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Samuel Pepys – Entertain myself with my perspective glass

by | Nov 22, 2017 | 10 comments

The Diary of Samuel Pepys

Libertine Tendencies Didn’t Prevent His Success


Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703)

Before a month ago, I had no idea that Samuel Pepys existed. I’d certainly never heard of his diary. Or, if I had run across his writing before, it wasn’t that memorable.

I had a full year of English Literature. We encountered lot’s of memorable writing that year, no doubt. But, I’m pretty sure there was not a selection from Samuel Pepys. I know I would have enjoyed his diary more than all the time we spent on Beowulf. And, I know for a fact, it would have been better than the hour we spent listening to that ancient epic read in Old English…

It’s my understanding that Pepys’ diary is at quite infamous in some circles. And, that it’s more likely that you’ll know something of the man and his diary if you are from England. I appreciate now that his diary was groundbreaking in a number of ways, as well as giving a vivid portrayal of life in his time…

I did entertain myself with my perspective glass up and down the church, by which I had the great pleasure of seeing and gazing at a great many very fine women…

Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703)

The Diary of Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys

I laughed pretty hard at this quote when I found it. How absurd it all seemed, using a spyglass to peek around a congregation.

Then it dawned on me how going to church would have been much more inviting had I been allowed to bring a small telescope. Even if a church is far from being a sexualized setting, the idea appeals to my voyeuristic side. And, to Samuel Pepys, church was very much a sexualized atmosphere. I think he found most anywhere to be a sexualized atmosphere, if an opportunity presented itself.

What does appear obvious, is that our sense of decorum has changed dramatically since the 17th century. Yes, Samuel Pepys was a Member of Parliment and Chief Secretary to the Admiralty.  But, no matter their title, I just can’t imagine anyone in the modern age getting away with bringing a telescope to church for girl watching…

One day in December 1659, a young civil servant and Cambridge graduate named Samuel Pepys went to the shop in Cornhill in the City of London, where the stationer John Cade sold paper and pens, and bought himself a paper-covered notebook too fat for his pockets and took it home to his lodgings in Westminster. There, having ruled in red ink a left-hand margin down some 282 pages, he was ready. Thus it was that on 1 January 1660 the 27-year-old Pepys made his first diary entry…

Robert McCrum

The Guardian, The 100 Best Nonfiction Books of All Time: No 92 – The Diary of Samuel Pepys (1660)

When I discovered this Pepys quotation, I had no idea that his diary was considered to be a classic of English Literature. Making the Guardian’s top 100 nonfiction books of all time is an impressive accomplishment.

Pepys’ diary includes more than it’s share of bawdy adventures. There’s no doubt he lived a sexually adventurous life…

Samual Pepys portrait

“Famously, he reports his sexual adventures with impressive candour, using a mix of the English vernacular and Latin to report his sexual exploits. His seduction of Deborah Willet, a young woman engaged by his wife for company, is probably the most dramatic. On 25 October 1668, Pepys was surprised at home as he embraced Miss Willet. He describes his wife coming upon them “suddenly” while in flagrante delicto:

“She did find me embracing the girl con [with] my hand sub [under] su [her]coats; and indeed I was with my main [hand]in her cunny. I was at a wonderful loss upon it and the girl also…”

Deborah Willet was sacked; Pepys fell into deep remorse; he did not, however, entirely give up his dalliances.”

Excerpted from: The 100 Best Nonfiction Books of All Time: No 92 – The Diary of Samuel Pepys (1660) – A portrait of an extraordinary Englishman, whose scintillating first-hand accounts of Restoration England are reported alongside his rampant sexual exploits 

Samuel Pepys’s diary (1660–69) is notorious for its liberal accounts of his sexual liaisons with women across London. Despite his marriage to Elizabeth St Michel (from 1655), Pepys had regular mistresses and engaged in casual affairs with servants, barmaids and companions alongside the wives, daughters and mothers of friends and colleagues. He flirted with, fondled or slept with Mrs Lane, Mrs Martin, Mrs Tooker, Mrs Burrows, Mrs Pennington, Betty Michell and Elizabeth Knepp in their homes, the backrooms of taverns, in carriages, in theatre stalls and even church pews.

The diary suggests that Pepys’s most enduring and regular mistress was Mrs (probably Elizabeth) Bagwell who lived here in Greenwich. She is mentioned almost fifty times, from 1663 onwards, and appears to have still been in Pepys’s life a month before the end of the diary. Mrs Bagwell was the wife of a ship’s carpenter, William Bagwell, who worked at Deptford dockyard. It is possible that William’s job came out of his wife’s liaison with Pepys, who at this time was a Clerk at the Navy Board, and he perhaps encouraged the affair as a way of furthering his career – William eventually rose to become master shipwright at Portsmouth dockyard.
Pepys’s philandering also took place much closer to home. He had an eye for several of the young maids that worked in his household and engaged in a short, but intense, sexual relationship with his wife’s companion Deborah or ‘Deb’ Willet…
Kristian Martin

Curator - Royal Museums Greenwich, The Sex Life of Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys

Chief Secretary to the Admiralty & Member of Parliment

The truth is, I do indulge myself a little the more in pleasure, knowing that this is the proper age of my life to do it; and, out of my observation that most men that do thrive in the world do forget to take pleasure during the time that they are getting their estate, but reserve that till they have got one, and then it is too late for them to enjoy it.

