Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Happy Birthday, Sam

PepysToday in 1633 Samuel Pepys (pronounced "peeps") was born. Well known for his diary, Pepys was a Londoner to the bone, rarely leaving the city, and a civil servant who helped shape England's navy. His diary, covering only six years of his life, was abandoned by him when he began to fear the loss of his sight - the work of keeping it up threatened blindness, and so he stopped and gave it to his college - Magdalen at Cambridge, where it remains to this day (and where I got to see it a couple of years ago!). As the College says,

Pepys's diary is not so much a record of events as a re-creation of them. Not all the passages are as picturesque as the famous set pieces in which he describes Charles II's coronation or the Great Fire of London, but there is no entry which does not, in some degree, display the same power of summoning back to life the events it relates.

Pepys's skill lay in his close observation and total recall of detail. It is the small touches that achieve the effect. Another is the freshness and flexibility of the language. Pepys writes quickly in shorthand and for himself alone. The words, often piled on top of each other without much respect for formal grammar, exactly reflect the impressions of the moment. Yet the most important explanation is, perhaps, that throughout the diary Pepys writes mainly as an observer of people. It is this that makes him the most human and accessible of diarists, and that gives the diary its special quality as a historical record.
Here's a sample (his first tweet for today):
My wife reckons she hath 150l. worth of jewells; and I am glad of it. It is fit the wretch should have something to content herself with.
(Note that "wretch" was a jocular, affectionate term.) And here's the entry for 22 Feb in the "current" year of the diary (a hypertext, annotated version is here) (note on the date - if you follow the link you'll see it says 1667/1668 - this is because until 1752 the new year began on March 25 in England, slow to adopt the new calendar, so for Sam himself it was still 1667):
Up, and by coach through Ducke Lane, and there did buy Kircher’s Musurgia, cost me 35s., a book I am mighty glad of, expecting to find great satisfaction in it. Thence to Westminster Hall and the lobby, and up and down there all the morning, and to the Lords’ House, and heard the Solicitor-General plead very finely, as he always do; and this was in defence of the East India Company against a man that complains of wrong from them, and thus up and down till noon in expectation of our business coming on in the House of Commons about tickets, but they being busy about my Lord Gerard’s business I did give over the thoughts of ours coming on, and so with my wife, and Mercer, and Deb., who come to the Hall to me, I away to the Beare, in Drury Lane, and there bespoke a dish of meat; and, in the mean time, sat and sung with Mercer; and, by and by, dined with mighty pleasure, and excellent meat, one little dish enough for us all, and good wine, and all for 8s., and thence to the Duke’s playhouse, and there saw “Albumazar,” an old play, this the second time of acting. It is said to have been the ground of B. Jonson’s “Alchymist;” but, saving the ridicuiousnesse of Angell’s part, which is called Trinkilo, I do not see any thing extraordinary in it, but was indeed weary of it before it was done. The King here, and, indeed, all of us, pretty merry at the mimique tricks of Trinkilo. So home, calling in Ducke Lane for the book I bought this morning, and so home, and wrote my letters at the office, and then home to supper and to bed.

Find the whole of Pepys' diary, day by day with hyperlinked annotations here, and in plain text here at Project Gutenberg (also downloadable, and in Kindle format, too).

Labels: ,


At 5:35 PM, February 25, 2011 Blogger Barry Leiba had this to say...

You might also note (or, well, I shall) that he's pronounced "peeps". I remember the first time I heard someone say it — having always imagined "pep-iss", myself — and how I was sure that couldn't be right!


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post

Links to this post:

Create a Link

     <-- Older Post                     ^ Home                    Newer Post -->