Memoirs of Samuel Pepys

Memoirs of Samuel Pepys, 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 from the original shorthand, … 5 vols (London, 1828)

My thoughts went to this work because of its coverage of the plague of 1665 – an almost inevitable parallel with our present times. I wondered how similar in fact the two situations were. Opening volume to at a random page in 1665, I found myself reading about the Battle of Lowestoft, so-called because the engagement between the Royal Navy and the Dutch fleet occurred some forty miles out to see from that Suffolk town. Pepys’ narrative of current events very much takes precedence, but lurking in the background is the encroaching menace of the plague, appearing mostly in subtle phrases such as “his house was shut up”; another victim of the plague enacting what today we are referring to as “self-isolation”.

Pepys wrote his diary in a form of shorthand, an example of which is shown in the photograph above of a plate from volume one, along with an example of Pepys’s usual handwriting. It was written in note form, and that sense has been preserved in the transcription made by the Reverend John Smith.

Even a short extract of the diary gives a glimpse of a complex period in which there are clearly continuing power struggles between notable individuals who had already navigated the Civil War, Commonwealth and restoration in their own particular ways. There are examples of how news can be manipulated to present a particular version of events, as the Earl of Sandwich’s pivotal role in the battle is at first not mentioned, whilst the Duke of York and Prince Rupert are given credit for the success. And very recognizable is the sense of some people panicking, whilst others attempt to continue normal life in an increasingly abnormal context.

So Norwich Cathedral Library continues to come to you by sharing a regular “highlighted book” feature, even if you can’t come to it, and Frangipan, our resident knitted dinosaur, is nobly helping to choose the books to be shared!

Frnagipan looks at a plate picturing Sir William Coventry, who is frequently referred to in Pepys’ diary.

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