The Diary of Samuel Pepys

by Samuel Pepys

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The Narrator's Conflicting Obsessions

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1563

Pepys was first and foremost a man of passion and when he devoted his energies towards something, he always gave everything. Although his various obsessions would serve him well professionally, they would sometimes lead to other obsessions against his will, and he would find himself going back and forth in his vows and his actions.

In The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Pepys makes mention of three vices that he attempts to give up: extramarital affairs, drinking, and going to plays. These sometimes lead to or are caused by other obsessions, most notably wealth and morality— although he does not view these two in his narrative as obsessions.

Pepys is a Puritan by nature, and is formed with a resolve that he can do anything to improve his character. The first vice he attempts to give up is drinking wine. The first mention of it comes on January 26, 1662: ‘‘But thanks be to God, since my leaving drinking of wine, I do find myself much better and do mind my business better, and do spend less money, and less time in idle company.’’ Out of all of his oaths, this is the one that lasts the longest. After breaking his oath briefly on December 30, 1662, by ‘‘drinking five or six glasses of wine,’’ he decides to ‘‘begin my oath again.’’

However, when he does drink, it helps him indulge another of his vices—women. Pepys’s biggest weakness is women and no matter how hard he tries, he can’t keep his vow to stay away from extramarital affairs. There are countless instances in the narrative where Pepys talks about women with which he has either minor or major affairs. Oftentimes, Pepys relies on the influence of alcohol to seduce his prey, as when he takes Mrs. Lane ‘‘to my Lord’s, and did give her a bottle of wine in the garden.’’ After this, Pepys and Mrs. Lane go to Pepys’s house where he is ‘‘exceedingly free in dallying with her, and she not unfree to take it.’’

Occasionally, Pepys gets disgusted with himself, as on June 29, 1663, when he notes that while his wife has been out of town he has made ‘‘a bad use of my fancy with whatever woman I have a mind to, which I am ashamed of, and shall endeavour to do so no more.’’ However, as Stephen Coote notes in Samuel Pepys: A Life, ‘‘Pepys was far from being the sort of man who could work hard all day then spend the evening in monastic quietude.’’

On other occasions Pepys projects his guilty feelings onto his wife. He assumes that she is having Pages from Pepys’s original diary an affair, first of all with her dance instructor, and lastly with a man she meets in the country. On May 16, 1663, Pepys admits that ‘‘I do not find honesty enough in my own mind but that upon a small temptation I could be false to her.’’ In other words, he has sinned himself. ‘‘He goes on to say that he, ‘‘therefore ought not to expect more justice from her, but God pardon both my sin and my folly herein.’’ If Elizabeth has had an affair at this point, Pepys is so guilty that he is willing to dismiss it.

Pepys’s work itself leads to the cultivation of certain vices. This is a practice that starts early. When Pepys accompanies his Lord, the Earl of Sandwich, on the journey to bring back Charles II, the young Pepys is taken aback by his responsibility and status. As part of Pepys’s duties as secretary to the...

(This entire section contains 1563 words.)

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Admiral on the voyage, Pepys writes letters ‘‘in the King’s name,’’ for Charles II to sign, and even ‘‘sups’’ with the returning sovereign. Best of all, for his troubles as secretary, he receives, on May 28, 1660, ‘‘in the Captain’s cabin, for my share, sixty ducats.’’

This is the first of many such secret payments that Pepys will receive in his career and it whets his appetite for more. Money rules his life from this point on and although he grows to be very rich, he is nevertheless loathe to part with it. On August 18, 1660, after his new Clerk of the Acts position has started bringing in more money, Pepys is ‘‘somewhat troubled’’ when he buys his wife a ‘‘most fine cloth’’ and ‘‘a rich lace’’ for a petticoat, even though it is a small expense compared to his salary. Pepys is absolutely infatuated with the idea of money and is always taking account of his own stock. ‘‘My purse is worth about [650 pounds],’’ Pepys notes at the end of 1662, attributing his fortune to his very Godly life.

Pepys’s important status as Clerk of the Acts leads to other opportunities for making money which are not at all Godly. On several occasions, he receives bribes from people in return for services that he provides. On April 3, 1663, he gets an envelope with a letter and money from a Captain Grove who wishes ‘‘the taking up of vessels for Tangier.’’ Pepys is discreet, and ‘‘did not open it till I came home,’’ so that ‘‘I might say I saw no money in the paper, if ever I should be questioned about it.’’

Although Pepys commits corruptions like these that torment his obsession with morality, he is very critical of others who commit corruptions, and devotes his navy career to rooting out and stopping such acts. On several occasions he performs independent inspections of various shipyards and suppliers in order to show how they are cheating the King out of money. On August 6, 1662, he arises early to go to Deptford ‘‘and there surprised the Yard, and called them to a muster, and discovered many abuses, which we shall be able to understand hereafter and amend.’’ Of course, as Coote notes, Pepys often gained financially for exposing such corruption. When these evils were rooted out Pepys would usually find a different merchant or supplier who would not cheat the King. In the process, however, ‘‘Pepys would prosper greatly from the commission he received,’’ as he did when he switched the timber contract for the navy.

However, while Pepys’s salary and bribe money increased, the common man in the navy was starving from not receiving his wages. On September 19, 1662, Pepys notes when he did have to go and pay the navy men, his great trouble was ‘‘that I was forced to begin an ill practice of bringing down the wages of servants, for which people did curse me, which I do not love.’’ However, Pepys does very little in the way of restricting his own pay or turning his bribe money over to the crown to pay the starving navy men.

