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The Diary of Samuel Pepys {1668-69} by…

The Diary of Samuel Pepys {1668-69} (1825)

by Samuel Pepys

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And so I've come to the end of The Diary of Samuel Pepys which I began reading six months ago (interspersed with many other books). Rather than write a review for each volume, I've decided to write this one review and let it stand for the whole.

If you're unfamiliar with Samuel Pepys and his world, then let me begin with a brief introduction. Pepys was a member of the upper classes, but by no means a member of the gentry. His father was a tailor, but he provided his sons with the best education possible. Both Sam and his younger brother John attended Cambridge during the Interregnum. The older son, Tom, didn't attend university, but rather took over their father's business after he retired. Pepys had the good fortune to be related by marriage to Sir Edward Montagu, the 1st Earl of Sandwich who recognized Sam's natural intelligence and organizational skills and became his mentor and benefactor. Much of success in life is having the good fortune to be in the right place at the right time, and the intelligence and industry to take advantage of the opportunities available. Sam was well blessed in both respects. His native intelligence and industriousness allowed to him to rise high in government circles after the restoration of Charles II to the throne of Great Britain. His competence, youthful vitality and meticulous record keeping made him an indispensable bureaucrat, and he in time rose to be Secretary to the Admiralty. His reforms of the British Navy helped to turn it from a playground of the peerage into a professional world class Naval power.

I hope that gives you a feel for who Samuel Pepys was. Now, a bit about his world. The diary opens on January 1, 1660 in the old Julian calendar. England was once again in turmoil. After the English Civil War, the establishment of the Commonwealth, the execution of King Charles I, and Cromwell's Protectorate, chaos had once again descended on the nation. The government had changed hands several times after the death of Oliver Cromwell. No one seemed to be able to hold the reigns of power. As the diary opens, the Scots General George Monck has begun moving his army south towards London. When he arrives and takes control of the city, he begins the process of negotiating the restoration of the monarchy, the election of a new Parliament, and the return of Charles II to the throne. (Charles II has been living in exile on the continent for over a decade, subsisting on handouts from other monarchs and royalists sympathizers.) The succeeding years see a suppression of the Presbyterians and puritanical religious fanatics...the so called Nonconformists, because they wouldn't conform to the rituals of the Church of England. Sam's diary covers ten tumultuous years which see the restoration of the monarch, the Great Plague of 1665, the Great Fire of 1666 and the Second Dutch War. He is well placed to see everything at close hand. Always close to the center of things, he is well placed to record what happens. And a lot happens.

The historical value of the diary is unmistakable, but it's literary merits are, I think, greater. Pepys wrote the diary in shorthand to keep it safe from prying eyes. It was always intended to be a purely personal record, so he is unsparingly frank in what he records about his life. I deliberately chose to say "frank" rather than "honest" because Pepys is often an unreliable narrator. His self justifications are everywhere. He is scurrilous in his treatment of his fellow officers at the Navy Office, denouncing them as knaves and worse for their dealings with navy suppliers. Yet he dismisses the bribes he receives as being irrelevant since the deal was in the best interest of the King.

Sam's diary is like a rough draft of a novel by Thackeray or Defoe with Sam as it's anti-hero. Yes, Sam rises through the world on his merits, but there is also scheming, backstabbing, and bribery. He is outwardly a model man--friendly, pious and hardworking. But the diary reveals a vain, hypocritical flawed creature lurking in the dark. He is violently jealous of his wife, but he's a serial philanderer. He claims to love her, yet twists her nose painfully during at least one violent argument and gives her a black eye for Christmas during another.

I admit, the diary can on occasions be somewhat dry. It's difficult to follow the twists and turns of the legal wrangling over his uncle's estate. But Sam's diary is also filled with court gossip and intrigues. There is high drama and low comedy. You get magnificently described scenes of the London fire, the entire city ablaze and it's citizens on the move. But juxtaposed with that are comedic moments such as when Sam's neighbor's "house of office" leaks turds into his basement. Or when Sam (during another row with his wife) shuts himself in his room and reads Robert Boyle's "Hydrostatic Paradoxes" aloud to drown out Elizabeth who's shouting at him through the door. (Elizabeth was no shrinking wall flower. She could give as good has she took.)

While the diary was simply a record of Samuel Pepys's daily life, it feels as though it has a structure and plot. Over the course of almost ten years, we watch a young man rise high in the world from a clerk in the Exchequer's office to a man who has the ear of the Duke of York and the King. He's gone from making ends meet to being rich enough to own a coach and horses. He hobnobs with the rich and powerful. He hosts parties with famous actors and musicians. This is the story of a man who makes something of himself in the world, even if what he has created is a soul that is dark and bent. ( )
  fredbacon | Jul 18, 2015 |
31 JANUARY 1668. Footnote by Latham & Matthews about Dr Thomas Wood, Dean of Coventry and Lichfield, who was excommunicated by the Bishop, Dr John Hacket: The excommunication had been pronounced in 1667, but there appears to be no trace of the dispute in the records of the Court of Arches. Wood was an eccentric. He courted his wife for 30 years before marrying her, and after marriage threatened to ‘lie alone because … [she] putts her arms out of bed, & lets the cold into it’. He was made bishop of the see on Hacket’s death in 1670, but lived mostly at his native Hackney, where he spent his time sawing wood in order to save money (though he was very rich). On being told by the Primate in July 1681 to pay a visit to his diocese, he replied that he would go ‘when the weather was somewhat cooler’. He was thereupon suspended, and at his death in 1692 was buried without any inscription on his tomb.

