The Hidden Poems of Samuel Pepys: 1669, and what’s next for the erasure project

Download The Hidden Poems of Samuel Pepys, 1669 (PDF)

Of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

Ecclesiastes/Qoheleth 12:12 (KJV)

You know I had to shout-out my favorite Biblical curmudgeon in the post title for my erasure of Pepys’ final diary entry.

Nine and a half years ago when I started making erasure poems from each entry in the Diary of Samuel Pepys, there was no way I even wanted to think about ever reaching the finish line, but here I am: elated that I’m done, and eager to begin the revision process.

I promise I’m not going to go full Tom Phillips—he of A Humument fame—and continue to make new erasures from the same text forever, but I feel I do owe it to the project to re-do the first couple of years’ worth, before I really knew what I was doing, and then generate PDFs for the first four years. Vols. 5-10 are complete. When all that’s done, presuming I don’t burn out first, I’ll see about pulling together a volume of selected poems from the project. (The PDFs will always be free.) If you’re a small or boutique publisher and that sounds like something you might be interested in, let me know. My expectation is to self-publish, since it’s easier and I get to control everything and keep the minuscule profits, but I could be persuaded otherwise.

Thanks to everyone who’s offered support or encouragement over the years, and thanks to the readers of Via Negativa for not all cancelling their subscriptions over the unrelenting onslaught of erasure poems. Thanks most of all then to my co-blogger Luisa Igloria, whose daily poems here not only gave me the freedom to embark on such a niche project, knowing that readers would still have at least one solid daily poem to read, but were also a hell of an inspiration generally.

I’m also deeply indebted to Project Gutenberg and to Phil Gyford, the tech geek and Pepys enthusiast behind the online Diary edition I used. Being able to copy and paste each entry into an electronic document was key to my process, which involved lots of highlighting and drafting in Open Office, then pasting a final draft into WordPress and using HTML to handle the presentation. The active community of annotators on Phil’s website helped bring the text to life in a way no printed volume ever could.

This was important to me since the original impetus behind the erasure project was to do a deep read of a crucial text in the development of blog-like literature in the West. (The Japanese, of course, have been writing literary diaries for more than a millennium.) With all due respect to Phillips and some of the other elders of the genre, I don’t hold with treating a text simply as raw material to be exploited—even when the author is, let’s be honest, a sexual predator and a major architect of the British colonial system. The gray-out approach to erasure poetry, which I first saw Jen Bervin use with Nets, her erasure of Shakespeare’s sonnets, is not only more respectful to the text than blackout or complete removal (literal erasure), but is also I think much more appealing to readers. I remember my dad remarking, early on, how much he enjoyed being able to read Pepys’ text and see where I’d gotten words from.

For now, the plan is to take a hiatus from this project—maybe for as little as a week, or maybe as much as six months, but no longer than that, I hope. I rather doubt that anyone is going to suffer from Pepys erasure withdrawal in the meantime, but if so, they can find links to the PDFs for everything from 1664 onward in the introductory paragraph to the erasure project’s section of this website. Download, print, share, adapt, rewrite, erase! Have at it.

Of making many books

Up very betimes, and so continued all the morning with W. Hewer, upon examining and stating my accounts, in order to the fitting myself to go abroad beyond sea, which the ill condition of my eyes, and my neglect for a year or two, hath kept me behindhand in, and so as to render it very difficult now, and troublesome to my mind to do it; but I this day made a satisfactory entrance therein. Dined at home, and in the afternoon by water to White Hall, calling by the way at Michell’s, where I have not been many a day till just the other day, and now I met her mother there and knew her husband to be out of town. And here je did baiser elle, but had not opportunity para hazer some with her as I would have offered if je had had it. And thence had another meeting with the Duke of York, at White Hall, on yesterday’s work, and made a good advance: and so, being called by my wife, we to the Park, Mary Batelier, and a Dutch gentleman, a friend of hers, being with us. Thence to “The World’s End,” a drinking-house by the Park; and there merry, and so home late.
And thus ends all that I doubt I shall ever be able to do with my own eyes in the keeping of my journal, I being not able to do it any longer, having done now so long as to undo my eyes almost every time that I take a pen in my hand; and, therefore, whatever comes of it, I must forbear: and, therefore, resolve, from this time forward, to have it kept by my people in long-hand, and must therefore be contented to set down no more than is fit for them and all the world to know; or, if there be any thing, which cannot be much, now my amours to Deb. are past, and my eyes hindering me in almost all other pleasures, I must endeavour to keep a margin in my book open, to add, here and there, a note in short-hand with my own hand. And so I betake myself to that course, which is almost as much as to see myself go into my grave: for which, and all the discomforts that will accompany my being blind, the good God prepare me!

in the self
a road
beyond me

in a troublesome mind
the mother to
yesterday’s work

if the world ends
I shall take a pen
in my hand

my book open
as a grave
for a blind god

Erasure poem derived from the final entry in The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 31 May 1669.

Holiday desideratum

(Whitsunday). By water to White Hall, and thence to Sir W. Coventry, where all the morning by his bed-side, he being indisposed. Our discourse was upon the notes I have lately prepared for Commanders’ Instructions; but concluded that nothing will render them effectual, without an amendment in the choice of them, that they be seamen, and not gentleman above the command of the Admiral, by the greatness of their relations at Court. Thence to White Hall, and dined alone with Mr. Chevins his sister: whither by and by come in Mr. Progers and Sir Thomas Allen, and by and by fine Mrs. Wells, who is a great beauty; and there I had my full gaze upon her, to my great content, she being a woman of pretty conversation.
Thence to the Duke of York, who, with the officers of the Navy, made a good entrance on my draught of my new Instructions to Commanders, as well expressing general [views] of a reformation among them, as liking of my humble offers towards it. Thence being called by my wife, Mr. Gibson and I, we to the Park, whence the rain suddenly home.

