The irrepressible Pepys.
Robert Louis Stevenson saw Pepys as an "unparalleled figure in the annals of mankind" for three reasons:
first, because he was a man known to his contemporaries in a halo of almost historical pomp, and to his remote descendants with an indecent familiarity, like a tap-room comrade; second, because he has outstripped all competitors in the art of virtue of a conscious honesty about himself; and, third, because, being in many ways a very ordinary person, he has yet placed himself before the public eye with such a fullness and such an intimacy of detail as might be envied by a genius like Montaigne.
What prompted this obscure but rising young clerk to undertake this odd project? Why did he write, and for whom? For himself alone? For posterity? Though he wrote it in shorthand and kept its existence a secret during his lifetime, he must have believed that the Diary would be read after his death, for he didn't destroy it, as he did many other papers and documents; indeed he took good care of its six volumes, binding them expensively and leaving them, along with his other books, to Magdalen College, Cambridge. How, then, does one account for an entry like the following (from 1668):
Thence away to the Strand to my bookseller's, and there stayed an hour and bought that idle, roguish book, L'escholle des Filles, which I have bought in plain binding (avoiding the buying of it better bound) because I resolve, as soon as I have read it, to burn it, that it may not stand in the list of books, nor among them, to disgrace them if it should be found.
He destroyed this lewd volume lest it disgrace his posthumous memory; yet at the same time he recorded his reading of the book, and its destruction, in the diary he so carefully preserved. As Stevenson asks, "to whom was he posing ... and what, in the name of astonishment, was the nature of the pose?" His behavior is irrational, possibly hypocritical; but the wonderful thing about the Diary is its cheerful acceptance of the irrational and the hypocritical. Nothing human is alien to Pepys.
Pepys, middle-class, striving, intelligent without being a genius, selfish, lecherous, greedy for life and all the good things it has to offer, is a classic Everyman, surely as recognizably human to readers in China or Africa as he is to his compatriots. Yet he was also very much a man of his particular circumstances, and the remarkable nature of those circumstances has given his Diary historical as well as literary importance. Censorship during the 1660s ensured that only one newspaper was published in London, the government-controlled London Gazette. Pepys's vivid insider's account of the political turmoil of the Restoration, as well as his famous eyewitness reports of public events and panics such as the plague of 1665, the great fire of 1666, and the Dutch attack on the Medway in 1667, are uniquely detailed and informative, and have probably done more to shape our vision of Restoration London than the work of any other artist or writer of the period, including Marvell, Dryden, Milton, and the great court painter Lely.
Pepys lived for seventy years, perhaps the most interesting seventy-year span in British history; the Diary covers only nine. Claire Tomalin, the author of biographies of Jane Austen, Katherine Mansfield, and Mary Wollstonecraft, has performed the very welcome service of providing us with a full biography of the diarist. (1) The abrupt termination of the Diary has always frustrated readers: with failing eyesight and fearful that he was going blind, the thirty-seven-year-old Pepys reluctantly took a course which, as he put it, was "almost as much as to see myself go into my grave--for which, and all the discomforts that will accompany my being blind, the good God prepare me." His eyes soon recovered, but he never resumed the Diary, a sad loss for readers and historians. It would have been enlightening to have had his version of the next thirty years: the Test Acts, the Popish Plot, the Glorious Revolution were all events in which, as he rose ever higher in government administration, he was deeply involved; his friendly working relationship with Charles II and his far more intimate knowledge of James II would have made his account uniquely valuable. As Robert Latham, one-time curator of the Pepys Library at Magdalen College, commented, the Pepys Diary of the 1670s and 1680s "must rank as one of the most interesting books never written."
The inevitable problem Tomalin has had to contend with is the richness and color of the material for the 1660s, and the thinness of the sources for the rest of Pepys's life. She has struggled somewhat under this handicap, not always with the greatest success. Pepys, so stunningly alive as a young man, abruptly disappears in 1669 and is replaced by an imposing, bewigged, middle-aged civil servant. As he ages he accrues honors and titles, but he becomes ever more distant from the crude youth we so enjoyed.
Pepys was one of the earliest examples, in England, of a serf-made man, and as such he stood out as peculiarly modern in a society that still retained many feudal traits. Pepys benefited from this system in his youth, but his life, as it progressed, is emblematic of the erosion of aristocratic prerogative and the beginnings of a new meritocracy.
