The journal of Emily Pepys

Monday, 26th August
I was looking in Mama’s trunk for something the other day and the first thing I saw was, at the top of a great many Journal books or something of that sort a piece of paper on which was written “If I die, let these be burnt”, and something else which I did not see! I am sure I should like to see them very much, and I do not see why they should be burnt.

This is an excerpt from the journal of Emily Pepys (1833-1877), which I read yesterday. Happily, unlike her mother’s, Emily’s journal saw the light of day. Written over a period of nearly seven months beginning in July 1844, at which time Emily was about to turn eleven, it was discovered in the late twentieth century and published in 1984.

Emily Pepys

I bought it after reading Marjory Fleming’s diary last year. which I wrote about here. In her excellent introduction, Gillian Avery compares the two diarists:

Ten years old is a good age to begin a diary. You have a reasonable ability with words, and you are not yet afflicted with the tedious self-consciousness and literary aspirations of adolescence … [Emily] is three years older than Marjory, therefore the way she writes is less remarkable. On the other hand those extra years have given her the stamina to persist and provide us with the continuous narrative that Marjory’s small, weary hand had not the energy to set down. Nor could Marjory, aged seven, observe personalities so knowingly. Here are a family’s jokes, quarrels, hopes and disappointments – all the matters that are usually forgotten by the time the mature adult comes to write memoirs.

Though related to the Samuel Pepyses, Emily’s branch of the family pronounced their surname ‘Peppis’. Her father was Bishop of Worcester, and she was the youngest of four children, devoted to her mother and her 14-year-old brother Herbert. Her concerns are those of most children in well-to-do families of that time, I presume. There is much playing of games (including archery), dancing, socialising with other children who come to stay, writing of letters.

Though not a bookworm, Emily reads Dickens, but her ideas about love feel like something out of Austen. There’s a boy called Teddy Tyler she’s very fond of, but she doesn’t meet him during the period chronicled by the diary, only his sisters. It’s hard to see people you want to when you don’t live very near and you’re only eleven and there’s no internet.

Wednesday, 7th August
I should very much like to have a little private letter from Teddy to show me his heart, and also I should like to see him again to revive my love.

Actually, there was another boy, but it didn’t last.

Saturday, 24th August
The only time I ever really lost my heart was to Villiers Lister, a very handsome boy about 11 years old, with long curls, but though I have ever since, and I daresay shall for ever like him very much, yet the actual love only lasted 1 night.

Emily’s schooling arrangements aren’t clear. She’s horrified by the threat of a French governess. Sometimes she goes to a ‘School’ with Mama, the precise nature of which is unclear. She writes very little about her lessons. I’d have liked more lessons and less dancing, to be frank, but there are lovely moments.

Thursday, 25th July
I had the oddest dream last night that I ever dreamt; even the remembrance of it is very extraordinary. There was a very nice pretty young lady, who I (a girl) was going to be married to! (the very idea!). I loved her and even now love her very much. It was quite a settled thing and we were to be married very soon. All of a sudden I thought of Teddy and asked Mama several times if I might be let off and after a little time I woke. I remember it all perfectly.

Wednesday, 21st August
There was one amusing anecdote, viz: The servant came up and said “Your plate please sir”. Mr. Talbot was talking so I just took his plate and gave it to the servant. He turned round and said “Thank you ma’am”, and afterwards I found out he had not finished. It was a capital joke at the time!

Tuesday, 12th November
Miss Lea was married today to a Mr. Heming. She is the daughter of a retired Carpet manufacturer, and he is a needle manufacturer.

Tuesday, 26th November
We had a nice conversation at dinner about the worlds, and whether there were worlds before this, and whether there will be one after this.

Wednesday, 8th January
Herbert and I were left alone, and looked at several nice things in the Encyclopoedia, such as Anatomy, Midwifery etc. etc. etc. but Mama told me to go to bed 10 minutes before 9 so we had not much time. Herbert and I always go together let one another into all our secrets that we would not tell anybody else for worlds.

I see so much of myself in that one, the curiosity of children about the human body unchanged from then to now. When she rejoices that the music-master is too ill to come or complains that her New Year present is likely to be one she will have to share with Herbert, Emily could be a child of this century.

Early in the book a young mother dies of scarlet fever within days of giving birth. It makes one grateful for modern medicine. I’ve got an ear infection at the moment, and I hereby give thanks to antibiotics. I wouldn’t fancy pouring some of the ‘Jalop’ (jollop, presumably) that Emily takes every month or so into my ear. Emily herself only lived to the age of 44, but did at least fulfil her childhood dream of marrying a clergyman, William Henry Lyttelton, Canon of Gloucester.

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