The Diary of Samuel Pepys by Samuel Pepys
Introduced by Phil Gyford
“With one’s face in the wind, you were almost burned with a shower of firedrops.” Samuel Pepys on the Great Fire of London
In 1660 Samuel Pepys, an increasingly-important 26 year-old civil servant in London, began writing his diary. He stopped a decade later.
[The website I developed] contains the full text of his diary, along with several letters sent or received by Pepys, plus thousands of pages of further information about the people, places and things in his world.
The diary entries were published on www.pepysdiary.com daily, in real time, from January 2003 until May 2012, with readers discussing events each day. From January 2013 the diary entries again appear on the front page at the end of the day (London time), starting with 1 January 1660.
The text for this diary is taken from the 1893 edition edited by Henry B. Wheatley. Pepys wrote the bulk of his diary in a shorthand devised by Thomas Shelton, with only a few words, such as names of people and places, written longhand; shorthand was more widely used by scholars in Pepys’ time than it is today.
Facsimile of the first entry of the diary, in shorthand
It should therefore be remembered that this is not Pepys’ diary as he wrote it, but a 19th century transcription which has in turn been used to create the electronic Project Gutenberg version.
An extract from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, from the day that the Great Fire of London started, is pasted in below.
Sunday 2 September 1666
(Lord’s day). Some of our mayds sitting up late last night to get things ready against our feast to-day, Jane called us up about three in the morning, to tell us of a great fire they saw in the City. So I rose and slipped on my nightgowne, and went to her window, and thought it to be on the backside of Marke-lane at the farthest; but, being unused to such fires as followed, I thought it far enough off; and so went to bed again and to sleep. About seven rose again to dress myself, and there looked out at the window, and saw the fire not so much as it was and further off. So to my closett to set things to rights after yesterday’s cleaning. By and by Jane comes and tells me that she hears that above 300 houses have been burned down to-night by the fire we saw, and that it is now burning down all Fish-street, by London Bridge. So I made myself ready presently, and walked to the Tower, and there got up upon one of the high places, Sir J. Robinson’s little son going up with me; and there I did see the houses at that end of the bridge all on fire, and an infinite great fire on this and the other side the end of the bridge; which, among other people, did trouble me for poor little Michell and our Sarah on the bridge. So down, with my heart full of trouble, to the Lieutenant of the Tower, who tells me that it begun this morning in the King’s baker’s house in Pudding-lane, and that it hath burned St. Magnus’s Church and most part of Fish-street already. So I down to the water-side, and there got a boat and through bridge, and there saw a lamentable fire. Poor Michell’s house, as far as the Old Swan, already burned that way, and the fire running further, that in a very little time it got as far as the Steeleyard, while I was there. Everybody endeavouring to remove their goods, and flinging intothe river or bringing them into lighters that layoff; poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats, or clambering from one pair of stairs by the water-side to another. And among other things, the poor pigeons, I perceive, were loth to leave their houses, but hovered about the windows and balconys till they were, some of them burned, their wings, and fell down. Having staid, and in an hour’s time seen the fire: rage every way, and nobody, to my sight, endeavouring to quench it, but to remove their goods, and leave all to the fire, and having seen it get as far as the Steele-yard, and the wind mighty high and driving it into the City; and every thing, after so long a drought, proving combustible, even the very stones of churches, and among other things the poor steeple by which pretty Mrs. ———— lives, and whereof my old school-fellow Elborough is parson, taken fire in the very top, an there burned till it fell down: I to White Hall (with a gentleman with me who desired to go off from the Tower, to see the fire, in my boat); to White Hall, and there up to the Kings closett in the Chappell, where people come about me, and did give them an account dismayed them all, and word was carried in to the King. So I was called for, and did tell the King and Duke of Yorke what I saw, and that unless his Majesty did command houses to be pulled down nothing could stop the fire. They seemed much troubled, and the King commanded me to go to my Lord Mayor —[Sir Thomas Bludworth. See June 30th, 1666.]— from him, and command him to spare no houses, but to pull down before the fire every way. The Duke of York bid me tell him that if he would have any more soldiers he shall; and so did my Lord Arlingtonafterwards, as a great secret.1 Here meeting, with Captain Cocke, I in his coach, which he lent me, and Creed with me to Paul’s, and there walked along Watlingstreet, as well as I could, every creature coming away loaden with goods to save, and here and there sicke people carried away in beds. Extraordinary good goods carried in carts and on backs. At last met my Lord Mayor in Canningstreet, like a man spent, with a handkercher about his neck. To the King’s message he cried, like a fainting woman, “Lord! what can I do? I am spent: people will not obey me. I have been pulling down houses; but the fire overtakes us faster than we can do it.” That he needed no more soldiers; and that, for himself, he must go and refresh himself, having been up all night. So he left me, and