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 Mr. Caesar, my boy’s lute-master, being come betimes to teach him, I did speak with him seriously about the boy, what my mind was, if he did not look after his lute and singing that I would turn him away; which I hope will do some good upon the boy.
All the morning busy at the office. At noon dined at home, and then to the office again very busy till very late, and so home to supper and to bed. My wife making great preparation to go to Court to Chappell to-morrow.
This day I have newes from Mr. Coventry that the fleete is sailed yesterday from Harwich to the coast of Holland to see what the Dutch will do. God go along with them!

as a boy
what my mind was
I did not sing

I would turn
the morning off
busy making tomorrow anew

from a sail
from the coast of a god


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 22 April 1665.

Up and to my office about business. Anon comes Creed and Povy, and we treat about the business of our lending money, Creed and I, upon a tally for the satisfying of Andrews, and did conclude it as in papers is expressed, and as I am glad to have an opportunity of having 10 per cent. for my money, so I am as glad that the sum I begin this trade with is no more than 350l..
We all dined at Andrews’ charge at the Sun behind the ‘Change, a good dinner the worst dressed that ever I eat any, then home, and there found Kate Joyce and Harman come to see us. With them, after long talk, abroad by coach, a tour in the fields, and drunk at Islington, it being very pleasant, the dust being laid by a little rain, and so home very well pleased with this day’s work. So after a while at my office to supper and to bed.
This day we hear that the Duke and the fleete are sailed yesterday. Pray God go along with them, that they have good speed in the beginning of their worke.

business comes expressed
as opportunity

so that the sum is
no more than the sun dressed

in field dust
laid by a little rain


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 21 April 1665.

Up, and all the morning busy at the office. At noon dined, and Mr. Povy by agreement with me (where his boldness with Mercer, poor innocent wench, did make both her and me blush, to think how he were able to debauch a poor girl if he had opportunity) at a dish or two of plain meat of his own choice. After dinner comes Creed and then Andrews, where want of money to Andrews the main discourse, and at last in confidence of Creed’s judgement I am resolved to spare him 4 or 500l. of what lies by me upon the security of some Tallys. This went against my heart to begin, but when obtaining Mr. Creed to joyne with me we do resolve to assist Mr. Andrews. Then anon we parted, and I to my office, where late, and then home to supper and to bed. This night I am told the first play is played in White Hall noon-hall, which is now turned to a house of playing. I had a great mind, but could not go to see it.

the morning blush
a dish of plain meat

I want my heart to turn
to a house of play


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 20 April 1665.

Up by five o’clock, and by water to White Hall; and there took coach, and with Mr. Moore to Chelsy; where, after all my fears what doubts and difficulties my Lord Privy Seale would make at my Tangier Privy Seale, he did pass it at first reading, without my speaking with him. And then called me in, and was very civil to me. I passed my time in contemplating (before I was called in) the picture of my Lord’s son’s lady, a most beautiful woman, and most like to Mrs. Butler. Thence very much joyed to London back again, and found out Mr. Povy; told him this; and then went and left my Privy Seale at my Lord Treasurer’s; and so to the ‘Change, and thence to Trinity-House; where a great dinner of Captain Crisp, who is made an Elder Brother. And so, being very pleasant at dinner, away home, Creed with me; and there met Povy; and we to Gresham College, where we saw some experiments upon a hen, a dogg, and a cat, of the Florence poyson. The first it made for a time drunk, but it come to itself again quickly; the second it made vomitt mightily, but no other hurt. The third I did not stay to see the effect of it, being taken out by Povy. He and I walked below together, he giving me most exceeding discouragements in the getting of money (whether by design or no I know not, for I am now come to think him a most cunning fellow in most things he do, but his accounts), and made it plain to me that money will be hard to get, and that it is to be feared Backewell hath a design in it to get the thing forced upon himself. This put me into a cruel melancholy to think I may lose what I have had so near my hand; but yet something may be hoped for which to-morrow will shew. He gone, Creed and I together a great while consulting what to do in this case, and after all I left him to do what he thought fit in his discourse to-morrow with my Lord Ashly. So home, and in my way met with Mr. Warren, from whom my hopes I fear will fail of what I hoped for, by my getting him a protection. But all these troubles will if not be over, yet we shall see the worst of there in a day or two. So to my office, and thence to supper, and my head akeing, betimes, that is by 10 or 11 o’clock, to bed.

the sea speaking
like an elder brother

to the drunk
come to vomit

is not melancholy to have
so great an aching


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 19 April 1665.

