An Entrancing Ego: Samuel Pepys

Park, Clara Claiborne

In 1673, four years after he abandoned the diary that would (after a hundred fifty years) make him famous, Samuel Pepys for the second time had his portrait painted. He could afford to. He was at the height of his career. He was a member of the Royal Society. He’d just been appointed Secretary to the Admiralty Board, working closely with King Charles, who chaired the Board himself and had been watching Pepys since his Restoration to the throne in 1660. Within months he’d be an MP, the Navy’s voice in Parliament.

Yet the face that looks out at us from the cover of Claire Tomalin’s biography1 is not the “formidable figure” she describes, “sure of himself, known to have the king’s ear, with rich friends in the City and clever ones in the Royal Society.” There is a line of worry between the strong eyebrows; the mouth is soft rather than firm and not fully closed. Nine years before, when the first portrait was painted, the worry line was already there, and the uncertain mouth. It is a very different face from the faces of the dukes and earls (and sirs-Pepys himself, for all his public service, was never knighted) whose portraits Richard Ollard has assembled2 to illustrate the people with whom his adult life was spent.

Though we know Shakespeare was a glover’s son, we tend to think that England awaited the Industrial Revolution for the classes to begin to mix. But Sam Pepys’s father was a London tailor, his mother a laundry maid. Still, there were other Pepyses, uncles and cousins of varying degrees of kinship. John the tailor was cousin to Sir Richard Pepys, Lord Chief Justice of Ireland under Cromwell. Talbot, his great-uncle, was chief magistrate of Cambridge under the first Charles. There were doctors and lawyers too. But the most glittering connection, and the most crucial for Sam Pepys, was with Sir Edward Montagu.

Montagu too was a kind of cousin, being the son of Paulina Pepys, Sam’s grandfather’s sister, who at thirty-seven had unexpectedly made a brilliant marriage to Sir Sidney Montagu, a university graduate and the younger brother of an earl. Sam’s uncle Robert Pepys was the Montagus’ bailiff, and he had no children. He brought his brother’s ten-year-old son from the city to live with him. So Sam’s formal education began not in London but at the Huntington Grammar School, conveniently near his uncle’s home.

This was a school of some reputation. Oliver Cromwell had gone there; more relevant for Sam, so had his aristocratic cousin. After one or two years of rigorous Latin (that was the grammar in seventeenth-century grammar schools), Sam was ready to return to London and enter the celebrated St. Paul’s School, next to the cathedral. Celebrated (Milton had been a pupil), but as Tomalin points out, it “served widely different levels of society, ranging from the sons of baronets and MPs, through country parsons, to booksellers, soap boilers and drapers.” It was, in short, just mixed enough to ensure that a clever boy would feel himself an outsider -though, with luck, an outsider with a future.

He had some catching up to do, academic as well as social. He was eighteen when he entered Cambridge, though many boys began university at fourteen. He’d won a scholarship-he couldn’t have gone otherwise-but as a sizar, his expenses paid at the weekly rate of one shilling and sixpence, he could hardly expect to keep up with the young lords around him. He was an outsider still.

But though on graduation he had no particular plans, his luck held. Edward Montagu sat on Cromwell’s Council of State; he was “one of the makers of the Protectorate and a clear favorite of the Lord Protector.” He needed assistants he could trust, and he remembered his well-educated young cousin.

Considering he was a university graduate, Sam didn’t expect much. He seemed content with his marginal position, somewhere between servant and family member, in and out of Montagu’s Whitehall lodgings and often sleeping there, competent to make small and not so small purchases, solve household problems, act as a secretary, or write his employer what was going on in London while he was away on his country estate.

But Cromwell died, and his son Richard was incompetent. Tomalin quotes a hostile but respectful contemporary: “The old Vulture died, and out of his ashes rose a Titmouse.” Montagu, so close to Cromwell, swore loyalty to his son; but as incompetence threatened anarchy and civil war, Charles Stuart, waiting in Holland, began to look better and better. Montagu laid low in the country, kept informed by Pepys of the growing crisis in London. But even Pepys didn’t guess what he had in mind.

What he had in mind was to sail to Holland in the Protectorate’s greatest ship (hastily redecorated to remove from her prow “the figure of Cromwell treading down six nations”). And he would take Pepys with him, now as his private secretary. From that point on, he told his young cousin, they would rise together. The Diary begins in those turbulent months, and day by day it chronicles that rise.

