[This is taken From John Kelman's Among Famous Books.]
It is doubtful whether any of Bunyan's contemporaries had so strong a human interest attaching to his person and his work as Samuel Pepys. There is indeed something in common to the two men,—little or nothing of character, but a certain naïveté and sincerity of writing, which makes them remind one of each other many times. All the more because of this does the contrast between the spirit of the two force itself upon every reader; and if we should desire to find a typical pagan to match Bunyan's spirituality and idealism, it would be difficult to go past Samuel Pepys.
There were, as everybody knows, two famous diarists of the Restoration period, Pepys and Evelyn. It is interesting to look at the portraits of the two men side by side. Evelyn's face is anxious and austere, suggesting the sort of stuff of which soldiers or saints are made. Pepys is a voluptuous figure, in the style of Charles the Second, with regular and handsome features below his splendid wig, and eyes that are both keen and heavy, penetrating and luxurious. These two men (who, in the course of their work, had to compare notes on several occasions, and between whom we have the record of more than one meeting) were among the most famous gossips of the world. But Evelyn's gossip is a succession of solemnities compared with the racy scandal, the infantile and insatiable curiosity, and the incredible frankness of the pagan diarist.
Look at his face again, and you will find it impossible not to feel a certain amount of surprise. Of all the unlikely faces with which history has astonished the readers of books, there are none more surprising than those of three contemporaries in the later seventeenth century. Claverhouse, with his powerful character and indomitable will, with his Titanic daring and relentless cruelty, has the face of a singularly beautiful young girl. Judge Jeffreys, whose delight in blood was only equalled by the foulness and extravagance of his profanity, looks in his picture the very type of spiritual wistfulness. Samuel Pepys, whose large oval eyes and clear-cut profile suggest a somewhat voluptuous and very fastidious aristocrat, was really a man of the people, sharp to a miracle in all the detail of the humblest kind of life, and apparently unable to keep from exposing himself to scandal in many sorts of mean and vulgar predicament.
Since the deciphering and publication of his Diary, a great deal has been written concerning it. The best accounts of it are Henry B. Wheatley's Samuel Pepys and the World he Lived in, and Robert Louis Stevenson's little essay in his Short Studies of Men and Books. The object of the present lecture is not to give any general account of the time and its public events, upon which the Diary touches at a thousand points, but rather to set the spirit of this man in contrast with that of John Bunyan, which we have just considered. The men are very typical, and any adequate conception of the spirit of either will give a true cross-section of the age in which he lived. Pepys, it must be confessed, is much more at home in his times than Bunyan ever could be. One might even say that the times seem to have been designed as a background for the diarist. There is as little of the spirit of a stranger and pilgrim in Pepys, even in his most pathetic hours, as there is in John Bunyan the spirit of a man at home, even in his securest. It was a very pagan time, and Pepys is the pagan par excellence of that time, the bright and shining example of the pagan spirit of England.
His lot was cast in high places, to which he rose by dint of great ability and indomitable perseverance in his office. He talks with the King, the Duke of York, the Archbishop, and all the other great folks of the day; and no volume has thrown more light on the character of Charles the Second than his. We see the King at the beginning kissing the Bible, and proclaiming it to be the thing which he loves above all other things. He rises early in the morning, and practises others of the less important virtues. We see him touching all sorts of people for the King's evil, a process in which Pepys is greatly interested at first, but which palls when it has lost its novelty. Similarly, the diarist is greatly excited on the first occasion when he actually hears the King speak, but soon begins to criticise him, finding that he talks very much like other people. He describes the starvation of the fleet, the country sinking to the verge of ruin, and the maudlin scenes of drunkenness at Court, with a minuteness which makes one ashamed even after so long an interval. However revolting or shameful the institution may be, the fact that it is an institution gives it zest for the strange mind of Pepys. He is, however, capable also of moralising. "Oh, that the King would mind his business!" he would exclaim, after having delighted himself and his readers with the most droll accounts of His Majesty's frivolities. "How wicked a wretch Cromwell was, and yet how much better and safer the country was in his hands than it is now." And often he will end the bewildering account with some such bitter comment as the assertion "that every one about the Court is mad."
In politics he had been a republican in his early days, and when Charles the First's head fell at Whitehall, he had confided to a friend the dangerous remark that if he were to preach a sermon on that event he would choose as his text the words, "The memory of the wicked shall rot." The later turn of events gave him abundant opportunities for repenting of that indiscretion, and he repents at intervals all through his Diary. For now he is a royalist in his politics, having in him not a little of the spirit of the Vicar of Bray, and of Bunyan's Mr. By-ends.
The political references lead him beyond England, and we hear with consternation now and again about the dangerous doings of the Covenanters in Scotland. We hear much also of France and Holland, and still more of Spain. Outside the familiar European lands there is a fringe of curious places like Tangier, which is of great account at that time, and is destined in Pepys' belief to play an immense part in the history of England, and of the more distant Bombain in India, which he considers to be a place of little account. Here and there the terror of a new Popish plot appears. The kingdom is divided against itself, and the King and the Commons are at drawn battle with the Lords, while every one shapes his views of things according as his party is in or out of power.
Three great historic events are recorded with singular minuteness and interest in the Diary, namely, the Plague, the Dutch War, and the Fire of London.
