Thursday, December 31, 2009


Trying to be good, as usual

The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Volume VII, p.62:

"And thus ends this month, with my mind full of resolution to apply myself better, from this time forward, to my business then I have done... - visibly to my prejudice, both in quiet of mind and setting backward of my business, that I cannot give a good account of it as I ought to do."

He takes resolution-making to a high art, by writing down his "vowes"of good conduct, carrying them around with him in his pocket, and referring to them. Often. When tempted. Which is, again, often. But hey, a person has to have some fun, especially while surviving the plague year of 1665.

Thus I progress with the Diary, but I am still missing Volume VIII and here we are, inside for the foreseeable future due to the impending three-day snowstorm. I see I will have to read something other than Pepys. Luckily, I do not lack for reading material.

Farewell to the aughts, and a Happy New Year, full of temptation and varying degrees of resistance (and some yielding).

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Christmas is my middle name

Really, it is. Sarah Noël, brought home from the hospital on Christmas Eve. Thus an innate tenderness for all things Christmas, both traditional and beyond tradition. Speaking of which, we finally did choose a tree, out in the woods - Ryan found one that looked as if it wouldn't have had much of a chance to grow big, where it was. Now the house is fragrant with balsam. In winter I love the time of early evening, with the warm orangey light inside and the cobalt blue outside, heightened right now because of the snow on the ground. A season of beautiful contrasts. We've wrapped gifts and decorated a bit, with mistletoe hanging in the kitchen - some friends kissed under it today - and peppermint candy canes in a pewter tankard on the dining table, a bouquet of holly and dark red candles, and colored lights on the tree, and favorite ornaments collected over the years, including one golden pear.

Blessings and a Christmas card from me to you:

***Joyeux Noël***

Monday, December 21, 2009


Words of the day

I couldn't pick just one, so here are two. First, from Pepys's Diary, Volume IV:

"feoffees" (p.410) Had to look it up. Trustees of a legal sort, no longer in usage anywhere in the world, except, it seems, in a famous library in Manchester, England, in reference to the governors of the board. Good for book people, for keeping an obscure term alive. My, all those fs in one word.

And second, from Volume V:

"sprankle" (p.124) Turned to the excellent glossary in the back of the book and read "sparkling remark, bon mot." How odd. Not a light and airy word, as one might wish a bon mot to be composed of. Instead, clunk.

I wonder if either of these is allowable in Scrabble.

Whilst searching for the ever-elusive Volume VIII (still no luck) I came across many other Pepys-related titles, but the one that takes the leftover birthday cake is entitled Peeps into Pepys, this copy with a Sangorski and Sutcliffe binding. If I ever were to buy it, I would shelve it with my copy of the similarly euphonious Carolyn Wells book Idle Idylls.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Life, the universe, and everything

Yesterday I turned 42, which as many people who came of age in the 1980s can tell you, is the answer to the ultimate question, so that bodes well for the year ahead... And, despite half my hair turning gray this fall, and a strange new craggy wrinkle appearing in the middle of my otherwise damask cheek, you know, life is really pretty freaking great, and I am only expecting it to get even better.

Ryan and I celebrated by heading south and meeting my parents for lunch (at Sarah's, where else - I can vouch for the chocolate maple cream layer cake), then visiting some parts of Maine we'd never been. I've lived here all my life, but it's a big state and I think I will never be able to take it all in, I love it so much. Seeing new places close to home is one of my very favorite things to do. We drove to Pemaquid Point - I can't believe I'd never been, given the fact that my sister Kate's husband grew up there and his family owns the restaurant and gift shop right next to the lighthouse. The afternoon was freezing and we had the whole place to ourselves - spent some time climbing the rocks and taking photos and watching the sea ducks fishing offshore. The sun was shining but the clouds out to sea made the bay look like beaten pewter, chased around the edges with rose gold. So beautiful.

Happy me on the rocks, bundled up in turtleneck, wool sweater, sweatshirt, and winter coat:

The ledges at Pemaquid are justly famous, with their incredible formation and color and size and everything. As my brother-in-law says, you see them and they bring you to your knees. I took some photos of the patterns and colors therein - they remind me of the striations of petrified trees or ancient woven woolen rugs:

I'd like to make some paintings there when the weather turns warm again. Spring - it seems far off at this moment. Very happy nonetheless. I love this time of year, and I'll take the round of the seasons as they come, any day.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Speaking volumes

Ok, I feel I am making solid headway with the Diary - I finished reading Volume IV this afternoon and then went on to Volume V. I am also happy to report that after much searching I have located a very good hardcover copy, in a very good dust jacket, of one of the volumes my set lacks - VII. Now I only need to find VIII. So if anyone spots a decent hardcover in dust jacket, online or in the wild, please let me know. Volume VIII, covering the year 1667, Latham and Matthews, University of California Press, a first edition or early printing (late 1970s), bound in green cloth, in jacket so it will match the rest of my set. You wouldn't think it would be that difficult to find, but for some reason it is.

