The Real Diary of a Real Boy by Henry A. Shute
As previously posted, I love diaries, and I found many diaries online, including Mark Twain’s “discoveries” of Adam’s Diary and Eve’s Diary. Then I looked at an actual diary from 1771, written by Anna Green Winslow of Boston, noticing that, in many respects, what was important to this 12-year-old girl in the 18th century is still important to 12-year-old girls today.
Another one I found at Project Gutenberg (gutenberg.org) was The Real Diary of a Real Boy by Henry A. Shute, written in 1902. Henry seemed to grow up in a similar rural area to where my dad grew up, and his diary entries are quite similar to some of my dad’s.
I naturally assumed this “real diary” was the actual diary of the author when he was a boy. But it’s not! Aargh. I was very disappointed to learn that it is a fictionalized journal as I was researching for information on the author. But it is based on real life, and I found it fun to read, especially knowing that the author was a farmer, musician and a juvenile judge in his hometown!
This humorous work was supposedly written by a reluctant writer whose dad persuaded him to keep a journal for a year. The boy’s childhood is all about exploring the land, his abilities and the boundaries of authority. I loved reading about the relatively carefree life that Henry lives, his independence, and his physically demanding adventures and discoveries in the outdoors.
In the Introduction, the now-grown Henry starts out: “In the winter of 1901-02, while rummaging an old closet in the shed-chamber of my father’s house, I unearthed a salt-box …”
Then he describes the contents of the box:
“Fish-line…with…hook, to which adhered the mummied remains of a worm that lived and flourished many, many years ago.
Popgun…. One blood alley, two chinees, a parti-colored glass agate, three pewees, and unnumbered drab colored marbles.
Six-inch bean-blower, for school use—a weapon of considerable range and great precision when used with judgment behind a Guyot’s Common School Geography.
Unexpended ammunition for same, consisting of putty pellets.
Frog’s hind leg, extra dry. Wing of bluejay, very ditto.
Letter from “Beany,” postmarked “Biddeford, Me.” and expressing great indignation because “Pewt” “hasent wrote.”
Copy-book inscribed “Diry.”
“Diry” means Diary. This boy started many entries with a weather report, “brite and fair”. He seemed to get into a fight several times a week, and goes into great detail about his and his friends’ shenanigans and punishments, which seemed to be pretty important occasions!
Here he tells about his average summer days (I decided to doctor up some of the spelling and punctuation for ease of reading!):
July 21. Awful hot. Big thunder shower and lightning struck a tree in front of Perry Molton’s house.
July 22. Went to church. Beany let the wind out of the organ and it squeaked and made everybody laugh. Keene and Cele sing in the choir. Father feels pretty big about it.
July 23. I got stung by hornets today. I went in swimming at the eddy and when I was drying my clothes I set rite down on a stump where there was a nest of yellow bellied hornets. They all lit on me and I thought I was afire for a minute. I ran and dove rite off the bank and swam way out under water. When I came up they were buzzing round jest where I went down. When I came out the fellers put mud on my bites and after a while they stopped hurting. I tell you the fellers jest died laughing to see me run and holler.
July 24. Brite and fair. I was all swelled up with hornet bites but they didn’t hurt any, I looked jest like Beany when he had the mumps. Everyone laughed at me.
The author, called The Mark Twain of Exeter (New Hampshire, where he grew up), includes an “update” at the end, 30 years later, telling where all of his friends and relatives were and what they were now doing, showing how the ones doing all the mischief grew up and became proper, successful human beings (most of them!). This ending is quite a creative and amusing feature to the book.
Henry Shute wrote over 20 books about mischievous boys, all set in his hometown. He graduated from Harvard University in 1879. In the 1890’s, he began writing for the Exeter News-Letter, and this diary published in 1902 was what brought him national recognition. He went on to publish in the SATURDAY EVENING POST from 1925 to 1928.
Project Gutenberg is a tremendous resource. Below is the link to this diary, and links to the other three diaries I reviewed, and I hope you will find something you enjoy there. Let me know if you do!
Real Diary of a Real Boy http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/5111
Diary of Anna Green Winslow http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/20765
Extracts from Adam’s Diary by Mark Twain http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1892
Eve’s Diary by Mark Twain http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/8525
Photos from SeacoastNH.com: http://www.seacoastnh.com/famous-people/thomas-bailey-aldrich/henry-shute-was-juvenile-delinquent-judge/
Book covers from LibraryThing.com