Pepys belonged to the bottom layer of the middle class: his parents were a tailor and a former washmaid. He possessed, though, an advantage over most of his peers in the form of an upper-class cousin, Edward Montagu, eight years his senior, who was willing to act as patron to this exceptionally bright boy and to drag him along on his own rather rocky road to the top. With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642, Pepys was nine, Montagu seventeen years old, a passionate parliamentarian and a friend of Cromwell's. Montagu joined the Parliamentary army, fought at Marston Moor and Naseby and, in the 1650s, became a member of Cromwell's council of state and eventually the Commonwealth navy's sole general at sea.
Pepys was brought up as a puritan and a parliamentarian sympathizer. He was educated at the very grammar school, in Huntingdon, where Cromwell had been a pupil, and later at St. Paul's, the most puritan of the London schools. "St. Paul's," comments Tomalin, "was responsible for the education of two of the greatest writers of the century, Milton ... and Pepys. The fact that both have been found shocking is in itself a tribute to the quality of the education they got there." As a schoolboy Pepys snuck out of St. Paul's to watch the execution of Charles I, and remained staunchly unmoved upon that memorable scene; years later he remembered having told his school friends that if he were required to give a sermon on the event, he would take as his text "The memory of the wicked shall rot."
He would occasionally be embarrassed when, as a servant of the Restoration, he was reminded by former schoolfellows that he had been "a great roundhead" in his day, and certainly the Stuarts had few more loyal retainers than he. Still, and for all his pleasure-seeking and lechery, the early puritan ideals never really died. In 1667 he was prompted to reflect on "the bad management of things now compared with what it was in the late rebellious times, when men, some for fear and some for religion, minded their business; which none do now, by being void of both"; a year later he found himself irritated at a performance of Jonson's Bartholomew Fair, remarking that "the business of abusing the puritans begins to grow stale, and of no use, they being the people that at last will be found the wisest."
This admiration for Puritanism was strictly secular. In the Diary he confessed to being a religious skeptic, and, as Tomalin says, "so little religious feeling did he possess that even at Cambridge [that is, when the Puritan government was in power] he took the sacrament only `once or twice'--he was not sure which--and then not again for more than ten years." She also remarks on the extreme sparseness of Biblical allusion in the Diary, unusual for a writer of his generation. He paid lip service of course, like all his contemporaries, to conventional protestant dogma, but his formulaic thanks to God sound perfunctory except when he expresses gratitude for health or wealth, in which case the tone is more sincere.
It was the puritan efficiency, what we would nowadays call the puritan work ethic, that he admired, not puritan theology. "For myself," he wrote in 1665, "chance without merit brought me in, and that diligence only keeps me so, and will, living as I do among so many lazy people, that the diligent man becomes necessary, that they cannot do anything without him." Diligence was his one and only key to further advancement, and he struggled mightily with its enemies: like Bridget Jones, he filled many diary pages with vows to lay off the booze, and with self-congratulations when he managed to do so. (In a wonderful Jonesian moment he falls happily off the wagon, justifying his behavior by claiming that his oath no longer holds, since his doctor, to whom it was made, has just died of the plague.)
During the 1650s Pepys lived in his cousin Montagu's household as an only slightly glorified servant, Figaro to Montagu's Almaviva. In 1655 he married Elizabeth Marchant de St. Michel, a fourteen-year-old French girl from an impoverished and rather seedy family, and for three years the temperamental young couple lived, uncomfortably and unhappily, in a garret above Montagu's offices in Whitehall; Pepys at this point was still such a lowly insect in the great scheme of things that he did not think of introducing his bride to his patron. In 1658 the couple procured a little house in Axe Yard, Westminster, along with their fourteen-year-old maid, Jane Birch. "A trio where they had been a duet," Tomalin says, "and perhaps the trio form suited them better.... And since tact was not the foremost quality of either Sam or Elizabeth, much was expected of Jane."
The political climate of the country was ominous. Cromwell died suddenly in September of 1658; Edward Montagu sided with those who wished Richard Cromwell to succeed his father, rather than with the radical republicans. Richard duly took office, but proved as unlike his father as it was possible to be: "The old Vulture died," as one chronicler put it, "and out of his ashes rose a Titmouse." After only a few months he retired, to be replaced by a republican government; but in the leadership vacuum, the emotional tide of the country had definitively turned, and people at the top of government--Edward Montagu included--began to look toward Charles Stuart in his continental exile. In a secret correspondence, Charles offered Montagu rich rewards, an earldom and a fortune, in exchange for his support. It was a moment of tremendous delicacy for those in positions of power, most of whom were well aware that their careers and sometimes even their lives depended on their behavior at this juncture. Montagu knew that "he must judge exactly when to jettison [his] loyalty to the remnants of Cromwell's regime and to make [his] submission to the king, and then to make it so acceptably that he would reward [him] for it."
