'A delightful tale sieved from the flotsam of African military history. A riveting narrative with an unforgettably flamboyant leading man' Arena
'The naval battles are recounted with the brio of a novelist' Daily Mail
'A classic tale of amateurism triumphing over more orthodox and disciplined opponents' Observer
Toden writes with wit and wears his scholarship lightly. I have nothing but praise for this account ... It's all true! Give it a read' Literary Review
Sold as a Slave
Series: Great Journeys: allowing readers to travel around the planet and back through the centuries.
Author: Olaudah Equiano
ISBN: 978 0141025445
Publishers: Penguin Classics
Publication Date: 2007
Publisher's Title Information
Sold as a Slave is Equiano's account of his life, one of the great documents of the abolition movement, and a startling, moving story of danger and betrayal.
In an adventurous and extraordinary life, Equiano criss-crossed the Atlantic world, from West Africa to the Caribbean to the USA to Britain, either as a slave or fighting with the Royal Navy. His account of his life is not only one of the great documents of the abolition movement, but also a startling, moving story of danger and betrayal.
Great Journeys allows readers to travel both around the planet and back through the centuries - but also back into ideas and worlds frightening, ruthless and cruel in different ways from our own. Few reading experiences can begin to match that of engaging with writers who saw astounding things: Great civilisations, walls of ice, violent and implacable jungles, deserts and mountains, multitudes of birds and flowers new to science.Reading these books is to see the world afresh, to rediscover a time when many cultures were quite strange to each other, where legends and stories were treated as facts and in which so much was still to be discovered.
Olaudah Equiano (c. 1745-97) led an extraordinarily complex and adventurous life and his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative (1789), is one of the great documents on the nature of slavery. As these extracts show, however, it is also much more than that and is at least as interesting about life in the Royal Navy,and Equiano having served in the Seven Years' War, both in North America and in Europe.
It seems almost certain that the famous opening section, dealing with life in Benin, is a fabrication, albeit a fabrication based on good sources. Equiano was probably born in South Carolina rather than Benin. However, the narrative that follows of slavery, life in the Navy and then the terrible treachery that returned him to slavery are absolutely authentic. Ultimately Equiano settled in England, became a celebrity through the publication of 'The Interesting Narrative', married, had two children and died there.
This book is comprised of extracts from the original book, which was first published in 1789 called 'The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano'.
The Publishers have produced this book for their 'Great Journeys' series and state that they are 'almost certain' that the first part of the book, dealing with Olaudah's early life and kidnap in Benin (Africa) is fictitious, although based on fact. They think that he was born in South Carolina.
In spite of this assertion I found the book fascinating, particularly the section dealing with life in the Royal Navy. His role on board ship was as a Powder Monkey during actions in the Seven Years' War in North America and Europe. After being released from his ship and his well earned freedom, he was treated treacherously and returned again to a life of slavery. He gives many shocking accounts of appalling cruelty, both in the West Indies and North America. This book finishes whilst he is still a slave, albeit with a good Master, but I am informed at the beginning of the book that Olaudah ultimately settles in England, marries, has two children and becomes something of a celebrity through the publication of his book.
This little book has whetted my appetite to now read the full unabridged version.
The Pursuit of Victory - The Life and Achievements of Horatio Nelson
Format: Paperback 2006
Author: Roger Knight
Publication Date: 29th June 2006
Publisher's Title Information
Winner Of The Mountbatten Maritime Prize
The starting point of Roger Knight's magnificent new biography is to explain how Nelson achieved such extraordinary success.Knight places him firmly in the context of the Royal Navy at the time.He analyses Nelson's more obvious qualities, his leadership strengths and his coolness and certainty in battle, and also explores his strategic grasp, the condition of his ships, the skill of his seamen and his relationships with the officers around him - including those who could hardly be called friendly.
This biography takes a cool look at Nelson's status as a hero and demolishes many of the myths that were so carefully established by the early authors, and repeated by their modern successors.Nelson was a shrewd political operator who charmed and impressed political leaders and whose advancement was helped by the relatively weak generation of admirals above him.He was a difficult subordinate, only happy when completely in command, and capable of great ruthlessness. He was flawed, but brilliant - and not to be crossed.
by Roger Knight, author of The Pursuit of Victory
Sailing in Nelson's Wake
I have been fortunate in being able to sail in many of those waters where Nelson went before me. When I was thirteen and fourteen, I learnt to sail in the grey, tidal waters of the river Medway where Nelson - at the same age - had charge of the cutter and the decked longboat belonging to his uncle's ship, the Raisonable, moored at Chatham. He, though, was also learning the essence of leadership, for he had a crew to command; my sailing was done in the family sixteen-foot Wayfarer dinghy. Nevertheless, throughout the writing of The Pursuit of Victory my sailing experience and knowledge of those waters which Nelson knew has influenced the way in which I looked at his life and career.
