Most people encounter Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) when they read about the London’s plague in 1665 or its great fire in 1666. His Diary holds the best first-hand account of both.
The Diary’s ten volumes (1660-69) – well over 2000 pages – record a crucial decade in British (and therefore American) constitutional, political and social history: the Restoration of the monarchy under Charles II. He wrote from just outside the inner circle of government. He rarely left greater London, virtually never took a day off.
I find fascinating Pepys’ picture of upper middle class as lived by a well-educated man on the rise, on the make. It’s the often rich detail that keeps me reading day after day, year after year.
I’m reviewing what I noted over the past year in Pepys’ diary for 1664. Pepys is now 31. This passage from July 25th suggests how little life has changed.
…Mr. Cole (my old Jack Cole) comes to see and speak with me, and his errand in short to tell me that he is giving over his trade; he can do no good in it, and will turn what he has into money and go to sea, his father being dead and leaving him little, if any thing. This I was sorry to hear, he being a man of good parts, but, I fear, debauched. I promised him all the friendship I can do him, which will end in little, though I truly mean it, and so I made him stay with me till 11 at night, talking of old school stories, and very pleasing ones, and truly I find that we did spend our time and thoughts then otherwise than I think boys do now, and I think as well as methinks that the best are now. He supped with me, and so away, and I to bed. And strange to see how we are all divided that were bred so long at school together, and what various fortunes we have run, some good, some bad.
Source: Robert Latham & William Matthews, eds, The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Volume V, 1664  (Berkeley: Univ. of California, 2000), pp. 221-22. See also www.PepysDiary.com, an easy way to access the diary and to read an entry a day.