18 Annotations

First Reading

Jenny Doughty  •  Link

Neal Stephenson's novel 'Quicksilver,' the first of his 'Baroque' trilogy (I believe the second has been published but not the third so far) is likely to appeal greatly to readers of Pepys' Diary. It is set in the 16th and 17th centuries, and tells the stories of Daniel Waterhouse and Enoch Root, the ancestors of his central characters in a previous book. He follows them from their childhoods in London to education at Cambridge amidst the political and religious fervour and tensions of the Reformation, through the English Civil War, and travels as far as afield as Poland and the American colonies. The cast of characters includes Newton, Leibniz, Christopher Wren, Charles II, Cromwell and the young Benjamin Franklin.

Stephenson has clearly done his research, and I found the way he gives such a good insight into the scientific thinking of the time to be particularly fascinating, but it's enjoyable just as a novel. I look forward to the next two.

Jenny Doughty  •  Link

Whoops! Thanks to Terry Foreman for nudging me on this one, but when I wrote 'Reformation' in the above entry, I obviously meant 'Restoration'!

Terry sent me a lovely response of his own to the book, and I hope he won't mind if I put it here, as it is so immediate and nicely written that it deserves to be shared:

I received "Quicksilver" on Apr 9 and scarfed it up at once (excuse the CA slang) BUT NOT BECAUSE I KNEW SAM'L PEPYS WAS IN IT -- having been frustrated by many months' duties away from home and my appetite for it whetted by Edward Rothstein's September 20, 2003 NYTimes.com review, "Pursuing the 17th-Century Origins of the Hacker's Grail" -- what a cool title!

"Mr. Stephenson's characters romp through the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

"That is, after all, when modern science began to develop out of alchemy. Gottfried Leibniz worked on a calculating machine; Robert Hooke used a microscope to discover once-hidden forms; Christiaan Huygens built watches and telescopes; Isaac Newton plumbed gravity's laws. And England's Royal Society often sought knowledge using the tools of alchemy, seeking to refine, as one of Mr. Stephenson's characters puts it, the "base, dark, cold, essentially fecal matter of which the world was made" to produce quicksilver - mercury - "the pure living essence of God's power and presence in the world." -- the R.S. of which Sam was elected Fellow in 1665 and was President 1684-86.

A former teacher of philosophy (and "natural philosophy") in that era, I was attracted to the book as Rothstein presented it -- he only mention Pepys on a list of contemporaries, but Pepys infrequent role is, ah, catalytic, IMHO.

What I found was mind-bending and grand for Pepysians: earliest date of a chapter is 1655 -- the year Sam married Elizabeth (and Hobbes publ. Leviathan); --

Pepys' first scene is placed in 1670, at the center of intrigue in the Royal Society -- betimes devoted to finding the Philosopher's Stone -- now wondering whether phosphorus is distilled from urine; Pepys taking the measure of nations, substances, navies and their payrolls and equipment, speaking cryptically (in code), transmuting personal into diplomatic relations, disclosing John Comstock as a spy on Charles II's French connection; referencing steganography (encrypting); his chums careening about London by carriage, water and afoot, touching base with a great cast of characters -- "Riding in a carriage through London was only a little better than being systematically beaten by men with cudgels" (195).

In 1673 the R.S. in a consult about kidney-stones, and John Comstock demanding Pepys "show us his ['colossal'] stone " (285).

At Whitehall Palace, February 1685 after the arrival of James, Duke of York ["(Daniel Waterhouse) had slowed almost to a stop. Steps rushed toward him from behind and he cringed, expecting a hand on his shoulder, but two courtiers, then two more -- including Pepys -- divided around him as if he were a stone in a stream,..." (633)] and Charles II is dying and dies, "The King is deadd" "Long live..." Pepys prompted... (636).

Chapter last -- Bishopsgate October 1689 -- Pepys age 56 visits turncoat Daniel, who is abed in pain dying with stones, while Pepys is taking possession of his books -- "holding the auld Stone right up to his face./ / "BEHOLD! My Death -- premature senseless, avoidable Death -- mine, and yours, Daniel. But I hold mine in my hand. Yours is lodged thereabouts." (910).

Yea, a romp and a tour de force (even including the much of the rest of the novel)!

The book can be found on:



(BTW, the second in the trilogy, "The Confusion", is paired with Quicksilver at these sites.)

dirk  •  Link

Some childhood nostalgia?