It not only chronicles it, it reckons it, literally, exactly, and often, in money. “Money,” observes Tomalin, “is one of the Diary’s obsessive themes, how it is made, how borrowed and lent, how spent, how saved, how hidden. . . . When the Diary opens Pepys has hardly £25 to his name; when it ends less than ten years later he has a fortune of £10,000” and counting. He no longer beds down in a corner of Montagu’s Whitehall lodgings, or in the spartan quarters he moves to with his young wife. Now he has a well-paid position on the Navy Board, and a house goes with it. He doesn’t own it, but it’s as good as his, and he’ll put his mark on it. He’s continually renovating-gilding for the parlor, a new front door, a new staircase, a better coalbin in the cellar; he will even add a third story. Though he complains of the mess he spends days happily supervising the work; “I cannot but be with the workmen to see things done to my mind.” The cellar now “doth please me exceedingly, as much as anything that was ever yet done to my house”; he must pray God to keep him from “setting [his] mind too much upon it.”3 The house must proclaim him. Over the years he fills it with silver and damask, painting and prints, and books, books, books. (These are still to be seen, along with the unique cases he had made for them, in the Pepys Library at Magdalene College at Cambridge.)

All this comes to him through Montagu, who is now even more aristocratic than he was, created the first Earl of Sandwich as a reward for his role in the recent regime change, as well as viceadmiral of the navy. Even in the Diary Pepys never calls him anything but “My Lord.” He knows better than to claim cousinship with his patron and mentor.

Pepys is just right for his new job. Articulate, meticulous, and a very quick study, he makes himself indispensable in short order. He brings unprecedented efficiency to a navy that will soon be fighting the Dutch again. He takes over functions that others let go and invents new ones. He’ll stay up late to finish his “colleccion of the prices of Masts for these twelve years to this day, in order to the buying of some of Wood.” And then-already the connoisseur-“I bound it up in painted paper.” Masts from New England and the Baltic, contracts for timber, canvas, rope, meat and beer for the sailors-all these necessities afforded opportunities for profitable side deals. As My Lord explained to his protégé, it was these rather than the salary (Pepys was making £350 a year) that made a man rich. Plus the presents-plate for his table, jewelry for his wife, gold coins to supplement the ingots in his cellar. . . . As one of the Board’s four Principal Officers, Pepys was now a man of influence, and men of influence, then as now, attract a lot of presents.

Yet the sense of marginality still lingers. Tomalin sums it up: “the youngest of the officers . . . , the poorest, the least experienced and one of the few without a title,” he can’t quite feel at ease in his new status. On an inspection tour with his colleagues, he reports his “great pleasure” at seeing “how I am respected and honoured by all people, and I find that I begin to know how to receive such reverence, which at the beginning I could not tell how to do.” He’s “much troubled” to find no mention of the Pepyses in a book of England’s Worthies, though he’s met the author and “had some discourse about my family and armes.” Realism, however, breaks in, as it usually does with Pepys: he adds, “But I believe, endeed our family were never considerable.” Two years later he can put up a good front; at a convivial dinner, with ladies present, he “roundly, and in many words for an hour together” takes one of his titled colleagues to task in the presence of another “that they might see that I am somebody.”

He is somebody, but a year goes by and he still can’t take it for granted:

. . . and Lord, to see how I am treated, that come from so mean a beginning, is a matter of wonder to me. But it is God’s great mercy to me, and his blessing upon my taking pains and being punctual in my dealings.

Punctual, assiduous, he’s not boasting. Challenged, he could produce written records of “every item bought from the ironmonger, the chandler, the turner, etc.-double-spring locks, single-spring locks, door handles, scuttle hinges, table screws, sail needles, fire shovels . . . giving for each the price paid first by the king and then by the ordinary merchant; and so showing what might be saved in every £100.” But it was more than his mastery of such details that made him “one of the most important naval administrators in England’s history.” He got them right, but he saw beyond them to the possibility of a truly professional service. Years later he would succeed in establishing something unheard of, competitive examinations for officers in the navy.

But it is not the endless accounts of navy business that make the Diary so addictive. It is Pepys himself-in Robert Louis Stevenson’s words, “that entrancing ego of whom he cared alone to write.” Tomalin’s subtitle sums it up: “The Unequalled Self.”

