The practice of squashing a record of anecdotes, drawings, proverbs and prayers and miscellanea into one volume in the form of a Commonplace Book was a very popular pastime in the 18th and 19th century, and if you were to compare this practice to 21st century social media, it was not unlike a modern day Pinterest. The word ‘commonplace’ suggests something run-of-the-mill or humdrum, but the information contained within these lovely little volumes provides an interesting insight into trends and fashions of past times. There was no particular rule for what should appear in such albums, personal preference governed what was included; while they do not reveal any intimate thoughts or emotions, a personality is conveyed through a humorous sketch or a poetic entry.
A recent accession to the Library is the commonplace book of Letitia P. de Montmorency from the 1830s, which forms part of the papers of the Armstrong family of Portarlington, County Laois (TCD MS 11145). It is filled with beautifully transcribed poetry, dried leaves, newspaper cuttings, and unusually, numerous sketches of Spanish bullfights, which may have been drawn by Letitia’s son Harvey. The poetry is either highly sentimental or, as with this extract, humorous:
‘…Tell him to leave off drinking wine
Tell him to break himself of smoking
Tell him to go to bed at nine
The hours he keeps are too provoking
Tell him I hope he won’t get fat
Tell him to act with due reflection
Tell him to wear a broad rimmed hat
Or he will ruin his complection…’
The collection also includes a very detailed early-20th century farm diary and a photograph album composed by an officer in the 25th King’s Own Borderers in Spain in the 1860s.