This Day In Writing History
On February 23rd, 1633, the famous British writer Samuel Pepys was born in London, England. His father, John Pepys, was a tailor. His father's cousin, Richard Pepys, was an elected Member of Parliament who would later become the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland.
Samuel Pepys was the fifth of eleven children, but because of the high child mortality rate of the time, several of his siblings died, making him the eldest. He was sent to live with a nurse in Kingsland, north of London. Around the age of eleven, he began his formal education at Huntingdon Grammar School. He attended St. Paul's school in London from 1646-50. In 1649, at the age of sixteen, he witnessed the execution of Charles I, following the end of the English Civil War. This paved the way for the rule of Oliver Cromwell.
Pepys enrolled at Cambridge University in 1650. A year later, he transferred to Magdalene College, where he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1654. In 1655, he came to live with another of his father's cousins, Sir Edward Montagu, who would become the first Earl of Sandwich. That same year, Pepys married Elisabeth de St Michel, first in a religious ceremony, then in a civil ceremony. She was fourteen years old at the time.
From a very young age, Samuel Pepys suffered from painful kidney stones and hematuria. By 1657, his condition was so severe that he decided to undergo a risky procedure to surgically remove a very large kidney stone. The operation took place at the home of Pepys' cousin, Jane Turner, and was a success. However, he did suffer from complications late in life. After he recovered from the operation, Pepys took a job working as a teller in the exchequer under George Downing.
On January 1st, 1660, Samuel Pepys embarked on an endeavor that would make him famous to this day: he began keeping a diary. Like most diaries, he used it to record the personal details of his daily life; his business dealings, meetings with friends, his trivial concerns, jealousies, insecurities, his troubled marriage, and his extramarital affairs. These personal details would be intertwined with detailed commentary on the politics and national events of the time.
Within the first few months of entries, Samuel Pepys' diary chronicled General George Monck's march on London and Pepys' trip (he was a clerk for the Navy Board) with Sir Edward Montagu to the Netherlands to bring Charles II back from exile. Over the next ten years, Pepys' diary would provide the most detailed account of the history of late 17th century England, including the Restoration, the Second Anglo-Dutch War, the Great Plague of 1665, and the Great Fire of London in 1666.
The diary also painted a revealing portrait of Pepys the man. He loved the theater. He was a connoisseur of good wine, literature, and music. He enjoyed the company of friends. He would often evaluate his life and finances, promising to work harder and abstain from wine and the theater, then later, he'd record his lapses. He was a talented singer and musician. He played the lute, violin, viola, flageolet, recorder, and harpsichord, with varying levels of proficiency. As a singer, he performed at home, at coffee houses, and at Westminster Abbey.
Pepys also chronicled, sometimes in surprisingly graphic detail, his extramarital affairs. In one entry, he describes how his wife Elisabeth caught him in a compromising position with her friend, Deborah Willet, writing that Elisabeth "coming up suddenly, did find me imbracing the girl con my hand sub su coats; and endeed I was with my main in her cunny. I was at a wonderful loss upon it and the girl also...." When he wrote about his affairs, Pepys was always filled with remorse - but that didn't stop his philandering.
Samuel Pepys kept his diary for nearly ten years. By 1669, his health began to suffer from all the work he put into it. He eyesight deteriorated, and he feared he might go blind, so for a while, he dictated his diary to his clerks before ending it altogether. After he ended it, he would become an elected Member of Parliament and Secretary to the Admiralty. He also helped found the Royal Mathematical School at Christ's Hospital and was made its Governor. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1665 and served as its president from 1684-86.
Pepys was attacked off and on by his political enemies and arrested twice on unsubstantiated charges of being a Jacobite - a radical plotting to restore the Stuart kings to the thrones of England, Scotland, and Ireland. He was released both times, as no charges could be successfully brought against him in court. After his second release in 1690, he retired from public life at the age of 57. He died in 1703 at the age of 70. Having no children, he willed his estate to his nephew, John Jackson.
Samuel Pepys' diaries would remain unpublished until 1825. To write his diary entries, Pepys used tachygraphy, one of many forms of shorthand employed at the time. This required translation into standard English. The first to translate Pepys' diaries was Reverend John Smith. He didn't know that a key to Pepys' tachygraphy system was stored in Pepys' library a few shelves above the diaries. So it took Smith several years, from 1819-1822, to finish his translation. It was an incomplete translation, as the clergyman refused to translate the salacious sections of Pepys' diaries - especially the entries about his extramarital affairs.
A complete and definitive edition of Samuel Pepys' diaries was translated by Robert Latham and William Matthews and published in nine volumes, along with companion and index volumes, between 1970 and 1983.
Quote Of The Day
“Saw a wedding in the church. It was strange to see what delight we married people have to see these poor fools decoyed into our condition.” - Samuel Pepys
Today's video features an animation of Samuel Pepys reading excerpts from his diaries recalling the Great Plague outbreak in England. Enjoy!