Let's call it memoir week. Next up, a discussion of Daniel Medelsohn's New Yorker "Books" piece on memoir.
But first, this arrived yesterday in my in-box, courtesy the OED online's word-of-the-day.
memoir, n. DRAFT REVISION Sept. 2009
Brit. /mmw/, U.S. /mmwr/, /mmwr/ Forms: 16- memoir, 16- memoire, 17 memoi'r, 17 memoyre, 17 mesmoire; Sc. pre-17 memoer, pre-17 memoir, pre-17 memoire, pre-17 memor, pre-17 memour, pre-17 memoyr. [< Middle French memoire (masculine) written account, description (from c1190 in Old French), document containing the facts in a case which is to be judged (1356), document containing instructions on a certain matter (1477) < memoire (feminine) MEMORY n. The main sense developments in English reflect those in French.
The change of gender in French is commonly accounted for by the supposition that the word in this use is elliptical for écrit pour mémoire; however, the gender of Middle French memoire fluctuated in all senses until the 16th cent., probably influenced by masculine nouns in -oir (see -ORY suffix1). Spanish memoria, Portuguese memória, and Italian memoria are feminine in all senses.
In the early modern period in English there is considerable overlap in forms between MEMOIR n. and the forms s.v. MEMORY n.; it is arguable that sense 1a may represent at least in part a native development from existing senses of MEMORY n. The spelling memoir prevalent in English since the 18th cent. perhaps results from awareness of the gender of the French noun, although the regular spelling of both masculine and feminine mémoire in French has long been with final -e
1. a. A note, a memorandum; a record; a brief testimonial or warrant; (in pl.) records, documents. In early use chiefly Sc. Obs.
1494 Loutfut MS f. 42, in Dict. Older Sc. Tongue at Memor(e, And giff e wil wit mair hereof demand [etc.]..for it that is here writtin is bot a memour for to demand & for to lere. That he be forgewin that has maid this memoir. 1567 in 6th Rep. Royal Comm. Hist. MSS 643/2 Memoyr off the silwer veschell delyverit be me to the lard of Drumblanryk. 1580 in D. Masson Reg. Privy Council Scotl. (1880) 1st Ser. III. 335 Quhairof ordanis the said maser to deliver the said Johnne sum memor in write, quhilk gif he find different from his awin speking that then he pen and put in write the same his speking. 1639 LD. WARISTON Diary (1896) 66 Generall Sir Edmond Vermar delivered his commission by word and thereafter shewed his memoer and warrant in wryte as followes. 1659 A. WOOD Life & Times (1891) I. 283 Georg Wharton..did take notice of this matter in his almanack anno 1661,..but puts the memoire under the XI of Sept. which is false. 1727 J. ARBUTHNOT Tables Anc. Coins xviii. 188 There is not in any Author a Computation of the Revenues of the Roman Empire, and hardly any Memoirs from whence it might be collected. 1755 N. MAGENS Ess. Insurances II. 261 That the Master be provided with a Memoir of Signals from the Commander of the Convoy. 1790 W. SHORT Let. 4 Aug. in T. Jefferson Papers (1965) XVII. 316 The memoire of the Emballeur amounts to upwards of six thousand livres.
b. In diplomatic and official use: a (formal) memorandum. Formerly in pl.: official reports of business done (obs.). rare.
1571 J. LESLIE Diary 19 Aug. (1855) III. 142 In my pacquet there was ane letter to myself, with ane memoire for ordour taking with the Queenis servandis, vi., that Mr N. Vinget suld remayne with myself. 1592 in R. W. Cochran-Patrick Early Rec. Mining Scotl. (1878) 84 What the counsale intendit to have said to them bayth befor thaj gaif thair last memoires. 1653 B. WHITELOCKE Diary 29 Dec. (1990) 319 She..said she would give Wh[itelocke] a memoire of proposalls about it. 1696 E. PHILLIPS New World of Words (ed. 5), Memoirs..are papers deliver'd by Embassadore to the Princes or States to whom they are sent, upon occasions of Business. 1700 J. ASTRY tr. D. de Saavedra Fajardo Royal Politician I. 222 Examine diligently all the Qualities of your Subjects, and after having given them any Place, look now and then into their Actions, and not be presently taken with, and deluded by the Draught of their Memoirs. 1829 BARONESS BUNSEN in A. J. C. Hare Life & Lett. Baroness Bunsen (1879) I. ix. 323 Charles, at his request, wrote a memoir on the subject of the negociations of Protestant Powers with the Court of Rome. 1957 N. BLAND Satow's Guide Diplomatic Pract. (ed. 4) vii. 64 Memorandum (sometimes called mémoire, pro-memoriâ).This is often a detailed statement of facts, and of arguments based thereon.
2. a. In pl. Records of events or history written from the personal knowledge or experience of the writer, or based on special sources of information.
1659 J. PEARSON Expos. Creed (1839) 282 (note) Pontius Pilate kept the memoirs of the Jewish affairs, which were therefore called Acta Pilati. a1661 T. FULLER Worthies (1662) Devon 260 But abler Pens, will improve these Short Memoires into a large History. 1746 A. COLLINS (title) Letters and Memorials of State... Also Memoirs of the Lives and Actions of the Sydneys. 1762 L. STERNE Life Tristram Shandy VI. xxxvi. 140 The following memoirs of my uncle Toby's courtship. 1769 N. NICHOLLS in Gray's Corr. (1843) 97 Why then a writer of memoirs is a better thing than an historian. 1790 W. PALEY Horæ Paulinæ i. 1 To deliver the history, or rather memoirs of the history, of this same person. 1860 B. F. WESTCOTT Introd. Study Gospels (ed. 5) vii 347 Their whole structure..serves to prove that they [sc. the Synoptic Gospels] are memoirs and not histories. 1927 A. H. MCNEILE Introd. New Test. 300 The fact is stated that the memoirs of the apostles were still read..in the weekly services. 1994 Minnesota Monthly July 64/2 Some of his books are memoirs of life in Minnesota in the early decades of this century.
b. In pl. Autobiographical observations; reminiscences. Freq. modified by a possessive.
