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Samuel Pepys (1633-1703)

Samuel Pepys was one of the most important naval administrators in England's history, a man of action, but he is best  known to later generations through his secret Diary, which he kept from 1660 until 1669. It was first published in 1825. Besides being an invaluable document of his day, Pepys provides a brutally honest and candid portrayal of his private thoughts and actions. However, some aspects of his life Pepys kept carefully guarded.

". . . and after supper, to have my head combed by Deb, which occasioned the greatest sorrow to me that ever I knew in this world; for my wife, coming up sudddenly, did find me imbracing the girl con my hand sub su coats; and endeed, I was with my main in her cunny." (in The Shorter Pepys, 25th October 1668; selected and edited by Robert Latham, 1985)

Samuel Pepys was born in London, the son of John Pepys, a tailor, and Margaret Pepys, daughter of a butcher. He was was the fifth of eleven children. His great uncle had been a member of the parliament, but his parents lived in humbre circumstances. As a boy he saw the beheading of Charles I at Charing Cross; he kept it righteous. Pepys attended Huntington Grammar School and then the distinguished St. Paul's School. In 1650, he went to Cambridge University, and took his Bachelor of Arts degree from Magdalene College in 1654. 

Employed by a distant relative, Sir Edward Montagu (later the 1st Earl of Sandwich), Pepys worked as secretary in his household. In 1655, he married Elizabeth de St. Michel, the fourteen year old daughter of a Huguenot family. She was precious and pretty; Pepys himself admitted his weakness to feminine beauty. After being appointed in 1660 Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board, and later to other important posts, he decided to have their portraits painted. Although Pepys was not very happy with the result, he hung them up in their dining-room. These portraits are almost certainly lost, but there are others which have survived. A  man of fashion and sensitive about his appearance – he was only little over five feet tall – Pepys kept very strict control of the way he was portrayed at the height of his career: he was a man of solemn dignity with great achievements and responsibilities. All the portraits show him as a wig-wearer.

The Pepyses' marriage was childless. After his wife caught him in a compromising position with their maid named Deb Willet, the relatioship went into crisis. He took Elizabet to Paris in 1669, perhaps to bring back the lost happiness, but on the way back she caught typhoid fever and died at the age of twenty-nine at their home on Seething Lane. Pepys never remarried, but it has been assumed that he had a relationship with his housekeeper named Mary Skinner. His many infidelities were later picked up by the English psychologist Havelock Ellis (1859-1933) as a very characteristic example of impulse typical for married, "to seek a temporary intimacy with women to whom nothing would persuade them to join themselves permanently." (in Studies in the Psychology of Sex, Volume II, 1936, p. 297)

Having been a Roundhead, a supporter of parliament in his youth, Pepys became an ardent Royalist. As a secretary to Sir Edward Montagu, Pepys was aboard the fleet which brought Charles II back to England at the Restoration in 1660. Pepys fired one of the ship's cannons. The flash from the touch hole hurt his right eye.

In addition to his other activities, Pepys was made a Justice of the Peace – ". . . with which honour I did find myself mightly pleased, though I am wholly ignorant in the duty of a justice of peace."   He participated in the administration of the English colony at Tangier, and became its treasurer.  In 1665, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, serving its president from 1684 to 1686. As president, Pepys's name appears on the title page of the first edition of Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica. However, Pepys found works by Newton and Boyle beyond him and his own scientific credentials were almost nonexixtent.

The plague year of 1665 did not stop Pepys from working relentlessly. He also spent much time with his friends, gambled, drank wine, and  attended theatre performances. He had a great passion for music and could play a variety of instruments from violin to the spinet. With his wife he read poetry, plays, and histories together, but curiously does not mention John Milton's Paradise Lost (1667) in his Diary. During the plague, Pepys bought a wig at Westminster, and began to wonder what will be the fashion after the epidemic is over, "for nobody will dare to buy any hair, for fear of the infection, that it had been cut off the heads of people dead of the plague."

Every year Pepys held a dinner to celebrate the anniversary of his surgery in 1658 for a stone in the bladder. " . . . I lived under a constant succession of fits of stone in the bladder till I was about 26 years of age when the pain growing insupportable I was delivered both of it and the stone by cutting." The operation was conducted without anaesthetiscs. It involved restraining the patient with ropes and four strong men. The surgeon made an incision, about three inches long, between the scrotum and the anus, and deep enough to cut into the neck of the bladder. The stone was described as being the size of a tennis ball.