I do have options. 1: Softcovers are readily available. However, I really don't want to acquire one odd volume in softcover. In fact the thought of doing so goes against all my neat-freak instincts. 2: I know a nearby library has a complete set if I become desperate. I figure at the pace I'm reading, I've got a good two weeks ahead of me before I must resort to drastic measures such as these. So I'm not too worried. Yet.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


'Tis the season

I found myself standing in the sunlit woods this morning, out behind our house, knee-deep in snow, next to a grove of young balsams, bucksaw over my shoulder. Ready. And after looking, really looking, I just couldn't do it. They were all so beautiful and full of life, straight and green and fragrant, and I wasn't going to be the one to cut any of them down. Truth: I have been known to hug trees.

Not that I am at all consistent, I thought to myself as I tromped empty-handed back to the house, past our giant woodpile (made up, after all, of felled trees). The upshot of all this is that our house remains Christmas-tree-less. I do know that next weekend we will be stringing popcorn and cranberries and draping them festively on something. What that something will be, who knows.

I'm happy to say we do have our gift-gathering complete, save a stop at the local marine supply company for a few items for the boat-owners in the family. Other than that, no more stores. And no more terrible renditions of certain carols I consider sacred, over store loudspeakers. In particular areas I remain a grumpy purist. (In lots of others, rock on.)

Pepys update: I am sad to report that I am only halfway through Volume IV of the Diary. This must have something to do with the fact that today I read a frothy novel by Julian Fellowes instead. Or, while I usually read a few days' worth of Pepys's entries over breakfast, one morning this week I read Now We Are Six, which I must say went down very well with my oatmeal. Worst of all, one evening this week I read Elizabeth Gilbert's book The Last American Man from start to finish. Oh, and last night before bed, I browsed in a great book about the art of Charles M. Schulz. So tonight I am sitting here with Pepys at my elbow, wondering how exactly all these Other Books mysteriously insinuated themselves into the middle of my self-imposed reading program. (I say this, even though I know the answer - as I stated above, Not that I am at all consistent.)

Monday, December 07, 2009


This is your conscience speaking

Halfway through Volume III of Pepys's Diary. And now I'm remembering what struck me the first time I attempted to read the Diary - during the second half of Volume II and well into Volume III, Pepys begins to show definite signs of introspection. Rather than simply chronicling his daily motions ("I did this, I did that"), he settles into his life and writing and begins to look within. And though he does admire himself in many respects, he doesn't always like what he sees.

"Having the beginning of this week made a vowe to myself to drink no wine this week (finding it to unfit me to look after business), and this day breaking of it against my will, I am much troubled for it - but I hope God will forgive me." (Volume II, p.142)

Mistrusting his wife, " own Jealousy put a hundred things into my minde which did much trouble me all day..." (II, p.173)

"So up to my chamber all alone. And troubled in mind to think how much of late I have addicted myself to expense and pleasure, that now I can hardly reclaime myself..." (II. p.174)

After seeing Twelfth Night alone "...went home with my mind troubled for my going thither, after my swearing to my wife that I would never go to a play without her." (II, p.177)

"I have newly taken a solemne oath about abstaining from plays and wine, which I am resolved to keep according to the letter of the oath, which I keepe by me." (II, p.242)

"...and so to the pewterers to buy a poore's box to put my forfeites in, upon breach of my late vowes." (Volume III, p.41)

"I find it a hard matter to settle to business after so much leisure and pleasure." (III, p.78)

A man of active conscience indeed. Need I say that at this point in his life, he falls off this wagon of his own making, hard and often. This is one of the most interesting aspects of the Diary thus far, to my mind - a man sinning and repenting, attempting to live with integrity with equal measures of success and failure, with great pride in his work and station in life yet in his private writings an acceptance that his pride is a frail thing at best, and indeed something to be kept constantly in check. Universal difficulties, are they not?

I'd hoped to be further along in my reading program, but life intervenes. Spent Saturday attending a friends-of-the-library sale nearby (two boxes of decent books, $45), then stopped at a church fair, did a few errands, and the day was past. Yesterday stayed closer to home, after the first significant snowfall of the year in these parts. Took a walk at noon, and did some cooking. Read a little. Stoked the stove, napped with the cat. Read a little more. And so to bed. (I had to say it, sometime.)

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.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009


Getting to know Samuel Pepys

A quick note regarding my progress - I'm 250 pages into Volume I of the Diary and I feel like I'm still just barely getting acquainted with his style, the language of the time, the quickly-changing political situation, the whole milieu. Thus far my favorite passages have been the personal asides he makes from time to time, such as:

"...every day bringing me a fresh sense of the great pleasure of my present life." (p.110)

A person of strong appetite and high ambition - for food, love, money, reputation, books, music, art - just beginning his career, hoping his star is on the ascendant. Very much of the physical world at this time in his life. Yet timeless, and alive. I'm off to continue READING.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?