“Have you kept a regular Journal?” writes John Adams to his son. “If you have not, you will be likely to forget most of the Observations you have made.”
I want to advocate for a specific kind of journaling that pays great dividends to the classical student: the art of keeping a commonplace book.
A commonplace book is similar to a journal, but specifically oriented towards the words of others worth remembering. The result is that phrases, observations, quotes, jokes, or maxims become “commonplace” to one’s own intellect. The man or woman who commonplaces is stocking the larder of his mind. At the opportune time, he can fetch whatever provisions he needs for the occasion at hand. That occasion may be an anecdote in casual conversion, or a formal speech, or at a critical moment may serve him to convince someone to action.
There are other benefits to keeping a physical Commonplace Book as well. John Adams continued his letter to his son: “One contracts a Fondness of Writing by Use. We learn to write readily, and what is of more importance We think, and improve our Judgments, by committing our Thoughts to Paper.”