As part of Pepys’s rich lifestyle that he creates from money like this, he starts going more frequently to the theater. Plays are another obsession that is hard for Pepys to give up even though he feels bad about the vice. He gives his oath one day to see no more plays, then breaks the oath to see Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream on September 29, 1662. The following day, he decides to renew his oath, ‘‘considering the great sweet and pleasure and content of mind that I have had since I did leave drink and plays, and other pleasures, and followed my business.’’ This trend continues throughout The Diary of Samuel Pepys.

The theater on occasion leads him back to his adulterous vice. It is at the theater that he sees many pretty women, but they are not only in the crowd. On January 3, 1661, Pepys goes to see the play ‘‘Beggars Bush,’’ where it is ‘‘the first time that ever I saw women come upon the stage.’’ This was a historic moment for all of England. Says Coote, ‘‘it was the King himself who had decreed that female roles should now be played by actresses, giving as his reason that this would allow plays to ‘be esteemed not only harmless delights but useful and instructive representations of human life.’’’

For Pepys, having women on the stage was an irresistible attraction. He enjoyed the plays for their stories, but with the addition of women, the plays took on a whole new context. Even if he did not like the play, as was the case on September 29, 1662, when he saw Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, he could still enjoy the ‘‘good dancing and some handsome women, which was all my pleasure.’’ As Coote notes, ‘‘The close press of a crowded audience stirred Pepys’s appetites, and the theatre was as good a place as a church to ogle women.’’

Behind the stage and even outside of the theater, Pepys engages in many affairs, most notably with the famous actress Nell Gwyn. However, this amorous lifestyle comes to an end at the end of 1668, near the end of The Diary of Samuel Pepys. When Pepys’s wife walks in on him ‘‘embracing’’ Deb Willet, she throws the hapless maid out, and threatens to expose his exploits to the public. Above all else, Pepys has worked to maintain his image and this thought horrifies him. He vows to reform himself once and for all and, with the constant, enforced attention of his wife and manservant, he is finally successful.

Source: Ryan D. Poquette, Critical Essay on The Diary of Samuel Pepys, in Nonfiction Classics for Students, The Gale Group, 2002.

Histories and Texts: Refiguring The Diary of Samuel Pepys

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VI The diary is essentially a narrative of social accounting by a middling man on the make. The scope of the diary’s accounting was far wider than keeping track of money or providing an end-of-themonth balance sheet of Pepys’s material condition. Other texts served this narrower but fundamentally related function. We should recall the textual interrelationships traced earlier; the diary refers to working on financial accounts (both personal and fiscal) and journal at the same time. The processes of monetary and social accounting went hand in hand. Contrary to Matthews’s claim that this accounting ‘loses distinctiveness in the body of the diary’ it comprises the text’s fundamental logic and is re- flected in the very idiom. For example, after Pepys had been too busy to meet a friend of his wife the diary relates: ‘vexed at myself for not paying her the respect of seeing her. But I will come out of her debt another time.’ Or, ‘But in the whole, I was mightily pleased, reckoning myself now 50 per cent securer in my place then I did before think myself to be.’ And, ‘For now my business is a delight to me and brings me great credit, and my purse encreases too.’ The diary still bears material resemblance to a ledger with its precisely ruled margins, the careful chronological disposition of the contents across the six volumes, and Pepys’s preference for confining each entry to its assigned page—a reflection of its genesis from the all-important draft notes already described. As we shall see, the discourse of accounting confounds, at various levels, the transparent recollection of lived experience.

The diary is constantly noting social debts, credits, and assessing Pepys’s status. For instance, after he had called on his superior, Sir William Coventry, it registers ‘my good fortune to visit him, for it keeps in my acquaintance with him, and the world sees it and reckons my interest accordingly’. Two years earlier Coventry had been knighted and made a privy councillor and, on this occasion, we find evaluation, indeed rationalization, of the effect upon Pepys’s position:

I observing with a little trouble that he is too great now to expect too much familiarity with, and he I find doth not mind me as he used to do; but when I reflect upon him and his business, I cannot think much of it—for I do not observe anything but the same great kindness from him.

The primary concerns which determined what was included (or equally, what was excluded and instead helped form another Pepysian text) in the Cambridge volumes operated in respect of Pepys’s official comings and goings. Notice is taken of naval affairs in the diary as they related to the fate of Pepys’s superiors and patrons because their success related to his own:

I do hope that in all my three places which are my hopes and supports, I may not now fear anything; but with care, which through the Lord’s blessing I will never more neglect, I don’t doubt but to keep myself up with them all—for in the Duke and Mr. Coventry— my Lord Sandwich and Sir G Carteret, I place my greatest hopes.

Often, in writing the diary and assessing his current career position, Pepys forecast the next move in a never-ending struggle for influence and prestige, weighing up his options and deciding on the best strategy:

So by Coach home to the office, where I was vexed to see Sir Wms [Penn & Batten]: both seem to think so much that I should be a little out of the way, saying that without their Register [i.e. Pepys, the implication being that he was their office junior] they were not a Comittee, which I take in some dudgeon and see clearly that I must keep myself at a little distance with them and not Crouch, or else I shall never keep myself up even with them.

Otherwise, routine matters of business were more fully recorded in those other texts which Pepys maintained.

