John Evelyn agreed with Temple that “where factions were once entered and rooted in a state, they thought it madness for good men to meddle with public affairs.” 50 When Civil War loomed he judged it time to travel. He left England in July, 1641, but a stroke of conscience brought him back in October. He joined the King’s army at Brentford just in time to participate in its retreat. After a month of service he retired to his paternal estate at Wotton in Surrey; and on November 11, 1643, he crossed again to the Continent. He traveled leisurely through France, Italy, Switzerland, Holland, and again in France. In Paris he married an English girl. For a time he oscillated between France and England; finally, the Civil War over, he returned to his home (February 6, 1652). He paid Cromwell’s government to leave him alone. He corresponded with the exiled Charles II, and in 1659 he labored to promote the Restoration. After Charles had reached the throne Evelyn was persona grata at the court, though he condemned its immorality. He filled some minor governmental posts, but for the most part he preferred to plant trees and write thirty books at his country home. He wrote on everything from Lucretius to Sabbatai Zevi. His Fumifugium failed to clear the air of London, but hisSylva (1664) pleaded effectively for the reforestation of England, and he spurred the government to plant trees throughout London, whose trees are now its greatest glory and delight. His Life of Mrs. Godolphin is an idyl of womanly virtues amid the Restoration riot.
From 1641, when he was twenty-one, to February 3, 1706, twenty-four days before his death, he kept a diary of what he saw or heard in England or on the Continent. As a man of “quality” he could not afford to record such sins and intimate views as lure us to Pepys’s longer Diary; but his descriptions of European cities have helped us to see the color of the time. He has some vivid pages, as on the Simplon Pass; 51 and sometimes he opens his heart in tender passages, as on the death of his five-year-old son. His diary remained unpublished till 1818.
Its references to Samuel Pepys led to the examination of the six volumes, in shorthand, that had been bequeathed by Pepys to Magdalene College, Cambridge. After three years of labor the 3,012 pages were deciphered; they were published in 1825, abbreviated and purified; now, still incomplete, they fill four thick tomes. They have made Pepys one of the most intimately and erroneously known characters in history. Intimately, because his diary was obviously intended for only posthumous publication if any, and therefore included details many of which had to be kept secret in his lifetime, and some of which are still “unprintable.” Erroneously, for the diary covers less than a decade (January 1, 1660, to May 31, 1669) of Pepys’s life, and gives no adequate account of his work at the Admiralty—the headquarters of the English navy—where he served in more and more important capacities from 1660 to 1689. Long after his death he was remembered and honored there as an able and industrious administrator.
His father was a London tailor, one of those younger sons of the gentry who took to trade because the oldest son alone inherited the estate. Samuel went to Cambridge on a scholarship, and took the bachelor’s and master’s degrees with no other discount than a public reprimand for having once been “scandalously overseene in drinking,” and again for writing a romance, Love is a Cheat, which he afterward destroyed. At the age of twenty-two (1655) he married Elizabeth St. Michel, daughter of a Huguenot. In 1658 he was operated on for the stone; the affair went off successfully, and he gratefully celebrated its anniversary every recorded year thereafter.
Sir Edward Montagu, his distant kinsman, made him his secretary (1660), and Samuel accompanied him when Montagu commanded the fleet that brought Charles back from exile. Before that year was out, Pepys was appointed clerk of the acts in the navy office. He studied naval affairs as sedulously as his pursuit of women would permit, and since his superiors were also devoted to that ancient sport, he soon came to know naval details more fully than the admirals (Montagu and the Duke of York) who depended on his information. During the war with the Dutch (1665–67) he managed with notable competence the victualing of the fleet, and during the plague he kept to his post after most governmental officials had run away. When (1668) the navy office was attacked in Parliament, Pepys was entrusted with the defense, and his three hours’ speech in the Commons won for the office an unmerited exoneration. Pepys then drew up for the Duke of York two papers exposing the incompetence of navy personnel, and these papers played a part in the reform of the fleet. He worked hard, usually rising at 4 A.M., 52 but he saw to it that his salary of £ 350 a year was aided by presents, commissions, and other perquisites, some of which might now be called bribes, but which in those amiable days were considered legitimate amplifications. His own superior, Lord Montagu, had explained to him that “it was not the salary of any place that did make a man rich, but the opportunity of getting money while he is in the place.” 53
All of Pepys’s faults are revealed in the diary with a candor unpretentious and relatively complete. Why he kept it so honestly is not clear. He concealed it carefully during his life, and wrote it in his own system of shorthand, using 314 different characters, and made no arrangements for its posthumous publication. Apparently he took pleasure in so reviewing his daily activities, his physiological disturbances, his marital quarrels, his flirtations and adulteries; he could, on secretly rereading the record, find the same clandestine satisfaction that we derive from looking at ourselves in the mirror. He tells us how he had his wife cut his hair, and “found in my head and body about twenty lice, . . . more than I have had, I believe, these twenty years.” 54 He learned to love his wife, but only after many quarrels, some that “vexed” him “to the guts”; often, on his own telling, he was mean to her; on one occasion he “pulled her by the nose”; 55 on another “I did strike her over her left eye such a blow as the poor wretch did cry out and was in great pain, but yet her spirit was such as to endeavor to bite and scratch me; but I coying with her made her leave crying.” 56 He had a poultice applied to her eye, and went out to a paramour. He returned home for dinner, then sallied out, found “Bagwell’s wife . . . and took her away to an alehouse, and there made I much of her, and then away thence to another and endeavored to caress her, but elle ne voulait pas, which did vex me.”