As I progressed to bigger yachts and longer cruises, I had the advantages of a modern depth sounder and a diesel engine. Nelson put his ship aground several times in his career, for all he had to rely on was an attentive seaman swinging the lead and a sharp-eyed midshipman at the foretop - and his own instinct and experience. Recently I went sailing in the American Virgin islands where he had sailed in the Boreas in 1784, surveying the island of St. Johns and his chart is in the archives. He marked a spot on the chart: 'The rock where the ship Boreas struck'. But in wartime he had to take risks and I can only admire his nerve. For instance, at the beginning of the French Revolutionary War, the young captain took the Agamemnon over the Channel off Cherbourg, and pursued some small French vessels right up to the drying harbour at St. Vaast. 'Had the ship touched the ground she must inevitably have been lost', he reported to his admiral. I know he was not exaggerating.
But it was in the Mediterranean where Nelson made his reputation, where the heat and high coastlines make for treacherous and sudden winds. At first when he was captain of the Agamemnon he was taken by surprise by the strong winds which suddenly blow, and then abruptly change direction, and his ship was damaged several times. I experienced such winds in the 1980s when sailing between Corsica and Sardinia. I also sailed through Agincourt Sound in the Maddelena Islands where Nelson regularly brought his ships to get re-supplied and watered when he was Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet. Nelson kept on learning how to keep the sea. By the time of his most spectacular victory in 1798, the battle of the Nile, he knew the vagaries of the weather, the sudden setting of the sun in these latitudes, the way in which the winds bend with the shape of the land, and the cardinal rule that when you have a good breeze you do not waste it. It was these sea conditions that shaped his decisions to go straight into Aboukir Bay, taking the French by surprise, a defeat from which they never recovered.
A great contrast with the high coastline around the Mediterranean is the low Danish coast near Copenhagen, the scene of one of his battles in 1801. No wonder he had difficulty in finding deep water; beating through the Sound into the Baltic, as I did as crew on a wonderful Swan 44 in the 1990s, I could hardly make out the Trekroner fort in the harbour which guarded the city, the guns of which wrought havoc on some of Nelson's ships. These are very difficult waters.
The sea, with its currents, tides and sudden changes of mood does not change. Today we have many advantages with the modern navigational and weather forecasting. Nelson had to be his own meteorologist and one is left with admiration at his exploits and those of other officers and men of the time. Even today one should never relax. As one old admiral once remarked: 'The sea signs no treaties'.
Some of the Reviews to Date
'Magisterial ... Almost every page contains an intriguing insight into Britain's greatest maritime hero ... the accounts of major actions Cape St Vincent, Santa Cruz, the Nile, Copenhagen and Trafalgar are as exciting as any I've read' Andrew Roberts, Mail on Sunday
By the time of his death on board HMS Victory in 1805, Horatio Nelson had become the most famous Englishman in the world. But who lies beneath the heroic legend? Roger Knight's gripping new biography draws on private letters, ships' logs and new material to explore every aspect of a fascinating, complex life from his triumphs and trials at sea to his relationships at home revealing Nelson the man as never before. 'Superb ... stunning ... a picture of the most vivid humanity' Simon Heffer, Literary Review
'Here is every reason to think that this superb work will become the definitive Nelson biography' Economist 'A magnificent biography' Tom Pocock, Spectator 'Knight returns the Hero of England to us as a man' Flora Fraser, Daily Telegraph 'The only complete and fully scholarly life of Nelson ever to have been published ... an authority which none of his rivals can match' N. A. M. Rodger, The Times Literary Supplement
Roger Knight, formerly the deputy director and chief curator of the National Maritime Museum needs no introduction from me to serious readers of British naval history. His deeply penetrating analyses of the Anglo-French naval war of 1793-1815 have long been considered as benchmarks and the academic journals with which he has been associated over the years bear testimony to his eminence in the field. Against this background, how does his biography of Britain's undisputed naval hero stand up?
