Pepys Diary erasure project

Since January 1, 2013, a daily exercise in erasure poetry based on the 17th-century Diary of Samuel Pepys. Why this work? Its language is admirably concrete, with recurring words and turns of phrase shaped by the exigencies of Pepys’ original shorthand. In thought and content it stands at the beginning of the modern era: the first truly confessional piece of literature by a man equally fascinated by religion and science, and whose curiosity encompassed everything from music-making and theater to mathematics, accounting, politics, fashion, and carnal pleasures. And last but not least, the 1899 Wheatley edition is available online in a website that is really a model for how to present literature on the web. It was my desire to read it day by day that led to this project, which I view not as erasure but as discovery—a kind of deep (mis)reading. From a secret diary, these are the secret poems hidden even from the author himself.

Up, and by and by comes my brother Tom to me, though late (which do vex me to the blood that I could never get him to come time enough to me, though I have spoke a hundred times; but he is very sluggish, and too negligent ever to do well at his trade I doubt), and having lately considered with my wife very much of the inconvenience of my going in no better plight, we did resolve of putting me into a better garb, and, among other things, to have a good velvet cloake; that is, of cloth lined with velvet and other things modish, and a perruque, and so I sent him and her out to buy me velvet, and I to the Exchange, and so to Trinity House, and there dined with Sir W. Batten, having some business to speak with him, and Sir W. Rider. Thence, having my belly full, away on foot to my brother’s, all along Thames Streete, and my belly being full of small beer, I did all alone, for health’s sake, drink half a pint of Rhenish wine at the Still-yard, mixed with beer.
From my brother’s with my wife to the Exchange, to buy things for her and myself, I being in a humour of laying out money, but not prodigally, but only in clothes, which I every day see that I suffer for want of, I so home, and after a little at my office, home to supper and to bed.
Memorandum: This morning one Mr. Commander, a scrivener, came to me from Mr. Moore with a deed of which. Mr. Moore had told me, that my Lord had made use of my name, and that I was desired by my Lord to sign it. Remembering this very well, though understanding little of the particulars, I read it over, and found it concern Sir Robt. Bernard and Duckinford, their interest in the manor of Brampton. So I did sign it, declaring to Mr. Commander that I am only concerned in having my name at my Lord Sandwich’s desire used therein, and so I sealed it up after I had signed and sealed the deed, and desired him to give it so sealed to Mr. Moore. I did also call at the Wardrobe this afternoon to have told Mr. Moore of it, but he was not within, but knowing Mr. Commander to have the esteem of a good and honest man with my Lord Crew, I did not doubt to intrust him with the deed after I had signed it.
This evening after I came home I begun to enter my wife in arithmetique, in order to her studying of the globes, and she takes it very well, and, I hope, with great pleasure, I shall bring her to understand many fine things.

a slug is light lined with velvet
a modish rider on foot

full of beer he is a prodigal memorandum
signed and sealed
on the arithmetic of pleasure

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 21 October 1663.

Up and to the office, where we sat; and at noon Sir G. Carteret, Sir J. Minnes, and I to dinner to my Lord Mayor’s, being invited, where was the Farmers of the Customes, my Lord Chancellor’s three sons, and other great and much company, and a very great noble dinner, as this Mayor is good for nothing else. No extraordinary discourse of any thing, every man being intent upon his dinner, and myself willing to have drunk some wine to have warmed my belly, but I did for my oath’s sake willingly refrain it, but am so well pleased and satisfied afterwards thereby, for it do keep me always in so good a frame of mind that I hope I shall not ever leave this practice. Thence home, and took my wife by coach to White Hall, and she set down at my Lord’s lodgings, I to a Committee of Tangier, and thence with her homeward, calling at several places by the way. Among others at Paul’s Churchyard, and while I was in Kirton’s shop, a fellow came to offer kindness or force to my wife in the coach, but she refusing, he went away, after the coachman had struck him, and he the coachman. So I being called, went thither, and the fellow coming out again of a shop, I did give him a good cuff or two on the chops, and seeing him not oppose me, I did give him another; at last found him drunk, of which I was glad, and so left him, and home, and so to my office awhile, and so home to supper and to bed.
This evening, at my Lord’s lodgings, Mrs. Sarah talking with my wife and I how the Queen do, and how the King tends her being so ill. She tells us that the Queen’s sickness is the spotted fever; that she was as full of the spots as a leopard which is very strange that it should be no more known; but perhaps it is not so. And that the King do seem to take it much to heart, for that he hath wept before her; but, for all that; that he hath not missed one night since she was sick, of supping with my Lady Castlemaine; which I believe is true, for she says that her husband hath dressed the suppers every night; and I confess I saw him myself coming through the street dressing of a great supper to-night, which Sarah says is also for the King and her; which is a very strange thing.

the farmers of chance eat for nothing
every man intent upon his belly

satisfied by the offer of
a good cuff on the chops

as full as a leopard
known to take heart at a great supper

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 20 October 1663.

