From time to time I do a posting on books I am reading, I did my last one some months ago. In the meantime I have been reading several books, the one I just finished today was the Diary of Samuel Pepys for the year 1660. There are lots of editions of Pepys diaries which stretch from 1660-1669. The one I chose to read was edited by Robert Latham and William Matthews and published by Harper Collins 1995 edition. Though their work was first published in 1979, Matthews died in 1983.
This is a complete diary of Samuel Pepys and not a selection, the diaries chronicle daily his life in London and starts in 1660 the year King Charles II returned to the throne of England and the Puritans were chased from power. This is very much a history of the Restoration in England and life in London at the time. London was then a small town, nothing like today and still very much a medieval town, the great fire of 1666 will give us the London we know today. All I can say is beware of Presbyterians and Calvinists.
I was prompted to read this first book of the diaries by a friend who visited this past Summer, Dr.Spo from Arizona. He bought a second hand copy here in Charlottetown on Queen Street so I was curious as to what it could be about. In September we went to Ireland and then to London and Will and I visited The Globe Theatre, I was fascinated by the life in London at the time of William Shakespeare and read books on what it was like then in 1584, am not sure I would want to visit the London of that period and it has nothing to do with the movie Shakespeare in Love which was pure fabrication and fantasy.
When Pepys writes in 1660 it is still more or less the same town from an architectural urban point of view, though much has happened politically since the death of Shakespeare in 1616, Charles I is arrested and executed by the Puritans under Oliver Cromwell in 1649, Pepys saw the public execution outside the banqueting hall of Whitehall Palace.
Samuel Pepys (pronounced Peeps) 1633-1703, Diary was first published in abbreviated form in 1825. A succession of new versions brought out in the Victorian era made the Diary one of the best-known books and Pepys one of the best-known figures of English history. However, not until the publication of the Latham and Matthews edition was the Diary presented in its complete form, with a newly transcribed text and the benefit of a systematic commentary.
The primary aim of the editors Latham and Matthews was to see that the Diary was presented in a manner suitable to the historical and literary importance of its contents. At the same time they had in mind the interests of the wide public. Each of the first eight volumes contains one whole calendar year of the diary, from January to December. The ninth volume runs from January 1668 to May 1669. Pepys was highly esteemed for his achievements as a public servant in the Admiralty, while in his private life he was known in intellectual circles as an accomplished musician and scholar.
So on we go with year 1661 and 1662, it is fascinating to read how people then lived and how so different it is from our lives today. Though I discovered that on the matter of Government functions, budget, taxes and management it is the same as today, some things never change.
Another book I read in 3 hours was written in 44BC by Marcus Tullius Cicero, the father of all lawyers and famous Roman Orator at the end of the Roman Republic under Julius Cesar. This little book was written when he was 62 years old and the year before his assassination by men sent by Marc-Anthony to silence him.
The book is entitled, How to grow old or Ancient wisdom for the second half of life. It is written in Latin and in English so you can read it in either language. Published by Princeton Press. The book is described this way; Worried that old age will inevitably mean losing your libido, your health, and possibly your marbles too? Well, Cicero has some good news for you. In How to Grow Old, the great Roman orator and statesman eloquently describes how you can make the second half of life the best part of all–and why you might discover that reading and gardening are actually far more pleasurable than sex ever was.
It was a fun and easy read, with a point of view I agreed with. Montaigne said Cicero’s book “gives one an appetite for growing old.”
Speaking of Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533-1593) one of the most significant philosophers of the French Renaissance, I am about to start reading his biography by Sarah Bakewell entitled How to live.
Montaigne lived through France’s religious wars when Protestants and Catholics tore the country apart. Montaigne was a Catholic with many Protestant friends and he did what he could to promote moderation. Being an aristocrat he knew and counselled leaders on both sides without seeking political power for himself. He was happiest on his rural estate writing introspective essays in his famous tower.
Because of his essays, one of the glories of French literature, Montaigne spent a large part of his life writing about himself. Bakewell imitates Montaigne’s own methods by trying to illuminate the man through 20 essays that address how Montaigne chose to live. Given the troubled times we are now entering and the great uncertainty, it may be a good thing to read about someone who lived in a troubled period of history.
Michel Eyquem de Montaigne early education was entirely in Latin leaving him with little way to communicate with his family except through the shaky Latin of his father and conversational Latin of his servants. He lived in a tower overlooking his estate, was a magistrate and sometime mayor of Bordeaux. It is hard to see how lessons on life from this 16th century French philosopher can be relevant to a modern audience and yet throughout the centuries many people have read the Essays and seem themselves in their pages for the simple reason that he is so brutally honest and open about his life that one begins to look on Montaigne as a friend.
Montaigne was a man of the Renaissance. His philosophy melded the Hellenic schools of Scepticism, Epicurianism and Stoicism holding key the two key principles that unite them all, eudaimonia, the pursuit of a good life and that of ataraxia, having a tranquillity of the mind. This means not being overcome by extreme emotions, and preparing oneself mentally for all the pitfalls life can offer, meeting them with a level head. This is why I want to read about him, our lives today and our world is so full of extremism either on an emotional level or in every day life, something to be learned here.