Samuel Pepys and His Time
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 3 Nov 1927, p. 178-191
Cosgrave, The Very Rev. F.H., Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
Some words on the pronunciation of Mr. Pepys' name. Mr. Pepys and his time. Why he and his time are worthy of the audience's attention. Events that took place during Pepys' lifetime (1633-1703), and events in Pepys' own life. Ways in which Pepys was at the centre of the political life of England. The diary of Mr. John Evelyn, with many references to Pepys. Pepys as a business man. Pepys in the Navy. Pepys as a musician. Pepys' library and collection of curiosities considerable, especially his models of ships. Another contemporary opinion of Pepys and the kind of man we see through these accounts: a very great public servant, a most learned man, President of the Royal Society for the Advancement of Science, an done of the most distinguished of the citizens of England in his time. A look at Mr. Pepys through his own diary. The problem, since the diary was written in cipher, of knowing whether or not Mr. Pepys ever intended anyone else to ever read his diary: speculation and diverse views. The speaker's view. Pepy's diary as literature. The last words of Pepys' diary. The deciphering of the diaries. Comments on the content, with examples of his frankness. Pepy's wealth, as revealed in the diary. Other aspects of the diary. The diary as a history of the times. Pepys' vivid account of the Great Fire of London, and the Plague prior to it. A comparison of Pepys' diary with other great books in our literature.
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3 Nov 1927
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The Provost was introduced by COLONEL FRASER, and spoke as follows:-Mr. President, I am going to follow your example and speak today of our hero as Mr. " Peeps " not " Mr. Peppis " or Mr. " Pepps. " A short time ago I was speaking elsewhere on this subject, and a friend placed in my hands these lines:

There are people I'm told, of some there are heaps,

Who speak of the talkative Samuel as" Pepps;

And some so precise and pedantic their step is,

Who call the delightful old diarist " Peppis";

But those I think right, and I shall follow their steps

Ever mention the garrulous gossip as " Peeps. "

Later on, I heard that the late Mr. Wheatley, the editor of the standard edition of Pepys' Diary was of opinion that his name was really " Papes. " I should have supposed that that was the way it was pronounced in Ireland (Laughter). That has suggested the addition of this couplet

Yet Wheatley declares that the truth still escapes,

For Pepys was not "Pepps" nor "Peeps"; he was "Papes." (Applause).

Now I should think from the large audience here today that some of you have come partly out of curiosity. I am reminded of the story of a gentleman of my profession or cloth who had occasion to mend his fence, and to use a hammer and some nails; and a small boy came and stood by and watched him. It was rather irritating, and at last he said to the small boy, "What are you looking at?" "Well," he said, " I am just waiting to see what a parson says when he bashes his finger." (Laughter). I should think many of you have come here today to see what a parson has got to say about that old philanderer and gossip, Samuel Pepys? Well, I have something to say about him apart from his philandering and his gossiping. In the first place, I think he and his time are worthy of your attention because that was a very great time, and he was a very great man. He lived his three score years and ten from 1633 to 1703. Just think of all that happened in those seventy years. He was a boy at school at St. Paul's School in London, the very centre of things, during the Civil War. He witnessed with his own eyes the execution of King Charles I on that fatal day the 30th of January 1649. Many of you will remember that years afterwards, after the Restoration, when he held office under the Crown-he was quite a royalist-he met in company one night an old school fellow, a Mr. Christmas who had been at St. Paul's School with him, and this Mr. Christmas indulged in most inconvenient reminiscences. He recalled that Samuel had been a Roundhead and a rebel at school, and Samuel Pepys was in agony lest this Mr. Christmas should happen to remember that on the day that King Charles was executed at Whitehall, close by their school, he, Samuel Pepys, had said among the other boys, that if he had to preach a sermon on the event he would take as his text "The memory of the wicked shall rot." (Laughter). Fortunately this Mr. Christmas did not remember the incident; it turned out afterwards that he had left the school before that fatal day.

