Presented at the Wissenschaftskolleg, Berlin, in the spring of 1983
Let us begin by observing a primordial phenomenon in human societies; no matter how rich or how poor, how young or how old, human beings create around them a space that is uniquely theirs. It may only be their clothing and their bedding, or perhaps the distance between themselves and their clothing. The amount of private space may be very small, but there is some privacy and a sense of recognition of that privacy by others.
When a couple -- let us say male and female -- chooses to live together and have some space in which to live that is theirs in some particular way, it may only be a bed with curtains around it, a corner of a room, or a tiny attic. By some collective arrangement, they will distribute their clothes and other effects in ways that make the space theirs.
If there is some permanency in the relationship, then there is a process of selection of objects to "furnish" the private space. The little trolleys and discarded baby carriages filled with bags of food and clothing of the Parisian clochards immediately come to mind. And, of course, many of us have participated in the joyful selection, with a spouse, of bedding, furniture, drapes, pictures, silver, and tablecloths and dishes just when we are establishing a private household. There is some sort of sacralization by the couple (or by an individual for the couple) in the selection of the more "noble" objects that help us define our privacy. Are these objects selected together? Does one member of the couple have veto power over the other's initiatives? Does the female have the power to decide, in the selection of all the objects in certain parts of the space that are reserved for her division of labor? If the couple is married, to what extent, in traditional societies, is the wife also part of the property that occupies the private space? We might imagine some formulas:
a -- democratic decision-making over the furnishing of private space with each spouse having right of veto over the initiatives of the other.
b -- paternalist selection, where the male furnishes and has power over the furnishing of the space occupied by the couple.
b1 -- female selection (not necessarily maternal) ...
c -- mixed or allocated powers to decide the furnishing of the space to be occupied by the couple. Some spaces becoming largely female, and others, largely male.
At this point it is tempting to pursue the discussion of the relationships between space and the possession of objects that are in it, but that would take us far afield. Let us note in passing, however, the modern feelings of uneasiness about objects when they are given away, sold, or in some way divided up by married couples who divorce. The objects may go on to help define private space for another couple, or may remain a relic that evokes a former loved one. There is also the emotional dimension to the inherited private space, say a room in a family house, and also to the object that is inherited from a member of the couple's family. It too is a relic, in some sense, because of the associations and memories attached to it.
At this point it is evident that private space is a vast subject. There seems to be no end to the examples, reservations, and contradictions that come to mind when such general observations are made about it. But before turning to a specific source, let us ask the question of when did the study of private space begin? Since Herodotus, at least, there have been historians curious about the private lives of people. Plato began the Republic with a discussion of the congruencies between household and polis; Aristotle may have begun his lectures on politics by asserting that household life was in some way different from political life because there were different words for them. The distinctions that we make between private and public, like individual and social, are fraught with ambiguity. As we shall see, the Samuel Pepyses created a private space that was in every sense theirs, and yet their creation was profoundly influenced by the social and cultural norms that prevailed in their day. Uniqueness and typicality are never separable in the social sciences. The Pepyses proudly took guests through their house to show them every room it contained, and all their furnishings. They visited the houses of their friends and social superiors with curiosity and attention to the differences between their house and the one they were visiting. What more social or public activity than visiting other people in their houses? Private space can never be devoid of social and indeed, perhaps political significance, no matter how explicit the boundaries may seem to be drawn between them.
All a historian can do is break in somewhere, select texts that are particularly revealing, and attempt to understand them. The history of our subject is much richer than the documents that have survived. The creation of private space may so often appear as part of routine, and is therefore not brought to the surface of argument and discourse. And historians of society have all too often become slaves of the word. Some are so naive as to believe that words are somehow truer or more objective than pictures of society. Such is obviously not the case. Words and pictures both have exceedingly difficult problems of interpretations for the historian.
Was it accidental that Pepys's Diary, one of the two or three most important sources on private life to come down to us in Western culture, was written in just the period when the great Dutch painters -- Vermeer, Terborch, Metsu, Hooch, Steen, and Rembrandt -- depicted the banal scenes of everyday life with all the moral sensitivity and intellectual-spiritual force that had previously been reserved for what was formally described as religious and history painting? Was it fortuitous that Rembrandt probed ever deeper into self-depiction at a time when Pepys sought to record his innermost accounting of the aesthetic, sexual, and political experiences in his life? At no time before Western culture had the moral and political fabric of a society been expressed with so much clairvoyance in pictures of individuals just sitting in chairs reading, writing and reading letters, counting money, weighing coins, caring for children, and in pictures of couples, families, and small groups playing music and games, drinking wine, and eating fruit. And what could be more revolutionary than simply to paint the picture of part of a room devoid of people (van der Burch, 912D, Dahlem museum)? The satin jacket thrown casually on the chair, and the shoes placed primly next to each other (which means she is not a courtesan!), indicates the presence of a woman in a private space, but she is not depicted.
