Ars poetica

Up, and to the office, where we sat all the morning, with several things (among others) discoursed relating to our two new assistant controllers, but especially Sir W. Pen, who is mighty troublesome in it. At noon home to dinner, and then to the office again, and there did much business, and by and by comes Mr. Moore, who in discourse did almost convince me that it is necessary for my Lord Sandwich to come home and take his command at sea this year, for that a peace is like to be. Many considerations he did give me hereupon, which were very good both in reference to the publick and his private condition. By and by with Lord Bruncker by coach to his house, there to hear some Italian musique: and here we met Tom Killigrew, Sir Robert Murray, and the Italian Signor Baptista, who hath composed a play in Italian for the Opera, which T. Killigrew do intend to have up; and here he did sing one of the acts. He himself is the poet as well as the musician; which is very much, and did sing the whole from the words without any musique prickt, and played all along upon a harpsicon most admirably, and the composition most excellent. The words I did not understand, and so know not how they are fitted, but believe very well, and all in the recitativo very fine. But I perceive there is a proper accent in every country’s discourse, and that do reach in their setting of notes to words, which, therefore, cannot be natural to any body else but them; so that I am not so much smitten with it as, it may be, I should be, if I were acquainted with their accent. But the whole composition is certainly most excellent; and the poetry, T. Killigrew and Sir R. Murray, who understood the words, did say was excellent. I confess I was mightily pleased with the musique. He pretends not to voice, though it be good, but not excellent. This done, T. Killigrew and I to talk: and he tells me how the audience at his house is not above half so much as it used to be before the late fire. That Knipp is like to make the best actor that ever come upon the stage, she understanding so well: that they are going to give her 30l. a-year more. That the stage is now by his pains a thousand times better and more glorious than ever heretofore. Now, wax-candles, and many of them; then, not above 3 lbs. of tallow: now, all things civil, no rudeness anywhere; then, as in a bear-garden then, two or three fiddlers; now, nine or ten of the best then, nothing but rushes upon the ground, and every thing else mean; and now, all otherwise: then, the Queen seldom and the King never would come; now, not the King only for state, but all civil people do think they may come as well as any. He tells me that he hath gone several times, eight or ten times, he tells me, hence to Rome to hear good musique; so much he loves it, though he never did sing or play a note. That he hath ever endeavoured in the late King’s time, and in this, to introduce good musique, but he never could do it, there never having been any musique here better than ballads. Nay, says, “Hermitt poore” and “Chevy Chase” was all the musique we had; and yet no ordinary fiddlers get so much money as ours do here, which speaks our rudenesse still. That he hath gathered our Italians from several Courts in Christendome, to come to make a concert for the King, which he do give 200l. a-year a-piece to: but badly paid, and do come in the room of keeping four ridiculous gundilows, he having got, the King to put them away, and lay out money this way; and indeed I do commend him for it, for I think it is a very noble undertaking. He do intend to have some times of the year these operas to be performed at the two present theatres, since he is defeated in what he intended in Moorefields on purpose for it; and he tells me plainly that the City audience was as good as the Court, but now they are most gone. Baptista tells me that Giacomo Charissimi is still alive at Rome, who was master to Vinnecotio, who is one of the Italians that the King hath here, and the chief composer of them. My great wonder is, how this man do to keep in memory so perfectly the musique of the whole act, both for the voice and the instrument too. I confess I do admire it: but in recitativo the sense much helps him, for there is but one proper way of discoursing and giving the accents. Having done our discourse, we all took coaches, my Lord’s and T. Killigrew’s, and to Mrs. Knipp’s chamber, where this Italian is to teach her to sing her part. And so we all thither, and there she did sing an Italian song or two very fine, while he played the bass upon a harpsicon there; and exceedingly taken I am with her singing, and believe that she will do miracles at that and acting. Her little girl is mighty pretty and witty. After being there an hour, and I mightily pleased with this evening’s work, we all parted, and I took coach and home, where late at my office, and then home to enter my last three days’ Journall; and so to supper and to bed, troubled at nothing, but that these pleasures do hinder me in my business, and the more by reason of our being to dine abroad to-morrow, and then Saturday next is appointed to meet again at my Lord Bruncker’s lodgings, and there to have the whole quire of Italians; but then I do consider that this is all the pleasure I live for in the world, and the greatest I can ever expect in the best of my life, and one thing more, that by hearing this man to-night, and I think Captain Cooke to-morrow, and the quire of Italians on Saturday, I shall be truly able to distinguish which of them pleases me truly best, which I do much desire to know and have good reason and fresh occasion of judging.

I like to pose as a musician with words
but I perceive every country’s
natural poetry is talk

the audience for a fire
is better than a candle
better than an ordinary room

the fields are alive with miracles
and I with my journal
a life which I desire to know


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 12 February 1667.

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