Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Extraordinary fecundity

"I went out to Charing Cross, to see Major-General Harrison hanged, drawn and quartered; which was done there, he looking as cheerful as any man could do in that condition."
October 13, 1660

" the King's Theatre, where we saw Midsummer's Night's Dream, which I had never seen before, nor shall ever again, for it is the most insipid ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life."
September 29, 1662

"But Lord! to see the absurd nature of Englishmen, that cannot forbear laughing and jeering at every thing that looks strange."
November 27, 1662

"...a good dinner and feasting reconciles everybody."
9 November 1665

"...saw a wedding in the church, which I have not seen many a day; and the young people so merry one with another... what delight we married people have to see these poor fools decoyed into our condition, every man and woman gazing and smiling at them."
December 25, 1665

"The truth is, I do indulge myself a little the more in pleasure, knowing that this is the proper age of my life to do it; and out of my observation that most men that do thrive in the world, do forget to take pleasure during the time that they are getting their estate, but reserve that till they have got one, and then it is too late for them to enjoy it with any pleasure."
March 10, 1666

We managed to catch the exhibition Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution last weekend (it closes this Saturday), and it was every bit as Michael Prodger described it in The Guardian:
"...a cabinet of curiosities that reflects his extraordinary fecundity... the new exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, is a visual accompaniment to Pepys’s one and a quarter million (mostly shorthand) words.

Pepys (1633-1703) lived through five reigns, three regime changes, one civil war and at least three other history-making disasters: the outbreak of Plague in 1665 (during which he managed to quadruple his income), the Great Fire of London of 1666 and the second Anglo-Dutch war, which in 1667 saw foreign warships sail unimpeded up the Medway. For good measure, Pepys was also chief secretary to the Admiralty, a fellow of the Royal Society, and was on board the ship that brought Charles II back from exile.

Among the 150 exhibits there are the bloodstained waistcoat Charles I wore at his execution and a cast of the death mask of Oliver Cromwell (complete with warts); there are Wenceslaus Hollar’s panoramic views showing London before and after the great fire, and a bell rung at the funeral of plague victims; there is a love letter from Charles II to Louise de Kéroualle (“’tis impossible to expresse the true passion and kindnesse I have for my dearest dearest fubs” – fubs meaning “chubby”) and a pair of green spectacles of the sort Pepys wore to alleviate the eye strain of too much candle-lit work."
It was in turns startling - just looking at the medical instruments that were used to remove his bladder stone the size of a snooker ball, without anaesthetic, made my eyes water - and engrossing. Among the exhibition's highlights (for me, at least) were an original edition of Robert Hooke's magnificent Micrographia (Pepys was chair of the Royal Society at the time of its publication; a body whose membership was impressive, including Wren, Boyle, Halley and Newton), the grand-scale portraits, the fabulous silver-embroidered fancy outfit (the then) Prince James (later James II) wore at his wedding to Mary of Modena, and the intricate "Bones", Pepys' wooden "pocket calculator".

The actual diaries themselves, unfortunately, were unable to be released from the care of his library at Magdalene College Oxford, but there was an abundance of his notes, writings, collections and ephemera (and "interactive" extracts on screens) to occupy our fascination with the extraordinary life, loves and interests of Samuel Pepys.

Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution


  1. I used to read his dairy every day on that corresponding day. Fascinating

  2. Yeah I have also read his diary. It was quite overwhelming for me. You know I also attended a similar event at one of local event venues where a skit was performed too based on his story. The skit was really fascinating.

    1. He's an eternal source of inspiration. Jx


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