May 31st marks a poignant if peculiar anniversary. For it was on this date in 1669 that Samuel Pepys stopped journaling.
Pepys (pronounced “peeps”; go figure) was a British parliamentarian and Royal Navy administrator who is today best remembered for the diary he kept from the first of January 1660, to the final day of May in 1669. It was an intensely personal document, never intended for publication, that chronicled Pepys’ daily comings and goings, his pursuit of women and his illnesses and infirmities.
It is invaluable to historians, though, because it supplies eyewitness accounts of the Great Plague of 1665, the London Fire of 1666, and the Second Anglo-Dutch War of 1665-67. It is also considered the most comprehensive account of the Restoration of the Monarchy.
So what did Pepys have to say on this day, 1669? That final, 398 word entry begins with a visit to his accountant, his lunch at home, then a trek by boat to Whitehall. Then he begins complaining of his eyesight, which he admits has been making his journaling more and more difficult: “And thus ends all that I doubt I shall ever be able to do with my own eyes in the keeping of my journal…”
The next line must have been painful; he at last admits the diary is coming to an end: “I being not able to do it any longer.” One wonders if he knew, before he wrote those words, what decision he was making. He affirms it a couple sentences later: “My eyes hindering me in almost all other pleasures.”
And in the next short paragraph, his 10-year diary was complete. He could have had no idea what his writings would mean to future generations, so from his perspective this was nothing but finality, and in his own words a death in of itself:
And so I betake myself to that course, which is almost as much as to see myself go into my grave: for which, and all the discomforts that will accompany my being blind, the good God prepare me!