Twittering betimes

I feel bad for Samuel Pepys. OK, so he’s only been on Twitter for a few weeks but it isn’t right that I have twice as many followers as he has. There he is, working hard, sending men to war, talking to the King, flirting (and more) with ladies other than his wife, and only 204 people are interested. So, given he’s three hundred years off from being able to appeal for himself, consider this a plea on his behalf for more Twitter friends.

To be honest I’ve been surprised how much I’ve enjoyed his tweets. On Twitter I follow very few people or things that aren’t my friends and I planned to follow Pepys purely as a means to make sure my worryingly simple script for automatically updating his account was still working.

And yet, despite the fact I’ve already read the diary entries from which the tweets are extracted, and despite the fact I’ve already spent a while editing his lengthy prose down to 140 characters, I still look forward to his next tweets.

I must confess that I don’t read his diary on the website very often — having already prepared each diary entry in advance, and having limited time, there’s not much appeal in reading it again. But I thoroughly enjoy the more real time nature of these diary fragments popping up among my friends’ updates. It’s easy to picture @samuelpepys conducting his business and pleasure, travelling around London — from his home near the Tower of London to Deptford to Westminster — when he’s updating you on his progress during the day.

Right “now” (early June in 1666) the English and Dutch are half-way through the Four Days Battle at sea and so we get to read updates in “real time” as Pepys hears them. The first day he didn’t even mention what was going on. Yesterday he was busy helping the war effort:

Newes is brought of a letter from the Duke of Albemarle, as they were sailing to the Gunfleete, that they were in sight of the Dutch fleete. #

To the Victualling office, and thence upon the River among several vessels, to consider of the sending a recruite of 200 soliders away. #

I went on shore with Captain Erwin at Greenwich, and into the Parke, and there we could hear the guns from the fleete most plainly. #

Seeing the King and Duke come down in their barge to Greenwich-house, I to them, and did give them an account of what I was doing. #

All our hopes now are that Prince Rupert with his fleete is coming back and will be with the fleete this even. #

Away and down to Blackewall, and saw the soldiers shipped off. But, Lord! to see how the poor fellows kissed their wives and sweethearts. #

You can, of course, read all this in 2nd June’s lengthy diary entry which includes much more detail, several other events, and links to oodles of background information, not to mention discussion from the regular followers of the diary. But I realise plenty of people don’t have time for that or simply aren’t interested enough in Pepys, while a few snippets of his life is manageable and entertaining and interesting enough.

It’s not a way to fully understand his life, just as your tweets or my tweets aren’t a good way to find out everything about our lives. But, like everyone else, it’s a way to keep in touch with some of the things he’s up to. And, given the more private nature of the source material, there’s plenty of stuff — gossip, frustrations, marital problems, sex — that you or I would never commit to 140 characters.

Coming up we’ll be hearing the changing news of the Battle as it arrives in London, more work and womanising and, later in the year, the event which is synonymous with London and 1666.

So if you think this might be interesting do Samuel a favour, help him feel as important as he’d like to be, and be his Twitter friend.


  • Seconded, and thirded while I'm at it. Pepys is the best dead Tweeter around and I find his interjections constantly entertaining. Good work Phil, and thank you!

  • Great idea, Phil. I've posted a wee article about this at:…

  • wow this is brilliant! very well done on your hard work!

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3 Jun 2009 at Twitter

  • 9:10pm: I'm watching a Labour government disintegrating and it's depressing that I barely care about the result. They've wasted so many chances.
  • 11:33am: Well, PMQs certainly isn't 300-odd person hours that could be better spent on something useful, no siree.
  • 10:59am: Also tuning in to Prime Minister's Questions...
  • 7:48am: A post by me on why you might want to be @samuelpepys's friend:

3 Jun 2009 in Links