled for the loss of those memories that i held so dear.

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