Other Journal Keepers

People from all walks of life have kept journals


Louisa May Alcott, (1832-1888) American novelist

She began keeping a diary as a young girl.


Anne Bradstreet, a Puritan, America's first published poet

She wrote private poetry and prose that give a glimpse into her inner spiritual life which gave her life deeper meaning.


Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) kept a journal of his voyages.

"Once ashore they saw very green trees, many streams, and fruits of different kinds. The Admiral called to the two captains and to the others who jumped ashore...and said that they should bear faith and witness how he before them all was taking, as in facthe took, possession of the said island for the King and Queen, their Lord and Lady, making the declarations that are required, as is set forth at length in the testimonies which were there taken down in writing...What follows are the formal words of the Admiral, in his Book of the First Navigation and Discovery of these Indies.

"I," says he, "in order that they might develop a very friendly disposition towards us, because I knew that they were a people who could better be freed and converted to our Holy Faith by love than by force, gave to some of them red caps and to others glass beads, which they hung on their necks, and many other things..."  (from The Journal of the First Voyage of Christopher Columbus, The Discovery of the East Indies, Friday, 12 October 1492.)


John Donne (1573-1631)one of the great English poets

dean of St. Paul's Cathedral, London's largest church

While dean, three waves of the Great Plague killed one third of the people in London and sent another one third fleeing to the country. Then spots appeared on Donne's body, and for six weeks he and the doctors thought he had the plague. Yancey writes in Soul Survivor, "During this dark time Donne, forbidden to read or study but permitted to write, composed the book Devotions. While lying in bed, convinced he was dying, he carried on a no-holds-barred wrestling match with God almighty and recorded it for posterity. That ancient book has served me as an indispensable guide in thinking about pain...Donne is trenchant without being blasphemous, profound without being abstract or impersonal. He has changed forever the way I think about pain and death and how my faith speaks to these inevitable crises." (207)  Yancey continues: "I have read many words on the problem of pain, and written some myself. Nowhere, however, have I found such a concentrated, wise meditation on the human condition as in the journal John Donne kept during the weeks of his illness, as he lay preparing to die. Having braced himself to wrestle with God, he instead found himself in the arms of a merciful Physician, who tenderly guided him through the crisis so that he could emerge to give comfort and hope to others." ( 224)

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), the third President of Princeton

He and Benjamin Franklin are considered the most prominent thinkers and influential figures in 18th century American culture. His private writings speak of the power of God revealed in the beauty of nature.

Jim Elliot, missionary

His wife, Elisabeth, edited and published Jim's journal, The Journals of Jim Elliot.

Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi

Yancey in Soul Survivor writes: "Mahatma was trying to teach the young boy to keep an anger diary. 'It is normal for you to feel anger," he said. "What matters is how you channel that anger.' He asked Arun to pause each time he had angry feelings, and in the heat of the moment to write down all his thoughts and feelings. Then, the next day, after the emotions had cooled, he should go back and read the diary, and reflect on how to channel that power for good..."Write down whatever makes you angry." ...For the next several weeks, Mahatma coached his grandson on controlling his expression of emotions. "He taught me to master myself,' Arun recalled. 'It took many more months of practice after I returned home. But in time I saw that it set me free. I had been a helpless victim of my own passions. Now I was learning to be the master.' Arun emigrated to the U.S. and is head of the MK Ganhdi Institute of Nonviolence. He writes: "I could never have taken the abuse and even physical violence involved in the campaign for civil rights in South Africa had I not learned that lesson as a twelve-year-old." (Soul Survivor, Phil Yancey, 167-68)

Dr. C. Everett Koop, Surgeon General under President Reagan

Almost 20 million American quit smoking during his term, and he gave himself to champion the cause of the disenfranchised: handicapped children, the elderly, people in need of organ transplantation, and women and children who were being battered and abused. He faced enormous public criticism and personal tragedy. His personal journal was published as Sometimes Mountains Move; it chronicles his reflections during the Koop's grief at the death of their 20 year old son.

Sarah Kemble Knight (1666-1727)

Her journal describes her trip on horseback from Boston to New York City in the early 1700's. She writes of "God's goodness" getting her safely to her destination.

Cotton Mather (1663-1728)

Published over 400 books and sermons during his lifetime. His Diary was not published until 1911. He had a great mind, but was frustrated in his professional career and suffered personal tragedy. His private writing includes passages of deeply spiritual writing as well as expressions of his daily frustrations and sorrow. He was a "man in whom there was so much good, and yet so many failings and frailties."

