Samuel Pepys: A Diary

In preparing to keep a journal he was giving himself a task, and his temperament and training meant he was going to take the task seriously . . . even if he had no idea what he might achieve, he appears to have seen himself as a man who might do something in the world. Without his enthusiasm for himself, the Diary would hardly have begun to take shape as it did.

He was a passionate reader and cared for good writing. He had already tried his hand as a novelist and discovered a flair for reporting history in the making. Like many others, Pepys started off wanting to write something without quite knowing what it was, and the Diary could be a way of finding out. He may have seen it as a source book for something grander to be undertaken later. The high drama of the world in which he had grown up, the still continuing conflict between republic and monarchy, the heroic figures set against one another, paralleled the conflicts of the ancient world he had studied in classical texts. And principally, there was his curiosity about himself, which made him see his own mental and physical nature as not merely a legitimate but a valuable and glorious subject for exploration.

Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self, by Claire Tomalin, p. 79

Claire Tomalin, wow. Just wow.

This is a re-read. The first time she read it, she was on her way to Berlin to give a reading. She had it on her lap the whole flight, but it turned out her seatmate was a young Finnish architect who was going home after making a bid on behalf of his architectural firm for a building in Beijing. He ended up explaining Berlin to her, making little drawings on her notebook: here’s the Brandenburg gate, here’s Oranienstrasse, this street has the best Turkish food, etc.

She remembered being amazed, not just by Berlin, but by the book. Who knows why she decided to re-read it now (motives will be examined, later, in her journal, lol). She didn’t expect her re-read to evoke the same spark of excitement that it did on first read, 15 years (!) ago, but for some reason the above passage read really fresh.

(To be continued)

2 responses to “Samuel Pepys: A Diary”

    • You should read him alongside Claire Tomalin’s book. She puts everything in context — i.e. the life and times of Samuel Pepys. So interesting because the last time I was in London, in June, I saw his ‘hood’. His house is very near the Victoria embankment.


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