The Diary of Samuel Pepys

Author: Samuel Pepys


The Celebrated work here presented to the public under peculiar advantages may require a few introductory remarks.

By the publication, during the last half century, of autobiographies, Diaries, and Records of Personal Character; this class of literature has been largely enriched, not only with works calculated for the benefit of the student, but for that larger class of readers—the people, who in the byeways of History and Biography which these works present, gather much of the national life at many periods, and pictures of manners and customs, habits and amusements, such as are not so readily to be found in more elaborate works.

The Diary and Correspondence of John Evelyn, published in the year 1817, is the first of the class of books to which special reference is here made. This was followed by the publication, in 1825, of the Diary and Correspondence of Samuel Pepys, a work of a more entertaining character than that of Evelyn. There is, moreover, another distinction between the two: the Diary of Pepys was written "at the end of each succeeding day;" whereas the Diary of Evelyn is more the result of leisure and afterthought, and partakes more of the character of history.

Pepys’s account of the Great Fire of London in 1666 is full as minute as that of Evelyn, but it is mingled with a greater number of personal and official circumstances, of popular interest: the scene of dismay and confusion which it exhibits is almost beyond parallel. "It is observed and is true in the late Fire of London," says Pepys, "that the fire burned just as many parish churches as there were hours from the beginning to the end of the fire; and next, that there were just as many churches left standing in the rest of the city that was not burned, being, I think, thirteen in all of each; which is pretty to observe." Again, Pepys was at this time clerk of the Acts of the Navy; his house and office were in Seething-lane, Crutched Friars; he was called up at three in the morning, Sept. 2, by his maid Jane, and so rose and slipped on his nightgown, and went to her window; but thought the fire far enough off, and so went to bed again, and to sleep. Next morning, Jane told him that she heard above 300 houses had been burnt down by the fire they saw, and that it was then burning down all Fish-street, by London Bridge. "So," Pepys writes, "I made myself ready presently, and walked to the Tower, and there got upon one of the high places, and saw the houses at that end of the bridge all on fire, and an infinite great fire at the other end of the bridge." On Sept. 5, he notes, "About two in the morning my wife calls me up, and tells me of new cries of fire, it being come to Barking Church, which is at the bottom of our lane." The fire was, however, stopped, "as well at Mark-lane end as ours; it having only burned the dyall of Barking Church, and part of the porch, and there was quenched." This narrative has all the advantage of being written at the time of the event, which kind of record has been pronounced preferable to "a cartload of pencillings." Of this very attractive particularity is the Diary of Pepys, which is here submitted to the reader in the most elegant and economical as well as complete form.

Of the origin of this work, details are given the accompanying Preface, by the noble Editor—Lord Braybrooke. The diarist—Mr. Secretary Pepys—was a great virtuoso in collections of English history, both by land and sea, much relating to the admiralty and maritime affairs. He gathered very much from records in the Tower, had many fine models, and new inventions of ships, and historical paintings of them; had many books of mathematics and other sciences; many very costly curiosities relating to the City of London, as views, maps, palaces, churches, coronations, funerals, mayoralties, habits, heads of all our famous men, drawn as well as painted, the most complete collection of anything of its kind. He was a man whose free and generous spirit appeared in his pen, and his ingenious fancy at his finger’s end.

The original MS. of the Diary, which gives so vivid a picture of manners in the reign of Charles II., is preserved in Magdalene College, Cambridge; it is in six volumes, containing upwards of 3000 pages, closely written in Rich’s system of shorthand, which Pepys doubtless adopted from the possibility of his journal falling into unfriendly hands during his life, or being rashly communicated to the public after his death. The original spelling of every word in the Diary, it is believed, has been carefully preserved by the gentleman who deciphered it; and although Pepys’s grammar has been objected to, it is thought that the entries derive additional interest from the quaint terms in which they are expressed.

