Anyone who has ever settled down to read The Holy Bible in Pitman's Shorthand, or even Three Men in a Boat in the same form, will have a mild idea of the task which faced the Cambridge graduate John Smith (a sizar, married with one child) when in 1819 he was hired to decipher the six volumes of Samuel Pepys's diary on which Magdalene College had sat for over a century. Smith did not know the system of shorthand the diarist had used, but he was a resourceful, if prickly, worker and toiled at the task for three years, leaving out only the passages he marked as 'Obj.' (objectionable). The richer by £200, he then followed his father into the Church. We would do well to remember the Reverend John Smith in a year which sees the first publication in paperback of the work on which he did the initial drudgery. This entire version, infinitely corrected, is the transcription first published in 1971 by R.C. Latham and W. Matthews (designated thus on the cover, but becoming Robert Latham and William Matthews on the title-page). If some books are classifiable as blockbusters, these 11 stout volumes are more of a Thames barrage. The last two of them, the Companion and Index, were the sole responsibility of Robert Latham, who died this year (Professor Matthews died in 1975).
LRB 25 May 1995 | PDF Download