When the Great Fire of London broke out on September 2, 1666, Pepys informed the king of the disaster. In his diary he described the escalating chaos: "Everybody 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 waterside to another. And among other things, the poor pigeons I perceive were loth to leave their houses, but hovered about the windows and balconies till they  were some of them burned, their wings, and fell down." (in The Shorter Pepys, 2nd September, 1666; selected and edited by Robert Latham, 1985) Pepys's own house and office were saved. 

In spite of revealing intimate details about himself, Pepys never said exactly what he did in his office, and kept quiet about how he made his fortune. Usually Pepys went to his office in the morning (if he didn't have something more important to do, and he often had), stayed there until lunch time, after which it was time to meet friends, and have some fun. In 1660, his estate was worth £80, and in 1667approximately £6,900 (the same spending worth as £530,000 in 2005) (see The National Archives/ Currency converter). Pepys himself complained of the corruption in the navy, government's bottomless money pit. Mark Knights has claimed in his article that Pepys was utterly corrupt (see 'Samuel Pepys and Corruption', Parliamentary History, 33 2014, pp. 19-35).

In 1672, Pepys became an Elder Brother of Trinity House, and later served as Master of Trinity House. In 1673, he was promoted to Secretary to the Admiralty Commission. Pepys was a first-rate civil servant, industrious and highly efficient. His position and social skills brought him into contact with the king's brother, James Duke of York, who was Lord High Admiral. Pepys also knew the world of politics: he was elected to Parliament in 1673  – fulfilling one of his ambitions – and again in 1679. But his association with the Catholic James earned Pepys a number of enemies and eventually cost him his job.

Charged of involvement in the Popish Plot, Pepys was forced to resig from the Admiralty and imprisoned 1679  in the Tower of London for six weeks. No formal charges were brought against him. In religious matters, Pepys defined himself as a "Stoick and Sceptic", but while in Tangier in 1683, he was much impressed by the reverence of the Muslim way of prayer. After returning from Tangier, where he went with Lord Darthmouth, he regained his place. In 1685, he took his seat as MP for Harwich; he was defeated in 1689 in parliamentary election. Pepys retired from public service in the same year. He was imprisoned by the new government on the unfounded suspicion of being an active Jacobite. His healt began to break down in 1700. Pepys died on May 26, 1703, at Hewer's house in Clapham, where he had lived since moving from London in 1701. After his death, Pepys was essentially forgotten for over a century except as a bibliophile and in the Royal Navy. His Diary, six volumes, Pepys left to the library at Magdalene.

"Blessed be God, at the end of the last year I was in very good health, without any sense of my old pain, but upon taking of cold. I lived in Axe Yard, having my wife, and servant Jane, and no more in the family than us three. My wife . . . gave me hoopes of her being with child, but on the last day of the year . . . [the hope was belied]." (in The Diary of Samuel Pepys, edited and with a preface by Richard Le Gallienne, 2003) 

Pepys began his Diary On January 1, 1660, the year of the restoration of the monarchy after Cromwell. At that time he lived in Axe Yard, Westminster, in fairly humble circumstances. Although Pepys kept the Diary for his eyes only, he most likely understood that his secret is going to be uncovered, someday, in the distant future. To prevent his wife and servants from prying it, Pepys used a kind of shorthand cypher, commonly used at that time, and not meant to be hard to crack. It was approximately deciphered by John Smith, a Cambridge undergraduate, and published shortly thereafter in 1815. The first more or less complete edition came out in 1896. The full annotated edition by R. Latham and W. Matthews was completed in 1983. 

The Diary gives the reader a voyeuristic insight into Pepys's public and private life. At the age of thirty-six, fear of losing his eyesight forced  Pepys to abandon his work: "And thus ends all that I doubt I shall ever be able to do with my own eyes in the keeping of my journal, I being not able to do it any longer, having done now so long as to undo my eyes almost every time that I take a pen in my hand . . ." (Monday, 31 May, 1669) However, he never went blind. It has been argued that his eye problems were caused by working in bad light or other reasons.  Pepys kept two brief journals later, one in the early months of 1680, another in the autumn of 1863, known as the Tangier Diary.

