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Samuel Pepys and his money : profit, pleasure and priorities

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posted on 2023-05-27, 15:33 authored by Schwarz, JM
Seventeenth-century England saw religious dissension, civil war, the Interregnum and then the reinstatement of the King, war with the Dutch, France and Spain, economic growth and then decline, the increasing influence of mercantile companies, frequent plague epidemics and the Great Fire of London. By a happy coincidence, Samuel Pepys wrote his famous Diary (1660-1669) during this tumultuous decade, after Charles II was restored to the English throne. At this time, nothing was certain, especially life itself, but out of this uncertainty and change arose opportunity for those with the talent and desire to improve their lives. Pepys was one man who took advantage of these opportunities to embark on a stellar career, one that would make him extremely wealthy. In her excellent biography of Pepys, Claire Tomalin writes that money is one of the obsessive themes of the Diary: 'how it is made, how borrowed and lent, how saved, how hidden. ' This is a rather provocative statement, one that would be interesting to examine more closely. Was Pepys really obsessed with money and if so, why? Was he different from his contemporaries in this respect, or did other men monitor their financial affairs in much the same way? What did money represent to Pepys, and how did he acquire it and use it? The questions raise some relevant and interesting issues pertaining to Restoration England: the acquisition of money and the behaviour of ambitious men; consumerism, credit and indebtedness; financial and administrative systems and corruption. These issues have not been systematically and collectively addressed in the scholarship of this period. They are worth considering and the intention of this study is to 'interrogate' Pepys and his attitude to money through his Diary, making comparisons and contextualising where possible. Samuel Pepys's Diary has been a rich source of information for scholars and of interest to anyone who enjoys history. The definitive version of the Diary published by Robert Latham and William Matthews has become the standard edition for historical scholars and writers in many fields: political, social, economic, bureaucratic, and naval; it is the main source of material used for this thesis. This thesis seeks to determine whether the Diary could be useful in understanding Pepys's attitude to money, how this influenced his behaviour, and whether this understanding could be extended to the broader community of Restoration London.

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