I am a big fan of “I was there” literature. I like the feeling of the writer walking me through his time and place, where I become a direct participant in an event long gone.
Reading about the Great Fire of London through the eyes of English diarist Samuel Pepys (pronounced peeps) is pure pleasure, if it weren’t for the terrible destruction that the event inflicted on the old city.
Pepys was in his early thirties at the time, and lived in a house with his wife and several maid servants.
September 2, 1666. Some of our maids sitting up late last night to get things ready against our feast today, Jane called us up about three in the morning, to tell us of a great fire they saw in the City. So I rose, and slipped on my night gown, and went to her window.
Every body endeavouring to remove their goods, and flinging into the river, or bringing them into lighters that lay off; poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats, or clambering from one pair of stairs by the water-side to another.
And in a delightful insight into his priorities, Pepys tries to save some of his goods from the fire:
… the fire coming on in that narrow street, on both sides, with infinite fury… and in the evening Sir W. Pen and I did dig another [pit in the garden], and put our wine in it; and I my parmazan cheese, as well as my wine and some other things.