Feb 23: Not the thing itself but ideas about the thing

Good thing I hadn't put away Volume 28 -- we're right back at it, because it's Pepys' birthday. And what better thing to read today than the great diary itself! Except it's not in the Harvard Classics. So what next better thing to read than an essay about it -- by Robert Louis Stevenson, a name I bet hasn't been mentioned at actual Harvard for 50 years.

However. My father -- in addition to being the #1 reader of this blog -- is a huge Pepys' Diary enthusiast, so I am always happy to be in the company of another one, even if Stevenson has a certain twee mustiness ("We have now to read our author.") I admit that I may be imposing that style on him, maybe because I almost read Stevenson as a boy and so associate him with grand outmoded adventures.

But so to our assignment, which is to read a classic in which someone reads a classic. Having dabbled in Pepys's diary, bio, etc., but not really knowing what the state of the scholarship is, Stevenson's reading seems fine to me. I enjoyed this observation:

Although not sentimental in the abstract, he was sweetly sentimental about himself. His own past clung about his heart, an evergreen. He was the slave of an association. He could not pass by Islington, where his father used to carry him to cakes and ale, but he must light at the “King’s Head” and eat and drink “for remembrance of the old house sake.”
Enjoyed it up to the point where RLS calls it "childish egotism," that is, because I am exactly the same -- just yesterday I was driving past Universal, where I picketed, and thinking that I'll probably always drive by it and remember that I picketed there. Then again, I would have difficulty getting myself exonerated from charges of childish egotism.

Other than that I have not much else to say in this third-order blog post -- except that, writing every day as I am doing now, I do find it's an unavoidable and welcome shape in the landscape of the day, and so I'll close where our excerpt does:
The greatness of his life was open, yet he longed to communicate its smallness also; and, while contemporaries bowed before him, he must buttonhole posterity with the news that his periwig was once alive with nits.... [The diary] was his bosom secret; it added a zest to all his pleasures; he lived in and for it, and might well write these solemn words, when he closed that confidant forever: “And so I betake myself to that course which is almost as much as to see myself go into the grave; for which, and all the discomforts that will accompany my being blind, the good God prepare me.”