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    History: Senecan Pepys

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    For Ilana Krausman Ben-Amos (The Culture of Giving: Informal Support and Gift-Exchange in Early Modern England (Cambridge Social and Cultural Histories), 382-3), Samuel Pepys life was a typical gentleman’s life of favors given and received.  To us, some of them look more than a little suspicious.

    Ben-Amos writes: “Pepys’ multi-stranded and extensive networks did not necessarily involve support, gifts or particularly dense and affectionate bonds.  His relations with some of his colleagues, towards whom he expressed a certain disdain, appear tenuous, and he regarded them as incompetent, corrupt or uncivilized.  But overall his social networks clearly embraced and fostered giving and receiving numerous services, favors, gifts, and support. . . .”

    “This was first and foremost true of his ties with variegated kin in London and Cambridge, with whom he maintained regular contact and mutual visits, and amongst whom the circulation of strategic support and varied favours was apparent.  Pepys himself was the recipient of his cousin’s favours and patronage, and he also benefited greatly from the legal advice and counsel offered by another cousin who was MP for Cambridge.  For his part, Pepys intervened and helped arrange the marriages of his brothers and sister. . . . Pepys acted as executor for a poorer aunt, a butcher’s widow, while numerous favours and services were also exchanged among his other ties.  Thus, a wine merchant and neighbor named William Batelier, who lived in proximity to Pepys, supplied him with wine, books and prints that he had brought from France, and also offered good advice in writing appeals to eminent people at court.”

    The suspicious part has to do with Pepys dispensation of favors as a public servant: “When he became clerk in the Navy, he advanced and secured a position for his brother John, as well as secured contracts, loans and varied positions for others among his kin. . . . As clerk of the Navy, Pepys also promoted timber suppliers, dispensing favours to merchant contractors, from which he benefited considerably.  . . . These social ties included associates and his employers at the Navy, merchants and numerous other friends.  Many of these individuals would have been known to each other; all would have been keenly aware of the indispensability as well as the burdens of the bonds and obligations that mutually bound them – ‘how little merit doth prevail in the world but favour,’ as a conversation with a close friend was presumably concluded and subsequently quoted in the diary.”

    posted by Peter J. Leithart on Monday, October 29, 2012 at 9:57 am