“You Must Remember This,” the unforgettable musical theme of the masterful 1942 film “Casablanca,” reminds us not only of the utility of the alertness to life’s crowd of daily tools, plus life’s complications and love’s fragility.
As well as such European memory giants whose fates also are locked forever to “Remembering This” are Samuel Pepys and Samuel Boswell, famed for their supreme utility of human-kind’s major memory tool: the ever useful, if easily forgotten “journal.”
The “London Journal” of James Boswell (October 29, 1740-May 19, 1795), and his universally famed “Life of Samuel Johnson,” are two universally known examples. And Boswell is often coupled in historical journal-keeping with Samuel Pepys (February 23, 1633-May 26, 1703).
Pepys was an English naval administrator and member of parliament who is now most famous for the diary he kept for a decade while still a relatively young man. He had no maritime experience but rose by patronage, hard work and his talent for administration to be the Chief Secretary to the Admiralty under King Charles II and King James II. His influence and reforms at the Admiralty were important in the early professionalization of the Royal Navy.
But it is the dramatic private diary Pepys kept from 1660 to 1669, first published in the 19th century, that is one of the most important primary sources for the English Restoration period. It provides a combination of personal revelation and eyewitness accounts of great events: the Great Plague of London, the Second Dutch War and the Great Fire of London.
Pepys’ diary, though covering only a nine-year period, is a favorite of many who consider this a habit of high value of self education and daily challenge. It is the practice that is basically a matter of serious self-discipline and the habit of closely regarding others.
For what a friend of mine calls “constant scribblers,” returning from a conversation, observing a mechanic skillfully repairing a car, shoeing a horse, events that are challenging, demanding, something “commonplace” yet instructive – the result has been pages of notes. When my wife, a friend and I spent time in Nepal several years ago, a place of course not only crammed with Buddhism, but a kickoff center for those then wishing to probe the Nepal-Tibetan border, and those Everest enthusiasts preparing for a climb.
Obviously, I returned home with hefty notebooks, crammed with most of what I saw, everyone I talked to, every Buddhist experience we had.