These same margins determined the nature and extent of the record which the diary provides of the seemingly routine aspects of daily life. As suggested earlier, Pepys’s concern for his position as patriarch, and the sexual politics this involved, informed the recounting of his extra-marital behaviour. This concern also operated in relation to the notice taken of the contretemps of his marriage and of Elizabeth’s behaviour as perceived—even analysed—by Samuel as he kept his diary. Thus, we discover apparently intimate evidence of the distress which Elizabeth’s dancing lessons caused her husband as he believed this freedom jeopardized his control over her, and, by extension, his social reputation:

upon which she [i.e. Elizabeth] took me up most scornefully; which before Ashwell [i.e. their maidservant] and the rest of the world, I know not nowadays how to check as I would heretofore, for less then that would have made me strike her. So that I fear, without great discretion. I shall go near to lose too my command over her; and nothing doth it more then giving her this occasion of dancing and other pleasure.

In contrast, the diary is near-silent about certain personal matters. For instance, the death of the child of one of the Pepyses’ close friends is recounted in the following manner: ‘Mrs. Pierce hath lain in of a boy about a month—the boy is dead this day. She lies in good state, and very pretty she is. But methinks doth every day grow more and more great, and a little too much—unless they got more money then I fear they do.’ If unaware of the diary’s context, historians of childhood and the family might be tempted to read pessimistically the perfunctory notice given to this tragedy; further evidence of a lack of concern in an age of high mortality rates. Pepys may very well have expressed his condolences to the boy’s parents, may well have felt the loss himself, but simply not written about doing so because such concern fell outside the general ambit of the diary. Conversely, the social display of the parents, even during mourning, deserved close attention in the process of composition, a process which had only just narrated the duke of York’s commendation of Pepys for his management of naval victualling, thus juxtaposing events apparently related only by the demands of chronology.

No matter how complete a source we believe the diary to be, it is not a constant record of everything that Pepys saw, heard, or did. Its constant refrain ‘among other things’ makes this selectivity obvious. For instance, in the course of the diary’s nine and a half years, Pepys mentions dining at home on hundreds of occasions. However, we cannot always discover what the Pepys household had consumed, even though dinner was the main meal of the day. We should not jump to the banal conclusion that ‘next to his appearance, Pepys cared almost as much for his food. On days when little happened, he records what he had had to eat, and the diary gives us a fascinating picture of a Londoner’s diet in the seventeenth century.’ Certainly the diary does mention the enjoying of a particular food or meal, but there was usually more to detailing what was eaten for dinner than mere gastronomical delight. It most frequently records what food was served at Pepys’s table for dinner when that food had an added social value which said something about his status; his household accounts highlighting unusual expenditure on such ‘luxury’ items.

In the process of writing the diary, Pepys was watching not just himself but paying much keener attention to others watching him. He was taking the measure of their gaze; evaluating, with his several texts, his social worth in relation to those around him; reading and writing, acting and feeling accordingly. Therefore, the diary is one facet of a prism which distorts rather than a mirror which faithfully reflects the reality of Pepys and his world. For example, after the encounter with Sir William Penn’s maid quoted earlier, Pepys was trying to convince himself that he had done nothing too improper. At the same time as he writes about what had happened, he is composing his features and considering a possible alibi. Likewise, some time after an afternoon spent at Islington with Penn’s family, Pepys writes of one of Penn’s sons-in-law:

[He] did take me up very prettily in one or two things that I said, and I was so sensible of it as to be a caution to me hereafter how [I] do venture to speak more then is necessary in any company, though, as I did now, I do think them uncapable to censure me.

We do not discover what these ‘one or two things’ which now troubled Pepys himself were. Unable to recant the speaking of these things, he instead censures himself and, as he composes the diary, censors his surviving text. Hence, it is misleading to conclude that ‘even though there is evidence that Pepys wrote up his original stark jottings into a more continuous form, the immediacy of concrete experience is rendered and the thin surface of social and moral control is lifted’.

By these ‘others’ watching Pepys is meant not just the people whom Pepys wanted to impress, but everybody. Thus the need to identify and evaluate explicitly even the people most well known to Pepys. As mentioned earlier, Pepys calculates his morning spent at the Miter tavern with Major Colhurst and Mr. Beane in terms of the socio-political standing of his companions. So too with countless entries recording meetings, both official and social, the topics of conversation receive only passing mention unless these relate to Pepys’s fellow actors and to assessing their performances in relation to his own.

VII It would seem appropriate to pull together the various strands of our argument in a detailed example. On Sunday, 29 November 1663, Pepys’s morning undoubtedly comprised countless actions and thoughts. Yet apparently all that occurred that morning, as represented by the diary, is as follows:

29. Lords day. This morning I put on my best black cloth-suit trimmed with Scarlett ribbon, very neat, with my cloak lined with Velvett and a new Beaver, which altogether is very noble, with my black silk knit canons I bought a month ago. I to church alone, my wife not going.

Some would see this simply as another instance of Pepys’s conceitedness: ‘This innocent vanity was perhaps due partly to his father’s trade, which made him more conscious than most people of cut and texture, and partly to memories of earlier poverty.’ An exact consonance of identity between Pepys the active individual and Pepys the textual, fictive character pieced together from several other texts is assumed. Beginning at the temporal reference point ‘Lords day’, we progress with relentless ease, as if the events, like the words on the page, were unfold- ing in a mono-linear progression before our eyes, moving toward the final period and the image of a man seemingly obsessed with what he wore.

