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.

(Lord’s day). Very pleasant with her and among my people, while she made her ready, and, about 10 o’clock, by water to Sir G. Carteret, and there find my Lady in her chamber, not very well, but looks the worst almost that ever I did see her in my life. It seems her drinking of the water at Tunbridge did almost kill her before she could with most violent physique get it out of her body again. We are received with most extraordinary kindnesse by my Lady Carteret and her children, and dined most nobly. Sir G. Carteret went to Court this morning. After dinner I took occasion to have much discourse with Mr. Ph. Carteret, and find him a very modest man; and I think verily of mighty good nature, and pretty understanding. He did give me a good account of the fight with the Dutch. My Lady Sandwich dined in her chamber.
About three o’clock I, leaving my wife there, took boat and home, and there shifted myself into my black silke suit, and having promised Harman yesterday, I to his house, which I find very mean, and mean company. His wife very ill; I could not see her. Here I, with her father and Kate Joyce, who was also very ill, were godfathers and godmother to his boy, and was christened Will. Mr. Meriton christened him. The most observable thing I found there to my content, was to hear him and his clerk tell me that in this parish of Michell’s, Cornhill, one of the middlemost parishes and a great one of the towne, there hath, notwithstanding this sickliness, been buried of any disease, man, woman, or child, not one for thirteen months last past; which very strange. And the like in a good degree in most other parishes, I hear, saving only of the plague in them, but in this neither the plague nor any other disease.
So back again home and reshifted myself, and so down to my Lady Carteret’s, where mighty merry and great pleasantnesse between my Lady Sandwich and the young ladies and me, and all of us mighty merry, there never having been in the world sure a greater business of general content than this match proposed between Mr. Carteret and my Lady Jemimah. But withal it is mighty pretty to think how my poor Lady Sandwich, between her and me, is doubtfull whether her daughter will like of it or no, and how troubled she is for fear of it, which I do not fear at all, and desire her not to do it, but her fear is the most discreet and pretty that ever I did see.
Late here, and then my wife and I, with most hearty kindnesse from my Lady Carteret by boat to Woolwich, come thither about 12 at night, and so to bed.

drinking
I almost kill myself
my promised joy buried
like a match in the night


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 9 July 1665.

All day very diligent at the office, ended my letters by 9 at night, and then fitted myself to go down to Woolwich to my wife, which I did, calling at Sir G. Carteret’s at Deptford, and there hear that my Lady Sandwich is come, but not very well. By 12 o’clock to Woolwich, found my wife asleep in bed, but strange to think what a fine night I had down, but before I had been one minute on shore, the mightiest storm come of wind and rain that almost could be for a quarter of an houre and so left. I to bed, being the first time I come to her lodgings, and there lodged well.

diligent at my fit
a one-minute storm
that almost could be art


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 8 July 1665.

Up, and having set my neighbour, Mr. Hudson, wine coopers, at work drawing out a tierce of wine for the sending of some of it to my wife, I abroad, only taking notice to what a condition it hath pleased God to bring me that at this time I have two tierces of Claret, two quarter casks of Canary, and a smaller vessel of Sack; a vessel of Tent, another of Malaga, and another of white wine, all in my wine cellar together; which, I believe, none of my friends of my name now alive ever had of his owne at one time.
To Westminster, and there with Mr. Povy and Creed talking of our Tangier business, and by and by I drew Creed aside and acquainted him with what Sir G. Carteret did tell me about Backewell the other day, because he hath money of his in his hands. So home, taking some new books, 5l. worth, home to my great content. At home all the day after busy. Some excellent discourse and advice of Sir W. Warren’s in the afternoon, at night home to look over my new books, and so late to bed.

our work ending
what is time
are hands the new books


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 7 July 1665.