Jack McConnell, creator of the Tine Test for tuberculosis, Tylenol, and MRI technology

Henri Nouwen, (1932-1996) professor at Harvard, Yale, and Notre Dame. Author, lecturer, priest

He taught at the University of Notre Dame, Yale Divinity School and Harvard Divinity School for over twenty years. Then he went on to work with mentally and physically handicapped people at the L'Arche Daybreak community in Richmond Hill, Ontario. His book, Inner Voice of Love, is the diary he kep from December 1987 to June 1988 during one of his most serious bouts with clinical depression. He writes: "To my surprise, I never lost the ability to write. In fact, writing became part of my struggle for survival. It gave me the little distance from myself that I needed to keep from drowning in my despair." (Inner Voice of Love, p. xiv-xvi)

Sir Ghillean Prance, Economic Botanist

Mary Rowlandson (1637?-1722?) was a pastor's wife who lived in Lancaster, 30 miles west of Boston

She and her three children were taken captive by Native Americans. She was separated from her older two children, and nine days into her captivity, her six year old died. Her narrative account is quite a testimony of the strength she found in the Lord during an incredibly dark twelve weeks.

"But now, the next morning, I must turn my back upon the town, and travel with them into the vast and desolate wilderness, I knew not whither. It is not my tongue nor pen can express the sorrows of my heart, and bitterness of my spirit, that I had at this departure: but God was with me in a wonderful manner, carrying me along and bearing up my spirit, that it did not quite fail. One of the Indians carried my poor wounded babe upon a horse; it went moaning all along, I shall die, I shall die. I went on foot after it, with sorrow that cannot be expressed. At length I took it off the horse and carried it in my arms till my strength failed, and I fell down with it...yet so it must be that I must sit all this cold winter night upon the cold snowy ground, with my sick child in my arms, looking that every hour would be the last of its life, and having no Christian friend near me, either to comfort or help me. Oh, I may see the wonderful power of God, that my spirit did not utterly sink under my afflictions; still the Lord upheld me with his gracious and merciful spirit, and we were both alive to see the light of the next morning." (from The Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, The Second Remove.)

Cicely Sanders, founder of the Hospice movement

Samuel Sewall, Chief Justice of Massachusetts

The only judge in the Salem witchcraft trials that questioned their justice and recanted of his role. His diary tells of his struggles with his participation as well as his sadness over the death of his loved ones. Some passages show how he reflected on ordinary events in light of what the Lord was showing him through them:

Jan. 13 [1677]. Giving my chickens meat, it came to my mind that I gave them nothing save Indian corn and water, and yet they eat it and thrived very well, and that that food was necessary for them, how mean soever, which much affected me and convinced what need I stood in of spiritual food, and that I should not nauseat (be repulsed by) daily duties of prayer, etc. (from The Diary of Samuel Sewall.)

Edward Taylor (1642-1729), a Puritan preacher and physician

His poetry was found in Yale University Library in 1930 and is considered a monumental contribution to the history of New England life and letters. His relationship to God was his inner source for poetic expression. (See The Diary of Edward Taylor, ed. F. Murphy, 1964.)

Leo Tolstoy, Russian author

He filled hundreds of pages (13 volumes) of notebooks with his spiritual diary. Tolstoy's struggle with the gap between the world as it is and as it should be is a recurring theme.

Sonya Tolstoy, Leo's wife

She also kept a diary. She read her husband's diary throughout his life, which, according to Yancey in Soul Survivor, "inflicted on her constant pain." (Soul Survivor, pg. 126)

Rick Warren, Author of The Purpose Driven Life and pastor of Saddleback Church

William Wilberforce, (1759-1833) English Parliamentarian

In his diary on October 28, 1787 he wrote: "God Almighty has set before me two great objects: the suppression of the Slave Trade and the reformation of manners." As a politician, he committed himself to convincing the British Parliament to pass a bill outlawing slavery. As a result, he was one of the most vilified men in Europe. After 20 years of service, it was rumored that Wilberforce would be offered a cabinet post and the possibility had him captivated. By his own admission, he had 'risings of ambition.' He writes in his journal after a week of fantasizing about the possibilities: "Blessed be to God for the day of rest and religious occupation wherein earthly things assume their true size. Ambition is stunted.' Wilberforce remained true to his call to give his life to abolishing slavery. Three days before his death in 1833 (46 years after his call), slavery was abolished throughout the entire British empire.

John Winthrop ( 1588-1649)

His journal, The History of New England (1825-1826) provides a day by day look at life in America and interprets the events as the outworkings of God's will.