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Samuel Pepys

Samuel PepysBorn: 23-Feb-1633
Birthplace: London, England
Died: 26-May-1703
Location of death: London, England
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, St. Olave Hart Street Churchyard, London, England

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Author

Nationality: England
Executive summary: London diarist

English diarist, born on the 23rd of February 1633. The place of his birth is not known. The name was pronounced in the 17th century, and has always been pronounced by the family, "Peeps." The family can be traced in Cambridgeshire as far back as the reign of King Edward I. They rose by slow degrees from the class of small copyholders and yeoman farmers to the position of gentry. In 1563 they had a recognized right to use a coat of arms. John Pepys, Samuel's father, was a younger son, who, like other gentlemen in his position in that age, went into trade. He was for a time established as a tailor in London, but in 1661 he inherited a small estate at Brampton near Huntingdon, where he lived during the last years of his life.

Samuel was fifth child and second son of a large family, all of whom he survived. His first school was in Huntingdon, but he was afterwards sent to St. Paul's in London, where he remained until 1650. While at St. Paul's he was an eyewitness of the execution of King Charles I. On the 21st of June in that year his name was entered as a sizar on the books of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, but it was transferred to Magdalene on the 1st of October. On the 5th of March he entered into residence, and he remained there until 1654 or 1655. He obtained a Spendluffe scholarship a month after entering, and one on Dr. John Smith's foundation on the 14th of October 1653. Nothing is known of his university career except that on the 21st of October 1653 he was publicly admonished with another undergraduate for having been "scandalously overserved with drink." At Cambridge he wrote a romance, Love is a Cheat, which he afterwards destroyed. On the 1st of December 1655 he was married at St. Margaret's church, Westminster, to Elizabeth, daughter of Alexander Marchant, Sieur de St. Michel, a French Huguenot exile from Anjou who had married an English lady named Kingsmill. Pepys had at this time no independent means, and probably relied on his cousins, the Montagues, to provide for him. On the 26th of March 1658 he was cut for the stone, an event which he always kept in memory by a solemn anniversary. In 1659 he went as secretary with his cousin, Edward Montagu, afterwards Earl of Sandwich, on a voyage to the Sound. On his return he was engaged as a clerk under Mr. (afterwards Sir) Edward Downing, one of the four tellers of the exchequer. In 1660 he accompanied his cousin, who commanded the fleet which brought King Charles II back from exile. In that year, by the interest of his cousin, he was named "clerk of the acts" in the navy office, but was compelled to buy off a competitor, one Barlow, by an annuity of 100.

Pepys was now fairly established in the official career which led him to honor. On the 1st of January 1660 he had begun his second and hidden life as a diarist. It is in that capacity that he is of such unique interest. But if his diary had never been written, or had been lost, he would still be a notable man, as an able official, the author of valuable Memoirs of the Navy (1690), an amateur musician and protector of musicians, a gentleman who took an enlightened interest in science, and was elected president of the Royal Society. To his contemporary diarist, John Evelyn, he appeared as "a worthy, industrious and curious person." It is true that Andrew Marvell accused him of having accumulated a fortune of 40,000 by "illegal wages." But this charge, made in a pamphlet called A List of the principal Labourers in the great design of Popery and Arbitrary Power, was attributed to political animosity. To the world he appeared as an honorable and religious man, and so he would seem to have been to us if he had not recorded in his diary all those weaknesses of character and sins of the flesh which other men are most careful to conceal.

