7 Things I Learned From #PepysShow

The National Maritime Museum’s exhibition; Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire and Revolution is a must-see for any London enthusiast.


Here are seven things I learned from this remarkable show…

1. He was a social commentator at 15


Samuel Pepys, aged just 15, was in the audience at Whitehall on 30 January 1649 witnessing one of the most profound moments of English history. In his diary entry on 1 November 1660 he remarked
“The words that I said the day that the king was beheaded … The memory of the wicked shall rot.”

2. He survived serious surgery


On 26 March 1658 Pepys had surgery to remove a large (apparently snooker ball-sized) bladder stone. The surgeon was the celebrated Thomas Hollier, who cut the bladder through an incision between the scrotum and anus, let us take a moment to remember that all of this was before pain relief or sterilised equipment(!) To mark his incredible survival Pepys occasionally had a lavish meal on the anniversary of the operation, which he called ‘stone feasts’.

3. Translating his diary could’ve been a lot easier

John Smith, a Cambridge undergraduate, began transcribing Pepys’s diary in 1819. It took him 3 years, not because he was slow, but because Pepys wrote in a shorthand gleaned from Thomas Shelton’s handbook; A Tutor to Tachygraphy or Short-Writing. The irony of this was that while Smith was beavering away in Magdalene College library, Pepys’ own copy of Shelton’s handbook (and the key to deciphering the text) was on a shelf nearby. DOH!

4. He was a dab-hand on the lute


Not only did Pepys like listening to music, but he played a few instruments too, to name a few; Viol, lute, recorder, spinet, flageolot, violin and theorbo (a type of lute). From 1673 he employed a private guitar teacher called Cesare. Fancy.

5. He treasured cheese

While the Great Fire of London was raging, Pepys borrowed a cart house to “to carry away all my money, and plate, and best things”. The next day (3rd September 1666) fearing the security of his house in the path of the fire, buried some items in his garden;
“I did dig another [hole], and put my Parmesan cheese, as well as my wine and some other things.”

6. He didn’t like the Tangier wildlife


In 1683 King Charles II sent Pepys to Morocco to supervise the abandonment and demolition of the colony. Naturally, he kept a short diary of his time there. “At noon we had a great locust leap of a sudden in the table; and this morning in my chamber the most extraordinary spider ever I saw. At least ten times as a big as an ordinary spider”

7. He was a Hipster


Pepys often complained of eye strain;
‘I perceive my overworking of my eyes by candle light doth hurt them … So I intend to get some green spectacles.’
There’s a record of him buying two new pairs from John Turlington in 1667, opting for a kind that wouldn’t look out of place on Kingsland Road.

Samuel Pepys: Fire, Plague and Revolution is at The National Maritime Museum until 28 March.
Find out more and book #PepysShow here.

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