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 to Sir Ph. Warwicke’s and other places, about Tangier business, but to little purpose. Among others to my Lord Treasurer’s, there to speak with him, and waited in the lobby three long hours for to speake with him, to the trial of my utmost patience, but missed him at last, and forced to go home without it, which may teach me how I make others wait. Home to dinner and staid Mr. Hater with me, and after dinner drew up a petition for Mr. Hater to present to the Councill about his troublesome business of powder, desiring a trial that his absence may be vindicated, and so to White Hall, but it was not proper to present it to-day. Here I met with Mr. Cowling, who observed to me how he finds every body silent in the praise of my Lord Sandwich, to set up the Duke and the Prince; but that the Duke did both to the King and my Lord Chancellor write abundantly of my Lord’s courage and service. And I this day met with a letter of Captain Ferrers, wherein he tells my Lord was with his ship in all the heat of the day, and did most worthily. Met with Creed, and he and I to Westminster; and there saw my Lord Marlborough brought to be buried, several Lords of the Council carrying him, and with the herald in some state. Thence, vexed in my mind to think that I do so little in my Tangier business, and so home, and after supper to bed.

I am here to wait

which may teach me how
I make others wait

present in absence
as a body brought to be buried

several carrying it
in some little bed


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 14 June 1665.

Up and to the office, where all the morning doing business. At noon with Sir G. Carteret to my Lord Mayor’s to dinner, where much company in a little room, and though a good, yet no extraordinary table. His name, Sir John Lawrence, whose father, a very ordinary old man, sat there at table, but it seems a very rich man. Here were at table three Sir Richard Brownes, viz.: he of the Councill, a clerk, and the Alderman, and his son; and there was a little grandson also Richard, who will hereafter be Sir Richard Browne. The Alderman did here openly tell in boasting how he had, only upon suspicion of disturbances, if there had been any bad newes from sea, clapped up several persons that he was afeard of; and that he had several times done the like and would do, and take no bail where he saw it unsafe for the King. But by and by he said that he was now sued in the Exchequer by a man for false imprisonment, that he had, upon the same score, imprisoned while he was Mayor four years ago, and asked advice upon it. I told him I believed there was none, and told my story of Field, at which he was troubled, and said that it was then unsafe for any man to serve the King, and, I believed, knows not what to do therein; but that Sir Richard Browne, of the Councill, advised him to speak with my Lord Chancellor about it.
My Lord Mayor very respectfull to me; and so I after dinner away and found Sir J. Minnes ready with his coach and four horses at our office gate, for him and me to go out of towne to meet the Duke of Yorke coming from Harwich to-night, and so as far as Ilford, and there ‘light. By and by comes to us Sir John Shaw and Mr. Neale, that married the rich widow Gold, upon the same errand. After eating a dish of creame, we took coach again, hearing nothing of the Duke, and away home, a most pleasant evening and road. And so to my office, where, after my letters wrote, to supper and to bed. All our discourse in our way was Sir J. Minnes’s telling me passages of the late King’s and his father’s, which I was mightily pleased to hear for information, though the pride of some persons and vice of most was but a sad story to tell how that brought the whole kingdom and King to ruine.

much company in a little room
an old man sat boasting
how he had been in prison

and there was a field
with four horses
and the light of evening


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 13 June 1665.

Up, and in my yesterday’s new suit to the Duke of Albemarle, and after a turne in White Hall, and then in Westminster Hall, returned, and with my taylor bought some gold lace for my sleeve hands in Pater Noster Row. So home to dinner, and then to the office, and down the River to Deptford, and then back again and to my Lord Treasurer’s, and up and down to look after my Tangier business, and so home to my office, then to supper and to bed.
The Duke of Yorke is sent for last night and expected to be here to-morrow.

in my new suit
turn and return

with my old lace hands
to the river sure as night


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 12 June 1665.