Then from St. Paul's School Mr. Pepys went to Magdalen College, Cambridge, and while he was a student at Cambridge, Oliver Cromwell reached the height of his power. It was the time of the Commonwealth, a very great time in England. We do not know very much about Mr. Pepys as a College student. Unfortunately the only reference to him on the books of Magdalen College Cambridge, is this one in the Registrar's book " Oct. 21, 1653, Memorandum that Pepys and Hind were solemnly admonished by myself and Mr. Hall for having been scandalously overserved with drink the night before. This was done in the presence of all the fellows then resident in Mr. Hall's chamber. St. John Wood, Registrar" (Laughter). Mr. Pepys left Cambridge and became a clerk in the Exchequer in London, and later on he had the good fortune, through the influence of his cousin, Sir Edward Montague, afterwards Earl of Sandwich, to sail on the fleet that brought King Charles II back to England. He witnessed the king's landing at Dover, and gives us a very wonderful account of it in his diary. Then you remember, of course, that he was an eye-witness of the Plague, and of the Great Fire which destroyed London in 1666. He was intimately associated with the conduct of the war with the Dutch from 1664 to 1667. He saw the Dutch fleet in the Medway, and later on he became Secretary to the Admiralty, the highest position he could occupy in connection with the British Navy.

From the Restoration in 1660 to the Revolution in 1688 Mr. Pepys was at the centre of the political life of England. Those of you who think of him chiefly as a philanderer and a gossip may be interested to know--and this is my justification for speaking of him today--that Mr. Pepys was probably, very probably, the best man of business of his time. Not only so, but he was one of the creators of the great tradition that we associate with the British Navy. No man in the whole course of British history, I believe, did more to promote efficiency in the British Navy than did Mr. Samuel Pepys (Applause). He was Clerk of the Acts that is a sort of Undersecretary for the Navy, from the year 1660 to 1673; and then he was Secretary to the Admiralty. With one interruption, he was Secretary to the Admiralty from 1673 to the time of the Revolution in 1688.

Another man besides Mr. Pepys kept a most interesting diary of that period, Mr. John Evelyn. He was a friend of Mr.-Pepys, and often refers to him in his diary, and I want to read you the extract from the diary of Mr. John Evelyn written on the 26th of May 1703, and you will see how his admirers regarded him. "This day died Mr. Sam Pepys, a very worthy, industrious, and curious person, none in England exceeding him in knowledge of the Navy, in which he had passed through all the most considerable offices, Clerk of the Acts, and Secretary of the Admiralty, all which he performed with great integrity. When King James II went out of England he laid down his office and would serve no more, but withdrawing himself from all public affairs he lived at Clapham with his partner Mr. Hewer, formerly his clerk, in a very noble house where he enjoyed the fruit of his labors in great prosperity. He was universally beloved, hospitable, generous, learned in many things, skilled in music, a very great cherisher of learned men of whom he had the conversation. His library and collection of other curiosities were of the most considerable, models of ships especially. Besides what he published of an account of the navy as he found and left it, he had other divers things under his hand, the history of the navy and how far advanced; and what will follow is left, I suppose, to his sister's son, Mr. Jackson. Mr Jackson sent me complete mourning, desiring me to be one to hold up the pall at his magnificent obsequies, but my indisposition hindered me from doing him this last office." That is the account of Mr. John Evelyn, a very noble and distinguished man. Here is another contemporary opinion of Mr. Pepys : " Pepys was without exception the greatest and most useful minister that ever filled the same situations in England, the Acts and Registers of the Admiralty proving this beyond contradiction. The trade rules and establishments at present in use in these offices are well known to have been of his introducing, and most of the officers serving therein since the Restoration are of his bringing up. He was a most studious promoter and strenuous insister on order and discipline. Sobriety, diligence, capacity, loyalty, and subjection to command, were essentials required of any whom he advanced. Where any of these were found wanting, no interest or authority was capable of making him in favor of the highest pretender. Discharging his duty to his prince he feared no one and he courted no one. " I think you will agree with me when we look at Pepys through the eyes of his contemporaries we see a very great public servant. We see a most learned man, President of the Royal Society for the Advancement of Science, and one of the most distinguished of the citizens of England in his time.

