Monday, February 23, 2015

In Honor of Samuel Pepys

The English civil servant and diarist was born on this date in London in 1633.

His wonderful diary is online, and at this site, is presented ingeniously as a blog. Oh, it’s great daily reading. The site also includes a constantly growing encyclopedia, and attracts an erudite and conversational commentariat. Each entry is well worth five minutes of your day if you are interested in history and human nature.

This portrait, painted in 1666 by John Hayls (1600-1678), is in the National Portrait gallery in London. On 17 March 1666, Pepys wrote about sitting for this portrait: “I sit to have it full of shadows and so almost break my neck looking over my shoulders to make the posture for him to work by.”

Pepys deeply loved music, and took up its study during his adult years, learning to play the theorbo and recorder, and to compose. If you look closely at the portrait, you’ll see that Pepys holds a piece of music; it is his own setting of “Beauty, retire,” a lyric by Sir William Davenant (1606-1668).

Among his many recorded remarks about what he called “musique” is this:

Musique [is] a science peculiarly productive of a pleasure that no state of life, publick or private, secular or sacred; no difference of age or season; no temper of mind or condition of health exempt from present anguish; nor, lastly, distinction of quality, renders either improper, untimely, or unentertaining.
Letter to the Master of University College, Oxford; published in J. R. Tanner (ed.) Private Correspondence and Miscellaneous Papers of Samuel Pepys, 1679-1703 (1926) p. 109.
On a visit to the Clark Institute in December, I was thrilled to find a silver-gilt salver that actually belonged to Pepys:

[unavoidable reflections mar the photo]

And here is a photo of the museum’s informational plaque:

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