(Lord’s day). Up, and expected long a new suit; but, coming not, dressed myself in my late new black silke camelott suit; and, when fully ready, comes my new one of coloured ferrandin, which my wife puts me out of love with, which vexes me, but I think it is only my not being used to wear colours which makes it look a little unusual upon me. To my chamber and there spent the morning reading. At noon, by invitation, comes my two cozen Joyces and their wives, my aunt James and he-cozen Harman, his wife being ill. I had a good dinner for them, and as merry as I could be in such company. They being gone, I out of doors a little, to shew, forsooth, my new suit, and back again, and in going I saw poor Dr. Burnett’s door shut; but he hath, I hear, gained great goodwill among his neighbours; for he discovered it himself first, and caused himself to be shut up of his own accord: which was very handsome.
In the evening comes Mr. Andrews and his wife and Mr. Hill, and staid and played, and sung and supped, most excellent pretty company, so pleasant, ingenious, and harmless, I cannot desire better. They gone we to bed, my mind in great present ease.

I am out of love
but only ours
which makes the morning a noon

and I am out of doors
and poor
but will shut my mind


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 11 June 1665.

Lay long in bed, and then up and at the office all the morning. At noon dined at home, and then to the office busy all the afternoon. In the evening home to supper; and there, to my great trouble, hear that the plague is come into the City (though it hath these three or four weeks since its beginning been wholly out of the City); but where should it begin but in my good friend and neighbour’s, Dr. Burnett, in Fanchurch Street: which in both points troubles me mightily. To the office to finish my letters and then home to bed, being troubled at the sicknesse, and my head filled also with other business enough, and particularly how to put my things and estate in order, in case it should please God to call me away, which God dispose of to his glory!

come into the city
or out of the city
where should I begin

in both points
with the particular
in case it should call me to glory


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 10 June 1665.

Lay long in bed, my head akeing with too much thoughts I think last night. Up and to White Hall, and my Lord Treasurer’s to Sir Ph. Warwicke, about Tangier business, and in my way met with Mr. Moore, who eases me in one point wherein I was troubled; which was, that I heard of nothing said or done by my Lord Sandwich: but he tells me that Mr. Cowling, my Lord Chamberlain’s secretary, did hear the King say that my Lord Sandwich had done nobly and worthily.
The King, it seems, is much troubled at the fall of my Lord of Falmouth; but I do not meet with any man else that so much as wishes him alive again, the world conceiving him a man of too much pleasure to do the King any good, or offer any good office to him. But I hear of all hands he is confessed to have been a man of great honour, that did show it in this his going with the Duke, the most that ever any man did.
Home, where my people busy to make ready a supper against night for some guests, in lieu of my stonefeast.
At noon eat a small dinner at home, and so abroad to buy several things, and among others with my taylor to buy a silke suit, which though I had one lately, yet I do, for joy of the good newes we have lately had of our victory over the Dutch, which makes me willing to spare myself something extraordinary in clothes; and after long resolution of having nothing but black, I did buy a coloured silk ferrandin. So to the Old Exchange, and there at my pretty seamstresses bought a pair of stockings of her husband, and so home, where by and by comes Mr. Honiwood and Mrs. Wilde, and Roger Pepys and, after long time spent, Mrs. Turner, The. and Joyce. We had a very good venison pasty, this being instead of my stone-feast the last March, and very merry we were, and the more I know the more I like Mr. Honiwoods conversation. So after a good supper they parted, walking to the ‘Change for a coach, and I with them to see them there. So home and to bed, glad it was over.

my head aching with too much night
I hear nothing but owl
meet with nothing but wild stone and woods


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 9 June 1665.

