When Samuel Pepys (1633–1703) began writing in 1660 he was a young clerk living in London, struggling to pay his rent. Over the next nine years as he kept his journal, he rose to be a powerful naval administrator. He became eyewitness to some of the most significant events in seventeenth-century English history, among them, the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 (he was in the ship that brought back Charles II from exile), the plague that ravaged the capital in 1665, and the Great Fire of 1666, described with poetry and horror.
Pepys’s diary gives vivid descriptions of spectacular events, but much of the richness of the diary lies in the details it provides about the minor dramas of daily life. While Pepys was keen to hear the King’s views, he was also ready to talk with a soldier, a housekeeper, or a child rag-picker. He records with searing frankness his tumultuous personal and professional life: the pleasures and frustrations of his marriage, together with his infidelities, his ambitions, and his power schemes. All of this was set down in shorthand, to protect it from prying eyes. The result is a lively, often astonishing, diary and an unrivalled account of life in seventeenth-century London.