The Diary of Samuel Pepys is the well known journal kept by Samuel Pepys during the years 1660 to 1669. As it happens this was not the only journal that he kept, as Pepys intermittently kept other diary records during the course of his life. Of these only the Tangiers Diary of 1683-1684, often known as the Second Diary of Samuel Pepys, has been published. The others are "not as much diaries as memoranda written in diurnal form", and seem to have been compiled at specific periods in his life when his work was such that he felt that he needed to maintain a daily record of events, such as the two journals he kept in the period 1679-1680 when he was defending himself against accusations of involvement in the Popish Plot.
The first entry is dated the 1st January 1660, the very day on which George Monck crossed the river Tweed on his march south to London enroute to establishing the restoration of the monarchy. It subsequently includes firsthand accounts of such events as the coronation of king Charles II, the excitement of the Dutch War, the Great Plague of 1655, and the Great Fire of London in 1666. And thanks to his patron Edward Montagu 1, Pepys was well placed to make an informed commentary on contemporary events. In 1656 he became an exchequer clerk and later became Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board in 1660. Samuel was thus a senior civil servant within the government of Charles II and brought a particular insider perspective on the politics of the decade.
Of itself this would make the Diary a useful historical source, but what transports the Diary into the realm of literature is the vivid picture it gives of daily life in the decade of the 1660s together with Samuel's running commentary on his own daily life, his diet, the state of his health, as well as a rather candid account of his marriage.
The diary terminates in May 1669. No reason is given for bringing the project to an end, but it is probably related to the discovery by his wife of his adultery. They afterwards disappeared on a long holiday, on return from which his wife died, when Samuel may well have been understandably disinclined to continue with his diary. Neither does Samuel Pepys anywhere explain why he decided to start writing a diary in the first place, but his choice of the expensive leather bound volumes in which it was written, together with the widely accepted view that most of the entries were first written out in draft, implies that he certainly intended his Diary to be some kind of permanent memorial, if only for his own amusement.
The Diary eventually comprised some one and a quarter million words, written in ink on unruled paper within six leather bound volumes. It is often misleadingly stated that it was "written in code", whereas it was in fact written in a form of shorthand known as tachygraphy, which had only recently been invented by a Thomas Shelton. Pepys use of tachygraphy was probably motivated by a desire that neither his wife nor his servants should 'accidentally' become privy to its contents, but he would have been aware that there was nothing secret about Shelton's system. After his death Samuel Pepys left his library to Magdalen College, Oxford, diary included. Clearly he had no objection to anyone reading it after his death, otherwise he would have destroyed it. 2
The Diary remained at Magdalen College for the next hundred and twenty years. It remained unpublished simply because no one thought that there was a market for such a publication. It was not until the diary of another seventeenth century figure, John Evelyn, was published with some success in 1818 that George Neville-Grenville, the Master of Magdalen, thought that there might be some money to be made. He asked his uncle George Grenville to transcribe a few pages, and this was then used as a model by one John Smith, the curate of Barham and a graduate of the College, who was employed to transcribe the whole diary into English. Between 1819 and 1822 Smith diligently transcribed Pepys' six volumes into a total of fifty-four notebooks, which were then used by the Master's older brother Richard Griffin-Neville3 as the basis for the publication of a small selection from the Diary in 1825. This edition was re-issued in 1828, with further editions appearing in 1848-1849 and 1854 containing expanded selections from the text.
In 1858 Mynors Bright began a second transcription and published a six volume edition of the Diary between 1875-1879. This was later expanded and revised by Henry Benjamin Wheatley and published in a ten volume edition between 1893 and 1899. The Wheatley edition is known to suffer from textual inaccuracies and was not quite a complete version of the Diary, since it excluded a number of passages regarded as being too sexually explicit for publication. It is the Wheatley edition that appears as Project Gutenberg Release #4200 and thus forms the basis of all online versions of the Diary, most usefully perhaps at www.pepysdiary.com.4
The most modern and only complete version is the eleven volume edition,
The Diary of Samuel Pepys, a new and complete transcription by Robert Latham and William Matthews (Bell and Hyman Ltd 1970-1983). This is of course, a bit too much for most people and Latham's the Shorter Pepys (1985) which includes a selection of one third of the complete text, is a cheaper and more popular choice. The copyright of this edition rests with Magdalen College and the executors of the estate of William Matthews and thus does not appear online in any form.
1 Edward Montagu later became Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich.
2 It is fairly obvious that Magdalen College were quite well aware of the fact that they were a) in possession of the diary and b) the means by which it could be rendered into English, given the speed with which they reacted after the succesful publication of the Evelyn diaries in 1818.
3 More formally Richard Griffin-Neville, 3rd Baron Braybrooke.
4 Which is currently publishing an entry a day and has now reached 1662. These entries are both annotated (by users) and hyperlinked to, for example, biographies of the individuals mentioned.
- Preface and Introduction by Robert Latham to the Shorter Pepys (1985)
- Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)
- A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain at www.thepeerage.com
- SAMUEL PEPYS (1633-1703)