(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The Diary of Samuel Pepys opens with an entry dated January 1, 1660. The author was twenty-seven years old and already well on his way to a lucrative career in the service of the English crown. “Blessed be God,” begins the entry, “ . . . I was in very good health.” Pepys continues with a brief description of his household—himself, his wife, Elizabeth, and a servant named Jane—and then goes on to note “the condition of the State.” These opening sentences are significant in that they contain many of the distinctive subjects discussed in the Diary. Pepys was clearly a moral and religious man—in a very general and philosophical way; his journal entries often begin with an invocation to God, and he records a considerable amount of soul-searching coupled with resolutions to live a better life. Almost as important to Pepys as his religion was his health, which is mentioned, discussed, and analyzed at regular intervals. The early trouble with his bladder left Pepys with an obsessive consciousness of the workings of his body, and his concern with various ailments is a notable feature of the Diary. Other topics of major interest to Pepys were his wife and their ongoing servant problems and the affairs of the government, to which he devoted so much of his time and energy.

The opening lines of the Diary are important not only for their content but also for their tone and language and for the order in which Pepys—a very methodical man—arranged the details he included. Pepys’s tone throughout the Diary is always calm and matter-of-fact, even when he reports unsettling or disturbing events. Thus it is that in a time of great political and social upheaval, he records dryly, “The officers of the army all forced to yield,” in reference to the fact that General George Monck, one of the architects of the Restoration process, was marching south with his men to take Whitehall from the Parliamentary generals. Yet the concise sentences do not make for dull reading. On the contrary, because Pepys so carefully chooses his words, the details that he records stand out in clear and precise relief...

(The entire section is 883 words.)