Up and forth to give order to my pretty grocer’s wife’s house, who, her husband tells me, is going this day for the summer into the country. I bespoke some sugar, &c., for my father, and so home to the office, where all the morning. At noon dined at home, and then by water to White Hall to Sir G. Carteret about money for the office, a sad thought, for in a little while all must go to wracke, winter coming on apace, when a great sum must be ready to pay part of the fleete, and so far we are from it that we have not enough to stop the mouths of poor people and their hands from falling about our eares here almost in the office. God give a good end to it! Sir G. Carteret told me one considerable thing: Alderman Backewell is ordered abroad upon some private score with a great sum of money; wherein I was instrumental the other day in shipping him away. It seems some of his creditors have taken notice of it, and he was like to be broke yesterday in his absence; Sir G. Carteret telling me that the King and the kingdom must as good as fall with that man at this time; and that he was forced to get 4000l. himself to answer Backewell’s people’s occasions, or he must have broke; but committed this to me as a great secret and which I am heartily sorry to hear.
Thence, after a little merry discourse of our marrying business, I parted, and by coach to several places, among others to see my Lord Brunkerd, who is not well, but was at rest when I come. I could not see him, nor had much mind, one of the great houses within two doors of him being shut up: and, Lord! the number of houses visited, which this day I observed through the town quite round in my way by Long Lane and London Wall.
So home to the office, and thence to Sir W. Batten, and spent the evening at supper; and, among other discourse, the rashness of Sir John Lawson, for breeding up his daughter so high and proud, refusing a man of great interest, Sir W. Barkeley, to match her with a melancholy fellow, Colonell Norton’s son, of no interest nor good nature nor generosity at all, giving her 6000l., when the other would have taken her with two; when he himself knew that he was not worth the money himself in all the world, he did give her that portion, and is since dead, and left his wife and two daughters beggars, and the other gone away with 6000l., and no content in it, through the ill qualities of her father-in-law and husband, who, it seems, though a pretty woman, contracted for her as if he had been buying a horse; and, worst of all, is now of no use to serve the mother and two little sisters in any stead at Court, whereas the other might have done what he would for her: so here is an end of this family’s pride, which, with good care, might have been what they would, and done well.
Thence, weary of this discourse, as the act of the greatest rashness that ever I heard of in all my little conversation, we parted, and I home to bed.
Sir W. Pen, it seems, sailed last night from Solebay with, about sixty sail of ship, and my Lord Sandwich in “The Prince” and some others, it seems, going after them to overtake them, for I am sure my Lord Sandwich will do all possible to overtake them, and will be troubled to the heart if he do it not.

the mouths of poor people
are a considerable instrument
like absence
or doors in a wall
so high and melancholy
they trouble the heart


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 6 July 1665.

Up, and advised about sending of my wife’s bedding and things to Woolwich, in order to her removal thither. So to the office, where all the morning till noon, and so to the ‘Change, and thence home to dinner. In the afternoon I abroad to St. James’s, and there with Mr. Coventry a good while, and understand how matters are ordered in the fleete: that is, my Lord Sandwich goes Admiral; under him Sir G. Ascue, and Sir T. Teddiman; Vice-Admiral, Sir W. Pen; and under him Sir W. Barkeley, and Sir Jos. Jordan: Reere-Admiral, Sir Thomas Allen; and under him Sir Christopher Mings, and Captain Harman. We talked in general of business of the Navy, among others how he had lately spoken to Sir G. Carteret, and professed great resolution of friendship with him and reconciliation, and resolves to make it good as well as he can, though it troubles him, he tells me, that something will come before him wherein he must give him offence, but I do find upon the whole that Mr. Coventry do not listen to these complaints of money with the readiness and resolvedness to remedy that he used to do, and I think if he begins to draw in it is high time for me to do so too.
From thence walked round to White Hall, the Parke being quite locked up; and I observed a house shut up this day in the Pell Mell, where heretofore in Cromwell’s time we young men used to keep our weekly clubs. And so to White Hall to Sir G. Carteret, who is come this day from Chatham, and mighty glad he is to see me, and begun to talk of our great business of the match, which goes on as fast as possible, but for convenience we took water and over to his coach to Lambeth, by which we went to Deptford, all the way talking, first, how matters are quite concluded with all possible content between my Lord and him and signed and sealed, so that my Lady Sandwich is to come thither to-morrow or next day, and the young lady is sent for, and all likely to be ended between them in a very little while, with mighty joy on both sides, and the King, Duke, Lord Chancellor, and all mightily pleased.
Thence to newes, wherein I find that Sir G. Carteret do now take all my Lord Sandwich’s business to heart, and makes it the same with his owne.
He tells me how at Chatham it was proposed to my Lord Sandwich to be joined with the Prince in the command of the fleete, which he was most willing to; but when it come to the Prince, he was quite against it; saying, there could be no government, but that it would be better to have two fleetes, and neither under the command of the other, which he would not agree to. So the King was not pleased; but, without any unkindnesse, did order the fleete to be ordered as above, as to the Admirals and commands: so the Prince is come up; and Sir G. Carteret, I remember, had this word thence, that, says he, by this means, though the King told him that it would be but for this expedition, yet I believe we shall keepe him out for altogether. He tells me how my Lord was much troubled at Sir W. Pen’s being ordered forth (as it seems he is, to go to Solebay, and with the best fleete he can, to go forth), and no notice taken of my Lord Sandwich going after him, and having the command over him. But after some discourse Mr. Coventry did satisfy, as he says, my Lord, so as they parted friends both in that point and upon the other wherein I know my Lord was troubled, and which Mr. Coventry did speak to him of first thinking that my Lord might justly take offence at, his not being mentioned in the relation of the fight in the news book, and did clear all to my Lord how little he was concerned in it, and therewith my Lord also satisfied, which I am mightily glad of, because I should take it a very great misfortune to me to have them two to differ above all the persons in the world.
Being come to Deptford, my Lady not being within, we parted, and I by water to Woolwich, where I found my wife come, and her two mayds, and very prettily accommodated they will be; and I left them going to supper, grieved in my heart to part with my wife, being worse by much without her, though some trouble there is in having the care of a family at home in this plague time, and so took leave, and I in one boat and W. Hewer in another home very late, first against tide, we having walked in the dark to Greenwich.
Late home and to bed, very lonely.

