23 February 2013

Happy Birthday, Mr Pepys

Portrait by John Hayls, 1666
National Portrait Gallery, London
Today's date marks the 380th birthday anniversary of famed diarist, naval officer, and bibliophile Samuel Pepys (16331703).

Pepys's carefully arranged and indexed library included incunabula, medieval manuscripts, naval records, contemporary publications, over 1,800 printed ballads and, most importantly, the six manuscript volumes of his personal diary. In addition, Pepys also collected maps and atlases, music, prints, and calligraphy.

After the death of his nephew and heir, John Jackson, in 1723, Pepys's library was transferred to Magdalene College, Cambridge, where it is housed in its twelve original oak bookcases. The collection remains one of the most important surviving seventeenth-century private libraries held by an institution today.

The Heritage Collections, Dunedin City Library, is fortunate to own a book inscribed by Pepys late in life. It is a copy of the sixth edition of Richard Knolles's The Turkish History, from the Original of that Nation to the Growth of the Ottoman Empire (London, 1687; ESTC R179506).

According to the inscription, Pepys presented this copy of Knolles's Turkish History to Thomas Thoroton as a gift in 1690. 'Armig' is an abbreviation of 'Armiger' ‒ one entitled to wear a coat of arms. The remaining words signify Pepys's role as Secretary to the Admiralty during the reigns of Charles II and James II.

Thomas Thoroton (16631721) was a barrister of the Middle Temple, the son of a citizen and salter of London and, at the time he came into possession of the book, about twenty-seven years of age. Thoroton's bookplate is found on the verso of the title-page.

Dr Richard Luckett, who recently retired as Pepys Librarian, informed me by email that the fact of the gift is particularly interesting as other evidence for the friendship between Pepys and Thoroton is lacking (though Thoroton was a close friend of Pepys's intimate friend, the antiquary Thomas Gale, Dean of York).

The reason behind the gift remains unknown. There is a copy of Knolles's Turkish History in the Pepys Library (PL 2739), so Pepys may have found himself in possession of a second copy and thought it a fitting gift for Thoroton. One possibility is that the young lawyer offered legal advice during Pepys's brief period of imprisonment in mid-1690 on suspicions of treason (Pepys was imprisoned in June, released in July, and completely vindicated in October), and presented the book as a mark of his esteem. Though the year of Pepys's imprisonment corresponds with the date of the inscription, without any documentary evidence this hypothesis remains pure speculation on my part.

2013 also marks the 310th anniversary of Pepys's death on 26 May 1703.


The Dunedin copy of Knolles's Turkish History was purchased by Sir Alfred Hamish Reed (1875‒1975) from Thomas Thorp, Guildford, in February 1926, and was included in his 1948 Deed of Gift to the Dunedin Public Library.

For details on Pepys's library, see E. Gordon Duff's Bibliotheca Pepysiana, 4 vols. (London, 1914), reissued by Cambridge University Press in 2009.

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