In this early selection from his diaries of the year 1660, Samuel Pepys is 26 years old. He has already been married to Elizabeth St Michel for five years. He works as a clerk in the Exchequer under George Downing (after whom Downing Street was named). Pepys also serves under Edward Mountagu (My Lord, in his diaries) as his man of affairs. Mountagu becomes a General-at-Sea and contributes towards the restoration of the monarchy. Due to such eminent patrons, Pepys very soon rises to become an important figure in the administrative affairs of the British Navy. As Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board, his talent for meticulous organisation proves invaluable from 1665 when the Dutch war breaks out. In February of that year he is nominated Treasurer of the Board. The extra work and responsibities however, worsens his failing eyesight. His conviction that he is going blind eventually persuades him to limit his writing as much as possible.
It goes without saying that Pepys' records speak for themselves, and the following from 1660, the year he began his diaries, are also chosen as good examples.
26th January- For details regarding a fine meal of the period.
7th February- For candidness. (The despised Rump Parliament continued to govern after the fall of Richard Cromwell, April, 1659. Its aims were to banish the monarchy as well as the House of Lords indefinitely, and to continue to advocate 'Godliness' in general. Monck who supported civil authority, headed the army in Scotland and marched to London to oblige the Rump Parliament to admit moderate members and to finally arrange free elections. This also heralded the restoration of King Charles II).
11th February- Explicit descriptions of the scenes of joy and festivities after the fall of the Rump parliament.
25th May and 13th July- Philosophical, ironical and humane observations.
4th and 22nd September- Notes that reveal Pepys' life-long, immoderate appreciation of women, and his love of life.
13th October- Matter of fact observations which seem to indicate general acceptance and tolerance of the excessive punishment (the execution of Major-General Harrison) as decreed by the law in 17th century England.
20th October- Casual, quasi tolerant observations that reveal the general conditions of hygiene of the epoch.
Because Pepys omitted nothing, and seemed to set this, most fortunately, as a standard and sacred criterion that determines the immense value of his diaries, he transports his readers into the 17th century. He did this so well that one can almost feel the quality of the clothes, the heat of the fires, the force of the wind, the rain or the cold. One can almost hear the creaking of the ships, taste the ale and smell the variety of dishes served, (as well as perceive the stench of other things far less appealing).
Never have historic events, combined with day to day life, including excellent observations and descriptions, dry and amusing insinuations, and personal, affective allusions, been so strikingly and vividly portrayed.
Again these extracts naturally respect his way of writing as well as any incidental errors.
Home from my office to my Lord's lodgings, where my wife had got ready a very fine dinner: viz. a dish of marrow bones; a leg of mutton; a loin of veal; a dish of fowl; three pullets, and two dozen larks, all in a dish; a great tart; a neat's tongue; a dish of anchoves; a dish of prawns, and cheese. My company was my father, my uncle Fenner, his two sons, Mr Pierce, and all their wifes, and my brother Tom. We were as merry as I could frame myself to be in that company.
Boys do now cry 'Kiss my Parliament!' instead of 'Kiss my arse!' so great and general a contempt is the Rump come to among all men, good or bad.
I walked in (Westminster) Hall, where I heard the news of a letter from Monke, who was now gone into the city again and did resolve to stand for the sudden filling up of the House; and it was very strange how the countenance of men in the Hall was all changed with joy in half an hour's time. Thence we took coach for the city to Guildhall, where the hall was full of people expecting Monke and Lord Mayor to come thither, and all very joyful. And endeed I saw many people give the soldiers drink and money, and all along in the streets cried, 'God bless them!' and extraordinary good words. In Cheapside there was a great many bonfires, and Bow bells and all the bells in all the churches as we went home were a-ringing. Hence we went homewards, it being about 10 a-clock. But the common joy that was everywhere to be seen! The number of bonfires, there being fourteen between St Dunstan's and Temple Bar. And at Strand Bridge I could at one view tell thirty-one fires. In King Streete, seven or eight, and all along burning and roasting and drinking for rumps- there being rumps tied upon sticks and carried up and down. The butchers at the Maypole in the Strand rang a peal with their Knifes when they were going to sacrifice their rump. On Ludgate Hill there was one turning of the spit, that had rump tied upon it, and another basting of it. Indeed, it was past imagination, both the greatness and the suddenness of it. At one end of the street, you would think there was a whole lane of fire, and so hot that we were fain to keep still on the further side merely for heat.
