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Pepys as an undergraduate

Alec Samuels

Samuel Pepys, born 23 February 1 633, came from modest origins, his father a tailor, his mother a laundress. My family were never considerable, he said. But although the family were not distinguished by birth or wealth, nonetheless they were distantly related to the Montagu family. Perhaps today we would describe them as aspiring lower middle class, or solid decent folk. Pepys attended St Pauls school. He had a cousin at Trinity Hall and in 1650 was entered there, apparently to read law. However the new master at Magdalene, Sadler, knew Pepys’ father, and also the chaplain to Montagu was a Magdalene man, so in 1651 Pepys transferred to Magdalene. He thought that it was good to forsake the law.
In 1651 eleven undergraduates entered the College. Magdalene apparently had the reputation of being a college of north country swots. The undergraduates attended chapel every morning at 6 a.m. followed by breakfast, and dinner at noon. The chaplain said that the undergraduates might deceive in godliness but they could not deceive in scholarship. Pepys was a scholar. He studied Cicero, Ovid, Aristotelian, logic, ethics, grammar, mathematics, and shorthand; and picked up a smattering of French, Spanish and Italian. He was much interested in history and read Bacon and Erasmus. His tutor was one Morland, whose experiments in matrimony and natural science were usually unsuccessful, sometimes disastrous, and always expensive (Ollard). However, Pepys spent most of his time in pleasure and conviviality; music, playing and singing, was always his first love; plays, poetry, history, bawdy songs; gossip; walking. He wrote a novel or romance, entitled Love a cheat, but he tore it up and it never saw the light of day. He would take walks to Chesterton, and go boating on the Cam. He bought stewed prunes in the shop opposite the College. He always found the buttery beer to be excellent. In October 1653 he was admonished by the Fellows for being scandalously overseen or overserved in drink, perhaps as a result of a visit to the Rose Inn (later the Pickerill Inn) opposite the College.
There was some sort of involvement with a landlady of ill repute, “whom I knew better than they think for”.
Pepys duly graduated in 1653; and all his life as an alumnus showed an active interest and loyalty to his College.
At Magdalene as a “chamber fellow” he got to know one Robert Sawyer, who became a lawyer, indeed Attorney-General, and defended the Seven Bishops. But Pepys did not care for lawyers, saying that lawyers all had the gift of the gab, and money, a nasty snivelling lot.
Pepys particularly liked the Latin phrase from Horace, carpe diem, which loosely rendered may be translated as make the most of the present.