His place of clerk to the Navy Board was equivalent to the post of permanent under secretary in later times. It made him chief of the secretariat and a member of the administrating body of the navy. Though he was so ignorant of business that he did not even know the multiplication table when he first took office, he soon mastered the needful mechanical details by working early and late. He had other posts and honors, which came to him either as consequential on his clerkship or because he was a useful official. On the 23rd of July 1660 he was appointed one of the clerks of the privy seal, an office which returned him 3 a day in fees. He was made a justice of the peace. In 1662 he was appointed a younger brother of the Trinity House, and was named a commissioner for managing the affairs of Tangier, then occupied by an English garrison. In 1664 he became a member of the corporation of the Royal Fishery, to which body he was named treasurer when another official had brought the accounts into confusion. In that year he also joined the Royal Society. During the naval war with Holland (1664-67) he proved himself an indefatigable worker. As surveyor of the victualling, the whole burden of a most important department was thrown on him in addition to his regular duties. He in fact organized the department. While the plague was raging in London in 1666 he remained at his post when many of his colleagues ran away, and he manfully avowed his readiness to take the risk of disease, as others of the king's servants faced the dangers of war. He had now gained the full confidence of the lord high admiral, the Duke of York, afterwards King James II. When, on the termination of the war, the navy office was violently attacked in parliament, he was entrusted with its defense. The speech which he delivered at the bar of the House of Commons on the 5th of March 1668 passed for a complete vindication. In sober fact the charges of mismanagement were well founded, but the fault was not in the officials of the navy office only, and Pepys, who was master of the details, had no difficulty in throwing dust in the eyes of the House of Commons, which was ignorant. Nobody indeed was better acquainted with the defects of the office, for in 1668 he drew up for the Duke of York two papers of inquiry and rebuke, "The Duke's Reflections on the severall Members of the Navy Board's Duty" and "The Duke's answer to their severall excuses" (Harleian MS. 6003). In 1669 he travelled abroad. His success in addressing parliament gave him the ambition to become a member of the House of Commons. He stood for Aldborough, but the death of his wife, on the 10th of November 1669, prevented him from conducting his canvass in person, and he was not elected. In 1673 he was returned for Castle Rising. The validity of his election was questioned by his opponent, Mr. Offley, and the committee of privilege decided against him, but the prorogation of the house prevented further action. The no-popery agitation was now growing in strength. The Duke of York was driven from office by the Test Act, and Pepys was accused of "popery", partly on the ground that he was said to keep a crucifix and altar in his house, partly because he was accused of having converted his wife to Roman Catholicism. The crucifix story broke down on examination, but there is some reason to believe that Mrs. Pepys did become a Roman Catholic. Pepys was transferred by the king from the navy office to the secretaryship of the admiralty in 1673. In 1679 he was member for Harwich, and in the height of the popish plot mania he was accused, manifestly because he was a trusted servant of the Duke of York, of betraying naval secrets to the French, but the charges were finally dropped. Pepys was released on bail on the 12th of February 1680. In that year he accompanied the king to Newmarket, and took down the narrative of his escape after the battle of Worcester. A proposal to make him head of King's College, Cambridge, in 1681, came to nothing. In 1682 he accompanied the Duke of York to Scotland, where the uncleanly habits of the people caused him great offense. In 1683-84 he was engaged in arranging for the evacuation of Tangier. He visited the place and kept a diary of his voyage. In 1684 he was elected president of the Royal Society. On the accession of King James II in 1685 he retained his place as secretary to the admiralty, to which he had been appointed by patent when James resumed the lord high admiralship (June 10, 1684), and Pepys was in effect minister for the navy. The revolution of 1688 ended his official career. He was dismissed on the 9th of March 1689, and spent the rest of his life in retirement, and, except for a brief imprisonment on the charge of Jacobite intrigue in 1690, in peace. He died at his house in Clapham on the 25th of May 1703. His last years were passed in correspondence with his friends, who included Evelyn and John Dryden, or in arranging his valuable library. It was left on his death to his nephew, John Jackson, son of his sister Pauline, and in 1724, by the terms of his will, was transferred to Magdalene College, Cambridge, where it is still preserved.