Up and to Sir Philip Warwicke, and walked with him an houre with great delight in the Parke about Sir G. Carteret’s accounts, and the endeavours that he hath made to bring Sir G. Carteret to show his accounts and let the world see what he receives and what he pays.
Thence home to the office, where I find Sir J. Minnes come home from Chatham, and Sir W. Batten both this morning from Harwich, where they have been these 7 or 8 days.
At noon with my wife and Mr. Moore by water to Chelsey about my Privy Seale for Tangier, but my Lord Privy Seale was gone abroad, and so we, without going out of the boat, forced to return, and found him not at White Hall. So I to Sir Philip Warwicke and with him to my Lord Treasurer, who signed my commission for Tangier-Treasurer and the docquet of my Privy Seale, for the monies to be paid to me.
Thence to White Hall to Mr. Moore again, and not finding my Lord I home, taking my wife and woman up at Unthanke’s. Late at my office, then to supper and to bed.

how is the world
and what and where
these days

gone without going
found and not finding
me in my unbed


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 18 April 1665.

Up and to the Duke of Albemarle’s, where he shewed me Mr. Coventry’s letters, how three Dutch privateers are taken, in one whereof Everson’s son is captaine. But they have killed poor Captaine Golding in The Diamond. Two of them, one of 32 and the other of 20 odd guns, did stand stoutly up against her, which hath 46, and the Yarmouth that hath 52 guns, and as many more men as they. So that they did more than we could expect, not yielding till many of their men were killed. And Everson, when he was brought before the Duke of Yorke, and was observed to be shot through the hat, answered, that he wished it had gone through his head, rather than been taken. One thing more is written: that two of our ships the other day appearing upon the coast of Holland, they presently fired their beacons round the country to give notice. And newes is brought the King, that the Dutch Smyrna fleete is seen upon the back of Scotland; and thereupon the King hath wrote to the Duke, that he do appoint a fleete to go to the Northward to try to meet them coming home round: which God send!
Thence to White Hall; where the King seeing me, did come to me, and calling me by name, did discourse with me about the ships in the River: and this is the first time that ever I knew the King did know me personally; so that hereafter I must not go thither, but with expectation to be questioned, and to be ready to give good answers.
So home, and thence with Creed, who come to dine with me, to the Old James, where we dined with Sir W. Rider and Cutler, and, by and by, being called by my wife, we all to a play, “The Ghosts,” at the Duke’s house, but a very simple play.
Thence up and down, with my wife with me, to look [for] Sir Ph. Warwicke (Mr. Creed going from me), but missed of him and so home, and late and busy at my office. So home to supper and to bed.
This day was left at my house a very neat silver watch, by one Briggs, a scrivener and sollicitor, at which I was angry with my wife for receiving, or, at least, for opening the box wherein it was, and so far witnessing our receipt of it, as to give the messenger 5s. for bringing it; but it can’t be helped, and I will endeavour to do the man a kindnesse, he being a friend of my uncle Wight’s.

guns call me by name
I must go to be questioned

the ghosts miss me
and my neat silver watch


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 17 April 1665.

