My sister Hoydens are full of useful information and I am amazed at their ability to retain details. A big picture person, that’s me.
So last month when Samuel Pepys name came up I wondered, "Am I the only person who is not familiar with his him?" Sure, I know the name and that he kept a diary, but I know so little that until I began my research I pronounced his name ‘Pepees’ instead of the preferred ‘Peeps’.
So here is a primer on Samuel Pepys in case we have some readers who are so focused on the Regency that the rest of the world is ignored.
Pepys lived during the Restoration (1633-1703). The third of eleven children, by the time he reached puberty only three younger siblings were still alive. (Posting a blog on mortality in England pops into my mind here) Pepys was well educated, graduating from
By various accounts his marriage to Elizabeth St. Michel (1655) was not smooth, even in its early years. They were separated in 1658, but when he began his diary in 1660 they were again living together.
His diary is considered to be one of the best primary sources of the Restoration period. Though he made positive contributions to his world, primarily through his work for the Admiralty, Pepys diary is his greatest contribution to literature and as a primary source.
Pepys began his diary shortly after Richard Cromwell was overthrown and
For me this is the key to the long lasting appeal of his work. Besides being an amazingly readable collection, Pepys’ reflections are so universal that any honest reader can relate to his failings and his joy in life. Pepys reveals himself as a man who enjoyed the exchange of ideas, serious reflection and a rousing good time in bed and out of it.
Despite his failings (Richard Le Gallienne calls one “a weakness for women) Pepys is clearly a charming, robust man who embraces life (Stevenson names it “lively pleasure) and all it has to offer, to both the sinner and the man of virtue. It is at this point that I understand why he had a marriage at once troubled and enduring.
His diary was bequeathed to
Stevenson spends some time justifying his belief that Pepys meant for the diary to be “publicized.” The most obvious is that Pepys did not order the six volumes burned on his death and as Stevenson points out “he took unusual precautions to confound the cipher in the ‘rogueish passages’.”
No matter what Pepys wanted, that is one thing he did not make clear in the diary’s pages, his journal is one of the most outstanding, honest, insightful, historical documents I've ever read. Take some time to read it if you have not already. It covers all manner of one man’s life and observations during the Restoration. My thanks to the Hoydens who finally made me fill in that gap in my education,
If you’ve read Pepys share your favorite parts as well as your opinion. Can anyone name a contemporary autobiography that has the same honesty and potential long term value as a primary source?