Tag Archives: Samuel Pepys

New Year’s Day with Samuel Pepys

The City of London - home to sociopathy and promiscuity?

The City of London in 2014:  a year has passed since yesterday

To an extent, this blog is about other people’s lives in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. But laziness has broken out and, instead of writing my blog today, below are some excerpts from Samuel Pepys’ Diaries on New Year’s Day 1660-1669.

Or what passed for it.

I say “or what passed for it” because, in England until 1752, the year did not legally begin until March 25th. After that, a Parliamentary Act fixed January 1st as the first day of the year. Then, as now, the financial year started on April 6th.

Oh what joy it is to live in the confusing world of the United Kingdom although, of course, the UK did not come into existence until May 1st in 1707 – almost half a century after Pepys wrote his diary.

What has impact in history is the generalities. What has impact for people in their lives are the details.

Pepys actually wrote his diary quite recently – just over 350 years ago.

In Britain, the Queen Mother died twelve years ago in 2002. She was 101 years old. Yesterday, my eternally-un-named-friend mentioned someone she knows who was born 101 years ago. So, in a sense, Samuel Pepys wrote his diary just four people ago.

The occasional odd spellings are by Pepys…


Samuel Pepys did more than me yesterday

Samuel Pepys: His wife had an unhappy New Year 

SUNDAY 1st JANUARY 1659/60

This morning (we living lately in the garret) I rose, put on my suit with great skirts, having not lately worn any other clothes but them. Dined at home in the garret, where my wife dressed the remains of a turkey and in the doing of it she burned her hand.

WEDNESDAY 1st JANUARY 1661/62

Waking this morning out of my sleep on a sudden, I did with my elbow hit my wife a great blow over her face and nose, which waked her with pain, at which I was sorry, and to sleep again.

THURSDAY 1st JANUARY 1662/63

Lay with my wife at my Lord’s lodgings, where I have been these two nights, till 10 o’clock with great pleasure talking, then I rose and to White Hall, where I spent a little time walking among the courtiers, which I perceive I shall be able to do with great confidence, being now beginning to be pretty well known among them. Then to my wife again, and found Mrs. Sarah with us in the chamber we lay in. Among other discourse, Mrs. Sarah tells us how the King sups at least four or five times every week with my Lady Castlemaine; and most often stays till the morning with her, and goes home through the garden all alone privately, and that so as the very centrys take notice of it and speak of it.

She tells me, that about a month ago she (Lady Castlemaine) quickened at my Lord Gerard’s at dinner, and cried out that she was undone; and all the lords and men were fain to quit the room, and women called to help her. In fine, I find that there is nothing almost but bawdry at Court from top to bottom, as, if it were fit, I could instance, but it is not necessary; only they say my Lord Chesterfield, groom of the stole to the Queen, is either gone or put away from the Court upon the score of his lady’s having smitten the Duke of York, so as that he is watched by the Duchess of York, and his lady is retired into the country upon it. How much of this is true, God knows, but it is common talk.

FRIDAY 1st JANUARY 1663/64

I went to the Coffee-house, sending my wife by Will, and there staid talking an hour with Coll. Middleton, and others, and among other things about a very rich widow, young and handsome, of one Sir Nicholas Gold’s, a merchant, lately fallen, and of great courtiers that already look after her: her husband not dead a week yet. She is reckoned worth £80,000.

Thence to my uncle Wight’s, where Dr. of –—, among others, dined, and his wife, a seeming proud conceited woman, I know not what to make of her, but the Dr’s discourse did please me very well about the disease of the stone, above all things extolling Turpentine, which he told me how it may be taken in pills with great ease.

SUNDAY 1st JANUARY 1664/65

At noon a good venison pasty and a turkey to ourselves without any body so much as invited by us, a thing unusuall for so small a family of my condition: but we did it and were very merry.

MONDAY 1st JANUARY 1665/66

Called up by five o’clock, by my order, by Mr. Tooker, who wrote, while I dictated to him, my business of the Pursers; and so, without eating or drinking, till three in the afternoon, and then, to my great content, finished it. So to dinner, Gibson and he and I, and then to copying it over, Mr. Gibson reading and I writing, and went a good way in it till interrupted by Sir W. Warren’s coming, of whom I always learne something or other, his discourse being very good and his brains also. He being gone we to our business again, and wrote more of it fair, and then late to bed.

