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Some Seventeenth Century Diaries and Memoirs1

NE question which every student of the seventeenth century

of Diaries,

Memoirs as materials for the history of that period. For there is no century which is richer in personal memorials of this kind. Those who first wrote its history depended too much on these materials. Clarendon and Burnet were, for a time, too implicitly trusted and their views too readily adopted. A reaction followed. When their accounts of public affairs were tested by other evidence their prejudices, their errors, and the limitations of their knowledge became apparent, and they lost their credit. Memoir writers and autobiographers in general were discredited with them, and the reaction went too far. At present the tendency is to study history too exclusively in State papers, and to disregard unduly the evidence which contemporaries have left us in their written recollections.

My aim is to redress the balance, and to show that sources of this kind supply the historian with evidence which is essential for the understanding of the time, and cannot be obtained from any other sources. Having examined elsewhere the historical value of the greater memoirs, I shall confine myself here to the lesser,

This paper was originally written as part of a course of lectures on the authorities for seventeenth century history.

2 Articles on Clarendon's History of the Rebellion,' English Historical Review, xix. 26, 246, 464; Memoirs of Sir Richard Bulstrode,' ib. x. 266; Introduction to Clarke and Foxcroft's Life of Burnet, 1907; Introductions to the Life of Colonel Hutchinson, 1885, the Lives of the Duke and Duchess of Newcastle, 1886, and the Memoirs of Edmund Ludlow, 1894.

S.H.R. VOL. X.


and try briefly to classify them, to characterise them, and to illustrate their value.

I take Diaries, Autobiographies and Memoirs together, because these three varieties of composition are so closely connected that it is difficult to separate them. One naturally and imperceptibly develops into the other. The Diary is the simplest form of which the other two forms seem to be later developments. In the Diary a man sets down for his own eye a record of his daily doings. The Autobiography is a more formal composition, in which a man sets down the events of his life for the information of others generally for the small circle of his own family. It develops into a Memoir when the man himself ceases to be the centre of the story, and, instead of relating his own fortunes, undertakes to relate what he knew and what he saw of the events of his time for the information of the world in general. Editors and authors alike give these titles indifferently to their productions, yet there is a real distinction between the three things, though the boundaries are not always clearly defined or always observed.

Take first the Diaries. A certain number of them are almost entirely impersonal. The authors are merely compilers and collectors of information about public affairs. Of this nature is Narcissus Luttrell's Diary, which covers the period from 1678 to 1714. Luttrell never mentions himself; he simply jots down information about public affairs gleaned from newspapers, newsletters, and perhaps the gossip of the coffee-houses, and arranges these items in chronological order. Macaulay found it useful, but it is utterly unreadable, however valuable it may be to the historian of the period.

Nehemiah Wallington's Diary, as it is sometimes called, or 'Historical Notices of the Reign of Charles I.,' as the editor terms it, is somewhat similar, but differently arranged. He collected from newspapers and pamphlets accounts of a certain number of events which happened between 1630 and 1646, arranging his extracts for the most part not chronologically but in subjects. Here again the personal element is almost entirely absent, except in a few reflections.2

Whitelocke's Memorials shows how a Diary of this primitive kind might develop into an autobiography or a memoir. The

1 Six volumes, Oxford, 1857.

2 Edited by R. Webb, 1869. Wallington also left an autobiographical record which has never been published, though a few extracts are given in Mr. Webb's preface.

great bulk of it consists of extracts from newspapers and similar sources, sometimes quoted at length, sometimes abridged and summarised. A thin thread of autobiography and personal reminiscences binds the whole collection together, and gives it whatever unity it possesses. The fact is, Whitelocke had written. an autobiography which he called Annals of his life, full of personal details but containing comparatively little about public affairs. It has never been published, but fragments of it are inserted here and there in the Memorials. It seems to me that he intended to work up this earlier autobiography into Memoirs, and collected all these miscellaneous notes on public affairs in order to expand his reminiscences into a History of my own. Time,' which was left unfinished.

Sir John Bramston's Autobiography is an example of the reverse process. In the seventy-second year of his age—that is, about the year 1683-feeling himself on the brink of the grave, and calling to remembrance the years past, and how he had spent his time,' he took up his pen to recount his recollections. "That posterity therefore (I mean my own descendants) may know something of my father and myself, besides our names in the pedigree or line of descent, I have set down some things, though few, done by myself, not unworthy, many things by my father worthy both of their knowledge and imitation.'

Bramston lived many years after this, dying in 1700 in the eighty-ninth year of his age. His Autobiography becomes therefore, in the latter part of it, a Diary, illustrating once more the close connection between the two forms of composition and the impossibility of separating them. It was published by the Camden Society in 1845.

Like Bramston, Sir John Reresby begins the volume styled his Memoirs with an account of his family and a sketch of his early life. He was born in 1634, but from 1660, or thereabouts, to his death in 1689, the book takes the form of a diary rather than a collection of reminiscences. As it continues the entries become more and more frequent; instead of a note made once a month, or once a fortnight, he gives us the last few months of his life a regular journal of events day by day.

Evelyn's famous Diary to some extent resembles Reresby's. He begins like an autobiographer of the ordinary kind with an account of his birth and his family, and a few reminiscences of his youth. In 1631, when he was eleven years old, he tells us 'In 1 See, for instance, vol. i. pp. 30, 189, ed. 1853.

imitation of what I had seen my father do, I began to observe matters more punctually, which I did use to set down in a blank almanac.' It is evident that from 1641 to 1647, whilst he was travelling abroad, Evelyn kept a full journal of all that he did and saw. The published Diary which we know is apparently a compilation from these entries in almanacs and other memoranda. The MS. from which the journal,' as the original editor terms it, was printed by William Bray, consists of a small 4to volume of 700 pages, beginning in 1641 and ending in 1697, and of a smaller book, carrying the narrative down to Feb., 1706, when Evelyn died. It appears to be a selection from his memoranda, made by himself at some later date, rather than an exact reproduction of what he wrote from day to day. But the original is in private hands, and without consulting the MS. it is impossible to be certain how it was put together. It is not such good evidence for dates and other details as the Diary of Pepys.

In another way there is a great difference between these two diarists. Pepys puts down everything; Evelyn selects. Evelyn's Diary deals chiefly with the outer life: that of Pepys records the feelings and ideas of the writer about everything, whether important or trivial. Evelyn's compilation was intended for a limited publicity as a memorial for his descendants to read. The Diary of Pepys consists of confessions, intended for his own eye, concealed by means of a cipher from those of others.1

It is this very peculiarity which makes the account of the first ten years of Charles II., contained in the Diary of Pepys, of such incomparable value. It is so careless, spontaneous, and free a record of impressions and incidents that no other diary can approach it in vividness and interest. There is no side of the political, social, and intellectual life of the period upon which it does not supply information of the utmost value. Pepys was interested in everything and records everything. The laborious and capable official who, by industry, ability, and honesty, rose from the lowest post in the Admiralty to be for twenty years its chief administrator had all the tastes of an idler. Mighty merry we were till about 11 or 12 at night,' says an entry in his Diary, ' and I did as I love to do, enjoy myself in my pleasure, as being the height of what we take pains for, and can hope for in this world, and therefore to be enjoyed while we are young and capable of these joys' (March 28, 1668). If he had not possessed this temper and held this philosophy, if he had been more wrapped 1 The best edition is that by H. B. Wheatley, 10 vols., 1893-1899.

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