Diaries Magazine

Samuel Pepys’ Plague Diaries

A famous diarist struggles through the coronavirus.

monday 9th march

Up betimes and by tube to Westminster, and there busy with several business all morning, for our firm intends a splendid show at the conference in the middle of this month. Then comes the intern to my office like a doting fool, and proves himself an ass talking excitedly of this plague come late out of China, which, he says, is now in Italy. Of which, my wife and I having had no Wi-Fi this last month, I know nothing, only to see how vexed this blockhead intern was did almost make me fearful myself. Yet I remembered talking with my Lord and Lady touching this matter, and him very skeptical, and my lady said to me, ‘What, Mr Pepys – shall’t die of a hiccough at the last?’ And at this jest we were all very merry. Thence home to sing with my wife in the garden, but with much trouble, for it was bitterly cold. And so to bed, our iPhones left downstairs as is now our custom.

tuesday 10th march

Up, and there comes a child to fix the Wi-Fi. Or so I thought, and wondered greatly at the young gentleman, with the hair on his top lip still soft, and voice very fluting, and Lord! to think that we all depend on such mewling creatures. Thence by water to Westminster, which is novel to me, but too dear I think. There I fitted myself in several ways for this month’s conference, and very pleasant it was to see the office at their preparations, all right apt and greatly to my satisfaction. Yet I overheard men say they fear for the conference, that it will be shut up because of the plague, and I was vexed to my very blood to see men grown so fearful of this ague, and proclaim themselves mere cowards. And I had a great mind to forbid them from such talk, only I would fain be friends with my men at this time. Thence home to dinner with my wife, very weary, and our WiFi to be restored at last next morning. And her discourse was full of the plague, which she says is likely to increase this week. And this I thought strange, for she was never before the least soft-headed, so that at last I began to think that it would come, and do great evil. That being done, I to the garden, where I sat long with my thoughts revolving, very sorrowful. And so to bed.

wednesday 11th march

Lay long with my wife, her telling me fond stories, and with many kind words and caresses, for which I think I should show her great love. Up betimes, marking how suddenly it seems the whole city waxes fearful and goes about in a mask. To Deptford by tube, and I very ashamed the way, for I let out several great coughs, and not without some looks. There met Mr Jones, and him very stoic and of good cheer, laughing the while to think he might be dead next week. Thence home, my wife and I to bed with our phones, which is not now our usual custom, reading the Guardian blog together of the plagues that are begun in many nations. Then lay talking together, I making jests and putting off thoughts of sadness as much as I can, the rather to keep my wife in good heart. And so to bed.

thursday 12th march

Waking and reaching for my phone, I found there a message saying the office is shut up because the intern has the plague, and God preserve us all. All day very melancholy, the worst that ever I was in my life. Anon comes my wife looking very noble, only her hands rubbed red with washing of them. And indeed mine in a worse condition, which brings some small blood of them, and for this my wife says I must moisturise. And, they say, very true, though I never did till this day. So to supper and bed, my hands very sore.

friday 13th march

Waking this morning between five and six, I lay long giving several coughs, very vexed, and the sound of them did wake my wife. We lay, both of us, afraid, yet would not speak the while. So up, and by foot to Westminster, where I found my office full of confusion, and the conference will be shut up, as many had long suspected, which is a great blow to our hopes and grievous to us all. Thence to St. James by foot, where anon comes my Lord, and much talk between us of how things are for the worse, and my Lord right handsome in his thick coat, with a gold edgeling seam, and I will endeavour to get the same. And this reminds me I promised my wife this month a new velvet coat, and must see the business carried out. And I thought my Lord very noble that he could make so many jests, for I know his fortunes are greatly fallen this week, and said so. And he replied, ‘Better to be merry Mr Pepys, for like the playhouse, t’will cost you whether you laugh at it or no.’ And all in all I think my Lord very wise.

saturday 14th march

Up late and to the shops about my business. But lord! what a sight it was to see the market aisles all empty of privy paper, and the people abroad in masks, and, which is worst of all, the Evening Standard showed me the number of the pestilence this day, the biggest bill yet, and I horrid angry to find no privy paper anywhere abroad, for I bought none this week, and shall soon be sorely in need. So home by foot along the towpath, where late this day I saw the first birds returning in a V, which was a pretty sight. So home, my wife gone to dinner with friends, and I at my desk all evening, writing and piping till bed.

sunday 15th march (lords day)

To church, and the sermon the very worst I ever heard. So all day with my wife, walking abroad, this being the first pleasant day of the year, God be thanked, and cheered to see the flies dancing in St James’ Park, and to smell the tedded grass, very joyful, and my wife and I great friends. And she told me our fates are bound up together by our sharing a bed, so no matter to steal a kiss from her, or she from me, for which I was glad. Thence home to sing together in the garden, and heard the nightingales, and after sat long in silence. And hers the only hand I will hold, I think, these two months or more. To supper then, with joy in my wife, yet very fearful for her in this coming season of plague, against which may God preserve us all. And so to bed.


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