I him, and walked home, seeing people all almost distracted, and no manner of means used to quench the fire. The houses, too, so very thick thereabouts, and full of matter for burning, as pitch and tarr, in Thames-street; and warehouses of oyle, and wines, and brandy, and other things. Here I saw Mr. Isaake Houblon, the handsome man, prettily dressed and dirty, at his door at Dowgate, receiving some of his brothers’ things, whose houses were on fire; and, as he says, have been removed twice already; and he doubts (as it soon proved) that they must be in a little time removed from his house also, which was a sad consideration. And to see the churches all filling with goods by people who themselves should have been quietly there at this time. By this time it was about twelve o’clock; and so home, and there find my guests, which was Mr. Wood and his wife Barbary Sheldon, and also Mr. Moons: she mighty fine, and her husband; for aught I see, a likely man. But Mr. Moone’s design and mine, which was to look over my closett and please him with the sight thereof, which he hath long desired, was wholly disappointed; for we were in great trouble and disturbance at this fire, not knowing what to think of it. However, we had an extraordinary good dinner, and as merry, as at this time we could be. While at dinner Mrs. Batelier come to enquire after Mr. Woolfe and Stanes (who, it seems, are related to them), whose houses in Fish-street are all burned; and they in a sad condition. She would not stay in the fright. Soon as dined, I and Moone away, and walked, through the City, the streets full of nothing but people and horses and carts loaden with goods, ready to run over one another, and, removing goods from one burned house to another. They now removing out of Canning-streets (which received goods in the morning) intoLumbard-streets, and further; and among others I now saw my little goldsmith, Stokes, receiving some friend’s goods, whose house itself was burned the day after. We parted at Paul’s; he home, and I to Paul’s Wharf, where I had appointed a boat to attend me, and took in Mr. Carcasse and his brother, whom I met in the streets and carried them below and above bridge to and again to see the fire, which was now got further, both below and above and no likelihood of stopping it. Met with the King and Duke of York in their barge, and with them to Queenhith and there called Sir Richard Browne to them. Their order was only to pull down houses apace, and so below bridge the water-side; but little was or could be done, the fire coming upon them so fast. Good hopes there was of stopping it at the Three Cranes above, and at Buttolph’s Wharf below bridge, if care be used; but the wind carries it into the City so as we know not by the water-side what it do there. River full of lighters and boats taking in goods, and good goods swimming in the water, and only I observed that hardly one lighter or boat in three that had the goods of a house in, but there was a pair of Virginalls in it. Having seen as much as I could now, I away to White Hall by appointment, and there walked to St. James’s Parks, and there met my wife and Creed and Wood and his wife, and walked to my boat; and there upon the water again, and to the fire up and down, it still encreasing, and the wind great. So near the fire as we could for smoke; and all over the Thames, with one’s face in the wind, you were almost burned with a shower of firedrops. This is very true; so as houses were burned by these drops and flakes of fire, three or four, nay, five or six houses, one from another. When we could endure no more upon the water; we to a little ale-house on the Bankside, over against the ‘Three Cranes, and there staid till it was dark almost, and saw the fire grow; and, as it grew darker, appeared more and more, and in corners and upon steeples, and between churches and houses, as far as we could see up the hill of the City, in a most horrid malicious bloody flame, not like the fine flame of an ordinary fire. Barbary and her husband away before us. We staid till, it being darkish, we saw the fire as only one entire arch of fire from this to the other side the bridge, and in a bow up the hill for an arch of above a mile long: it made me weep to see it. The churches, houses, and all on fire and flaming at once; and a horrid noise the flames made, and the cracking of houses at their ruins. So home with a sad heart, and there find every body discoursing and lamenting the fire; and poor Tom Hater come with some few of his goods saved out of his house, which is burned upon Fish-streets Hall. I invited him to lie at my house, and did receive his goods, but was deceived in his lying there, the newes coming every moment of the growth of the fire; so as we were forced to begin to pack up our owne goods; and prepare for their removal; and did by moonshine (it being brave dry, and moon: shine, and warm weather) carry much of my goods into the garden, and Mr. Hater and I did remove my money and iron chests into my cellar, as thinking that the safest place. And got my bags of gold into my office, ready to carry away, and my chief papers of accounts also there, and my tallys into a box by themselves. So great was our fear, as Sir W. Batten hath carts come out of the country to fetch away his goods this night. We did put Mr. Hater, poor man, to bed a little; but he got but very little rest, so much noise being in my house, taking down of goods.
Text taken from:
Samuel Pepys donated his library to Magdalen College, Cambridge. It is open to visitors, and here Catherine Sutherland introduces Samuel Pepys’ special bookcases:
2016 marks the 350th Anniversary of the Great Fire of London, which Pepys so famously recorded in his diary. This year also marks the 350th birthday of Pepys’ first two bookcases, or ‘presses’ as he called them.