Now we are to look at him through his own eyes, and we are to speak of this most extraordinary document, his diary. It appears that from the first of January 1660, to the 31st of May 1669, Mr. Pepys was in the habit of writing up his diary every night before retiring to bed; writing it up in a cipher so that his wife and other members of the household might not read it (Laughter). The great problem with which the student of Mr. Pepy's diary is faced is the problem as to whether Mr. Pepys intended anyone else ever to read the diary. I myself believe most strongly that Mr. Pepys wrote his diary intending to destroy it before his death, and without any intention whatsoever of allowing anyone at any time, to peruse it. Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson, I believe, held the contrary view, and he said that because the diary was not destroyed before Mr. Pepys' death, that therefore Mr. Pepys did intend that it should be read by posterity. But after all, Mr. President, does it not often happen that men leave behind them things that they would have destroyed if they had had their way and had had the opportunity? I am reminded of that old parody of well-known lines:

Lives of great men all remind us

As the pages all we turn.

That we're apt to leave behind us

Letters which we ought to burn (Laughter)

I feel sure, therefore, that Mr. Pepys wrote the diary for himself and for nobody else. There late at night he would put down exactly what had happened, and exactly what he thought about other persons and their conduct, and himself and his own conduct, with perfect unreserve. And so there is a book to which may properly be applied, more than to any other book in any literature, the adjective 'unique.' There is nothing like it in English literature, and I believe, nothing analagous to it in any other literature whatsoever. He kept this diary until 31st May, 1669, and he was then forced to abandon his practice by failing eyesight. I think the closing passage in the diary is one of the most pathetic in literature. These were the last words he wrote in this strange diary: "And thus ends all that I doubt I shall ever be able to do with my own eyes in the keeping of my journal, I being not able to do it any longer, having done now so long as to undo my eyes almost every time that I take a pen in my hand; and therefore whatever comes of it I must forbear: and therefore resolve from this time forward to have it kept by my people in longhand, and must be content to set down no more than is fit for them and all the world to know; or, if there be anything I must endeavor to keep a margin in my book open to add, here and there, a note in shorthand with my own hand.

"And so I betake myself to that course which is almost as much as to see myself go into my grave: for which, and all the discomforts that will accompany my being blind, the good God prepare me!"

