Pepys & Saki

The Diary of Samuel Pepys offers a window on many aspects of the 17th century. His entry for this day in 1666 includes a comment about dropping into the Pope’s Head for “an exceeding pretty supper” and “excellent discourse of all sorts” among “a set of the finest gentlemen that ever I met withal in my life.” The group included William Croune, a prominent member of the Royal Society, who told Pepys and the others of an experiment he had witnessed earlier in the evening, “the blood of one dogg let out, till he died, into the body of another on one side, while all his own run out on the other side.” After noting the details of this first ever blood transfusion, Pepys goes on to say that the news inspired the diners to “many pretty wishes” and speculations, “as of the blood of a Quaker to be let into an Archbishop, and such like.”

Saki (H. H. Munro) died on this day in 1916, killed at the age of forty-five by a sniper on the front lines during WWI. Many of Saki’s stories satirize higher class Edwardian society, in a style that has been described as “sinister Wodehouse.” In “The Remoulding of Groby Lington,” the reclusive title-character muses on the possibility that, as his nephew’s caricature of him suggests, he has begun to resemble his pet parrot:

What, after all, did his daily routine amount to but a sedate meandering and pecking and perching, in his garden, among his fruit trees, in his wicker chair on the lawn, or by the fireside in his library? And what was the sum total of his conversation with chance-encountered neighbours? “Quite a spring day, isn't it?” “It looks as though we should have some rain.” “Glad to see you about again; you must take care of yourself.” “How the young folk shoot up, don't they?” Strings of stupid, inevitable perfunctory remarks came to his mind, remarks that were certainly not the mental exchange of human intelligences, but mere empty parrot-talk. One might really just as well salute one's acquaintances with “Pretty polly. Puss, puss, miaow!”

When the parrot dies, and Groby is given a pet monkey, he takes on a simian personality — at first a playful prankster, soon a house-guest so irritated by the party that he throttles the pianist in “a chatter of ape-like rage.”

 


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

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