TUESDAY 1st JANUARY 1666/67

Lay long, being a bitter, cold, frosty day, the frost being now grown old, and the Thames covered with ice. Home to dinner, where the best powdered goose that ever I eat.

WEDNESDAY 1st JANUARY 1667/68

About noon abroad with my wife, who was to dine with W. Hewer and Willet at Mrs. Pierce’s, but I had no mind to be with them, for I do clearly find that my wife is troubled at my friendship with her and Knepp, and so dined with my Lord Crew, with whom was Mr. Browne, Clerk of the House of Lords, and Mr. John Crew. Here was mighty good discourse. They did talk much of the disgrace the Archbishop is fallen under with the King, and the rest of the Bishops also. I took coach and home about 9 or ten at night, where not finding my wife come home, I took the same coach again, and leaving my watch behind me for fear of robbing, I did go back and to Mrs. Pierce’s, thinking they might not have broken up yet, but there I find my wife newly gone, and not going out of my coach spoke only to Mr. Pierce in his nightgown in the street, and so away back again home, and there to supper with my wife and to talk about their dancing and doings at Mrs. Pierce’s to-day, and so to bed.

FRIDAY 1st JANUARY 1668/69

To my uncle’s, and met my wife; and there, with W. Hewer, we dined with our family, and had a very good dinner, and pretty merry and after dinner, my wife and I with our coach to the King’s playhouse, and there in a box saw “The Mayden Queene.”

Knepp looked upon us, but I durst not shew her any countenance; and, as well as I could carry myself, I found my wife uneasy there, poor wretch! Therefore, I shall avoid that house as much as I can.

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Yesterday, Samuel Pepys out-did me

I did virtually nothing yesterday, except eat chicken and chocolate, wash the dishes and watch the Doctor Who Christmas special on BBC TV. I missed the Queen’s Speech in the afternoon. Things were so different 350 years ago. This is what Samuel Pepys did on Christmas Day 1662. It was a Thursday:

* * *

Samuel Pepys did more than me yesterday

Samuel Pepys, action man

Up pretty early, leaving my wife not well in bed, and with my boy walked, it being a most brave cold and dry frosty morning, and had a pleasant walk to White Hall, where I intended to have received the Communion with the family, but I came a little too late.

So I walked up into the house and spent my time looking over pictures, particularly the ships in King Henry the VIIIth’s Voyage to Bullen; marking the great difference between their build then and now.

By and by down to the chappell again where Bishopp Morley preached upon the song of the Angels, “Glory to God on high, on earth peace, and good will towards men.”

Methought he made but a poor sermon, but long, and reprehending the mistaken jollity of the Court for the true joy that shall and ought to be on these days, he particularized concerning their excess in plays and gaming, saying that he whose office it is to keep the gamesters in order and within bounds, serves but for a second rather in a duell, meaning the groom-porter. Upon which it was worth observing how far they are come from taking the reprehensions of a bishopp seriously, that they all laugh in the chappell when he reflected on their ill actions and courses.

He did much press us to joy in these publique days of joy, and to hospitality. But one that stood by whispered in my ear that the Bishopp himself do not spend one groat to the poor himself.

The sermon done, a good anthem followed, with vialls, and then the King came down to receive the Sacrament.

But I staid not, but calling my boy from my Lord’s lodgings, and giving Sarah some good advice, by my Lord’s order, to be sober and look after the house, I walked home again with great pleasure, and there dined by my wife’s bed-side with great content, having a mess of brave plum-porridge and a roasted pullet for dinner, and I sent for a mince-pie abroad, my wife not being well to make any herself yet.

After dinner sat talking a good while with her, her being become less, and then to see Sir W. Pen a little, and so to my office, practising arithmetique alone and making an end of last night’s book with great content till eleven at night, and so home to supper and to bed.

* * *

James Boswell‘s diary was equally interesting in 1762. These are his entries 250 years ago:

* * *

Saturday 25 December

The night before I did not rest well. I was really violently in love with Louisa. I thought she did not care for me. I thought that if I did not gain her affections, I would appear despicable to myself. This day I was in a better frame, being Christmas day, which has always inspired me with most agreeable feelings. I went to St. Paul’s Church and in that magnificent temple fervently adored the GOD of goodness and mercy, and heard a sermon by the Bishop of Oxford on the publishing of glad tidings of great joy.