As to the Plague, we have all the vivid horror of detail with which
Defoe has immortalised it, with the additional interest that here no
consecutive history is attempted, but simply a record of daily
impressions of the streets and houses. On his first sight of the red
cross upon a door, the diarist cries out, "Lord, have mercy upon us," in
genuine terror and pity. The coachman sickens on his box and cannot
drive his horses home. The gallant draws the curtains of a sedan chair
to salute some fair lady within, and finds himself face to face with the
death-dealing eyes and breath of a plague-stricken patient. Few people
move along the streets, and at night the passenger sees and shuns the
distant lights of the link-boys guiding the dead to their burial. A
cowardly parson flies upon some flimsy excuse from his dangerous post,
and makes a weak apology on his first reappearance in the pulpit. Altogether it is a picture unmatched in its broken vivid flashes, in which the cruelty and wildness of desperation mingle with the despairing cry of pity.
The Dutch War was raging then, not on the High Seas only, but at the very gates of England; and Pepys, whose important and responsible position as Clerk of the Acts of the Navy gave him much first-hand information, tells many great stories in his casual way. We hear the guns distinctly and loud, booming at the mouth of the Thames. The press-gang sweeps the streets, and starving women, whose husbands have been taken from them, weep loudly in our ears. Sailors whose wages have not been paid desert their ships, in some cases actually joining the Dutch and fighting against their comrades. One of the finest passages gives a heartrending and yet bracing picture of the times. "About a dozen able, lusty, proper men came to the coach-side with tears in their eyes, and one of them that spoke for the rest began, and said to Sir W. Coventry, 'We are here a dozen of us, that have long known and loved, and served our dead commander, Sir Christopher Mings, and have now done the last office of laying him in the ground. We would be glad we had any other to offer after him, and in revenge of him. All we have is our lives; if you will please to get His Royal Highness to give us a fire-ship among us all, here are a dozen of us, out of all which, choose you one to be commander; and the rest of us, whoever he is, will serve him; and, if possible, do that which shall show our memory of our dead commander, and our revenge.' Sir W. Coventry was herewith much moved, as well as I, who could hardly abstain from weeping, and took their names, and so parted."
Perhaps, however, the finest work of all is found in the descriptions of the Fire of London. From that night when he is awakened by the red glare of the fire in his bedroom window, on through the days and weeks of terror, when no man knew how long he would have a home, we follow by the light of blazing houses the story of much that is best and much that is worst in human nature. The fire, indeed, cleanses the city from the last dregs of the plague which are still lingering there, but it also stirs up the city until its inhabitants present the appearance of ants upon a disturbed ant-hill. And not the least busy among them, continually fussing about in all directions, is the diarist himself, eagerly planning for the preservation of his money, dragging it hither and thither from hiding-place to hiding-place in the city, and finally burying it in bags at dead of night in a garden. Nothing is too small for him to notice. The scrap of burnt paper blown by the wind to a lady's hand, on which the words are written, "Time is, it is done," is but one of a thousand equally curious details.
His own character, as reflected in the narrative of these events, is often little to his credit, and the frank and unblushing selfishness of his outlook upon things in general is as amusing as it is shameful. And yet, on the other hand, when most men deserted London, Pepys remained in it through the whole dangerous time of the plague, taking his life in his hand and dying daily in his imagination in spite of the quaint precautions against infection which he takes care on every occasion to describe. Through the whole dismal year, with plague and fire raging around him, he sticks to his post and does his work as thoroughly as the disorganised circumstances of his life allow. If we could get back to the point of view of those who thought about Pepys and formed a judgment of him before his Diary had been made public, we should be confronted with the figure of a man as different from the diarist as it is possible for two men to be. His contemporaries took him for a great Englishman, a man who did much for his country, and whose character was a mirror of all the national and patriotic ideals. His public work was by no means unimportant, even in a time so full of dangers and so critical for the destinies of England. Little did the people who loved and hated him in his day and afterwards dream of the contents of that small volume, so carefully written in such an unintelligible cipher, locked nightly with its little key, and hidden in some secure place. When at last the writing was deciphered, there came forth upon us, from the august and honourable state in which the Navy Commissioner had lain so long, this flood of small talk, the greatest curiosity known to English literature. Other men than Pepys have suffered in reputation from the yapping of dogs and the barn-door cackle that attacked their memories. England blushed as she heard the noise when the name of Carlyle became the centre of such commotion. But if Samuel Pepys has suffered in the same way he has no one to thank for it but himself; for, if his own hand-writing had not revealed it, no one could possibly have guessed it from the facts of his public career. Yet what a rare show it is, that multitude of queer little human interests that intermingle with the talk about great things! It may have been quite wrong to translate it, and undoubtedly much of it was disreputable enough for any man to write, yet it will never cease to be read; nor will England cease to be glad that it was translated, so long as the charm of history is doubled by touches of strange imagination and confessions of human frailty.
Pepys' connection with literature is that rather of a virtuoso than of a student in the strict sense of the term. He projected a great History of the Navy, which might have immortalised him in a very different fashion from that of the immortality which the Diary has achieved. But his life was crowded with business and its intervals with pleasures. The weakness of his eyes also militated against any serious contribution to literature, and instead of the History, for which he had gathered much material and many manuscripts, he gave us only the little volume entitled Memoirs of the Navy, which, however, shows a remarkable grasp of his subject, and of all corresponding affairs, such as could only have been possessed by a man of unusually thorough knowledge of his business. He collected what was for his time a splendid library, consisting of some three thousand volumes, now preserved in his College (Magdalene College, Cambridge), very carefully arranged and catalogued. We read much of this library while it is accumulating—much more about the mahogany cases in which the books were to stand than about the books themselves, or his own reading of them. The details of their arrangement were very dear to his curious mind. He tells us that where the books would not fit exactly to the shelves, but were smaller than the space, he had little gilded stilts made, adjusted to the size of each book, and placed under the volumes, which they lifted to the proper height. Little time can have been left over for the study of at least the stiffer works in that library, although there are many notes which show that he was in some sense a reader, and that books served the same purpose as events and personalities in leading him up and down the byways of what he always found to be a curious and interesting world.
