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  • The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn by Margaret Willes
  • Kate Loveman (bio)
The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn. By Margaret Willes. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. 2017. xx + 282 pp. £20. isbn 978 0 300 22139 8.

As close friends, dedicated diarists, and two of the most energetic figures to populate seventeenth-century London, Pepys and Evelyn make fitting subjects for a joint biography. Both were active members of the Royal Society and keen to sample the delights—music, exotic imports, plays, books—that their world had to offer. Aiming for a wide readership, Margaret Willes's book takes us through these aspects of their lives, drawing on existing work on Pepys and Evelyn by writers such as Claire Tomalin, Giles Mandelbrote, and Frances Harris.

This approach initially seems promising, but it is in the use of its sources that this book is deeply flawed, as studies on which the discussion is based frequently go unacknowledged. Sometimes the use of secondary sources takes the form of near word-for-word copying. For example, the Companion volume to the complete edition of Pepys's diary has an essay on 'Music' by Richard Luckett with this passage: 'The Italians insisted on special methods of payment to ensure that they would receive money regularly; Charles sold four gondolas, which had been presented to him by the Venetian republic to mark his restoration, in order to float the enterprise' (The Diary of Samuel Pepys, ed. Robert Latham and William Matthews, London, 1983, vol. 10, p. 266). The chapter on 'pleasure' in Willes's book states, with no reference to Luckett: 'The canny Italian musicians insisted on special methods of payment to ensure that they would receive money regularly, so Charles sold four gondolas that had been presented to him by the Venetian Republic to fund the enterprise' (p. 134).

More often, the argument will follow that of another writer, condensing and slightly adapting phrases as it goes. By way of illustration, Claire Tomalin's biography of Pepys recounts how 'He haunted the shops of instrument-makers in Long Acre, Aldgate and Chancery Lane, men who made microscopes, slide rules, thermometers, telescopes and devices for drawing in perspective; he bought himself a microscope in 1664 and acquired scientific books. He watched private experiments undertaken by his friends Pearse, the surgeon, and Dr Clarke, who administered opium to dogs and dissected them. […] He enjoyed conversation with men whose minds travelled along original lines: at the coffee house William Petty stirred his imagination …' (Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self, London, 2002, p. 254). Willes echoes: 'Pepys haunted the shops of instrument makers, purchasing microscopes, thermometers, and devices for drawing in perspective. Following his visit to the Royal Society with Greatorex, he attended private experiments performed by friends such as Dr Clarke, who administered opium to dogs and then dissected the [End Page 86] animals. As a convivial man, Pepys enjoyed conversing in coffee-houses with men with original minds. One man with a truly remarkable originality of mind was William Petty …' (p. 111). The only citation in The Curious World at this point is to an entry in Pepys's diary—the same one cited by Tomalin. This proves a common pattern: while footnotes are present, they generally refer to the primary sources, not the secondary sources from which the primary examples, and arguments and phrases surrounding them, were evidently derived.

Due warning is needed that unsourced paraphrase, sometimes extending to word-for-word copying, is present in the chapter on libraries. Phrases and information from several works on Pepys's and Evelyn's books appear without note of the debt to sources at those points. Indeed, I found myself reading pages that repeated arguments and lengthy phrases from my 2015 monograph Samuel Pepys and his Books, with no signal that my work was the source. (For example, Pepys and his Books, pp. 26, 28, 146, 32; compare, respectively, Curious World, pp. 227–8, 229, 230). Particularly concerning is the fact that, in at least one case, as-yet-unpublished research has also been included without acknowledgement. I was, to say the least, surprised to...


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