Not surprisingly, we find that the work has been received as the authoritative biography of the Trafalgar bicentennial period, if we are to go by the reviews of the time, and this includes the very demanding standards of the academic Mariner's Mirror. The book is the work of a great communicator - easily read and with an effortless flow. Knight employs narrative techniques to keep the reader entertained, crisply short sentences, and a no-nonsense style.
Nelson, according to the writer, owed much of his success as a commander at sea to his streak of insubordination: he knew he was right to the point of risking his own career and life. In other words he was only truly comfortable when in total command of a situation. This analysis illustrates another side of Nelson - his awesome grasp of political and military strategy, and because of the conflict, this was on a global scale, especially the naval war. However, he was apt to error. As an example of this, Knight challenges us to accept an uncomfortable truth about Nelson's conduct in Naples in 1799. Nelson became embroiled in the vicious blood-letting in the city that followed the overthrow of pro-French partisans. The quality of his decision-making was then, as it has always been, questioned. Knight blames Nelson's devotion to the royal family of Naples, which in his mind had become a surrogate George III.
Nelson was charming, politically shrewd, but he was flawed. His personal life was a shambles and his treatment of his wife left many of his friends disappointed. Polite society, including the royal family for whom he had fought, shunned him. Despite this, he was immensely popular. Whenever he was ashore people flocked to him, he was seen as a saviour, as indeed he would be. Knight further explores the memory of Nelson after Trafalgar and into the 20th century, and some of the myths created about him.
The book is on a grand scale. At the end we find chronologies of Nelson's life and contemporary events, his ships are listed with historical and construction details, and this is followed by 60 invaluable pages of biographical sketches of the people in Nelson's life. It is a magisterial work that will stand the test of time.
Joint Force Harrier - The True Story of a Royal Navy Fighter Squadron at War
Author: Adrian Orchard
Publishers: Michael Joseph (Penguin)
Publication Date: August 2008
Publisher's Title Information
'Recoil Four Seven, Roger. Look ahead for the river. To the south of it there's a small area of high ground with scattered vegetation and a track leading across it. That's where we are.
We're taking heavy machine-gun fire from the tree-line on the north bank. And we're pinned down. We can't go forward or back because there's no cover either side of our position.
Until the bad guys are taken out, we're stuck here ...'
Afghanistan, October 2006: British soldiers and Marines were engaged in the most intense, sustained fighting they'd faced since the hell of the Korean War. Against a fierce, experienced and frighteningly motivated enemy, their lives too often depended on the success of danger-close, pin-point attacks pressed home from the air. But what most people back home didn't know was that, during that violent winter, those attacks were being flown by elite pilots of the Royal Navy.
When 800 Naval Air Squadron - call sign 'Recoil' - arrived in theatre, their boss, Commander Ade Orchard, knew there could be no slip-ups. Day and night, the Fleet Air Arm crews were on constant alert, ready' to scramble their heavily armed Harrier jets at a moment's notice in support of the men on the ground. The call wasn't slow in coming. Just fifteen minutes after getting airborne for the first time, Orchard and his wingman were in the thick of it, called in after an Apache helicopter gunship was forced back by heavy fire.
The first book written by a serving British fast jet pilot since the 199I Gulf War, Joint Force Harrier offers an unprecedented, heart-stopping insight into the realities of modern air warfare. The complexity and sophistication of the equipment may have moved on since the epic air battles of WWII, but it's clear that the courage, skill and character of the men engaged in this struggle for a country's survival has not.
Commander Ade Orchard RN is one of the most experienced fighter pilots in the Fleet Air Arm. After joining the Royal Navy in 1986, he qualified as a frontline Sea Harrier pilot in 1990. A qualified Air Warfare Instructor, he completed two tours in the former Yugoslavia while flying from HMS Illustrious before taking up an exchange posting with the US Navy and Marine Corps in 1999. Four years later, he flew extensively during the combat phase of Operation TELIC in Iraq before deploying to Afghanistan as CO of 800 Naval Air Squadron in 2006. He is currently Deputy Force Commander of Joint Force Harrier, based at RAF Cottesmore in Rutland, and was awarded the OBE in the 2008 New Year Honours List. Joint Force Harrier is his first book.
