For fans of personal journals and autobiographic writings, time is a very interesting aspect of any diarist’s musings. The further back you go, the more intriguing the writing becomes. Sure, most of us can understand the 1950s and perhaps even the 1850s, even if we weren’t around back then. These periods have been extensively chronicled. But just push that back another 200 years to the 1650s. Imagine how exceedingly different life was back then. Imagine the diary of a man like Samuel Pepys.
With Samuel Pepys’ diaries, the reader gets some incredible insight into life in the 1600s. What’s even more impressive about Pepys’ diaries in particular is that it shows how a man with relatively no experience can rise up through the ranks in such a period. He wasn’t a nobleman of wealth; he wasn’t another in a long line of naval men. But he was extremely intelligent and hard-working, and his diaries paint a vivid picture of how life was in a period long gone.
Born in London, England in 1633, Samuel Pepys accomplished a lot as just a university graduate with no noble lineage to speak of. Dying in 1703 at 70 years of age, Pepys also manage to outlive most of his peers in a time where making it to 50 was considered an outlier. Throughout his life, Samuel showed incredible drive and determination, rising up through the ranks from a Clerk of the Acts to Chief Security to the Admiralty and a Tory Member of Parliament.
A basic Anglican, conducive of the era and area, Pepys was about as normal a man as one could imagine in the time. But it was his drive, his attention to detail, and his never-say-quit attitude that allowed him to hold multiple important titles throughout his life, including: President of the Royal Society, Freeman of Portsmouth, Treasurer of the Tangier Committee, and Master of Trinity House, amongst others.
Another amazing fact of Pepys’ life is that he was almost always certainly in chronic pain. He suffered from bladder stones in his urinary tract since a small child, and he underwent a very risky surgical procedure in 1657 to have them removed. Even though the surgery was successful, it had adverse side effects, such as pain, bleeding, bladder issues, and some even suspect that the operation made him sterile, as Pepys never had children.
In England in this period, there were certainly many more important titles than Samuel Pepys held. But he’s not remembered today for being the President of this or the Chief of that; he’s remembered because he vividly recorded details of his day-to-day life in a diary. For a ten-year period, starting in 1660, Pepys began chronicling his everyday thoughts and dealings, from friends and enemies to the women he chased and a fragile relationship with his wife.
What amazes many about Pepys’ diary is that he doesn’t hold the significant events he participated in above his own life. Alongside every event, such as traveling to bring Charles II out of exile, or witnessing General George Monck’s march on London, he provides his thoughts and opinions on the matters and always manages to include his personal details.
It’s a very human, normal diary, much like you may expect to find today with someone blogging about Presidential politics. Being part of the time, these things were normal. But looking back at Pepys’ time from our seats, it’s amazing how such a normal man rose through the ranks in such a time.