Wednesday 3 February 1668/69

So up, and to the Office till noon, and then home to a little dinner, and thither again till night, mighty busy, to my great content, doing a great deal of business, and so home to supper, and to bed; I finding this day that I may be able to do a great deal of business by dictating, if I do not read myself, or write, without spoiling my eyes, I being very well in my eyes after a great day’s work.

14 Annotations

First Reading

Mary  •  Link


Ever since Pepys began giving us serious accounts of the state of his vision I had assumed that he had already started to use dictation to get through his days' work. There were various remarks that seemed to indicate this. However,it appears from this entry that he is only now making trial -successfully- of this means of getting the work done. I hope he will find that this initial success is maintained; there is a definite skill to using dictation and not everyone acquires it.

Tony Eldridge  •  Link

I wonder if his staff also had Sam's shorthand skills?
Otherwise, dictation would be a very tedious business.

Jesse  •  Link


I can't recall Pepys mentioning anything about acquiring his shorthand skills much less whether or how often they'd be used at work. (Note to Phil: Movable Type Encyclopedia search for shorthand times out - really?) I wonder if shorthand was a standard skill for clerks and office types. At the used bookstore I volunteer at we occasionally get donations of Gregg shorthand manuals.

Speaking of no mention, I'm surprised that nothing about the recent awful weather has been noted.

Terry Foreman  •  Link

"I wonder if his staff also had Sam’s shorthand skills?"

And the answer is affirmative, at least for Will Hewer:

"It was a great convenience to-night that what I had writ foule in short hand, I could read to W. Hewer, and he take it fair in short hand, so as I can read it to-morrow to Sir W. Coventry, and then come home, and Hewer read it to me while I take it in long-hand to present, which saves me much time."…

Apparently this was not uncommon: "So soon as word was brought me that Mr. Coventry was come with the barge to the Towre, I went to him, and found him reading of the Psalms in short hand (which he is now busy about), and had good sport about the long marks that are made there for sentences in divinity, which he is never like to make use of."…

A. De Araujo  •  Link

It would be interesting to know if the Diary is going to be less candid than before.

Robert Gertz  •  Link

"Sam'l? What's the long face for? I said I understood you couldn't help Knepp's smiling at you like a brain-dead doe."

"Oh, it's just the eyes again. I may have to consider even dictating my personal journal. And it'll lose so much of the flavor if I have to have a clerk do it...Being personal."

"Well, I could keep your journal for you. I'm already doing so much reading for you and you say my drawing's very good."


"Why wouldn't you want me to do your...Personal...journal?"

"Let me get back to you on this, dearest."



"Special assignment for you...I'm dictating a new copy of my journal from the beginning in 1660."

"Sir? The whole spicy thing? I think I'll enjoy..."

"It must be done in two days, in shorthand and then give it to Mrs. Pepys and instruct her in shorthand."


"Call it the abridged version, Hewer. Understand?"

"Ah...Yes, sir." Call it the dull version, you mean.

Roy  •  Link

His failing eye sight was a major factor for the dictation, they did not have the vision aids as we have now.

languagehat  •  Link

"It would be interesting to know if the Diary is going to be less candid than before."

He's certainly not dictating the Diary! He's talking about his work.

Second Reading

Terry Foreman  •  Link

Jesse posts: "I wonder if shorthand was a standard skill for clerks and office types. At the used bookstore I volunteer at we occasionally get donations of Gregg shorthand manuals."

Since the Diary tells up Hewer and Sir W. Coventry also used the shorthand Pepys did, one wonders how many used copies of the several editions of Shelton's Tachygraphy were to be found in London bookstores.…

Terry Foreman  •  Link

"I may be able to do a great deal of business by dictating, if I do not read myself, or write"

I take it Pepys -- ever alert to inefficiencies -- had usually paused in his dictation to proof-read the results and then correct the text by writing it right.

London Lynn  •  Link

Agree, that dictation is for work only. The diary is much too personal. I wondered if anyone knows how he wrote Deb’s name in the diary. Not sure if there has been discussion about this before but also wondered where he kept the diaries and whether Bess could have tried to read/look at them.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

"I wonder if shorthand was a standard skill for clerks and office types."