When London Burned, by G. A. Henty

I vaguely remember reading this close to 40 years ago (and Beric the Briton by the same author). Not exactly great literature, but funny in a way to find it again. Our Sam is decribed here as "a diligent and hard-working man, but he cannot see to everything".
Link (Gutenberg):

Jim  •  Link

Sam appears as a character in Philip Kerr's novel Dark Matter: The Private Life of Sir Isaac Newton.

In real life Newton did serve as Warden of the Royal Mint (at the Tower of London). This mystery novel is set during that time. It is told in the voice of a young gentleman who is assigned to assist Newton; he serves as a Dr. Watson, recording a Holmesian Newton's actions in solving a series of murders and various convoluted criminal and treasonous plots. It's an interesting (if uneven) bit of entertainment, but the interesting hook for readers at this site is that Sam Pepys appears as a character in the novel. (The narrator and Newton are, of course, the central characters, but our Sam is definitely a player in the book.)


Jim  •  Link

Science fiction writer Harry Turtledove, who seems to specialize in writing alternate history novels (including a recent series of novels set in a world where the South won the American Civil War and the Confederacy and the Union fought additional wars -- including one about the same time as our World War One, where the U.S. and Germany fought the Confederacy and their Canadian and English allies) once wrote a short story as a series of entries in Sam's diary.

A number of years ago, Turtledove conceived an alternate history where the explorers reaching the New World discovered semi-human species, not homo sapiens but somewhat Neaderthal-like, with low intelligence, somewhere between ape and man. He wrote several short stories set in this alternate history, covering the time period from first discovery through to modern times. These stories (which had appeared in magazines over a period of several years) have been collected in a book -- A Different Flesh -- which was published in both hardcover and paperback about a decade ago but which, I believe, is no longer in print.

To me, the best of these was "And So To Bed" -- written as if by Samuel Pepys. Here is a snippet of a review by Steven Silver.

'Perhaps the strongest short story in the collection is the pastiche "And So To Bed," written as a series of entries in Samuel Pepys's Diary. Living in England, Pepys has acquired sim servants and must deal with the difficulties in training the creatures properly when their IQs are the equivalent of retarded huamns. As he watches the sims work around his house, Pepys begins to ponder their origins, foreshadowing our own world's Charles Darwin. Turtledove manages to capture the flavor of Pepys's writing quite well. Interestingly, only one of the diary's entries in the story has a corresponding entry in the real diary.'

Oops, forgot the link to the Turtledove book on amazon...

GRC  •  Link

"Forever Amber", by Kathleen Windsor was my introduction to the Restoration and I think it gives a very good feel for the social structure, language, mores' & etc. of the period. Not exactly great literature (more of a trashy novel), but a good read in any case.


Jenny Doughty  •  Link

I've just finished reading an excellent novel set in a slightly earlier period - the first forty years of so of the seventeenth century. It's 'Earthly Joys', by Philippa Gregory, and is the story of John Tradescant, who was gardener first to Robert Cecil and then to George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, favourite first of James I and then of Charles I. It's very well-written, the period detail is good, and I found it very absorbing. There's a sequel, which I would like to read. Although it's before Sam's time, it gives a good insight into the conditions that led to the Civil War.


debra  •  Link

Restoration by Rose Tremain:
I first read this around 1990 and have just re-read it, mainly to see whether it was worth recommending here. I found it an enjoyable read, with lots of period detail - although I spotted one or two anachronisms. In the early 1660s the central character, Robert Merivel, a former medical student, enjoys a life of luxury and hedonism as a favourite of Charles II. After falling from grace he goes to live with an old college friend, a Quaker who cares for the inmates at a 'New Bedlam' in the Fens, but eventually achieves his own restoration. Although Pepys is not mentioned by name, a 'fellow from the Navy Office', who sounds rather like him, makes a couple of brief appearances. There was a film version a few years ago (with Robert Downey Jr as Robert Merivel), which I haven't seen so don't know how it compares with the book.
UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obid…
US: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos…

Lynn  •  Link


On the basis of this review, that I read on Baroque Living History Society L'

Mary  •  Link

"Journal of the Plague Year"

by Daniel Defoe, published 1722. Not historical fiction in quite the same sense as the above, but certainly not a contemporary account of the happenings of 1665-6. Still a good read.