We need to recall certain details about the making of the text. In the notes made for that day, the earlier visit to church was probably prominent. Whilst listening to the sermon, Pepys had (as a reading of what purports to be the afternoon’s experience reveals) looked about at his fellow parishioners amongst whom he had noticed ‘my Lady Batten’, wife of a senior colleague at the naval office. Pepys’s observation of this woman had survived in his memory to be noted down within the next few days and then written up neatly as part of the Cambridge text at some indeterminate point. We now read the later text, but we need to ask: of all the people at church that morning why should the diary belatedly preserve the presence of Lady Batten? Because Pepys had seen her ‘in a velvet gowne, which vexed me that she should be in it before my wife, or that I am able to put her into one; but what cannot be, cannot be’. This observation reverberates throughout the rest of the entry for that Sabbath in late November as Pepys’s texts collectively fractured the lived continuum of time and space.

Pepys the individual who dressed that morning probably donned his Sunday best out of mere habit and did not consciously pause to admire or remark to anyone about the superior colour and cut of his clothes. Indeed, it is much more likely that the acquisition of the items now worn, including the ‘black silk knit canons I bought a month ago’, would have already been entered as a debit in his account books and so achieved no further textual acknowledgement. Even if Pepys had, in fact, preened himself in front of his mirror before stepping abroad to church, this would have been only one of many actions and events of that particular morning and an action not necessarily, in and of itself, worthy of the diary’s recognition.

However, in the wake of the sociability that going to church had involved, Pepys the author, anxiously seeking to reassure himself about his social status—particularly anxious in that we also find the added detail, ‘a good dinner we had of boeuf a la mode, but not dressed so well as my wife used to do it’—retroactively invested the action of clothing the Pepys of the text with an added dimension, significance, and permanence that it had not originally possessed. He was confirming to himself in writing the diary that the clothes he had worn earlier had been appropriate to his social circumstances. He was now very aware of this thanks to another of his texts, the account of his savings, so that ‘it would undo me to think of doing as Sir W. Batten and his Lady do, who hath a good estate besides his office’. Therefore, everything else that had happened that morning before Pepys went to church faded into silent oblivion. For instance, did he talk to Elizabeth? Did he try and persuade her to accompany him? Thanks to Lady Batten’s velvet gown, its textual existence heightened by the parallel record of Pepys’s net worth, we will never know.

If the Pepys of the text is a constructed identity it is a profoundly social one. Michael Mascuch has highlighted ‘the importance of narrative modes of perception in defining what counts as reality, especially the reality of self-identity’. Thus from Pepys’s concern for his clothes we should take not that he was a vain man, but a person who considered himself to be (and who wanted to be seen as) the equal of his longer-established government colleagues. As dress, or more specifically, fashion, was a means to this genteel identity, so the diary was another technology of self-fashioning. Yet as we have seen, in a perpetual dialogue the diary also fashioned Pepys: both the dead author and his surviving textual persona. We need to keep this textual dialogic constantly in view because this is what the surviving text ceaselessly enshrines. Admittedly this is a difficult task: we tend to focus on the upstroke of middling man making up his accounts, rather than the downstroke of the accounts making the man in our text.

VIII In a recent study, Stuart Sherman has argued that the diary’s fundamental momentum derives from time itself, an innovative ‘minute-wise’ conception of time as comprised by new pocket-watch, pendulum technology. The diary is a self-conducted time-and-motion study of a radically innovative kind; its whirlpool of details can be explained by Pepys’s attempt to capture and frame time itself. The narrative has no final destination or objective except its very mobility; tracing the movement of Pepys himself through time. Sherman maintains that the diary’s isochronous progression is its one constant, otherwise its scripted content varies infi- nitely. As narrative time must compress real time, so Pepys is free to decide how much (or how little) attention each temporal unit or entry, given an a priori equivalence, should then receive: ‘Pepys fills the blank [entry] by forms and criteria of his own devising, even to the extent of determining its dimensions as a correlative of the day’s abundance and significance, privately reckoned.’

In one sense, the purpose of this article has been to explain the forms and criteria at work, to explicate seemingly random compression or expansion. Why does the diary tick monotonously on for some mornings, but chime loudly at others? On some days we lack direct textual indication that Pepys actually got out of bed, or it is simply ‘up’ and no more, a sure sign for Sherman that Pepys’s watch is again off and running. On the other hand, some entries dwell in the moment. For example, in all entry for early December 1664: ‘10. Lay long; at which I am ashamed, because of so many people’s observing it that know not how late I sit up, and for fear of Sir W. Batten’s speaking of it to others he having stayed for me a good while. At the office all the morning. . .’.

We might concede that Sherman’s thesis complements the argument of this article: that time was an important factor in Pepys’s social rise and was to be expended to advantage. Unfortunately, Sherman’s perception of the nature of the time which Pepys’s diary was perpetually telling precludes this possibility. The first indications of an underlying problem occur at the points where textual compression actually disrupts the flow of time which the text is, according to Sherman, always tracking in relentless, ordered succession. For instance:

9. To the office, where we sat all the morning, busy. At noon home to dinner and then to my office again, where also busy, very busy, late; and then went home and read a piece of a play (Every Man in his Humour, wherein is the greatest propriety of speech that ever I read in my life); and so to bed. This noon came my wife’s Wachmaker and received 12/ of me for her watch; but Captain Rolt coming to speak with me about a little business, he did judge of the work [i.e. on Elizabeth’s watch] to be very good work, and so I am well contented; and he hath made very good, that I know, to Sir W. Penn and Lady Batten.

