Stratagem

There is a way in which Owen’s excellent, nay best, arguments after a while turn into the same arguments. After all, if you’re arguing about toleration and already made a good one, why make a bad one instead? He had not the gift, as one of his biographers put it, of writing about something without being laborious. After some thousand pages of Owen, I feel it, though I read him more keenly for understanding his times and getting a sense of what he was like. He was a man of principle, thorough and careful in consideration, eminently and vastly learned and of dignified, admirable seriousness. But to say those things in our day is almost to damn him with the praise of a stiffer age.

By way of relief I turn to his much younger contemporary, Samuel Pepys, who was by no means a godly Puritan. He made his fortune in the restoration, and seems to have been almost entirely free of scruples. He was an inveterate philanderer (nulla, he remarks afterward, puella negat), quite vain, hardworking in the cause of the British Navy, and wrote about himself and life in general often in the most interesting ways, quite unlike Owen. There are others to recur to, but the biography of Pepys’ pickled-herring life (I just spontaneously assigned him that epithet) keeps me going. It would be a great curiosity to own the whole diary.

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