Samuel Pepys

Hieronder het artikel uit Chambers’s cyclopædia of English Literature uit 1886 over Samuel Pepys.


Letter Very different from the diary of good and grave John Evelyn is that of his friend Samuel Pepys (1632 – 1703), who was Secretary to the Admiralty in the reigns of Charles II, and James II.

Though not undistinguished in his official career, Pepys would have been slightly remembered had he not left behind him, in short-hand, a diary extending over above nine years – from January 1659 – 1660 to May 1669 – which being deciphered and published by Lord Braybrooke in 1825, gave the world a curious and faithful picture of the times, including almost every phase of public and social life, from the gaieties of the court to the pettiest details of domestic economy, business, and amusements.

The character of Pepys himself, and his gradual rise in the world, with all his recorded foibles, weaknesses, and peculiarities, as displayed in his daily intercourse with society of all classes, form a highly amusing and instructive study, quite dramatic in its lights and shades, and of never-failing interest.

He had excellent opportunities for observation, and nothing appeared too minute for notice in his diary, while his system of short-hand writing gave him both facility and secrecy in recording his memorands of passing events.

Pepys was of humble origin, the son of a London tailor, who had retired to Brampton, near Huntingdon, where he died. Samuel had a powerful and wealthy cousin, Sir Edward Montagu, afterwards the first Earl of Sandwich, to whose good offices he owed his advancement. Having studied at the university of Cambridge as a sizer, Pepys, in his twenty-third year, married a young lady of fifteen, who had just left a convent, and had no fortune. The consequences of this imprudent step might have been serious had not Sir Edward Montagu afforded an asylum in his house to the youthful pair. When the patron sailed upon his expedition to the Sound, in 1658, he took Pepys with him; and on their return, the latter was employed as a clerk in one of the government offices – living, he says, „in Axe Yard, having my wife, and servant Jane, and no other in family than us three”.

The times, however, were stirring – the restoration of monarchy was at hand, and Pepys’s patron, Montagu, was employed to bring home Charles II. He took his cousin with him as secretary to the generals of the fleet; and when Montagu was rewarded for his loyal zeal and services with an earldom and public office, Pepys was appointed Clerk of the Acts of the Navy.

This situation he afterwards exchanged for the higher one of Secretary to the Admiralty, which he held until the accession of William and Mary. He lived afterwards in a sort of dignified retirement, well earned by faithful public services, and by a useful and meritorious life.

The diary of Pepys can only be well understood or appreciated by longer extracts than our limits will permit. At the period of its commencement, his fortunes were at a low ebb; but after his voyage with Montagu, in June 1660, he records that on casting up his accounts he found that he was worth £100, „for which”, he piously adds, „I bless Almighty God, it being more than I hoped for so soon, being, I believe, not clearly worth £25 when I come to sea, besides my house and goods.” The emoluments and perquisites of his office soon added to his riches, and the Clerk of the Acts gradually soared into that region of fashion and gaiety which he had contemplated with wonder and admiration from a distance. On the 10th of July, he pur on his first silk suit; and the subsequent additions to his wardrobe – camlet cloaks, with gold and silver buttons, &c. – are all carefully noted. His wife (whom he is never tired of praising) also shares in this finery, and het first grand appearance is thus recorded:


Mrs Pepys in a New Dress

August 18.
Towards Westminster by water. I landed my wife at Whitefriars with £5 ; but she doing it very innocently, I could be angry. Captain Ferrers took me and Creed to the Cockpit play, for the first that I have had time to see since my coming from sea, The Loyall Subject, where on Kinaston, a boy, acted the Duke’s sister, but made the loveliest lady that ever I saw in my life. after the play done, we went to drink, and by Captain Ferrers means, Kinaston, and another that acted Archas the General, came and drank with us.