Sherman’s argument has a more difficult task explaining the narrative’s ability to turn the clock back and forth at will. Tending to underplay this characteristic of the diary text, and, in spite of his own awareness of the manuscript’s compositional complexities, Sherman considers that the diary’s narrative is perpetually in medias res and so faithfully representing real time. As we have seen with reference to the seemingly routine narrative of getting dressed for Sunday service, the time narrated is itself demonstrably a fiction which rests in complex, conflicting, and frequently unparallel relation to real, lived time. In real time Pepys admired his clothes after he had been to church, during the process of writing the diary. As a result, by the diary’s time, this action appears before Pepys takes his place in the social hierarchy demarcated by church pews and fashions worn by those present. From this position Pepys’s knowledge is not so much retrospective as deceptively prospective, causing a profound disjunction in the time’s accounting. Pepys gives his textual subject both motion and time that he himself had neither fully experienced nor possessed. Here Pepys the author is not so much time-keeper as time-master, able to wind back the clock and literally re-live the moment anew. Sherman confounds the nature of the diary’s time and this is reflected in his ambivalent language. He clearly wants the text to encompass the lived, chronometric time. The diary is described as the ‘textual analog’ of Pepys’s timepiece and the text assumes a near autonomic function as it ‘represents’, ‘tells’, ‘measures’, or ‘records’ time. Yet elsewhere we find that Pepys ‘produces’ and ‘constructs’ time. This often subtle but crucial modulation between narrative and lived time precludes a monotonous textual tick-tock.

Sherman maintains that the time which the diary records, the time of Pepys’s watch, is exclusively his own; a possession discreetly pocketed and secretly preserved by Pepys. Both watch and text are a source of pleasure for two reasons. First, because they are instruments of private knowledge relating to time and the self. Second, they allow for a novel autonomy given that Pepys is no longer beholden to the discipline of heaven-sent time as told by the church steeple. Therefore the diary is ‘a work that deals in pleasured sight but not a reformative surveillance, in measured time but not a relentlessly articulated self-discipline’.

The ceaseless interplay of public with private prohibits such isolation. As the hushed ticking of Pepys’s pocket-watch will inevitably be disrupted, temporarily silenced, by the chimes of the public standing clock, so the diary’s secret narrative and its own very tenuous seclusion will be similarly intruded upon by other Pepysian texts which are in turn regulated by a more public time. These combined writings fashioned and disciplined Pepys’s socio-cultural identity. Recall for example, his written vows:

and my conscience knows that it is only the saving of money and the time also that I entend by my oaths, and this hath cost no more of either—so that my conscience before God doth, after good consultation and resolution of paying my forfeit did my conscience accuse me of breaking my vow, I do not find myself in the least apprehensive that I have done any vyolence to my oaths.

Sherman places much emphasis on Pepys’s awareness of a new temporality, pointing to his role in acquiring nautical journals for the Royal Society with which to cheek their latest chronometrical and navigational experiments. However, Sherman neglects to mention that no notice is taken of this activity by Pepys in the diary—most probably because Pepys recorded it in an official minute, an institutional text of the Foucauldian kind. Time could also prove a valuable public resource and, as such, had to be carefully managed by several related texts.

The diary’s narrative moves along an all-important social (as opposed to purely temporal) trajectory. This progression, both real and projected, is the diary’s grander design which, in turn, prohibits the simple conflation of textual time with that of Huygensian chronometry. Sherman acknowledges the diary’s relation to accounting, albeit financial accounting narrowly conceived. He wants to privilege time over money, but a careful examination of the extant rough notes shows that each resource was implicated in the other. Both threatened to make (or unmake) Pepys’s social identity for which the diary took careful but fundamentally creative at account.

IX The approach to Pepys mooted here is different from that usually adopted. The typical interpretive strategy starts with a man named Pepys, held in a state of suspended animation, and looks for transhistorical human qualities in an apparently straightforward quotidian record. This article has advocated turning this orthodoxy on its head, beginning with the diary as text, and always keeping an eye on the wider context no matter how enthralling the revelations written for (not of) a particular day might seem.

Perhaps part of our problem is that we know how the story of Pepys ends. As we read the diary we see, in our mind’s eye, the well-heeled, more self-assured individual who had established himself as a member of genteel society by the time of his death, not the son of a tailor and washerwoman who faced an uncertain future as he penned his diary some thirty years earlier. We tend to conflate his life progression with the textual trajectory of the diary and, by the same token, usually disregard the parallel trajectories of account book or office ledger. Certainly his social ambition and mobility of the 1660s has been recognized. However, Pepys’s mobility is not simply one facet of the diary. It informs the whole text at the most fundamental level. The diary is a social ledger, but more than this it is the text in which Pepys creates what he is endeavouring to be, but is unsure whether he will actually become.

We might speculate that Pepys chose not to continue the diary in some manner after 1669 because it had served its time. For in May of that year the acquisition of a coach and a fine new wardrobe signalled his debut amongst London’s elite: ‘With my coach to St. James, and there, finding the Duke of York gone to muster his men in Hyde-park, I alone with my boy thither;. . . walking out of my coach as other gentlemen did.’ He could now live the day-dream. Fortunately for us the diary survives as an enigmatic monument to his achievement, as lived but also as incessantly scripted and rescripted.

Those who have read the diary and claim to know Pepys need to wrestle further with its essence: that it is irresolvably recursive in nature. One can begin with the idea that Pepys’s diary project evolved to account for, indeed shape, his social identity and progress. However, Pepys is neither simply nor any longer the diary’s intending subject or author. Pepys becomes subjected to his texts, collectively a discourse of accounting, both as he reads them and as we read them now, with the result that our Pepys is as much a complex projection of the texts. Almost without exception, the Pepys of the diary performs, or is getting ready to perform, before a contemporary audience. Thus the text involves no simple, free-flowing, spur-of-the-moment self-expression about what had happened in the past. It constitutes a broader process of self-evaluation and censorship in the present act of writing, writing very much reliant upon reading other texts. This multiple auditing leads, in turn, to the constant creation and recreation of a future-orientated textual ethos separate from the ‘I’ that held the pen that wrote the diary or made the fist which had blackened Elizabeth’s face.

