Littell's Living Age/Volume 128/Issue 1659/Samuel Pepys and his Poor Relations

From The Academy.


At the meeting of the Manchester Literary Club on Tuesday last, Mr. J. E. Bailey, F.S.A., exhibited some inedited letters of Samuel Pepys which he had deciphered from the tracings of the original short-hand drafts in the Bodleian. The transcripts had been revised by the Rev. Mynors Bright, the editor of the new edition of Pepys' diary. The letters were addressed to Mrs. St. Michel, the diarist's sister-in-law. During the absence of her husband, whose career was one of considerable vicissitude, the charge of providing for her maintenance devolved upon Pepys, whose careful disposition and strict business habits did not lead him to sympathize with the more careless living of the St Michels. For his brother-in-law he had obtained various posts connected with the navy. To his sister-in-law he writes thus: —

Saterd., Oct 1, 1681.

Your desiring to know what you are to trust to is the reason of my writing to you again. I have determined to restrict any further rate [or writ(ing)], at least until my brother your husband comes, which I hourly expect, and therefore doubt not his being here long before the ten weeks are out. What then you have to trust to from me and Mr. H[ewer] is what I told you in my last, namely, after the rate of 20s. per week and no more, this being as much as I and my wife had for several years to spend; and yet lived so as never to be ashamed of our manner of living, though we had house-rent and tax to pay which you have not; and this in London, too, and yet far from ruin [or free run, i.e. safe] upon that score; the truth and assurity [?] of which do appear in the daily paid account she kept of every issuing of her family expenses even to a bunch of carrot and a ball of whiteing, which I have under her own hand to show you at this day. Therefore do not expect that any profession of frugality can be of satisfaction to me, but what appears in an account. Not but that I could wish with all my heart that my brother's condition and yours would afford you a larger, allowance. But where every farthing of what you and he spend is to be taken up upon credit, as it is without any certainty of prospect when you will be in a condition to repay it, and you (beside all this) a numerous stock of children to provide for, you ought not to think any degree of sparing too much to be exercised; at least, that is my opinion, and that will not let me be guilty of encouraging you into [or in too] unnecessary profuseness by lending you beforehand more than what I think sufficient for you, and that I take 20s. a week (as I have said) prudently [?] to be, and more than will be reasonable of you to expect from me also, unless you can bring yourself to receive it with greater appearance of acknowledgment than you yet do; especially after saying that you went into the country only to serve Mr. H[ewer], to whom your whole family owes its having a bit of bread to eat at this time and for several years backward, and whose whole ayme for prevailing with me to send you down to my house was to preserve you as much as he could from being undone by the chargeableness of your living here, and particularly under so great a house rent. Which that you maybe the better convinced of, if you do indeed find as little benefit in the charge of living by being where you are, but if all things are as dear, and many dearer than they are at London, you shall be at liberty to return to town and have the same allowance of 20s. a week for your income, here or where else you please, till your husband be here to provide otherwise for you. And this I am quite willing to offer you because I will by no means have you stay an hour longer where you are than you not only take as a kindness from me, but do really find and by your accounts shall convince me that you can live cheaper there than here. Therefore I do with all kindness desire you seriously to think of it as being the utmost you have to trust to, and rather more than less, unless it shall please God to give both my brother and you more thoughtfulness of your and your family's condition than, to my great trouble, I fear you have ever hitherto had.Adieu.
If the workmen come again pray direct them to Mr. Loke, to whom I will write about them this or the next post, in order to his looking over their work and paying them; for I do not love to have any scores of my own, and do depend upon your not letting me hear again of any of yours.

This letter, the most characteristic of those exhibited, shows the systematic manner in which Pepys regulated the affairs of daily life. It may be hoped that some day the account-books showing how a genteel couple lived in London two centuries ago on a pound a week, will yet turn up.