But the immortal part of Pepys is undoubtedly his Diary. Among others of the innumerable curious interests which this man cultivated was that of studying the secret ciphers which had been invented and used by literary people in the past. From his knowledge of these he was enabled to invent a cipher of his own, or rather to adopt one which he altered somewhat to serve his uses. Having found this sufficiently secret code, he was now able to gratify his immense interest in himself and his inordinate personal vanity by writing an intimate narrative of his own life. The Diary covers nine and a half years in all, from January 1660 to May 1669. For nearly a century and a half it lay dead and silent, until Rev. J. Smith, with infinite diligence and pains, discovered the key to it, and wrote his translation. A later translation has been made by Rev. Mynors Bright, which includes some passages by the judgment of the former translator considered unnecessary or inadvisable.
Opinions differ as to the wisdom, and indeed the morality, of forcing upon the public ear the accidentally discovered secrets which a dead man had guarded so carefully. There is, of course, the possibility that, as some think, Pepys desired that posterity should have the complete record in all its frankness and candour. If this be so, one can only say that the wish is evidence of a morbid and unbalanced mind. It seems much more probable that he wrote the Diary for the luxury of reading it to himself, always intending to destroy it before his death. But a piece of work so intimate as this is, in a sense, a living part of the man who creates it, and one can well imagine him putting off the day of its destruction, and grudging that it should perish with all its power of awakening old chords of memory and revitalising buried years. For his own part he was no squeamish moralist and if it were only for his own eyes he would enjoy passages which the more fastidious public might judge differently.
So it comes to pass that this amazing omnium gatherum of a book is among the most living of all the gifts of the past to the present, telling everything and telling it irresistibly. His hat falls through a hole, and he writes down all about the incident as faithfully as he describes the palace of the King of France, and the English war with Holland. His nature is amazingly complicated, and yet our judgment of it is simplified by his passion for telling everything, no matter how discreditable or how ignoble the detail may be. He is a great man and a great statesman, and he is the liveliest of our English crickets on the hearth. One set of excerpts would present him as the basest, another set as the pleasantest and kindliest of men; and always without any exception he is refreshing by his intense and genial interest in the facts of the world. Of the many summaries of himself which he has given us, none is more characteristic than the following, with which he closes the month of April of the year 1666: "Thus ends this month; my wife in the country, myself full of pleasure and expence; in some trouble for my friends, and my Lord Sandwich, by the Parliament, and more for my eyes, which are daily worse and worse, that I dare not write or read almost anything." He is essentially a virtuoso who has been forced by circumstances into the necessity of being also a public man, and has developed on his own account an extraordinary passion for the observation of small and wayside things. At the high table of those times, where Milton and Bunyan sit at the mighty feast of English literature, he is present also: but he is under the table, a mischievous and yet observant child, loosening the neckerchiefs of those who are too drunk, and picking up scraps of conversation which he will retail outside. There is something peculiarly pathetic in the whole picture. One remembers Defoe, who for so many years lived in the reputation of honourable politics and in the odour of such sanctity as Robinson Crusoe could give, until the discovery of certain yellow papers revealed the base political treachery for which the great island story had been a kind of anodyne to conscience. So Samuel Pepys would have passed for a great naval authority and an anxious friend of England when her foes were those of her own household, had he only been able to make up his mind to destroy these little manuscript volumes.
Why did he write them, one still asks? Readers of Robert Browning's poems, House and Shop, will remember the scorn which that poet pours upon any one who unlocks his heart to the general public. And these narrations of Pepys' are certainly of such a kind that if he intended them to be read by any public in any generation of England, he must be set down as unique among sane men. Stevenson indeed considers that there was in the Diary a side glance at publication, but the proof which he adduces from the text does not seem sufficient to sustain so remarkable a freak of human nature, nor does the fact that on one occasion Pepys set about destroying all his papers except the Diary, appear to prove very much one way or another. Stevenson calls it inconsistent and unreasonable in a man to write such a book and to preserve it unless he wanted it to be read. But perhaps no writing of diaries is quite reasonable; and as for his desire to have it read by others than himself, we find that his Diary was so close a secret that he expresses regret for having mentioned it to Sir William Coventry. No other man ever heard of it in Pepys' lifetime, "it not being necessary, nor maybe convenient, to have it known."
Why, then, did he write it? Why does anybody write a diary? Probably the answer nearest to the truth will be that every one finds himself interesting, and some people have so keen an interest in themselves that it becomes a passion, clamorous to be gratified. Now as Bacon tells us, "Writing maketh an exact man," and the writing of diaries reduces to the keenest vividness our own impressions of experience and thoughts about things. Pepys was, above all other men, interested in himself. He was intensely in love with himself. The beautiful, jealous, troublesome, and yet inevitable Mrs. Pepys was but second in her husband's affections after all. He was his own wife. One remembers fashionable novels of the time of Evelina or the Mysteries of Udolpho, and recollects how the ladies there speak lover-like of their diaries, and, when writing them, feel themselves always in the best possible company. For Pepys, his Diary does not seem to have been so much a refuge from daily cares and worries, nor a preparation for the luxury of reading it in his old age, as an indulgence of intense and poignant pleasure in the hour of writing.
