Samuel Pepys, 1633–1703

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Biographical note

Diarist, son of John Pepys, a London tailor, but of good family and connected with Sir E. Montague, afterwards Earl of Sandwich, was educated at St. Paul’s School and at Cambridge After leaving the University he entered the household of Montagu, who became his life long patron. He held various Government posts, including that of Surveyor–General of the Victualling Office, in which he displayed great administrative ability and reforming zeal, and in 1672 he became Sec. of the Admiralty. After being imprisoned in the Tower on a charge in connection with the Popish plot, and deprived of his office, he was in 1686 again appointed Sec. of the Admiralty, from which, however, he was dismissed at the Revolution. Thereafter he lived in retirement chiefly at Clapham. Pepys was a man of many interests, combining the characters of the man of business, man of pleasure, and virtuoso, being skilled in music and a collector of books, manuscripts, and pictures, and he was Pres. of the Royal Society for two years. He wrote Memoirs of the Royal Navy (1690), but his great legacy to literature is his unique and inimitable Diary, begun January 1, 1660, and coming down to May 31, 1669, when the failure of his sight prevented its further continuance. As an account by an eye-witness of the manners of the Court and of society it is invaluable, but it is still more interesting as, perhaps, the most singular example extant of unreserved self-revelation — all the foibles, peccadilloes, and more serious offences against decorum of the author being set forth with the most relentless naïveté and minuteness, it was written in a cypher or shorthand, which was translated into long-hand by John Smith in 1825, and edited by Lord Braybrooke, with considerable excisions. Later and fuller editions have followed. Pepys left his books, MSS., and collections to Magdalene College, Cambridge, where they are preserved in a separate library.

[From A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature by John W. Cousin, 1910]

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