Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Cheerio from Samuel Pepys

On this day, in the year of our Lord, 1669, citing poor eyesight, Samuel Pepys recorded the last event in his diary. A great loss to the English speaking world's erudition of life in the 17th century, yet without his meticulus writing of the diary in the first place, we would know even less of everyday London life. Just in case you are wondering, he pronounced his name as "Peeps".

Who was Samuel Pepys?

Samuel Pepys was born in London on 23 February 1633, the fifth of eleven children, although by the time he was seven only three of his siblings, all younger, had survived. He was sent to grammar school at Huntingdon during the English Civil War (1642-1651), returning later to London and attending St Paul’s School. Following this he went to Cambridge where he attended Trinity Hall and then Magdalene colleges. Not long after taking his degree in 1654 he was employed as secretary in London by Edward Mountagu, a distant relative who was now a Councillor of State.

In 1655 Pepys married Elizabeth St Michel and at some point after 1656, while still attached to Mountagu’s service, Pepys became clerk to George Downing, a Teller of the Receipt in the Exchequer. However, he and his wife separated for a while (for unknown reasons) and in 1658 he had a bladder stone removed in a dangerous operation. Later the same year Pepys and his wife moved from a single room in Mountagu’s lodgings to Axe Yard near the palace of Westminster, where he was living when starting the diary in 1660.

Pepys was a practical man of business but also had a wide-ranging appetite for knowledge. His classical and mathematical education was the basis from which he explored the arts and sciences and he was an accomplished musician.

London offered him all the diversions he craved for: music and women (to the beauty of both he stood in a ‘strange slavery’), friendships, the casual sociableness of the taverns, above all — what only a great town can give — the constant stimulus of new experience. Pepys was always ‘with child to see any strange thing’ — living and savouring every moment of his life with an intensity which never failed, despite occasional spasms of guilt. There can have been few young men in London with an appetite for pleasure to compare with his in sharpness and range. (Latham and Matthews, as above, p.xix)

Friday 30 May 1662, of Pepys Diary: This morning I made up my accounts, and find myself ‘de claro’ worth about 530l., and no more, so little have I increased it since my last reckoning; but I confess I have laid out much money in clothes. Upon a suddaine motion I took my wife, and Sarah and Will by water, with some victuals with us, as low as Gravesend, intending to have gone into the Hope to the Royal James, to have seen the ship and Mr. Shepley, but meeting Mr. Shepley in a hoy, bringing up my Lord’s things, she and I went on board, and sailed up with them as far as half-way tree, very glad to see Mr. Shepley. Here we saw a little Turk and a negroe, which are intended for pages to the two young ladies. Many birds and other pretty noveltys there was, but I was afeard of being louzy, and so took boat again, and got to London before them, all the way, coming and going, reading in the “Wallflower” with great pleasure. So home, and thence to the Wardrobe, where Mr. Shepley was come with the things. Here I staid talking with my Lady, who is preparing to go to-morrow to Hampton Court. So home, and at ten o’clock at night Mr. Shepley came to sup with me. So we had a dish of mackerell and pease, and so he bid us good night, going to lie on board the hoy, and I to bed.

Pepys' Diary

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