The shamelessness of his self-observation deserves to be called scientific. Just about every aspect of his behaviour is set out, from his working practices and his professional and moral struggles to his bowel movements and ejaculations.

He set it out in shorthand. Nobody should read it but himself -nobody except, perhaps posterity, for he had his six volumes bound for his library, and made sure that Shelton’s Short Writing or Tachigraphy was also on its shelves.

Yet the Diary offers much more than the shamelessness of selfobservation. Day-by-day reportage becomes history in his accounts of the crisis that brought the return of monarchy, or the frustrations of catching the attention of a neglectful monarch. The Great Fire of London is described with a journalist’s eye for the telling detail: “our feet ready to burn, walking through the town among the hot coles.” There too are his satisfactions-the lure of the reopened theaters-“the first time that ever I saw Women come on the stage”; glimpses of the burgeoning scientific culture-a “very fine” lecture “on the Kidnys, Ureters, and Yard [penis]”; “very good discourse with Mr. Ashmole” at the Lord Mayor’s table, “where he did advise me that froggs and many other insects do often fall from the sky ready-formed.” Laughter too, and a bit of outsider’s philosophy, as the king is brought back from Holland: “a dog that the King loved, which shit in the boat, which made us laugh and me think that a King and all that belong to him are but just as others are.” Money, monarchy, politics, science, religion, books, music, food, sex-everything, it seems, interests him, everything deserves his attention. By the vigor of its voice his Diary awakens us to the value of daily experience, taken as it comes, trivial or momentous, troubling or enjoyable, all together. But it is his astonishing capacity for enjoyment that makes the Diary-and quotation-irresistible. Pleasure-the word and the fact-pervades its entries. Not for Pepys the gloomy rise of a Julien Sorel. He takes his wife to the opera, then to a tavern where they “eat and drunk and were pleasant.” Then home, “and so good night-this being a very pleasant life that we now lead and have long done; the Lord be blessed and make us thankful.” Pepys has a rare willingness to acknowledge happiness and welcome it guilt-free. Certainly he believes in money, but he believes even more in the pleasures it can bring. “But though I am much against too much spending, yet I do think it best to enjoy some degree of pleasure, now that we have health, money and opportunities, rather then to leave them to old age, when we cannot have them so properly.”

“And so to bed” may be Diary’s hallmark phrase, but it is not the most characteristic. “The best Musique that I ever yet heard in my life”-thus he wrote on December 21, 1664, not for the first time. The best dinner, the best dancing on the ropes, “the best lower part of her face that ever I saw in my life”-over and over again we encounter this hyperbole of pleasure.

He refrains from nominating the best sermon that ever he heard in his life, but it’s evident that “Lord’s Day” services are a source of pleasure too. Despite his conventional thankfulness, religion supplies Pepys with entertainment as well as edification -in unequal proportions. It’s interesting to take in unfamiliar rites, delightful to see the silks and velvets, and the women inside them. He may skip his own church services and go to the Queens’ chapel (both Queen and Queen Mother are Catholics, a source of much anxiety in a Protestant country). There he can admire “the fine Alter, ornaments, and the fryers in their habits, and the priests . . . with their fine Copes,” but it’s the sight of “my dear Lady Castlemaine,” the king’s mistress, that “pleases [him] best.” Another day he takes his wife to the Jewish synagogue, observing there “the men and boys in their Vayles,” but not, alas, “the women behind a lettice” [lattice] out of sight. There’s a lot going on, bowing and singing, but it’s in Hebrew, and it’s certainly not like anything he’s used to. “But Lord, to see the disorder, laughing, sporting, and no attention, but confusion”; he could not have imagined “there had been any religion in the whole world so absurdly performed as this.” Absurd, but it leaves his mind “strangely disturbed.” he doesn’t say why. Introspection is not for this entrancing ego.

