Visual Discernment in the Calligraphy Collection of Samuel Pepys

Frances Hughes, University of Cambridge

Samuel Pepys’ calligraphy collection comprises numerous textual fragments pasted and bound into three volumes, which together document a history of handwriting and textual forms. The volumes should be understood in relation to a concentrated circle of collectors who were also gathering fragments of text and lettering from around the mid-1690s and into the early years of the eighteenth century, including John Bagford, Humfrey Wanley and Hans Sloane. This paper will explore the ways in which the calligraphy volumes evidence a deep and multifaceted interest in visual criticism trained on the written word within Pepys’ social and intellectual milieu. By untangling knotwork flourishes, enjoying the mimetic competition between printed and hand-drawn graphics, or examining textual micrographic samples, calligraphic lines and notational marks offered educated gentlemen a body of material on which they could practise and hone communal, comparative and repeatable modes of critical observation.

Micrographic text reproduced to form a diagrammatic projection of the Globe, c.1702. Pasted into Samuel Pepys’ Calligraphy Collection, Volume III, p.326. © Pepys Library, Magdalene College, Cambridge