Today in Literary History – May 31, 1669 – Samuel Pepys stops writing his diary

On May 31, 1669 Samuel Pepys made his last entry in the diary that he had kept since January 1, 1660. He wrote that he was concerned about damaging his eyesight by writing by candlelight. Pepys diary is one of the most fascinating and multi-faceted written undertakings, providing a portrait of its author and his times. It runs to over a million words.

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Pepys was Secretary to the Admiralty and a member of parliament during the reigns of King Charles II and King James II. He describes life at court in his diary as well as momentous events like the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London in 1666. He also wrote about his own financial worries, worries about his health, and his many extramarital affairs. He used an elaborate code to describe his sex life. He comes off very badly by his account. He seems to have been prone to sexually forcing himself on the young women employed in his household.

Despite this bad behaviour, he was also a cultured man who read widely on many subjects. He was a great lover of the theatre and described the plays he saw. He loved music and writes fondly of recitals and performances. He also wrote about his daily life, such as buying a new wig or a watch and what he ate every day and with whom.

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Pepys wrote in shorthand and later copied out the pages in longhand. Portions of the diary were published in the Victorian era, minus the sexual descriptions. Between 1970 and 1983 the full text was published in nine volumes.

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