Tonight, Plinky asks which historical person I would ask for advice. Well, with my current devotion to writing within the seventeenth century, it would have to be Samuel Pepys.
Seventeenth Century British history is an era I didn’t come to study until the final year of my degree. Of course I had always been fascinated with the civil war epoch what with the Parliamentarian connections to my Grandad’s farm, but I had never been given opportunity to enter into its study until my 20’s. The vast majority of historical focus in ‘lower education’, is either twentieth century dictators or the Tudors. According to our education system, there isn’t anything else in between! Undoubtedly these two topics are incredibly interesting, but there is such a rich depth to be discovered in our lesser known pockets of life.
I simply don’t understand how the seventeenth century isn’t taught to more children or used in more cross-curricular resources; it is absolutely ideal – the bloodiest war on our lands, the most Englishmen killed in one war, the fabulous weapons and armour, the Protectorate where all kinds of fun were banned, no Christmas, the Merry Monarch, invention of games and certain theatre, cities destroyed by fire, the plague, incredible fashions and fads . . . just so much detail, beauty and death. But, if you are anything like me, you find gleaning this information from actual history texts, quite onerous.
Yes I did a History degree, but it doesn’t mean I enjoyed reading the books involved (The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, On The Origin of The Species were just two that nearly killed me by coma). In fact, the vast majority were a little like trying to eat card board, washed down with saw dust. I have no doubt those who write these books know their stuff, but many forget how to make the information actually accessible. Most of the knowledge firmly wedged in my head has come from those rare, enjoyable history books (maybe a lot of Horrible Histories in there!) but mainly from lectures and programmes where the author can engage the reader ‘interactively’.
This is why I need to meet Mr Pepys. I have never read his diaries, but I know that he is the fountain of knowledge on seventeenth century society. It would be amazing to sit before a open fire in two dark red leather chairs, simply listening to the great man rattle away about ‘the old days’. To listen to all the gossip and intrigue as well as his ingenious plans to bury his cheese (For anyone who doesn’t know, during the Great Fire of London, Samuel Pepys buried his cheese so that it would not get destroyed. Parmesan I believe). I would love to quiz him first hand on his observations of society during the 1660’s and his reflections on England’s difficult past. I have this impression upon me that it would be like chatting with Stephen Fry, warm and friendly and eternally interesting.
Of course, I cannot be so sure and I will only have this experience in my wildest dreams, but I can get close. I was recently recommended an apparently excellent biography of the man by Claire Tomalin. The Unequalled Self was the 2002 Whitbread book of the year, and as luck would have it, I managed to pick up from the charity shop for a mere £1. I do plan to read this book and hopefully enjoy it – from the brief skims so far I do not worry about needing medical help to stay awake, but of course, when I get around to it I shall let you know.
It is a while since I read a non-fiction book and I am really looking forward to it. Just need to get this routine sorted to allow me to read for eight hours a day and life will be happy again! Could be a while in coming!
Click HERE for day by day entries from Samuel Pepys’ Diaries.