The Diary of Samuel Pepys

by Samuel Pepys

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Critical Overview

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Since The Diary of Samuel Pepys was first released, all versions of the work have received mostly good reviews. Francis Jeffrey reviewed the work in 1825, saying, ‘‘We have a great indulgence, we confess, for the taste, or curiosity, or whatever it may be called, that gives its value to such publications.’’ However, Jeffrey also noted that from a pure hisT torical standpoint, he was ‘‘rather disappointed in finding so little that is curious or interesting,’’ even though Pepys was in contact with the king and other notable people.

The next year, the English novelist Sir Walter Scott remarked in The Quarterly Review that ‘‘the public affairs alluded to in the course of these Memoirs are, of course, numerous and interesting,’’ and that the information ‘‘cannot be but valuable.’’ Scott also noted that unlike other diarists who intended on publishing their memoirs and falsified their accounts to make themselves look good, Pepys was one ‘‘to whom we can ascribe perfect good faith in the composition of his diary.’’

In 1889, Edmund Gosse, a distinguished English literary historian, critic, and biographer, noted that although Pepys enters his experiences ‘‘with extreme artlessness,’’ The Diary of Samuel Pepys is nevertheless ‘‘unrivalled as a storehouse of gossip and character-painting.’’ In 1900, Charles Whibley remarked that Pepys is the ‘‘one master of selfrevelation that history can furnish forth,’’ and said that Pepys ‘‘could measure his own vices without difficulty.’’

The Diary of Samuel Pepys continued to delight critics throughout the twentieth century. In 1909 Percy Lubbock said that the work’s ‘‘unconsidered candour’’ includes ‘‘perhaps the most remarkable portrait of a human being that we possess.’’ Near the end of the century, Paul Johnson noted that the work is ‘‘one of our greatest historical records and, in its way, a major work of English literature.’’

In fact, some of the only critics that did not appreciate The Diary of Samuel Pepys are dramatic critics who took offense at Pepys’s attitudes toward certain plays. As J. Warshaw notes, ‘‘Pepys has drawn on himself the fire of the dramatic critics mainly because of his frank opinions about certain plays of Shakespeare.’’

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Essays and Criticism