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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
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)
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
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.
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.
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.
"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.
gives the reader a voyeuristic insight into Pepys's public and private
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)