The Commonplace Book



     Commonplacing is the practice of copying down personally meaningful quotes and excerpts and responding to them in a journal, or as it was called in the 17th century, a silva rerum (“a forest of things”) . The practice can be traced back to the Sophist Protagoras. Used in education for centuries, and kept by many famous authors including Virginia Woolf, George Eliot, Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, Commonplace books reached their peak in the late Renaissance and are the root stock of modern blogging.

     “Time was when readers kept commonplace books. Whenever they came across a pithy passage, they copied it into a notebook under an appropriate heading, adding observations made in the course of daily life…They belonged to a continuous effort to make sense of things, for the world was full of signs: you could read your way through it; and by keeping an account of your readings, you made a book of your own, one stamped with your personality.”

Robert Darnton, “Extraordinary Commonplaces,” The New York Review of Books, December 21, 2000


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