James Barrington is a trained military pilot who was subsequently involved in the world of intelligence. He is the author of four thrillers featuring super-spy Paul Richter, Overkill, Pandemic, Foxbat and Timebomb.
Overall, this is a clear personal account of the life of a Royal Navy Fighter Squadron at war in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
In spite of the daily news bulletins, there may be those who are wondering exactly where Helmand Province is and the author has very sensibly provided two very clear maps, which is a plus. There are 63 excellent colour photographs. There is a good Glossary, which many will need.
Before proceeding any further, let me get a minus out of the way. Even though I served in the Royal Navy and in an Aircraft Carrier, I found the constant use of initials, very frustrating, as I needed to look them up in the Glossary. I would prefer them to be written mostly in longhand to allow me to read with a flow. JTAC, ID, TK, AMRAAM, QRA, TIC etc? I also prefer that one of HM ships be called by its correct name and not 'Lusty', but I know it happens in everyday parlance.
This is the story of 800 Naval Air Squadron, the history of which the Author briefly describes at Chapter 3. Formed in 1933, it has flown some fifteen different aircraft in a wide variety of roles. These include, inter alia, Hawker Nimrod, Blackburn Skua, Sea Gladiator, Sea Hawker, Hurricane, and Supermarine Seafire F47 from HMS Triumph in Malaya 1949 and 1950 during the Korean War.
It is a thoroughly exciting book to read packed with details and I particularly enjoyed Chapter 24, as the reader is taken through the operations of a Harrier GR7 preparing to take off on an operation. Here it describes 'the igniters had been clicking away in the background all the time. The atomized fuel had been sprayed into the engines and ignited, the Pegasus began to accelerate to the self-sustaining speed'. My thoughts were of the difference between this 'Pegasus' engine and the other famous 'Pegasus' fitted in a Stringbag. What a contrast! It can be said of both, 'Cometh the hour, cometh the aircraft'.
This is an important book about a conflict which is still continuing. 800 Squadron are now part of Naval Strike Wing formed 9 March 2007. They comprise 800 and 801 RN Air Squadrons and are still part of Joint Force Harrier operating GR7 and GR9.
The author gives us a possible feel of the future when he tells us that 'Naval Strike Wing, is one of the three squadrons that comprise Joint Force Harrier, flying the GR7 and GR9. For the next six to eight years, until the two new aircraft carriers the CVF class, scheduled to enter service in 2014 and 2016 are commissioned, Joint Force Harrier will represent the entirety of Royal Naval fixed-wing aviation.
But the Fleet Air Arm will soon start to expand again, with the arrival of two new 65,000-ton carriers: HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales. These will be the two biggest ships ever commissioned into the Royal Navy and three times larger than the current CVS -class ships. The Air Group they're expected to carry will include forty F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft. The F-35 Lightning II is a supersonic,single-seat, single-engine, multi-role aircraft that can be configured for Close Air Support, tactical bombing and air-to-air combat. It is an awesomely capable aircraft that will take the Fleet Air Arm and the RAF, which will also operate it, well into the twenty-first century….With this carrier and aircraft combination, the Royal Navy and Fleet Air Arm will once more have the capability of operating anywhere in the world, against any enemy in the air or on the ground, in any combat role and in any theatre. After the traumas associated with the demise of the Sea Harrier, the future of the Fleet Air Arm once again looks bright. I hope it will be said that, in the lean years, we kept the flag flying.'
I hope so too.
The size of the new carriers has me wondering. I was invited the visit USS Saratoga in 1956 and have vivid memories of a very large carrier which made HMS Victorious look very small. I still have the invitation card.
I wonder if I will get the chance to visit our new carriers? Invitations welcome!
Samuel Pepys - The Unequalled Self
Author: Claire Tomalin
Publication Date: 2003
Publisher's Title Information
The late seventeenth century saw a revolution in man's thought, as Newton and others began the scientific study of the universe around them. At the same time a shrewd young civil servant in London began to observe, with something of the same dispassionate curiosity, the strange object around which, for him, the universe revolved - himself. For ten years, from 1660, Samuel Pepys kept one of the most remarkable records ever made of a human life. With astonishing candour and perceptiveness he described his ambitions and speculations, his professional successes and failures, his pettinesses and meannesses, his tenderness towards his wife and the irritation and jealousies she provoked, his extra-marital longings and fumblings, his coolly critical attitude towards the king he servedand his watchful adaptation to the corrupt and treacherous society in which he lived.
