Samuel Pepys, blogger


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Imagine my surprise Friday when, rummaging in the bins where new books arrive at our department, I found among the glossy covers of new mysteries and elegant art histories a book from 1895.

It was a personal package sent to me by a friend who spends a large part of his time haunting used bookstores. The book, ‘The Travels and Essays of Robert Louis Stevenson,’ has a shabby, red-knit cover: Of course it’s shabby, though--it has traveled through a century. And yet, the book feels like less of a time capsule than you might assume.


Of course the language and circumstances are different from our own time, but the issue in all of these pieces--on Victor Hugo, on Francois Villon, on Thoreau and Walt Whitman and many others--is the cause of good writing, a concern that never goes out of style. Here, for instance, are RLS’ thoughts, which anticipate some issues about writing and the web, on Samuel Pepys’ ability to change his voice and moods:

‘We all, whether we write or speak, must somewhat drape ourselves when we address our fellows; at a given moment we apprehend our character and acts by some particular side; we are merry with one, grave with another, as befits the nature and demands of the relation.... There is no untruth in this, for man, being a Protean animal, swiftly shares and changes with his company and surroundings; and these changes are the better part of his education in the world. To strike a posture once for all, and to march through life like a drum-major, is to be highly disagreeable to others and a fool for oneself into the bargain....

‘It is improbable that the Diary can have been carried on in the same single spirit in which it was begun. Pepys ... must have perceived, as he went on, the extraordinary nature of the work he was producing. He was a great reader, and he knew what other books were like. It must, at least, have crossed his mind that some one might ultimately decipher the manuscript, and he himself, with all his pains and pleasures, be resuscitated in some later day....’

Of course that resuscitation is in progress now at The Diary of Samuel Pepys, which is regularly posting Pepys’ diary entries in blog form. Pepys seems the ideal ancestor of today’s best bloggers--a voice that constantly changes, gives variety and mood and avoids the preachiness of a drum-major (some, of course, don’t). Thanks RLS.

Nick Owchar