19.(Lord’s day)
This morning Sir W. Batten, Pen and myself, went to church to the churchwardens, to demand a pew, which at present could not be given us; but we are resolved to have one built. So we staid, and heard Mr.Mills, a very good minister. Home to dinner, where my wife had on her new petticoat, that she bought yesterday, which indeed is a very fine cloth and a fine lace; but that being of a light colour, and the lace all silver, it makes no great show.

Of this gossiping complexion are most of Pepys’s entries. The severe morality and deeper feeling of Evelyn would have suppressed much of what his friend set down without comment or scruple, but the picture thus presented of the court, and of the manners of the time, would have been less lively and less true. We subjoin almost at random, a few passages from Pepys’s faithful and minute chronicle:


Charles II and the Queen in the park

Hearing that the king and Queene are rode abroad with the Ladies of Honour to the Park; and seeing a great crowd of gallants staying here to see their return, I also staid, walking up and down. By and by the King and Queene, who looked in this dress, a white laced waistcoate and a crimson short petticoat, and her hair dressed à la négligence, mighty pretty; and the King rode hand in hand with her. Here was also my Lady Castlemaine, [who] rode among the rest of the ladies; but the king took, methought, no notice of her; nor when she ‘light, did anybody press, as she seemed to expect, and staid for it, to tkae her down, but was taken down by her own gentleman. She looked mighty out of humour, and had a yellow plume in het hat, which all took notice of, and yet is very handsome, but very melancholy; nor did anybody speak to her, or she so much as smile or speak to anybody. I followed them up into Whitehall, and into the Queene’s presence, where all the ladies walked, talking and fiddling with their hats and feathers, and changing and trying one another’s by one another’s heads and laughing. But it was the finest sight to me, considering their great beautys and dress, that ever I did see in all my life. But above al, Mrs. Stewart [afterwards Duchess of Richmond] in this dresse, with het hat cocked and a red plume, with her sweet eye, little Roman nose, and excellent taille, is now the greatest beauty I ever saw, I think, in my life; and, if ever woman can, do exceed my Lady Castlemaine, at least in this dress: nor do I wonder if the king changes, which I verily believe is the reason of his coldness to my Lady Castlemaine.


Mr.Pepys sets up a Carriage

November 5, 1668
With Mr.Povy spent all the afternoon going up and down among the coachmakers in Cow Lane, and did see several, and at last did pitch upon a little chariott, whose body was framed, but not covered, at the widow’s, that made Mr. Lowther’s fine couch; and we are mightily pleased with it, it being light, and will be very genteel and sober: to be covered with leather, but yet will hold four. Being much satisfied with this, I carried him to Whitehall. Home, where I give my wife a good account of my day’s work.

My wife, after dinner, went the first time abroad in her coach, calling on Roger Pepys, and visiting Mrs. Creed, and my cosen Turner. Thus ended this month with very good content, but most expeseful to my purse in things of pleasure, having finished my wife’s closet and the best chamber, and a coach and horses, that ever I knew in the world; and I am put into the greatest condition of outward state, that ever I was in, or hoped ever to be, or desired.

December 2
Abroad with my wife, the first time that ever I rode in my own coach, which do make my heart rejoice, and praise God, and pray him to bless it to me and continue it. So she and I to the King’s playhouse, and there saw the Usurper; a pretty good play, in all but what is designed to resemble Cromwell and Hugh Peters, which is mighty silly. The play done, we to Whitehall; where my wife staid while I up to the Duchesse’s and Queene’s side, to speak with the Duke of York: and here saw all the ladies, and heard the silly discourse of the King, with his people about him.

April 11, 1669
Thence to the Park, my wife and I; and here Sir W. Coventry did first see me and my wife in a coach of our own; and so did also this night the Duke of York, who did eye my wife mightily. But I begin to doubt that my being so much seen in my own coach at this time may be observed to my prejudice; but I must venture it now.