Music, sacred or secular, was one of his greatest pleasures. The Index to the Diary-a full volume, amusing and useful-devotes five pages to his entries on the subject. Pepys could not be expected to respond to Hebrew music, but his comment on the Queens’ service testifies to his attentive and critical ear. “I heard their music too, which may be good, but it did not appear so to me, neither as to their manner of singing nor was it good Concord to my ears.” “Concord” was something he knew from experience. There are many references to part-singing with friends-at least one convivial evening elicits the familiar hyperbole. “We had two or three fine songs . . . that I never was taken up more with a sense of pleasure in my life.” In his busy life he finds time to practice: “A great while at my Viall and voice learning to sing Fly boy, Fly boy without book.” He plays the lute too, and the flageolet, considers lessons in whistling, even composes. Music “ravished” him; a play might be mediocre, yet “that which did please me beyond anything in the whole world was the wind music when the Angell comes down,” which “in a word, did wrap up my soul so that it made me really sick, just as I have formerly been when in love with my wife; that neither then, nor all the evening going home and at home, I was able to think of anything, but remained all the night transported, so as I could not believe that ever any music hath that real command over the soul of a man as this did upon me.” Music, and music alone, could put this supremely practical man into another world.

He comes down to earth, however, with a bump. The rhapsody concludes in the very same sentence with “a resolve to practice wind music and make my wife do the like.”

Earthly folk, of course, can’t live on air, and if we go by frequency of reference, food and drink are right up there with music. Over the years Pepys specifies the pleasurable consumption of twenty varieties of fish and thirty of meat and poultry. Anchovies, carp, caviar, crab, crayfish . . . , bacon, beef, brains, calf’s head, capon, all the way to venison: “the best venison pasty that ever I eat of in my life,” in “the best dinner 1 ever was at.” Dining was a convivial pleasure, sometimes an intellectual one; this time he listened while his friends disputed whether “it was essentiall for a Tragedy to have the argument of it true,” himself to be the judge of it next week “at the same place upon the eating of the remains of the pasty,” ten shillings to be paid by the loser.

To read such menus is to understand the prevalence of gout and kidney stones among those who could afford them. Rather than his birthday Pepys celebrated the anniversary of his successful operation for a stone “as big as a tennis ball.” he had a leather case made for it and ten years later was still showing it around.

My wife had got ready a very fine dinner [soon she’d have a cook] viz. a dish of marrow bones. A leg of mutton. A loin of veal. A dish of fowl, three pullets, and two dozen of larks, all in a dish. A great tart. A neat’s tongue. A dish of anchoves. A dish of prawns and cheese.

No vegetables are mentioned.

This is in the first month of the Diary; he is just beginning to feel prosperous, and he’s out to impress his relatives-father, brother, uncle, cousins, and “all their wives.” One cousin drinks and talks too much; Pepys is “as merry [another recurrent word] as I could frame myself to be in that company.” Still, irritation is subsumed in satisfaction. There are poor Pepyses and rich Pepyses. He’s going to be one of the rich ones, and he wants the family to know it.

The consumption is certainly conspicuous. Yet there is a winning quality in the openness of his satisfaction. The dinner is for show, but it’s a good dinner, and we may be sure the host enjoyed it. His gilded parlor “doth please me well.” “My new plate sets off my cupboard very nobly.”

I fell into the Furnishing of my new closet . . . and so all the afternoon, till it was quite dark-hanging things; that is, my maps and pictures . . . and setting up my books . . . to my most extraordinary satisfaction; so that I think it will be as noble a closet as any man hath.

Reading unsympathetically, we may reflect that there’s not much he does that isn’t for show. The books are gilded too, and shelved according to height, to please the eye. Noble. As any man hath. The words imply, even crave recognition. But there’s more here than a parvenu’s display. He doesn’t just collect-books, pictures, plate, even (see the Index) scientific instruments. He reads, admires, uses, genuinely enjoys them.

We may be taken aback, however, to find that even grief affords the satisfaction of display. He’s tender-hearted-in the Fire he notes “a poor Catt taken out of a hole in the chimney with the hair all burned off and yet alive.” He’s a man of sensibility, but a sensibility that is, as Tomalin points out, “tender in imagination” but “tough in practice.” When his mother was dying he dreamt of her and wept in the dream, but he did not visit her or leave town for her funeral. Instead he goes off to the tailor to order mourning for his whole household, finishing the day “sad and afflicted, but my judgement at ease.” Next day he enjoys a dinner with friends, “mighty extraordinary merry”-“too merry for me,” he adds dutifully, “whose mother died so lately.” But then again, “they knew it not, so cannot reproach me thereon, though I do reproach myself.” Next day he’s “up and down again about my mourning”-to the shoemaker’s, the tailor’s; he buys gloves, two periwigs . . . By Sunday he’s ready for church, “and with my mourning, and new periwig make a great show.”