Sunday 26 December

I went to Whitehall Chapel and heard service. I took a whim to go through all the churches and chapels in London, taking one each Sunday.

At one I went to Louisa’s. I told her my passion in the warmest terms. I told her that my happiness absolutely depended upon her. She said it was running the greatest risk. “Then,” said I, “Madam, you will show the greatest generosity to a most sincere lover.” She said that we should take time to consider of it, and that then we could better determine how to act.

We agreed that the time should be a week, and that if I remained of the same opinion, she would then make me blessed. There is no telling how easy it made my mind to be convinced that she did not despise me, but on the contrary had a tender heart and wished to make me easy and happy.

* * *

Both Samuel Pepys & his wife and James Boswell & Louisa are long dead.

So it goes.

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The woman who has stayed in a bedroom cupboard for over two years

Last night I had a somewhat over-priced snack in the crypt of St Martin-in-the-Fields, a very pleasant place to be with subtle up-lighters to the vaulted brick ceiling and tastefully up-dated modernity out in the corridor plus a very emotionally satisfying circular glass lift up to ground level. It is a very relaxing place to sit and chat although, because this is the crypt of a church built in 1542 and re-built in 1726, the chairs and tables and kitchens stand on headstones and ancient bones including, I think, those of Nell Gwyn.

I sat wondering what Samuel Pepys would have made of this future world if he could see it. Pepys had a nude picture of Nell Gwyn hanging above his desk.

“What am I going to do with my mother?” my friend interrupted.

“What?” I asked, distracted.

“My mother. I don’t know what to do with her. She’ll have to go somewhere.”

“Where is she?” I asked.

“In the bedroom cupboard at home. She’s been there for over two years.”

“I know,” I said, trying to be sympathetic. “I had my father in the kitchen for about 18 months. I didn’t like to bring up the subject with my mother in case it upset her. Is there anywhere your mother liked that had a special place in her heart?”

My friend pondered this long and hard.

Dickens & Jones,” she eventually mused. “She adored Dickens & Jones.”

“They might think it was bad for business,” I said, trying to be practical while remaining sympathetic. “And department stores tend to clean the floors an awful lot. They’d vacuum her up.”

“It’s what she would have wanted,” my friend said quietly. “She was always at her happiest in Dickens & Jones. But it doesn’t exist any more. So, realistically, I would have to scatter her ashes inside John Lewis in Oxford Street. She liked shopping there too.”

“How about St Paul’s Cathedral or Westminster Abbey?” I suggested.

My friend looked unconvinced.

“She would be among the great and the good of the country,” I re-assured her. “Nelson, Wellington, Chaucer, Charles Dickens, people like that… You could just go in and drop her surreptitiously in a corner when no-one’s looking. It’s all grey stone. They’d never notice and they must only sweep the corners and dust the edges of the floors by the walls every couple of centuries. I’m sure someone must have done it before.”

My friend still looked unconvinced.

“It would be like The Great Escape,” I suggested, trying to get her enthusiasm going. “When they drop the earth from the tunnel down the inside of their trouser legs.”

“Sounds a bit messy,” my friend said.

And that was that.

But I am still convinced it is good idea and deserves further consideration. We live in occasionally surreal times and have to think laterally to keep pace with reality.

Who would have thought a man would try to blow up a plane using a shoe bomb, that MPs would be going to prison for fiddling their expenses and that the European Court’s advisors would reckon it is against basic Human Rights to ban people imprisoned for murder, rape and terrorist offences from voting in an election.

Later, as I was walking through St Pancras station, my eyes accidentally strayed to the Eurostar arrivals board. The next three trains were from Paris, Brussels and Disneyland. I half expected to see Mickey Mouse get off a train hand-in-hand with Pinnochio.

Twenty feet further on, I passed an overweight man in his 40s sitting at a table. He had receding hair at the front of his head and a bald patch at the back. He was eating a croissant and was dressed as a schoolboy. No-one looked at him because no-one thought it odd.

In my train home, a middle-aged woman was talking to a stuffed meerkat. Neither the woman nor the meerkat appeared to have a mobile phone.

What would Samuel Pepys have made of this future world?

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