Waked with a very high wind, and said to my wife, “I pray God I hear not of the death of any great person, this wind is so high!” fearing that the Queen might be dead.
So up; and going by coach with Sir W. Batten and Sir J. Minnes to St. James’s, they tell me that Sir W. Compton, who it is true had been a little sickly for a week or fortnight, but was very well upon Friday at night last at the Tangier Committee with us, was dead — died yesterday: at which I was most exceedingly surprised, he being, and so all the world saying that he was, one of the worthyest men and best officers of State now in England; and so in my conscience he was: of the best temper, valour, abilities of mind, integrity, birth, fine person, and diligence of any one man he hath left behind him in the three kingdoms; and yet not forty years old, or if so, that is all. I find the sober men of the Court troubled for him; and yet not so as to hinder or lessen their mirth, talking, laughing, and eating, drinking, and doing every thing else, just as if there was no such thing, which is as good an instance for me hereafter to judge of death, both as to the unavoidableness, suddenness, and little effect of it upon the spirits of others, let a man be never so high, or rich, or good; but that all die alike, no more matter being made of the death of one than another, and that even to die well, the praise of it is not considerable in the world, compared to the many in the world that know not nor make anything of it, nor perhaps to them (unless to one that like this poor gentleman, who is one of a thousand, there nobody speaking ill of him) that will speak ill of a man.
Coming to St. James’s, I hear that the Queen did sleep five hours pretty well to-night, and that she waked and gargled her mouth, and to sleep again; but that her pulse beats fast, beating twenty to the King’s or my Lady Suffolk’s eleven; but not so strong as it was. It seems she was so ill as to be shaved and pidgeons put to her feet, and to have the extreme unction given her by the priests, who were so long about it that the doctors were angry. The King, they all say; is most fondly disconsolate for her, and weeps by her, which makes her weep; which one this day told me he reckons a good sign, for that it carries away some rheume from the head.
This morning Captain Allen tells me how the famous Ned Mullins, by a slight fall, broke his leg at the ancle, which festered; and he had his leg cut off on Saturday, but so ill done, notwithstanding all the great chyrurgeons about the town at the doing of it, that they fear he will not live with it, which is very strange, besides the torment he was put to with it.
After being a little with the Duke, and being invited to dinner to my Lord Barkeley’s, and so, not knowing how to spend our time till noon, Sir W. Batten and I took coach, and to the Coffee-house in Cornhill; where much talk about the Turk’s proceedings, and that the plague is got to Amsterdam, brought by a ship from Argier; and it is also carried to Hambrough. The Duke says the King purposes to forbid any of their ships coming into the river. The Duke also told us of several Christian commanders (French) gone over to the Turks to serve them; and upon inquiry I find that the King of France do by this aspire to the Empire, and so to get the Crown of Spayne also upon the death of the King, which is very probable, it seems. Back to St. James’s, and there dined with my Lord Barkeley and his lady, where Sir G. Carteret, Sir W. Batten, and myself, with two gentlemen more; my Lady, and one of the ladies of honour to the Duchesse (no handsome woman, but a most excellent hand). A fine French dinner, and so we after dinner broke up and to Creed’s new lodgings in Axe-yard, which I like very well and so with him to White Hall and walked up and down in the galleries with good discourse, and anon Mr. Coventry and Povy, sad for the loss of one of our number we sat down as a Committee for Tangier and did some business and so broke up, and I down with Mr. Coventry and in his chamber discoursing of business of the office and Sir J. Minnes and Sir W. Batten’s carriage, when he most ingeniously tells me how they have carried themselves to him in forbearing to speak the other day to the Duke what they know they have so largely at other times said to him, and I told him what I am put to about the bargain for masts. I perceive he thinks of it all and will remember it. Thence took up my wife at Mrs. Harper’s where she and Jane were, and so called at the New Exchange for some things for her, and then at Tom’s went up and saw his house now it is finished, and indeed it is very handsome, but he not within and so home and to my office; and then to supper and to bed.

high wind
the sick man waked and gargled
his leg cut off

he will not know how to talk
ships coming into the river
like galleries for loss

how they have carried at
so large a bargain
all things

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 19 October 1663.

