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Reviewed by:
  • The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn by Margaret Willes, and: Samuel Pepys and His Books: Reading, Newsgathering, and Sociability, 1660-1703 by Kate Loveman
  • Nicholas D. Nace
Willes, Margaret. The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017. 282 pp.
Loveman, Kate. Samuel Pepys and His Books: Reading, Newsgathering, and Sociability, 1660-1703. Oxford University Press, 2015. 308 pp.

The reception history of Samuel Pepys's famous diary has suggested that the 1.25-mil-lion words he wrote about himself were simply not enough. Posterity has wanted more, strange to say; although decidedly not the more he actually supplied in the form of the two diaries he produced after the great one spanning the turbulent 1660s. The words he wrote in his great diary and his letters have been gathered and glossed, extracted and excerpted, interpreted and illustrated. Yet we delve deeper—finding in his connoisseurship [End Page 109] a way of better knowing the man who saw the gathering of books, broadsides, prints, and amours as ways to curate his various personae. The music he loved has been catalogued in Samuel Pepys's Music Book (1940) and his important collection of more than 1,700 broadside ballads has been documented, with seventy-three of them made available in A Pepysian Garland (1920). His favorite recipes have been anthologized in Pepys at Table (1984) and his less prescriptive discussions of food have been extracted and gathered for those who have no time for the diary in The Joys of Excess (2011). Even his "Moste Laughable Discourses" have been illustrated and readied for imaginative expansion in Several Fine Experiments in Colouring (2017), a book in which one might color between the lines of Henri Gascar's portrait of the royal maîtresse-en-titre and thereby flesh out "Lady Castlemaine" just as Pepys had repeatedly done "by mere imagination."

Though Pepys wrote amply and unabashedly about his life, that life, once read, appears to inspire a still deeper interest in his biography. Sir Arthur Bryant began to measure these unfathomable depths with his accessible, but possibly plagiarized, triple-decker biographical treatment in the 1930s that began a process of heightening Pepys's fame. John Harold Wilson, in 1959, did his best to push that fame toward notoriety with his biography The Private Life of Mr. Pepys, which promoted the diary as "one long saga of sex frustration, sex fantasy, and sex fulfillment." This biographical interest only intensified throughout the tricentenary of the diary's writing. But it was not until the 1980s that Pepys came to be studied in earnest, due mostly to the efforts of Robert Latham and William Matthews, who freshly edited the diary from the tachygraphic manuscript volumes, in the process restoring all the descriptions of gropings and adultery Pepys took pains to showily render in his puerile West Continental patois (as on a Tuesday in August of 1665, "to my office, en lequel jo haze todo which I had a corason a hazer con ella"). Once restored, the diary was variously abridged and excerpted, especially the entries for the first week of September 1666 that chronicle the Great Fire, which reappear whenever conflagration vivification is needed. It was not until Claire Tomalin produced the definitive biography of the diarist in 2002, the excellent Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self, that Pepys had become world-famous. Since then, he has been played in film and television by among others Hugh Bonneville (2004) and Steve Coogan (2003). Today, in a troubling of the public-private division that Pepys might have appreciated, portions of his diary are tweeted out from @samuelpepys at least once a day to roughly 61,000 followers.

But biography has, like everything in academia, come to be alloyed with other mutually enriching topics, often by means of a simple suggestive conjunction. Thus we have historian of the book Kate Loveman's Samuel Pepys and His Books followed, just two years later, by historian of what Evelyn would call "hortulan affairs" Margaret Willes's The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn. Each book has something that makes it like the other. Loveman does indeed...


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