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 all the morning very busy with multitude of clients, till my head began to be overloaded. Towards noon I took coach and to the Parliament house door, and there staid the rising of the House, and with Sir G. Carteret and Mr. Coventry discoursed of some tarr that I have been endeavouring to buy, for the market begins apace to rise upon us, and I would be glad first to serve the King well, and next if I could I find myself now begin to cast how to get a penny myself. Home by coach with Alderman Backewell in his coach, whose opinion is that the Dutch will not give over the business without putting us to some trouble to set out a fleete; and then, if they see we go on well, will seek to salve up the matter. Upon the ‘Change busy. Thence home to dinner, and thence to the office till my head was ready to burst with business, and so with my wife by coach, I sent her to my Lady Sandwich and myself to my cozen Roger Pepys’s chamber, and there he did advise me about our Exchequer business, and also about my brother John, he is put by my father upon interceding for him, but I will not yet seem the least to pardon him nor can I in my heart. However, he and I did talk how to get him a mandamus for a fellowship, which I will endeavour.
Thence to my Lady’s, and in my way met Mr. Sanchy, of Cambridge, whom I have not met a great while. He seems a simple fellow, and tells me their master, Dr. Rainbow, is newly made Bishop of Carlisle.
To my Lady’s, and she not being well did not see her, but straight home with my wife, and late to my office, concluding in the business of Woods masts, which I have now done and I believe taken more pains in it than ever any Principall officer in this world ever did in any thing to no profit to this day.
So, weary, sleepy, and hungry, home and to bed.
This day the Houses attended the King, and delivered their votes to him: upon the business of the Dutch; and he thanks them, and promises an answer in writing.

the multitude rising
have been a salve

for the heart simple
as rain in the woods

more in it than any
weary answer


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 27 April 1664.

Up, and to my Lord Sandwich’s, and coming a little too early, I went and saw W. Joyce, and by and by comes in Anthony, they both owning a great deal of kindness received from me in their late business, and indeed I did what I could, and yet less I could not do. It has cost the poor man above 40l.; besides, he is likely to lose his debt. Thence to my Lord’s, and by and by he comes down, and with him (Creed with us) I rode in his coach to St. James’s, talking about W. Joyce’s business mighty merry, and my Lady Peters, he says, is a drunken jade, he himself having seen her drunk in the lobby of their House.
I went up with him to the Duke, where methought the Duke did not shew him any so great fondness as he was wont; and methought my Lord was not pleased that I should see the Duke made no more of him, not that I know any thing of any unkindnesse, but I think verily he is not as he was with him in his esteem.
By and by the Duke went out and we with him through the Parke, and there I left him going into White Hall, and Creed and I walked round the Parke, a pleasant walk, observing the birds, which is very pleasant; and so walked to the New Exchange, and there had a most delicate dish of curds and creame, and discourse with the good woman of the house, a discreet well-bred woman, and a place with great delight I shall make it now and then to go thither.
Thence up, and after a turn or two in the ‘Change, home to the Old Exchange by coach, where great newes and true, I saw by written letters, of strange fires seen at Amsterdam in the ayre, and not only there, but in other places thereabout.
The talke of a Dutch warr is not so hot, but yet I fear it will come to it at last. So home and to the office, where we sat late.
My wife gone this afternoon to the buriall of my she-cozen Scott, a good woman; and it is a sad consideration how the Pepys’s decay, and nobody almost that I know in a present way of encreasing them. At night late at my office, and so home to my wife to supper and to bed.

like a drunk having
drunk with the Lord
I see birds as letters
of fire in the air
and places of burial
as my office


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 26 April 1664.

Up, and with Sir W. Pen by coach to St. James’s and there up to the Duke, and after he was ready to his closet, where most of our talke about a Dutch warr, and discoursing of things indeed now for it. The Duke, which gives me great good hopes, do talk of setting up a good discipline in the fleete.
In the Duke’s chamber there is a bird, given him by Mr. Pierce, the surgeon, comes from the East Indys, black the greatest part, with the finest collar of white about the neck; but talks many things and neyes like the horse, and other things, the best almost that ever I heard bird in my life.
Thence down with Mr. Coventry and Sir W. Rider, who was there (going along with us from the East Indya house to-day) to discourse of my Lord Peterborough’s accounts, and then walked over the Parke, and in Mr. Cutler’s coach with him and Rider as far as the Strand, and thence I walked to my Lord Sandwich’s, where by agreement I met my wife, and there dined with the young ladies; my Lady, being not well, kept her chamber. Much simple discourse at table among the young ladies. After dinner walked in the garden, talking, with Mr. Moore about my Lord’s business. He told me my Lord runs in debt every day more and more, and takes little care how to come out of it. He counted to me how my Lord pays use now for above 9000l., which is a sad thing, especially considering the probability of his going to sea, in great danger of his life, and his children, many of them, to provide for.
Thence, the young ladies going out to visit, I took my wife by coach out through the city, discoursing how to spend the afternoon; and conquered, with much ado, a desire of going to a play; but took her out at White Chapel, and to Bednal Green; so to Hackney, where I have not been many a year, since a little child I boarded there. Thence to Kingsland, by my nurse’s house, Goody Lawrence, where my brother Tom and I was kept when young. Then to Newington Green, and saw the outside of Mrs. Herbert’s house, where she lived, and my Aunt Ellen with her; but, Lord! how in every point I find myself to over-value things when a child. Thence to Islington, and so to St. John’s to the Red Bull, and there: saw the latter part of a rude prize fight, but with good pleasure enough; and thence back to Islington, and at the King’s Head, where Pitts lived, we ‘light and eat and drunk for remembrance of the old house sake, and so through Kingsland again, and so to Bishopsgate, and so home with great pleasure. The country mighty pleasant, and we with great content home, and after supper to bed, only a little troubled at the young ladies leaving my wife so to-day, and from some passages fearing my Lady might be offended. But I hope the best.