May 1
Up betimes. Called my tailor, and there first put on a summer suit this year; but it was not my fine one of flowered tabby vest, and coloured camelott tunique, because it was too fine with the gold lace at the bands, that I was afraid to be seen in it; but put on the stuff suit I made the last year, which is now repaired; and so did go to the Office in it, and sat all the morning, the day looking as if it would be fowle. At noon, home to dinner, and there find my wife extraordinary fine, with het flowered tabby gown that she made two years ago, now laced exceeding pretty; and, indeed, was fine all over; and mighty earnest to go, though the day was very lowering; and she would have me to put on my fine suit, which I did. And so anon we went alone through the town with out own new liveries of serge, and the horses’ manes and tails tied with red ribbons, and the standards gilt with vanish, and all clean, and green reines, that people did mightily look upon us; and, the truth is, I did not see any coach more pretty, though more gay, than ours, all the day. But we sat out, out of humour – I because Betty, whom I expected was not come to go with us; and my wife that I would sit on the same seat with her, which she likes not, being so fine: and she then expected to meet Sheres, which we did in the Pell Mell, and against my will, I was forced to take him into the coach, but was sullen all day almost, and little complaisant: the day being unpleasing, though the Park full of coaches, but dusty, and windy, and cold, and now and then a little dribbling of rain; and, what made it worse, there were so many hackney-coaches as spoiled the sight of the gentlemen’s ; and so we had little pleasure. But here was W. Batelier and his sister in a borrowed coach by themselves, and I took them a syllabub, and other things, cost me 12s and pretty merry.


Mr.Pepys tries to admire Hudibras

December 26, 1662
To the Wardrobe. Hither come Mr. Battersby; and we falling into discourse of a new book of drollery in use, called Hudibras, I would needs go find it out, and met with it at the Temple: cost me 2. 6d. But when I come to read it, it is so silly an abuse of the Presbyter Knight going to the warrs, that I am ashamed of it; and by and by meeting at Mr. Townsend’s at dinner, I sold it to him for 18.

February 6
To Lincoln’s Inn Fields; and it being too soon to go to dinner, I walked up and down, and looked upon the outside of the new theatre building, in Covent Garden, which will be very fine. And so to a bookseller’s in the Strand, and there bought Hudibras again, it being certainly some ill-humour to be so against that which all the world cries up to be the example of wit; for which I am resolved once more to read him, and see whether I can find it or no.

November 28
To Paul’s Church-yard, and there looked upon the second part of Hudibras, which I buy not, but borrow to read, to see if it be as good as the first, which the world cried so mightily up, though it hath not a good liking in me, though I had tried but twice or three times reading to bring myself to think it witty.


Mr.Pepys at the Theatre

March 2, 1667
After dinner, with my wife, to the King’s house to see The Maiden Queene, a new play of Dryden’s mightily commended for the regularity of it, and the strain and wit; and, the truth is, there is a comical part done by Nell Gwynne, which is Florimell, that I never can hope ever to see like done again, by man or woman. The King and Duke of York were at the play. Bur so great performance of a comical part was never, I believe, in the world before as Nell do this both as a mad girle, then most and best of all, when she comes in like a young gallant; and hath the motions and carriage of a spark the most that ever I saw any man have. It makes me, I confess, admire her.

October 5
To the King’s house; and there, going in, met with Knipp, and she took us up into the tireingrooms: and to the woman’s shift, where Nell was dressing herself, and was all unready, and is very pretty, prettier than I tought. And into the scene-room, and there sat down, and she gave us fruit: and here I read the questions to Knipp, while she answered me, through all her part of Flora Figarys, which was acted to-day. But, Lord! to see how they were both painted would make a man mad, and did make me loath them; and what base company of men comes among them, and how lewdy they talk! and how poor the men are in clothes, and yet what a show they make on the stage by candle-light, is very observable. But to see how Nellcursed for having so few people in the pit, was pretty; the other house carrying away all the people at the new play, and is said, now-a-days, to have generally most company, as being better players. By and by into the pit, and there saw the play, which is pretty good.