By the morning we were come close to the land and everybody made ready to get on shore. The King and two Dukes did eat their breakfast before they went, and there being set some shipps diet before them, only to show them the manner of the shipps diet, they eat nothing else but pease and pork and boiled beef. I spoke with the Duke of York about business, who called me Pepys by name, and upon my desire did promise me his future favour. I went, and Mr Mansell and one of the King's footmen, with a dog that the King loved (which shit in the boat, which made us laugh and me think that a King and all that belong to him are just as others are) went in a boat by ourselfs; and so got on shore when the King did, who was received by Generall Monke with all imaginable love and respect at his entrance upon the land at Dover. Infinite the croud of people and the gallantry of the horsemen, citizens, and noblemen of all sorts. The Mayor of the town came and gave him his white staffe, the badge of his place, which the King did give him again.
The Mayor also presented him from the town a very rich Bible, which he took and said it was the thing that he loved above all things in the world.
Up early, the first day that I put on my black camlott coat with silver buttons. To Mr Spong, whom I found in his nightgown writing my patent; and so carried it to Mr Beale for a dockett. But he was very angry, and unwilling to do it, because he said it was ill-writ (because I had got it writ by another hand and not by him); but by much importunity I got Mr Spong to go to his office and make an end of my patent, and in the meantime Mr Beale to be preparing my dockett; which being done, I did give him two pieces, after which it was strange how civil and tractable he was to me. From thence I went to the Navy Office, where we despatched much business and resolved of the houses for the Officers and Commissioners, which I was glad of, and I got leave to have a door made me into the leads.
To Axeyard to my house; where standing at the door, Mrs Diana comes by, whom I took into my house upstairs and there did dally with her a great while, and find that in Latin nulla puella negat. So home by water; and there sat up late, putting my papers in order and my money also, and teaching my wife her musique lessons, in which I take great pleasure. So to bed.
(Llewellyn and I) walked to Fleetstreete, where at Mr Standings in Salsbury Court we drank our morning draught and had pickled herring. Among other discourse here, he told me how the pretty woman that I always loved at the beginning of Cheapside that sells children's coates was served by the Lady Bennet (a famous strumpet), who by counterfeiting to fall into a swoune upon the sight of her in her shop, became acquainted with her and at last got her ends of her to lie with a gallant that had hired her to procure this poor soul for him.
I went out to Charing Cross to see Major-Generall Harrison hanged, drawn, and quartered- which was done there- he looking as cheerful as any man could do in that condition. He was presently cut down and his head and his heart shown to the people, at which there was great shouts of joy. It is said that he said that he was sure to come shortly at the right hand of Christ to judge them that now have judged him. And that his wife doth expect his coming again. Thus it was my chance to see the King° beheaded at Whitehall and to see the first blood shed in revenge for the blood of the King at Charing Cross. °King Charles I
This morning one came to me to advise with me where to make me a window into my cellar in lieu of one that Sir W. Batten had stopped up; and going down my cellar to look, I put my foot into a great heap of turds, by which I find that Mr Turners house of office is full and comes into my cellar, which doth trouble me; but I will have it helped. To my Lord's where I dined. He was very merry and did talk very high how he would have a French cooke and a Master of his Horse, and his lady and child to wear black patches; which methought was strange, but he is become a perfect courtier; and among other things, my Lady saying that she would have a good merchant for her daughter Jem, he answered that he would rather see her with a pedlar's pack on her back, so she married a gentleman rather then that she should marry a citizen.
Text (source- The Illustrated Pepys, with thanks) transposed images-
(portrait of SP, painting of Great Fire of London) © Mirino (PW) September, 2012