John Quincy Adams is tweeting from 1808 and our own anonymous blacksmith’s apprentice is blogging away right above these very words. Following Adams’ debut on Twitter, one of the librarians from the Massachusetts Historical Society explained that, “We want to get it out there to the technophile generation … We want a wider range and new audience to see the diaries” (“John Quincy Adams, Twitterer?” by Katie Zezim in The New York Times, August 5, 2009).
The AAS is taking a different stand: we don’t just want a new audience. The Blacksmith’s blog is also for those readers who actually might hold the apprentice’s journal in the reading room — trying to hurry through his year before we turn the lights off at five. Using one of our fastest technologies (the Internet), we’re slowing down your interaction with a once-a-day diarist to a post a day. In other words, you’re on his time now.
There will always be the opportunity to reduce the lived life to a hyphen and parentheses, to train the eye to find just the momentous or tragic. But these blog posts, scheduled to correspond 140 years ago to the day, attempt to share the historical life as a daily occurrence. A place where monotony, loneliness, and cold weather mean a lot more than memory often relays, and where, at the same time, flirtations or cake can add a rosy glow to any 24-hour period.
Don’t let all the talk about dailyness mislead. This young man measured time in years and in accomplishment just like the rest of us. He analyzed his past and anticipated his future. The month of October itself was meaningful in terms of his apprenticeship. Towards the end of September as a colleague graduated to journeyman, the apprentice counseled himself, “I suppose mine will be as near out sometime if I wait but it looks a good deal ahead now, have patience my boy and persevere” (September 16, 1869).
October marked the conclusion of his first year working and learning in the Medfield, Massachusetts blacksmith shop, and he noted it in his journal:
October 2, 1869: My year is almost up only think, now time goes goes [sic] off, I hope the next two years will go as pleasant.
October 11, 1869: One year gone of my apprenticeship. Thanks be to God for his love to me the past year. My pay is to rise a quarter a day now I expect.
October 12, 1869: My New Year commences to day one third of my time gone another third commences.
“Another week is begun soon it will be past then another will come,” the apprentice observed on January 18, 1869. Was he acknowledging time’s movement resignedly or expectantly? In retrospect we rarely grasp onto life as a series of individual days; we tend to remember feelings, relationships, professions, and events. The day is a time interval that structures the moment, but quickly blurs in the past. We hope reading the apprentice’s blog offers new insights and becomes part of your daily ritual.