His interest in himself was quite extraordinary. When his library was collected and his books bound and gilded they were doubtless a treasured possession of which he was hugely proud. But this was not so much a possession as it was a kind of alter ego, a fragment of his living self, hidden away from all eyes but his own. No trifle in his life is too small for record. He cannot change his seat in the office from one side of the fireplace to another without recording it. The gnats trouble him at an inn in the country. His wig takes fire and crackles, and he is mighty merry about it until he discovers that it is his own wig that is burning and not somebody else's. He visits the ships, and, remembering former days, notes down without a blush the sentence, "Poor ship, that I have been twice merry in." Any one could have written the Diary, so far as intellectual or even literary power is concerned, though perhaps few would have chosen precisely Pepys' grammar in which to express themselves. But nobody else that ever lived could have written it with such sheer abandonment and frankness. He has a positive talent, nay, a genius for self-revelation, for there must be a touch of genius in any man who is able to be absolutely true. Other men have struggled hard to gain sincerity, and when it is gained the struggle has made it too conscious to be perfectly sincere. Pepys, with utter unconsciousness, is sincere even in his insincerities. Some of us do not know ourselves and our real motives well enough to attempt any formal statement of them. Others of us may suspect ourselves, but would die before we would confess our real motives even to ourselves, and would fiercely deny them if any other person accused us of them. But this man's barriers are all down. There is no reserve, but frankness everywhere and to an unlimited extent. There is no pose in the book either of good or bad, and it is one of the very few books of which such a statement could be made. He has been accused of many things, but never of affectation. The bad actions are qualified by regrets, and the disarmed critic feels that they have lost any element of tragedy which they might otherwise have had. The good actions are usually spoiled by some selfish addendum which explains and at the same time debases them. Surely the man who could do all this constantly through so many hundreds of pages, must be in his way a unique kind of genius, to have so clear an eye and so little self-deception.
The Diary is full of details, for he is the most curious man in the world. One might apply to him the word catholicity if it were not far too big and dignified an epithet. The catholicity of his mind is that of the Old Curiosity Shop. The interest of the book is inexhaustible, because to him the whole world was just such a book. His world was indeed
So full of a number of things
He was sure we should all be as happy as kings.
Like Chaucer's Pardoner he was "meddlesome as a fly." Now he lights upon a dane's skin hung in a church. Again, upon a magic-lantern. Yet again upon a traitor's head, and the prospect of London in the distance. He will drink four pints of Epsom water. He will learn to whistle like a bird, and he will tell you a tale of a boy who was disinherited because he crowed like a cock. He will walk across half the country to see anything new. His heart is full of a great love of processions, raree-shows of every kind, and, above all, novelty. His confession that the sight of the King touching for the evil gave him no pleasure because he had seen it before, applies to most things in his life. For such a man, this world must indeed have been an interesting place.
We join him in well-nigh every meal he sits down to, from the first days when they lived so plainly, on to the greater times of the end, when he gives a dinner to his friends, which was "a better dinner than they understood or deserved." He delights in all the detail of the table. The cook-maid, whose wages were £4 per annum, had no easy task to satisfy her fastidious master, and Mrs. Pepys must now and then rise at four in the morning to make mince-pies. Any new kind of meat or drink especially delights him. He finds ortolans to be composed of nothing but fat, and he often seems, in his thoughts on other nations, to have for his first point of view the sight of foreigners at dinner. But this is only part of the insatiable and omnivorous interest in odds and ends which is everywhere apparent. The ribbons he has seen at a wedding, the starving seamen who are becoming a danger to the nation, the drinking of wine with a toad in the glass, a lightning flash that melted fetters from the limbs of slaves, Harry's chair (the latest curiosity of the drawing-rooms, whose arms rise and clasp you into it when you sit down), the new Messiah, who comes with a brazier of hot coals and proclaims the doom of England—these, and a thousand other details, make up the furniture of this most miscellaneous mind.
Everything in the world amuses him, and from first to last there is an immense amount of travelling, both physical and mental. With him we wander among companies of ladies and gentlemen walking in gardens, or are rowed up and down the Thames in boats, and it is always exciting and delightful. That is a kind of allegory of the man's view of life. But nothing is quite so congenial to him, after all, as plays at the theatre. One feels that he would never have been out of theatres had it been possible, and in order to keep himself to his business he has to make frequent vows (which are generally more or less broken) that he will not go to see a play again until such and such a time. When the vow is broken and the play is past he lamentably regrets the waste of resolution, and stays away for a time until the next outburst comes. The plays were then held in the middle of the day, and must have cut in considerably upon the working-time of business men; although, to be sure, the office hours began with earliest morning, and by the afternoon things were growing slacker. The light, however, was artificial, and the flare of the candles often hurt his eyes, and gave him a sufficient physical reason to fortify his moral ones for abstention. His taste in the dramatic art would commend itself to few moderns. He has no patience with Shakespeare, and speaks disparagingly of Twelfth Night, Midsummer Night's Dream, and Othello; while he constantly informs us that he "never saw anything so good in his life" as the now long-forgotten productions of little playwrights of his time. He would, we suspect, prefer at all times a puppet show to a play; partly, no doubt, because that was the fashion, and partly because that type of drama was nearer his size. Throughout the volumes of the Diary there are few things of which he speaks with franker and more enthusiastic delight than the enjoyment which he derives from punchinello.
