Not Keeping a Journal? Unfortunately, Neither Did William Shakespeare

August 18, 2014  - by 

After four hundred years of intensive research into the life and works of William Shakespeare, we know almost nothing about the personal life of the most famous writer in the history of the English language. Only about a hundred documents related to William Shakespeare and his immediate family have been found: baptismal records, property deeds, marriage bonds, tax certificates, and court records—nothing about him personally.

Shakespeare’s works are all we know about him. We can study, along with the scholars, his plays, poems, songs, and sonnets and discover something of what life was like for him. “The songs in the plays themselves illustrate many sides of Shakespeare’s genius—his incomparable lyric gift, his ready humor, and his marvelous sensitivity to the sights and sounds of English life, especially the life of the country” Norton Anthology of English Literature, vol. 1 Third Edition, 1962, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 820.

However, because he did not keep a journal, we don’t know, and probably never will, if he was happy or sad, if he liked sunsets and long walks by the Thames, whether he liked music, what his favorite foods were, if he enjoyed company or preferred to be alone. Some of his plays are set in other countries, and we don’t even know if he ever left England.

Many people wonder what their great grandparents were like, and our children will probably wonder the same about us. The peace and pleasure that descendants can find in discovering what their ancestors loved and hated, what their trials and triumphs were, and how they faced challenges can only be found if a journal is kept. Birth and death dates may be easily found, but we can only imagine the grief that our ancestors felt when a child died, or the happiness when someone married or a new baby came into their lives. It’s never too late to start keeping a journal. Just a couple of sentences every few days would give your descendants a picture of yourself they wouldn’t otherwise have, but a journal is not just for our descendants, but for all of us to live and grow spiritually and receive revelation from the Lord.

President Henry B. Eyring reminds us, “And a book of remembrance was kept, in the which was recorded, in the language of Adam, for it was given unto as many as called upon God to write by the spirit of inspiration (Moses 6:5)”(“Recognize, Remember, and Give Thanks,” Ensign, Aug. 2013, 4, . emphasis added).

President Eyring adds, “The Apostle John recorded what the Savior taught us about a gift of remembrance that comes through the gift of the Holy Ghost: ‘But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you’ (John 14:26)”. President Eyring, calls this type of journal “inspired writing. He quoted President Kimball, who “described it in these words: ‘Those who keep a book of remembrance are more likely to keep the Lord in remembrance in their daily lives. Journals are a way of counting our blessings and of leaving an inventory of these blessings for our posterity’” (4).

Elder Mervyn B. Arnold of the Seventy in the August 2013 Ensign in his article, “A New Writing” also refers to personal revelation: “One morning I found myself reading about the Liahona: ‘And there was also written upon [the pointers] a new writing, which was plain to be read, which did give us understanding concerning the ways of the Lord; and it was written and changed from time to time, according to the faith and diligence which we gave unto it’ (1 Nephi 16:29; emphasis added)” “A New Writing,” Ensign, Aug. 2013, 30.

He continues, “I realized that here the Lord has given us a pattern for receiving ‘a new writing,’ or personal revelation . . . . Receiving a new writing will happen only ‘according to the faith and diligence and heed’ we give to the pattern. (See 1 Nephi 16:23, 16, 26, 28.)” (30-31).

Later in the article, Elder Arnold writes, “Our new writings, our own personal revelations, can be greatly enhanced as we ponder how small and simple things can greatly change our lives and the lives of our loved ones. President Brigham Young (1801–77) stated, ‘Our lives are made up of little, simple circumstances that amount to a great deal when they are brought together, and sum up the whole life of the man or woman; and yet in our passing from one to another our little acts and incidents seem to be very minute or simple, but we find that they amount to a great deal’” (30).

Elder Arnold concludes, “And may we, through our faith and diligence . . . receive ‘a new writing’—personal revelation that blesses our lives with ‘understanding concerning the ways of the Lord’” (30).

Shakespeare as a person will forever remain a mystery, much to the disappointment of the thousands of dedicated researchers. Because we have the teachings of the Gospel, we can fill our lives and the lives of our descendants with love, gratitude, and an understanding of the gifts of the Lord.

It’s also easy to post selected stories by and about you and your ancestors on using the Memories feature. Start now. Someday, many years from now, someone will thank and honor you.


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  1. I have started a journal plenty of times and when I read what I have written I just stop and tare it up because I do not like what I have written. I know that we all should keep a record of our lives but how do we wright something that we can be proud of ? I will some day start again and hopefully I can do it right.

    1. For people who don’t feel like they are good writers or don’t like to write, try sharing your life through the spoken word. You can USE a tape recorder or use your iPhone and start telling your life story, one story at a time. Soon you will be able to download your narrated stories to your own FamilySearch page without even having to transcribe them.

      If you would like to have your spoken stories transcribed into a written text file, you can use a program called DRAGON. It’s a voice recognition program that allows you to speak and the program transcribes your stories into written text.

      There are a LOT of options available to record your life story even if you don’t think you are a good writer. But PLEASE, make the effort and create something for your posterity. They will treasure your life story, Remember, it is impossible to love someone you don’t know.

  2. What an excellent compilation of some of the best and deepest insights on journals which have ever been expressed by the Lord’s special servants! Now your compilation becomes a document of immense inspiration to others. Many thanks, from Australia, Glen Greener!