This is the moment at which the diary begins; it was a turning point in history, in some ways comparable, as Tomalin proposes, to 1989, when power-brokers throughout the Soviet Empire began desperately re-placing
bets and shifting alliances while the long pent-up force of the popular will changed their world with an irresistible momentum. In January the army of the kingmaker general, George Monck, crossed the border from Scotland and began marching toward the capital; his support would be critical for either king or parliament, but no one knew, even after he had arrived in London, which side he would give his weight to. With characteristic evenhandedness Pepys juxtaposes the dramatic--his first sight of the great army camped ominously in the streets--with the homely: "went walking all over Whitehall, whither Gen. Monke was newly come and we saw all his forces march by in very good plight and stout officers. Thence to my house, where we dined; but with a great deal of patience, for the mutton came in raw and so we were fain to stay the stewing of it."
Monck, as it turned out, put himself at the service of Charles. So did Edward Montagu, who was responsible, as the newly appointed commander of the fleet, for fetching Charles from the Netherlands in a great warship--the Naseby, hastily renamed the Royall Charles--and bringing him home to England, a journey on which Pepys accompanied his master, describing his impressions memorably: at one point "the shore was so full of people to expect their coming as that it was black (which otherwise is white sand) as everyone would stand by one another"; three days later, he shared a barge "with a dog that the King loved (which shit in the boat, which made us laugh and me think that a King and all that belongs to him are but just as others are").
This is a note that will creep into the Diary on many a subsequent occasion. Pepys was a royalist from policy rather than conviction. In 1665 for example, after a meeting with the king and his brother James, Duke of York (the Lord High Admiral, Pepys's ultimate boss at the Admiralty, and the future King James II), he finds himself, as usual, underwhelmed: "God forgive me, though I adore them with all the duty possible, yet the more a man considers and observes them, the less he finds of difference between them and other men, though (blessed be God) they are both princes of great noblenesse and spirits."
It is a magnificent example of damning with faint praise; elsewhere in the Diary Pepys is not so polite and rails constantly against the luxury of the Court and the indolence and profligacy of the king. The monarchy, seen through Pepys's pragmatic eyes, appears merely a decorative, expensive necessity: necessary because the experiment in republicanism had broken down, and the ultimate post-1688 settlement of constitutional monarchy had not been conceived.
But Charles II looks better in retrospect than he did to sharp contemporaries like Pepys. His weaknesses were manifold but it must be said that he was a great deal better than he could have been. He could have been stubborn and dogmatic, like his father, Charles I, and his brother, James II. Worse, he could have been a power-hungry absolutist, like his fearsome cousin Louis XIV. He was none of those things; he was flexible, canny, willing to work with Parliament. His clemency and utter lack of vindictiveness went far toward healing the dreadful rifts of the 1640s and 1650s. Best of all he was exceedingly tolerant, and if he had had his own way none of the laws against Catholics and Presbyterians passed by Parliament during his reign would ever have been introduced. Like Pepys, he was a modern man, in many ways ahead of his time. His worst qualities were laziness and cynicism; and these are not the deadliest sins.
As a reward for his role in the Restoration Montagu was now created Earl of Sandwich and was heaped with honors and rifles: privy councilor, Treasury commissioner, master of Wardrobe, vice-admiral of the navy under the Duke of York. He in turn rewarded his clever servant Pepys: "I will do you all the good Jobbs I can," he promised, and quickly got him a post as clerk of the acts with the Navy Board and a second job at the Privy Seal. Pepys, as Tomalin writes, "knew he owed every part of his good fortune to Lord Sandwich and rejoiced with him. How could he do otherwise? The world had turned over, and he had come out on top."
He was becoming, little by little, a gentleman. As early as March of 1660 he received his first letter addressed to Samuel Pepys, Esqr., "of which, God knows," he comments, "I was not a little proud." A year later he is dining at the Tower in fine style, and expresses his satisfaction fulsomely: "I was much contented to ride in such state into the towre and be received among such high company--while Mr. Mount, my Lady Duchesses gentleman-usher, stood waiting at table, whom I ever thought a man so much above me in all respects."
