Jonathan Swift, Susan Sontag, Marilyn Monroe, and Woody Guthrie had big plans for themselves.
'Tis the season for New Year's resolutions, but instead of regurgitating the most common ones—like changing habit loops, exercising more, and being more productive—here is a look at some of history's more unusual resolution lists from the diaries, letters, and personal effects of cultural icons.
Writing in A Tale of a Tub in 1699, at the age of 32, Jonathan Swift best-known as the author of Gulliver's Travels author—compiled a list of 17 aspirations for his far future, titled "When I come to be old." Focusing on wisdom, humility, patience, and justice, the list brings to mind Benjamin Franklin's famous thirteen virtues, penned around the same time.
When I come to be old. 1699.
Not to marry a young Woman.
Not to keep young Company unless they reely desire it.
Not to be peevish or morose, or suspicious.
Not to scorn present Ways, or Wits, or Fashions, or Men, or War, &c.
Not to be fond of Children, or let them come near me hardly.
Not to tell the same story over and over to the same People.
Not to be covetous.
Not to neglect decency, or cleenlyness, for fear of falling into Nastyness.
Not to be over severe with young People, but give Allowances for their youthfull follyes and weaknesses.
Not to be influenced by, or give ear to knavish tatling servants, or others.
Not to be too free of advise, nor trouble any but those that desire it.
To desire some good Friends to inform me wch of these Resolutions I break, or neglect, and wherein; and reform accordingly.
Not to talk much, nor of my self.
Not to boast of my former beauty, or strength, or favor with Ladyes, &c.
Not to hearken to Flatteryes, nor conceive I can be beloved by a young woman, et eos qui hereditatem captant, odisse ac vitare.
Not to be positive or opiniative.
Not to sett up for observing all these Rules; for fear I should observe none.
(via Lists of Note)
In 1972, 39-year-old Susan Sontag noted in her diary:
Kindness, kindness, kindness.
I want to make a New Year's prayer, not a resolution. I'm praying for courage.
Then, in early 1977, she resolved:
Starting tomorrow—if not today:
I will get up every morning no later than eight. (Can break this rule once a week.)
I will have lunch only with Roger [Straus]. ('No, I don't go out for lunch.' Can break this rule once every two weeks.)
I will write in the Notebook every day. (Model: Lichtenberg's Waste Books.)
I will tell people not to call in the morning, or not answer the phone.
I will try to confine my reading to the evening. (I read too much—as an escape from writing.)I will answer letters once a week. (Friday?—I have to go to the hospital anyway.)