Can any Londoner have led a more interesting life than Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703)? Violence, tragedy, pain and enlightenment. He experienced all in good measure and at very close quarters.
Pepys wrote what became a famous diary, he buried his cheese during the Great Fire and he canoodled with the maid. That is what most people know about this man. He was by no means great in the way Wellington, Nelson were great. Or hugely talented like Shakespeare, Hogarth and Wren. Or a great brain box like Newton. But he was an important and influential figure in his day, he mixed with the best, had the ear of kings, was a more than competent administrator. And from our point of view, he was a Londoner of great note. Literally.
A new exhibition at the National Maritime Museum – Plague, Fire and Revolution – celebrates the life of Samuel Pepys. But it is as much about his times as it is about the man himself. But what times they were!
The English Civil War; The regicide of Charles I; The Great Plague; The Great Fire of London; The re-building of London; The wars with the Dutch; The Glorious Revolution. Pepys directly influenced some: he was touched by them all.
These momentous events are here represented and celebrated. Portraits, panoramas, print, costume, pottery, armour and personal objects all combine to give you a strong sense of Pepys’s world, that is to say the world of the 17th century ruling class in London. The people Pepys rubbed shoulders with were kings and princes, scientists and admirals. Never has there been such a concentration of eminence, ambition and talent. But it wasn’t all blood, guts and distaster. The emergence of London as a world city. The era was characterised by the emergence of international trade and modern scientific discovery. Exotic consumer goods – tea, tobacco, coffee. All of these things are represented in this show which to sum up in a word: lavish.
The curators have gathered together a group of objects from their own archives and combined them with material from the Royal Collection, Museum of London, livery companies and elsewhere to serve up a true feast. A very accessible, informative and enjoyable show.
Samuel Pepys – Plague, Fire and Revolution at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich runs until 28 March 2016. Adult entry is £12. Free for Friends, half price for Art Fund members.