Wednesday, 24 February 2016

23rd February, 1633

Yesterday I was distracted by a lost phone and completely missed Samuel Pepys' birthday.  His family came from Cambridgeshire, but he was born in Salisbury Court, just beside St. Bride's.  Known as the printers' church, and where Wynkyn de Worde is buried, the church Pepys knew from childhood was burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666, and the famous church we see today, with its wedding cake spire, was built by Wren in 1672. (see

St Bride's Church, Fleet Street, London
© photo Nick Weall

Although Pepys could be pompous, promiscuous, selfish and pleasure-loving,  he was also brave, far-sighted, enquiring and extremely hard-working.  Many of his birthdays were ordinary working days, ("up early and to the office,") but in February1662 it was --

"Lord's day.  My cold being increased, I stayed at home all day, pleasing myself with my dining-room, now graced with pictures, and reading of Dr. Fullers worthys.  So I spent the day; and at night comes Sir. W. Pen and supped and talked with me.  This day, by God's mercy I am 29 years of age, and in very good health and like to live and get an estate; and if I have a heart to be contented, I think I may reckon myself as happy a man as any is in the world - for which God be praised. So to prayers and bed."

In the last year of his Diary, 1669,  on 23rd February he works at the office all morning, and later takes his wife and the maids to see Westminster Abbey (it was Shrove Tuesday): " and there did show them all the tombs very finely…; and here we did see, by very perticular favour, the body of Queen Katherine of Valois, and had her upper part of her body in my hands.  And I did kiss her mouth, reflecting upon it that I did kiss a Queen, and that this was my birthday, 36 years old, that I did first kiss a Queen."

We can respect his ambition for self-improvement, but it his great zest for life which springs from the pages of his Diary.

Quotations from The Shorter Pepys, © R. Latham and W. Matthews, and Magdalene College, Cambridge

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