The congruities and disparities between powerfully articulated courtly and middle-class cultures, individualism and family constraints, science and superstition, monarchism and republicanism, and Protestantism and Catholicism manifested themselves in every aspect of life and thought in the Netherlands and England in the mid-seventeenth century. Why did Pepys take so much trouble to write and write again about furnishing his house, eating, sleeping, walking, shopping, ogling women, and quarreling with his wife? He would have been more conventional if he had simply recorded his activities in the naval administration or, as is the case in German autobiographies written during the same period, recorded a soul's search for God. Why did Rembrandt paint his own portrait over and over again? The results of these highly private explorations were an almost scientific œuvre on the private life that would have very powerful influences in Western culture. Dutch painting flourished in Pepys's London, and with historical imagination it is possible to glimpse in Pepys's verbal images those scenes from everyday life that survive in the works of the Golden Age of Dutch Painting.
Before turning to the Pepyses' abstract sense of the house, and of the allocation and use of space within it, a few salient points about their social background. Samuel Pepys was twenty-six when he moved into his new house. His father, a tailor in London, was still living, as was his mother, who had been a wash-maid to Lady Vere before marrying. His branch of the Pepys family lived strictly on its income from work. The Pepys family in general, however, had respectable if modest gentry origins; and thanks to the death of a childless uncle, Samuel inherited the family estate. He faced indebtedness and litigation for years as a result of this inheritance. When he went to church in the country, however, all the "country people" stood up when he entered. He also inherited a patron, Edward Montagu, Earl of Sandwich, who played a very important role in the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660. Pepys gained posts in the naval administration through Montagu's influence, and the house he moved into in 1660 belonged to the Royal Navy. Indeed, at the Navy's expense he was able to arrange for the painting of the interior of the house, and a new stairway and floors, and finally the addition of an entire floor to the house.
Mrs. Pepys had no money when they married in 1655, and no prospect of inheriting any. She was French, beautiful, and high spirited. She had a natural self assurance, good carriage, grace, and fine manners. We can be certain of this, for Pepys would have recorded complaints about her had he any reason to find fault. The Pepyses' marriage was founded, it seems, on what would be called a love match in later centuries. Pepys could not enjoy certain festive occasions, such as going to a fair or seeing the Queen for the first time, without his wife's presence. This need to share joyous moments with his spouse bound Pepys's life in ways that may have been unrelated to his need for spiritual fulfillment through aesthetic experiences. In Pepys's mind, physical beauty and her desire to be received in courtly society may also have been important criteria for a wife. We shall note later how he perceived Mrs. Pepys as an extension of himself, as well as a creature to be kept in submission. At the same time, on many occasions he experienced the need for her approval, and he noted that she found him to be more handsome in some clothes than in others. Two other facts should be mentioned. Though Mrs. Pepys's Huguenot refugee parents lived in London, she never once allowed her husband to meet them. Prior to moving into their new house there had been an intense quarrel between the couple, followed by a year's separation.
The Pepyses had a vision of how the space in the house should be
lived in from the moment Samuel first saw it. There seems to have been
discussions about what each room should be used for. They decided to
call one of the two chambers upstairs the "Nursery". They were childless
at the time and would remain so, but perhaps the prospect of settling in
a new house raised hopes for children. The cellar had been left open and
had become a latrine. Pepys had it closed off, and a wine cellar
installed with a door on it that could be locked. Later he ordered small
casks of claret that he would have put in bottles made to order, with
his crest marked into the molten glass.
The room that received attention first was the kitchen. A new iron "range" was installed (it broke immediately), and Mrs. Pepys herself made tarts and pastries in the new oven, to try it out. Plasterers worked in the kitchen, though it is not clear what they did. We learn no more about the kitchen furnishings in the 1,250,000 words in some 3,100 pages of shorthand text about Pepys's life from 1660 to 1669. He mentions being merry with servants there, washing his feet and legs in warm water there (Mrs. Pepys wanted him to take baths, and he did so once, at least), and kissing his wife in the kitchen at exactly 1 a.m. on a New Year's Eve; but that is all there is about the kitchen.