Next to the delight which he derived from the theatre must be mentioned that which he continually found in music. He seems to have made an expert and scientific study of it, and the reader hears continually the sound of lutes, harpsichords, violas, theorbos, virginals, and flageolets. He takes great numbers of music lessons, but quarrels with his teacher from time to time. He praises extravagantly such music as he hears, or criticises it unsparingly, passing on one occasion the desperate censure "that Mrs. Turner sings worse than my wife."
His interest in science is as curious and miscellaneous as his interest in everything else. He was indeed President of the Royal Society of his time, and he is immensely delighted with Boyle and his new discoveries concerning colours and hydro-statics. Yet so rare a dilettante is he, in this as in other things, that we find this President of the Royal Society bringing in a man to teach him the multiplication table. He has no great head for figures, and we find him listening to long lectures upon abstruse financial questions, not unlike the bimetallism discussions of our own day, which he finds so clear, while he is listening, that nothing could be clearer, but half an hour afterwards he does not know anything whatever about the subject.
Under the category of his amusements, physic must be included; for, like other egoists, he was immensely interested in his real or imaginary ailments, and in the means which were taken to cure them. On some days he will sit all day long taking physic. He derives an immense amount of amusement from the process of doctoring himself, and still more from writing down in all their detail both his symptoms and their treatment. His pharmacopoeia is by no means scientific, for he includes within it charms which will cure one of anything, and he always keeps a hare's foot by him, and will sometimes tell of troubles which came to him because he had forgotten it.
He is constantly passing the shrewdest of judgments upon men and things, or retailing them from the lips of others. "Sir Ellis Layton is, for a speech of forty words, the wittiest man that ever I knew in my life, but longer he is nothing." "Mighty merry to see how plainly my Lord and Povy do abuse one another about their accounts, each thinking the other a fool, and I thinking they were not either of them, in that point, much in the wrong." "How little merit do prevail in the world, but only favour; and that, for myself, chance without merit brought me in; and that diligence only keeps me so, and will, living as I do among so many lazy people that the diligent man becomes necessary, that they cannot do anything without him." "To the Cocke-pitt where I hear the Duke of Albemarle's chaplain make a simple sermon: among other things, reproaching the imperfection of humane learning, he cried, 'All our physicians cannot tell what an ague is, and all our arithmetique is not able to number the days of a man'—which, God knows, is not the fault of arithmetique, but that our understandings reach not the thing." "The blockhead Albemarle hath strange luck to be loved, though he be, and every man must know it, the heaviest man in the world, but stout and honest to his country." "He advises me in what I write to him, to be as short as I can, and obscure." "But he do tell me that the House is in such a condition that nobody can tell what to make of them, and, he thinks, they were never in before; that everybody leads and nobody follows." "My Lord Middleton did come to-day, and seems to me but a dull, heavy man; but he is a great soldier, and stout, and a needy Lord." A man who goes about the world making remarks of that kind, would need a cipher in which to write them down. His world is everything to him, and he certainly makes the most of it so far as observation and remark are concerned.
If Pepys' curiosity and infinitely varied shrewdness and observation may be justly regarded as phenomenal, the complexity of his moral character is no less amazing. He is full of industry and ambition, reading for his favourite book Bacon's Faber Fortunæ, "which I can never read too often." He is "joyful beyond myself that I cannot express it, to see, that as I do take pains, so God blesses me, and has sent me masters that do observe that I take pains." Again he is "busy till night blessing myself mightily to see what a deal of business goes off a man's hands when he stays at it." Colonel Birch tells him "that he knows him to be a man of the old way of taking pains."
This is interesting in itself, and it is a very marked trait in his character, but it gains a wonderful pathos when we remember that this infinite taking of pains was done in a losing battle with blindness. There is a constantly increasing succession of references in the Diary to his failing eyesight and his fears of blindness in the future. The references are made in a matter-of-fact tone, and are as free from self-pity as if he were merely recording the weather or the date. All the more on that account, the days when he is weary and almost blind with writing and reading, and the long nights when he is unable to read, show him to be a very brave and patient man. He consults Boyle as to spectacles, but fears that he will have to leave off his Diary, since the cipher begins to hurt his eyes. The lights of the theatre become intolerable, and even reading is a very trying ordeal, notwithstanding the paper tubes through which he looks at the print, and which afford him much interest and amusement. So the Diary goes on to its pathetic close:—"And thus ends all that I doubt I shall ever be able to do with my own eyes in the keeping of my Journal, I being not able to do it any longer, having done now so long as to undo my eyes almost every time that I take a pen in my hand; and, therefore, whatever comes of it, I must forbear; and, therefore, resolve, from this time forward, to have it kept by my people in long-hand, and must be contented to set down no more than is fit for them and all the world to know; or, if there be anything, I must endeavour to keep a margin in my book open, to add, here and there, a note in shorthand with my own hand.
"And so I betake myself to that course, which is almost as much as to see myself go into my grave; for which, and all the discomforts that will accompany my being blind, the good God prepare me!—S.P."
It is comforting to know that, in spite of these fears, he did not grow blind, but preserved a certain measure of sight to the end of his career.