Pepys's social progress in the early 1660s was a bit like that of Moliere's bourgeois gentilhomme: he took lessons in singing and dancing, more necessary to an English gentilhomme of the period than a French one, since dancing had been banned under the Commonwealth and Pepys, rather incredibly, had never danced in his life until 1661, when he was twenty-eight. He was self-conscious about his deficiencies--"I was forced to dance" he wrote after one shindig, "and did make an ugly shift"--and quickly set out to ameliorate the situation. Another new activity was play-going: the theaters had been closed during the puritan regime. Now they reopened with a vengeance, and, to add to the thrill, Restoration audiences witnessed "the astonishing first appearance on the English stage of women to play women." Pepys was addicted to the theater, although his taste was certainly not of the highest; he almost invariably praised ephemeral junk and rejected the best new plays like The Rivals ("the play not good"), older ones like 'Tis Pity She's a Whore ("a simple play and ill acted"), as well as the Shakespearean classics that he was seeing for the first time: "We saw Midsummers nights dreame, which I have never seen before, nor shall ever again, for it is the most insipid ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life."
Pepys's partner in this giddy social ascent was his wife, Elizabeth. Tomalin claims with a certain justice that the Diary gives
as good an account of the married state as has ever been written, its struggles, its woes, its pleasures and its discontents. You might put the Diary into the hands of a Martian to explain the institution and its workings, at least as it existed for the middle classes for three centuries, from the seventeenth until the twentieth, when men held economic and intellectual sway over their wives; and in many aspects it is still perfectly relevant, because its great achievement is to map the tidal waters of marriage, where the waves of feeling ebb and flow from hour to hour and from month to month.
This is true, with the vital caveat that the account is entirely one-sided: not one single line of Elizabeth's writing has survived. Not that anyone could accuse Pepys of glossing over his faults or trying to justify them. He was always disarmingly fair-minded, if not in his actual dealings with his wife then at least in his written versions of their quarrels. There are some wonderful observations that anyone who has been a spouse will instantly recognize:
I see that she is confirmed in it that all that I do is by design, and that my very keeping of the house in dirt [he was supervising some home improvements], and the doing of this and anything else in the house, is but to find her imployment to keep her within and from minding of her pleasure. In which, though I am sorry to see she minds it, is true enough in a great degree. We fell very foul; and I do find she doth keep very bad remembrances of my former unkindnesses to her, and doth mightily complain of her want of money and liberty; which I will rather hear and bear the complaint of then grant the contrary.
Pepys was a domestic bully, but Elizabeth gave as good as she got: she had a violent temper to match his own, and never allowed herself to assume the victim's role. One of the very first entries in the Diary shows them indulging in a public fracas when Elizabeth makes known her resentment at being left at home: "My wife was very unwilling to let me go forth; but with some discontent, would go out if I did; and I going forth towards Whitehall, I saw she fallowed me, and so I stayed and took her round through Whitehall, and so carried her home angry." Physical violence broke out between them from time to time, and again, Elizabeth invariably fought back.
I was very angry and begun to find fault with my wife for not commanding her servants as she ought. Thereupon, she giving me some cross answer, I did strike her over her left eye such a blow, as the poor wretch did cry out and was in great pain; but yet her spirit was such as to endeavour to bite and scratch me. But I cogging with her, made her leave crying, and sent for butter and parsley, and friends presently with one another; and I up, vexed at my heart to think what I had done, for she was forced to lay a poultice or something to her eye all day, and is black--and the people of the house observed it.
Pepys, as Tomalin points out, did not attempt to cast himself in the beau role. In 1663, as part of his campaign to educate and "finish" his wife (Stevenson described Elizabeth as vulgar, and though some have objected to the adjective I would say it is a reasonable one), Pepys hired a dancing master, a Mr. Pembleton. At first he was pleased by his Elizabeth's interest in her lessons; then he began to worry that she was a bit too interested, and got "a little angry with my wife for minding nothing now but the dancing-maister, having him come twice a day, which is folly." A few days later he found them alone, not dancing but walking! "Now, so deadly full of jealousy I am, that my heart and head did so cast about and fret, that I could not do any business possibly, and ready to chide at everything; and then suddenly to bed and could hardly sleep, yet durst not say anything."
