Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pepys Diary - by Samuel Pepys edited by Frederick Warne

I do not usually do such a long blog, but Pepys wrote a lengthy diary and it is only fair that I deal with it at length.

One of my favorite authors is Samuel Pepys.  For almost ten years he recorded his daily life in breathtaking honesty.  His diary reveals his jealousies, insecurities, trivial concerns, and his sad mistreatment of his wife. This truthfulness is ultimately seductive.  His philosophies and feelings are laid open in a way that I have seen nowhere else.   

The openness of the diary is to me Pepys's chief appeal. However it is also important as an account of London in the 1660's.  He records the restoration of the monarchy, war with the Dutch, fire, and plague. Pepys was well placed to view what was happening.  He was always curious and often acted on that curiosity, as he acted upon almost all his impulses.

He spent a great deal of time evaluating his fortune and his place in the world. He would not be out of place in today's environment for self-improvement.  Periodically he would resolve to cut down on drinking and womanizing and to devote more time to those endeavors where he thought his time should be spent. For example, this entry on Dec. 31, 1661, "I have newly taken a solemn oath about abstaining from plays and wine..." The following months reveal his lapses to the reader as by Feb. 17 "And here I drank wine upon necessity, being ill for the want of it."

Pepys's job required that he meet with many people to dispense monies and make contracts. He often laments over how he "lost his labour" having gone to some appointment at a coffee house or tavern there to discover that the person he was seeking was not within.  This was a constant frustration to Pepys. But in our day of instant communication, there is something appealing in setting out to a tavern in the hope that the person you are seeking will be there.

As you read the diary, the pattern of his life and certain recurring phrases imprint themselves on you. There is a pleasurable sense of the familiar as you begin to anticipate what he will say. Perhaps when you tuck yourself in, you will think "and so to bed," that phrase which so often ends the day's entry.

In this time when every difference is examined to show how men are unlike women, and New Yorkers are unlike Californians, and Americans are unlike the British, it gives this 21st century woman great pause to read Samuel Pepys's diary.  You cannot set it aside without thinking how very much alike we all must be.

The diary was written from 1660-1669.  It has been published in various formats and editions, but never complete and unexpurgated until beginning in 1970 when the first of eleven volumes was published.  I read the diary in this edition and highly recommend it, but it is a great investment in time and it is not available for Kindle and is now quite pricey if you can find it.

There is a complete abridged edition  The Diary of Samuel Pepys  (UK Edition) (Deutsch edition)  All of the Kindle editions are abridged and that is better than no Pepys.  I like this edition because the footnotes are shorter and less disruptive.  They are set off by brackets but they are not set off by lines before and after them and they are just more readable that way.

(If you don’t wish to meander through Samuel Pepys life at the Admiralty, go directly to 2 September 1666 for an account of the Great Fire of London.  The diary is also celebrated for its account of the 1665 plague, the Great Plague of London, which is the latter half of 1665. )

Here is a bit of Pepys

"27th. Up by four o'clock: Mr. Blayton and I took horse and straight to Saffron Walden, where at the White Hart, we set up our horses, and took the master of the house to shew us Audly End House, who took us on foot through the park, and so to the house, where the housekeeper shewed us all the house, in which the stateliness of the ceilings, chimney-pieces, and form of the whole was exceedingly worth seeing. He took us into the cellar, where we drank most admirable drink, a health to the King. Here I played on my flageolette, there being an excellent echo. He shewed us excellent pictures; two especially, those of the four Evangelists and Henry VIII. In our going, my landlord carried us through a very old hospital or almshouse, where forty poor people was maintained; a very old foundation; and over the chimney-piece was an inscription in brass: "Orate pro anima, Thomae Bird," &c. [The inscription and the bowl are still to be seen in the almshouse.] They brought me a draft of their drink in a brown bowl, tipt with silver, which I drank off, and at the bottom was a picture of the Virgin with the child in her arms, done in silver. So we took leave, the road pretty good, but the weather rainy to Eping."

The copy from which this etext was taken was published in 1879 by Frederick Warne and Co. (London and New York), in a series called "Chandos Classics.

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