from Brit Lit my Junior year. I received a lower-than-desired grade because it does not have a strong thesis, but it can still be used as a resource.
Samuel Pepys was an English writer, of sorts. He wrote neither drama nor poetry. The only thing he ever wrote publicly was the little known Memoirs of the Navy. No novels have ever been accredited to his name, yet his writings are considered important literature by many people. Although he was not a writer by trade, his stories are told as no other could have told them, for they were his own. Should Pepys' diary, or any other , be considered literature? That is the main topic of this essay, as I begin writing my paper, I have yet to decide. This essay will not only prove to the reader the real truth about Pepys' diary, but it will do the same for myself.
Background, in my opinion, is not a necessary avenue of discussion in deciding whether or not the diary is a legitimate piece of literature, but everyone loves background information. Samuel Pepys was born in London in 1633 to a tailor(father) and a domestic servant (mother). He had ten brothers and sisters, but only three others survived infancy. After getting a degree in 1653, he was married at the age of twenty-two in 1655. Pepys married a fifteen year old girl named Elizabeth St. Michel. She was, according to most accounts, very pretty. They first lived at Sir Edward Montague's place, for they hadn't a cent between them. Montague was Pepys' first cousin once removed, who was well off, and who was to become the first Earl of Sandwich.
Times remained difficult for the young couple, even after they could afford to move out . When Pepys was appointed Clerk of the Acts of the Navy, however, the couple's fortune changed. This was in 1660, and they lived fairly securely until 1669 in a house on Seething Lane. After touring Europe with Elizabeth, they returned to London in late 1669, whence she fell ill, most likely of typhoid, and promptly died. Pepys was Clerk of the Acts and Secretary of the Admiralty from 1670 to 1679. From 1679 to 1684, he was unemployed due to Whig controversy. He was again working from 1684 to 1689 as Secretary for the Affairs of the Admiralty of England. He resigned in 1689 because the Whigs brought William of Orange to power. Pepys became a private citizen for the rest of his years. He died in 1703 of a recurrence of the 'stone', which had bothered him years before.
Samuel Pepys' diary is considered literature in that it is well written and constitutes something of interest to read. Most diaries that are published deal mainly with historical issues of the time-period in which they were written. Some extraordinary cases, however, are diaries that probe the social issues of the years that are written about. Pepys diary consists of both views of historical events and accounts of personal life.
We can learn from the diary how Pepys felt about certain historical events that may lack both color and magnitude without a personal account. Pepys could describe what he saw, therefore, not only official accounts must be relied upon. During the Coronation of Charles II, for example, Pepys recounted how "the King at Arms went to the three open places on the scaffold, and proclaimed that if anyone could show any reason why Charles Stewart should not be King of England, that now he should come and speak." Because of the great noise, Pepys says " I could make but little of the musique." Pepys talks of the superstition about the great storm as "foolery".
Of the Fire of London, Pepys also expresses his insight. He tells of what he saw :" the fire rage every way, and nobody, to my sight, endeavoring to quench it, but to remove their goods and leave all to the fire." During the height of the Plague, Pepys notes "The streets mighty empty all the way now even in London, which is a sad sight."
Can a diary, no matter who wrote it, be considered literature? I have no doubts that diaries are good reading, but may we call these personal memories literature? I feel that if an author never intended to have his writings read, he should discard them or never write them at all. Also, based on the frankness and content of Pepys' diary, he would never have intended the books to be read, especially by the clergy.
Pepys himself was acquainted with five languages. He used all of his language skills to conceal his secrets, while using shorthand for convenience. I am certain that Pepys never even entertained the fact that anyone would ever decipher his diary in order to publish it as literature! Since Pepys had begun a novel, and upon finding it, promptly tore it up, I am led to believe, without an ounce of doubt, that he did not want his work to be published, even though he was quite impressed with the novel's beginnings.
I feel that privacy is one of our rights that we should be able to rely on others to uphold. I usually take secrets for granted, never really worrying about being betrayed. Samuel Pepys left his secrets in a public place, creating a thirst for his knowledge, though I do feel that he was betrayed by society as a whole, including, now, myself!
I take from the diary this simple quote that should cause a certain uneasiness in us all....
"He did remember that I was a great Roundhead when I was a boy, and I was much afraid that he would have remembered the words that I said the day the King was beheaded (that, were I to preach upon him, my text should be- ' the memory of the wicked shall rot' ). Pepys was terribly worried that this man should remember Pepys' indiscretion, so this he confided in his diary. Wrong move, Mr. Pepys. Most of modern civilization now knows these secrets.
Pepys also wrote of his present feelings towards family. " ...to my uncle Wight's house, where my aunt is grown so ugly and their entertainment so bad that I am in pain to be there." Whether or not Pepys enjoyed the company of his aunt and uncle may seem trivial at best, but now that a book containing such opinions has been published, we all have a specific lasting impression based on opinions. We all formulate our own views of people, but if our's are the only views that may be accepted, for lack of others, they will probably be considered fact.
Now I must discuss another reason why Pepys would never have consented to the printing of his diaries. As if denouncing his own character and that of his family was not enough, Pepys also confirms dishonorable character traits in many fine ladies in London. I wondered, at first glance, why anyone would be disgusted by Pepys' diary. The answer was not far from the beginning. Already in August of 1660, Pepys was involved with someone other than his wife. After getting Betty Lang drunk, he was " exceeding free in dallying with her, and she not unfree to take it." In the same year, Pepys had a fling with Diana, his neighbor's daughter, and he " did dally with her a great while..."
Anyone who knew Samuel Pepys personally never knew he was a wencher, but he was. Pepys loved the company of women in general, yet he was disgusted by whores. Pepys enjoyed, as do most men, playing with his maids' breasts, slipping his hands in petticoats, and, well, the list doesn't exactly stop there. He seemed to exceedingly enjoy Betty Michell's hand on his lap, and "did hazer[do]" all that he wished with Mrs. Bagwell. Both of these ladies were married. Pepys also had 'sexual' affairs with Mary Knep, Doll Lane, Elizabeth Burrowes, Deb Willet, Mrs. Daniell, Mrs. Tooker, Peg Lowther. His favorite, though, was Betty Martin, who was very good at satisfying Mr. Pepys.
Possibly the strangest entries in Pepys' diary are his honest pleas, "God forgive me! " He was quite ashamed and embarrassed for his many adventures, and confided this only in God and his diary. Some men of the era were proud of their sexual prowess, but Pepys was different. He was always worried about what others would think of him. Today he would most likely be considered an immoral and hypocritical nymphomaniac and child molester!
Because of the content of Pepys diary, I cannot agree that it is, by any definition of the word, literature. A diary contains thoughts better left unknown, while real literature contains thoughts that were meant to be deciphered! Even if Pepys' diary did not contain such terrible accounts of immorality, I would still never consider it literature, for true literature is written for one purpose, to be read. Without any worry of anyone ever reading his thoughts, Samuel Pepys could be as honest as he wished, which he was. We should only be able to see people as they wished we would, and Pepys never wished that we would see him as we do - how he really was!
As I finish this essay on Samuel Pepys, I feel as if I have gone where I was neither invited nor welcome. I see now what I had, at first, failed to see. Why should I know Samuel Pepys better than he knows me? For that, Mr. Pepys, I am truly sorry.
Abernethy, Cecil. MR. PEPYS of Seething Lane. New York: Mcgraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1957
Hearsy, John. Young Mr. Pepys. Great Britain: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1973
Pepys, Samuel. Everybody's Pepys. USA: Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc., 1926
Wilson, John Harold. The Private Life of Mr. Pepys. New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy