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Literature / The Diary of Samuel Pepys

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"Up betimes and to the office..."

Samuel Pepys (pronounced 'peeps') (23 February 1633 26 May 1703) was a 17th Century English civil servant who is famous for keeping a remarkably frank daily diary between 1 January 1660 and 31 May 1669 (this was perhaps not as dangerous as it sounds, as the diary was written in a form of shorthand most people could not read, and it wasn't translated into plain English until over a century after his death). The diary is an exhaustive record of everything he thought noteworthy, from important historical events like the Great Fire of London to the plays he watched, the meals he ate, and the other people's wives he slept with.

Pepys' diary for this day in history, preserved as a blog, is available here.

Tropes related to Pepys and his diary:

  • Badass Bureaucrat: Pepys was responsible for making the Royal Navy the Trope Codifier of Badass Navies by his skill in administration and his ruthless demand for meritocracy. According to some accounts his influence will be felt thousands of years from now.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Pepys's wife Elizabeth is, understandably, outraged when she catches him groping their maid, and the diary records many epic fights — but Pepys also notes that they have pretty awesome makeup sex.
  • Brutal Honesty: One of the diary's most salient features is Pepys' honesty about everything, from cheating on his wife to accepting kickbacks from contractors.
  • Catchphrase:
    • Pepys has a hyperbolic habit of marking especially outstanding things and events with snowclones in the general form of "the most (adjective) (noun) that ever I (saw, heard, encountered, etc.) in my life". See It Will Never Catch On, below.
    • See also the very top and bottom of this page.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: In an often-censored passage of the diary, Pepys records reading an early erotic novel called L'Escole des Filles (The School of Venus) and masturbating to it; he promptly burned the book after reading it.
  • Gallows Humor: "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."
  • Have a Gay Old Time: In a February 1664 entry, Pepys writes: "our little girl Susan is a most admirable Slut and pleases us mightily, doing more service than both the others and deserves wages better." The word "slut" in those days meant (among other things) "kitchen maid" and while Pepys did have affairs with maids, here he only meant that Susan is a good maid.
  • Hiding Behind the Language Barrier: Pepys conceals many of his more indiscreet entries behind a deliberate word salad of Latin, French, and Spanish.
  • Hype Backlash: Invoked. Pepys writes that he saw Henry IV, "but my expectation being too great, it did not please me, as otherwise I believe it would."
  • I Love the Dead: Pepys recounts how he kissed the mummified Catherine of Valois on his thirty-sixth birthday for good luck.
  • It Will Never Catch On:
    • It can be seen that Shakespeare's reputation wasn't quite as good yet in Pepys's as it is today — and it probably didn't help that, during Pepys's time, the plays were very rarely presented in their original format, having much extraneous material added on. He called A Midsummer Night's Dream "the most insipid ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life", Romeo and Juliet "a play of itself the worst that I ever heard in my life" and Twelfth Night "one of the weakest plays that I ever saw on the stage"; he did not like Henry IV Part 1 either, although he chalked most of that up to having brought the book in order to follow along.
    • He liked Othello, Hamlet, and Macbeth, however (particularly Macbeth, which he records seeing eight times within a space of four years).
  • Kavorka Man: Pepys himself. Despite his regular dalliances with tavern wenches and frequent groping of his wife's maids, he even made one of his subordinates pimp out his wife to him in return for a promotion. Ironically, he also suspected his wife of cheating on him as well, and was horrified on hearing a rumor that his recently deceased brother might have fathered an illegitimate child on his housemaid.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: "I went, and Mr. Mansell and one of the King's footmen, with a dog that the King loved, which shit in the boat, which made us laugh and me think that a King and all that belong to him are but just as others are."
  • Potty Emergency:
    • September 28, 1665: Pepys was staying at an inn and woke during the night with a bad bout of diarrhea. The maid had forgotten to leave a chamberpot in his room and he couldn't make it down to the privy, so he had to use the fireplace. Twice.
    • Elizabeth has at one point some long-standing bowel problem, meaning that at one point she has to 'do her business' in the street while out for a walk. It was that kind of era.
  • The Promise: Periodically, Pepys resolved to mend his ways. He rarely stuck to it for long...
    • New Year's Eve, 1661: "I have newly taken a solemn oath about abstaining from plays and wine..."
    • 17 February, 1662: "Here I drank wine upon necessity, being ill for the want of it."
  • Riddle for the Ages: If Pepys later retrieved the expensive Parmesan cheese he buried during the Great Fire, he never mentioned doing so.

"And so to bed."

Alternative Title(s): Diary Of Samuel Pepys, Samuel Pepys