A certain slant of light

Up and to the office, where we sat all the morning, and at noon comes Madam Turner and her daughter The., her chief errand to tell me that she had got Dr. Wiverly, her Doctor, to search my brother’s mouth, where Mr. Powell says there is an ulcer, from thence he concludes that he hath had the pox. But the Doctor swears that there is not, nor ever was any, and my brother being very sensible, which I was glad to hear, he did talk with him about it, and he did wholly disclaim that ever he had the disease, or that ever he said to Powell that he had it. All which did put me into great comfort as to the reproach which was spread against him. So I sent for a barrel of oysters, and they dined, and we were very merry, I being willing to be so upon this news. After dinner we took coach and to my brother’s, where contrary to my expectation he continues as bad or worse, talking idle, and now not at all knowing any of us as before. Here we staid a great while, I going up and down the house looking after things. In the evening Dr. Wiverley came again, and I sent for Mr. Powell (the Doctor and I having first by ourselves searched my brother again at his privities, where he was as clear as ever he was born, and in the Doctor’s opinion had been ever so), and we three alone discoursed the business, where the coxcomb did give us his simple reasons for what he had said, which the Doctor fully confuted, and left the fellow only saying that he should cease to report any such thing, and that what he had said was the best of his judgment from my brother’s words and a ulcer, as he supposed, in his mouth. I threatened him that I would have satisfaction if I heard any more such discourse, and so good night to them two, giving the Doctor a piece for his fee, but the other nothing.
I to my brother again, where Madam Turner and her company, and Mrs. Croxton, my wife, and Mrs. Holding. About 8 o’clock my brother began to fetch his spittle with more pain, and to speak as much but not so distinctly, till at last the phlegm getting the mastery of him, and he beginning as we thought to rattle, I had no mind to see him die, as we thought he presently would, and so withdrew and led Mrs. Turner home, but before I came back, which was in half a quarter of an hour, my brother was dead. I went up and found the nurse holding his eyes shut, and he poor wretch lying with his chops fallen, a most sad sight, and that which put me into a present very great transport of grief and cries, and indeed it was a most sad sight to see the poor wretch lie now still and dead, and pale like a stone. I staid till he was almost cold, while Mrs. Croxton, Holden, and the rest did strip and lay him out, they observing his corpse, as they told me afterwards, to be as clear as any they ever saw, and so this was the end of my poor brother, continuing talking idle and his lips working even to his last that his phlegm hindered his breathing, and at last his breath broke out bringing a flood of phlegm and stuff out with it, and so he died.
This evening he talked among other talk a great deal of French very plain and good, as, among others: ‘quand un homme boit quand il n’a poynt d’inclination a boire il ne luy fait jamais de bien.’ I once begun to tell him something of his condition, and asked him whither he thought he should go. He in distracted manner answered me — “Why, whither should I go? there are but two ways: If I go, to the bad way I must give God thanks for it, and if I go the other way I must give God the more thanks for it; and I hope I have not been so undutifull and unthankfull in my life but I hope I shall go that way.” This was all the sense, good or bad, that I could get of him this day.
I left my wife to see him laid out, and I by coach home carrying my brother’s papers, all I could find, with me, and having wrote a letter to my father telling him what hath been said I returned by coach, it being very late, and dark, to my brother’s, but all being gone, the corpse laid out, and my wife at Mrs. Turner’s, I thither, and there after an hour’s talk, we up to bed, my wife and I in the little blue chamber, and I lay close to my wife, being full of disorder and grief for my brother that I could not sleep nor wake with satisfaction, at last I slept till 5 or 6 o’clock.

I search my ears for clear words
no spittle or rattle

eyes shut like a stone
lips working on why
I must give thanks
the more unthankful my life

in the little blue chamber of grief
I could not sleep nor wake


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 15 March 1663/64.

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