Feb. 23, 2003


by W. H. Auden

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Poem: "Nocturne," by W.H. Auden from As I Walked Out One Evening (Vintage).


Make this night loveable,
Moon, and with eye single
Looking down from up there,
Bless me, One especial
And friends everywhere.

With a cloudless brightness
Surround our absences;
Innocent be our sleeps,
Watched by great still spaces,
White hills, glittering deeps.

Parted by circumstance,
Grant each your indulgence
That we may meet in dreams
For talk, for dalliance,
By warm hearths, by cool streams.

Shine lest tonight any,
In the dark suddenly,
Wake alone in a bed
To hear his own fury
Wishing his love where dead.

It's the birthday of British diarist Samuel Pepys, born in London, England in 1633. He was 21 when Edward Mountagu, a relative, hired Pepys as his secretary in 1654, when Mountagu had become Councilor of State and Treasury Commissioner in the Cromwellian Protectorate. Shortly afterwards, Pepys acquired a clerkship in the Exchequer. This job gave him a little money, and he married Elizabeth St Michel in 1655. In 1658 he moved to a house in Axe Yard, off King Street, near to the palace of Whitehall. It was in this house that Pepys started to write his diary, at the age of 27. Samuel Pepys maintained for 10 years his detailed daily diary, covering 1659 to 1669, stopping only because he feared losing his eyesight. He never considered that his diary would be read by others. He paid little attention to grammar in his diary, and often his words were piled on top of each other. The original diary consisted of 6 volumes written in Shelton shorthand, which he had learned as an undergraduate on scholarship at Magdalene College, Cambridge. He wrote in English and three other languages, Latin, Greek, and French. He provided us with simple, unself-conscience accounts of the Restoration Period, the Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of the following year. On June 7th he wrote, "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 that kind that to my remembrance I ever saw..." And four months later, on October 16, he wrote, "But Lord, how empty the streets are, and melancholy, so many poor sick people in the streets, full of sores, and so many sad stories overheard as I walk, everybody talking of this dead, and that man sick, and so many in this place, and so many in that. And they tell me that in Westminster there is never a physician, and but one apothecary left, all being dead -- but that there are great hopes of a decrease this week: God send it." He recorded what he saw of the Great Fire of London, "a most malicious bloody flame, as one entire arch of fire... of above a mile long. It made me weep to see it. The churches, houses, and all on fire and flaming at once, and a horrid noise the flames made, and the cracking of houses at their ruin ...Over the Thames with one's face in the wind you were almost burned with a shower of firedrops." His diary, donated to Magdalene College, was "discovered" in 1818. A small selection was published in 1825, and very popular simplified editions of the complete "translated" diary were published in 1848 and 1875. The complete diary (some 10 volumes, in English) was published for the first time by the University of California Press in 1970. Samuel Pepys wrote, "God forgive me, I do still see that my nature is not to be quite conquered, but will esteem pleasure above all things…music and women I cannot but give way to, whatever my business is."

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