Such was the outward and visible life of Samuel Pepys, the public servant whose diligence was rewarded by success. The other Pepys, whom Sir Walter Scott called "that curious fellow", was revealed in 1825, when his secret diary was partly published. The first entry was made on the 1st of January 1660, the last on the 31st of May 1669, when the increasing weakness of his eyes, which had given him trouble since 1664, compelled him to cease writing in the conditions he imposed upon himself. If there is in all the literature of the world a book which can be called "unique" with strict propriety it is this. Confessions, diaries, journals, autobiographies abound, but such a revelation of a man's self has not yet been discovered. The diary is a thing apart by virtue of three qualities which are rarely found in perfection when separate and nowhere else in combination. It was secret; it was full; and it was honest. That Pepys meant it for his own eye alone is clear. He wrote it in Shelton's system of tachygraphy published in 1641, which he complicated by using foreign languages or by varieties of his own invention whenever he had to record the passages least fit to be seen by his servants or by "all the world." Relying on his cipher he put down whatever he saw, heard, felt or imagined, every motion of his mind, every action of his body. And he noted all this, not as he desired it to appear to others, but as it was to his seeing. The result is "a human document" of amazing vitality. The man who displays himself to himself in the diary is often odious, greedy, cowardly, casuistical, brutal. He tells how he kicked his cook, and blacked his wife's eye, and was annoyed when others saw what he had done. He notes how he compelled the wives of unfortunate men who came to draw their husband's pay at the navy office to prostitute themselves; how he took "compliments", that is to say gifts, from all who had business to do with the navy office; how he got tipsy and suffered from sick headache; how he repented, made vows of sobriety, and found casuistical excuses for breaking them. The style is as peculiar as the matter -- colloquial, garrulous, racy from simplicity of language, and full of the unconscious humor which is never absent from a truthful account of the workings of nature in the average sensual man. His position enabled him to see much. His complete harmony with the animalism and vulgarity of the Restoration makes him a valuable witness for his time. To his credit must be put the facts that he knew the animalism and vulgarity to be what they were; that he had a real love of music and gave help to musicians, Cesare Morelli for instance; that though he made money out of his places he never allowed bad work to be done for the navy if he could help it; that he was a hard worker; and that he had a capacity for such acts of kindness and generosity as are compatible with a gross temperament and a pedestrian ambition.

The diary, written in a very small hand in six volumes, was included among his books at Magdalene. On the publication of Evelyn's diary in 1818, the then head of Magdalene, the Hon. and Rev. George Neville, decided to publish Pepys's. Part of the manuscript was deciphered by his cousin Lord Grenville. The library contained both the short and the longhand copies of Pepys's account of King Charles's adventures, but its books were so little known by the curators that this key was overlooked. The manuscript was deciphered by John Smith, afterwards rector of Baldock in Hertfordshire, between 1819 and 1822. The first and partial edition, edited by Richard Neville Griffin, 3rd Lord Braybrooke, appeared in 1825 in two volumes quarto (London). It attracted great attention and was reviewed by Sir Walter Scott in the Quarterly for January 1826. A second edition in two octavo volumes followed in 1828 (London). A third and enlarged edition in five volumes octavo appeared in 1848-49, and a fourth in four in 1854 (London). In 1875-79 Dr. Minors Bright published a still fuller edition in six volumes octavo (London). Many portraits of Pepys are known to have been taken and several can be traced. One was taken by Savill (1661), another by John Hales (1666), now in the National Portrait Gallery. A portrait by Sir Peter Lely is in the Pepysian library, Magdalene College, Cambridge. Three portraits were taken by Sir Godfrey Kneller, of which one belongs to the Royal Society, and another is in the Hall of Magdalene. Pepys's only known publication in his life was the Memoirs of the Navy, but other writings have been attributed to him.

Father: John Pepys (tailor)
Mother: Margaret Kite
Sister: Paulina
Wife: Elizabeth Marchant (m. 1-Dec-1655)

    University: Trinity Hall, Cambridge University
    University: Magdalene, Cambridge University

    Royal Society President (1684-86)
    Royal Society 1664
    Espionage 1679 (charge dropped)
    Inmate: Tower of London six weeks (1679)
    Vasectomy byproduct of kidney stone surgery (1658)


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