Is The Samuel Pepys Coronavirus Quote Genuine?

By M@ Last edited 50 months ago

Last Updated 27 March 2020

Is The Samuel Pepys Coronavirus Quote Genuine?

In grave times, people look to history for comparisons. We're seeing it all over the place right now, with calls for a 'Blitz spirit'. Even the Prime Minister, using Churchillian monosyllables, wants the Brits to rise to the challenge "as they have in the past so many times".

But a much older example is currently doing the rounds on social media. It's supposedly an excerpt from the Diary of Samuel Pepys, sometimes dated 'London 1664'. Here's the quote:

On hearing ill rumour that Londoners may soon be urged into their lodgings by Her Majesty’s men, I looked upon the street to see a gaggle of striplings making fair merry, and no doubt spreading the plague well about. Not a care had these rogues for the health of their elders!

You can see why the quote is proving popular. It mentions the threat of quarantine, irresponsible citizens flouting social distancing rules, and a lack of awareness for the more vulnerable in society. Sounds familiar. Sounds exactly like what we've all seen on the news.

Anyone who knows basic English history will quickly spot some red flags. The date of 1664 is a year too early for the Great Plague, which the quote appears to describe (a few cases were reported, but the overwhelming majority came in 1665). And the phrase "Her Majesty's men" is also curious, given that Charles II was on the throne at the time. No reigning queen would assume the throne until Mary II in 1689.

The quote is, in fact, no older than March 2020. It was penned by the person behind @PepysDiaries, which is chronicling our current times in a style reminiscent of the great diarist.

Present-day Pepys has even tried to set the record straight.

I hath been told by several fellows that my musings upon the pox in the year of our Lord 2020 are being mistook by some for my diaries of yore. I mean not to make a fool of any man, but hasten to mind my good friends that my quill here doth write of modern-day matters.

It hasn't stopped the quote spreading around like wildfire or, indeed, the Great Fire.

If you're after genuine words from the Pepysian pen, then join the 65,000 people who follow @SamuelPepys on Twitter.