Roger Hudson, Samuel Pepys - Slightly Foxed Issue 24

A Very Rising Man

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The second half of the seventeenth century in England saw an efflorescence of diaries and memoirs, kinds of writing hardly seen before, but there was a delay of a century and a half before these writings got into print. The Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson by his wife Lucy led the field, appearing in 1806, and telling how he held Nottingham Castle for Parliament. Most of John Aubrey’s Brief Lives were first published in 1813, and John Evelyn’s Diary in 1818. This attracted far more attention than the first two and was the stimulus needed to get Pepys’s diary off the shelves of his library which he had left to his old Cambridge college, Magdalene. The Master lent a volume of it to his uncle, the bibliophile Thomas Grenville, who passed it on to his brother William, he who had been Prime Minister at the head of the ‘Ministry of All the Talents’ in 1806–7.

The diary was in some sort of shorthand, unsurprisingly since undergraduates in the seventeenth century were expected to take down lectures verbatim. William Grenville, who had learnt short-hand himself when reading for the Bar, pronounced Pepys’s ‘an excellent accompaniment to Evelyn’s delightful diary’, a transcription was commissioned, and eventually a selection amounting to a quarter of its one and a quarter million words appeared in 1825, with all the gamey passages left out. Fuller and fuller selections followed until four-fifths of the whole, based on a new transcription, appeared in 1875–9. The complete, unexpurgated and brilliantly annotated text edited by Robert Latham and William Matthews was eventually published in nine volumes in 1970–6 (two further volumes, a Companion and an Index, followed in 1983).

In February 1662 Pepys remarked, ‘I believe, indeed, our family was never considerable.’ After all, his father was a tailor off Fleet Street and his mother was the sister of a Whitechapel butcher. But other Pepys had done better,

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About the contributor

Roger Hudson worked for many years at John Murray, the firm that had the chance of publishing Pepys in the 1820s but turned it down. While there, he looked after the Whitbread Prize-winning biography of A. C. Benson by David Newsome, On the Edge of Paradise (1980), some recompense for the earlier error since it was based on Benson’s 5-million-word diary, lodged in the Old Library at Magdalene, Cambridge, where he had been Master.

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