The drama goes on and on, with Pepys skulking around the house, checking the bedsheets to see whether they have been mussed up, worrying to see Pembleton "leer upon" Elizabeth at church, and being made mock of by her. He openly voiced the classic male terror, usually unspoken: "I fear, without great discretion, I shall go near to lose too my command over her; and nothing doth it more then giving her this occasion of dancing and other pleasure, whereby her mind ... finds other sweets besides pleasing of me, and so makes her that she begins not at all to take pleasure in me or study to please me as heretofore."
Both Pepys and his wife were conscious of the timeless double standard he practiced. "God knows, that I do not find honesty enough in my own mind but that upon a small temptation I could be false to her--but God pardon both my sin and my folly herein." The "God pardon" is strictly formulaic; he had no intention of curtailing his own activities, and as he ranted about his wife's friendly feelings for the dancing-master he himself was availing himself of the complaisant Mrs. Betty Lane: "I did give her a Lobster and do so towse her and feel her all over, making her believe how fair and good a skin she had; and endeed, she hath a very white thigh and leg, but monstrous fat."
Pepys might fairly be described as a groper and a grabber, who took his pleasures indiscriminately whenever and wherever they presented themselves. None of his household servants was safe from his wandering hands except for the discreet, well-behaved Jane Birch, who intimidated him: "I have ... a mind to my own wench, but I dare not, for fear she should prove honest and refuse and then tell my wife." He recorded his conquests gloatingly and in detail, usually in a ludicrous patois made up of French and Spanish with the odd Latin or Italian word thrown in:
Dressed and had my head combed by my little [servant] girle, to whom I confess je sum demasiado kind, nuper ponendo saepe mes mains in sus dos choses de son breast. Mais il faut que je leave it lest it bring me to alguno major inconvenience. I to Westminster, and to Mrs. Martins and did hazer what yo would con her, and did aussi tocar la thigh de su landlady.
Many have assumed that the foreign words were there for purposes of discretion, but this is an absurd assumption since anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of Romance languages can understand what he is getting at, and in any case Elizabeth, the person from whom Pepys had the most to fear, was herself French. It is far more likely that the exotic phrases provided Pepys with an additional sexual frisson, and that using them is his way of reliving the experiences with added gusto.
What makes all this particularly amusing is the fact that Pepys could be so extremely censorious about other men's peccadilloes. When the married Lord Sandwich, who appeared to undergo some sort of midlife crisis in 1663, disgraced himself by going off to live in Chelsea with his mistress, Pepys was deeply shocked and even went to the length of writing him a letter to express his concern--an extremely brave gesture from a lifelong dependent and protege The example set by the Court was key: when Pepys remarked in 1660 that Sandwich had become "a perfect Courtier" he did not mean it as a compliment, and he frequently expressed his opinion that "there is nothing almost but bawdry at Court from top to bottom"--though disapproval did not keep him from lusting after Lady Castlemaine, the king's glitzy, high-profile mistress: "strange it is, how for her beauty I am willing to conster all this to the best ... though I know well enough she is a whore."
Pepys's disapproval--again, that of a secular puritan--seems to have been set in motion principally when adulterous behavior kept a man from doing his work to the best of his ability (something that Pepys never allowed to happen in his own case). It was less the bawdry at Court that Pepys deplored than the lethargy it induced in the royal brothers, who tended to dissipate their not always boundless energy in compulsive womanizing. As for Lord Sandwich, his unwise affair turned out to be the first sign of an instability that would eventually damage his career. In 1665 he behaved indiscreetly over a distribution of prize cargoes; there was even talk of impeachment until Charles II saved the day by sending him as Ambassador to Spain. He continued to be an important grandee but never regained the high esteem in which he had formerly been held by the Crown, and from that moment the young Pepys was more or less on his own. Pepys's career, which was to be a series of triumphs--he is still revered by historians for his reorganization of the naval administration, and thought by many to have laid the ground for British dominance of the sea during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries--was, in the end, entirely of his own making.
The most dramatic material in the Diary comes toward the end, when Elizabeth at last catches him out. He is with their pretty young paid companion, Deb Willet, and while what he is getting up to with her is, as we know, nothing very unusual for him, it is the first time Elizabeth has been faced with it and she is distraught.
... after supper, to have my head combed by Deb, which occasioned the greatest sorrow to me that ever I knew in this world; for my wife, coming up suddenly, did find me imbracing the girl con my hand sub su coats; and endeed, I was with my main in her cunny. I was at a wonderful loss upon it, and the girl also; and I endeavored to put it off, but my wife was struck mute and grew angry, and as her voice came to her, grew quite out of order.