in order to understand
I go under and under and under

I go in one ear
and out the other

I go with the tide
home to bed


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 5 July 1665.

Up, and sat at the office all the morning. At noon to the ‘Change and thence to the Dolphin, where a good dinner at the cost of one Mr. Osbaston, who lost a wager to Sir W. Batten, Sir W. Rider, and Sir R. Ford, a good while since and now it is spent. The wager was that ten of our ships should not have a fight with ten of the enemy’s before Michaelmas. Here was other very good company, and merry, and at last in come Mr. Buckeworth, a very fine gentleman, and proves to be a Huntingdonshire man. Thence to my office and there all the afternoon till night, and so home to settle some accounts of Tangier and other papers. I hear this day the Duke and Prince Rupert are both come back from sea, and neither of them go back again. The latter I much wonder at, but it seems the towne reports so, and I am very glad of it.
This morning I did a good piece of work with Sir W. Warren, ending the business of the lotterys, wherein honestly I think I shall get above 100l.
Bankert, it seems, is come home with the little fleete he hath been abroad with, without doing any thing, so that there is nobody of an enemy at sea. We are in great hopes of meeting with the Dutch East India fleete, which is mighty rich, or with De Ruyter, who is so also.
Sir Richard Ford told me this day, at table, a fine account, how the Dutch were like to have been mastered by the present Prince of Orange his father to be besieged in Amsterdam, having drawn an army of foot into the towne, and horse near to the towne by night, within three miles of the towne, and they never knew of it; but by chance the Hamburgh post in the night fell among the horse, and heard their design, and knowing the way, it being very dark and rainy, better than they, went from them, and did give notice to the towne before the others could reach the towne, and so were saved. It seems this De Witt and another family, the Beckarts, were among the chief of the familys that were enemys to the Prince, and were afterwards suppressed by the Prince, and continued so till he was, as they say, poysoned; and then they turned all again, as it was, against the young Prince, and have so carried it to this day, it being about 12 and 14 years, and De Witt in the head of them.

enemy of the papers
I wonder at his broad body

enemy of the rich
like an army in the rain

enemies he suppressed
continue in his head


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 4 July 1665.

