Pepys Diary erasure project

Since January 1, 2013, a daily exercise in erasure poetry based on the 17th-century Diary of Samuel Pepys.

This morning up by moon-shine, at 5 o’clock, to White Hall, to meet Mr. Moore at the Privy Seal, but he not being come as appointed, I went into King Street to the Red Lyon to drink my morning draft, and there I heard of a fray between the two Embassadors of Spain and France; and that, this day, being the day of the entrance of an Embassador from Sweden, they intended to fight for the precedence! Our King, I heard, ordered that no Englishman should meddle in the business,1 but let them do what they would. And to that end all the soldiers in the town were in arms all the day long, and some of the train-bands in the City; and a great bustle through the City all the day. Then I to the Privy Seal, and there Mr. Moore and a gentleman being come with him, we took coach (which was the business I come for) to Chelsy, to my Lord Privy Seal, and there got him to seal the business. Here I saw by day-light two very fine pictures in the gallery, that a little while ago I saw by night; and did also go all over the house, and found it to be the prettiest contrived house that ever I saw in my life. So to coach back again; and at White Hall light, and saw the soldiers and people running up and down the streets. So I went to the Spanish Embassador’s and the French, and there saw great preparations on both sides; but the French made the most noise and vaunted most, the other made no stir almost at all; so that I was afraid the other would have had too great a conquest over them.
Then to the Wardrobe, and dined there, end then abroad and in Cheapside hear that the Spanish hath got the best of it, and killed three of the French coach-horses and several men, and is gone through the City next to our King’s coach; at which, it is strange to see how all the City did rejoice. And indeed we do naturally all love the Spanish, and hate the French.
But I, as I am in all things curious, presently got to the water-side, and there took oars to Westminster Palace, thinking to have seen them come in thither with all the coaches, but they being come and returned, I ran after them with my boy after me through all the dirt and the streets full of people; till at last, at the Mewes, I saw the Spanish coach go, with fifty drawn swords at least to guard it, and our soldiers shouting for joy. And so I followed the coach, and then met it at York House, where the embassador lies; and there it went in with great state. So then I went to the French house, where I observe still, that there is no men in the world of a more insolent spirit where they do well, nor before they begin a matter, and more abject if they do miscarry, than these people are; for they all look like dead men, and not a word among them, but shake their heads.
The truth is, the Spaniards were not only observed to fight most desperately, but also they did outwitt them; first in lining their own harness with chains of iron that they could not be cut, then in setting their coach in the most advantageous place, and to appoint men to guard every one of their horses, and others for to guard the coach, and others the coachmen. And, above all, in setting upon the French horses and killing them, for by that means the French were not able to stir.
There were several men slain of the French, and one or two of the Spaniards, and one Englishman by a bullet. Which is very observable, the French were at least four to one in number, and had near 100 case of pistols among them, and the Spaniards had not one gun among them; which is for their honour for ever, and the others’ disgrace.
So, having been very much daubed with dirt, I got a coach, and home where I vexed my wife in telling of her this story, and pleading for the Spaniards against the French.
So ends this month; myself and family in good condition of health, but my head full of my Lord’s and my own and the office business; where we are now very busy about the business of sending forces to Tangier, and the fleet to my Lord of Sandwich, who is now at Lisbon to bring over the Queen, who do now keep a Court as Queen of England.
The business of Argier hath of late troubled me, because my Lord hath not done what he went for, though he did as much as any man in the world could have done.
The want of money puts all things, and above all things the Navy, out of order; and yet I do not see that the King takes care to bring in any money, but thinks of new designs to lay out money.

Moonlight over
all the streets
made a great conquest of the city.
Strange to see it go
to the water with
drawn swords.
We met it like dead men,
not a word among us,
not able to stir
in the dirt.


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 30 September 1661.

