Friday, December 04, 2009


Great books inevitably lead to other great books

I'm well in to Volume II of the Diary. Pepys's style is easier to adapt to, at this point, and the political situation has calmed down a bit in Restoration England, with the coronation of Charles II, so Pepys is spending more time writing about his own day-to-day business, rather than affairs of state. He's visiting his booksellers in St. Paul's churchyard, often. I wish he wrote more about these visits, other than simply mentioning them - so tantalizing! He's also enjoying playgoing, after years of no theatre courtesy of the Puritan Cromwells, and has a lot to say about the various tragedies and comedies he sees, often seeing the same play several times, and sometimes just dropping in at a theatre to see an act or two of a play.

The footnotes in this edition are exemplary. The editors are scrupulous at citations regarding Pepys's mentioning of a play he saw or a book he purchased on a given day. When Pepys merely mentions titles, we can learn at once who the authors were, any bibliographical information if known, when plays were first written and acted and who the principal actors were (if Pepys commented on them), and often whether or not Pepys owned copies, and if any copies survive in his library, today at Magdalene College, Cambridge. The footnotes are another book in themselves, really, and as I read along I find myself creating a little wish-list of titles cited in them:

p.72: a book mentioned in the context of humorous bawdy songs - Wit and Drollery, from 1656.

p.92: another noted for its corroborating description of the town of Portsmouth - Journeys, by Celia Fiennes. A book I have long wanted to read. I have never seen a copy. I haven't seriously sought one out, though, I was hoping I'd just come across one someday, in that way that happens when you think you really ought to read something like this, next. And there it is.

p.102: some backstory while Pepys is sitting alone in a garden reading Francis Bacon's Faber Fortunae sive Doctrina de ambitu vitae (from Sermones Fideles) "...of which duodecimo editions had been published at Leyden in 1641, 1644 and 1659. (Pepys retained the Amsterdam duodecimo of 1662: PL 48.) He often slipped the book into his pocket to read in the open air, and it was always Faber Fortunae which he read.... Pepys's fondness for this essay on self-help ('every man the architect of his own fortune') is perhaps significant."

p.105: referencing what was then believed to be a truthful scientific point, H. Peacham's The Compleat Gentleman, 1634.

Those, along with numerous mentions of the memoirs of Pepys's friend and contemporary John Evelyn, should be enough to keep me busy for the rest of the winter, if I can track any of these down. Not that I will ever see a 1656 copy of Wit and Drollery, but hey, you never know.

Pepys is providing a welcome respite from contemporary life, I must say. I fled from a store a few days ago when the loudspeaker wished us customers, in a perky voice, not "Happy Holidays," or "Happy Holiday Shopping," but simply, "Happy Shopping." Not to put too fine a point on it - bah. But then, I'm grumpy anyway. I have the glums because painting is not coming easily at the moment, and I'm expecting an expensive frame order any day now (I'm preparing to frame the remainder of my work for an exhibit in February), and UPS lost a large painting of mine a while back and I continue to mourn it, a bit. Thank goodness I'd insured it, but still, distressing. Oh, and it's winter in Maine and daylight ends at 3:30. The days have been beautifully mild, but so very short. Enough - back to the seventeenth century.

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