Those are the last words of the diary. Well, those manuscript books were not destroyed, and at Mr. Pepys' death in 1703 they passed to his heir and nephew John Jackson, and in accordance with Mr. Pepys' will they passed at Mr. Jackon's death in 1724 to the library of Magdalen College, Cambridge, where they are today. For a hundred years those manuscript books lay unnoticed until in 1818 when John Evelyn's diary was published, the head and fellows of Magdalen College, Cambridge thought they ought to do something about these books of Mr. Pepys, and so they made an attempt to have them deciphered. A young undergraduate named Smith labored upon them for some years, and securing the key deciphered them, and they have been given to the world in various editions through the 19th century. That is the story of how the diary was revealed to the world, and an amazing document it is, the strangest possible. Here is a man who gives himself away as no other man has ever given himself away before or since. Here is a man who is better known to us today than any personality of the past. Here is a man into whose inmost thoughts we can see. I think that every moralist, every psychologist, every preacher, every religious teacher, should read Mr. Pepys' diary. It is a wonderful study for them. They can see into the depths of a human soul. Let me give you a few examples of his frankness. You remember that he was Clerk of the Acts and Surveyor of Victuals to the Navy during the Dutch war. You will remember that in his later period he was Secretary to the Admiralty, that is to say he was a person of very great authority in what we would call the Navy Office or Admiralty. The other members of the Naval Board were far less competent than Mr. Pepys. When Mr. Pepys was appointed to the Navy Board, appointed, that is to say, as Clerk of the Acts in 1660, he knew absolutely nothing about the Navy. It was a sheer piece of favoritism through the influence of his cousin Sir Edward Montague. He knew nothing about the Navy and nothing about accounting. He tells us in his diary that he had had to get up at four in the morning day after day in order that he might learn the multiplication table, for he did not know it, so little did he know about accounting. And yet he lived to be, as I said a few minutes ago, the best man of business of his time. He was so competent a few years later that he transacted all the business of the Navy Board, and the others were like sleeping partners. This gave him, by the way, great opportunities for enriching himself in a way that you would not approve, and which I must discountenance in my position as strongly as possible (Laughter). Bear in mind, however, that Mr. Pepys drew a very sharp distinction between taking a bribe before letting a contract, and receiving a gift afterwards from the man to whom he had given the contract (Laughter). He considered himself quite justified in the latter practise, but he would have regarded with great disapproval the former. "September 10, 1663. Up betimes and to my office, and there sat all the morning making a great contract with Sir W. Warren, for £3,000 worth of masts, but, good God, to see what a man might do were I a knave! The whole business from beginning to end being done by me out of the office, and signed by them "that is, the other members of the Navy Board-"upon the once reading of it to them, without the least care or consultation for quality, price, number or nature of them, only in general that it was good to have a store. But I hope my pains were such as that the king has the best bargain of masts that has ever been bought these twenty-seven years in this office" (Applause). He seems there to be resisting temptation; but listen to this from the next year, 1664: "Then to the Change again, and thence with Sir. W. Warren and with him discoursed long and had good advice from him; and among other things he did give me a pair of gloves for my wife, wrapped up in paper, which I would not open, feeling it hard, but did tell him that my wife should thank him, and so went on with the discourse. When I came home in what pain I was to get my wife out of the room without bidding her go, that I might see what those gloves were; and by-and-bye, she being gone, it proves a pair of white gloves for her and forty pieces in good gold, which did so cheer my heart that I could eat no victuals almost for dinner for joy to think how God did bless us every day more and more (Laughter)-and more and more I hope He will, upon the increase of my duty and endeavors. I was at a great loss what to do, whether to tell my wife of it or no, which I could hardly forbear, but yet I did, and will think of it first before I do, for fear of making her think me to be in a better condition or in a better way of getting money than I am" (Laughter). Similarly a little later on he says: "Thence going out of Whitehall I met Captain Grove who did give me a letter directed to myself from himself. I discerned money to be in it and took it knowing as I found it to be the proceeds of the place I have got him. But I did not open it till I came home to my office, and there I broke it open and did not look into it until all the money was out, that I might say that I saw no money in the paper if ever I should be questioned (Laughter). There was a piece in gold and four pieces in silver. " Similarly on May first of the same year he says: " To my office, whither comes Mr. Bland, and pays me the debt he acknowledged he owed me for my service in his business "-getting his ships employed-"twenty pieces of new gold, a pleasant sight. It cheered my heart; and, he being gone, I home to supper and showed them my wife; and she, poor wretch, would fain have kept them to look on, without any other design but a simple love to them; but I thought it not convenient, and so took them into my own hand."

In the diary we can see Mr. Pepys growing richer and richer. In 1660 he was worth forty pounds; he was delighted to find himself worth forty pounds. By 1667 or so, he was worth over four thousand pounds. It was not his salary; his salary was only about 350 pounds a year as Clerk of the Acts.

Mr. Pepys was a very strange person, " that queer fellow" I think Sir Walter Scott called him when the diary first came out. He had a habit of making vows which I think very strange. He was somewhat addicted to wine and his conscience troubled him on that score, and he was passionately fond of the theatre. I think he would have enjoyed that excellent play that some of us saw last week. He (Pepys) was passionately fond of the theatre but he regarded it as a great temptation. You see, it led him to neglect his business, and he also spent too much money at the box office, and so he used to take a vow of this kind: Now I will spend so much on the theatre this month and no more, and I won't go to the theatre again after I have spent so much. Well, very soon the allotted amount would be spent, and Mr. Pepys would be trying to get some way out of his oath, without breaking it. One subterfuge was to get a friend of his, and give him the money and then get him to stand him to the theatre (Laughter). Another time he induces a friend of his to treat him to the theatre and he says, "I do not think that is any breach of my vow, and I hope that God Almighty will agree with me (Laughter). It was the same about wine. He would take a vow to drink no wine for a month, or two months, or three months, and then he would suddenly remember burnt wine; that was not included in his oath, and so he would drink that.

