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December 23, 2019

The closing of Pepys’ Diary: 350th anniversary

This year marks the 350th anniversary of the closing of Pepys’ diary. One of our most notable Old Paulines, Pepys is known to all as a diarist but, appropriately, his Beetle at St Paul’s notes his role in civil service, as ‘Secretary of the Admiralty to King Charles II & James II’. Records of his time at St Paul’s were sadly extinguished in the Great Fire of London. Happily, however, a few sources related to his connection with the school do still exist.

A letter from the Navy Office, of which Pepys is one of the signatories, is carefully preserved in the school archives and pictured below. The letter is addressed to the officer of the ship Mountagne and gives instructions for the punishment of the Purser’s servant for an unmentioned offence that has occasioned danger to the ship.

Pepys was one of a number of Old Paulines who donated books to the school in the aftermath of the Great Fire. These books, which are kept in the Kayton Library’s Rare Books Collection, are catalogued in the Charles Catalogue “of all the books in the library at St Paul’s-School”[1].

We are fortunate to have in our possession a copy of Pepys’ diaries illustrated by Old Pauline, Ernest Shepard (1894-96). Pepys’ diary entry for Wednesday 4 February 1662/63 mentions his attendance at Apposition: “I heard some of their speeches, and they were just as schoolboys’ used to be, of the seven liberal sciences; but I think not so good as ours were in our time.”[2] A certain rosy retrospection, it seems, has prevailed for centuries in Old Pauline circles.

[1] George Charles (High Master 1737-1748), A Catalogue of all the Books in the Library of St Paul’s-School, London  (London, 1743)

[2] O.F. Morshead, ed. Everybody’s Pepys; The Diary of Samuel Pepys, 1660-1669. Abridged from the Complete Copyright Text and edited by O.F. Morshead with 60 illustrations by Ernest H. Shepard (London: G Bell and Sons, 17th Impression, 1963), 147

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