The period of the Diary was one of the most interesting and eventful decades in our history. We have here the joyous pictures of the Restoration, as well as much about "the merry monarch," his gaieties and his intrigues. The Plague of 1665, with the appalling episodes of this national calamity, is followed by the life-like record of the Great Fire, and the rebuilding of London. Then, what an attractive period is that of the history of the London theatres, dating from the Restoration, with piquant sketches of the actors and actresses of that day. Pepys, in his love of wit and admiration of beauty, finds room to love and admire Nell Gwyn, whose name still carries an odd fascination with it after so many generations. In those busy times coffee-houses were new, and we find Pepys dropping in at Will’s, where he never was before, and where he saw Dryden and all the wits of the town. The Diarist records sending for "a cup of tea, a China drink he had not before tasted." Here we find the earliest account of a Lord Mayor’s dinner in the Guildhall; and Wood’s, Pepys’s "old house for clubbing, in Pell Mell,"—all pictures in little of social life, with innumerable traits of statesmen, politicians, wits and poets, authors, artists, and actors, and men, and women of wit and pleasure, such as the town, court, and city have scarcely presented at any other period.

Shortly after the publication of the Diary, there appeared in the Quarterly Review, No. 66, a charming paper from the accomplished pen of Sir Walter Scott, upon this very curious contribution to our reminiscent literature. Sir Walter’s parallel of Pepys and Evelyn is very nicely drawn. "Early necessity made Pepys laborious, studious, and careful. But his natural propensities were those of a man of pleasure. He appears to have been ardent in quest of amusement, especially where anything odd or uncommon was to be witnessed. To this thirst after novelty, the consequence of which has given great and varied interest to his Diary, Pepys added a love of public amusements, which he himself seems to have considered as excessive." "Our diarist must not be too severely judged. He lived in a time when the worst examples abounded, a time of court intrigue and state revolution, when nothing was certain for a moment, and when all who were possessed of any opportunity to make profit, used it with the most shameless avidity, lest the golden minutes should pass away unimproved.

"In quitting the broad path of history," says Sir Walter, "we seek for minute information concerning ancient manners and customs, the progress of arts and sciences, and the various branches of antiquity. We have never seen a mine so rich as the volumes before us. The variety of Pepys’s tastes and pursuits led him into almost every department of life. He was a man of business, a man of information if not of learning; a man of taste; a man of whim; and to a certain degree a man of pleasure. He was a statesman, a BEL ESPRIT, a virtuoso, and a connoisseur. His curiosity made him an unwearied as well as an universal learner, and whatever he saw found its way into his tables. Thus, his Diary absolutely resembles the genial cauldrons at the wedding of Camacho, a souse into which was sure to bring forth at once abundance and variety of whatever could gratify the most eccentric appetite.

"If the curious, affect dramatic antiquities—a line which has special charms for the present age—no book published in our time has thrown so much light upon plays, playwrights, and playactors.

"Then those who desire to be aware of the earliest discoveries, as well in sciences, as in the useful arts, may read in Pepys’s Memoirs, how a slice of roast mutton was converted into pure blood; and of those philosophical glass crackers, which explode when the tail is broken off (Rupert’s Drops) of AURUM FULMINANS, applied to the purpose of blowing ships out of the water; and of a newly contrived gun, which was to change the whole system of the art of war; but which has left it pretty much upon the old footing. A lover of antique scandal which taketh away the character, and committeth SCANDALUM MAGNATUM against the nobility of the seventeenth century, will find in this work an untouched treasure of curious anecdote for the accomplishment of his purpose."


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Chicago: Samuel Pepys, "Preface," The Diary of Samuel Pepys, ed. Braybrooke, Richard Griffin, Baron, 1783-1853 and trans. Ingram, J. H. (James Henry) in The Diary of Samuel Pepys (New York: Doubleday, Page, 1909), Original Sources, accessed December 6, 2021,

MLA: Pepys, Samuel. "Preface." The Diary of Samuel Pepys, edited by Braybrooke, Richard Griffin, Baron, 1783-1853, and translated by Ingram, J. H. (James Henry), in The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Vol. 36, New York, Doubleday, Page, 1909, Original Sources. 6 Dec. 2021.

Harvard: Pepys, S, 'Preface' in The Diary of Samuel Pepys, ed. and trans. . cited in 1909, The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Doubleday, Page, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 6 December 2021, from