The dining room underwent two distinct waves of remodeling and redecorating. The ceiling was repainted and gilded leather was affixed to the walls. The luxurious golds and silvers of tooled leather are frequently depicted on the walls of Dutch houses by Vermeer and Hooch, and the effect must have been equally grand in Pepys's dining room. Green serge drapes completed the decoration. Pepys had consulted his father about the drapes, presumably because he was a tailor. There is no mention of inherited pieces of furniture, crockery, or silver. He did not immediately buy new chairs or tables for his dining room, but within weeks of moving he purchased a table cloth and twelve napkins -- the first time in his life, he says, that he ever bought such things. Then he and Mrs. Pepys purchased glasses together. He also bought candlesticks, but it is not clear that they were for a specific room. Later he would buy pewter sconces for the staircase he would have installed.
Pepys returned home one day with two pictures (probably prints) that
he had selected on his own. Mrs. Pepys did not like them, so he returned
one to the shop. It was a picture of Paris. Were these purchased for the
dining room? Pepys took great joy in moving his pictures about from room
to room in the house. He seems not to have consulted Mrs. Pepys on these
changes. One day when he saw the portrait by the Dutch painter Lely of
his patron, Lord Sandwich, he decided immediately, and on his own, to
commission a copy for himself. He does not say where it was hung. He had
an office in the navy buildings, and it is just possible that he hung it
Mrs. Pepys took up drawing and painting, and this gave her husband enormous pleasure. His hesitation about the cost of the drawing lessons diminished, but we do not learn if her paintings were ever considered of the quality essential for hanging them in the dining room. After he became somewhat familiar with the Dutch portraitist Hayls, through sitting for him for his portrait, Pepys and the artist went together to look at pictures in one of the royal residences. Pepys learned about "workmanship" in painting from Hayls, and he became just a bit more cautious about expressing his own judgment of a work of art. The desire to possess paintings had preceded Pepys's desire to develop aesthetic discernment. When Pepys and Hayls disagreed about the portrait that Pepys had commissioned from the artist, Pepys's wishes prevailed over what the artist had wanted to paint. Hayls seems to have decided on the pose (the sitter complains of the strain it caused him), but it was certainly Pepys who chose to be painted in his dressing gown, holding in his hand a song he himself had composed. The portrait -- which now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, London -- shows only darkness behind Pepys. Hayls had wanted to add a landscape, but Pepys's desire prevailed, and the result is significant because the darkness supports the intimacy and drama of the luxurious dressing gown worn by Pepys. The portrait captures a private space within a private space, as it were, because the trappings of office, swords, coats of arms, and street dress are absent.
Pepys also commissioned Hayls to paint a portrait of his wife, and another of his father -- but not one of his mother. Was it her lower social origins or the fact that Pepys did not particularly like to receive advice from her that prompted him to deny her presence in his house? The answer cannot be discerned. Nor do we learn where in the house he chose to hang these portraits. The closets, those little rooms just off bedrooms, were frequently graced with portraits of the owners of the house and their immediate friends.
The Pepyses had closets, as we shall see; but it is not certain that
portraits were hung in them. A carved mantel would later be installed in
the dining room, and richer materials would replace the serge hangings.
The moldings on the mantel, and perhaps on the frame around the picture
encased above it, were too big for Pepys's taste, but the overall result
gave him pleasure. The dining room fireplace smoked, but only after
several years of living in the house did the prospect of having a lord
for dinner prompt Samuel Pepys to have it fixed. Workmen continued until
midnight to complete the changes needed to make the fireplace draw
properly. Pepys took great pleasure in supervising the workmen who
remodeled his house. After observing that building -- that is, planning
and supervising changes in his house -- "put other things out of his
mind," Pepys would then press the workmen to work harder and faster. The
responsibility of the Navy accounts, the political machinations in the
Restoration government, and last but not least, family cares and
quarrels with his wife over servants, all retreated from his mind as he
dreamed of ever finer and more beautiful rooms and furnishings for the
house. Pepys never called on architects or interior decorators to make
suggestions and plans about remodeling his house. Nor does he mention
consulting his wife. As he hung in the dining room his "fine" pictures
(which were probably prints framed in black wooden moldings and covered
with a special varnish to give a sheen the surface of the pictures),
Pepys was at once following a trend and setting a trend in the creation
of private space.