Source: Mark S. Dawson, ‘‘Histories and Texts: Refiguring The Diary of Samuel Pepys,’’ in the Historical Journal, Vol. 43, No. 2, June 2000, pp. 317–44.

Samuel Pepys: The War of Will and Pleasure

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By and By comes in Mr. Coventry to us, who my Lord tells that he is also put into the commission, and that I am there; of which he said he was glad and did tell my Lord that I was endeed the life of this office, and much more to my commendation, beyond measure. So that on all hands, by God’s blessing, I find myself a very rising man. (20 August 1662)

During the period covered by his Diary, 1660–1669, Samuel Pepys was indeed a rising man. Born in 1633, a graduate of St. Paul’s School and of Magdalene College, Cambridge, Pepys in about 1654 had joined the household of a well-placed relative, Edward Mountagu. In 1656, Mountagu used his influence to secure for Pepys a minor clerkship in the Exchequer. After the Restoration, as Mountagu, Pepys’s patron, rose in the favor of the restored King, Pepys became an important official. In July of 1660 he was appointed Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board. As he demonstrated his competence in his work in the Navy Office and gained the confidence of his superiors in Whitehall, he observed with satisfaction that he was regarded with more deference than before. In his Diary entry for 17 July 1662 he remarks that he takes pleasure in his work for its own sake but also enjoys the recognition it brings him from others:

Find much business to lie upon my hand; and was late at the office, writing letters by candlelight, which is rare at this time of the year. But I do it with much content and joy, and then I do please me to see that I begin to have people direct themselfs to me in all business.

Not only in the Navy Office but within his family Pepys saw recognition of his changes in status. His cousin Thomas Pepys consulted him on 1 May 1666 ‘‘about the business of his being a Justice of the Peace, which he is much against; and among other reasons, tells me as a confidence that he is not free to exercise punishment according to the act against Quakers and other people, for religion.’’ The reposing of this dangerous confidence is a measure of how much Thomas trusted and respected his cousin. On 14 January of the same year, Samuel took upon himself the patriarchal duties of providing his sister Paulina with a dowry and of disposing of her hand in marriage, even though his father was still living.

As superiors, subordinates, friends, and relatives responded to him in new ways, Pepys strove to discover and cultivate within himself the qualities that could make him suited to the position he occupied in a society whose patriarchal organization, already strong in the seventeenth century, had been reinforced by the Restoration. Patriarchy is sustained by ideology—by a system of beliefs taken so much for granted that they are seldom even articulated, let alone questioned. As Lawrence Stone has remarked.

Patriarchy for its effective exercise depends not so much on raw power or legal authority, as on a recognition by all concerned of its legitimacy, hallowed by ancient tradition, moral theology and political theory. It survives and flourishes only so long as it is not questioned and challenged, so long as both the patriarchs and their subordinates fully accept the natural justice of the relationship and of the norms within which it is exercised. Willing acceptance of the legitimacy of the authority, together with a weakness of competing foci of power, are the keys to the whole system.

Because Pepys’s diary is extraordinarily frank both about his social activity and about his mental life, we can observe with unusual clarity his struggle to become the person the dominant ideology of his time seemed to require him to be.

Central to Pepys’s conception of his position was the idea of the exertion of his will, both over other people and over himself. His clerkship in the Navy Office, the source of his position in society, carried danger as well as opportunity. Many of the privileges of his office were matters of custom rather than written rule, and if he did not assert his right to them he would lose them. When Sir William Penn denied him the customary right to draw up contracts, Pepys angrily claimed the privilege:

I was much vexed and began to dispute; and what with the letter of the Dukes orders, and Mr. Barlows letter, and the practice of our predecessors, which Sir G. Carteret knew best when he was Comptroller, it was ruled for me. (3 June 1662).

He had the temerity to challenge even his superiors, Penn (18 November 1663) and Prince Rupert (7 October 1666) rather than allow a decline in their fortunes to affect his own. In a stressful showdown before the King, Pepys carefully combined a subject’s humility with a professional’s confidence as he refuted Prince Rupert:

I had no sooner done, but Prince Rupert rose up and told the King in a heat that whatever the gentleman [Pepys] had said, he had brought home his fleet in as good a condition as ever any fleet was brought home . . . I therefore did only answer that I was sorry for his Highness’s offence, but that what I said was but the report we received from those entrusted in the fleet to inform us . . . I was not a little troubled at this passage; . . . but do not think that all this will redound to my hurt, because the truth of what I said will soon appear (7 October 1666).

Pepys’s private life, rather than being a refuge from such struggles for primacy, was an extension of them. As the head of his household, he felt he had to exert his will over everyone in it. The brutal episode of 21 June 1662, involving a servant boy, is illustrative:

I having from my wife and the maids complaints made of the boy, I called him up and with my whip did whip him till I was not able to stir, and yet I could not make him confess any of the lies that they tax him with. At last, not willing to let him go away a conqueror, I took him in task again and pulled off his frock to his shirt, and whipped him till he did confess that he did drink the whay, which he had denied. And pulled a pinke, and above all, did lay the candlesticke upon the ground in his chamber, which he hath denied this quarter of this year. I confess it is one of the greatest wonders that ever I met with, that such a little boy as he could be able to suffer half so much as he did to maintain a lie.

