October 18, 2017
The Last of Pepys's DiaryOn this day in 1669, Samuel Pepys regretfully made the final entry in his nine-and-a-half-year diary, citing his deteriorating eyes as cause. Begun when he was a struggling young civil servant, Pepys's diary covers the beginnings of his rise to wealth and influence in Restoration England. It is praised not just as a priceless historical document but for a range of character, anecdote and detail that is Dickensian in scope, and just as readable. We learn the devices and dirty linen of those at court; of running from the Black Death and being singed by the Great Fire; of who wore this latest fashion to that popular play; of the best pub for anchovies or assignations; of the small, perfect things only a born storyteller would notice: "I staid up till the bell-man came by with his bell just under my window as I was writing this very line, and cried, 'Past one of the clock, and a cold, and frosty, windy morning.'"
Pepys may be at his most engaging -- and graphic -- when trying to describe and puzzle out his flirting and philandering. Here the diary shifts suddenly from the large canvas of Court and City to a more familiar domestic drama, in which Pepys plays many roles. We might find him in fond recall of how his young wife "used to make coal fires and wash my foul clothes with her own hand for me, poor wretch! in our little room at Lord Sandwich's; for which I ought forever to love and admire her, and do." Or in remorse, and "most absolutely resolved, if ever I can maister this bout, never to give her occasion while I live of more trouble of this or any other kind, there being no curse in the world so great as this of the difference between myself and her." Or, after another late night, doing the two-step:
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