The Diary of Samuel Pepys, by Samuel Pepys

Afterword

First issue of this edition June, 1896. Reprinted 1897.

In the present volume the Diary is completed, and we here take leave of a writer who has done so much to interest and enlighten successive generations of English readers, and who is now for the first time presented to the world as he really drew his own portrait day by day.

No one who has followed the daily notes of Samuel Pepys from January, 1660, to May, 1669, but must feel sincere regret at their abrupt conclusion, more particularly as the writer lays down his pen while in an unhappy temper.

It is evident from the tone of his later utterances that Pepys thought that he was going blind, a belief which was happily falsified. The holiday tour in which Charles II. and James, Duke of York, took so much interest appears to have had its desired effect in restoring the Diarist to health.

The rest of his eventful life must be sought in the history of the English Navy which he helped to form, and in his numerous letters, which on some future occasion the present editor hopes to annotate. The details to be obtained from these sources form, however, but a sorry substitute for the words written in the solitude of his office by Pepys for his own eye alone, and we cannot but feel how great is the world’s loss in that he never resumed the writing of his journal. All must agree with Coleridge when he wrote on the margin of a copy of the Diary: “Truly may it be said that this was a greater and more grievous loss to the mind’s eye of posterity than to the bodily organs of Pepys himself. It makes me restless and discontented to think what a Diary equal in minuteness and truth of portraiture to the preceding from 1669 to 1688 or 1690 would have been for the true causes, process and character of the Revolution.”

Most works of this nature are apt to tire when they are extended over a certain length of time, but Pepys’s pages are always fresh, and most readers wish for more. For himself the editor can say that each time he has read over the various proofs he has read with renewed interest, so that it is with no ordinary feelings of regret that he comes to the end of his task, and he believes that every reader will feel the same regret that he has no more to read.

In reviewing the Diary it is impossible not to notice the growth of historical interest as it proceeds. In the earlier period we find Pepys surrounded by men not otherwise known, but as the years pass, and his position becomes more assured, we find him in daily communication with the chief men of his day, and evidently every one who came in contact with him appreciated his remarkable ability. The survival of the Diary must ever remain a marvel. It could never have been intended for the reading of others, but doubtless the more elaborate portraits of persons in the later pages were intended for use when Pepys came to write his projected history of the Navy.

The only man who is uniformly spoken well of in the Diary is Sir William Coventry, and many of the characters introduced come in for severe castigation. It is therefore the more necessary to remember that many of the judgments on men were set down hastily, and would probably have been modified had occasion offered. At all events, we know that, however much he may have censured them, Pepys always helped on those who were dependent upon him.

H. R. W.

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Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 17:10