Samuel Pepys was born in London on 23 February 1633. Bright and capable, he performed well at school, which led to a scholarship at Magdalene College, Cambridge. Pepys held an important post in the British Navy where he distinguished himself as a hard worker and reformer. Admired and respected by his contemporaries, he also served as the president of the Royal Society from 1684 to 1686, and twice as a member of parliament.
Pepys has become most famously known for his diary, begun at the age of 27 and maintained for almost ten years when failing eyesight forced a halt. Learned and accomplished, his many areas of interest included politics, the arts, science, morals, food, fashion and books. Pepys wrote on the eve of the Restoration, and many important political and social events are recorded in the diary such as the plague and the Great Fire of London.
The diary and Pepys’ extensive book collection were bequeathed to his old college, where the diary was not rediscovered for over 100 years, and for a time, unreadable — he had written a form of shorthand, freely and unselfconsciously, only for himself. The diary was first published, heavily edited, in 1825, was immediately popular and has been reprinted in many different editions since. Each edition has been gradually expanded, culminating in Latham and Matthews’ definitive edition first published from 1970 to 1983 (reprinted several times in the 1990s and in 2000), the first one to give a full and unedited transcription.
Memoirs of Samuel Pepys, Esq., F.R.S., Secretary to the Admiralty in the reigns of Charles II. and James II / comprising his diary from 1659 to 1669, deciphered by the Rev. John Smith, A.B. of St. John’s College, Cambridge, from the original short-hand MS. in the Pepysian library, and a selection from his private correspondence, edited by Richard, Lord Braybrooke (Henry Colburn, 1825). The first edition, volume 1, opened to show the engraved frontispiece portrait of Pepys.
Memoirs of Samuel Pepys, Esq., F.R.S., Secretary to the Admiralty in the reigns of Charles II. and James II., comprising his diary from 1659 to 1669, deciphered by the Rev. John Smith, A.B., from the original short-hand ms. in the correspondence, edited by Richard, Lord Braybrooke, 2nd edition, in five volumes (Henry Colburn, 1828).
The Diary of Samuel Pepys edited by Robert Latham and William Matthews, nine volumes (University of California Press, 2000).
Kay Craddock, Antiquarian Bookseller, Catalogue No. 171, announcing the sale of Stuart Sayers’ Pepys collection, opened to indicate the monetary value in 1995 of early editions of the published diary.
Reproduction of Pepys’ handwriting, showing his usual handwriting and the shorthand which he used. From the 3rd edition of Lord Braybrooke’s version of the diary (H. Colburn, 1848–1849)