About five o’clock my wife come home, it having lightened all night hard, and one great shower of rain. She come and lay upon the bed; I up and to the office, where all the morning. Alone at home to dinner, my wife, mother, and Mercer dining at W. Joyce’s; I giving her a caution to go round by the Half Moone to his house, because of the plague. I to my Lord Treasurer’s by appointment of Sir Thomas Ingram’s, to meet the Goldsmiths; where I met with the great news at last newly come, brought by Bab May from the Duke of Yorke, that we have totally routed the Dutch; that the Duke himself, the Prince, my Lord Sandwich, and Mr. Coventry are all well: which did put me into such joy, that I forgot almost all other thoughts. The particulars I shall set down by and by. By and by comes Alderman Maynell and Mr. Viner, and there my Lord Treasurer did intreat them to furnish me with money upon my tallys, Sir Philip Warwicke before my Lord declaring the King’s changing of the hand from Mr. Povy to me, whom he called a very sober person, and one whom the Lord Treasurer would owne in all things that I should concern myself with them in the business of money. They did at present declare they could not part with money at present. My Lord did press them very hard, and I hope upon their considering we shall get some of them.
Thence with great joy to the Cocke-pitt; where the Duke of Albemarle, like a man out of himself with content, new-told me all; and by and by comes a letter from Mr. Coventry’s own hand to him, which he never opened (which was a strange thing), but did give it me to open and read, and consider what was fit for our office to do in it, and leave the letter with Sir W. Clerke; which upon such a time and occasion was a strange piece of indifference, hardly pardonable. I copied out the letter, and did also take minutes out of Sir W. Clerke’s other letters; and the sum of the newes is:
Victory over the Dutch, June 3rd, 1665.
This day they engaged; the Dutch neglecting greatly the opportunity of the wind they had of us, by which they lost the benefit of their fire-ships.
The Earl of Falmouth, Muskerry, and Mr. Richard Boyle killed on board the Duke’s ship, the Royall Charles, with one shot: their blood and brains flying in the Duke’s face; and the head of Mr. Boyle striking down the Duke, as some say.
Earle of Marlborough, Portland, Rear-Admirall Sansum (to Prince Rupert) killed, and Capt. Kirby and Ableson. Sir John Lawson wounded on the knee; hath had some bones taken out, and is likely to be well again. Upon receiving the hurt, he sent to the Duke for another to command the Royall Oake. The Duke sent Jordan1 out of the St. George, who did brave things in her. Capt. Jer. Smith of the Mary was second to the Duke, and stepped between him and Captain Seaton of the Urania (76 guns and 400 men), who had sworn to board the Duke; killed him, 200 men, and took the ship; himself losing 99 men, and never an officer saved but himself and lieutenant. His master indeed is saved, with his leg cut off.
Admirall Opdam blown up, Trump killed, and said by Holmes; all the rest of their admiralls, as they say, but Everson (whom they dare not trust for his affection to the Prince of Orange), are killed: we having taken and sunk, as is believed, about 24 of their best ships; killed and taken near 8 or 10,000 men, and lost, we think, not above 700. A great[er] victory never known in the world. They are all fled, some 43 got into the Texell, and others elsewhere, and we in pursuit of the rest.
Thence, with my heart full of joy; home, and to my office a little; then to my Lady Pen’s, where they are all joyed and not a little puffed up at the good successe of their father; and good service indeed is said to have been done by him.
Had a great bonefire at the gate; and I with my Lady Pen’s people and others to Mrs. Turner’s great room, and then down into the streete. I did give the boys 4s. among them, and mighty merry. So home to bed, with my heart at great rest and quiett, saving that the consideration of the victory is too great for me presently to comprehend.

the moon is a plague-smith
changing from treasure to pit

like a hand which never opened
but in indifference

or a flying wound
puffed up by a bone-fire heart


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 8 June 1665.

This morning my wife and mother rose about two o’clock; and with Mercer, Mary, the boy, and W. Hewer, as they had designed, took boat and down to refresh themselves on the water to Gravesend. Lay till 7 o’clock, then up and to the office upon Sir G. Carteret’s accounts again, where very busy; thence abroad and to the ‘Change, no news of certainty being yet come from the fleete. Thence to the Dolphin Taverne, where Sir J. Minnes, Lord Brunkard, Sir Thomas Harvy, and myself dined, upon Sir G. Carteret’s charge, and very merry we were, Sir Thomas Harvy being a very drolle. Thence to the office, and meeting Creed away with him to my Lord Treasurer’s, there thinking to have met the goldsmiths, at White Hall, but did not, and so appointed another time for my Lord to speak to them to advance us some money. Thence, it being the hottest day that ever I felt in my life, and it is confessed so by all other people the hottest they ever knew in England in the beginning of June, we to the New Exchange, and there drunk whey, with much entreaty getting it for our money, and would not be entreated to let us have one glasse more. So took water and to Fox-Hall, to the Spring garden, and there walked an houre or two with great pleasure, saving our minds ill at ease concerning the fleete and my Lord Sandwich, that we have no newes of them, and ill reports run up and down of his being killed, but without ground. Here staid pleasantly walking and spending but 6d. till nine at night, and then by water to White Hall, and there I stopped to hear news of the fleete, but none come, which is strange, and so by water home, where, weary with walking and with the mighty heat of the weather, and for my wife’s not coming home, I staying walking in the garden till twelve at night, when it begun to lighten exceedingly, through the greatness of the heat. Then despairing of her coming home, I to bed.
This day, much against my will, I did in Drury Lane see two or three houses marked with a red cross upon the doors, and “Lord have mercy upon us” writ there; which was a sad sight to me, being the first of the kind that, to my remembrance, I ever saw. It put me into an ill conception of myself and my smell, so that I was forced to buy some rolltobacco to smell to and chaw, which took away the apprehension.