December 28
To the King’s house, and there saw The Mad Couple, which is but an ordinary play; but only Nell’s and Hart’s mad parts are most excellent done, but espacially hers: which makes it a miracle to me to think how ill she do any serious part, as, the other day, just like a fool or changeling; and in a mad part do beyond imitation almost. It pleased us mightily to see the natural affection of a poor woman, the mother of one of the children, brought on the stage: the child crying, she by force got upon the stage, and took up her child, and carried it away off the stage from Hart. Many fine faces here to-day.

February 27, 1667-8
With my wife to the King’s house, to see The Virgin Martyr, the first time it hath been acted a great while: and it is mighty pleasant; not that the play is worth much, but ir is finely acted by Beck Marshall. But that which did pleae me beyond anything in the whole world was the wind-musick when the angel comes down, which is so sweet that it ravished me, and indeed, in a word, did wrap up my soul so that it made me really sick, just as I have formerly been when in love with my wife; that neither then, nor all the evening going home, and at home, I was able to think of anything, but remained all night transported, so as I could not believe that ever any musick that that real command over the soul of a man asthis did upon me: and makes me resolve to practise wind-musick, and to make my wife do the like.


Mr.Pepys at Church

May 26, 1667
My wife and I to church, where several strangers of good condition come to our pew. After dinner, I by water alone to Westminster to the parish church, and there did entertain myself with my perspective glass up and down the church, by which I had the great pleasure of seeing and gazing at a great mane very fine women; and what with that, and sleeping, i passed away the time till sermon was done. I away to my boat, and up with it as far as Barne Elmes, reading of Mr. Evelyn’s late new book against Solitude, in which I do not find much excess of good matter, though it be pretty for a bye discourse.

August 18
To Cree Church, to see how it is: but I find no alteration there, as they say there was, for my Lord Mayor and Aldermen to some to sermon, as they do every Sunday, as they did formerly to Paul’s. There dined with me Mr.Turner and his daughter Betty. Betty is grown a fine young lady as to carriage and discourse. We had a good haunch of venison, powdered and boiled, and a good dinner. I walked towards Whitehall, but, being wearied, turned into St. Dunstan’s Church, where I heard an able sermon of the minister of the place; and stood by a pretty, modest, maid, whom I did labour to take by the hand; but she would not, but got further and further from me; and at last, I could perceive her to take pins out of her pockets to prick me if I should touch her again – which, seeing, I did forbear, and was glad I did spy her design. And then I fell to gaze upon another pretty maid, in a pew close to me, and she on me; and I did go about to take her by the hand, which she suffered a little and then withdrew. So the sermon ended.


Domestic Scene between Mr. and Mrs.Pepys

May 11, 1667
My wife being dressed this day in fair hair did make me so mad, that I spoke not one word to her, though I was ready to burst with anger. After that, Creed and I into the Park, and walked, a most pleasant evening, and so took coach, and took up my wife, and in my way home discovered my trouble to my wife for het white locks, swearing several times, which I pray God forgive me for, and bending my fist that I would not endure it. She, poor wretch, was surprised with it, and made me no answer all the way home; but there we parted, and I to the office late, and then home, and without supper to bed, vexed.

12 (Lord’s day)
Up and to my chamber, to settle some accounts there, and by and by down comes my wife to me in her night-gown, and we begun calmly, that, upon having money to lace her gown for second mourning, she would promise to wear white locks no more in my sight, which I, like a severe fool, thinking not enough, begun to except against, and made her fly out to very high terms and cry, and in her heat, told me of keeping company with Mrs.Knipp, saying, that if I would promise never to see her more – of whom she hath more reason to suspect than I had heretofore of Pembleton – she would never wear white locks more. This vexed me, but I restrained myself from saying anything, but do think never to see this woman – at least, to have her here more; and so all very good friends as ever. My wife and I bethought ourselves to go to a French house to dinner, and so inquired out Monsieur Robins, my perriwig-maker, who keeps an ordinary, and in an ugly street in Covent Garden, did find him at the door, and so we in; and in a moment almost had the table covered, and clean glasses, and all in the French manner, and a mess of potage first, and then a piece of boeuf-a-la-mode, all exceeding well seasoned, and to our great liking; at least it would have been anywhere else but in this bad street, and in a perriwig-maker’s house; but to see the pleasant and ready attendance that we had, and all things so desirous to please, and ingenious in the people, did take me mightily. Our dinner cost us 6s.