(Lord’s day). Lay long in bed, then up and to my chamber and my office, looking over some plates which I find necessary for me to understand pretty well, because of the Dutch warr. Then home to dinner, where Creed dined with us, and so after dinner he and I walked to the Rolls’ Chappell, expecting to hear the great Stillingfleete preach, but he did not; but a very sorry fellow, which vexed me. The sermon done, we parted, and I home, where I find Mr. Andrews, and by and by comes Captain Taylor, my old acquaintance at Westminster, that understands musique very well and composes mighty bravely; he brought us some things of two parts to sing, very hard; but that that is the worst, he is very conceited of them, and that though they are good makes them troublesome to one, to see him every note commend and admire them. He supped with me, and a good understanding man he is and a good scholler, and, among other things, a great antiquary, and among other things he can, as he says, show the very originall Charter to Worcester, of King Edgar’s, wherein he stiles himself, Rex Marium Brittanniae, &c.; which is the great text that Mr. Selden and others do quote, but imperfectly and upon trust. But he hath the very originall, which he says he will shew me.
He gone we to bed.
This night I am told that newes is come of our taking of three Dutch men-of-warr, with the loss of one of our Captains.

in bed we expect
a great still music

we are the original text
that others quote imperfectly

this old news
of our loss


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 16 April 1665.

Up, and to White Hall about several businesses, but chiefly to see the proposals of my warrants about Tangier under Creed, but to my trouble found them not finished. So back to the office, where all the morning, busy, then home to dinner, and then all the afternoon till very late at my office, and then home to supper and to bed, weary.

O fly
a rant is all din
and no ear


Erasure haiku derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 15 April 1665.

Up, and betimes to Mr. Povy, being desirous to have an end of my trouble of mind touching my Tangier business, whether he hath any desire of accepting what my Lord Ashly offered, of his becoming Treasurer again; and there I did, with a seeming most generous spirit, offer him to take it back again upon his owne terms; but he did answer to me that he would not above all things in the world, at which I was for the present satisfied; but, going away thence and speaking with Creed, he puts me in doubt that the very nature of the thing will require that he be put in again; and did give me the reasons of the auditors, which, I confess, are so plain, that I know not how to withstand them. But he did give me most ingenious advice what to do in it, and anon, my Lord Barkeley and some of the Commissioners coming together, though not in a meeting, I did procure that they should order Povy’s payment of his remain of accounts to me; which order if it do pass will put a good stop to the fastening of the thing upon me.
At noon Creed and I to a cook’s shop at Charing Cross, and there dined and had much discourse, and his very good upon my business, and upon other things, among the rest upon Will Howe’s dissembling with us, we discovering one to another his carriage to us, present and absent, being a very false fellow. Thence to White Hall again, and there spent the afternoon, and then home to fetch a letter for the Council, and so back to White Hall, where walked an hour with Mr. Wren, of my Lord Chancellor’s, and Mr. Ager, and then to Unthanke’s and called my wife, and with her through the city to Mile-End Greene, and eat some creame and cakes and so back home, and I a little at the office, and so home to supper and to bed.
This morning I was saluted with newes that the fleetes, ours and the Dutch, were engaged, and that the guns were heard at Walthamstow to play all yesterday, and that Captain Teddiman’s legs were shot off in the Royall Katherine. But before night I hear the contrary, both by letters of my owne and messengers thence, that they were all well of our side and no enemy appears yet, and that the Royall Katherine is come to the fleete, and likely to prove as good a ship as any the King hath, of which I am heartily glad, both for Christopher Pett’s sake and Captain Teddiman that is in her.

to be in the world
as present as the fast
dissembling wren
or to unthank all with a gun

at night I hear my own
enemy of a heart


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 14 April 1665.

Lay long in bed, troubled a little with wind, but not much. So to the office, and there all the morning. At noon to Sheriff Waterman’s to dinner, all of us men of the office in towne, and our wives, my Lady Carteret and daughters, and Ladies Batten, Pen, and my wife, &c., and very good cheer we had and merry; musique at and after dinner, and a fellow danced a jigg; but when the company begun to dance, I came away lest I should be taken out; and God knows how my wife carried herself, but I left her to try her fortune.
So home, and late at the office, and then home to supper and to bed.

wind off the water
my daughter and my wife dance
when I am away


Erasure haiku derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 13 April 1665.