Many people keep a journal, filling it with musings, memories, and thoughts about their lives and loves. But how many people transcribe interesting quotes? How many write down song lyrics, herbal remedies, or just interesting trivia that they learn? Just recently I have come a across an interesting idea: the commonplace book. A commonplace book is basically a repository of information that otherwise would have no ordered place. It differs from a journal in that it is not necessarily in chronological or topical order, but rather it is created as interesting things are discovered.
Such great thinkers as John Milton, Emerson, and Thoreau kept commonplace books, writing down anecdotes, quotes, and passages from the classics for further perusal. Some of the great learned men of ancient times considered it a must to collect such things. Consider Erasmus, who said: “Anyone who wants to read through all types of authors (for once in a lifetime all literature must be read by anyone who wishes to be considered learned) will collect as many quotations as possible for himself.”
Now there are many contemporary analogies to the commonplace book. From Tumblr and Facebook to Evernote and blogging, there are ways to collect information and record it for future use. But there is something about the act of writing it down with a pen that appeals to me still. Even with the convenience of technology, some things seem meant to be done by hand. That is why I am going to start keeping a commonplace book of my own.
My book will perhaps be integrated with my journal, forming a kind of hybrid book. Currently I have a ton of clippings in Evernote and a number of bookmarked web pages just waiting to be transcribed into my new book. With the internet at our fingertips, the amount of knowledge we have access to is astounding. In this day and age, no one has any excuse for ignorance.
Let me know in the comments whether you have heard of commonplace books before, and your thought on the whole idea!