You may recall, last summer I introduced my friend, the famous 17th century English diarist, Samuel Pepys. Well, there is currently a Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, just down the river from London. Oh, how I wish I could go to this! Since I cannot, a bit of armchair travel is in order. If you are the slightest bit interested in 17th century English history, culture (think the movie "Restoration" starring Robert Downey, Jr.), or are just curious, check out the exhibition link. There you will find information about the exhibit, a link to expert Pepys blogs, and a YouTube introduction to the exhibit. The YouTube video is quite clever; I keep playing it over and over just because I am one of Samuel's most devoted fans!
He was a sexist pig by our standards, but I am over judging historical figures by our standards. It is an exercise in 21st century political correctness and ego. Things happened. They were bad things, and some people were awful racists, philanderers, etc., and that cannot be changed, just acknowledged. And we move on, hopefully having learned how NOT to behave. At least we should. The soap box just collapsed, so I am off it now.
Anyway, I have been reading Pepys Diary, kind of like the tortoise, plodding along, making progress, and enjoying it immensely. Still in 1668, the next to last year of the Diary. My next Pepys read will be to finish this Claire Tomalin autobiography, Samuel Pepys, The Unequalled Self:
As you can see by the book's "well-loved" condition, I have been working on this one for several years. The snippet of one of my favorite Billy Collins poems mentions Pepys. Here is the text:
"...This is what Samuel Pepys did too,
jotting down in
private ciphers minor events that
would have otherwise
slipped into the heavy, amnesiac
waters of the Thames.
His vigilance paid off finally
when London caught fire..."
--Billy Collins, Tuesday June 4th 1991
Lots of reading to do before I get to 1666, the year of the Great Fire of London. 2016 is the 250th anniversary of the fire. Thanks to Pepys we know so much more about how events unfolded over the course of several days. His home and office came very close to being destroyed. The fire stopped only one street away.
In the Tomalin bio, I am just now reading about the role Pepys played in the logistics of the restoration of Charles II to the English throne in 1660. It would have been better to read the bio before the Diary, but of course I did not! Pepys was a low-level civil servant for the English Navy thanks to his cousin by marriage, Edward Montagu, later created the Earl of Sandwich by Charles II. Montagu was instrumental in the politics of getting Charles out of Holland to England when the Royalists regained power from the Cromwellians. Pepys was responsible for procuring the Royal Barge used to transport Charles back to England and accompanied Montagu as his secretary on the trip.
These experiences are just two of many in the remarkable life of Samuel Pepys. I hope you will find yourself just a little bit curious about this momentous time in English history and check out the exhibit links. If you do, maybe you will want to learn more about Samuel.
Next time, I will tell you a bit about my personal pilgrimage to the old City of London to see where Pepys lived and worked. Also, a bit about the journey by river boat down the Thames to Greenwich. There is a Royal Observatory and a pub involved.