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Samuel Pepys is probably the most famous diarist in history and his words are treasured throughout the English speaking world. A politician from the 1600's, he captured the spirit and soul of Britain in those days of an era  we no longer recognise.

As I sit here today, pondering my continuing annoying partially crippled state and inability to wander happily down to my car or take a stroll somewhere further than the rubbish bin, I read Mr Pepys most excellent diary entries for Christmas Day and Boxing Day 1663. 

I kept thinking about how our era would be recognised. It would certainly not be something I would welcome in perpetuity. 

 
Not Shaydee but sometimes it feels that way?
 
It is something millions of people around the English-speaking world did on Christmas day no doubt: feel a need to read diary extracts from a long gone diarist.
 
Yes, that is what many did on Christmas Day as they read the words of the Gospel. Men who lived many years ago recording history as they saw it and lived it. 
Thank goodness for diarists.
 
I love words. 
To be able to read them and paint pictures in my mind with them; to ponder their deeper or more intimate meanings; their ability to hurt or to praise. They can be used as weapons or as soothing balm. They can cut, heal, poison or provide antidotes to toxin. They can harm, protect, shield or lay open to attack. 
 
In the right hands ( or mouth or pen ) they can change the world. 
 
 
Yet Samuel Pepys didn't use his words to persuade or to influence. Or change the world.
He used them to record observations. They were written for his eyes only. Perhaps that is why they have survived? Their honesty? 
 
When words are written for an audience -  to be shared- does that diminish or value add to their power? So I write this piece very carefully, hoping that I write it as much for you as for me. 
 
Perhaps if we had more of this disclaimer going on in the media and politics right now, things might be completely different.  Can you imagine our so-called leaders opening up with a disclaimer of sorts that announced
 
" I am saying this to grease up to and ingratiate myself with the press, the lefties and the idiots? I personally don't believe a word I am about to say, but it might get me elected or win a few brownie points on the gravy train. So here goes... "
 
How refreshing would that be? 
 
 
Yet, I wonder, have we changed our language so much that the words of Samuel Pepys and Shakespeare have become foreign languages? Have we become so regionally focused that " correct " English is now a foreign language? 
 
English is a hard language to learn. It comes from so many others and in itself has become something of an evolving hybrid rather than something that grew from itself. 
 
We tend to think that English, as our first language is easy to learn. After all, we knew nothing other than English from the day we were born.
Yet we have taken English and modified it and turned it into our own. Aussie speak, Kiwi speak,  American speak, and regional accents, words and something that, while called English, is barely recognisable as the English that Samuel Pepys wrote.
 
 
 
I wondered what Samuel Pepys would make of my situation in 2021 or the year in general. I have a sore knee. I cannot walk without pain
Simple statements of fact. Yet Mr Pepys may have written thus:
 
" Miss Lane still suffers from her affliction of the knee. That lady is a friend of some renown and she did summon me for comfort as she was bereft in pain and did seek my solace. I stayed an hour with her and did offer my most salacious best wishes for her recovery.

In the evening our discourse turned to great content and love, and I hope that after a little forgetting our late differences, and being a while absent one from another, we shall come to agree as well as ever.

However, she, refusing such lamentation did bid me go, So I returned between 10 and 11 at night in the dark with a wagon with one horse, where being come I went to bed as well as I could be accommodated, and so to sleep. It was with much as I could do for as Miss Lane is by far too far gone in pain for me to offer more than platitudes in her discomfort."

apologies to Mr Pepys. 

Translation:

" Moody grumpy old bitch still has a crook knee and talking about how crappy everything is these days. She told me to bugger off and I couldn't stand the moaning any longer anyway so told her I had to go home and pluck my nose hair. "

Were Samuel Pepys words less accurate? Were mine more eloquent?  Did mine hit the mark more quickly and with more power? I suspect that Mr Pepys delivered a message with a good deal more wit and intelligence, and his intent is still clear, and more attractive on the ear. 

What will our words look like in 500 years time? Or will Shakespeare and Pepys reign and all our shallow words have disappeared into a sea of " not worth remembering. "

How many words will be remembered? The tweet from some long gone social media star or a television host who said something dramatic in 2021?

We will fight  "If necessary, for years If necessary, alone"

How many articles written here or elsewhere will survive the storms of history? How many will survive the tempests of politics and words gone wrong?

The sages who wrote with poetic English will survive. Our current dumbed down and " in the moment " stars of social media and media in general will be long gone.

It will be the voices of the Generals, the Leaders and the visionaries; the people who factually recorded history and those who taught us that words matter. They are the people who will be remembered and will survive to be the voices of history.

 

People who use words sparingly and delivered messages of fact, hope, optimism or reality. Weasel words for polls, votes and personal gratification do not factor.

Our English language was used to tell us how it is, how it was and how it will be.

It will be the words of Churchill. Thatcher. Patton. Reagan.

 

They may not survive a thousand years but they will survive long after this blog has fallen into the dust of the oblivion. Perhaps even Samuel Pepys will fall into the abyss of " no longer relevant "  

But we need to keep these words alive as long as we can.

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Words written that capture history. Words that record the ultimate" I remember when... " 

Samuel Pepys wrote eloquently and we often think that we can dumb words down and turn them into trite modern day speak. But despite the changes in our language, the intent of the words is still clear. But are they as potent? 

In 1665, describing the Great Plague:

 ‘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’.

Any house where plague was identified was shut up for 40 days with the family inside, marked with a cross and  guarded by watchmen.

He wrote :

‘nobody but poor wretches in the streets’, ‘no boats upon the River’, ‘fires burning in the street’ to cleanse the air and ‘little noise heard day or night but tolling of bells’ that accompanied the burial of plague victims. As the bodies piled up, Pepys wrote to a friend, ‘the nights (though much lengthened) are grown too short to conceal the burials of those that died the day before’. He also writes in his diary  about the desensitization of people, including himself, to the corpses of plague fatalities, ‘I am come almost to think nothing of it.’

“The streets were mighty thin of people,” he wrote on July 22, adding that the Royal Exchange was also eerily empty; the nation’s commerce had slowed nearly to a halt in the face of the plague. 

Elsewhere in London, a family faced steep fines for rescuing a healthy child from a plague-stricken house; by law, she was supposed to have been left locked inside with her dying parents.

“This disease is making us more cruel to one another than if we are doggs,” wrote Pepys. 

Against this backdrop of pestilence, fear and apprehension, however, much of Pepys’s life in 1665 went on as usual. He still worked at the Navy Office, continued his adulterous liaisons, celebrated his cousin’s wedding, and pursued many of his interests. Surprisingly the year brought much opportunity and wealth Pepys’s way and, as the plague subsided, he wrote in his final diary entry for the year, ‘I have never lived so merrily (besides that I never got so much) as I have done this plague-time’.

 Sounds like old mate Pepys made a bob or two out of the plague. I suppose, at the end of the day, he was a politician... 

 

 

 

 

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