The "great cupboard" of silver may also have been in the dining room. It became a source of pride as a result of the gifts of silver that Pepys received in return for political favors. The possession and display of large quantities of silver was obviously an acceptable mode of displaying wealth in the seventeenth century. By 1669 Pepys would own thirty silver plates for dining, and a large number of assorted dishes. He bought a dozen silver "salts," some silver chafing dishes, and a "salt" for everyday use. Forks and knives were kept in boxes especially made for them. He had a P engraved on his spoons, presumably partly for decoration and partly for protection against theft. Pepys rarely mentions his cupboard of silver during the bouts of fear of being robbed that overcame him several times in the middle of the night. The horde of gold and silver coins that he kept in bags and chests in his closet (or in the cellar for a period after the Great Fire of 1666) was a much greater source of worry.
In addition to being used regularly for meals by the couple and for their frequent entertainment of guests at dinner, Pepys would also occasionally play his violin and lute in the dining room "while taking much pleasure to have the neighbors come forth into the yard to hear me." By moonlight he would also play his flageolet in the garden, and again the neighbors signified pleasure in listening to him.
What was in Pepys's house was his, as well as its immediate surroundings, in a sense; but he did not attempt to create the type of secretive privacy that can be imagined in the novels of Balzac or Mann. Indeed, the task would have been extremely difficult. Pepys may have quarreled with his neighbors a bit, but in a sense, he appreciated their presence. There were boundaries of privacy but not exclusivity. Inside the house the lack of specialization of rooms, and the eyes that watched whatever happened in the Pepys household from the outside, established boundaries of privacy that would seem very low if compared with those in bourgeois households in later centuries. One day, after rushing home, Pepys walked into his dining room and to his dismay discovered that he had come into the room while a very distinguished guest, Lady Sandwich, was using a chamber pot. He feigned not to notice and retreated, but he was embarrassed nonetheless. There were, of course, no water closets in the house. They had only recently been invented. Pepys did not have one installed.
The parlour is not described in detail. Did the new staircase and entry that Pepys had installed lead out of the parlour? Perhaps a longer reflection on all the clues given in the Diary would yield an answer. The parlour walls were painted and "gilded," Pepys says, which presumably means that the room was paneled and that the moldings had gold leaf put on them to add richness and color to the painted wood.
After the nursery was reassigned to Pepys as his chamber, each spouse assumed full authority over the selection of the principal furnishings. Mrs. Pepys selected "her" bed and its furnishings, presumabIy the curtains and the decorated finials on the bed. The old bed was probably in Pepys's chamber, so his principal purchases were a chest of drawers and an "Indian gown." Pepys noted that his wife gave him "his linen" to keep himself, presumably possible now that he had a chest of drawers for himself. Shortly afterward, he put together a model of one of the Royal Navy's ships and proudly installed it in his chamber. Somewhat later he had plates depicting the four navy yards of England engraved, so that he could hang them in his "closet," He bought more fireplace "dogs," etc., but did not mention the room in which they were used. The same is true of the mouse traps he purchased.
Pepys continued to buy pictures all his life. He liked just about every type of subject when he was younger (the very day he learned his salary had been increased, he bought two prints of Rubens's pictures), but as the years went by his taste centered on engraved portraits of important personages in England, and abroad, as well as maps and scenes of cities. A very large map of Paris graced Mrs. Pepys's chamber. At one point Samuel thought of buying a Holbein (offering 200 for a picture said to be worth 1, 000), and the reason may have been that he saw Holbein portraits in so many of the aristocratic houses that he visited. He was very struck by the beauty of the pictures in Charles II's collection. He bought a portrait of Elizabeth I and also one of Mary of Braganza, then Queen. While in the shop of a Dutch artist, he could not refrain from touching the dewdrops on the still-life pictures.
Pepys himself selected almost everything in the house -- except in
his wife's chamber. He may have consulted her in advance; but from what
evidence there is about such consultations, they would appear to have
been more his expression and sharing of his dreams and visions of how
they would live as he grew richer, than her expressions of taste. Mrs.