There are other aspects of the diary to which I should like to allude briefly. You have in this document one of the most interesting and valuable sources for our knowledge of London and England at that time. The descriptive writing in this diary is marvelous. Take this description of the landing of King Charles at Dover when he returned to England at the Restoration: "The mayor of the town came and gave him his white staff, the badge of his place, which the King he 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 he loved above all else in the world. A canopy was provided for him to stand under, which he did, and talked a while with John Monk and others, and so it was the stately coach drew up for him, and so away through the town towards Canterbury without making any stay of dinner. The shouting of joy expressed by all is past imagination." Or take this entry, which I read to you because it will illustrate the extraordinary jumble we have in the diary, the extraordinary mixture of important and trivial things October 13, 1660: " I went out to Charing Cross to see Major-General Harrison hanged, drawn, and quartered; which was done there, he looking as cheerful as any man could do in that condition" (Laughter). Major-General Harrison, you remember, was one of the men involved in the execution of King Charles I. " He was presently cut down and his head and heart shown to the people, at which there was great shouts of joy. Thus it was my chance to see the King beheaded at Whitehall, and to see the first blood shed in revenge for the King at Charing Cross. I took Captain Cutten and Mr. Shipley to the Sun Tavern and did give them some oysters. After that I went by water home where I was angry at my wife for her things lying about, and in my passion I kicked the little fan basket which I bought her in Holland, and broke it; which troubled me after I had done it. Was in all the afternoon setting up shelves in my study. At night to bed."

What would perhaps be most interesting to you in this connection in the matter of descriptive writing is the most vivid account which Mr. Samuel Pepys gives us of the Great Fire of London. You will remember that the Plague raged in London for seven years and then this tremendous fire broke out in September of the year 1666. No one has told us more about it or given more careful account of it than Mr. Pepys. Here is his account of the beginning of the fire: " Some of our maids sitting up late last night, to get things ready against our feast today, Jane called us up about three in the morning to tell us of a great fire that was in the city. So I rose and slipped on my night gown and went to her window and thought it to be on the back side of Market Lane, but being unused to such fires as followed, I thought it far enough, and so went to bed again and to sleep. About seven rose again to dress myself and there looked out at the window, and saw the fire not so much as it was, and further off. So to my closet to set things to rights, after yesterday's cleaning. By and by Jane comes and tells me that she hears that about 300 houses have been burned down tonight by the fire we saw, and that it is now burning down all Fish Street, by London Bridge. So I made myself ready presently, and walked to the Tower; and there got up upon one of the high places, Sir J. Robinson's little son going up with me; and there I did see the houses at that end of the bridge all on fire, and an infinite great fire on this and the other side the end of the bridge; which, among other people, did trouble me for poor little Mitchell and our Sarah on the bridge. So down, with my heart full of trouble, to the Lieutenant of the Tower, who tells me that it begun this morning in the king's baker's house in Pudding-Lane, and that it hath burned down St. Magnus's Church and most part of Fish Street already. So I down to the water side and there got a boat, and through bridge, and there saw a lamentable fire. Poor Mitchell's house, as far as the Old Swan, already burned that way, and the fire running further, that in a very little time, it got as far as the Steele-yard, while I was there. Everybody endeavoring to remove their goods, and flinging into the river, or bringing them into lighters that lay off; poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats, or clambering from one pair of stairs, by the waterside, to another. And among other things, the poor pigeons, I perceive, were loth to leave their houses, but hovered about the windows and balconys, till they burned their wings and fell down. Having staid, and in an hour's time seen the fire rage every way; and nobody, to my sight, endeavoring to quench it, but to remove their goods, and leave all to the fire; and having seen it get as far as the Steeleyard, and the wind mighty high, and driving it into the city; and everything, after so long a drought, proving combustible, even the very stones of churches; and among other things, the poor steeple by which pretty Mrs. lives, and whereof my old schoolfellow Elborough is parson, take fire in the very top, and there burned till it fell down; I to Whitehall, with a gentleman with me, who desired to go off from the Tower, to see the fire, in my boat; and there up to the King's closet in the Chapel, where people come about me, and I did give them an account dismayed them all, and word was carried in to the King. So I was called for, and did tell the King and Duke of York what I saw; and that unless his Majesty did command houses to be pulled down, nothing could stop the fire They seemed much troubled and the King commanded me to go to my Lord Mayor from him, and command him to spare no houses, but to pull down before the fire every way. The Duke of York bid me tell him, that if he would have any more soldiers, he shall; and so did my Lord Arlington afterwards, as a great secret. Here meeting with Captain Cocke, I in his coach, which he lent me, and Creed with me to Paul's; and there walked along Watling Street, as well as I could, every creature coming away loaded with goods to save, and, here and there, sick people carried away in beds. Extraordinary good goods carried in carts and on backs. At last met my Lord Mayor in Canning Street, like a man spent, with a handkercher about his neck. To the King's message, he cried, like a fainting woman, "Lord! What can I do? I am spent; people will not obey me. I have been pulling down houses; but the fire overtakes us faster than we can do it." That he needed no more soldiers; and that, for himself, he must go and refresh himself, having been up all night. So he left me, and I him, and walked home; seeing people all almost distracted and no manner of means used to quench the fire."