I have instructions
but nothing without the sea

my full gaze upon
her conversation

instructions as general
as the rain

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 30 May 1669.

Beginning of summer

The King’s birth-day. To White Hall, where all very gay; and particularly the Prince of Tuscany very fine, and is the first day of his appearing out of mourning, since he come. I heard the Bishop of Peterborough preach but dully; but a good anthem of Pelham’s. Home to dinner, and then with my wife to Hyde Park, where all the evening; great store of company, and great preparations by the Prince of Tuscany to celebrate the night with fire-works, for the King’s birth-day. And so home.

the birth of a pear
out of each anthem
in the park
                        where all
celebrate the night
with fireworks

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 29 May 1669.

Known unknowns

To St. James’s, where the King’s being with the Duke of York prevented a meeting of the Tangier Commission. But, Lord! what a deal of sorry discourse did I hear between the King and several Lords about him here! but very mean methought. So with Creed to the Excise Office, and back to White Hall, where, in the Park, Sir G. Carteret did give me an account of his discourse lately, with the Commissioners of Accounts, who except against many things, but none that I find considerable; among others, that of the Officers of the Navy selling of the King’s goods, and particularly my providing him with calico flags, which having been by order, and but once, when necessity, and the King’s apparent profit, justified it, as conformable to my particular duty, it will prove to my advantage that it be enquired into. Nevertheless, having this morning received from them a demand of an account of all monies within their cognizance, received and issued by me, I was willing, upon this hint, to give myself rest, by knowing whether their meaning therein might reach only to my Treasurership for Tangier, or the monies employed on this occasion. I went, therefore, to them this afternoon, to understand what monies they meant, where they answered me, by saying, “The eleven months’ tax, customs, and prizemoney,” without mentioning, any more than I demanding, the service they respected therein; and so, without further discourse, we parted, upon very good terms of respect, and with few words, but my mind not fully satisfied about the monies they mean. At noon Mr. Gibson and I dined at the Swan, and thence doing this at Brook house, and thence calling at the Excise Office for an account of payment of my tallies for Tangier, I home, and thence with my wife and brother spent the evening on the water, carrying our supper with us, as high as Chelsea; so home, making sport with the Westerne bargees, and my wife and I singing, to my great content.

what did I hear in the park
except many things

calico flags
conformable to their meaning

I went therefore to them
to understand us

with few words but the water
high and singing

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 28 May 1669.


At the office all the morning, dined at home, Mr. Hollier with me. Presented this day by Mr. Browne with a book of drawing by him, lately printed, which cost me 20s. to him. In the afternoon to the Temple, to meet with Auditor Aldworth about my interest account, but failed meeting him. To visit my cozen Creed, and found her ill at home, being with child, and looks poorly. Thence to her husband, at Gresham College, upon some occasions of Tangier; and so home, with Sir John Bankes with me, to Mark Lane.

the brown book
of a wing—
look up

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 27 May 1669.

Thoughts and prayers

To White Hall, where all the morning. Dined with Mr. Chevins, with Alderman Backewell, and Spragg. The Court full of the news from Captain Hubbert, of “The Milford,” touching his being affronted in the Streights, shot at, and having eight men killed him by a French man-of-war, calling him “English dog,” and commanding him to strike, which he refused, and, as knowing himself much too weak for him, made away from him. The Queen, as being supposed with child, fell ill, so as to call for Madam Nun, Mr. Chevins’s sister, and one of her women, from dinner from us; this being the last day of their doubtfulness touching her being with child; and they were therein well confirmed by her Majesty’s being well again before night.
One Sir Edmund Bury Godfry, a woodmonger and justice of Peace in Westminster, having two days since arrested Sir Alexander Frazier for about 30l. in firing, the bailiffs were apprehended, committed to the porter’s lodge, and there, by the King’s command, the last night severely whipped; from which the justice himself very hardly escaped, to such an unusual degree was the King moved therein. But he lies now in the lodge, justifying his act, as grounded upon the opinion of several of the judges, and, among others, my Lord Chief-Justice; which makes the King very angry with the Chief-Justice, as they say; and the justice do lie and justify his act, and says he will suffer in the cause for the people, and do refuse to receive almost any nutriment. The effects of it may be bad to the Court.
Expected a meeting of Tangier this afternoon, but failed. So home, met by my wife at Unthanke’s.

the news
touching us
too mad for madness

touching her child
they bury us
day and night

escape lies
in the ground
among other people

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 26 May 1669.

Therapy animal

To White Hall, and there all the morning, and thence home, and giving order for some business and setting my brother to making a catalogue of my books, I back again to W. Hewer to White Hall, where I attended the Duke of York and was by him led to [the King], who expressed great sense of my misfortune in my eyes, and concernment for their recovery; and accordingly signified, not only his assent to desire therein, but commanded me to give them rest summer, according to my late petition to the Duke of York. W. Hewer and I dined alone at the Swan; and thence having thus waited on the King, spent till four o’clock in St. James’s Park, when I met my wife at Unthanke’s, and so home.

making a catalogue
of misfortune
my eyes rest

on the lone swan
in the park I met
my wife at

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 24 May 1669.


(Lord’s day). Called up by Roger Pepys and his son who to church with me, and then home to dinner. In the afternoon carried them to Westminster, and myself to James’s, where, not finding the Duke of York, back home, and with my wife spent the evening taking the ayre about Hackney, with great pleasure, and places we had never seen before.

called by a church
to myself

finding in the air
a place never seen

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 23 May 1669.