For years I have contemplated telling this story, and for years I have put off telling it. While I have delayed, my memory has not improved, and my recollections of the past are more hazy and fragmentary than when it first occurred to me that one day I might write them down.
...although I was at one time conscientious and diligent enough in keeping a diary, I kept it for use at the moment, not for future reference.... It had become a bursting, groaning dust-bin of information, for the most part useless.
About six years ago I moved into a smaller house in London, and I burnt a great many of my earlier diaries as unmovable rubbish. The few passages which I shall quote in this book from those which escaped destruction will prove that my bonfire meant no great loss!
Still, when it was suggested to me in the year of my stage jubilee that I ought to write down my recollections, I longed for those diaries! I longed for anything which would remind me of the past and make it live again for me. I was frightened. Something would be expected of me, since I could not deny that I had had an eventful life packed full of incident, and that by the road I had met many distinguished and interesting men and women. I could not deny that I had been fifty years on the stage, and that this meant enough material for fifty books, if only the details of every year could be faithfully told. But it is not given to all of us to see our lives in relief as we look back. Most of us, I think, see them in perspective, of which our birth is the vanishing point. Seeing, too, is only half the battle. How few people can describe what they see!
...For weeks I had hesitated between Othello's "Nothing extenuate, nor write down aught in malice," and Pilate's "What is truth?" as my guide and my apology. Now I saw that both were too big for my modest endeavor. I was not leaving a human document for the benefit of future psychologists and historians, but telling as much of my story as I could remember to the good, living public which has been considerate and faithful to me for so many years.
From The Story of My Life, Recollections and Reflections by Ellen Terry with thanks to Sam for sharing it as Savoynet discussed how much reliance to have on memoirs written in a subject's later years.