war comes from the east
black like the bird who takes sad children

the city conquered play
I have not lived but to fight


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 25 April 1664.

(Lord’s day). Up, and all the morning in my chamber setting some of my private papers in order, for I perceive that now publique business takes up so much of my time that I must get time a-Sundays or a-nights to look after my owne matters.
Dined and spent all the afternoon talking with my wife, at night a little to the office, and so home to supper and to bed.

morning amber
some private order for
a public sun


Erasure haiku derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 24 April 1664.

(Coronation day). Up, and after doing something at my office, and, it being a holiday, no sitting likely to be, I down by water to Sir W. Warren’s, who hath been ill, and there talked long with him good discourse, especially about Sir W. Batten’s knavery and his son Castle’s ill language of me behind my back, saying that I favour my fellow traytours, but I shall be even with him. So home and to the ‘Change, where I met with Mr. Coventry, who himself is now full of talke of a Dutch warr; for it seems the Lords have concurred in the Commons’ vote about it; and so the next week it will be presented to the King, insomuch that he do desire we would look about to see what stores we lack, and buy what we can. Home to dinner, where I and my wife much troubled about my money that is in my Lord Sandwich’s hand, for fear of his going to sea and be killed; but I will get what of it out I can.
All the afternoon, not being well, at my office, and there doing much business, my thoughts still running upon a warr and my money.
At night home to supper and to bed.

holiday
like water in the hand
going to sea

my thoughts still running
on my money


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 23 April 1664.

Having directed it last night, I was called up this morning before four o’clock. It was full light enough to dress myself, and so by water against tide, it being a little coole, to Greenwich; and thence, only that it was somewhat foggy till the sun got to some height, walked with great pleasure to Woolwich, in my way staying several times to listen to the nightingales. I did much business both at the Ropeyarde and the other, and on floate I discovered a plain cheat which in time I shall publish of Mr. Ackworth’s. Thence, having visited Mr. Falconer also, who lies still sick, but hopes to be better, I walked to Greenwich, Mr. Deane with me. Much good discourse, and I think him a very just man, only a little conceited, but yet very able in his way, and so he by water also with me also to towne. I home, and immediately dressing myself, by coach with my wife to my Lord Sandwich’s, but they having dined we would not ‘light but went to Mrs. Turner’s, and there got something to eat, and thence after reading part of a good play, Mrs. The., my wife and I, in their coach to Hide Parke where great plenty of gallants, and pleasant it was, only for the dust. Here I saw Mrs. Bendy, my Lady Spillman’s faire daughter that was, who continues yet very handsome. Many others I saw with great content, and so back again to Mrs. Turner’s, and then took a coach and home. I did also carry them into St. James’s Park and shewed them the garden.
To my office awhile while supper was making ready, and so home to supper and to bed.

I dress myself against the sun
go to listen to the gale

I publish lies but hope to be
just a little conceited

I dress myself for the dust
that great garden of a bed


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 22 April 1664.

Up pretty betimes and to my office, and thither came by and by Mr. Vernaty and staid two hours with me, but Mr. Gauden did not come, and so he went away to meet again anon. Then comes Mr. Creed, and, after some discourse, he and I and my wife by coach to Westminster (leaving her at Unthanke’s, her tailor’s) Hall, and there at the Lords’ House heard that it is ordered, that, upon submission upon the knee both to the House and my Lady Peters, W. Joyce shall be released. I forthwith made him submit, and aske pardon upon his knees; which he did before several Lords. But my Lady would not hear it; but swore she would post the Lords, that the world might know what pitifull Lords the King hath; and that revenge was sweeter to her than milk; and that she would never be satisfied unless he stood in a pillory, and demand pardon there. But I perceive the Lords are ashamed of her, and so I away calling with my wife at a place or two to inquire after a couple of mayds recommended to us, but we found both of them bad. So set my wife at my uncle Wight’s and I home, and presently to the ‘Change, where I did some business, and thence to my uncle’s and there dined very well, and so to the office, we sat all the afternoon, but no sooner sat but news comes my Lady Sandwich was come to see us, so I went out, and running up (her friend however before me) I perceive by my dear Lady blushing that in my dining-room she was doing something upon the pott, which I also was ashamed of, and so fell to some discourse, but without pleasure through very pity to my Lady. She tells me, and I find true since, that the House this day have voted that the King be desired to demand right for the wrong done us by the Dutch, and that they will stand by him with their lives fortunes: which is a very high vote, and more than I expected. What the issue will be, God knows! My Lady, my wife not being at home, did not stay, but, poor, good woman, went away, I being mightily taken with her dear visitt, and so to the office, where all the afternoon till late, and so to my office, and then to supper and to bed, thinking to rise betimes tomorrow.

