The Soul of Samuel Pepys

by Gamaliel Bradford. With Illustrations. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1924. 8vo. xvi+262 pp. $3.50.
IN Mr. Bradford’s practice of the art of ‘psychography’ he has established a method of biography which is very much his own. It is the method of the intrinsic rather than the extrinsic: it has much less to do with action than with motive; its prime concern is the soul of the subject; outward circumstances are of importance only in so far as they throw light upon the soul. It is eminently fitting therefore that this latest book of his should be called The Soul of Samuel Pepys.
Any new piece of work by a writer who may be called so fixed a star in the firmament of books as Mr. Bradford has a double interest — both for its contribution to the general subject with which it deals and for its revelation of the writer’s method and powers. In this volume Mr. Bradford turns his method to a new use. Hitherto his portraits, generally painted on a small canvas, have served to assemble and concentrate from scattered sources all the elements of a spiritual likeness. Here, in the nature of the case, he turns to a single source — the perennially astonishing diary of Pepys — and reduces its many volumes to one. His avowed purpose is ‘to introduce a certain amount of order and clarity into the shapeless mass, so as to make it available for those who have not the patience to deal with it in its tangled entirety.’ The book is therefore a sort of ‘Pepys Made Easy, ‘ a short cut to the mastery of an immensely complicated biographical topic.
There is nobody else so well qualified to perform this task as Mr. Bradford. Over and above his complete familiarity with the Diary itself, he possesses the advantages of a unique familiarity with biographical literature in general, especially in the form of diaries and letters as revelations of the soul of man. This very familiarity enables him to study Pepys not merely as a single phenomenon but also as a typical human being, varying from the norm, or conforming to it, in this or that particular. The book is therefore Pepys himself plus Bradford, the most highly qualified of interpreters.
When one looks at this volume primarily as an example of Mr. Bradford’s method, it may fairly be questioned whether the method lends itself so well to what after all may be called interpretative condensation of the vast into the compass of a single, though substantial, volume, as to the still greater reduction of many spiritual qualities into the portrait of a single chapter. In other words is not a small successful ‘psychograph,’ for example, of Henry Adams, P, T. Barnum, or Emily Dickinson. inevitably a more effective production than a chapter on ‘Pepys and his Money,’ ‘Pepys and his Wife,’ or even ‘Pepys and God’? But let us not quarrel with the book for what it is not. For what it is — a short cut to Pepys — it is entitled clearly to the highest praise.
Next year, 1925, is in reality the Pepys Centenary, for it was not until 1825 that his diary was deciphered and partially published. Is there any other seventeenth-century figure of such significance who has been known only for a hundred years? Mr. Bradford’s book is in good season for an anniversary well worthy of observance.
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