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  • Heinrich Witt

    The Diary | Tagebuch

    2. January 2015 | Comments Off

    Erste Seite Band 1

    The first page of the first volume

    Witt had already attempted to start writing a diary throughout his childhood and youth. Beginning in 1820, he frequently wrote in his diary and noted down his daily experiences, actions and thoughts– with a few exceptions. These early notes were the foundation for what would become (in Witt’s opinion) a much better and comprehensive diary, which he started in 1859. At that time, Witt was unable to write, because he suffered from an eye disease. In fact he dictated the “new”, as well as the “old”, “original” notes – which he kept on writing parallel – to his clerk. This new diary, which Witt started dictating in 1859, has been passed on to a large extent to present day. In 1892, when Witt died, the diary contained thirteen volumes with supposedly more than 10,000 pages of text. Following the wishes of Witt’s will, his heirs kept the diary. Ten volumes still belong to the family. Volumes ten to twelve, which describe the time from the middle of May 1881 until the end of October in 1886, are missing. Furthermore, the fifth and thirteenth volumes are incomplete. In total there are approximately three quarters remaining, which amounts to almost 8,500 of tightly written pages. With exception of the tenth volume, all books include attachments (letters, drawings and newspaper clippings), which total about 400 pages. There is no other private diary with this amount of pages known in Latin America from the 19th century. Eventually, there were also two more volumes of the old diary passed down, which Witt wrote himself. In over 700 pages there are descriptions of one of Witt’s European journeys (1843-1845). Heinrich Witt captures his life consistently from his childhood in Altona through old age. The chronology of his life’s adventures is broken seldomly, but is always accompanied by explanations for this from Witt himself, e.g. his eye disease. In volume thirteen the transmitted text interrupts the narration of December 29th, 1980, but supposedly he kept on writing his diary. The rest of the diary is written in a classical form, which includes dated descriptions of single days or short periods of time. Witt’s detailed depiction uncovers a multifaceted panorama of a rich European’s life in Lima in the 19th century. The text not only contains business of the tradesman Witt, but also rules for social communication, clothing, diseases, food habits and many other parts of everyday life – including a good amount of gossip. Witt’s recordings overstep his private life in many ways. The ten volumes particularly hold a lot of information about the political, economic, social and cultural history of Peru in the 19th century. Altona and Hamburg, London and Paris, Germany, Europe and other parts of the world are also continuously referenced. On the one hand Witt traveled through a couple German and European countries and 1845, even Algeria, which had only been conquered by France a few years prior. On the other hand Witt points out the small and big changes of the world in the 19th century, of which he knew from newspapers and books. He also used his strong correspondence with in-laws, friends and business partners in Europe and other parts of America, Australia and Asia to keep himself informed. This “globalism” is also reflected in the language with which the diary is written. In 1824, Witt had already dismissed German as the primary diary language and started writing in English. When he started to revise his “old” diaries to a new version in 1859, he kept English as the diary language. Currently, the ten volumes, which are bound for posterity, are in English, while the two diaries from the 1840s are in Spanish, which were written more as a reference. These two were also kept – against the original plan. In the ten transmitted volumes of the final version, there are many different expressions, quotations and some shorter parts in other languages. As a result, the reader comes across Latin, German, French, Italian and especially Spanish – the language which Witt used most in his everyday life in Lima.