In regard to money and accounts, his character and conduct present the same extraordinary mixture as is seen in everything else that concerns him. Money flows profusely upon valentines, gloves, books, and every sort of thing conceivable; yet he grudges the price of his wife's dress although it is a sum much smaller than the cost of his own. He allows her £30 for all expenses of the household, and she is immensely pleased, for the sum is much larger than she had expected. The gift to her of a necklace worth £60 overtops all other generosity, and impresses himself so much that we hear of it till we are tired. A man in such a position as his, is bound to make large contributions to public objects, both in the forms of donations and of loans; but caution tempers his public spirit. A characteristic incident is that in which he records his genuine shame that the Navy Board had not lent any money towards the expenses caused by the Fire and the Dutch War. But when the loan is resolved upon, he tells us, with delicious naïveté, how he rushes in to begin the list, lest some of his fellows should head it with a larger sum, which he would have to equal if he came after them. He hates gambling,—it was perhaps the one vice which never tempted him,—and he records, conscientiously and very frequently, the gradual growth of his estate from nothing at all to thousands of pounds, with constant thanks to God, and many very quaint little confessions and remarks.
He was on the one hand confessedly a coward, and on the other hand a man of the most hasty and violent temper. Yet none of his readers can despise him very bitterly for either of these vices. For he disarms all criticism by the incredibly ingenious frankness of his confessions; and the instances of these somewhat contemptible vices alternate with bits of real gallantry and fineness, told in the same perfectly natural and unconscious way.
His relations with his wife and other ladies would fill a volume in themselves. It would not be a particularly edifying volume, but it certainly would be without parallel in the literature of this or any other country for sheer extremity of frankness. Mrs. Pepys appears to have been a very beautiful and an extremely difficult lady, disagreeable enough to tempt him into many indiscretions, and yet so virtuous as to fill his heart with remorse for all his failings, and still more with vexation for her discoveries of them. But below all this surface play of pretty disreputable outward conduct, there seems to have been a deep and genuine love for her in his heart. He can say as coarse a thing about her as has probably ever been recorded, but he balances it with abundance of solicitous and often ineffective attempts to gratify her capricious and imperious little humours.
These curious mixtures of character, however, are but byplay compared with the phenomenal and central vanity, which alternately amazes and delights us. After all the centuries there is a positive charm about this grown man who, after all, never seems to have grown up into manhood. He is as delighted with himself as if he were new, and as interested in himself as if he had been born yesterday. He prefers always to talk with persons of quality if he can find them. "Mighty glad I was of the good fortune to visit him (Sir W. Coventry), for it keeps in my acquaintance with him, and the world sees it, and reckons my interest accordingly." His public life was distinguished by one great speech made in answer to the accusations of some who had attacked him and the Navy Board in the House of Commons. That speech seems certainly to have been distinguished and extraordinarily able, but it certainly would have cost him his soul if he had not already lost that in other ways. Every sentence of flattery, even to the point of being told that he is another Cicero, he not only takes seriously, but duly records.
There is an immense amount of snobbery, blatant and unashamed. A certain Captain Cooke turns out to be a man who had been very great in former days. Pepys had carried clothes to him when he was a little insignificant boy serving in his father's workshop. Now Captain Cooke's fortunes are reversed, and Pepys tells us of his many and careful attempts to avoid him, and laments his failure in such attempts. He hates being seen on the shady side of any street of life, and is particularly sensitive to such company as might seem ridiculous or beneath his dignity. His brother faints one day while walking with him in the street, on which his remark is, "turned my head, and he was fallen down all along upon the ground dead, which did put me into a great fright; and, to see my brotherly love! I did presently lift him up from the ground." This last sentence is so delightful that, were it not for the rest of the Diary, it would be quite incredible in any human being past the age of short frocks. All this side of his character culminates in the immense amount of information which we have concerning his coach. He has great searching of heart as to whether it would be good policy or bad to purchase it. All that is within him longs to have a coach of his own, but, on the other hand, he fears the jealousy of his rivals and the increased demands upon his generosity which such a luxury may be expected to bring. At last he can resist no longer, and the coach is purchased. No sooner does he get inside it than he assumes the air of a gentleman whose ancestors have ridden in coaches since the beginning of time. "The Park full of coaches, but dusty, and windy, and cold, and now and then a little dribbling of rain; and what made it worse, there were so many hackney coaches as spoiled the sight of the gentlemen's."
A somewhat amazing fact in this strange and contradictory character is the constant element of subtlety which blends with so much frankness. He wants to do wrong in many different ways but he wants still more to do it with propriety, and to have some sort of plausible excuse which will explain it in a respectable light. Nor is it only other people whom he is bent on deceiving. Were that all, we should have a very simple type of hypocritical scoundrel, which would be as different as possible from the extraordinary Pepys. There is a sense of propriety in him, and a conscience of obeying the letter of the law and keeping up appearances even in his own eyes. If he can persuade himself that he has done that, all things are open to him. He will receive a bribe, but it must be given in such a way that he can satisfy his conscience with ingenious words. The envelope has coins in it, but then he opens it behind his back and the coins fall out upon the floor. He has only picked them up when he found them there, and can defy the world to accuse him of having received any coins in the envelope. That was the sort of conscience which he had, and whose verdicts he never seems seriously to have questioned. He vows he will drink no wine till Christmas, but is delighted to find that hippocras, being a mixture of two wines, is not necessarily included in his vow. He vows he will not go to the play until Christmas, but then he borrows money from another man and goes with the borrowed money; or goes to a new playhouse which was not open when the vow was made. He buys books which no decent man would own to having bought, but then he excuses himself on the plea that he has only read them and has not put them in his library. Thus, along the whole course of his life, he cheats himself continually. He prefers the way of honour if it be consistent with a sufficient number of other preferences, and yet practises a multitude of curiously ingenious methods of being excusably dishonourable. On the whole, in regard to public business and matters of which society takes note, he keeps his conduct surprisingly correct, but all the time he is remembering, not without gusto, what he might be doing if he were a knave. It is a curious question what idea of God can be entertained by a man who plays tricks with himself in this fashion. Of Pepys certainly it cannot be said that God "is not in all his thoughts," for the name and the remembrance are constantly recurring. Yet God seems to occupy a quite hermetically sealed compartment of the universe; for His servant in London shamelessly goes on with the game he is playing, and appears to take a pride in the very conscience he systematically hoodwinks.
