During preparations for the move to the Library of Birmingham, an exciting discovery has been made in Birmingham Archives & Heritage. It is a 17th-century manuscript, which is headed: The Diary of Samuel Pepys (aged 13 and three quarters). We are here publishing a transcript of this diary for the first time.
24 November 1646
I have this day decided to begin a journal or diary on the off chance that someone in some future age will want to write a biography of me. My headmaster tells me that I might turn out to be quite interesting, which is more than I can say for him. What shall I call myself (apart from a scholar and a potentially interesting person) ? Am I a journalist or a diarrhoea ? I must consult a dictionary.
I showed my diary to the headmaster and he crossed out diarrhoea, saying that the correct word was diarist, unless I wrote a lot. He added that I should not let my journal get in the way of my Latin exercises, which were much more important in the long run. Perhaps I should write my diary in Latin and kill two birds with one stone.
Ad portas scholae pugna terribilis occurrit, quam timide videns. What’s the Latin for breeches..I’m sorry I can’t do this.
There was trouble outside the school gates today. A group of Roundheads from Cromwell Road Comprehensive were waiting for us when we went home. God-Fearing Smithson knocked my hat off, and hit me over the head with a copy of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. I gave as good as I got though. I told him that ‘God-Fearing’ was a stupid name and I would prove it with a stick.
I am having to write this entry standing up because of the fearful cudgelling I received on the backside from God-Fearing Smithson yesterday. My mother has endeavoured to draw out the bruise with a large steak and a posset of herbs, and now I smell like a cheap restaurant. When I grow up I shall be a great physician and will not rely on these silly old natural remedies. I am only grateful that she did not resort to leeches.
On my way to school this morning I was pursued by half-a-dozen hungry dogs. I blame my mother for this. I was forced to put my Latin primer down the seat of pants as protection. As a result I have lost the fourth and fifth declensions and several irregular verbs, and will no doubt be found out for this.
I had a bath this evening, which is at least a month early, but it should deter the wretched dogs. Why do not their owners feed them properly ? Incidentally, God-Fearing Smithson has a dog, a giant mastiff which he calls ‘Truth’. One of our fellows told the headmaster that he had been bitten on the nose by Truth. The master told him that that God moved in mysterious ways, but he was glad to hear it.
I am banished by my father to my chamber for starting a small fire in the kitchen. I was making a firecracker to throw at Cromwell Road School, but it went off prematurely. My father told me that if I did not learn more sense I could burn down the whole of London. I consider this very unlikely, but it would make a notable entry for my diary.
I failed my Latin test this morning because there were a lot of irregular verbs in it. The headmaster made me stand in the corner, which was actually more comfortable anyway. I shall not become a scholar when I grow up, but that is no great matter. I may decide to be Lord of the Admiralty instead, as well as a doctor and a diarist, and perhaps the chief of the Fire Department.
Smithson’s dog has escaped him. It was last seen near to the Palace of Westminster. Someone in class said that this was unlikely since Truth had not been seen at Parliament for many a long year. We all laughed heartily at this until the headmaster put us in detention.
Editor’s note: At this point the manuscript breaks off. There is some charring around the edge of the paper, suggesting that it may have been accidentally burnt.
Transcription by Dr Chris Upton, 1 April 2013
With thanks to Rachel Clare for preparing the images.