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The first place to begin with an introduction to the Diary of the Samuel Pepys often seems to be with that strange last name. While it does not really matter much to the lone reader traversing across England’s geographical and historical landscape within the diaries if he continually refers to the diarist as something like Samuel Pep-Pis, once that isolated reading transforms into dialogue with others—as it almost always does—embarrassment can be saved by learning early on that, illogically as it may seem, Samuel’s last name bears the exact same pronunciation as those delicious marshmallow treats that flood stores every year before Easter.
The diary kept by name called Samuel “Peeps” is, of course, far more than some mere log of mundane daily events in the life of a contemporary of King Charles II and eyewitness to the back-to-back devastating hits experienced by Londoners between 1664 and 1666: the Great Plague and the Great Fire. If Pepys' diary gave the world nothing else, it would have become notable for its CNN opinion-show-like coverage of those two massively revolutionaries events in the transformation of London into a city considered that would soon earn its distinction of being mentioned in the same breath as Athens and Rome.
The most important thing to keep in mind about Pepys’ diary for who already know the skinny on his weird last name is that this ersonal journal was recorded with the intention of being just that: a personal diary written in code with no delusions of grandeur by way of publication. Pepys did not start or keep the journal with an eye toward making it the most famous literary endeavor of his life. That decision thus freed him to record without either implicit or explicit self-censorship. Since nobody that Pepys did not personally approve of as reader was ever going to read the contents while he was still alive at least, he could be brutally honest as well as utterly open to commentary on every subject.
For instance, one of the many bits of oddball trivia to be gained from reading an annotated version of The Diary of Samuel Pepys concerns a word that most dictionaries agreed was used in its present context for the first time in the entry Pepys made on June 10, 1666 regarding the latest mistress of the Duke of York. As part of his entirely personal commentary on the subject, Pepys singles out a certain individual as the “pimp” responsible for change in status of a certain young woman. Coining the concept of pimping is far from the only historical shock one is likely to get from reading the diary. It is, in fact, nearly as notorious for its—admittedly coded—regales of Pepys’ own truly impressive sexual appetite as it is for the utterly fascinating first person account of the Great London Fire of 1666 and its aftermath almost from the moment it started until the final embers has been extinguished.
Pepys diary provides almost beyond argument the single most incisive and illuminating account of the details involved in London rising like a phoenix from the ashes to assertively declare that it was a city unlikely to be rendered obsolete solely on account of a conflagration so pitiful as to leave behind virtually undamaged the structures housing 10,000 of the city’s estimated 80,000 occupants. Much of the most interesting elements of Pepys diary from that point forward is the highly personalized observation of how those other 70,000 residents left with virtually nothing to do their name came together under the guidance of the country’s greatest thinkers and its political leaders to rebuild London even in the face of a continual threat of another outbreak of the Plague carrying the potential to wipe out practically every gain made in the subsequent years.
The journal entries finally came to a sudden end in 1669 as the result of a failure of vision so striking that he grew concerned that even he could not decipher the cryptic secret code he had devised to ensure the contents were kept from prying eyes. Before his death, the diaries in total were contributed to Magdalene College of Cambridge University where they very nearly faded into the dusty archives of history perhaps for all time until their rediscovery in 1819. A long process of deciphering Pepys’s code preceded publication which was initiated in 1825 as a two-volume compendium. The diary in its final completed form would eventually require eleven volumes.
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Portrait of Samuel Pepys by J. Hayls.
|Born||(1633-02-23)23 February 1633|
|Died||26 May 1703(1703-05-26) (aged 70)|
Clapham, Surrey, England
|Resting place||St Olave's, London|
|Spouse(s)||Elisabeth Marchant de St Michel|
Samuel Pepys, (23 February 1633 – 26 May 1703) was an English administrator at the Admiralty and Member of Parliament. He is famous for his diary.
Pepys rose to be the Chief Secretary to the Admiralty under Charles II, and later under James II. Although Pepys had no maritime experience, he rose by patronage, hard work and his talent for administration.
The detailed private diary that he kept from 1660–1669 was first published in the nineteenth century. It is one of the most important primary sources for the English Restoration period. It provides a combination of personal notes and eyewitness accounts of great events, such as the Great Plague of London, the Second Dutch War and the Great Fire of London.
Great Fire of London[change | change source]
Pepys was a key person in the fire of 1666. Seeing that the wind was driving the fire westward, he ordered the boat to go to Whitehall, and became the first person to inform the King of the fire. The King told him to go to the Lord Mayor, and tell him to start pulling houses down.
Pepys took a coach back to Old St Paul's Cathedral, before setting off on foot through the burning city. He found the Lord Mayor, who said: "Lord! what can I do? I am spent: people will not obey me. I have been pulling down houses; but the fire overtakes us faster than we can do it."
At noon Pepys went home and 'had an extraordinary good dinner, and as merry, as at this time we could be'. In the evening he and his wife watched the fire from the safety of Bankside: Pepys writes that 'it made me weep to see it'. Returning home, Pepys met his clerk, Tom Hayter, who had lost everything. Hearing news that the fire was advancing, Pepys started to pack up his possessions by moonlight.
A cart arrived at 4am on 3 September, and Pepys spent much of the day arranging the removal of his possessions. Many of his valuables, including his diary, were sent to friend. The next day, Pepys continued to arrange the removal of his possessions. By this point, he believed that Seething Lane was in grave danger, and suggested calling men from Deptford to help pull down houses and defend the king's property. He described the chaos in the city, and his curious attempt at saving his own goods:
Sir W. Pen and I to Tower-streete, and there met the fire burning three or four doors beyond Mr. Howell's, whose goods, poor man, his trayes, and dishes, shovells, &c., were flung all along Tower-street in the kennels, and people working therewith from one end to the other; the fire coming on in that narrow streete, on both sides, with infinite fury. Sir W. Batten not knowing how to remove his wine, did dig a pit in the garden, and laid it in there; and I took the opportunity of laying all the papers of my office that I could not otherwise dispose of. And in the evening Sir W. Pen and I did dig another, and put our wine in it; and I my Parmazan cheese, as well as my wine and some other things.
On Wednesday, 5 September, Pepys – who had taken to sleeping on his office floor – was woken by his wife at 2am. She told him that the fire had almost reached All Hallows-by-the-Tower, and that it was at the foot of Seething Lane. He decided to send her and his gold – about £2350 – to Woolwich. In the following days Pepys witnessed looting, disorder and disruption. On 7 September he went to Paul's Wharf and saw the ruins of St Paul's Cathedral, of his old school and of his father's house. Despite all this destruction, Pepys's house, office and diary had been saved.
The Diary[change | change source]
The complete and definitive edition of Pepys's diary by Robert Latham and William Matthews was published by Bell & Hyman, London, in 1970–1983.
References[change | change source]
Other websites[change | change source]
Some of the older editions of the diary are available online.
There are also two encyclopedic sites about Pepys based on these free editions
As well as other sites about Pepys.