1893 text

The making of ciphers was a popular amusement about this time. Pepys made several for Montagu, Downing, and others.

“character”: Private cryptic code D.W.

This text comes from a footnote on a diary entry in the 1893 edition edited by Henry B. Wheatley.

6 Annotations

Emilio  •  Link

17th-century 'characters'
[Posted by Susanna for 25 Apr 1660:]

It was a fairly common practice in Pepys' day to use characters that were not part of the standard alphabet in one's ciphers. In addition to a simple substitution scheme (where, for instance, a=l, b=m, c=n, etc.), other original, i.e., non-alphabetical, symbols might be used to replace common words such as 'and', 'the', 'with' etc. There would probably also be nulls (symbols that stood for nothing at all, designed to confuse the enemy cryptologist) and possibly also a dowbleth (a symbol indicating that the next character should be read as a double letter).

I hope for Pepys' sake that his cipher was a good one, although I doubt it was as cleverly nasty as the Great Cipher used by Louis XIV’s spymasters, Antoine and Bonaventure Rossignol (father and son), which after their deaths (they had not passed its secrets on to anyone else) was not broken until the 1890s. (For more fascinating information about the history cryptography, I recommend "The Code Book: the Evolution of Secrecy from Mary Queen of Scots to Quantum Cryptography", by Simon Singh.)

vincent  •  Link

sipher, cyfer, cifer, ciphre, sypher, ziphre, scypher, cyphar, cyphre, ciphar, zifer, cypher. Francis Bacon who wrote about it spelled it as ciphras in Latin
interesting 16/17 century (j bonds galore) spies etc.,
"...science of cryptology was not taken seriously at least on the royalist side until very late..."
"... lines are from Bishop John Wilkins MERCURY the Secret and Swift Messenger 1641 .." should be read

vincent  •  Link

Ciphers from Grahamt 9 may one gets another in put about cyphers
Wallis in 1642 -.".. one evening at supper, a letter in cipher was brought in, relating to the capture of Chichester on 27 December 1642, which Wallis in two hours succeeded in deciphering. The feat made his fortune..."

vincent  •  Link

Tachygraphy has been reprinted in 1970: Thomas Shelton : Modern Reprint by Professor Matthews Pub. Augustain Reprint Society cost $27.50 ISBN 0404701450 available thru Borders usa

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Perhaps people in Pepys time called ciphers "characters" because:

The History of Shorthand by Anita Kreitzman (excerpted) -- National Court Reporters Association
"Modern Times
... [in] 1588 a revival of shorthand occurred with the publication in London of Dr. Timothie Bright's Characterie. An Arte of Shorte, Swifte, and Secrete Writing by Character. ... Bright's system was not an alphabet, but rather a list of 500 arbitrary signs to be used in place of words. It was John Willis who first published an alphabet shorthand in 1602."

So having established the idea of characters substituting for words, Hebrew characters would be as good as any if you were writing code as Pepys appears to have been doing in January of 1660.

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.