Saturday, March 17, 2007

Family History

Reading the Autobiography, Correspondence, etc. of Lyman Beecher, I was intrigued by the following passage:

It was his favorite plan, during the latter part of his life, to write a history of his own life and times, and more than once the work was commenced, and would have been completed had it not been for the said love of finishing, and the incessant demands of practical responsibilities that never gave him time to finish.

When he had nearly reached the boundary of threescore years and ten, the hope of accomplishing the design vanished, and he appealed to his children for aid.

They gladly commenced the work, and, as the first step, the son to whom he intrusted the chief labor received and arranged his sermons, letters, and other manuscripts.

Then, in a quiet, social way, in the sitting-room of his daughter, Mrs. Stowe, he detailed the recollections of his life, which were taken down as they fell from his lips. If his memory flagged, or any facts were left obscure, he was plied with questions to elicit whatever his children deemed of interest.

Afterward, letters and other documents material to the history were incorporated, and the whole read over to him in the same social manner, drawing forth comments, and accompanied by other questions and answers, some of which were preserved. These were some of the happiest hours of his life. They would constitute by themselves, if any adequate idea could be conveyed of them, one of the most characteristic and striking portions of that life.

At subsequent times, the whole work, or material portions of it, were read over to him when others of his children were present, and their recollections preserved.

Thus the work, especially in its earlier portions, gradually grew into a conversational history by Dr. Beecher and his children. Farther on, conversation yields to correspondence a taste for which may fairly be said to be hereditary in the family. It is only with these qualifications, then, that the work can be called an Autobiography, being based upon a narrative the thread of which winds through the whole.

Lyman and Charles Beecher, The Autobiography, Correspondence, etc. of Lyman Beecher, D. D.. Harper (New York: 1864-1865) Vol. 1, pp. 14-15. It seems to me that this is the way to do an autobiography. I also wish it were more common. Imagine the treasures of memory that could be stored up in this way that otherwise would be completely lost!

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