I thank her on my knees
the world sweeter than milk
with her sin and sand
her lush dining and discourse with time


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 21 April 1664.

Up and by coach to Westminster, and there solicited W. Joyce’s business all the morning, and meeting in the Hall with Mr. Coventry, he told me how the Committee for Trade have received now all the complaints of the merchants against the Dutch, and were resolved to report very highly the wrongs they have done us (when, God knows! it is only our owne negligence and laziness that hath done us the wrong) and this to be made to the House to-morrow. I went also out of the Hall with Mrs. Lane to the Swan at Mrs. Herbert’s in the Palace Yard to try a couple of bands, and did (though I had a mind to be playing the fool with her) purposely stay but a little while, and kept the door open, and called the master and mistress of the house one after another to drink and talk with me, and showed them both my old and new bands. So that as I did nothing so they are able to bear witness that I had no opportunity there to do anything.
Thence by coach with Sir W. Pen home, calling at the Temple for Lawes’s Psalms, which I did not so much (by being against my oath) buy as only lay down money till others be bound better for me, and by that time I hope to get money of the Treasurer of the Navy by bills, which, according to my oath, shall make me able to do it.
At home dined, and all the afternoon at a Committee of the Chest, and at night comes my aunt and uncle Wight and Nan Ferrers and supped merrily with me, my uncle coming in an hour after them almost foxed. Great pleasure by discourse with them, and so, they gone, late to bed.

joy is a swan in the mind
a door open to anything
a psalm against money
the night fox


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 20 April 1664.

Up and to St. James’s, where long with Mr. Coventry, Povy, &c., in their Tangier accounts, but such the folly of that coxcomb Povy that we could do little in it, and so parted for the time, and I to walk with Creed and Vernaty in the Physique Garden in St. James’s Parke; where I first saw orange-trees, and other fine trees. So to Westminster Hall, and thence by water to the Temple, and so walked to the ‘Change, and there find the ‘Change full of news from Guinny, some say the Dutch have sunk our ships and taken our fort, and others say we have done the same to them. But I find by our merchants that something is done, but is yet a secret among them. So home to dinner, and then to the office, and at night with Captain Tayler consulting how to get a little money by letting him the Elias to fetch masts from New England. So home to supper and to bed.

trees
trees full of news
from sunk ships


Erasure haiku derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 19 April 1664.

Up and by coach to Westminster, and there solicited W. Joyce’s business again; and did speake to the Duke of Yorke about it, who did understand it very well. I afterwards did without the House fall in company with my Lady Peters, and endeavoured to mollify her; but she told me she would not, to redeem her from hell, do any thing to release him; but would be revenged while she lived, if she lived the age of Methusalem.
I made many friends, and so did others. At last it was ordered by the Lords that it should be referred to the Committee of Privileges to consider. So I, after discoursing with the Joyces, away by coach to the ‘Change; and there, among other things, do hear that a Jew hath put in a policy of four per cent. to any man, to insure him against a Dutch warr for four months; I could find in my heart to take him at this offer, but however will advise first, and to that end took coach to St. James’s, but Mr. Coventry was gone forth, and I thence to Westminster Hall, where Mrs. Lane was gone forth, and so I missed of my intent to be with her this afternoon, and therefore meeting Mr. Blagrave, went home with him, and there he and his kinswoman sang, but I was not pleased with it, they singing methought very ill, or else I am grown worse to please than heretofore. Thence to the Hall again, and after meeting with several persons, and talking there, I to Mrs. Hunt’s (where I knew my wife and my aunt Wight were about business), and they being gone to walk in the parke I went after them with Mrs. Hunt, who staid at home for me, and finding them did by coach, which I had agreed to wait for me, go with them all and Mrs. Hunt and a kinswoman of theirs, Mrs. Steward, to Hide Parke, where I have not been since last year; where I saw the King with his periwigg, but not altered at all; and my Lady Castlemayne in a coach by herself, in yellow satin and a pinner on; and many brave persons. And myself being in a hackney and full of people, was ashamed to be seen by the world, many of them knowing me.
Thence in the evening home, setting my aunt at home, and thence we sent for a joynt of meat to supper, and thence to the office at 11 o’clock at night, and so home to bed.

we fall from hell
into a committee meeting

grave thought grown worse
for talking about it

I hide where I have not been
in the altered yellow world


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 18 April 1664.