(Lord’s day). Up, and troubled at a distaste my wife took at a small thing that Jane did, and to see that she should be so vexed that I took part with Jane, wherein I had reason; but by and by well again, and so my wife in her best gown and new poynt that I bought her the other day, to church with me, where she has not been these many weeks, and her mayde Jane with her. I was troubled to see Pembleton there, but I thought it prudence to take notice myself first of it and show my wife him, and so by little and little considering that it mattered not much his being there I grew less concerned and so mattered it not much, and the less when, anon, my wife showed me his wife, a pretty little woman, and well dressed, with a good jewel at her breast. The parson, Mr. Mills, I perceive, did not know whether to pray for the Queen or no, and so said nothing about her; which makes me fear she is dead. But enquiring of Sir J. Minnes, he told me that he heard she was better last night.
So home to dinner, and Tom came and dined with me, and so, anon, to church again, and there a simple coxcomb preached worse than the Scot, and no Pembleton nor his wife there, which pleased me not a little, and then home and spent most of the evening at Sir W. Pen’s in complaisance, seeing him though he deserves no respect from me.
This evening came my uncle Wight to speak with me about my uncle Thomas’s business, and Mr. Moore came, 4 or 5 days out of the country and not come to see me before, though I desired by two or three messengers that he would come to me as soon as he came to town. Which do trouble me to think he should so soon forget my kindness to him, which I am afraid he do. After walking a good while in the garden with these, I went up again to Sir W. Pen, and took my wife home, and after supper to prayers, and read very seriously my vowes, which I am fearful of forgetting by my late great expenses, but I hope in God I do not, and so to bed.

a taste for fear
that simple peak

without which I soon forget
my late great God

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 18 October 1663.

Up and to my office, and there we sat a very full board all the morning upon some accounts of Mr. Gauden’s. Here happened something concerning my Will which Sir W. Batten would fain charge upon him, and I heard him mutter something against him of complaint for his often receiving people’s money to Sir G. Carteret, which displeased me much, but I will be even with him.
Thence to the Dolphin Tavern, and there Mr. Gauden did give us a great dinner. Here we had some discourse of the Queen’s being very sick, if not dead, the Duke and Duchess of York being sent for betimes this morning to come to White Hall to her.
So to my office and there late doing business, and so home to supper, my house being got mighty clean to my great content from top to toe, and so to bed, myself beginning to be in good condition of health also, but only my laying out so much money upon clothes for myself and wife and her closet troubles me.

in my will I mutter against money
but I will be dead and clean from top to toe

and laying out so much
on clothes for my close

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 17 October 1663.

Up and to my office, where all the morning doing business, and at noon home to dinner, and then up to remove my chest and clothes up stairs to my new wardrobe, that I may have all my things above where I lie, and so by coach abroad with my wife, leaving her at my Lord’s till I went to the Tangier Committee, where very good discourse concerning the Articles of peace to be continued with Guyland, and thence took up my wife, and with her to her tailor’s, and then to the Exchange and to several places, and so home and to my office, where doing some business, and then home to supper and to bed.

up the morning stairs
to war with my wife
the tang of peace

Erasure haiku derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 16 October 1663.

Up, I bless God being now in pretty good condition, but cannot come to make natural stools yet; and going to enjoy my wife this morning, I had a very great pain in the end of my yard when my yard was stiff, as if I strained some nerve or vein, which was great pain to me.
So up and to the office, where we sat all the morning, and at noon dined at home, my head full of business, and after stepping abroad to buy a thing or two, compasses and snuffers for my wife, I returned to my office and there mighty busy till it was late, and so home well contented with the business that I had done this afternoon, and so to supper and to bed.

I cannot make natural
as if I rain

my head full of stepping thin
compasses of ice

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 15 October 1663.

