Samuel Pepys

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Samual Pepys (1633-1703) was a 17th century English civil servant, famous for his diary.

Pepys was born in London in 1633, the son of a tailor. He was educated at St Paul's School, London, and Magdalene College, Cambridge. In 1655 he married and in the following year entered the household of his cousin Admiral Edward Montagu. On January 1st, 1660 he starts his diary. The same year he became Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board. In May 1669 his diary is brought to a sudden conclusion, owing to the weak state of Mr Pepys's eyes. His wife died the same year. In 1672 he was appointed Secretary to the Admiralty, an appointment he held with one interruption of four years at the end of Charles II's reign until the Glorious Revolution when he retired from public life. As well as being one of the most important civil servants of his age, he was a widely cultivated man, taking a learned interest in books, music, the theatre and science. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1665 and later served as President. He died childless in 1703. His contemporary John Evelyn remembered him as "universally beloved, hospitable, generous, learned in many things".

When Pepys died his diaries were bequeathed to Magdalene College, Cambridge. The 6 volumes were written in a cipher based on short-hand. The books were first deciphered by Mr John Smith from 1819 to 1822. A shortend publication appeared in 1825, the complete diary appeared 1893.

Samuel Pepys recorded his daily life for almost ten years in breathtaking honesty. His diary reveals his jealousies, insecurities, trivial concerns, and his sad mistreatment of his wife. It is an important account of London in the 1660's. Included are his personal account of the restoration of the monarchy, war with the Dutch, fire, and plague. His job required that he meet with many people to dispense monies and make contracts. He often laments over how he "lost his labour" having gone to some appointment at a coffee house or tavern there to discover that the person he was seeking was not within. This was a constant frustration to Pepys.

On the other hand the diary gives a detailed account of Pepys personal life. He liked wine, plays and was a womanizer. He also spent a great deal of time evaluating his fortune and his place in the world. He was always curious and often acted on that curiosity, as he acted upon almost all his impulses.

Periodically he would resolve to cut down on drinking and womanizing and to devote more time to those endeavors where he thought his time should be spent. For example, this entry on Dec. 31, 1661, "I have newly taken a solemn oath about abstaining from plays and wine..." The following months reveal his lapses to the reader as by Feb. 17 "And here I drank wine upon necessity, being ill for the want of it."

The diary gives a detailed account of the pattern of Pepys life. Reading it, one cannot help thinking how very much we must all be alike.