But Lord’s Day’s not over. The afternoon will afford another kind of pleasure. He’ll visit his mistress and there “haze todo which yo would hazer con ella”-the characteristic macaronics by which he buried his sexual peccadillos one level deeper in incomprehensibility.

Sundays, indeed, offer a mix of satisfactions. He hears a “very good” sermon (sometimes sermons put him to sleep). And “besides the sermon, I was very well pleased with the sight of a fine lady . . . very pretty and sprightly.” What’s nice about Christian services: the women, instead of being hidden behind a lattice, are visible, and perhaps more. Another Lord’s Day he

stood by a pretty, modest maid whom I did labour to take by the hand and the body; but she would not, but got further and further from me, and at last I could perceive she did take pins out of her pocket to prick me if I should touch her again. . . .

Upon which he “did forbear,” but “fell to gaze upon another pretty maid” and got hold of her hand, “which she suffered a little and then withdrew. So the sermon ended . . . and my amours ended also.”

Tomalin does his amours full justice. But she sees the fundamental insecurity beneath the juicy bits that have rewarded readers since Victorian editors first allowed them to seep into print. “Pepys’s own adventures, so frankly recorded, have given him a great reputation with posterity, but the truth is he had not much sexual confidence.” He says so himself:

. . . walked (fine weather) to Deptford and there did business and so back again; walked, and pleased with a jolie femme that I saw going and coming in the way, which yo could have sido contented para aver stayed with if yo could have ganar acquaintance con ella; but at such times as those I am at a great loss, having not confidence, ni alguno ready wit.

This at thirty-four, seven years into his chronicle of competence and success; he will be thirty-six when it closes. In those nine years, by Tomalin’s reckoning, “he has designs on something like twenty [women] but succeeds in seducing only three or four.” “By his own account, most of his stories of women are stories of sexual failure.” Nor were the women with whom he could hazer todo which he would (often with the complaisance of their husbands) the kind of elegant ladies he could entertain at a family dinner, or admire at the theater or in church. With those he could pleasure himself only in fantasy-and he recorded that too. Still, sexual pleasures and disappointments were only episodes, most of them brief. Tomalin points out how firmly the Diary sets them in the context of his varied busyness, “taking part in a committee meeting in a previous paragraph, and a page later . . . planning his house improvements.” They are not at the center of his life or his journal. It’s fairer, and more accurate, to attend while he speaks of his “great pleasure” in his work, or calls a flock of sheep on a sunny day “the most pleasant and innocent sight that ever I saw in my life.”

“We had the pleasure to see many Glow Worms, which was mighty pretty.” It’s evening, and Pepys and his wife are homeward bound after a day in the country (where the sheep were). We. Elizabeth Pepys is a vivid and continual presence in the Diary. If Tomalin did not point it out we might never notice that her husband never refers to her by name.

Tomalin’s reconstruction of the Pepys marriage is one of her book’s great strengths. Imagination in a biographer is not always a virtue. Tomalin’s, however, while warmly appreciative of the complexities of human feeling, is still cool enough to do right by the complexities of human fact. She is impressively, because explicitly, scrupulous as she does what a biographer must, even when she has such a revealing text to work with: wonder and speculate, assess unspoken motives, yet honor the difference between speculation and knowledge, between what Pepys writes or is a matter of historical record, and how she thinks it happened. She’ll say straight out, “I believe” or “at a guess,” thereby earning our respect for her guesses and beliefs, especially because they are based on a canny and perceptive sympathy.

That sympathy, however, doesn’t carry her away. She’s fascinated by her subject; she likes him but she’s not in love with him. She knows that his colleagues, servants, above all his wife, must often “put up with his harshness, his unfairness and his general tiresomeness.” he can get so angry with Elizabeth for “her things lying about” that “I kicked the little fine Baskett which I bought her in Holland and broke it, which troubled me after I had done it.” Once he gave her a black eye. But when he’s troubled afterwards, as he generally is, it’s his diary he tells, not his wife.