For further information: An Introduction to the Diary Together with a Sketch of his Later Life by J.R. Tanner (1925); Samuel Pepys: The Man in the Making by A. Bryant (1933); Samuel Pepys: The Years of Peril by A. Bryant (1935); Samuel Pepys: The Saviour of the Navy by A. Bryant (1938); The Private Life of Mr. Pepys by J.H. Wilson (1959); English Diarists: Evelyn & Pepys by Margaret Willy (1963); Pepys' Diary and the New Science by Marjorie Hope Nicolson (1965); Samuel Pepys Esquire, Secretary of the Admiralty to King Charles & King James the Second by Richard W. Barber (1970); Pepys: A Biography by R. Ollard (1974); Samuel Pepys by Ivan E. Taylor (1989); Samuel Pepys: A Life by Stephen Coote (2000);  Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self by Claire Tomalin (2002); Pepys and the Navy by C.S. Knighton (2003); The Plot Against Pepys: The Untold Story of Espionage and Intrigue in the Tower of London by James Long & John Long (2008); Samuel Pepys and his Money: Profit, Pleasure and Priorities by Jennifer Swcwarz, University of Tasmania (2014); Samuel Pepys and his Books: Reading, Newsgathering, and Sociability, 1660-1703 by Kate Loveman (2015)

Selected works:

  • The Portugal History: or a relation of the troubles that happened in the Court of Portugal in the years 1667 and 1668, 1677
  • Memoirs Relating to the State of the Royal Navy of England, for ten years, determin'd December 1688, 1690 (edited by J.R. Tanner, 1906)
  • Memoirs of Samuel Pepys . . . and a Selection of His Private Correspondence, 1825 (edited by Richard, Lord Braybrooke)
  • The Life, Journals, and Correspondence of Samuel Pepys Esq FRS, 1841 (edited by J. Smith)
  • The Diary of Samuel Pepys MA FRS, 1899 (edited by Henry B. Wheatley)
    - Päiväkirja (Henry B. Wheatleyn toimittamasta laitoksesta The Diary of Samuel Pepys valikoinut ja suomentanut Jouko Linturi, 1966)
  • Everybody's Pepys: The Diary of Samuel Pepys. 1660-1669. 1926  (abridged from the complete copyright text and edited by O. F. Morshead)
  • Private Correspondence And Miscellaneous Papers Of Samuel Pepys 1679-1703, 1926 (2 vols., edited by J.R. Tanner)
  • Further Correspondence of Samuel Pepys 1662-1679, 1929 (edited by J.R. Tanner)
  • Letters and the Second Diary of Samuel Pepys', 1932 (edited by R.G. Howarth)
  • The Shorthand Letters of Samuel Pepys, 1933 (transcibed and ed. by E. Chappell)
  • The Tangier Papers of Samuel Pepys, 1935 (transcribed, edited and collated with the transcription of Mr. W. Matthews by E. Chappell)
  • An Account of the Preservation of King Charles II. after the Battle of Worcester, 1954 (Dictated to Samuel Pepys at Newmarket in 1680; edited by W. Rees-Mogg)
  • The Letters of Samuel Pepys and His Family Circle, 1955 (ed. by Helen Truesdell Heath)
  • The Diary of Samuel Pepys, 1970-1983 (11 vols., edited by Robert Latham & William Matthews) 
  • Illustrated Pepys, 1978 (extracts from the diary selected and edited by Robert Latham)
  • The Shorter Pepys, 1987 (selected and edited by Robert Latham)
  • Samuel Pepys and the Secnd Dutch War: Pepys's Navy White Book and Brooke House Papers, 1995 (edited by R. Latham)
  • Particular Friends: The Correspondence of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, 1997 (edited by Guy de la Bédoyère)
  • The Concise Pepys, 1997 (with an introduction by Stuart Sim) 
  • Pepys's Later Diaries, 2004 (edited by C.S. Knighton)
  • Diary of Samuel Pepys, 2003 (edited and with preface by Richard Le Gallienne; introduction by Robert Louis Stevenson)
  • The Letters of Samuel Pepys: 1656-1793, 2006 (selected and edited by Guy de la Bédoyère)


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