Napoleon congratulates Josephine on her (bogus?) pregnancy

Napoleon and Josephine were married in March, 1796, just days before he departed to take charge of the French army in Italy. In love with his new wife, Napoleon sent her passionate letters and begged her to join him. Josephine, however, preferred to continue her fashionable life in Paris, and to this end she confided to Murat, Napoleon's confidante, that she was pregnant.

Waiting for Ginsberg

When psychiatrists, Marxists, anarchists, and politicos converged on London in 1967 for the Congress of the Dialectics of Liberation, the young Iain Sinclair was there with camera in hand. He and a friend tracked down Allen Ginsberg, counterculture superstar, and interviewed him for their film Ah! Sunflower. In today's guest post, Sinclair describes how he created Kodak Mantra Diaries, a self-published account of that exhilarating summer, combining photographs, personal notes, and reportage into a sort of retrospective diary. A copy is on view in The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives.

What is a Diary?

We all know that a diary is a private notebook where we write about our days and our thoughts. But is it?

In today's post, curator Christine Nelson introduces a new blog to accompany the Morgan's exhibition The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives, opening on January 21.

"What female heart can gold despise? What cat's averse to fish?"

Horace Walpole once asked his friend Thomas Gray to write an epitaph for his cat Selima, who had recently drowned in a large Goldfish Tub. Gray responded by composing a Horatian ode, noting in a letter that it was "rather too long for an epitaph."

This autograph fair copy of his "Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes" dates to ca. 1757, the same year that Gray was offered (but declined) the Poet Laureateship. The poem tells the story of "the hapless nymph" who "stretched in vain to reach the prize" of two goldfishes, and drowned as a consequence. The poem first appeared anonymously, and is one of only 14 poems that Gray published during his lifetime.

Robert Burns on Auld Lang Syne

In the early 1790s the Scottish music collector George Thomson approached Robert Burns, asking for help in compiling and editing his Select Collection of Original Scotish Airs. Burns readily agreed (although with the proviso that his name not be attached to the publication), and the nearly 60 letters from Burns to Thomson that survive are filled to the brim with working and fair copies of some of Burns’s most famous songs.

One letter, written in early September of 1793, discusses in detail no fewer than 74 songs – and it is within this letter, buried nearly at the end, that we find his full text to Auld Lang Syne.

Cricket on the Hearth

Published 165 years ago today, Cricket on the Hearth: A Fairy Tale of Home was the third of Charles Dickens' Christmas books. It was immediately successful, quickly running through two editions and outselling his Christmas books from the previous two years (Christmas Carol, 1843 and The Chimes, 1844). The story is about John and Dot Peerybingle, a carrier and his wife, who are having marriage difficulties. John suspects Dot of having an affair, and consults the ever-chirping cricket on the hearth. The cricket reassures John that his fears are unfounded, and the story ends happily.

A strange photograph in Mary Millais's scrapbook

Mary Millais was the daughter of the famous Pre-Raphaelite painter Sir John Everett Millais and his wife Effie Gray (who had been previously married to the critic John Ruskin). This scrapbook, which was presented to Mary when she was 15, is a typical Victorian compilation of letters, photographs, and clipped signatures -- and just about everyone represented in it is (or was at the time) a famous public figure. She has pasted in letters to her father from Anthony Trollope, Robert Browning and Wilkie Collins, and the clipped signatures include a few of King George IV and novelist Henry James.

Dickens and his Shower-Bath: "I don't care for the possibility of a Tepid Shower"

On July 14, 1851, Charles Dickens expressed his interest in Tavistock House to his brother-in-Law Henry Austin. A mere 11 days later, he put down £1,542 for a 45-year lease of the grand 18-room mansion in the Bloomsbury section of London.

With Austin’s help, Dickens oversaw the remodeling of Tavistock, concerning himself with the most minute of details, down to the picture rods and pantry shelving. By early September he had "estimated every new thing in the way of furniture and fitting that will be wanted" and found that "the figures are rather stunning."

A Company of Adventurers at Plymouth Plantation

Some of the earliest surviving descriptions of Plymouth Plantation are in the letters of Emanuel Altham.

Captain of the Little James, Altham made two voyages to New England between 1623 and 1625, and his letters provide lengthy accounts of the "Company of Adventurers" and their rugged outpost. In this 1623 letter, Altham describes the plantation at Pautext: "It is well situated upon a high hill close unto the seaside ... In this plantation is about twenty houses, four or five of which are very fair and pleasant."

Coleridge reworks several poems in his 1796 notebook

Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1796 notebook contains eight of his poems.

The opening lines of Coleridge’s “Lines on a Friend Who Died of a Frenzy Fever Induced by Calumnious Reports.” This is one of four extant manuscripts of the poem.

Extensive revisions and corrections throughout show that this was a working notebook, and Ernest Hartley Coleridge, the poet’s grandson, refers to it as the “MS quarto copy-book” in his 1912 The Complete Poetical Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The first portion of the copy-book contains two fragments and six complete poems, including “Songs of the Pixies,” “Lines to a Beautiful Spring in a Village,” and “Lines on a Friend Who Died of a Frenzy Fever Induced by Calumnious Reports.”