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Seventeenth century blogger supreme – pepysdiary.com

This is a terrific idea, and this is how nytimes.com reported it (scroll down to where is says “Sam’s blog”):

A new online diary made its debut on Jan. 1. Yes, there are already millions of such personal Web sites. But this diary belongs to Samuel Pepys, who lived from 1633 to 1703, long before “Weblog” cracked the lexicon.

Pepys (pronounced peeps), a British naval administrator, was a compulsive diarist who recorded his life in detail for nine years beginning on New Year’s Day 1660. The resulting diary is the most comprehensive personal account of life in the 17th century. The site, The Diary of Samuel Pepys (pepysdiary.com), posts Pepys’s entries in a Weblog format as if they had just been written – a new one is added each day – with the goal of allowing people to read along for nine years.

Phil Gyford, a Web developer in London, set up the site because he had always wanted to read the diary but found it “daunting and uninviting” in its long form. “I haven’t read much further ahead than what’s on the site,” he said by e-mail. “I’m enjoying reading it along with everyone else.”

Mr. Gyford also had the inspired idea of allowing site visitors to annotate the entries. The annotations can be personal comments or explanations proffered for obscure terms and historical references. The result is like reading a book along with a group of clued-in friends.

Still, Pepys should not be taken as a model by today’s online diarists. Although “Pepys’s diary shows us that the smallest of everyday details can be fascinating a few hundred years in the future,” Mr. Gyford said, “I wouldn’t want to encourage Webloggers to put even more of the details of their lives online.”

Gyford started this project on January 1st of this year. Pepys himself started on January 1st 1660. To make a start yourself, go here and scroll down.

I have a small personal link to all this through the late Robert Latham, one of the editors of the latest edition of the Pepys Diaries, and, it seems pretty generally agreed, the best and most complete one. Before going to Magdalene College Cambridge to work on Pepys full time, Robert Latham, a memorably jolly man as well as a great scholar, was a Professor at Royal Holloway College, Englefield Green, which was a walk away from my childhood home, the Lathams and Micklethwaits being good friends. Robert Latham’s son went to the same preparatory school as me and my elder brother.

I wonder what Robert Latham would have made of this project. He might have had mixed feelings, because the edition that Gyford is using is, alas, not his, but an earlier and less complete one, simply because only the earlier one is now out of copyright.

I’ve always meant to read Pepys but have never quite got around to it. This is my chance. All sorts of people are congratulating Gyford for having embarked on this project, but Pepys himself kept at it for nine years, and I will save my heartiest congratulations for the year 2012 when Gyford is scheduled to complete the job. So far he’s managed just over a fortnight of it.

7 comments to Seventeenth century blogger supreme – pepysdiary.com

  • Dale Amon

    Ah curse you Brian! My weekend is now shot. In fact, the next 9 years may be shot. One day’s entries plus following annotations (the ancient Fleet Street wells as one digression) have already had me for two hours.

    This could become the Forsyth Saga of the Blog world.

  • Now bookmarked.

    If you’re going to save your heartiest congratulations until 2112 (does it have to be a palindromic year), can we have the secret of your long-lived success now.

    I’d quite like to see 2112 as well! 🙂

  • Brian Micklethwait


    Oh dear. I’ve taken the liberty of correcting the original, but here acknowledge that in the original version I implied that this project would take 109 years and that I would be around to see its completion.

    But yes, now you ask, I am immortal. I’m not human at all, I’m from the planet Cornflake. Now I have to kill you.

    Seriously, thanks for pointing it out.

  • Could this webbification of Pepys reintroduce some of the now-lapsed 17th-century English he uses? Deceptively familiar yet quite alien terms like “approve of” [meaning ‘criticize’] or “effeminacy” [‘love of women’]?

    Steve at languagehat gives a list of such English-to-English false friends.

    Perhaps most of Pepys’ Internet readership is understanding a lot less of the diaries than they realise?

  • Anonymous

    The article says that Pepys began keeping his diary on New Year’s Day in 1660.

    Then it refers to him having started it on the first of January, but that was not New Year’s day in 1660.

    The Gregorian calendar wasn’t adopted in England until 50 years after Pepys died. Until then, New Year’s Day would have been in late March.

    So when did he really begin his diary?

  • Theodopoulos Pherecydes

    Allow me to recommend the latest biography of the great man written by Claire Tomalin and entitled, “Samuel Pepys: the unequalled self.”

    Very good on Pepys’ sexual indiscretions.

    Tomalin also gathers together some minibiographies of the women Pepys encounters in the course of the diaries. As a result, these figures take on more life than when met, sporadically, in Pepys’ account.

  • Anonymous: The Gregorian calendar is a separate issue from the start of the year, which (as you say) was still officially March 25 for official (financial-year) purposes, but people were already celebrating January 1 as the beginning of the year. Since there were two systems, Pepys used both years: the first volume of the diary is stamped “1659/60,” which threw me for a minute until I remembered that Jan. 1 was officially still in 1659.