‘‘Not willing to let him go away a conqueror’’— the metaphor is telling. Pepys implies that the encounter between himself and this child is not simply a contest of wills, but a war, in which one or the other must be a conqueror. He, the master, cannot afford to lose even a little battle, for it might lose him the war.

The metaphor of conquest was not original—or even fully conscious—with Pepys; rather, it was integral to the language of the patriarchal society in which he lived. The syntax of the Diary bears witness to the difficulty with which he struggled to live out the trope in the relationships of his daily life.

Although it informs all Pepys’s relations with other people, the figure is particularly present in his accounts of his relations with women. After an assignation with Mrs. Bagwell, he reflected that it is ‘‘strange, to see how a woman, notwithstanding her greatest pretences of love à son mari and religion, may be vaincue’’ (23 January 1664/5). About a month later he again attempted sex with Mrs. Bagwell, and ‘‘I had sa compagnie, though with a great deal of difficulty; néanmoins, enfin je avais ma volonté d’elle’’ (20 February 1664/5). In this case the exertion of Pepys’s ‘‘volonté’’ was attended with some cost, for the following day he had ‘‘a mighty pain in my forefinger of my left hand, from a strain that it received last night in struggling avec la famme que je mentioned yesterday’’ (21 February). With Mrs. Martin, too, he ‘‘did what je voudrais avec her, both devante and backward, which is also muy bon plazer’’ (3 June 1666).

The contest of wills became most acute with his wife, Elizabeth, to whom, he insists in his Diary, ‘‘I will not yield . . . I resolved all into my having my will done, be the reason what it will—and so I will have it’’ (4 May 1666). In this relationship all the ideology of his society converged. His positions as a man, as a husband and head of his household, as a rising official, all depended on his ability to govern the relationships closest to him. Even when he admitted to himself the justice of Elizabeth’s views, he felt he must force himself to uphold the ideology of patriarchy. Particularly poignant is the scene between the two of them on 9 January 1662/3, when Pepys refused to heed the words of his wife, despite his conviction of their justice:

Waking in the morning, my wife begun to speak of the necessity of her keeping somebody to bear her company; for her familiarity with her servants is it that spoils them all, and other company she hath none (which is too true); and called for Jane to reach her out of her trunk, giving her the keys to that purpose, a bundle of papers; and pulls out a paper, a copy of what, a pretty while since, she had writ in a discontent to me, which I would not read but burned.

When Elizabeth had tried in the past to tell him of her discontent he had refused to pay attention— ‘‘I would not read’’—and had destroyed her words. Now she brings them to him again:

She now read it, and was so picquant, and wrote in English and most of it true, of the retiredness of her life and how unpleasant it was, that being writ in English and so in danger of being met with and read by others, I was vexed at it and desired her and then commanded her to teare it—which she desired to be excused it; I forced it from her and tore it, and withal took her other bundle of papers from her and leapt out of the bed and in my shirt clapped them into the pockets of my breeches, that she might not get them from me; and having got on my stockings and breeches and gown, I pulled them out one by one and tore them all before her face, though it went against my heart to do it, she crying and desiring me not to do it.

Samuel’s account of the altercation makes clear that his reason for fearing and destroying his wife’s writing was his fear that disclosure of her unhappiness would reflect on him, on his position: ‘‘being writ in English and so in danger of being met with and read by others, I was vexed at it.’’ His anxiety that so dangerous a communication might fall into the wrong hands resembles that of a citizen of a police state.

Pepys’s seizure and destruction of his wife’s written words, his depriving her of power over her own language in order to maintain his superiority over her, seems to me to constitute a severe indictment of patriarchy. Indeed, his anguished protestations that he acted in this instance contrary to his own heart illustrate the dehumanizing price this form of social organization extorted even from its supposed beneficiaries. His very syntax seems to become an advocate for Elizabeth, as he breaks into his spiral of subordinated constructions with the admission that her complaints are ‘‘too true.’’ It is not surprising that this conflict between his wife and himself left him ‘‘troubled in mind.’’

Pepys’s knowledge of his sexual access to the wives of his own subordinates made him a jealous husband and led him to keep his wife in the state of ‘‘retiredness’’ she found so uncomfortable. When his uncle Wight suggested to Elizabeth that he and she might have a child together, Pepys understood very well why he had previously received favors from this uncle:

It seemed he did say all this in a kind of counterfeit laugh; but by all words that passed, which I cannot now so well set down, it is plain to me that he was in good earnest, and that I fear all his kindness to me is but only his lust to her (11 May 1664).

In May of 1663, Elizabeth Pepys, perhaps seeking a remedy for the isolation she had complained of in January, took lessons from a dancing master. On the 12th Pepys confessed himself ‘‘a little angry with my wife for minding nothing now but the dancing-maister, having him come twice a day, which is a folly.’’ On the 15th, Pepys could barely control his jealous rage. Unable to sleep, to concentrate, even to remain in one place, he can hardly control his syntax in his diary entry:

Home—where I find it almost night and my wife and the Dancing Maister alone above, not dancing but walking. Now, so deadly full of jealousy I am, that my heart and head did so cast about and fret, that I could not do any business possibly, but went out to my office; and anon late home again, and ready to chide at everything; and then suddenly to bed and could hardly sleep, yet durst not say anything.

To some degree, the very word master may be responsible for Pepys’s unease. His wife had, after all, placed herself under the direction of a new master, and Pepys, with his extraordinary sensitivity to tropes of rule and conquest, was both thoughtful and honest enough to see the connection between his own sexual exploits and his present jealousy:

God knows, that I do not find honesty enough in my own mind but that upon a small temptation I could be false to her, and therefore ought not to expect more justice from her—but God pardon both my sin and my folly herein (16 May 1663).

