From the Times Literary Supplement:
Thomas Hardy acquired the notebook habit in his twenties, and kept it going all his long life. As well as noting down memories and events, he read widely and took copious notes on his reading, Victorian industriousness further sharpened by the hunger of autodidacticism, building storehouses of nourishment for his novels and poetry. These he referred to as his “notebooks”, “pocket-books”, “memoranda” and “diaries”. Nobody knows how many had accumulated by the time he died aged eighty-seven, as his instructions to burn them were obeyed. Twelve of them survived the executor’s flames, however, and their titles give some idea of their range: the “Architectural Notebook”, the “Trumpet-Major Notebook”, the “Schools of Painting” notebook, the “Studies, Specimens, etc” notebook, the “1867” notebook, and the volumes of “Literary Notes” and “Memoranda”. All have been edited over the past forty years (except Hardy’s “Poetical Matter” notebook which is only available on microfilm, the original having gone missing). The so-called “Facts” Notebook is the last of the twelve to be edited, and it is fascinating.
I find this personally gratifying, not just because I enjoy Hardy, but also because I have recently developed the habit of keeping multiple commonplace books. I now have 11 moleskine notebooks dedicated to my favourite topics, including two books of quotations (secular and religious).
Unlike Hardy I don’t record current events (although I do have a file for the best of the copious newspaper clippings sent to me by my father, who in turn receives them from his brother—I come from a long line of info-junkies). Hardy’s “Facts” notebook recorded 690 of the more sensational news stories of his day, some of which ended up in his novels and poems.
Hardy generally ignored details of individual characters in these newspaper reports, concentrating instead on the anecdotal element, on incident and situation. For him, as he later wrote, “the real, if unavowed, purpose of fiction is to give pleasure by gratifying the love of the uncommon in human experience . . . . human nature must never be made abnormal, which is introducing incredibility. The uncommonness must be in the events, not in the characters.” His predilection for coincidences, tragi-ludicrous predicaments and ironic reversals received ample reinforcement from this note-taking.
Link: Thomas Hardy’s Facts.