Samuel Pepys (peeps), born on February 23, 1633, was a man of wide interests and varied affairs: an inveterate playgoer and a minor patron of the arts, a conscientious husband and householder, a responsible public official, and a friend (sometimes a self-acknowledged flatterer) of the great and the powerful. All this is known from his Diary, his own candid and unaffected portrayal of himself. Yet the Diary, as detailed and as thorough as it is for its own specified time, deals with only nine years (1660-1669) in a life that lasted a full seventy.
Although not much of importance had happened to Samuel Pepys before he began his famous project, his many affairs continued long after poor eyesight forced him to give up his record in 1669. Twice, in the period between the ending of the Diary and the quiet ending of his life in 1703, his fortunes fell and rose again. Although the full publication of the Diary in 1849 transformed him posthumously into a literary figure, it should be remembered that he was not—either to himself or to his contemporaries—primarily a man of letters. He was what would be called in modern terminology a career Admiralty official. He served twenty-eight years in the Admiralty Department, was twice secretary of the Admiralty, and was acknowledged, after the “Bloodless Revolution” ended his career in 1688, as the foremost authority on naval matters in all England.
His Admiralty career began significantly enough with the restoration of the Stuarts in 1660. His life up to that time had been a genteel struggle with poverty, for his family, though well connected, was, by his own admission, “never very considerable.” He had gone through Magdelene College, Cambridge University, as a scholarship student (receiving a B.A. in 1653 and an M.A. in 1660), had married in 1655 the fifteen-year-old daughter of a penniless French expatriate, and had lived for some time under the patronage of a wealthy cousin, Sir Edward Montagu. This nobleman, later the first earl of Sandwich, was a staunch supporter of Charles II and played no small part in the triumph of the royal cause. As his good fortune swelled with the resurgence of the Stuarts, so the good fortune of Samuel Pepys increased. Pepys’s first official appointment was to a minor position in the Exchequer, but on July 13, 1660, he moved to the Navy Office, becoming, later that same year, clerk of the privy seal and a justice of the peace.
This triumphal year is covered by the Diary. During the remaining eight years of that chronicle, the triumphs continued. Pepys’s finances improved. Able to afford books, he began the collection of his famous library (now...
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