Up and to my office, where all the morning, and part of it Sir J. Minnes spent, as he do every thing else, like a fool, reading the Anatomy of the body to me, but so sillily as to the making of me understand any thing that I was weary of him, and so I toward the ‘Change and met with Mr. Grant, and he and I to the Coffee-house, where I understand by him that Sir W. Petty and his vessel are coming, and the King intends to go to Portsmouth to meet it. Thence home and after dinner my wife and I, by Mr. Rawlinson’s conduct, to the Jewish Synagogue: where the men and boys in their vayles, and the women behind a lattice out of sight; and some things stand up, which I believe is their Law, in a press to which all coming in do bow; and at the putting on their vayles do say something, to which others that hear him do cry Amen, and the party do kiss his vayle. Their service all in a singing way, and in Hebrew. And anon their Laws that they take out of the press are carried by several men, four or five several burthens in all, and they do relieve one another; and whether it is that every one desires to have the carrying of it, I cannot tell, thus they carried it round about the room while such a service is singing. And in the end they had a prayer for the King, which they pronounced his name in Portugall; but the prayer, like the rest, in Hebrew. But, Lord! to see the disorder, laughing, sporting, and no attention, but confusion in all their service, more like brutes than people knowing the true God, would make a man forswear ever seeing them more and indeed I never did see so much, or could have imagined there had been any religion in the whole world so absurdly performed as this. Away thence with my mind strongly disturbed with them, by coach and set down my wife in Westminster Hall, and I to White Hall, and there the Tangier Committee met, but the Duke and the Africa Committee meeting in our room, Sir G. Carteret; Sir W. Compton, Mr. Coventry, Sir W. Rider, Cuttance and myself met in another room, with chairs set in form but no table, and there we had very fine discourses of the business of the fitness to keep Sally, and also of the terms of our King’s paying the Portugees that deserted their house at Tangier, which did much please me, and so to fetch my wife, and so to the New Exchange about her things, and called at Thomas Pepys the turner’s and bought something there, and so home to supper and to bed, after I had been a good while with Sir W. Pen, railing and speaking freely our minds against Sir W. Batten and Sir J. Minnes, but no more than the folly of one and the knavery of the other do deserve.

all the anatomy of the body out of sight
to the kiss the press the every
desire singing

but like people knowing the true God
we imagine a whole world absurdly set down
in our room

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 14 October 1663.

And so rose in the morning in perfect good ease, but only strain I put myself to shit, more than I needed. But continued all the morning well, and in the afternoon had a natural easily and dry stoole, the first I have had these five days or six, for which God be praised, and so am likely to continue well, observing for the time to come when any of this pain comes again
1. To begin to keep myself as warm as I can.
2. Strain as little as ever I can backwards, remembering that my pain will come by and by, though in the very straining I do not feel it.
3. Either by physic forward or by clyster backward or both ways to get an easy and plentiful going to stool and breaking of wind.
4. To begin to suspect my health immediately when I begin to become costive and bound, and by all means to keep my body loose, and that to obtain presently after I find myself going the contrary.
This morning at the office, and at noon with Creed to the Exchange, where much business, but, Lord! how my heart, though I know not reason for it, began to doubt myself, after I saw Stint, Field’s one-eyed solicitor, though I know not any thing that they are doing, or that they endeavour any thing further against us in the business till the terme.
Home, and Creed with me to dinner, and after dinner John Cole, my old friend, came to see and speak with me about a friend. I find him ingenious, but more and more discern his city pedantry; but however, I will endeavour to have his company now and then, for that he knows much of the temper of the City, and is able to acquaint therein as much as most young men, being of large acquaintance, and himself, I think, somewhat unsatisfied with the present state of things at Court and in the Church.
Then to the office, and there busy till late, and so home to my wife, with some ease and pleasure that I hope to be able to follow my business again, which by God’s leave I am resolved to return to with more and more eagerness. I find at Court, that either the King is doubtfull of some disturbance, or else would seem so (and I have reason to hope it is no worse), by his commanding all commanders of castles, &c., to repair to their charges; and mustering the Guards the other day himself, where he found reason to dislike their condition to my Lord Gerard, finding so many absent men, or dead pays.
My Lady Castlemaine, I hear, is in as great favour as ever, and the King supped with her the very first night he came from Bath.
And last night and the night before supped with her; when there being a chine of beef to roast, and the tide rising into their kitchen that it could not be roasted there, and the cook telling her of it, she answered, “Zounds! she must set the house on fire but it should be roasted!” So it was carried to Mrs. Sarah’s husband’s, and there it was roasted.
So home to supper and to bed, being mightily pleased with all my house and my red chamber, where my wife and I intend constantly to lie, and the having of our dressing room and mayds close by us without any interfering or trouble.

will I keep my body
after I find myself

I know no reason for my one-eyed
solicitor and his pedantry

will I be present and able
to follow my business

like the night tide rising
into the kitchen

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 13 October 1663.