9 FEBRUARY. (…) We sang till almost night, and drank my good store of wine; and then they parted and I to my chamber, where I did read through L’escholle des Filles; a lewd book, but what doth me no wrong to read for information sake (but it did hazer my prick para stand all the while, and una vez to decharger); and after I had done it, I burned it, that it might not be among my books to my shame; and so at night to supper and then to bed.

18 JUNE. (…) And so to sit, where all the morning; and did receive a hint or two from my Lord Anglesy, as if he thought much of my taking the ayre as I have done — but I care not a turd. (…)

28 SEPTEMBER. (…) Here I also, standing by a candle that was brought for sealing of a letter, do set my periwigg a-fire; which made such an odd noise, nobody could tell what it was till they saw the flame, my back being to the candle. (…)

23 OCTOBER. (…) and so away with Mr. Pierce the surgeon toward Tyburne to see the people executed, but came too late, it being done, two men and a woman hanged; (…)

2 DECEMBER. (…) and here saw all the ladies and heard the silly discourse of the King with his people about him, telling a story of my Lord of Rochester’s having of his clothes stole while he was with a wench, and his gold all gone but his clothes found afterwards, stuffed into a feather-bed by the wench that stole them. (…)

21 DECEMBER. (…) and took him up, and first went into Holborne and there saw the woman that is to be seen with a Beard; she is a little plain woman, a Dane, her name, Ursula Dyan, about forty years old, her voice like a little girl’s, with a beard as much as any man I ever saw, as black almost, and grizzly. They offered [to] show my wife further satisfaction if she desired it, refusing it to men that desired it there. But there is no doubt but by her voice she is a woman; it begun to grow at about seven years old — and was shaved not above seven months ago, and is now as big as any man almost that ever I saw, I say, bushy and thick. It was a strange sight to me, I confess, and what pleased me mightily. (…)

27 DECEMBER. ; ;(…) He told me that he had so good spies, that he hath had the keys taken out of De Witts pocket when he was a-bed, and his closet opened and papers brought to him and left in his hands for an [hour], and carried back and laid in the place again and the keys put into his pocket again. (…)

30 DECEMBER. (…) Thence my wife and I to the Change; but in going, one neer-horse did fling himself, kicking of the coachbox over the poale; and a great deal of trouble it was to get him right again, and we forced to light and in great fear of spoiling the horse, but there was no hurt. (…)

7 FEBRUARY 1669. (…) and I do often find that in my dreams she doth lay her hand upon my cockerel to observe what she can. (…)

9 MARCH. (…) and here, which I never did before, I drank a glass, of a pint I believe, at one draught, of the juice of Oranges of whose peel they make comfits; and here they drink the juice as wine, with sugar, and it is very fine drink; but it being new, I was doubtful whether it might not do me hurt; (…)

8 APRIL. (…) Going this afternoon through Smithfield, I did see a coach run over the coachman’s neck and stand upon it, and yet the man rose up and was well after it, which I thought a wonder. ( )
1 vote Pepys | May 4, 2010 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Samuel Pepysprimary authorall editionscalculated
Latham, RobertEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Matthews, WilliamEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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July 10, 1668 Up, and to attend the Council; but all in vain,
the Council spending all the morning upon a business about
the printing of *The Critickes*, a dispute between the first
printer, one Bee, that is dead, and the Abstractor, who would
now print his abstracts, one Poole.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0520227018, Paperback)

Samuel Pepys is as much a paragon of literature as Chaucer and Shakespeare. His Diary is one of the principal sources for many aspects of the history of its period. In spite of its significance, all previous editions were inadequately edited and suffered from a number of omissions--until Robert Latham and William Matthews went back to the 300-year-old original manuscript and deciphered each passage and phrase, no matter how obscure or indiscreet.
The Diary deals with some of the most dramatic events in English history. Pepys witnessed the London Fire, the Great Plague, the Restoration of Charles II, and the Dutch Wars. He was a patron of the arts, having himself composed many delightful songs and participated in the artistic life of London. His flair for gossip and detail reveals a portrait of the times that rivals the most swashbuckling and romantic historical novels. In none of the earlier versions was there a reliable, full text, with commentary and notation with any claim to completeness. This edition, first published in 1970, is the first in which the entire diary is printed with systematic comment. This is the only complete edition available; it is as close to Pepys's original as possible.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:32 -0400)

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