Pepys bought very little for him. An agate-handled knife was one
present; he recorded that this gift cost him 5 shillings. When he bought
a gift for her, she had little choice but wear it or to install it in
her chamber. At one point he became enchanted by an artist's work,
immediately bought a picture, returned home, and gave it to his wife to
hang in her closet. We do not learn whether or not she liked the
Great attention was given to the decoration and furnishing of Mrs. Pepys's closet. The chintz wall-covering that had been installed there when they first moved in, was entirely replaced with a new and richer fabric. An upholsterer was hired to help with some of the hangings, but Mrs. Pepys did most of the decoration herself. Blue was the prevailing color in both her closet and her chamber, en suite -- the fashionable way to decorate the most private rooms in a house at the time. Mrs. Pepys undoubtedly gained more authority over the color and quality of the furnishings and the decoration of her closet and chamber. Was the change from chintz and red paint, to a uniform blue in a rich fabric for both rooms, approved by Pepys because it was in fact more in conformity with fashion than what he had decided upon earlier?
Apart from the pictures that Pepys hung in his wife's closet, the
only piece in the room that we learn about is the cabinet that was given
to him by someone for whom he had done a favor in the Navy. Pepys
decided that the cabinet -- presumably a multi-drawered piece of
furniture that stood on legs -- should be in his wife's closet. After
spending part of an evening joyfully finding, opening, and closing the
secret drawers in the cabinet, Pepys paid no more attention to it.
The flat paved area just outside the window of Mrs. Pepys's closet (called the leads) was clearly a part of the house next door, but neighbors might also walk on it. The Pepyses frequently sat out on the leads to take the air in the evening. He had rails installed around the leads, an evident decision to enhance the prestige of the house, and to enclose and make somewhat more private a surface adjacent to the house. The pleasure he derived from the railings was dashed one evening, when a neighbor dumped a chamber pot into a nearby latrine, sending a terrible odor in the direction of the leads where the Pepyses were sitting. Although Pepys hoped his neighbor's action had been accidental, he could not be certain. There had been disputes with the neighbors over access to the leads in the past, and Pepys hoped that his installation of railings would not provoke hostile reactions from them.
Pepys refers frequently to his closet. He installed shelves in it himself, bruising his thumb badly while knocking up nails to hold shelves. These shelves must have been quite rudimentary, and so open that Pepys was forced to dust his books. Later he had Navy joiners make beautiful bookcases (he calls them presses) with glass-paned doors. In them he carefully placed his gold-tooled, leather-bound books. He also stored his papers in his closet, counted his money there, kept his collection of prints and music there, and perhaps his musical instruments as well. There seems not to have been a bed in it. There is no mention of Mrs. Pepys's joining him in his closet, though he expresses pleasure about her initiative in installing there the drapes that had previously hung in the dining room.
We have noted in passing what amounted to be the major decision in the allocation of space in the house: the decision to turn the nursery into Pepys's chamber. Separate living areas were thus created for the master and mistress of the house. The same delineation could be found in the huge palaces and country places all over Europe beginning in the sixteenth century. Among very rich aristocratic and the aspiring gentry, the only differences between living spaces that were sexually defined would be the size and furnishing of the chambers, closets, studies, morning rooms, and antechambers that were divided by master-mistress definitions.
Why sexually delineated private spaces within the house? The principal reason probably was the way people dressed, undressed, went to bed and rose in the seventeenth century, if they could afford to have at least two servants. During their first years in the house, Pepys had a male servant who helped him dress, and Mrs. Pepys had a chamber maid. At the appropriate moment, every article of clothing was unfolded, brushed, and handed to the master or mistress, or put on them. Pepys notes on occasion: "Rose and dressed myself." This occurred infrequently during the period when he had a male servant. Occasionally he remarks that he slept in his drawers, which suggests that he usually slept in a shirt, or wore nothing at all. On one occasion he notes that he slept in a "down bed in the Danish manner." Were male and female servants in the bed chamber helping the master and mistress to get out of bed and to dress at the same time? It is doubtful. The use of chamber pots and commode chairs may also have taken place in the different chambers.
Except when ill or quarreling, the Pepyses slept in the same bed; so it was not the desire to sleep in separate beds that prompted the delineation of separate chambers. There was little exclusiveness and privacy in sleeping habits during the seventeenth century. One night a party continued until a very late hour; a male and a female guest had to spend the night. The female guest went to bed with Mrs. Pepys in what was the Pepyses' bed, and the male guest slept with Samuel in his chamber. Since the guests were not married, the Pepyses gave up sleeping together that night, in order to sleep with their guests. The other alternative -- that is, displacing servants in order to give their beds to the guests -- would have been considered socially degrading. When traveling, the Pepyses often ended up sharing separate beds with other travelers. When Mrs. Pepys went to the country, Pepys's manservant came in to sleep at the foot of his bed, and the cook-maid, then moved, slept in the man-servant's bed. (Mrs. Pepys's maid had accompanied her mistress.) After servants stopped sleeping in the Pepyses' room, Samuel bought a bell to summon the maids. The first time he tried to wake the "wenches" at four in the morning to start the laundry, they slept on despite his ringing. He resolved to buy a bigger bell.
