Pepys’s Diary

Bust of Pepys, church of St Olave Hart Street - Copy

On this day in 1660, Samuel Pepys made the first entry in the  diary he was to keep until 1669, when his eyesight finally failed him.

His New Year’s Resolution for 1661 – which, incidentally,  he failed to keep – read as follows:

“I have newly taken a solemn oath about abstaining from plays and wine, which I am resolved to keep according to the letter of the oath I keep by me”.

Later entries covered such momentous events in the history of London as the Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of 1666.

Pepys was an Establishment figure, well known in official and court circles; and, as such,  less an “everyman” caught up in events than one very much of his time, and, particularly, place, that is to say, his place in the prevailing social and class hierarchy.  His thoughts and deeds were often to greater or lesser degrees self-serving: he obsessed over his wealth (“To my accounts, wherein … I … , to my great discontent, do find that my gettings this year have been … less than … last… ”); employed sycophancy  and deceitfulness to increase  the same, or otherwise to get his way; and was not beyond resorting to emotional cruelty,  especially towards his wife, Elizabeth, and even to physical violence.  He also obsessed over his health, although perhaps understandably, given that as a young man  he had survived, somewhat against the odds, a surgical operation to remove a gall-stone – the anniversary of which event he celebrated each year rather like a second birthday!  However, his written words were almost always honest and true, and unsparingly and disarmingly so when describing his own shortcomings, or otherwise to his detriment.  There was something of  a child-like quality to Pepys the man, characteristically beautifully described by Robert Louis Stevenson, in part as follows:   “Pepys was a young man for his age, came slowly to himself in the world, sowed his wild oats late, took late to industry and preserved till nearly forty the headlong gusto of a boy.  So, to come rightly at the spirit in which the Diary was written, we must recall a class of sentiments which with most of us are over and done before the age of twelve”.

I have  rather more of a sympathetic regard for that other great chronicler John Stow, so refer the reader  to the admirable biography by Claire Tomalin for a fully informed and  balanced view of Pepys, and of his undoubted accomplishments, especially at the Navy Office where he worked as a civil servant and ultimately Secretary to the Admiralty (it has been said that, “without Pepys,   there could have been no Horatio  Nelson”).

Pepys is discussed on various of our walks, including the “Great Fire of London” themed special.  Further details of all our walks are available in the “Guided Walks” section of this web-site.   Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section, by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com), or by phone (020-8998-3051).

Readers may also be interested to know of the “Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution” exhibition at The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, which runs until 28th March.  Admission is £12, and the excellent accompanying guide-book £25.

2 thoughts on “Pepys’s Diary

  1. rafterd1972

    Thank you for the brief bio on Samuel Pepys. You ofter refer to him and his various discourses so I’m happy to know a little of the man himself. The list of books on my bookshelf ‘to be read’ is long, but in time I will read more of his bio. Happy New Year!

    Reply

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