Claire Tomalin traces Pepys's youth before the diary began, the poor tailor's son, the schoolboy who rejoiced at the execution of Charles I, the aspiring clerk working for Cromwell's senior officials and his transformation into a royalist who helped escort Charles II back to England and the throne. She illuminates his ability as an administrator and his greatness as a writer, and she follows the extraordinary switchback career of triumphs and disasters that continued for three decades after the diary had ended. Finally she shows how he made sure that the diary would be preserved for posterity, and how it took three centuries for the full text to be printed.
As one of our foremost literary biographers - the author of such acclaimed books as The Invisible Woman, Mrs Jordan's Profession and Jane Austen - Claire Tomalin brings a brilliantly fresh and original eye to a truly remarkable life.
Reviews to date
'Immaculately well done. Tomalin has managed to unearth a wealth of material about the uncharted life of Samuel Pepys'
Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday
'Sex, drink, plague, fire, music, marital conflict, the fall of kings, corruption and courage in public life, wars, navies, public execution, incarceration in the Tower: Samuel Pepys's life is full of irresistible material, and Claire Tomalin seizes it with both hands. Fast, vivid, accessible'
Hermione Lee, Guardian
'A rich, thoughtful and deeply satisfying account. It takes us behind and beyond the diary - which means that, on finishing it, we can reread the diary with greater pleasure and understanding then ever before'
Noel Malcolm, Evening Standard
'In Claire Tomalin, Pepys has found the biographer he deserves. Her perceptive, level-headed book finally restores to the life of the diarist its weight and dignity'
Lisa Jardine, New Statesman
'A great achievement and a huge pleasure. A vivid chronicle of contemporary history seen through the all too human preoccupations of this ordinary and extraordinary man'
Diana Souhami, Independent
'A cast of hundreds, from Nell Gwyn to Titus Oates, from baronets to bawdy-house keepers, from pimps to puritans, and roisterers to royalists, populate Tomalin's teeming canvas. Her book must be among the best written on the subject'
Keith Waterhouse, Daily Mail
'She writes with beautiful clarity and there is about this biography a wisdom, an unforced feeling that the biographer has a sense of the way life is'
Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday
'Gripping, sensitive, insightful … thoroughly researched and extremely readable. Tomalin gives us a full life beyond what is covered by the diary and she especially brings her subject to life. A highly entertaining and informative book which gives us a thorough picture not just of a fascinating man, but of his times'
Simon Heffer, Country Life
'Tomalin's book should sit beside the peerless ten-volume edition of the Diary'
Max Hastings, Sunday Telegraph
'Marvellously entertaining, The early part of her book … is so well done that you sometimes forget Tomalin is having to write it all and that Pepys's narrative has not yet begun'
John Carey, Sunday Times
'Fascinating, exemplary, scrupulous research'
Joanna Griffiths, Observer
'Delightfully readable … the perfect preparation for reading the Diary itself. It brings alive all the other characters in the Diary and explains their relationship to Pepys and to each other'
Ferdinand Mount, Spectator
Claire Tomalin is the author of six highly acclaimed biographies and her books have won her numerous prizes: including the Whitbread First Book Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Biography. In Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self she turns her attention to one of England's most remarkable diarists. For ten years, from 1660, Samuel Pepys kept one of the most significant records ever made of human life. In Samuel Pepys Tomalin traces Pepy's youth and the extraordinary triumphs and disasters that continued for three decades after the diary ended; finally showing how he made sure that the diary would be preserved for posterity. Here, Claire Tomalin talks to penguin.co.uk about Pepys' womanizing ways, the importance of the Diary and how she nearly lost her eyesight combing through all the material available on Pepys' life.
Until now all your biographical subjects have been women, and they've been late 18th century or 19th century figures - what then attracted you to Pepys?
I know I've been called a feminist biographer - and I am a feminist - but in fact I have written about many men: Shelley, Dickens, William IV, Sheridan, D.H. Lawrence, to name a few. It's true that apart from Shelley these were not the title figures in my books. I'm interested in history, in trying to relate the past to the present and to understand how people thought about their problems and pleasures, health, work, marriage, politics, and so on.
What are the principal biographies of Pepys published before yours, and how would you characterize them?