It is peculiarly interesting to remember that Samuel Pepys and John Bunyan were contemporaries. There is, as we said, much in common between them, and still more in violent contrast. He had never heard of the Tinker or his Allegory so far as his Diary tells us, nor is it likely that he would greatly have appreciated the Pilgrim's Progress if it had come into his hands. Even Hudibras he bought because it was the proper thing to do, and because he had met its author, Butler; but he never could see what it was that made that book so popular. Bunyan and Pepys were two absolutely sincere men. They were sincere in opposite ways and in diametrically opposite camps, but it was their sincerity, the frank and natural statement of what they had to say, that gave its chief value to the work of each of them. It is interesting to remember that Pepys was sent to prison just when Bunyan came out of it, in the year 1678. The charge against the diarist was indeed a false one, and his imprisonment cast no slur upon his public record: while Bunyan's charge was so true that he neither denied it nor would give any promise not to repeat the offence. Pepys, had he known of Bunyan, would probably have approved of him, for he enthusiastically admired people who were living for conscience' sake, like Dr. Johnson's friend, Dr. Campbell, of whom it was said he never entered a church, but always took off his hat when he passed one. On the whole Pepys' references to the Fanatiques, as he calls them, are not only fair but favourable. He is greatly interested in their zeal, and impatient with the stupidity and brutality of their persecutors.
In regard to outward details there are many interesting little points of contact between the Diary and the Pilgrims Progress. We hear of Pepys purchasing Foxe's Book of Martyrs; Bartholomew and Sturbridge Fairs come in for their own share of notice; nor is there wanting a description of such a cage as Christian and Faithful were condemned to in Vanity Fair. Justice Keelynge, the judge who condemned Bunyan, is mentioned on several occasions by Pepys, very considerably to his disadvantage. But by far the most interesting point that the two have in common is found in that passage which is certainly the gem of the whole Diary. Bunyan, in the second part of the Pilgrim's Progress, introduces a shepherd boy who sings very sweetly upon the Delectable Mountains. It is the most beautiful and idyllic passage in the whole allegory, and has become classical in English literature. Yet Pepys' passage will match it for simple beauty. He rises with his wife a little before four in the morning to make ready for a journey into the country in the neighbourhood of Epsom. There, as they walk upon the Downs, they come "where a flock of sheep was; and the most pleasant and innocent sight that ever I saw in my life. We found a shepherd and his little boy reading, far from any houses or sight of people, the Bible to him; so I made the boy read to me, which he did.... He did content himself mightily in my liking his boy's reading, and did bless God for him, the most like one of the old patriarchs that ever I saw in my life, and it brought those thoughts of the old age of the world in my mind for two or three days after."
Such is some slight conception, gathered from a few of many thousands of quaint and sparkling revelations of this strange character. Over against the "ingenious dreamer," Bunyan, here is a man who never dreams. He is the realist, pure and unsophisticated; and the stray touches of pathos, on which here and there one chances in his Diary, are written without the slightest attempt at sentiment, or any other thought than that they are plain matters of fact. He might have stood for this prototype of many of Bunyan's characters. Now he is Mr. Worldly Wiseman, now Mr. By-ends, and Mr. Hold-the-World; and taken altogether, with all his good and bad qualities, he is a fairly typical citizen of Vanity Fair.
There are indeed in his character exits towards idealism and possibilities of it, but their promise is never fulfilled. There is, for instance, his kindly good-nature. That quality was the one and all-atoning virtue of the times of Charles the Second, and it was supposed to cover a multitude of sins. Yet Charles the Second's was a reign of constant persecution, and of unspeakable selfishness in high places. Pepys persecutes nobody, and yet some touch of unblushing selfishness mars every kindly thing he does. If he sends a haunch of venison to his mother, he lets you know that it was far too bad for his own table. He loves his father with what is obviously a quite genuine affection, but in his references to him there is generally a significant remembrance of himself. He tells us that his father is a man "who, besides that he is my father, and a man that loves me, and hath ever done so, is also, at this day, one of the most careful and innocent men of the world." He advises his father "to good husbandry and to be living within the bounds of £50 a year, and all in such kind words, as not only made both them but myself to weep." He hopes that his father may recover from his illness, "for I would fain do all I can, that I may have him live, and take pleasure in my doing well in the world." Similarly, when his uncle is dying, we have a note "that he is very ill, and so God's Will be done." When the uncle is dead, Pepys' remark is, "sorry in one respect, glad in my expectations in another respect." When his predecessor dies, he writes, "Mr. Barlow is dead; for which God knows my heart, I could be as sorry as is possible for one to be for a stranger, by whose death he gets £100 per annum."
