The Diary of Samuel Pepys
Blessed be God, at the end of the last year I was in very good health, without any sense of my old pain but upon taking cold.
I lived in Axe-yard, having my wife and servant Jane, and no more in family than us three.
My wife, after the absence of her terms for seven weeks, gave me hopes of her being with child, but on the last day of the year she hath them again. The condition of the State was thus….
So Pepys began his Diary in January, 1660. The third sentence, which is the first of many references to his wife’s dysmenorrhea, does not appear in any of the editions, although it is quoted from the manuscript in Arthur Bryant’s excellent biography (Vol. I, The Man in the Making, 1933, 1947). The text has always been badly cut until now, and not just for reasons of indelicacy or bawdiness—in fact a surprising amount of mild erotica got through in the nineteenth-century editions, which partly accounts for the book’s popularity—but simply to shorten it. Of course Pepys is long-winded and sometimes boring, but no one who likes him would care to lose one sentence; and now we have the whole text for the first time.
The earlier editions, again, were not always accurate in their transcriptions of Pepys’s shorthand; but William Matthews is the leading expert in this subject and there are hundreds of new and reliable readings. The Introduction and commentary also show a vast improvement over earlier editions: Robert Latham is a professional historian, and the contributing editors look after the subjects of theater, music, works of art, and London topography. These volumes include less than a third of the Diary; the Plague and the Great Fire are still to come, and there will be a companion volume at the end of the series, which promises to be a mine of information about the Restoration period.
The Diary is the record of the most delightful euphoria of any man in literature. This euphoria was produced by steadily rising wealth and power, and showed itself in growing sexual energy and enjoyment of all that life had to offer. The sexual effects of power have often been noted in public figures: fear of the libel laws prevents me from mentioning recent names, but examples in America and Britain will readily come to mind. Pepys’s power came from his good luck in getting a job in the Navy Office, and from his hard work and skill as an administrator. He wrote in a later year “that, for myself, 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.”
The money came from wheeling and dealing. The military-industrial simplex then consisted…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.