Samuel Pepys and Hans Sloane

Hans Sloane (1660-1753), the physician and collector, was part of the generation of connoisseurs immediately following Samuel Pepys.  Sloane amassed a vast amount of objects, some 71000, which became the founding collection of the British Museum.  Sloane was at the beginning of his collecting career when Pepys was nearing the end of his life, and they were both clients of the bookseller John Bagford, who acquired rare and curious books for both men.  Pepys is known to have borrowed books and scientific instruments from Sloane for his entertainment while house-bound.

There are a number of letters in Sloane’s correspondence, now housed at the British Library, which shed more light on his relationship with Pepys.  Pepys wrote to Sloane on the 25th March 1701:

…with a thousand thankes I returne your Books, they being both singularly entertayning in theyr kinde, & that of your Monteria Espagnola more especially soe, in what I was in want to know, touching theyr Torriarring…[i]

Pepys is most probably referring to Sloane’s copy of ‘Arte de Ballesteria y Monteria’ by Alonzo Martinez de Espina’, published in Madrid in 1644.  At the time of this letter to Sloane, Pepys was financing his nephew John Jackson’s tour of Europe, which included travel in Spain, and Pepys had shown an interest in learning more about the Spanish tradition of working with bulls and bullfighting.  Nearly twenty years prior to Jackson’s European tour, Pepys had stopped off in Spain as part of his trip to Tangier to dismantle the English colony there. He bought a number of Spanish books, including several Spanish plays, which are in the Pepys Library collection.


Pepys Library 2643: ‘Bibliotheca Nautica’, 1695, featuring a handwritten note by Pepys at the bottom of the image.

We know that Sloane also lent Pepys a copy of Nicolas Antonio’s ‘Bibliotheca Hispana’, a bibliography of Spanish literature printed in Rome in 1672[ii]. Pepys notes his manuscript PL 2643, a bibliography of publications on the subject of navigation compiled by Pepys in 1695, that he was lent this book by ‘his learned friend Hans Sloane, M.D.’

Pepys also had the loan of scientific instruments from Sloane.  He wrote to thank Sloane in 1702:

I have made ye Loane of ye Jewell you Lent mee a long one; too long (I feare) to bee forgiven for it.  But indeed I have pleasur’d soe many of my friends with ye sight of it, besides my owne satisfaction in ye frequent use of it, compared with our g[r]osser instruments, that (I protest) I have not known how to Lett it goe from mee soone; & therefore must lye at yo[u]r Mercy wholly for it.

Pepys mentions the loan of a ‘Jewell’ from Sloane.  Could this be an arithmetical jewel, a 17th century calculating device invented by William Pratt?  Unfortunately, a ‘Jewell’ does not appear in Sloane’s catalogue of mathematical instruments at the British Museum, but the museum does have an example of Pratt’s arithmetical jewel to view online via this link.


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Pepys had an interest in scientific and mathematical instruments throughout his life, evidence of which can be found in his diary.  He wrote in March 1668, ‘[George Mountagu] had Sir Samuel Morland’s late invention for casting up sums of 0l. 0s. 0d.; which is very pretty, but not very useful.’[iii]  This was Morlands ‘new and most useful instrument for addition and subtraction of pounds, shillings, pence and farthings’.  The famous scientist Robert Hooke concurred with Pepys regarding the calculator, noting in his diary in 1672 that the invention was ‘very silly’.[iv]  Although Pepys was dismissive of the invention, he acquired a printed guide to the calculator which is still in the Pepys Library, and some three years prior to the loan of the ‘Jewell’, Pepys noted in a ‘to do’ list that he owed monies to ‘Tuttle – Math. Instrument maker’. [v]

We know from Pepys’s correspondence that Pepys and his companion Mary Skinner took medical treatment from Sloane.  Pepys wrote in the same letter thanking Sloane for the loan of the ‘Jewell’  that he almost wished himself sick, ‘that I might have a pretence to invite you for an hour or 2 by your selfe to another, I having increased my Collection of Prints by a new volume or 2’. [vi]

The letter implies that Sloane’s visits to Pepys were a combination of medical treatment and conversation, and that these visits were frequent.  Arthur Charlett, and academic at Oxford and a mutual friend, wrote to Sloane after Pepys’ death mentioning that Sloane was ‘often with Mr Pepys in his latter days’.[vii]

However, it is not the case that Pepys only had the company of Sloane when he was unwell.  Pepys wrote in a letter to Sloane on March 14th 1698/9 that he had ‘never been out of doors since I was last with you [at the Royal Society] about ye E. India Plants’.  The two were evidently communicating at Royal Society meetings.

Upon Pepys’s death in 1703 Sloane was one of three who conducted an autopsy upon Pepys.  Also present at the autopsy was Charles Bernard, another Fellow of the Royal Society who also gave medical advice and lent books to Pepys.  They both received mourning rings of the highest value as part of Pepys’s arrangements for his death.

By Catherine Sutherland

Deputy Librarian, Pepys Library and Special Collections


[i] British Library Sloane MS 4038 f.149

[ii] British Library 616.n.8.

[iii] Pepys, Matthews,W., Matthews, Latham, Armstrong, Matthews,W, . . . Armstrong, William A. (1976). The diary of Samuel Pepys : A new and complete transcription. Vol. 9, 1668-1669. London: Bell.

[iv] Hooke, Robinson, Adams, Whipple, Robinson, Henry W., Adams, Walter, & Whipple, Robert S. (1935). The diary of Robert Hooke, M.A., M.D., F.R.S., 1672-1680 : Transcribed from the original in the possession of the Corporation of the city of London (Guildhall library). London: Taylor & Francis.

[v] Pepys, Samuel, Tanner, J. R. (ed.) (1926). Private correspondence and miscellaneous papers of Samuel Pepys, 1679-1703. London: G. Bell and sons.

[vi] British Library Sloane MS 4039 ff. 12-13

[vii] British Library Sloane MS 4039 ff. 143-144

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