For a guy few outside of the British Navy know much about, Samuel Pepys is getting a lot of play these days. He is the subject of a new biography by Claire Tomalin, reviewed last week in the NY Times, and his daily diaries have been turned into a blog by Phil Gyford, who writes about the project in an article for BBC News:
- For nearly 10 years from 1660 Pepys wrote about his experiences day by day: his own intriguing private life, his professional rise through the ranks and important events of the day such as The Great Fire and the Plague.
This journal of both large and small scale events often happens in public view today, on weblogs. Known as blogs, a few years ago these sites were the sole domain of web geeks but now an ever-increasing number cover thousands of topics.
I thought Pepys’ diary could make a great weblog. The published diary takes the form of nine hefty volumes – a daunting prospect. Reading it day by day on a website would be far more manageable, with the real-time aspect making it a more involving experience.
….Some readers have wondered if the site says anything about the state of blogging. Are conventional weblogs unexciting and we’re craving novelty? I disagree – weblogging has never been healthier or more vibrant; the more people involved, the better the net is. Now the format is established and familiar, it’s far easier to create innovative ways of using it.
Others have marvelled at my apparent level of commitment; I have 10 years of weblogging ahead of me. But with the site built, preparing new diary entries should take little more than an evening or two each month.
But I’m sure I’ll spend more time reading the diary and readers’ annotations and contributing my own – this is what excites me the most. Not only will I finally read the diary, I’ll do so at the same time as people all over the world. It’s like the world’s largest book club.
Here is a sample from today’s entry:
- Then my wife and I, it being a great frost, went to Mrs. Jem’s, in expectation to eat a sack-posset, but Mr. Edward not coming it was put off; and so I left my wife playing at cards with her, and went myself with my lanthorn to Mr. Fage, to consult concerning my nose, who told me it was nothing but cold, and after that we did discourse concerning public business; and he told me it is true the City had not time enough to do much, but they are resolved to shake off the soldiers; and that unless there be a free Parliament chosen, he did believe there are half the Common Council will not levy any money by order of this Parliament.
The guy has been having a lot of trouble with his nose, and we all know what a pain in the ass a nose can be.
The Times review on Pepys:
- Pepys had two great accomplishments. He was the creator, in effect, of the modern British Navy, and to this day naval historians so revere him that they regard the other Pepys, the literary one, as an embarrassment and a distraction. He was also a compulsive diarist. Starting on New Year’s Day in 1660 (when he was 26), he faithfully wrote down, in a shorthand code, a day-by-day account of everything he saw, felt or heard for the next nine years. The completed diary fills six 282-page notebooks; it’s the longest, most personal account we have of life in the 17th century, and also an invaluable eyewitness account of some of the most seismic events in English history: the Restoration (Pepys was in the boat that went to fetch Charles II from the Netherlands), the plague of 1665, the Great Fire the following year and the Dutch raids the year after that. Bracketing the diary are the years of the Civil War and the Protectorate (Pepys as a schoolboy watched the king’s execution) and, later, the Glorious Revolution of 1688, during which Pepys, who remained a staunch Jacobite, was briefly imprisoned on suspicion of treason. Few literary figures have lived through more interesting, or more treacherous, times.
….Pepys kept track of everything: his assignations, his finances, his business deals, his conversations with the king (and erotic dreams about the queen), his hangovers, his bowel movements and ejaculations, his fears and hopes and imaginings, his frequent tiffs with his wife.
….For a long time, the sexy bits were expurgated, and most of them turn out to have been written in a kind of code-within-the-code, a pidgin of French, Latin and Spanish that today reads like the fevered jottings of a horny and nerdy high schooler. (Pepys was raised as a Puritan, we need to remember.) Here he is on Nov. 16, 1667, talking about riding with a servant girl in a coach, and how after great effort he succeeded in making her ”tener mi cosa in her mano while mi mano was sobra su pectus, and so did hazer with great delight.” Elsewhere he is always trying to ”toca” someone’s ”jupes” or thighs, or else attempting to ”poner” his ”main” someplace it doesn’t belong, as on the awful day when his wife found him feeling up her maid. ”I was at a wonderful loss upon it,” Pepys wrote, ”and the girl also.”
But the seeming artlessness, and even occasional crudeness, of the diaries turn out to be their greatest strength. Pepys was not a brilliant thinker, or even an especially good shaper of experience, but he was a superb noticer, and picked up on things that others overlooked — the king’s dog, for example, relieving himself in the bottom of the Royal Barge; or the pigeons, during the Great Fire, who were ”loath to leave their houses, but hovered about the windows and balconies till they were some of them burned their wings, and fell down.” In short, he was a great reporter, at a time when reporting as we know it hadn’t really been invented, and his writing, direct and unmediated, has the virtue of instant credibility.
Pretty cool – I will be checking in to see what the horny freak is up to, so far his nose has been his main concern. Sounds like a blog to me.