"At a wonderful loss!" One can just picture them standing there with their mouths open. Elizabeth went ballistic. She ranted, raged, wept; she extracted promises from Pepys not only to send Deb away but to stop seeing all the other attractive women they know; she attacked him with hot tongs; she even confessed to being a secret Catholic. Pepys admitted the justice of her anger but couldn't help brooding about the departed Deb: "the truth is, I have a great mind for to have the maidenhead of this girl, which I should not doubt to have if yo could get time para be con her--but she will be gone and I know not whither." It was very much a pre-Romantic age and the concept of being "in love" is foreign to Pepys, but a man in later centuries might well have called himself so. The marital struggle was fought almost to the death, with predictable results: Elizabeth appeared to have won the upper hand, with a contrite Pepys staying home in the evenings reading and even praying with her, but unsurprisingly he had resumed some of his former frolics by the time he brought the diary to its close on May 31, 1669.
In the summer of 1669 Pepys took a holiday to rest his apparently failing eyes, traveling with Elizabeth to France. Upon their return in the autumn, the unthinkable happened: Elizabeth fell ill and, quite quickly, died. Two years later their beloved house burned down; all that Pepys was able to save from the flames were his books, including the Diary. The house "that enshrined the memory of his years with Elizabeth" was gone. And Sandwich, too, was soon dead, killed in a sea battle with the Dutch in 1672.
Pepys moved into the Admiralty headquarters at Derby House, and in 1672 was elected to Parliament. As Secretary to the Admiralty and Treasurer for Tangier he exercised considerable power. In 1677 he introduced a new rule that no one should be appointed lieutenant in the navy unless he had served three years, passed an exam in navigation and seamanship, and received a certificate from his captain. "Pepys had made history at stroke" writes Tomalin, "bringing about a revolution in the way the navy was run, fired by his belief that education and intelligence were more useful to the nation than family background and money; and that however gallant and courageous `gentlemen' captains might be, the service needed to be professionalized."
Pepys's rise was steady but not without reverses, since his career was linked to and dependent upon the Duke of York, who as a declared Catholic was in a very vulnerable position: Pepys was imprisoned in the Tower on suspicion of treasonable, pro-Catholic correspondence during the Popish Plot, and again in 1690. In 1684 he was appointed King's Secretary for Naval Affairs and was elected President of the Royal Society, and with the accession of James II in 1685 his influence seemed secure.
But the Glorious Revolution and the defeat and exile of James marked the end of Pepys's career. Whatever his personal opinion of Charles and James Stuart might have been, he knew he owed his career to them and he must have felt he was past the age for accommodation. With the accession of William and Mary he joined the group of so-called "nonjurors" who refused to take an oath of allegiance to the new sovereigns, considering themselves still bound by their earlier oaths to James. So Pepys passed, probably with relief, out of public life.
He never married again; Tomalin suggests, reasonably enough, that he was so exhausted by his intense, combative union with Elizabeth that he simply couldn't face another round. He did enjoy a thirty-three-year union with a discreet lady, Mary Skynner; they lived together in a suite of rooms in the house of Pepys's former clerk and surrogate son, Will Hewer, and their union was accepted as respectable by all his friends. Pepys died, after a painful illness, in 1703.
"There never was a man," commented Stevenson, "nearer being an artist, who yet was not one." This seems a good judgment on Pepys: the greatest of diarists, the greatest of observers, but really a commentator rather than an artist. The reason for this lack would seem to be that Pepys was too extrovert to be an artist. He had, at least insofar as the Diary tells the truth, no inner life to speak of: everything was on or near the surface. The closest he came to introspection was during the Deb Willet affair, and he did not delve very deeply even then. He possessed, too, a certain emotional naivete that makes the Diary infinitely charming and amusing but deprives it of profound insights.
Pepys's Diary was widely read, though in heavily bowdlerized editions, throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and up until the Second World War. It is less well known to today's readers, possibly because a full enjoyment of it demands at least a rudimentary knowledge of its historical context, which today's general reader does not possess. Tomalin's biography provides that knowledge; perhaps, armed with her work, a new generation will be inspired to tackle this most colorful, absurd, and instinctively witty chronicler.
(1) Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self, by Claire Tomalin; Alfred A. Knopf, 465 pages, $30.
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|Title Annotation:||17th century diarist Samuel Pepys|
|Article Type:||Critical Essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2003|
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