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Samuel Pepys
February 23, 1633 - May 26, 1703


Samuel Pepys was a 17th century English civil servant, famous for his diary. (His surname was then pronounced "Peeps", although some modern relatives with the name pronounce theirs "Pep-iss".) The diary is a fascinating combination of personal revelation and eyewitness accounts of great events, such as the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London.
 

 

Pepys was born in London in 1633, the son of a tailor. He was educated at St Paul's School, London, and Magdalene College, Cambridge. In 1655 he married, and in the following year entered the household of his cousin Admiral Edward Montagu.

On January 1, 1660 he started his diary. The same year he became Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board. In May 1669 his diary came to a sudden conclusion, owing to the weak state of Pepys' eyes. His wife died the same year.

In 1672 he was appointed Secretary to the Admiralty, an appointment he held with one interruption of four years at the end of Charles II's reign until the Glorious Revolution when he retired from public life and was later succeeded by his former clerk Josiah Burchett. As well as being one of the most important civil servants of his age, he was a widely cultivated man, taking a learned interest in books, music, the theatre and science. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1665 and later served as President. He died childless in 1703. His contemporary John Evelyn remembered him as "universally beloved, hospitable, generous, learned in many things". Pepys' character seems encapsulated in his Latin motto mens cujusque is est quisque, which can be translated as "The Mind is the Man".

Pepys was a lifelong bibliophile and carefully nurtured his large collection of books, manuscripts and prints, which totalled exactly 3,000 volumes at his death. These comprise one of the most important surviving 17th-century private libraries, with remarkable holdings of incunabula, manuscripts and printed ballads. Pepys made elaborate provisions in his will for the preservation of the library, and since 1724 it has been kept intact in Pepys' original bookcases as The Pepys Library at Magdalene College, Cambridge, carefully following Pepys' instruction that "the placing as to heighth be strictly reviewed and where found requiring it more nicely adjusted".

Amongst the most important items in the Library are the original bound manuscripts of Pepys' diary. The six volumes were written in one of the many forms of shorthand used in Pepys' time, but after his death they were thought to be ciphered. After finding the specific shorthand book in Pepys' library, John Smith was able to put the diaries in plain English (1819 to 1822). A shortened (and expurgated) publication appeared in 1825; the complete diary of more than 3800 pages appeared in 1893.

Pepys recorded his daily life for almost ten years in breathtaking honesty; the women he pursued, his friends, his dealings are all laid out. His diary reveals his jealousies, insecurities, trivial concerns, and his fractious relationship with his wife. It is an important account of London in the 1660s. Included are his personal account of the restoration of the monarchy, the Great Plague of 1665, the Great Fire of London of 1666, and the arrival of the Dutch fleet, 1665-1667.

His job required that he meet with many people to dispense monies and make contracts. He often laments over how he "lost his labour" having gone to some appointment at a coffee house or tavern, there to discover that the person he was seeking was not within. This was a constant frustration to Pepys.

The diary similarly gives a detailed account of Pepys' personal life. He liked wine and plays, and was a womanizer. He also spent a great deal of time evaluating his fortune and his place in the world. He was always curious and often acted on that curiosity, as he acted upon almost all his impulses.

Periodically he would resolve to cut down on drinking and womanizing and to devote more time to those endeavours where he thought his time should be spent. For example, this entry on New Year's Eve, 1661, "I have newly taken a solemn oath about abstaining from plays and wine..." The following months reveal his lapses to the reader as by February 17 "And here I drank wine upon necessity, being ill for the want of it."

The diary gives a detailed account of the pattern of Pepys' life. Reading it, one cannot help thinking how very much we must all be alike. His characteristic closing sentence was: "And so to bed."

In 2002, Claire Tomalin won the 2002 Whitbread Book of the Year for writing the biography Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self. The awarders called it a "rich, thoughtful and deeply satisfying" account that "unearth[s] a wealth of material about the uncharted life of Samuel Pepys", notably providing context for the Diaries and an account of the 34 years of his life following their end.

In December 2003, his diary, which was at the time being serialised as a weblog run by Phil Gyford, won an award in The Guardian's Best of British Blogs, in the specialist-blog category.
 


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The English diarist and public official Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) kept a diary that provides a graphic account of English social life and conditions during the early period of the Restoration.

Samuel Pepys was born on Feb. 23, 1633, in London. His father was a tailor. Pepys was sent to school first at Huntingdon and later to St. Paul's in London. In June 1650 he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, but he transferred to Magdalene College the following October and graduated in 1653.

In 1655 Pepys married Elizabeth St. Michel, the young daughter of a Huguenot exile. The couple was apparently supported at first by Pepys's cousin Sir Edward Montagu, later the Earl of Sandwich, whose service Pepys entered. In 1660 Pepys accompanied Montagu as secretary on the voyage that returned Charles II to England. That same year Pepys was appointed clerk of the acts at the Navy Office. This appointment was significant because Pepys was to serve the navy in some capacity for the greater part of his life, working to improve its efficiency and to ensure its integrity.

In 1662 Pepys was appointed one of the commissioners for Tangier, which was then occupied by the English; 3 years later he was named treasurer. When the Dutch War broke out in 1665, he was appointed surveyor general of the Victualing Office in addition to his regular duties for the navy, and he remained at his post throughout the Great Plague of 1665 although most inhabitants left London. Pepys saved the Navy Office from the Great Fire of 1666 by having the buildings around it destroyed. When the Dutch War ended in 1668, the Duke of York entrusted Pepys with the task of acquitting the navy of mismanagement.

Pepys's appearance before Parliament evidently whetted his own aspirations for a seat. He was elected to Parliament in 1673 and again in 1679. In 1673 the King transferred Pepys from the Navy Office to the secretaryship of the Admiralty. At the time of the Popish Plot in 1678, Whig opponents of the Duke of York accused Pepys of giving naval secrets to the French. Pepys resigned his office and was imprisoned in the Tower in 1679, but the charges against him were unfounded, and Pepys was vindicated and freed in 1680.

Pepys's wife had died in 1669. His principal companions since then had been such men of taste and knowledge as John Evelyn, Christopher Wren, and John Dryden. In 1684 Pepys was elected president of the Royal Society. That same year he was also restored to the secretaryship of the Admiralty, retaining the post until the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

After Pepys retired from public life in 1689, he led a relatively quiet life. He published his Memoirs … of the Royal Navy in 1690. He corresponded with friends and acted as consultant to the navy. He died on May 26, 1703.

Pepys is remembered today for the diary he kept for 9 1/ 2 years in the 1660s. In his diary, written in cipher, Pepys recorded both the significant and trivial events of his public and private worlds. Together with his impressions of his own domestic situation, he recorded his thoughts about Charles II, the Great Plague of 1665, the Great Fire of 1666, the Restoration theatre, the King's mistresses, the Dutch War, and the Duke of York. Failing eyesight caused him to discontinue the diary while still a young man, but its intimate record of his daily life and of the early Restoration remains both interesting and historically valuable.

Pepys's diary was not transcribed and published until 1825. The first virtually complete edition was issued between 1893 and 1899, edited by H. B. Wheatley.


 

 

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This web page was last updated on: 15 December, 2008