Tomalin opens her book with a warts-and-all account of an unusually prolonged quarrel. Tearful and angry, Elizabeth begins it. He hobnobs with the great while she stays home, and he acknowledges in his evening write-up that she “endeed doth live very lonely.” The industrious Pepys, however, identifies the problem; it’s “want of work, that doth make her and all other people” discontented. (Yet truth breaks in again; he immediately adds that she can’t work because the house is “so dirty” with his continual renovations.) She had even put her discontent into a letter, which he’d burned without reading. Now, two months later, she’s still lonely. She’s smart, though; she kept a copy. She reads it aloud to him; it’s “piquant,” “and,” he acknowledges, “most of it true.” Does he apologize? No, he’s “vexed” that someone might find it and he’d look bad. he “desired and commanded her to teare it.” She wouldn’t, so he “forced it from her” and tore it up himself, along with his love letters to her, “though it went against my heart to do it, she crying and desiring me not to do it.” Then, “after many disputes with myself” and “troubled in mind,” he burns the pieces-and makes it up to her with an expensive moiré gown, “which troubles me to part with so much money, but however it sets my wife and I to friends again . . . though I doubt the heart-burning will be soon over. And the truth is, I am sorry for the tearing of so many poor love letters of mine. . . .”

Man and husband, he’s all there, harsh but sorry, troubled but obdurate, yet glad at the end of the day to be friends, “mighty friends,” with his wife. The biographer has chosen well; the incident goes far to explain how she herself can put up with him, and her willingness, not to excuse the inexcusable, but to understand it.

That imaginative understanding carries her beyond Sam and Elizabeth to the people they lived among and a vivid re-creation of the world they lived in. What it must have been like to be Pepys’s mother, for instance, and many another like her-bearing eleven children in fourteen years, always expecting, nursing, washing, burying, since only four survived to grow up. Tomalin devotes pages to the servant girls whom Sam felt up, who cleaned up the dirt and carried the chamber pots and laughed with Elizabeth when they spilled. On the wide screen, she makes the interactions between king and Parliament and the underfunded navy almost as absorbing as they were to Pepys, explaining in the process his dangerous loyalty to the king’s brother James, Duke of York (who was a strong navy man). She redresses the Diary’s animus against distinguished colleagues like Sir William Penn, whom he tried hard to impress but badmouthed out of envy. Throughout she has a Pepysian eye for the revealing detail, as in the anti-Catholic agitation that later entangled him: witness the procession featuring “an effigy of the Pope stuffed with live cats, to be burned at Smithfield.”

For there was life after the Diary. Pepys was only thirty-six when he had to give it up, the close work for the navy and the night entries by candlelight having so “undone” his eyes that he thought he was going blind. It was his most intimate friend; to close it was “almost as much as to see myself go into my grave.” Six months later, another loss: Elizabeth died, swept away by one of the sudden fevers of the time, and not yet thirty. Pepys himself had half his life to live, not without drama, in what Tomalin calls “the most disturbed years in England’s history.” Yet the end of the Diary leaves us “stranded,” and the biographer as well, its “brilliant and troubling intimacies replaced [as sources] . . . by official papers, parliamentary records, letters and scatterings of notes.” Tomalin’s imagination, however, rises to the task.

In 1669 the euphoria of Charles’s return had worn away. The reverses of the Second Dutch War could even evoke nostalgia for Cromwell’s naval victories, as the Merry Monarch spent in riotous living the money appropriated for the navy. Worse, the queen Charles had imported from Portugal produced neither son nor daughter, leaving the Duke the only legitimate heir to the throne. James was Catholic; he had a Catholic wife; his children would be Catholic. Catholics as far as the eye could see. It wasn’t surprising that when Pepys stood for Parliament with James’s patronage his opponents called him “a Bluddy Papist.” The imputations grew specific; five years later he was denying before Parliament “that he had any Altar or Crucifix, or the Image of a Picture of any Saint whatever in his House, from the Top to the Bottom of it.”

That crisis passed. Pepys got thirty new ships out of Parliament, even put through his plan for competitive examinations. Soon, however, he would pay for his closeness to the Stuarts. In 1679, he was formally accused of “Piracy, Popery and Treachery”-of sending an emissary to France to convey naval information to the government of Louis XIV. he was imprisoned in the Tower.

