December 26, 2002
Samuel Pepys Diary as a Weblog
I have never been able to read Samuel Pepys's diary--the detail becomes mind-numbing after half an hour or so. But now we have Samuel Pepys's diary available as a weblog. This raises an interesting possibility: will I find it more accessible in bite-sized semi-daily chunks? Whenever I have run across quotations from the diary, I've found it fascinating.
This version, however, excises the naughty bits.
Posted by DeLong at December 26, 2002 08:27 AM
Pepys: ...Blessed be God, at the end of the last year I was in very good health, without any sense of my old pain, but upon taking of cold.1 I lived in Axe Yard having my wife, and servant Jane, and no more in family than us three.... The condition of the State was thus; viz. the Rump, after being disturbed by my Lord Lambert, was lately returned to sit again. The officers of the Army all forced to yield. Lawson lies still in the river, and Monk is with his army in Scotland. Only my Lord Lambert is not yet come into the Parliament, nor is it expected that he will without being forced to it. The new Common Council of the City do speak very high; and had sent to Monk their sword-bearer, to acquaint him with their desires for a free and full Parliament, which is at present the desires, and the hopes, and expectation of all....
In the absence of other posts it's perhaps of incidental interest that I grew up in Clapham where Pepys (1633-1703) spent the last two to three years of his life, according to John Evelyn, living in "a very noble house and sweate place where he enjoyed the fruit of his labour in great prosperity", although not in good health, by other accounts.
Clapham is of interest because both before and after Pepys lived and died there a succession of other remarkable people also lived in the locality at various times, including Henry Cavendish, the scientist; Captain James Cook, the navigator and explorer; John Walter, founder of The Times; William Wilberforce MP and friend of William Pitt who campaigned for the abolition of slavery, along with other members of the Clapham Sect of evangelical Anglicans, such as Zachary Macaulay, father of Lord (Thomas) Macaulay, the essayist and historian, who grew up there; Henry Thornton MP, the banker and economist, who was also a member of the Clapham Sect; Shelley, the poet, who eloped from there in 1811 with Harriet Westbrook, who became his first wife; Charles Barry, the designer of the Houses of Parliament; John Francis Bentley, the architect of Westminster Cathedral; and later, Lytton Strachey, the biographer and member of the Bloomsbury group; Noel Coward, of stage and screen fame; Graham Greene, novelist; and Kingsley Amis, novelist.
Clapham became a fashionable commuter village during the late 17th century, with its easy access to central London via a daily stage coach service which had started in 1690. The development of the railways and later the underground system transformed Clapham into a commuter suburb within the urban sprawl of London. In 1903, for all its fashionable past, Lord Justice Bowen could refer in a judgement to the opinion of "the man on the Clapham omnibus" among those serving on a jury as the ultimate test of "beyond reasonable doubt". At the time I last lived there in the 1950s, Clapham Common, which had survived as open public space since Norman times, had become a notorious haunt of the "Teddy Boys" who liked to flaunt their satorial regalia reviving fashions of the Edwardian era. Since I left, by several reports, the locality is becoming fashionable again. Urban cycles of ascendancy, decline and regeneration have a long periodicity.
I've never even tried to read Pepys's diary, so I can't comment on that, but have experienced something similar with regard to Dickens. Let's just say I just never found him much of a page turner. Then my brother reminded me that Dickens was never meant to be read in big chunks, but in small episodes. After that, I switched to always reading another book as well when reading Dickens, and have found him much more palatable in small doses.
a small dose of background on Pepys in this week's NYT book review:
While Pepys' diary entries end in 1669, supposedly because of his failing eyesight, he neverthless maintained an active correspondence. Surviving correspondence with his friend John Evelyn through to his residence in Clapham, Surrey is posted at: http://astext.com/history/contents.html
In case it is of wider interest, a view of Clapham Common painted by JMW Turner c. 1800, about a century after Pepys' retirement near there, is accessible online as part of the Tate Collection in London at: http://www.tate.org.uk/servlet/AWork?id=14730
And the address (From Jan 1st 2003):
I did slog through much of Pepys' journal as an undegraduate journalism student. However, I think the technology to do it right exists now. The diary would be ideal for downloading to a PDA and reading a bit at a time. Or even better, Audible or a competitor should record it and make it available for listening to on PDAs, computers and iPods. Interruptable reading is perfect for audio files. I also think it would be an easier 'read' that way.
While we are into history, do have a look at what are rated as Britain's Top Ten national treasures on the British Museum website at:
The craftsmanship of the artefacts from the Sutton Hoo ship burial site from c. 620AD are worth a special look to see just how primitive the Anglo-Saxons really were. The intricacy of the handiwork on the jewellery of someone of high nobility is amazing by any standard. An economics angle is that the jewels - mainly garnets - were almost certainly imported, it is thought probably from India. Remember we are talking about the 7th century AD.