Pepys noted in July 1666 that he had lost the use of his books due to their being stacked up on chairs. Instead of emulating a library in an aristocratic house by fitting shelving to the walls in his modest lodgings on Seething Lane, Pepys decided upon a flexible (and affordable) approach to the storage of his books. He commissioned a ship’s Master Joiner, Thomas Simpson, to help create a radical new design. The freestanding ‘flat pack’ oak book presses, which can be dismantled and moved using the carrying handles fitted to the sides, indicate Pepys’ ambition to move into bigger and better accommodation. During Pepys’ lifetime, the presses were moved around as he changed his place of residence. However, the presses have never been moved from the Pepys Building since their arrival at Magdalene in 1724. During the Great Fire of London in September 1666, when the first two book presses were almost brand new, Pepys had them sent across the River Thames to Deptford for safe-keeping. A few weeks after the fire, Thomas Simpson returned to help ‘set them up’ again in Seething Lane.
The book presses are a representation of Pepys’ understanding of book conservation and a reflection of his astuteness. By employing the services of a ship’s master joiner, Pepys used his naval connections to ensure a ‘good deal’ for the materials and workmanship, and the presses are reminiscent of ship’s furniture, for example the deep carving patterns in the wood. The wooden feet prevent damp and rodent damage, and the glazed fronts allow the books to be shown to their best advantage. This type of book storage was revolutionary, and the presses are now considered to be the oldest of their type with these particular features. Of course, books in the 17th century were still a symbol of status and the notion of books as aesthetically beautiful objects to enhance a room’s decoration was an important one. This idea, combined with Pepys’ love of order and organisation, leads to an obsession with achieving aesthetic perfection, and the overall look of the library was extremely important to him. The books are stored in order of height, going against contemporary practice of shelving books by subject matter. Although this seems a very illogical idea, we can be grateful to Pepys for his predilection for symmetry of form: by having books of the same size next to each other, the books are well supported and thus the bindings remain in a good condition to the present day.
Pepys repeatedly vowed to himself in his diary that he would not buy any books which he did not have room for in his presses, but throughout his lifetime and as his wealth increased, he commissioned more presses to be made in the same design to house his ever-growing book collection. Although at first glance the presses look identical, there are slight differences: the later presses do not have adjustable shelving, whilst the early ones do.
All twelve presses can be viewed in the Pepys Library during the public opening hours. Please see the Magdalene College Website for our opening times.
Q&A on Samuel Pepys for kids, courtesy of the BBC website:
Who was Samuel Pepys?
Samuel Pepys (you say PEEPS) lived more than 300 years ago. He worked for the British government, and did much to make the Royal Navy better. However, he is famous because he wrote a diary.
Why is his diary famous?
Pepys started his diary in 1660. He went on writing it until 1669. It’s full of information, because Pepys was interested in everything around him. He wrote about London, his home, his wife, his friends, about great events such as the Great Fire, and about himself.
Pepys did not want people he knew to read his diary, so he kept his diary books safe.
A new watch
In his diary, Pepys often tells us how he felt.
He was proud of a new watch. It had an alarm, a new thing at that time. Pepys wrote in his diary that he kept taking his watch out to check the time and to show off. He was so pleased with it!
A country visitor
One day Pepys had a visitor from the country. Pepys wanted to show his friend the sights. But the visitor only complained. London was too crowded! Too noisy! Too far to walk!
He would not go to the theatre, even in a coach. Pepys wrote crossly that he had never met anyone ‘so little curious in the world…’
A time trip
One night the cat woke Pepys by miaowing and jumping on his bed. Unable to get back to sleep, he heard the night-watchman walk by outside, calling ‘Past one of the clock and a cold and frosty windy morning’.
He wrote this in his diary too. The diary takes us on a time-trip back over 300 years.
The plague and the fire
What was the Great Plague?
Pepys wrote about the Great Plague of 1665.
The Plague was a disease. It spread quickly. Many people were dying. One symptom was a ring of small spots, known as ‘Ring- o’-Roses’. Some people carried flowers, a ‘pocket full of posies’, to keep the plague away.
Fleas on black rats carried the disease, but people did not know that. Stray dogs and cats were blamed for carrying the plague. So cats and dogs were killed.
A red cross marked houses where people had the plague. Carts took away the dead.
What was the Great Fire?
Pepys wrote about the Great Fire of London in 1666. In his day, London houses were very close together. They were built mostly of wood. Fires were common.
On 2 September 1666, a fire started in Pudding Lane. It spread quickly. People used water in leather buckets to fight the fires. But the flames were too hot. The only way to stop the fire was to blow up houses, so flames could not jump from street to street.
The Great Fire burned for four days. More than 13,000 houses were destroyed in the disaster, but very few people were killed.
What Pepys saw and did
In his diary, Pepys describes how people escaped in boats on the River Thames. He watched pigeons that stayed in their nests in houses, and ‘burned their wings and fell down’.
When Pepys thought his own house was in danger, he dug a hole and buried a cheese! It was an expensive Parmesan cheese from Italy. He wanted to keep it safe.