February 23rd marks the birthday of English diarist Samuel Pepys. Born in 1633, Pepys is probably the most famous and widely read diarist in the English language. A detailed account of London life in the 1660s, the collection of Samuel Pepys’ journal entries are interesting not only for their sheer volume and the historical scope they represent, but most often for the seemingly mundane everyday happenings that he chooses to chronicle in great detail. Pepys would often comment about the political and social climate of the day, historical events (such as the Great Fire of 1666), new trends and fashion as well as the people he met and interacted with on a daily basis. Unlike most Englishmen of the day, Pepys went beyond the simple listing of daily events in dry record and incorporated humor, observation and his personal opinions and feelings in each entry. He also included many comments on more intimate details of his life, as well as of others’:
Sunday 28 April 1661: After supper my father told me of an odd passage the other night in bed between my mother and him, and she would not let him come to bed to her out of jealousy of him and an ugly wench that lived there lately, the most ill-favoured slut that ever I saw in my life, which I was ashamed to hear that my mother should be become such a fool, and my father bid me to take notice of it to my mother, and to make peace between him and her. All which do trouble me very much. So to bed to my wife.
Throughout the diary, there are times we might identify a little too much with Pepys. The following excerpt illustrates how, in many ways, life in 2005 doesn’t differ too much from life in 1661:
Wednesday 3 April 1661: Up among my workmen, my head akeing all day from last night’s debauch …
Aside from their historical value, do you find diaries interesting as literature? Do you enjoy reading them? Why or why not?
It could be said that Samuel Pepys is the patron saint of modern day bloggers, considering the amount of personal detail he chose to include and the fact that he was the person who eventually bound his journals and handed them over to a college in Cambridge. Do you keep a diary, journal or weblog? If so, do you find it motivates you to write more than you would otherwise? Are blogs another form of modern literature? To come full circle, the diary of Samuel “The Bloggfather” Pepys has been serialized as a blog. You can check it out here and find out what he was up to all those years ago.