Loftie, W. J.
PEPYS AND ST. OLAVE'S.
This line, from the parish register of St. Olave, Hart-street, is all the memorial which a grateful country has raised in acknowledgment of the merits of a worthy
|citizen, a member of Parliament, a faithful public servant, a President of the Royal Society, a founder of a great University library, and-to mention last the one thing for which his name will be longest cherished-the writer of a ten years' Diary (), in one of the most eventful periods of our history.|
In , two well-known antiquaries published a book about London Churches. They described St. Olave's at full length. They mentioned all the monuments except one. They enumerated the great men connected with the parish, and quoted Defoe's fictitious account of the Great Plague. Yet they omitted all mention of the most remarkable man buried in the church. They gave no account of his wife's monument, one of the largest the church contains. They said nothing of his " Journal of the Plague," although it is by far the best extant. A few years before Messrs. Godwin and Britton brought out their book, Mr. Smith had deciphered and Lord Braybrook had edited the now famous " Diary." Sir Walter Scott had reviewed it in the Quarterly, and Lord Jeffrey in the Edinburgh. But a six-guinea book, especially so long ago as , was not likely to be very widely known, and people had little more than a vague idea of ' merits until a couple of popular editions, the first in , began to make him better appreciated, and about ten years ago everybody who had read anything had read his Diary. But even now, it is new to many people to
hear that he is buried in the City; and few, even of
those who agree in Coleridge's note in his own copy,
remember how much he did for learning in his life, and, after death, by his bequests. His library, which was given to Magdalen College, Cambridge, numbers, among other valuable books, two volumes of London topographical views and maps, which he had collected. He was President of the Royal Society, then in its youth; and showed in many ways the practical and benevolent turn of his mind.
For us he is the writer of the Diary. We can hardly think of him without a smile. But when we visit his wife's tomb, look at the bust with which it is surmounted, and read the eulogistic Latin epitaph which was indited by her widowed Samuel; when we look at the monument below, and think that it occupied the same place when worshipped here, that he must have often read the quaint inscription, and may possibly have determined to mould his own life on the model of the two worthy aldermen there commemorated; when, in short, we stand in St. Olave's, Hart-street, the Diary over which we have so often laughed, and which seems to belong to a period too remote to have much reality for us, seems now to become a living thing, and its author something more to us than a name. This is one of the few churches that survived the Great Fire, and it possesses many other claims on
our consideration. Here, perhaps, for the first time
in parochial history the celebrated experiment of
the Duke of St. Albans was tried. In , Sir
Andrew Riccard left the advowson to the inhabitants, and with them it has ever since remained.
The register books date from , and the curious
visitor may still see, under , the name
of Mary Ramsay, with the dreadful " P " annexed,
for she was the person who brought the plague into
the City, and who, before the year was out, was followed to the tomb by a hundred thousand victims.
The organ is said to be one of the efforts of the
famous artist Bernard Schmidt, better known as
Father Smith, and it is worthy of his fame. The
quaint monuments which fill every corner, the
venerable arches of the aisles, the beadle with his
silver mace, the arms of City companies on the ironwork, the vestry-room with an angel looking down
from the roof, the various patterns of the windows,
and not least, the quiet, country-like service, renders
this one of the most attractive among the minor City
churches, quite apart from its connection with
. Yet, let us endeavour as we will to
recall wandering thoughts, it is impossible not to
remember that in the pulpit here Dr. Mills so often
and at the altar on the ,
that here in , he
buried Mrs. Pepys, so soon after her husband's
return from his foreign tour, as her epitaph observes;
and here in ,Dr. Mills was buried himself. Then,
after having survived the last entry in his Diary for
more than thirty years, the diarist was borne hither
from the house at Clapham, where he had died at |
May 26, , and was laid under the pavement of the chancel. A hundred and twenty mourning rings were distributed at the funeral, which was performed by Dr. Hickes, the Nonjuring ex-Dean of Worcester, who wrote of him:
(as the mind, so the man).
The register spells his name Peyps. Immediately below the bust of Mrs. Pepys is a very good example of the early seventeenth-century monument and epitaph. It commemorates two brothers, aldermen, named Bayning, Paul and Andrew, who died respectively in and :-
|It is pleasant to find for once that the heirs were satisfied.|
In , during the progress of some repairs, the bones of were disturbed, and carefully replaced by the side of his brother and his wife: but it does not redound to the credit of the University and College which he so greatly benefited, nor of the gentlemen who in late years reaped so large a profit from his Diary, that no monument marks the place of his burial, and that even the memorial which alone preserves his name in the church is darkened by ages of London smoke, and made illegible by the damps of two hundred winters. The church has been well and conservatively restored. A handsome encaustic pavement covers the grave of , but not so much as a
points the pilgrim to the spot.
 But not in the present pulpit, which came from a neighbouring church.
|View all images in this book|
|London Four Centuries Ago|
|London A Century Ago|
|Pepys and St. Olave's|
|Great St. Helen's|
|Dr. Fuller and the Savoy|
|Holland house and Lady Sarah|
|On the Surrey Hills|