Pauline  •  Link

from languagehat on Feb. 22, 2005 regarding the Queen of Bohemia:
The Winter Queen

There is a historical novel by Jane Stevenson, The Winter Queen, about a (non-historical) romance between Elizabeth and

Jeannine  •  Link

"The Loves of Charles II" by Cornelia Otis Skinner is an audio recording of the one woman play that Skinner wrote and presented around 1930. Skinner, an accomplished actress, biographer, essayist, dramatist and theatrical performer has created a remarkably clever recording where she takes on the persona of Henrietta Marie (Charles' mother), a Dutch Trollop (a non-named prostitute frequented by Charles during his exile), Lady Castelmaine, Louise de Queroalle, Nell Gwyn and Catherine of Braganza. Skinner has grasped the intricaies of each woman's personality with a sharp precision which is meshed into the history of the times and the conflicts/jealousies that these women faced as part of Charles' "harem". The scenes start with Henrietta Marie in France during Charles' exile, mourning the loss of her husband. The trollop, probably the least interesting personality tries to get Charles to provide her with either priviledge or money for the services she's provided. Lady Castelmaine reeks of low class, sharply caustic and overpowering greed, nasty jealousies and need for revenge as she faces the realities of her declining status in Charles' affections. Louise uses her sly and arrogant French manners to move Charles to sign the Treaty of Dover (not historically accurate)and to establish herself as his mistress in exchange for his pledge of loyalties to France. Nell brings her humor and bubbly street manners forth, but is not without a need to "get" something from Charles, either, in this case a title for her bastard son by Charles. Finally, the sad humble farewell between Catherine and Charles while he is on his deathbed is a depressing end to a life wasted. Catherine is lowered to the position of begging Charles' brother James for a moment alone with him. She thanks Charles for his kindness to her even though she knows that she has never been anything of value to him in his life. She humbly begs forgiveness for all that she is not. Catherine touches on the private melancholy that both she and Charles carry in their hearts, acknowledges the string of mistresses which had no other meaning than to be a moment's diversion to his pain and the public face he projected of the "merry monarch" behind which he hid.
Unfortunately this isn't an easy to find audio tape, but may be available in your local library or through the library loaner program. It is part of a 6 part audio tape set presented by "Spoken Arts" and entitled "Great Women Writers Read their Works" ISBN number 0-8045-0044-4.

Jeannine  •  Link

In Good King Charles Golden Days: A True History That Never Happened is a play by George Bernard Shaw.

Shaw takes a fun and interesting point of view to create a gathering that never took place among 3 different gentlemen: Charles II, George Fox (founder of morally mighty society of friends) and Sir Issac Newton. To add a contrast to the tension created by the gentlemen he also throws in Lady Castlmaine, Louise de Keuroille (Mrs. Carwell, as the English refered to her) and Nell Gywnn. Act I is reserved for the fun of their interchanges. In Act II Charles shifts to a private conversation with his wife, Catherine of Braganza, and contempaltes his situation as an aging King.They bounce back and forth on past history and the acceptance and appreciation of each other that has come with age. A free read and a total look at a history that NEVER did happen.


dirk  •  Link

New part of Sam's diary discovered :-)

It may not remain available for long, but if you like to read something funny - involving our Sam - have a look at:

"Diary discovery uncovers 17th century Chunnel"

(This may not be the right place for such "news", but I can't think of any other place to fit this in.)

Terry Foreman  •  Link

*An Instance of the Fingerpost* by Iain Pears
Berkley (March 1, 1999)

"England of the 1660s was full of political and intellectual turmoil, speculation, and experimentation?not to mention a cast of colorful and controversial characters. It is firmly within this maelstrom that Pears (The Last Judgment, LJ 2/1/96) has set this massive historical whodunit. A fellow of New College, Oxford, is found dead of arsenic poisoning (from a fancy carafe of brandy), and a young woman of the evening is accused, sentenced, and hanged for his murder. Case seemingly closed. But no, four very different versions of what really happened to the late Professor Grange related by four eyewitnesses to the crime weave a convoluted fabric of religious, scientific, and political intrigue. Basing his novel loosely upon an actual case from the period, Pears pits the key minds of the day -- Boyle, Locke, Wren, and others -- against one another as each takes a shot at gaining from the event. Strange bedfellows indeed. Followers of Brother Cadfael and the works of Anne Perry and Umberto Eco will revel in this smartly paced, rather tongue-in-cheek tour de force.
- Susan Gene Clifford, Aerospace Corp., El Segundo, Cal." http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos…

Second Reading

John Wheater  •  Link

Our Author gets 110 mentions in Stephenson's 'Quicksilver' (18,000 Kindle locations), compare Hooke: 316, Wilkins: 223, Newton: 180, Locke:25,

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