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The diary that Samuel Pepys (pronounced “peeps,” 1633-1703) kept from 1660 khổng lồ 1669 is the most famous diary written in the English language. In part this is because Pepys was writing at a fascinating moment, and, living in London & working for the government, he was in a good position to lớn see important historical events take place in real time. Pepys began writing his diary just weeks beforethe restoration of the monarchy in 1660, and he was even on the ship that was sent to lớn bring Charles II back khổng lồ England.He was an eyewitness lớn Charles’s coronation, to the Great Fire of London in 1666, to a terrible occurrence of the plague, và to the wars that England fought with the Dutch in that decade, wars that turned out to lớn be crucially important lớn establishing England as the dominant naval power in the north Atlantic. Và as an important figure in the administration of the Royal Navy, he became a participant as well in the machinery of the state.

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Samuel Pepys, painted by John Hayls in 1666 (National Portrait Gallery, London). Pepys is holding a piece of music that he had composed.

The diary is also rich with the stuff of daily life. Pepys was trained as an accountant, & he brings the thorough documentary habits of abookkeeperto the task of recording his experience. He madedaily records of everything–the money he spent, the people he visited, the plays he saw, the songs he thanh lịch (he was a good amateur musician). Pepys was a man of tremendous energy–he sometimes got up at 4 or 5 in the morning to get started on the day’s work in the office–and reveled openly in the sensual pleasures of good food, entertainment, sex, và his growing wealth và the material goods it enabled him to lớn acquire. Pepys’ diary provides an extraordinary window into both high politics & ordinary experience in a key decade in English history.

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During the period of the diary, Pepys was married; his wife Elisabeth was the daughter of French immigrants, and she was not quite fifteen years old when they married in 1655 (Samuel was 22). Most of what we know about what Elisabeth was like comes filtered through Samuel’s diary, which is unfortunate; it would be thrilling to lớn discover her own perspective on the period and on their marriage. BySamuel’s account, the marriage was an affectionate one, but complicated by his jealousy of her friendships with other men and, even moreso, by his own philandering. Samuel pursued sexual relationships with several women, pursuits that he recounted in the diary, most notably, in late 1668, with Deborah Willet, Elisabeth’s own maid. Elisabeth was understandably furious when she discovered Samuel’s unfaithfulness (not to mention what we would now think of as his sexual harassment of a woman who had little power lớn refuse him). Samuel và Elisabeth did, however, reconcile, and he was heartbroken when she died suddenly of typhoid fever in 1669. They had no children, and he never married again.

Elisabeth Pepys. This is an engraving that was made in the early nineteenth centuryfrom an oil painted portrait by John Hayls that was probably donein 1666 as a companion piece to the painting of Samuel, above. The original painting of Elisabeth is unfortunately lost.

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Pepys wrote his diary in shorthand, khổng lồ ensure that anyone casually picking up one of the volumes could not read it easily. (His accounts of his extramarital sexual exploits are often further encoded by being rendered in a weird combination of English mixed and foreign words, as if to make it even harder to lớn decipher, though it’s not hard to figure out what is going on.)

A small section of the beginning Pepys’s diary, as written in shorthand. You can see that some proper names are spelled out fully, but otherwise, Pepys is using one of the shorthand systems of the period that he would have learned as part of his training for the civil service. (Wikimedia Commons)

Pepys seems lớn have taken notes throughout the day, và then written up entries in a clean, well-shaped khung in the evening; sometimes, he wrote up several days at once when he fell behind (the account of the Fire is clearly one of these times). The manuscript diary was bound in handsome volumes and included as part of the library that Pepys gave to lớn Magdalene College, Cambridge, his alma mater. There it stayed on the shelf for generations, until early in the nineteenth century, a curious (or bored) student pulled it off the shelf & realized that there was something amazing there. The diary was translated in the nineteenth century, but editors expurgated the sexually explicit parts. (Most of the editions you can find on the web are from these expurgated texts.) It was translated & transcribed in full in the 1970s and 80s, and that edition,The Diaries of Samuel Pepys, is an amazing, enormous resource. A fun way to lớn read Pepys today is go khổng lồ Pepys’ Diary online:, which allows you to lớn follow the Diary day by bay.