The first great Pepys scholar was John Tanner, born in 1860, who devoted much of his life to studying material about Pepys and editing Pepys' letters as they became available. He wrote a useful short biography, and on his death in 1931 all his papers were handed to Arthur Bryant, who used them as the basis of his famous three-volume biography of Pepys published in the 1930s. Bryant was a master of narrative, but his pace is leisurely and the third volume ends fourteen years before Pepys' death. Richard Ollard's one-volume life of 1974 is another fine book. My feeling was that, since both Bryant and Ollard concentrate on Pepys' public life as a naval administrator, there was room for a book that put more emphasis on his personal life and above all on his achievement as a writer.
The popular image of Pepys is that of a womanizing civil servant whose main achievement was the reforming of the Navy? How fair is that?
Pepys did pursue a lot of women. He is amazingly frank about this in the Diary, and also allows us to see that his success with women was pretty limited. He was a civil servant (before they were so named) and he gave more energy to naval administration than to womanising. He became a dedicated professional, working very long hours and organising a team of assistants to assist him in his work. He spoke effectively in the House of Commons for more shipbuilding. He persuaded Charles II to set up examinations for lieutenants. He effectively set up the Navy List, and he instructed captains to keep journals of their voyages. He did not take on the worst abuse, the system of pressing. In the history of the Royal Navy, Pepys is an important figure. But his greatness lies in the writing of the Diary - a unique and extraordinary achievement.
In many ways he's obviously an attractive character, but the way he changed political sides and the way he appeared to get rich from his public duties are likely to be problematic for us today. Is this just a case of applying contemporary values and expectations?
Changing political sides was as hard to avoid in England in the 17th century as in (say) Czechoslovakia in the 20th. A hard core of heroic figures stuck to their allegiances through thick and thin, but most people trimmed to fit the times. Pepys began as a republican and continued to have severe misgivings about Charles II throughout the period of the diary, but his career depended on serving the King and his brother and heir, James, Duke of York, also Lord High Admiral. James appreciated Pepys' talents and promoted his career - with the result that Pepys gave him personal loyalty. Hence the curious spectacle of Pepys as a Jacobite from 1689, on refusing to take the oath to William III.
How would you describe his attitude to and behaviour with women? Do you think he had a happy and fulfilling marriage?
Pepys' account of marriage is one of the great themes of his Diary because it shows how fluid his feelings were - something I believe to be true of most of us, although not often acknowledged. He was both very happy with Elizabeth and very unhappy - proud of her beauty, her wit and artistic skill, tormented by jealousy, irritated by her careless housekeeping, frightened of her reaction should she discover his pursuit of other women. They shared a taste for reading, for shopping, for ordering new clothes and doing up the house. Their sexual relations were never good: she had a medical condition that affected things badly from the start. Children would have changed things between them, but there were none, a sadness to Pepys and probably to her, although he does not say so. None of her letters have survived, but now and then he lets us hear her voice, naming her favourite dressing gown which she liked to lounge about in 'my Kingdom', and calling him a 'prick-louse' (because he was the son of a tailor) or a 'false, rotten-hearted rogue' when she was angry. He hit her occasionally, but she fought her corner very successfully.
He's most famous for his Diary, of course, but this wasn't published until over one hundred years after his death, and then not fully for another one hundred and fifty years. Could you give a brief publishing history of the Diary.
The Diary was a secret one, written in shorthand, but the shorthand was a well-known one, and Pepys interspersed it with many words in longhand. He made careful arrangements to preserve it after his death. It has been transcribed three times, the first time by a Cambridge scholar set to the task by Magdalene College, to whom Pepys had bequeathed his library. John Smith was paid £200 and took three years on the task, which he did well, but his work was cut and garbled by Lord Braybrooke, who was given it to edit. The second transcription, by Mynors Bright, was made in the 1870s, and this time four-fifths of the text was published, provoking criticism because of indecent passages. The third, and this time complete, transcription by William Matthews and Robert Latham, was published from 1970, after the Obscene Publications Act had been passed, and the publishers had taken legal opinion. So it took from 1660 until 1970 for the first page of the Diary to be printed as Pepys wrote it.
The Diary only covers one decade, and he lived for another thirty years. Why do you think he stopped writing it?