Another exit towards idealism of the Christian and spiritual sort might be supposed to be found in his abundant and indeed perpetual references to churches and sermons. He is an indomitable sermon taster and critic. But his criticisms, although they are among the most amusing of all his notes, soon lead us to surrender any expectation of escape from paganism along this line. "We got places, and staid to hear a sermon; but it, being a Presbyterian one, it was so long, that after above an hour of it we went away, and I home, and dined; and then my wife and I by water to the Opera." This is not, perhaps, surprising, and may in some measure explain his satisfaction with Dr. Creeton's "most admirable, good, learned, and most severe sermon, yet comicall," in which the preacher "railed bitterly ever and anon against John Calvin, and his brood, the Presbyterians," and ripped up Hugh Peters' preaching, calling him "the execrable skellum." One man preaches "well and neatly"; another "in a devout manner, not elegant nor very persuasive, but seems to mean well, and that he would preach holily"; while Mr. Mills makes "an unnecessary sermon upon Original Sin, neither understood by himself nor the people." On the whole, his opinion of the Church is not particularly high, and he seems to share the view of the Confessor of the Marquis de Caranen, "that the three great trades of the world are, the lawyers, who govern the world; the Churchmen who enjoy the world; and a sort of fellows whom they call soldiers, who make it their work to defend the world."
It must be confessed that, when there were pretty ladies present and when his wife was absent, the sermons had but little chance. "To Westminster to the parish church, and there did entertain myself with my perspective glass up and down the church, by which I had the great pleasure of seeing and gazing at a great many very fine women; and what with that, and sleeping, I passed away the time till sermon was done." Sometimes he goes further, as at St. Dunstan's, where "I heard an able sermon of the minister of the place; and stood by a pretty, modest maid, whom I did labour to take by the hand; but she would not, but got further and further from me; and, at last, I could perceive her to take pins out of her pocket to prick me if I should touch her again—which, seeing, I did forbear, and was glad I did spy her design."
He visits cathedrals, and tries to be impressed by them, but more interesting things are again at hand. At Rochester, "had no mind to stay there, but rather to our inne, the White Hart, where we drank." At Canterbury he views the Minster and the remains of Beckett's tomb, but adds, "A good handsome wench I kissed, the first that I have seen a great while." There is something ludicrously incongruous about the idea of Samuel Pepys in a cathedral, just as there is about his presence in the Great Plague and Fire. Among any of these grand phenomena he is altogether out of scale. He is a fly in a thunderstorm.
His religious life and thought are an amazing complication. He can lament the decay of piety with the most sanctimonious. He remembers God continually, and thanks and praises Him for each benefit as it comes, with evident honesty and refreshing gratitude. He signs and seals his last will and testament, "which is to my mind, and I hope to the liking of God Almighty." But in all this there is a curious consciousness, as of one playing to a gallery of unseen witnesses, human or celestial. On a fast-day evening he sings in the garden "till my wife put me in mind of its being a fast-day; and so I was sorry for it, and stopped, and home to cards." He does not indeed appear to regard religion as a matter merely for sickness and deathbeds. When he hears that the Prince, when in apprehension of death, is troubled, but when told that he will recover, is merry and swears and laughs and curses like a man in health, he is shocked. Pepys' religion is the same in prosperous and adverse hours, a thing constantly in remembrance, and whose demands a gentleman can easily satisfy. But his conscience is of that sort which requires an audience, visible or invisible. He hates dissimulation in other people, but he himself is acting all the time. "But, good God! what an age is this, and what a world is this! that a man cannot live without playing the knave and dissimulation."
Thus his religion gave him no escape from the world. He was a man wholly governed by self-interest and the verdict of society, and his religion was simply the celestial version of these motives. He has conscience enough to restrain him from damaging excesses, and to keep him within the limits of the petty vices and paying virtues of a comfortable man—a conscience which is a cross between cowardice and prudence. We are constantly asking why he restrained himself so much as he did. It seems as if it would have been so easy for him simply to do the things which he unblushingly confesses he would like to do. It is a question to which there is no answer, either in his case or in any other man's. Why are all of us the very complex and unaccountable characters that we are?
Pepys was a pagan man in a pagan time, if ever there was such a man. The deepest secret of him is his intense vitality. Here, on the earth, he is thoroughly alive, and puts his whole heart into most of his actions. He is always in the superlative mood, finding things either the best or the worst that "he ever saw in all his life." His great concern is to be merry, and he never outgrows the crudest phases of this desire, but carries the monkey tricks of a boy into mature age. He will draw his merriment from any source. He finds it "very pleasant to hear how the old cavaliers talk and swear." At the Blue Ball, "we to dancing, and then to a supper of French dishes, which yet did not please me, and then to dance and sing; and mighty merry we were till about eleven or twelve at night, with mighty great content in all my company, and I did, as I love to do, enjoy myself." "This day my wife made it appear to me that my late entertainment of this week cost me above £12, an expence which I am almost ashamed of, though it is but once in a great while, and is the end for which, in the most part, we live, to have such a merry day once or twice in a man's life."
The only darkening element in his merriment is his habit of examining it too anxiously. So greedy is he of delight that he cannot let himself go, but must needs be measuring the extent to which he has achieved his desire. Sometimes he finds himself "merry," but at other times only "pretty merry." And there is one significant confession in connection with some performance of a favourite play, "and indeed it is good, though wronged by my over great expectations, as all things else are." This is one of the very few touches of anything approaching to cynicism which are to be found in his writings. His greed of merriment overleaps itself, and the confession of that is the deepest note in all his music.
Thus all the avenues leading beyond the earth were blocked. Other men escape along the lines of kindliness, love of friends, art, poetry, or religion. In all these avenues he walks or dances, but they lead him nowhere. At the bars he stands, an absolute worldling and pagan, full of an insatiable curiosity and an endless hunger and thirst. There is no touch of eternity upon his soul: his universe is Vanity Fair.
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