He was released after a month, on £20,000 bail, high then, almost inconceivable in today’s money. (Good friends in the City helped out.) The accusations were shown to be false, the case collapsed, but for the next five years Pepys was out of a job. Should he write his memoirs? A history of the Dutch wars? But in 1684 the king, now ruling without Parliament, brought him back to the Admiralty at £2000 a year. He was a big man again, “signing orders, sending for reports from the [ship]yards, reprimanding officers for slackness, drunkenness or failure to keep proper records and accounts, and finding jobs for the deserving”-especially those who cotild pay.

He drew up a comprehensive report, but the king was dead before he could read it. He died in the Church of his mother, having refused the Anglican sacrament. James had helped smuggle in a priest, and Charles II converted on his deathbed. The succession, however, was peaceful, and good news for Pepys. He walked in James’s coronation procession. James supported his plans for the navy. Pepys “had every reason to expect to be in charge of naval affairs until he chose to retire in a glow of success and splendour, ten years or so in the future.”

It didn’t happen. Far from soft-pedaling his Catholicism, James II celebrated mass in public, appointed Catholics to important positions, fired officials who wouldn’t convert. In 1688 he put on trial seven Anglican bishops who refused to obey him and sent them to the Tower. The last straw was the birth of a boy-in years to come to be “The Old Pretender,” but never, never King James the Third. Once again the Stuart yen for absolutism had brought England to the brink of civil war.

But James had daughters by his first marriage, Mary and Anne, and they were Protestant. Mary, the eldest, was married to the Dutch Protestant prince, William of Orange. To general approval, William and Mary were invited over to claim the throne. James fled to France, and England was saved for Protestantism.

And now Pepys did the unexpected. he resigned his Admiralty office, though William had not sacked him. he was one of the few to refuse to take the oath of allegiance to the new sovereigns. He himself was no Catholic, but he had worked with James for a quarter century on navy matters, where James was at his best. Pepys had switched loyalties once, in 1660; at fifty-nine, he would not switch again. Tomalin calls him a hero for this, and perhaps he was. he forfeited his pension. he was suspect as a Jacobite. Twice in the first year of William’s reign he was imprisoned and cleared. But his public career was over.

Perhaps he was ready for retirement. If not inner resources, he had outer ones. he was still rich. he continued to entertain and visit his many loyal friends, among them the fellow diarist John Evelyn. He kept up with the Royal Society. Once the receiver of patronage, he was now a patron; Evelyn describes him as “a very great cherisher of learned men.” His additions to his library required an eighth bookcase. He wrote up his thoughts on the navy. He planned out for his nephew the Grand Tour he was now too ailing to take himself. Aging, of course, wasn’t easy; the stone came back, and his health had never been good. he might complain of time spent “without anybody near me, to read and write word for me, or know how to fetch me a book out of my library or put it in its place again when done with.” But his resilience stood him in good stead, and the habit of industry. At sixty-eight he wrote Evelyn that he was doing “nothing that will bear nameing,” yet “am not (I think) idle; for who can, that has so much (of past and to come) to think on as I have? And thinking, I take it, is working.” The letter goes on to describe a scientific experiment, “collecting the Rays of light in a dark Room; having done it to a degree of pleasure and ease in its Execution as much exceeds what I have ever seen.”

Evelyn was fifteen years older than he, but he wrote him as a contemporary. “Pray remember what o’clock it is with you and me”-“o’clock” when he might have written “time,” or even “how old we are.” In that sharp specificity the Diary still echoes. Pepys died in 1703, three months after his seventieth birthday.

In her prefatory note, Tomalin writes of her “virtual disappearance into the seventeenth century.” She took me with her. I’ve spent six months on this review as I followed her into the Diary’s addictive volumes. She calls it “a work of genius,” and puts Pepys “along Bunyan, Chaucer, Dickens and Proust.” Stevenson’s judgment is cooler; he compares “this unparalelled figure in the annals of mankind” to Montaigne and Rousseau. But Tomalin has earned her right to a concluding hyperbole.

1 SAMUEL PEPYS: The Unequalled Self, by Claire Tomalin. Alfred A. Knopf. $30.00.

2 SAMUEL PEPYS AND HIS CIRCLE, by Richard Ollard. National Portrait Gallery Publications. $11.95.

3 THE DIARY OF SAMUEL PEPYS, ed. by Robert Latham and William Matthews. University of California Press. 11 volumes in paperback, each $24.95.

Copyright Hudson Review Summer 2004

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

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