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This report is taken from PN Review 57, Volume 14 Number 1, September - October 1987.

Comment C.H. Sisson
The contribution to literature of those who do not regard themselves as writers has a special value in the twentieth century. It is perhaps impossible to write without some notion of a public, of one person at least, but that is a different matter from imagining that one is addressing the world at large or thinking of a market as one writes. In our own time there are many examples of diaries written for publication; even private correspondence has not entirely escaped the blight. The world of publicity we inhabit has destroyed an innocence which was once not uncommon.

The innocence of the past was far from complete. A man who had played a part in public affairs could hardly write without some thought of self-justification, and the same applies to those who wrote - as many did - for the edification of their descendants. None the less, these private writings are of a different character from the work of those who have half an eye - or more - on literary reputation. They have the sort of seriousness which is imposed by a limited objective; there is less room for the vaguer and sillier vanities. The silence which greets them, as they are on the way to posterity, is sobering.

The most interesting writings of this kind which have come down to us are from people who, in other social conditions, might well have appeared before the public as authors, but the fact that their virtue ...


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