1676 W. WYCHERLEY Plain-dealer Ded., Your virtues deserve..a volume entire to give the world your memoirs, or life at large. a1684 J. EVELYN Diary anno 1673 (1955) IV. 23 Nor could I forbere to note this extraordinary passage in these memoires. 1700 M. PRIOR Carmen Sæculare 426 To write his own memoirs, and leave his heirs High schemes of government, and plans of wars. 1710 (title) Memoirs of an Unfortunate Young Lady. 1818 S. SMITH Wks. (1867) I. 237 Any one who provides good dinners for clever people, and remembers what they say, cannot fail to write entertaining memoirs. 1841 M. ELPHINSTONE Hist. India II. VII. i. 117 His Memoirs are almost singular in their own nature. 1946 tr. H. P. Pétain in Observer 26 May 2/3 To write one's memoirs is to speak ill of everybody except oneself. 1984 E. PAWEL Nightmare of Reason (1988) v. 72 Unfortunately, his memoirs, though purportedly based on notes made at the time, were never submitted for publication.
c. A biography or autobiography; a biographical notice.
1810 M. F. JOHNSON Orig. Sonnets To Public, Though no puff'd memoir or vignette reveal That I am old or young. 1826 Life Dr. Franklin (Stanf.) i. 6 The subject of our memoir was born at Boston in New England. 1839 G. TAYLOR (title) Memoir of Robert Surtees Esq. 1866 W. L. R. CATES Maunder's Biogr. Treasury Pref., The space thus gained is more usefully occupied, partly by re-written and fuller notices of names more generally interesting, and partly by entirely new memoirs. 1910 Encycl. Brit. I. 44/2 A memoir of the later years of his life (1793-1801) by his third son, James..was published in 1861. 1951 S. SPENDER World within World iii. 151 He wrote also the memoir, from whose disordered drafts Plomer edited the volume I have mentioned. 1999 Newsweek 12 Apr. 70/2 A fictionalized memoir of his 1953 African safari, edited by his middle son Patrick.
3. An essay or dissertation on a learned subject closely studied by the writer. In pl. also: (the record of) the proceedings or transactions of a learned society.
a1680 S. BUTLER Genuine Remains (1759) I. 14 Whilst the chiefs were drawing up This strange Memoir o' th' Telescope. 1687 A. LOVELL tr. J. de Thévenot Trav. into Levant I. 103, I shall here..relate what I have learned of some Islles of the Archipelago, where I have not been, as well by what has been told me, as by a memoire that hath come to my hands. 1731 N. BAILEY Universal Etymol. Eng. Dict. II. (ed. 2) sig. PPP4/1, Memoi'rs,..a journal of the acts and proceedings of a society, as those of the royal society, &c. 1787 T. JEFFERSON Let. 13 Aug. in Papers (1955) XII. 30 A Memoire on a petrifaction mixed with shells. 1839 C. M. KIRKLAND New Home i. 11 Since I have casually alluded to a Michigan mud-hole, I may as well enter into a detailed memoir on the subject. 1845 G. BUSK tr. J. J. S. Steenstrup On Altern. Generations 102 Miescher's interesting memoir on the forms which the genus Tetrarhynchus passes through. 1865 (title) Memoirs read before the Anthropological Society of London. 1863-4. 1934 A. H. R. GOLDIE Abercromby's Weather (rev. ed.) xiv. 229 Buchan's original memoir on the subject related to the weather of Scotland in the years 1857-1866. 1978 Oil & Gas Jrnl. 18 Sept. 256/3 His full paper will appear in a 1979 memoir of the society.
4. Something kept in memory of someone; a memento. Obs. rare 1.
a1711 T. KEN Christophil in Wks. (1721) I. 518 Of Friends whom Death lays fast asleep, They Memoirs keep.
1763 Ann. Reg. 1762 II. 32 Count Zinzendorf is celebrated for his profound ministerial abilities by all the *memoir writers of the present age. 1861 W. G. CLARK in F. Galton Vac. Tourists & Trav. 1860 44 When two memoir-writers had told the same tale, they [sc. Suetonius and Tacitus] accept it and endorse it, without a suspicion that both may be lying. 1991 Gay Times Apr. 38/1 Mountaineer, bicyclist, golfer, chain-smoker, ardent suffragist and best-selling memoir-writer.
memoir-writing n. and adj.
1711 LD. SHAFTESBURY Characteristicks (1737) I. 224 The raw *memoir-writings and unform'd pieces of modern statesmen, full of their interested and private views. 1851 Southern Q. Rev. July 133 In this particular, memoir writing ranks next in order to prose fiction. 1883 LD. R. GOWER My Reminiscences II. xxiii. 102 The famous memoir-writing Prince de Ligne was his great-uncle. 1981 ELH 48 616 As Christmas approaches, Woolf departs from memoir-writing and in her diary indulges herself in a ‘child's vision’ of the past.