Mr.Pepys makes a Great Speech at the Bar of the House of Commons in defence of the Navy Board

March 5, 1668
I full of thoughts and trouble touching the issue of this day; and, to comfort myself, did go to the Dog, and drink half a pint of mulled sack, and in the hall did drink a dram of brandy at Mts.Hewlett’s; and with the warmth of this did find myself in better order as to courage, truly. So we all up to the lobby; and, between eleven and twelve o’clock, were called in, with the mace before us, into the House, where a mighty full House; and we stood at the bar – namely, Brouncker, Sir J. Minnes, Sir T. Harvey, and myself, W. Penn being in the House, as a member. I perceive the whole House was full of expectation of our defence what it would be, and with great prejudice. After the Speaker had told us the dissatisfaction of the House, and read the Report of the Committee, I began our defence most acceptable and smoothly, and continued at it without any hesitation or loss, but with full scope, and all my reason free about me, as if it had been at my own table, from that time till past three the afternoon; and so ended, without any interruption from the Speaker; but we withdrew. And there all my fellow-officers, and all the world that was within hearing, did congratulate me, and cry up my speech as the best thing they ever heard. To my wife, whom W. Hewer had told of my succes, and she overjoyed; and, after talking a while, I betimes to bed, having had no quiet rest a good while.

Up betimes, and with Sir D. Gauden to Sir W. Coventry’s chamber; where the first word he said to me was: „Good-morrow, Mr. Pepys, that must be Speaker of the Parliament-house:” and did protest I had got honour for ever in Parliament. He said that his brother, that sat by him, admires me; and another gentleman said that I could not get less than £1000 a year, if I would put on a gown and plead at the Chancery-bar; but what pleases me most, he tells me that the Solicitor-general did protest that he tought I spoke the best of any man in England. After several talks with him alone touching his own business, he carried me to Whitehall, and there parted; and I to the Duke of York’s lodgings, and find him going to the Park, it being a very fine morning, and I after him; and as soon as he saw me, he told me, with great satisfaction, that I had converted a great many yesterday, and did, with great praise of me, go on with the discourse with me. And, by and by, overtaking the King, the King and Duke of York came to me both; and he [the King] said: „Mr. Pepys, I am very glad of your succes yesterday;” and fell to talk of my well speaking; and many of the Lords there. My Lord Barkeley did cry me up for what they had heard of it; and others, Parliament-men there, about the King, did say that they never heard such a speech in their lives delivered in that manner. Progers, of the Bedchamber, swore to me afterwards before Brouncker, in the afternoon, that he did tell the King that he tought I match the Solicitor-general. Everybody that saw me almost came to me, as Joseph Williamson and others, with such eulogies as cannot be expressed. From thence I went to Westminster Hall, where I met Mr. G. Montagu, who came to me and kissed me, and told me that he had often heretofore kissed my hands, but now he would kiss my lips: protesting that I was another Cicero, and said, all the world said the same of me.

Pepys, like Evelyn, records the daily devastation of the Great Fire, but with less minuteness. He had, however, watched the poor people lingering about their houses and furniture, until the fire touched them; and then running into the boats, or clambering by the waterside from one pair of stairs to another; „and among other things, the poor pigeons were loth to leave their houses, and hovered about the windows and balconies till they burned theur wings and fell down.”