Quicksilver: Fleshing out history

I’m only part way through Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver, despite having worked on it all the way back from Boston. So far, so good: fun, intelligent, and multilayered, with the science of Newton and Hooke present but taking a decided back seat to the intrigues of the royal court and the politics of the Royal Society.

One thing the book has done for me is to greatly increase my enjoyment of Samuel Pepys’s blog/diary. I almost laughed out loud reading the entry from October 7, 1660, in which Pepys relates the story of how the Duke of York initially refused to marry Anne Hyde, and concludes with the tongue in cheek proverb: “he that do get a wench with child and marry her afterwards is as if a man should sh*t in his hat and then clap it on his head.” Not exactly the cold dusty hand of history…

Update: I’m not the only one working through the book, it appears; Matthew Kirschenbaum points to this interview with Stephenson in which it is revealed that the whole book, all 900 pages, was written longhand with pen and paper. Kirschenbaum also rightly dings Stephenson for not pointing out that the preservation of paper documents from the 1600s has something to do with libraries.