I’ve long enjoyed reading around in the Diary of Samuel Pepys, a late seventeenth-century English bureaucrat who worked in the Naval Office. The level of minute detail that Pepys included in his diary — on just about every imaginable facet of life: entertainment, his sex life, his relationship with his wife, his duties in the Naval Office, his thoughts about the monarch, government, and administration, what he ate, what he drank, how he traveled from one place to another, the coronation of Charles II, the Great Fire of 1666, and much, much more — make it an important source of information for historians and literary scholars alike.

Samuel PepysIn the past, I’ve looked up specific entries in the diary, Pepys’s thoughts on the libertines I write about: Sir Charles Sedley, George Villiers, the duke of Buckingham, and John Wilmot, earl of Rochester, for example. I haven’t ever just started at the beginning and simply read the diary. Until now (sort of).

I’ve decided to teach the Diary in my eighteenth-century class this spring. Since it’s actually a 9 volume set (in print, plus a companion volume and an index), I obviously can’t teach the whole thing. Instead, I’ll order an edition of selections from the Diary, probably the Modern Library edition, which presents the selections in order rather than topically, like the California edition, A Pepys Anthology.

Since I’ve never taught more than one or two entries from the Diary, I thought that I should read through the edition I’m going to order and begin to think about what kinds of directions I want to give my students to guide them in their reading. So, I started reading in January 1660 and am working my way through to the end, 1669. I can’t predict what my students will make of it, but I think it’s a fascinating read. I’m already learning so much. For instance, I didn’t know that Pepys actually sailed over to the Netherlands as part of the official party that brought the royal family back to England in 1660. I’ve also become increasingly impressed with just how much Pepys bustles around London. (If I didn’t have anything else to do, I would love to join the ranks of scholars working on “London Studies,” but since I am busy elsewhere, maybe I can just teach a class sometime on London.)

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