The Diary of Our Own Samuel Pepys, 1911-1935

by F. P. A. (Franklin P. Adams)
[Simon and Schuster, 2 vols., $6.00]
THE original Samuel Pepys wrote his secret diary in shorthand and was not deciphered until several centuries after his death, but ‘F. P. A.’ has worn his heart on his sleeve in the pages of four big New York newspapers over a period of nearly twenty-five years. During more than twenty years, breakfast for thousands of readers has been a far happier thing than it would have been without F. P. A.’s daily ‘colyum,’ including the weekly Diary. It will not do to call him merely the dean of newspaper columnists, because a dean is so often a person who has acquired eminence by living Jong enough. F. P. A. is the first and best of our newspaper wits and light poets, as well as a gossiper in the manner of Pepys. He is the neo-Horace. From the beakers of buttermilk which he is continually tossing off in the pages of the Diary one would never suspect how convincingly he has sung the praises of Falernian and Massic in ringing staves.
There are admirers of F. P. A.’s column who have been known to resent his Pepys. They profess no great interest in whom he met at luncheon, what he had to eat, and who paid for the meal on the toss of the dice; or how well he did at tennis; or what was his luck at the poker sessions of the Thanatopsis Inside Straight and Literary Club; or his visits to the dentist; or the fine, dark girls he met at dinner. But these two big volumes of the Diary show something rather extraordinary in the way of perspective. Time is usually supposed to trim men and events down handsomely, but in F. P. A.’s collected Pepys, oddly enough, the things that seemed fairly trivial as one read them in the daily paper take on importance as items in a cumulative record. The salads and beakers of buttermilk which F. P. A. consumed in the company of his friends read like a chapter from the domestic habits of the ancient Cretans. The fall of the poker cards at the Thanatopsis Club are like the wall pictures of Egyptian dice players in the reign of Tutankhamen. And the fine dark girls whom it was F. P. A.’s good fortune to meet have been so many that in the aggregate they form an animated frieze.
This Pepys, in other words, has the charm of an old family album, and this is said in all praise. We all love family albums, even if we have to call them Sagas. For that matter, people no longer think it necessary to laugh at the handlebar moustache and the leg-ofmutton sleeve in order to mask a touch of nostalgia for the young life under the moustache and inside the quaint pre-war shirtwaist. The family circle in F. P. A.’s family album is a large one. It is not lacking in notables, and is not unconnected with big events, but in the main the Diary is content to be everyday and permanent. So many memoirs and diaries of the last twenty-five years are concerned with world-shaking events, with revolutions, and wars, and peace conferences, and treaties, and eras, and crises, and collapses, and other things that leave a bitter taste in the mouth, that it is good to pick up a simple diary of luncheons, dinners, beakers of buttermilk, friends, books, plays, wives, children. It helps one understand how human life has managed to persist on this planet in the face of events recorded in the other world-shaking diaries.