A Digression On Pepys (Throwback Thursday)

About a year ago I started to write a post comparing two books that I had happened to be reading simultaneously, one of which was boring me to tears. I was not going to waste my breath on it too much – I was going to point out how good the other book was in comparison. As luck would have it, both were on the subject of history, so I started the post with an introductory paragraph about having read some good history books in my time… Unfortunately, the introductory paragraph ended up running to several paragraphs, neatly hijacking the entire post. The chief hijacker was Pepys – whom I found myself quite unable to dismiss in one summary sentence.

I feel Pepys deserves a post to himself, so here I proudly present you with:

My Digression on Pepys

Ever since I first read a book on the Trojan War as a child, I enjoyed reading books on history. Preferably novels.

Nevertheless over the years I matured sufficiently to start reading non-fiction – voluntarily, that is – and some of it was very good. Like Herodotus. Or the Conquest of New Spain. Or when it comes to it – dare I say it? Pepys. Although I wouldn’t recommend him to the casual reader, unless much distilled. Let Pepys bury the Parmesan or flee from his wife’s red hot poker in a single volume, rather than the eleven I’ve got on the shelf.

Reading the entire Pepys was my finest feat of endurance to date: it took me four years and was possible only because my family kept buying me the volumes as birthday presents, so I felt obliged to read them. The trouble with Pepys is that he didn’t write a book; he wrote a diary. (He also wrote it in code, presumably to keep his wife from reading it – not that this prevented her to find out about his many and varied infidelities). And the thing about diaries is that you don’t explain things – you know exactly who Mr Grant was (a shop-keeper on Birchin Lane) or why Captain Taylor came to see you about his bill for freight. Which is why the full Pepys is accompanied by two massive volumes of notes & index.

So much about Pepys. If you’ve got time on your hands and are interested in the minutiae of life in 1660s London, the full Pepys is a good, scholarly read. (And you practically get to live with the man.) Otherwise, content yourself with the single volume edition which contains all the genuinely interesting bits – the restoration of Charles II, the great plague, the great fire of London and the Dutch raid on Chatham.

And that single volume you won’t regret finding the time for.


This is the first in a new series of posts, under the banner of Throwback Thursday, which will run on every first Thursday of the month republishing old but worthwhile posts - either in their original form or rewritten and updated as the case may be - from the early days of Waterblogged when most of you weren't yet around. Many of these posts (mostly the ones from July and August 2015) were corrupted in the move to wp.com anyway and can't be accessed via the archives or the tags. (Or at least, that's my excuse.)

A Digression on Pepys is originated in the opening paragraphs of Commander (Or Reading Books on History) - July 2015.


6 thoughts on “A Digression On Pepys (Throwback Thursday)

  1. belshade

    Great to hear of another Pepys fanatic! I picked up an Everyman edition of the Diary about 30 years ago in a charity book sale and was immediately hooked. As my sight deteriorated I got the Smith/Braybrooke edition from Amazon for about $1 each volume – much larger type. When I retired I got involved in adult education and ran two courses on the Diary. They turned out very popular – all credit to the author. You mention purchasing the 11-odd volume edition over the years – I think that is the more modern one I read via the local Library volume by volume – being very careful to avoid overdue fines! I was lucky enough to pick up vol. X “Companion” of what I think is the same edition from the Net on its own. It is a real mine of information on the 17th. century. That Latham and Matthews edition is unexpurgated – the old Smith\Braybrook edition has bits censored to meet Victorian requirements. Des.


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