Why did Pepys keep a diary? Origins of famous historical source unravelled

University of Leicester academic discusses significant seventeenth-century source. 

“Talking of the badness of the Government, where nothing but wickedness, and wicked men and wicked women command the King. That it is not in his nature to gainsay anything that relates to his pleasures” - 

25 April 1667, Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn spend two hours in Westminster Hall 

The diary of the seventeenth-century cultural icon Samuel Pepys - which contains references to bribery, illicit sex, and criticisms of powerful men – has an enduring legacy, and a researcher from the University Leicester unravels why it was written at an event at th 

Dr Loveman said: “The measures Pepys took via his will to control access to his diary are suggestive of how he thought the diary might be used in the future. Moreover, there are also signs that he recognised it might one day end up in print. 

“Pepys was prepared to throw the dice and risk leaving his diary to posterity but, I argue, he weighted those dice – using the conditions of his will to try to ensure a sympathetic readership. 

“I hoped this talk would add to my audience’s appreciation of Pepys and of his writing. In particular, they heard about the diary’s role in Pepys’s strategising over his reputation – which, by the end of his life, extended to efforts to shape the opinions of his diary’s future readership - who, as it turns out, are us.” 

The lecture examined why Samuel Pepys kept his diary in such tremendous detail for 9 years and the careful steps he took in his will to ensure the diary’s preservation. 

Using excerpts from the diary and other sources, Dr Loveman discussed the multiple functions that Pepys’s diary served for him during the 1660s – including tracking his physical health, improving his social status, and helping him manage the anxieties of his daily life. 

The audience also heard about ways of approaching his diary that should add to their enjoyment in reading it. They were able to see Pepys’s shorthand - in which the diary was written - and have a go at reading this shorthand themselves. 

The talk drew upon research conducted by Dr Loveman in her book ‘Samuel Pepys and his Books: Reading, Newsgathering and Sociability 1660-1703’. 

‘Why Did Pepys Keep a Diary?’ took place at the National Maritime Museum on 26 November. 

*‘Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution’ at the National Maritime Museum is the largest ever exhibition about the famous diarist with 200 objects from national and international museums, galleries and private collections. 

Using the voice and personality of the Pepys it explores and interprets a remarkable time of great accomplishment, upheavals and excess. It was a formative era in British history that saw the repositioning of the monarchy and the development of Britain’s place as a maritime, economic and political force on the world stage. 

‘Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution’ - 20 November 2015 – 28 March 2016. 

Press Release Courtesy of the University of Leicester

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