Up (though slept well) and made some water in the morning [as] I used to do, and a little pain returned to me, and some fears, but being forced to go to the Duke at St. James’s, I took coach and in my way called upon Mr. Hollyard and had his advice to take a glyster.
At St. James’s we attended the Duke all of us. And there, after my discourse, Mr. Coventry of his own accord begun to tell the Duke how he found that discourse abroad did run to his prejudice about the fees that he took, and how he sold places and other things; wherein he desired to appeal to his Highness, whether he did any thing more than what his predecessors did, and appealed to us all. So Sir G. Carteret did answer that some fees were heretofore taken, but what he knows not; only that selling of places never was nor ought to be countenanced. So Mr. Coventry very hotly answered to Sir G. Carteret, and appealed to himself whether he was not one of the first that put him upon looking after this taking of fees, and that he told him that Mr. Smith should say that he made 5000l. the first year, and he believed he made 7000l.. This Sir G. Carteret denied, and said, that if he did say so he told a lie, for he could not, nor did know, that ever he did make that profit of his place; but that he believes he might say 2500l. the first year. Mr. Coventry instanced in another thing, particularly wherein Sir G. Carteret did advise with him about the selling of the Auditor’s place of the stores, when in the beginning there was an intention of creating such an office. This he confessed, but with some lessening of the tale Mr. Coventry told, it being only for a respect to my Lord Fitz-Harding.
In fine, Mr. Coventry did put into the Duke’s hand a list of above 250 places that he did give without receiving one farthing, so much as his ordinary fees for them, upon his life and oath; and that since the Duke’s establishment of fees he had never received one token more of any man; and that in his whole life he never conditioned or discoursed of any consideration from any commanders since he came to the Navy.
And afterwards, my Lord Barkeley merrily discoursing that he wished his profit greater than it was, and that he did believe that he had got 50,000l. since he came in, Mr. Coventry did openly declare that his Lordship, or any of us, should have not only all he had got, but all that he had in the world (and yet he did not come a beggar into the Navy, nor would yet be thought to speak in any contempt of his Royall Highness’s bounty), and should have a year to consider of it too, for 25,000l..
The Duke’s answer was, that he wished we all had made more profit than he had of our places, and that we had all of us got as much as one man below stayres in the Court, which he presently named, and it was Sir George Lane! This being ended, and the list left in the Duke’s hand, we parted, and I with Sir G. Carteret, Sir J. Minnes, and Sir W. Batten by coach to the Exchange, and there a while, and so home, and whether it be the jogging, or by having my mind more employed (which I believe is a great matter) I know not, but I do now piss with much less pain and begin to be suddenly well; at least, better than I was. So home and to dinner, and thence by coach to the Old Exchange, and there cheapened some laces for my wife, and then to Mr.—— the great laceman in Cheapside, and bought one cost me 4l. more by 20s. than I intended, but when I came to see them I was resolved to buy one worth wearing with credit, and so to the New Exchange, and there put it to making, and so to my Lord’s lodgings and left my wife, and so I to the Committee of Tangier, and then late home with my wife again by coach, beginning to be very well, and yet when I came home and tried to shit, the little straining which I thought was no strain at all at the present did by and by bring me some pain for a good while.
Anon, about 8 o’clock, my wife did give me a clyster which Mr. Hollyard directed, viz., a pint of strong ale, 4 oz. of sugar, and 2 oz. of butter. It lay while I lay upon the bed above an hour, if not two, and then thinking it quite lost I rose, and by and by it began with my walking to work, and gave me three or four most excellent stools and carried away wind, put me in excellent ease, and taking my usual walnut quantity of electuary at my going into bed I had about two stools in the night and pissed well. Voided some wind.

a place is more than a predecessor
we know

selling places never ought to be
countenanced in the first place

particularly selling
a place of ore

when in the beginning the only place for life
came as a beggar into the void

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 12 October 1663.