I think you will agree with me that it would be hard to find in any literature a straighter and simpler, and yet more elegant account of a great event (Applause).

Now what I would suggest to those who wish to form a still closer acquaintance than they have at present with the diary, is that they compare it with some of the other great books in our literature. Two others occur to me as worthy of comparison with Mr. Pepys' diary; one is Swift's journal to Stella, written just fifty years later in the same place, in London, and not intended for any eye but that of Stella and of her companion. That is also a very remarkable document. And then, of course, the stones would cry out if I did not mention Boswell's Life of Johnson written just a little more than a hundred years later. There you have three books all written about London--the lover of London should read them--picturing London at three different periods. I think you will find the human interest of Mr. Pepys' diary greater than either of the other two, great as those books are. Poor Mr. Pepys, quarrelling with his wife, blackening her eye, and then being sorry for it, but especially sorry because other people noticed it (Laughter), getting a present of a piece of venison from his patron, finding it a little high, a little strong and therefore sending it to his mother (Laughter), making his vows, his pathetic vows, against wine and theatres and other things, and then finding some excuse to break them. An extraordinary individual is that Mr. Pepys that is revealed to us in the diary, that Mr. Pepys who was so delightfully presented to us last week at the Royal Alexandra Theatre. An extraordinary person, but I would ask you to remember that this queer fellow who gives himself away so often and so terribly in his diary, was one of the greatest public servants that England ever had, that to him as much as to any other one man that could be mentioned we owe the efficiency of the British Navy (Applause). I will ask you to remember that, you are business men, most of you, he was one of the greatest business men, probably the most efficient business man of his time, and he was so because of his industry, because he arose at four o'clock in the morning in summer time. He could not rise in the winter at that time because of the lack of artificial light, because he was up in the early morning, and because he stayed in his office night after night in order that he might serve his king and his country (Applause).

The President: Gentlemen, it is with exceptional pleasure that we welcome here today, the Right Reverend the Bishop of Ontario, the speaker's predecessor as Provost of Trinity College, and I shall call upon him to voice our appreciation of his successor's most charming address.

BISHOP SEAGER accordingly tendered to the speaker the thanks of the Club, in warm terms.

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Samuel Pepys and His Time

Some words on the pronunciation of Mr. Pepys' name. Mr. Pepys and his time. Why he and his time are worthy of the audience's attention. Events that took place during Pepys' lifetime (1633-1703), and events in Pepys' own life. Ways in which Pepys was at the centre of the political life of England. The diary of Mr. John Evelyn, with many references to Pepys. Pepys as a business man. Pepys in the Navy. Pepys as a musician. Pepys' library and collection of curiosities considerable, especially his models of ships. Another contemporary opinion of Pepys and the kind of man we see through these accounts: a very great public servant, a most learned man, President of the Royal Society for the Advancement of Science, an done of the most distinguished of the citizens of England in his time. A look at Mr. Pepys through his own diary. The problem, since the diary was written in cipher, of knowing whether or not Mr. Pepys ever intended anyone else to ever read his diary: speculation and diverse views. The speaker's view. Pepy's diary as literature. The last words of Pepys' diary. The deciphering of the diaries. Comments on the content, with examples of his frankness. Pepy's wealth, as revealed in the diary. Other aspects of the diary. The diary as a history of the times. Pepys' vivid account of the Great Fire of London, and the Plague prior to it. A comparison of Pepys' diary with other great books in our literature.