Thursday, May 13, 2010

"Venison pasty, pigions, Uncle Robert is dead"

From Claire Tomalin, Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self:
He spaced the lines evenly, with between twenty and thirty to a page. He gave curly ornamentations to the capital letters for the name of the month at the head of each page--very occasionally forgetting it was a new month, so that he had to delete "December" and put in "January." September and October were given in particularly lush capitals, and February's F's always came out looking scratchy with its straight double up-and-down strokes. Some pages have browned to a pale toast colour with the years, but more have remained a fresh, almost chalky white; there are thin, fragile pages, and others that feel downy, almost velvety to the touch. Pepys was a fine calligrapher when he made time to write slowly, as he did for his Diary, and his pages are as beautiful as pieces of embroidery, with their neatly spaced symbols, the curly, the crotchety and the angular, interspersed with longhand for names, place and any other words that took his fancy, on one page a dozen, as many as forty on another. The longhand leaps out at you tantalizingly as you turn the pages, each word suggesting its own stories--Axe-yard, Mr. Downing, Jane, Hinchingb., Deptfd, Whitehall, Monke, Easterday, emerods, venison pasty, pigions, Uncle Robert is dead, Uncle corps, Queen, DY [Duke of York], Robes, papists, Clergy, conventicles, tumults, subsidys, Justice, Sessions, Sr WP, gentleman, yellow plume, petty coate, drawers, summer, amours--small packets of meaning surrounded by the elegant, impenetrable shorthand.


  1. What a nice quote. This is a wonderful biography with a powerful sense of time and place and personality. I am a *big* fan of Claire Tomalin - I think her work is marvellous.

    Thanks indeed for sharing


  2. My MIL owns a copy of a Pepys letter. I don't know if he wrote the text or a clerk did but the signature is impressive and has many ornamental curves.

  3. Tomalin's Pepys bio is one of my favorite books; it makes you feel Pepys' presence so completely that his death really comes as a blow. Can't wait for her Dickens that's on the way!

  4. Oh, I'm so glad you're reading it!