At the very least, it seems that Samuel Pepys was a hedonist. Without a doubt, he was a man who pursued sexual pleasures without much regard for decorum. He not only fulfilled a voyeuristic streak in church, he made furtive attempts to act upon his desires there as well.

Pepys could be called “sexually unrestrained”, to say the least. Yet, he did experience some measure of guilt and grief over his sexual dalliances. Undoubtedly, the puritanical age Samuel lived in had something to do with that.

It led to some very conflicted behavior on Samuel’s part. One of the best examples is his encounter with a pornographic book called L’escholle des Filles (“The School for Young Women”). Note – Historians believe Pepys diary is the first literary reference to erotic literature available in the English language.

January 13, 1668: “….stopped at Martin’s my bookseller, where I saw the French book which I did think to have had for my wife to translate, called L’escholle des Filles, but when I came to look into it, it is the most bawdy, lewd book that ever I saw, rather worse than Puttana Errante – so that I was ashamed of reading in it.”
February 8, 1668: Thence away to the Strand to my bookseller’s, and there stayed an hour and bought that idle, roguish book, L’escholle des Filleswhich I have bought in plain binding (avoiding the buying of it better bound) because I resolve, as soon as I have read it, to burn it, that it may not stand in the list of my books, nor among them, to disgrace them if it should be found.
February 9, 1668: Lord’s Day. Up, and at my chamber all the morning and in the office, doing business and also reading a little of L’escholle des Filleswhich is a mighty lewd book, but yet not amiss for a sober man once to read over to inform himself in the villainy of the world….[later that afternoon] I to my chamber, where I did read through L’escholle de Filles a lewd book, but what doth me no wrong to read for information sake but it did hazer my prick para stand all the while, and una vez to decharge; and after I had done, I burned it, that it might not be among my books to my shame; and so at night to supper and then to bed.

The Diary of Samuel Pepys

Just so it’s clear, here’s the timeline…

Samuel Pepys obtains some infamous pornography. He eagerly devours it. Ultimately, he jerks off to the book. Then, Pepys burns the book. Not exactly rational behavior. At least from a kinkster’s perspective.

But guilt, especially the religious kind, doesn’t always lead to perfectly rational thinking. I’m not sure how a theologian feels about religious guilt. They may find it to be perfectly rational.

Samual Pepys – Early Archetype for a Kinkster?

In the end, Pepys could have been a very early archetype for a kinkster. He lived the life of a libertine. He was most certainly a voyeur. It sounds like Samuel rolled thru life as a sexual hedonist, looking for (and finding) more than his share of sexual variety. And, at the same time, he was able to have a very successful professional career.

Sadly, he plays a bit fast and loose on consent issues. It’s very likely that a married woman had more than just a short-term affair with Pepys to forward her husband’s career. That’s not exactly a model of an ethical slut.

Perhaps it’s just the mindset I find myself in today, but Mr Pepys sounds more like Harvey Weinstein than a proto-kinkster…

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About The Author

Michael Samadhi

Michael Samadhi - Joy of Kink Editor - author, lifestyle dominant, sex blogger, sex educator, photographer, artist, pansexual, sapiosexual, polyamorist, audiophile, historian, pagan/Buddhist, former political activist, and community organizer. I tied up a girlfriend (consensually) the first time back in 1980, and it's been a hell of a ride ever since.

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Aurora GloryMarie RebelleMichael SamadhiMay MoreIndigo Byrd Recent comment authors

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Indigo Byrd

Yes reading the last sentence was what I’d been thinking as I followed the story. So many serving girls etc were taken by predatory bosses – and the end result could be incredibly tragic. Women who ended up in this situation were often case out without wages or a reference and that was a terrible situation to be in – often life threatening…
But an interesting read as always Michael. We never covered him in my Lit course either and I did it for 3 years. (perennial student: 2 degrees, – humanities then vis arts; one dip ed, a masters, a tertiary teaching diploma and then the cursed PhD) So now I’m a “well-educated” semi-retiree, who blogs… Go figure.

May More

Ah, excellent your new Blog up and running. I am a Samual Pepys fan – being from England his dairies are well known. As to politicians not getting away with taking a telescope to church to spy on girls – hmm I think they do a lot worse than that in our modern society. A great read Michael – will recommend it 😉
Liked the bit about religious guilt, my WW post may contain a bit of that…

Marie Rebelle

I think there were many Weinsteins out there throughout the centuries. In some centuries that behavior might even have been seen as ‘normal’ how horrifying it may sound. Thanks for this interesting read!

Rebel xox

Aurora Glory

I feel ashamed to be in the UK but to have never heard of him! In fairness though, my love for history is incredibly frustrating as I never seem able to remember names.
This was really fascinating to read. I’m going to check out that list of non fiction books now!
Aurora x



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