(Lord’s day). To church in the morning, and so to dinner, and Sir W. Pen and daughter, and Mrs. Poole, his kinswoman, Captain Poole’s wife, came by appointment to dinner with us, and a good dinner we had for them, and were very merry, and so to church again, and then to Sir W. Pen’s and there supped, where his brother, a traveller, and one that speaks Spanish very well, and a merry man, supped with us, and what at dinner and supper I drink I know not how, of my own accord, so much wine, that I was even almost foxed, and my head aked all night; so home and to bed, without prayers, which I never did yet, since I came to the house, of a Sunday night: I being now so out of order that I durst not read prayers, for fear of being perceived by my servants in what case I was. So to bed.

I am the traveler,
what I drink, I know not—
a fox all night in fear
of being perceived.


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 29 September 1661.

By coach to Whitehall with my wife (where she went to see Mrs. Pierce, who was this day churched, her month of childbed being out). I went to Mr. Montagu and other businesses, and at noon met my wife at the Wardrobe; and there dined, where we found Captain Country (my little Captain that I loved, who carried me to the Sound), come with some grapes and millons from my Lord at Lisbon, the first that ever I saw any, and my wife and I eat some, and took some home; but the grapes are rare things. Here we staid; and in the afternoon comes Mr. Edwd. Montagu (by appointment this morning) to talk with my Lady and me about the provisions fit to be bought, and sent to my Lord along with him. And told us, that we need not trouble ourselves how to buy them, for the King would pay for all, and that he would take care to get them: which put my Lady and me into a great deal of ease of mind. Here we staid and supped too, and, after my wife had put up some of the grapes in a basket for to be sent to the King, we took coach and home, where we found a hampire of millons sent to me also.

Here, my love, is
that rare vision,
how to buy ease of mind:
a hamper of melons.


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 27 September 1661.

At the office all the morning, so dined at home, and then abroad with my wife by coach to the Theatre to shew her “King and no King,” it being very well done. And so by coach, though hard to get it, being rainy, home. So to my chamber to write letters and the journal for these six last days past.

Morning and the road
get me to write letters—
an urn for the last days.


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 26 September 1661.

By coach with Sir W. Pen to Covent Garden. By the way, upon my desire, he told me that I need not fear any reflection upon my Lord for their ill success at Argier, for more could not be done than was done. I went to my cozen, Thos. Pepys, there, and talked with him a good while about our country business, who is troubled at my uncle Thomas his folly, and so we parted; and then meeting Sir R. Slingsby in St. Martin’s Lane, he and I in his coach through the Mewes, which is the way that now all coaches are forced to go, because of a stop at Charing Cross, by reason of a drain there to clear the streets. To Whitehall, and there to Mr. Coventry, and talked with him, and thence to my Lord Crew’s and dined with him, where I was used with all imaginable kindness both from him and her. And I see that he is afraid that my Lord’s reputacon will a little suffer in common talk by this late success; but there is no help for it now.
The Queen of England (as she is now owned and called) I hear doth keep open Court, and distinct at Lisbon.
Hence, much against my nature and will, yet such is the power of the Devil over me I could not refuse it, to the Theatre, and saw “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” ill done. And that ended, with Sir W. Pen and Sir G. More to the tavern, and so home with him by coach, and after supper to prayers and to bed. In full quiet of mind as to thought, though full of business, blessed be God.

I fear reflection
more than folly.
Meeting the aches
of a cross with kindness
is against my nature.
Yet such is the power
of the wind, I end
with a prayer full of mind.


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 25 September 1661.

We rose, and set forth, but found a most sad alteration in the road by reason of last night’s rains, they being now all dirty and washy, though not deep. So we rode easily through, and only drinking at Holloway, at the sign of a woman with cakes in one hand and a pot of ale in the other, which did give good occasion of mirth, resembling her to the maid that served us, we got home very timely and well, and finding there all well, and letters from sea, that speak of my Lord’s being well, and his action, though not considerable of any side, at Argier. I went straight to my Lady, and there sat and talked with her, and so home again, and after supper we to bed somewhat weary, hearing of nothing ill since my absence but my brother Tom, who is pretty well though again.

A road of dirt and ash.
Deep in a hollow, a woman
resembling the sea,
considerable and weary.


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 24 September 1661.