Pepys himself explains that he is giving up the Diary because he fears he is going blind. He said that giving it up was rather like dying. He did not go blind, but he never took up the Diary in the same way again (there are snatches of diary keeping at later periods of his life, but they are thin stuff). My feeling is that the death of Elizabeth and his professional success and rise in social status removed two of the stimuli that had kept the Diary going. And once having set it aside he may simply have quailed at the thought of the energy and commitment needed to take it up again. Writers, including the greatest, do sometimes just decide to stop writing - Shakespeare, for example.
What precisely is the value of the diary? Is it a historical document chiefly, or do you believe it has literary values beyond that?
I regard the Diary as one of the great works in the English language, taking its place alongside the greatest - Chaucer, Dickens, Shakespeare. It's a million and a quarter words long, it opens a window into London society during an extraordinary decade in which the nation changed its politics and everyone had to adjust; it tells us more about the men and women of the time than anyone else has done; and it explores the inner nature of its writer with unparalleled frankness. You can't ask for much more than that. Pepys was not just jotting down what had happened that day - he selected and shaped his material like any artist.
You write in some detail about his life after the Diary. What sort of evidence/documentation did you have to work with?
For Pepys' later life there are stacks of letters, his own and those of contemporaries, in many libraries and in private possession; parliamentary records; State papers; wills; bank accounts - Hoare's bank in Fleet Street has a lot of Pepys material; Royal Society records; Christ's Hospital records; picture material and maps; medical records - and so on. I sometimes thought I was going to lose my eyesight following Pepys - but it was worth it. What a man he was.
A common perception of Samuel Pepys is that of a man from relatively humble beginnings who made good, mixed with the highest in the land and, in the course of it, produced a famous set of diaries. While that may be an accurate summary of the position it is, unfortunately, an incomplete one - for Pepys was a complex character living in exceptional times.
It is not simply that his diaries gave us a picture of life under Cromwell, the Restoration, the Plague and the Great Fire. It is the fact that, squeezed into those aspects of English history, he also paints a picture of himself as a man concerned with his own well-being, often at the expense of those nearest and dearest. The interests of his wife and his servants, for instance, appear to have been subservient to his own desires to succeed in public life, amass a fortune and own a home to be proud of. Pepys was clearly one of the most upwardly mobile men of his time.
This is not intended as a criticism of Pepys, merely an observation of the picture created by his own writings. From a moral viewpoint, he was no better, and no worse, than most men of the time. The great diarists of the past have provided an insight into events behind history, but rarely have they opened up their hearts and exposed their vulnerable underbellies and weaknesses as did Pepys. The man, in his journals, happily related private insecurities, which most would prefer to keep hidden.
Any man who lived through a Royal beheading, life under Cromwell and later through the Plague and the Fire of London, clearly lived in exceptional and turbulent times. As Claire Tomalin puts it, his life was 'played out against the most disturbed years in England's history'. Add to this the fact that he rose from relative obscurity, to occupy an influential position as a naval administrator, found himself under suspicion of treason and even spent a short time in the Tower, one is clearly dealing with a man who has an exciting historical tale to tell. He clearly had an interesting private life and at one stage underwent an eye-watering operation to remove a stone from the bladder. This exceptional man living in exceptional times had a truly exceptional private story to tell. Claire Tomalin gets behind the facts and reminds us how Pepys, in recounting his story, had a knack of always managing to place himself at the centre of most things. He tended to create a drama of events, portraying himself as the 'hero'.
This brilliant biography, so well-researched and so well-presented without a hint of sensationalism, provides a near-complete picture of Samuel Pepys. It takes us behind the 'facts' of recorded history and beyond the diary entries. One cannot fail to be impressed to an extent where one would not only immediately wish to re-read the diaries, but would be able to do so with greater understanding.
At the beginning of the book, no less than twelve pages are taken up with an introduction to the principal characters. Yet the author weaves these with great clarity into the story in the 400 or so pages which follow.
Those who are fascinated by the history of the Cities of London and Westminster will find both the diaries themselves, recording the inner thoughts of a man actual living there through that period of history, and Ms Tomalin's book, revealing a further wealth of previously uncharted material, absolutely fascinating.
This is an excellent source book for those who wish to make an in-depth study of Pepys. Max Hastings, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, took the view that 'Tomalin's book should sit beside the peerless ten volume edition of the Diary'. For the newcomer to the life of Samuel Pepys, the only question that remains is whether the book or the diary should be read first.
Also Published by Penguin is 'Samuel Pepys The Shorter Pepys' Selected and Edited by Robert Latham.