at the grave
marked with a red cross
I roll tobacco


Erasure haiku derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 7 June 1665.

Waked in the morning before 4 o’clock with great pain to piss, and great pain in pissing by having, I think, drank too great a draught of cold drink before going to bed. But by and by to sleep again, and then rose and to the office, where very busy all the morning, and at noon to dinner with Sir G. Carteret to his house with all our Board, where a good pasty and brave discourse. But our great fear was some fresh news of the fleete, but not from the fleete, all being said to be well and beaten the Dutch, but I do not give much belief to it, and indeed the news come from Sir W. Batten at Harwich, and writ so simply that we all made good mirth of it. Thence to the office, where upon Sir G. Carteret’s accounts, to my great vexation there being nothing done by the Controller to right the King therein. I thence to my office and wrote letters all the afternoon, and in the evening by coach to Sir Ph. Warwicke’s about my Tangier business to get money, and so to my Lady Sandwich’s, who, poor lady, expects every hour to hear of my Lord; but in the best temper, neither confident nor troubled with fear, that I ever did see in my life. She tells me my Lord Rochester is now declaredly out of hopes of Mrs. Mallett, and now she is to receive notice in a day or two how the King stands inclined to the giving leave for my Lord Hinchingbroke to look after her, and that being done to bring it to an end shortly. Thence by coach home, and to my office a little, and so before 12 o’clock home and to bed.

I do not give much belief to the news
writ so simply
made of nothing

who expects every hour
to be troubled with fear
or hope

now is not in a day or two
I look after it
my little lock


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 6 June 1665.

Up very betimes to look some other papers, and then to White Hall to a Committee of Tangier, where I offered my accounts with great acceptation, and so had some good words and honour by it, and one or two things done to my content in my business of Treasurer, but I do clearly see that we shall lose our business of victualling, Sir Thomas Ingram undertaking that it shall be done by persons there as cheap as we do it, and give the seamen their full allowance and themselves give good security here for performance of contract, upon which terms there is no opposing it. This would trouble me, but that I hope when that fails to spend my time to some good advantage other ways, and so shall permit it all to God Almighty’s pleasure.
Thence home to dinner, after ‘Change, where great talke of the Dutch being fled and we in pursuit of them, and that our ship Charity is lost upon our Captain’s, Wilkinson, and Lieutenant’s yielding, but of this there is no certainty, save the report of some of the sicke men of the Charity, turned adrift in a boat out of the Charity and taken up and brought on shore yesterday to Sole Bay, and the newes hereof brought by Sir Henry Felton.
Home to dinner, and Creed with me. Then he and I down to Deptford, did some business, and back again at night. He home, and I to my office, and so to supper and to bed.
This morning I had great discourse with my Lord Barkeley about Mr. Hater, towards whom from a great passion reproaching him with being a fanatique and dangerous for me to keepe, I did bring him to be mighty calme and to ask me pardons for what he had thought of him and to desire me to ask his pardon of Hater himself for the ill words he did give him the other day alone at White Hall (which was, that he had always thought him a man that was no good friend to the King, but did never think it would breake out in a thing of this nature), and did advise him to declare his innocence to the Council and pray for his examination and vindication. Of which I shall consider and say no more, but remember one compliment that in great kindness to me he did give me, extolling my care and diligence, that he did love me heartily for my owne sake, and more that he did will me whatsoever I thought for Mr. Coventry’s sake, for though the world did think them enemies, and to have an ill aspect, one to another, yet he did love him with all his heart, which was a strange manner of noble compliment, confessing his owning me as a confidant and favourite of Mr. Coventry’s.

where I am done
as the sea by a great calm

what words would break me
will I think them enemies


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 5 June 1665.