Up, and sad to hear my father and mother wrangle as they used to do in London, of which I took notice to both, and told them that I should give over care for anything unless they would spend what they have with more love and quiet. So (John Bowles coming to see us before we go) we took horse and got early to Baldwick; where there was a fair, and we put in and eat a mouthfull of pork, which they made us pay 14d. for, which vexed us much. And so away to Stevenage, and staid till a showre was over, and so rode easily to Welling, where we supped well, and had two beds in the room and so lay single, and still remember it that of all the nights that ever I slept in my life I never did pass a night with more epicurism of sleep; there being now and then a noise of people stirring that waked me, and then it was a very rainy night, and then I was a little weary, that what between waking and then sleeping again, one after another, I never had so much content in all my life, and so my wife says it was with her.

For love and quiet
we took a mouthful of age,
a single night
and the noise of rain.
And between waking
and sleeping, never had
so much content.


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 23 September 1661.

All the morning pleasing myself with my father, going up and down the house and garden with my father and my wife, contriving some alterations. After dinner (there coming this morning my aunt Hanes and her son from London, that is to live with my father) I rode to Huntingdon, where I met Mr. Philips, and there put my Bugden matter in order against the Court, and so to Hinchingbroke, where Mr. Barnwell shewed me the condition of the house, which is yet very backward, and I fear will be very dark in the cloyster when it is done. So home and to supper and to bed, very pleasant and quiet.

Pleasing the house with
my fat rations, I live
on lips, my inching
barn-dark oyster. It is
home and supper
and bed, very quiet.


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 21 September 1661.

Will Stankes and I set out in the morning betimes for Gravely, where to an ale-house and drank, and then, going towards the Court House, met my uncle Thomas and his son Thomas, with Bradly, the rogue that had betrayed us, and one Young, a cunning fellow, who guides them. There passed no unkind words at all between us, but I seemed fair and went to drink with them. I said little till by and by that we come to the Court, which was a simple meeting of a company of country rogues, with the Steward, and two Fellows of Jesus College, that are lords of the town where the jury were sworn; and I producing no surrender, though I told them I was sure there is and must be one somewhere, they found my uncle Thomas heir at law, as he is, and so, though I did tell him and his son that they would find themselves abused by these fellows, and did advise them to forbear being admitted this Court (which they could have done, but that these rogues did persuade them to do it now), my uncle was admitted, and his son also, in reversion after his father, which he did well in to secure his money. The father paid a year and a half for his fine, and the son half a year, in all 48l., besides about 3l. fees; so that I do believe the charges of his journeys, and what he gives those two rogues, and other expenses herein, cannot be less than 70l., which will be a sad thing for them if a surrender be found.
After all was done, I openly wished them joy in it, and so rode to Offord with them and there parted fairly without any words. I took occasion to bid them money for their half acre of land, which I had a mind to do that in the surrender I might secure Piggott’s, which otherwise I should be forced to lose.
So with Stankes home and supped, and after telling my father how things went, I went to bed with my mind in good temper, because I see the matter and manner of the Court and the bottom of my business, wherein I was before and should always have been ignorant.

I set out in the morning
on a journey without any words
to a half acre of land where
I always have been.


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 20 September 1661.

Up early, and my father and I alone into the garden, and there talked about our business, and what to do therein. So after I had talked and advised with my coz Claxton, and then with my uncle by his bedside, we all horsed away to Cambridge, where my father and I, having left my wife at the Beare with my brother, went to Mr. Sedgewicke, the steward of Gravely, and there talked with him, but could get little hopes from anything that he would tell us; but at last I did give him a fee, and then he was free to tell me what I asked, which was something, though not much comfort.
From thence to our horses, and with my wife went and rode through Sturbridge but the fair was almost done. So we did not ‘light there at all, but went back to Cambridge, and there at the Beare we had some herrings, we and my brother, and after dinner set out for Brampton, where we come in very good time, and found all things well, and being somewhat weary, after some talk about tomorrow’s business with my father, we went to bed.

Alone in the garden of little hopes,
I tell the light
to be herrings
and come in good time.


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 19 September 1661.