‘‘It is a deadly folly and plague that I bring upon myself to be so jealous,’’ he continues. ‘‘I am ashamed to think what a course I did take by lying to see whether my wife did wear drawers today as she used to do, and other things to raise my suspicion of her; but I found no tree cause of doing it’’ (15 May).

A partial reason for the pitch of jealousy Pepys reached on 15 May may have been a conversation he had had earlier the same day with Sir Thomas Crew about the state of the nation.

I sat talking with him all the afternoon from one discourse to another. The most was upon the unhappy posture of things at this time; that the King doth mind nothing but pleasures and hates the very sight or thoughts of business. That my Lady Castlemayne rules him; who he says hath all the tricks of Aretin that are to be practised to give pleasure—in which he is too able, hav[ing] a large——; but that which is the unhappiness is that, as the Italian proverb says, Cazzo dritto no vuolt consiglio.

Pepys’s use of the word posture for the condition of affairs of state is a kind of unconscious pun. Sonnetti sui ‘Sedici modi . . .’ di Giulio Romano, a book of erotic engravings by Marcantonio Raimondi, accompanied by a series of sonnets by Pietro Aretino and published in Italy in about 1525, was popularly known in England as ‘‘Aretine’s Postures.’’ Thus Pepys unconsciously links the ‘‘tricks of Aretin’’ practiced by Barbara Palmer, countess of Castlemaine, with the ‘‘posture’’ of state affairs. The political position of England is in danger because King Charles, preoccupied with a woman who knows multiple sexual positions, neglects his position as head of state.

As Pepys’s use of the Italian proverb implies, the conventional wisdom holds that the real ruler is not Castlemaine, either, but the royal penis. Charles’s ‘‘large——’’ has usurped the place, the position, of his brain. The earl of Rochester, in January 1673/4, expressed much the same idea in one of his most scathing satires, his ‘‘Scepter Lampoon’’:

His Sceptter and his Prick are of a Length, And she may sway the one, who plays with th’ other • • • • • Poor Prince thy Prick like thy Buffoons at Court Will governe thee because it makes thee sportt. ’Tis sure the swaucyest that e’er did swive The proudest peremptoriest Prick alive. Though Safety, Law, Religion, Life lay on’t, ’Twould breake through all to make its way to C[—].

In a time in which the analogy between the king as the head of state and the father as the head of a family is a commonplace, Charles’s failure to address himself to business, his inversion of the proper order of brain and body—these acts constitute an abdication of the high place to which patriarchy has assigned him. Whatever is wrong in ‘‘the posture of our affairs’’ can be traced to the king’s failure to maintain a proper posture in his private life. And though this failure may be a matter of humor to a libertine wag like Rochester, to soberer men like Pepys it is a subject for the deepest concern. On 26 April 1667, Pepys and his fellow diarist John Evelyn discussed the problems of English government as a failure—indeed, an inversion—of command; they talked

. . . of the badness of the Government, where nothing but wickedness, and wicked men and women command the King. That it is not in his nature to gainsay anything that relates to his pleasures . . . He tells me that the King of France hath his Maistresses, but laughs at the foolery of our King, that makes his bastards princes, and loses his revenue upon them— and makes his mistresses his maisters.

Charles thus stands, in the minds of many of his subjects, including Pepys, as an example of the dire effects of the breakdown of patriarchy. It is not difficult to understand how Pepys, worried over Charles’s abdication of responsibility, feels especially threatened by his own feelings of jealousy, finding them a reminder that Elizabeth holds a strong power over him.

For ultimately it is power over himself that Pepys most fears losing, and it is with himself that the strongest battle of wills takes place. Like King Charles, Samuel Pepys is constantly tempted to neglect his business in favor of his pleasure. ‘‘My nature could not refrain from the temptation,’’ he writes after neglecting business for pleasure with a Mrs. Horesly on 29 May 1666. ‘‘I could not help it.’’ Though he attempts with some success to bind himself with solemn oaths from drinking wine (26 July 1661) and attending plays (31 December 1661), he finds himself, like the king, unable to control his sexual impulses. Just as he does with his servants, his women, and his wife, he must struggle with his own nature for conquest of himself:

God forgive me, I do still see that my nature is not to be quite conquered, but will esteems pleasure above all things; though, yet in the middle of it, it hath reluctancy after my business, which is neglected by my fallowing my pleasure. However, music and women I cannot but give way to, whatever my business is (9 March 1665/6).

Few human inventions are as powerful as those fictions by which we explain reality to ourselves. Samuel Pepys, who in 1649 had witnessed the execution of King Charles I at Whitehall and in 1660 had seen the bonfires of celebration at the Restoration of Charles II, perceived feelingly in the political sphere the consequences of a loss of control over events and wills. His half-conscious use of the metaphor of conquest in a battlefield of competing wills and natures may have helped him to understand his rapid rise in society and to accept the new responsibilities he expected to assume. But his fully conscious insistence in his diary on exerting his will over others and over himself expresses his anxiety not only about his own position in society but about the continued survival of a system of social organization whose existence depends on the strength of will of individuals placed by patriarchy in positions of leadership—men like King Charles and himself, whose wills he was all too aware were weak and wavering.

Source: John H. O’Neil, ‘‘Samuel Pepys: The War of Will and Pleasure,’’ in Restoration: Studies in English Literary Culture, 1660–1700, Vol. 19, No. 2, Fall 1995, pp. 88–94.


Critical Overview