It is astonishing what energy the man had—every few months another amour; he pursued women till they repulsed him with pins. 57 He confessed the “strange slavery that I stand in to beauty.” 58 In Westminster Abbey “I heard a sermon, and spent (God forgive me) most of my time in looking at Mrs. Butler.” 59 He looked with especial longing, almost with lèse majesté, upon Lady Castlemaine; seeing her in Whitehall Palace, “I glutted myself with looking at her.” 60 He had to content himself with her petticoats hanging on a line; “it did me good to look upon them”; 61 and “so home to supper and to bed, fancying myself to sport with Mrs. Stewart [Lady Castlemaine] with great pleasure.” 62 But his taste was not confined to court beauties. A neighbor, Mrs. Diana, passed his door; he drew her “into my house upstairs, and there did dally with her a great while.” 63 He took a Mrs. Lane to Lambeth, but, “after being tired of her company,” he resolved “never to do so again while I live.” 64 On one occasion his wife caught him hugging a girl; she threatened to leave him; he appeased her with vows, and rushed off to his latest mistress. He seduced his wife’s maid, Deborah Willet; he loved to have her comb his hair; but his wife came upon him during his explorations; he made new vows; Deborah was dismissed; Pepys visited her as part of his day’s work.
His lust continued even when his eyesight failed. His habit of reading and writing by candlelight began in 1664 to impair his vision. But in the critical years that followed he worked especially hard, despite the progress of his trouble. On May 31, 1669, he made the last entry in his diary:
And thus ends all that I doubt I shall ever be able to do with my own eyes in the keeping of my Journal. . . . Whatever comes of it, I must forbear; and therefore resolve, from this time forward, to have it kept by my people in longhand, and must therefore be contented to set down no more than is fit for them and all the world to know; or, if there be anything—which cannot be much, now my amours with Deborah are past, and my eyes hindering me in almost all other pleasures—I must endeavor to keep a margin in my book open, to add, here and there, a note in shorthand with my own hand. And so I betake myself to that course, which is almost as much as to see myself go into my grave; for which, and all the discomforts that will accompany my being blind, the good God prepare me!—S.P.
He had thirty-four years of life remaining to him. He nursed carefully what remained of his eyesight, and he never went completely blind. The Duke and the King gave him a long leave of absence; then he returned to work. In 1673 he was made secretary of the Admiralty. Meanwhile his wife became a Catholic. When the Popish Plot broke upon England Pepys was arrested and sent to the Tower (May 22, 1679) on suspicion of having had a hand in the murder of Godfrey. He disproved the charge and was released after nine months’ imprisonment. He remained out of office till 1684; then he was again appointed secretary of the Admiralty, and continued the reform of the navy. When his master became James II Pepys was in effect head of naval administration. But when James fled to France Pepys was imprisoned again. Soon released, he lived his final fourteen years in retirement as “the Nestor of the navy.” He died May 26, 1703, aged seventy, full of honors and washed of sin.
FIG. 47—FRANCESCO SOLIMENA: Rape of Oreithyia. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
FIG. 48—ENGRAVING AFTER A PAINTING BY WILLIAM FAITHORNE: Robert Boyle. (Bettmann Archive)
FIG. 49—ENGRAVING AFTER A PAINTING BY CASPAR NETSCHER: Christian Huygens. (Bettmann Archive)
FIG. 50—UNKNOWN ARTIST: Thomas Sydenham. Royal College of Physicians, London (Bettmann Archive)
FIG. 51—UNKNOWN ARTIST: Isaac Newton. National Portrait Gallery, London (Bettmann Archive)
FIG. 52—LOUIS GALLOCHE: Fontenelle. Château de Versailles
FIG. 53—J. GREENHILL: John Locke. National Portrait Gallery, London
FIG. 54—UNKNOWN ARTIST: Thomas Hobbes. From Abraham Wolf, A History of Science, Technology, and Philosophy in the 16th and 17th Centuries (London: George Allen & Unwin, Ltd., 1935)
FIG. 55—PIERRE BAYLE: Original engraving used as frontispiece to his Historical and Critical Dictionary, third edition (Rotterdam, 1715)
FIG. 56—ADRIAEN HANNEMAN: Jan de Witt. Museum Boymans, Rotterdam. Courtesy of Netherlands Information Bureau, New York
FIG. 57—MEZZOTINT BASED ON PORTRAIT SKETCH BY JOHANN GOTTFRIED AUERBACH: Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz. (Bettmann Archive)
FIG. 58—UNKNOWN ARTIST: Benedictus Spinoza. Gemeente Museum, The Hague. Courtesy of Netherlands Information Bureau, New York
FIG. 59—HYACINTHE RIGAUD: Louis XIV. Louvre, Paris (Bettmann Archive)
Many things in the man were likable. We have noted his love of music. He pursued science too, experimented in physics, became a member of the Royal Society, was elected its president in 1684. He was as vain as a man, he took bribes, he beat his servant till his arm hurt, 65 he was cruel to his wife, and he was an arrant rake. But what royal and ducal exemplars he had, more shameless far than he! And which of us would have a spotless fame if he left so honest a diary?