Coincidentally I was reading a blog about Shakespeare and the Earl of Oxford, and came across these annotation about playwriting in the 1590's:

20 September 2020
"Did you know that Shakespeare’s actors learned their lines from “cue scripts,” where they only had their lines and the lines just before on paper? Can you imagine rehearsing a play without having read it? And just a few days before performance. To learn more about Shakespeare’s theatrical era, click the link here for some quick facts. (Photo: cue script for Orlando, circa 1591 — source: The Shakespeare Ensemble)

"Stephanie Hughes
For [Edward de Vere, Earl of] Oxford that would have been his secretaries at a given time, first Anthony Munday (such a manuscript exists with Munday's hand identified) then John Lyly. There still exists one of these with a few corrections in a hand that looks to me like Oxford's (I have a pile of photocopies of material in Oxford's hand ..., so I'm pretty good at recognizing it). ...
"For the most part, he [Oxford] would have dictated both his plays and his corrections to a secretary. Lords had secretaries who wrote their letters for them. Half of what we have from Oxford were written by such a secretary.

"Gilbert Wesley Purdy
The [theater] company scribe would have written these [cue scripts] out."

Given this and the examples of Pepys and Coventry, it seems ambitious young but poor men finished their University degrees at the four "British" universities: Oxford, Cambridge, St. Andrews or Trinity College, Dublin. With their Latin credentials, then they learned a contemporary skill like shorthand and accounting, so they could clerk for powerful men and, with luck and sponsorship, work their way up the food chain.

Alternatively young men could be like Creed, and become proficient with the sword and be valuable as a body guard/councillor/soldier ... or, like John Pepys, get a degree in Divinity and try preaching and spiritual councilling ... or, with an interest in science, they could study medicine ... or maybe a family member was in import/export and they could apprentice there. All these careers paths required proficient Latin.

Like young people today, just because you qualify for something at 25 doesn't mean you'll be doing that at 40. A skill is a way into one of the clubs.

And a position with the Navy Board would be a prize appointment, held by the most qualified -- as good as being the lazy kid brother of the current Clerk of the Acts (i.e. nepotism generally trumped all, pun intended, but still required University-level Latin).

We are so lucky having English as the official international language (apologies to Stephane who probably believes it's French). Given population size, it should be Chinese, of course.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

This transition from reading and writing to dictation may also reflect a couple of other important transitions forced on Pepys by his eyesight.

One ... it moves him from the Clerk mentality to the Commissioner mentality. He's dressing the part for years, living the part progressively, and now he's forced to act the part in the office.
He had a private office built so he could think while he worked. Now he can't do the accounts and write the first drafts, so the noise barrier will keep things confidential while he talks and delegates to others.

Two ... he's getting older. He can't justify hiding out in the office and learning the job any more. Got to live off his wits, his intellect, and his contacts. Maybe a run for Parliament is a possibility? Maybe he should get more involved with the Royal Society?

Delegation makes this a turning point in Pepys' personal awareness and his possibilities, assuming no one looks too carefully into those Tangier accounts. Acting as if he doesn't have a care in the world seems to be his current defense. Which brings up point 3:

By delegating, Pepys is training Hewer to take over, should that be necessary.

Stephane Chenard  •  Link

What? But of course French is the universal language! It is spoken in the most refined salons from Muscovy to Lisbon, by Mr. Pepys, by king Charles (who, it must be said, also speaks Italian and likely a bunch of other things besides)! It is spoken in Paris and Versailles, which are the world. With luck, you may hear it spoken even by some common people as far as twenty leagues beyond Paris (though of course not well - 'tis another reason to avoid those common people). And king Louis, who is the Sun, labors to make it so all around the world, in la Nouvelle France, and in Luxembourg, and in Pundicherry, and, er, did I mention la Nouvelle France?

But for now, of course Latin is usefull to discourse with the learned. If you can understand anything they say. And, by numbers, likely the Chinish language, yes, though if they're like us they must hardly hear each other from one city to the next. By ports of call, 'tis to fear that Spanish or Dutch might serve better.

Should we point out, however, that you need not read too far into the book of Genesis, to find that "the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language (...) Go, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech", and he cast down ye tower of Babel. Should this make us pause on the matter of universal language? Latin also is the Pope's language, after all, heh heh heh.

Yet, it is just last year (April 1668) that Dr. Wilkins FRS has published his "Essay towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language", a clever scheme to build a Universal Language, on a phonetic basis, and a pioneering work of comparative linguistics, amazingly oecumenical in even including in its comparisons the Pokomchi language of Guatemala and that of Madagascar. Our book-seller Mr Google has it at…. We're not quite sure that "Hαι coba {ou}{ou} ιa ril dad, ha bαbι ιo s{ou}ƴmtα ha" will take rapidly as the opening of the Lord's Prayer, though it has a certain musickal charm (try it out at page 422). But we understand, from a Mr Borges who has spent much time on Dr. Wilkins' language, that his word for "Fire" is... "Deb".

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