Up and by water with Sir W. Batten and Sir J. Minnes to White Hall to the Duke of Albemarle, where, after a little business, we parted, and I to the Harp and Ball, and there staid a while talking to Mary, and so home to dinner. After dinner to the Duke of Albemarle’s again, and so to the Swan, and there ‘demeurais un peu’de temps con la fille’, and so to the Harp and Ball, and alone ‘demeurais un peu de temps baisant la’, and so away home and late at the office about letters, and so home, resolving from this night forwards to close all my letters, if possible, and end all my business at the office by daylight, and I shall go near to do it and put all my affairs in the world in good order, the season growing so sickly, that it is much to be feared how a man can escape having a share with others in it, for which the good Lord God bless me, or to be fitted to receive it.
So after supper to bed, and mightily troubled in my sleep all night with dreams of Jacke Cole, my old schoolfellow, lately dead, who was born at the same time with me, and we reckoned our fortunes pretty equal. God fit me for his condition!

the swan all alone
growing so sickly it dreams
of dead tunes


Erasure haiku derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 3 July 1665.

(Sunday). Up, and all the morning dressing my closet at the office with my plates, very neatly, and a fine place now it is, and will be a pleasure to sit in, though I thank God I needed none before. At noon dined at home, and after dinner to my accounts and cast them up, and find that though I have spent above 90l. this month yet I have saved 17l., and am worth in all above 1450l., for which the Lord be praised!
In the evening my Lady Pen and daughter come to see, and supped with us, then a messenger about business of the office from Sir G. Carteret at Chatham, and by word of mouth did send me word that the business between my Lord and him is fully agreed on, and is mightily liked of by the King and the Duke of Yorke, and that he sent me this word with great joy; they gone, we to bed.
I hear this night that Sir J. Lawson was buried late last night at St. Dunstan’s by us, without any company at all, and that the condition of his family is but very poor, which I could be contented to be sorry for, though he never was the man that ever obliged me by word or deed.

cast the word out
word like a hat
word I eat
at night without any company
poor word


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 2 July 1665.

Called up betimes, though weary and sleepy, by appointment by Mr. Povy and Colonell Norwood to discourse about some payments of Tangier. They gone, I to the office and there sat all the morning. At noon dined at home, and then to the Duke of Albemarle’s, by appointment, to give him an account of some disorder in the Yarde at Portsmouth, by workmen’s going away of their owne accord, for lacke of money, to get work of hay-making, or any thing else to earne themselves bread.
Thence to Westminster, where I hear the sicknesse encreases greatly, and to the Harp and Ball with Mary talking, who tells me simply her losing of her first love in the country in Wales, and coming up hither unknown to her friends, and it seems Dr. Williams do pretend love to her, and I have found him there several times.
Thence by coach and late at the office, and so to bed. Sad at the newes that seven or eight houses in Bazing Hall street, are shut up of the plague.

point of order
the work to get work increases
and who tells me
simply love the country
unknown to love
and shut up


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 1 July 1665.

Up and to White Hall, to the Duke of Albemarle, who I find at Secretary Bennet’s, there being now no other great Statesman, I think, but my Lord Chancellor, in towne. I received several commands from them; among others, to provide some bread and cheese for the garrison at Guernsey, which they promised to see me paid for.
So to the ‘Change, and home to dinner. In the afternoon I down to Woolwich and after me my wife and Mercer, whom I led to Mr. Sheldon’s to see his house, and I find it a very pretty place for them to be at. So I back again, walking both forward and backward, and left my wife to come by water. I straight to White Hall, late, to Secretary Bennet’s to give him an account of the business I received from him to-day, and there staid weary and sleepy till past 12 at night. Then writ my mind to him, and so back by water and in the dark and against tide shot the bridge, groping with their pole for the way, which troubled me before I got through. So home, about one or two o’clock in the morning, my family at a great losse what was become of me. To supper, and to bed.
Thus this book of two years ends. Myself and family in good health, consisting of myself and wife, Mercer, her woman, Mary, Alice, and Susan our maids, and Tom my boy. In a sickly time of the plague growing on. Having upon my hands the troublesome care of the Treasury of Tangier, with great sums drawn upon me, and nothing to pay them with: also the business of the office great. Consideration of removing my wife to Woolwich; she lately busy in learning to paint, with great pleasure and successe. All other things well; especially a new interest I am making, by a match in hand between the eldest son of Sir G. Carteret, and my Lady Jemimah Montage. The Duke of Yorke gone down to the fleete, but all suppose not with intent to stay there, as it is not fit, all men conceive, he should.

white bread for dinner
in the house of sleep

my mind groping for the way
through the book in my hands

some great raw nothing
moving within me


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 30 June 1665.