Feb 232020
 

Today is the birthday (1633) of Samuel Pepys PRS, an administrator of the navy of England, Member of Parliament, and president of the Royal Society, who is most famous for the diary he kept for a decade while still a relatively young man. Pepys had no maritime experience, but he rose to be the Chief Secretary to the Admiralty under both Charles II and James II through patronage, hard work, and his talent for administration. His influence and reforms at the Admiralty were important in the development of a professional and efficient Royal Navy. The detailed private diary that Pepys kept from 1660 until 1669 was first published in the 19th century and is one of the most important primary sources for the Restoration period. It provides personal insights and revelations as well as eyewitness accounts of famous events, such as the Great Plague of London, the Second Dutch War, and the Great Fire of London.

The diary is of rare importance because, in the days before photography, video, internet, social media, and so forth, it opens a window for us on to the way a citizen viewed life in London in the 17th century. He was, admittedly, a well-connected citizen, and was also, in many respects, an unusual man. It is a grave mistake to generalize from Pepys to all bourgeois Englishmen of the period, as it is with all diaries in all periods (a mistake that social historians are prone to repeatedly). It is also a grave mistake to believe that now that we have so many forms of documentation at our disposal, we no longer need to record events and feelings in personal diaries. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Pepys’s diary is a reasonably accurate record of his inner monologue, and there is no substitute for such. I will give you some brief biographical information and then spend the bulk of the post in quotes from the diary.

Pepys was born in Salisbury Court off Fleet Street in London. To a prosperous upper-middle class family. He was the fifth of eleven children, but because child mortality was high, he was soon the oldest survivor. He was baptized at St Bride’s Church on 3rd March 1633. He attended Huntingdon Grammar School before being educated at St Paul’s School in London, c. 1646-1650. In 1650, he went to the University of Cambridge, having received two exhibitions from St Paul’s School and a grant from the Mercers’ Company. In October, he was admitted as a sizar to Magdalene College; he moved there in March 1651 and took his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1654. Later in 1654 or early in 1655, he entered the household of one of his father’s cousins, Sir Edward Montagu, who was later created the 1st Earl of Sandwich. Pepys married fourteen-year-old Elisabeth de St Michel, a descendant of French Huguenot immigrants, first in a religious ceremony on 10th October 1655 and later in a civil ceremony on 1st December 1655 at St Margaret’s, Westminster.

On January 1st 1659/1660, Pepys began his diary. January 1st was not officially New Year’s Day in the 17th century; March 25th was. But many people, including Pepys, considered January 1st to be the beginning of a new year and Pepys decided to put pen to paper to mark a new beginning in his life and in the year. He notes in his entry that January 1st is the Feast of the Circumcision (the 8th day after the birth of Jesus when circumcision was prescribed for newborns). Otherwise, it was a pretty average Sunday:

Jan. 1st (Lord’s day). 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. Went to Mr. Gunning’s chapel at Exeter House, where he made a very good sermon upon these words:–“That in the fulness of time God sent his Son, made of a woman,” &c.; showing, that, by “made under the law,” is meant his circumcision, which is solemnized this day. 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. I staid at home all the afternoon, looking over my accounts; then went with my wife to my father’s, and in going observed the greatposts which the City have set up at the Conduit in Fleet-street. Supt at my father’s, where in came Mrs. The. Turner and Madam Morrice, and supt with us. After that my wife and I went home with them, and so to our own home.

Pepys wrote the diary using a version of shorthand that would make it unreadable to the casual eye, and he had no intention of making it public during his lifetime. He did, however, take care to have it bound and preserved for posterity. It was not published until the early 19th century, and even then it was heavily expurgated because of crude language and frequent references to sex. It is now available online in its entirety — http://www.limpidsoft.com/ipad8/samuelpepys.pdf   Here are some quotes I find appealing:

But Lord! To see the absurd nature of Englishmen that cannot forbear laughing and jeering at everything that looks strange.

Mighty proud I am that I am able to have a spare bed for my friends.

But it is pretty to see what money will do.

Thanks be to God, since my leaving drinking of wine, I do find myself much better, and do mind my business better, and do spend less money, and less time lost in idle company.

And it is a wonder what will be the fashion after the plague is done as to periwigs, for nobody will dare to buy any haire for fear of the infection that it had been cut off the heads of people dead of the plague.

I do still see that my nature is not to be quite conquered, but will esteem pleasure above all things, though yet in the middle of it, it has reluctances after my business, which is neglected by my following my pleasure. However musique and women I cannot but give way to, whatever my business is.

Unlike God the artist does not start with nothing and make something of it. He starts with himself as nothing and makes something of the nothing with the things at hand. 

The truth is, I do indulge myself a little the more in pleasure, knowing that this is the proper age of my life to do it; and, out of my observation that most men that do thrive in the world do forget to take pleasure during the time that they are getting their estate, but reserve that till they have got one, and then it is too late for them to enjoy it.

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 in that condition.

Fight the good fight; and always call to mind that it is not you who are mortal, but this body of ours. For your true being is not discerned by perceiving your physical appearance. But ‘what a man’s mind is, that is what he is’ not that individual human shape that we identify through our senses.

Pepys frequently notes what he ate at meals, and it is quite evident that venison was his favorite meat, and that venison pies or pasties appealed to him greatly. He does, however, quite often note that the venison at a dinner was not up to his standards. In this case the dinner was all right, but the venison pasty was, in fact, beef:

I went home and took my wife and went to my Cosen Tho. Pepys’s and found them just sat down to dinner, which was very good; only the venison pasty was palpable beef, which was not handsome.

Venison pies and pasties are frequently mentioned in 17th century dinner menus and they were obviously popular. They were large enough to serve a whole table and were often elaborately decorated. If they were to be given as gifts, the pastry was construction grade and might not even be particularly edible. Served for a normal dinner, the pastry was more likely to be a standard mix of flour, butter, and eggs. It was common to cook the venison for many hours, and to pound it into a paste with wine and spices before filling the pie. Here is a recipe for a stew of venison from The English and French Cook of 1674. With a little imagination you could convert the stew to a pie filling and, using either slack paste or shortcrust pastry, make a finished pie. I’ll leave that part to you.

Potage of Venison.

Take a Haunch of Venison, and cut it into six pieces, and place them in the bottom of a Pan or Pot, then put in no more Water than will cover it, let it boil, then scum it, after that add to it a good quantity of whole Pepper; when it is half boiled, put in four whole Onions, Cloves, and large Mace, some sliced Ginger, Nutmeg, three or four faggots of sweet Herbs, let it boil till the Venison be very tender, and a good part of the broth be wasted; after this pour out the broth from the meat into a Pipkin, keep your Venison hot in the same Pot by adding other hot broth unto it; then take a couple of red-Beet roots, having very well parboil’d them before, cut them into square pieces as big as a shilling, and put them into the broth which is in your Pipkin, and let them boil till they are very tender, add unto the boiling four Anchovies minced, then dish up your Venison on Sippets of French-bread, then pour on your broth, so much as will near-upon fill the Dish, then take your roots by themselves, and toss them in a little drawn Butter, and lay them all over the Venison; if the Beets be good, it will make the broth red enough, which you must have visible round about the Dish sides, but if it prove pale, put to it some Saunders: This is a very savory Potage.