SAMUEL PEPYS Biography - Theater, Opera and Movie personalities


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Samuel Pepys (February 23, 1633 - May 26, 1703) was a 17th century English civil servant, famous for his diary. (His surname was then pronounced “Peeps", although some modern relatives with the name pronounce theirs “Pep-iss".) The diary is a fascinating combination of personal revelation and eyewitness accounts of great events, such as the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London. 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 1, 1660 he started his diary. The same year he became Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board. In May 1669 his diary came to a sudden conclusion, owing to the weak state of Pepys’ 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 and was later succeeded by his former clerk Josiah Burchett. 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". Pepys’ character seems encapsulated in his Latin motto mens cujusque is est quisque, which can be translated as “The Mind is the Man".


Pepys was a lifelong bibliophile and carefully nurtured his large collection of books, manuscripts and prints, which totalled exactly 3,000 volumes at his death. These comprise one of the most important surviving 17th-century private libraries, with remarkable holdings of incunabula, manuscripts and printed ballads. Pepys made elaborate provisions in his will for the preservation of the library, and since 1724 it has been kept intact in Pepys’ original bookcases as The Pepys Library at Magdalene College, Cambridge, carefully following Pepys’ instruction that “the placing as to heighth be strictly reviewed and where found requiring it more nicely adjusted".


Amongst the most important items in the Library are the original bound manuscripts of Pepys’ diary. The six volumes were written in one of the many forms of shorthand used in Pepys’ time, but after his death they were thought to be ciphered. After finding the specific shorthand book in Pepys’ library, John Smith was able to put the diaries in plain English (1819 to 1822). A shortened (and expurgated) publication appeared in 1825; the complete diary of more than 3800 pages appeared in 1893.


Pepys recorded his daily life for almost ten years in breathtaking honesty; the women he pursued, his friends, his dealings are all laid out. His diary reveals his jealousies, insecurities, trivial concerns, and his fractious relationship with his wife. It is an important account of London in the 1660s. Included are his personal account of the restoration of the monarchy, the Great Plague of 1665, the Great Fire of London of 1666, and the arrival of the Dutch fleet, 1665-1667.


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.


The diary similarly gives a detailed account of Pepys’ personal life. He liked wine and 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 New Year’s Eve, 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 February 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. His characteristic closing sentence was: “And so to bed.”


In 2002, Claire Tomalin won the 2002 Whitbread Book of the Year for writing the biography Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self. The awarders called it a “rich, thoughtful and deeply satisfying” account that “unearth[s] a wealth of material about the uncharted life of Samuel Pepys", notably providing context for the Diaries and an account of the 34 years of his life following their end.


In December 2003, his diary, which was at the time being serialised as a weblog run by Phil Gyford, won an award in The Guardian’s Best of British Blogs, in the specialist-blog category.