If I were to have that imaginary dinner party that people talk about idly, inviting anyone from history, I would invite Samuel Pepys. I'm re-reading his edited diaries now and I feel that I know him. He wasn't writing for an audience, so the content is more intimate and unguarded. It's also a great first person account of some of the most interesting parts of English history. He was personally involved in the return of Charles II, witnessed the Great Fire of London, and attended a great deal of theatre. After dinner, he might play his flageolet or regale us with old backstage gossip.

Pepys also spends a lot of time chasing after women, talking about clothes, and running all over London getting papers signed or dispatched. He nearly went blind from all his paperwork, which may be why he stopped keeping his diary in 1669. I doubt it was for lack of material; almost every entry contains some gem. Did you know that the word turd was already in popular usage in 1660? It's also interesting to see what has stayed the same, like Pepys wishing to God that he'll be able to afford his new silk suit.

Phil Gyford runs a website, Pepys' Diary, that is a great introduction to the text. It displays an entry from the current date, but you can also browse different dates. Perhaps you'll make a periwigged friend there.


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