After the first years of trying to live as they imagined they should, as a result of their increased wealth and status, the Pepyses relaxed a bit and yet again modified their sleeping quarters. What had become the dressing room and his man servant's bed chamber (also called the wardrobe room) was modified into a sleeping room for his boy servant, and a music room. The floor was replaced, and a new table was purchased specifically for that room. Pepys also mentions that he planned to eat in that room occasionally. He paid for the instruction of "his" boy in music and grammar. The man servant was obliged to show Pepys his Latin lessons.
Later in the decade Pepys would have female servants help him dress and comb his hair, which suggests a decline in the rigid compartmentalization of mistress- and master-chambers and in specific roles for servants according to sex . Pepys had a very emphatic idea of how many servants a "family of his estate" should have; and the purchase of a coach, and the need to have someone drive and to keep it and the horses clean, seems to have provoked the shift away from having a full-time man servant in his personal attendance.
There were sexual boundaries that Pepys began to transgress; but just
as in the remodeling and furnishing of their house, the Pepyses put into
practice ideas about how to live with servants, acquired from reading
and watching others. It is doubtful that either of them had known
anything but rudimentary domestic help before their marriage. They took
personal pleasure in lying in bed and watching their maid bustle about
in her smock. But the Pepyses would have an extremely painful time
adjusting to the almost ceremonial life that their new wealth not only
permitted, but in a sense, required. Pepys's dominant role has appeared
in the decoration of the house. This power to define and embellish
private space was accompanied by a need to keep his wife in a dependent
status within the house. No detail of daily life or utilization of
private space was beyond or outside the boundaries of dependency and
possible social control. Let us touch on this very important subject,
because it is inseparable from any definition of private space and
governance in England.
Pepys kept his wife in a dependent position and only rarely feared "loss of command" (sic) over her. Each day he watched over the clothes she selected, and he was especially attentive when they went out for social occasions. At first he refused to allow her to put black patches on her face when they became fashionable; but he finally relented. Only hairpieces made of her own hair could be worn. Social constraints in a couple wishing to earn the respect of their social superiors, combined with his dominance over her, came together over the purchase and wearing of her clothes.
Pepys would become very jealous of his wife's dancing and drawing masters, because he feared they might seduce her. Indeed, on one occasion he returned to find Mrs.Pepys alone upstairs with her dancing master, and with no servants in the house. The projection upon the dancing master of his own promiscuous tendencies is evident here. At one point Samuel became so jealous that he stayed downstairs to listen as Mrs. Pepys and the dancing master went through their steps above him. When they stopped dancing, Pepys became almost physically ill. On other occasions he would to saunter in, just to "'watch."
Within the boundary of private space, Pepys could be terribly jealous of his wife, even though her opportunities for possible promiscuity were far more restricted than his. The spectre of promiscuity challenged his notion of dominance over Mrs. Pepys. On one occasion, in a quarrel over a female servant whom Pepys was about to seduce, Pepys reflected that he was "troubled to see how my wife is by this means likely forever to have her hand over me, that I shall forever be a slave to her." The expressions of dominance and dependence in the words they used during quarrels, and Pepys's reflections about those quarrels, are the same that Pepys used to describe his relations with his patrons in court politics. Kindness, he says, will slowly bring his wife's head lower again. The physical characteristics of dependency, the downcast eyes and inclined head, were parts of a much larger social code of gestures and signs that extended far beyond the private space of the house, but it was very strongly articulated there as well.
Pepys thought of hiring a woman he met, to be a maid, but noting that she "held her head up very high," he decided not to hire her. One of his maids had also observed the angle of the other woman's head, and had commented on it to Pepys. The gestural code of servitude was not a private one for masters alone. Pepys felt a deep personal need for a dependent wife and for servants who were dependent on him.
The complementary pleasure was his feeling of happiness in his dependence on the Earl of Sandwich, to whom he was the "most obedient servant." When Lady Sandwich, of commoner origins, scolded a servant in Pepys's presence, he observed that she would not have done so had she been of noble birth. The appropriate behavior for persons of a certain rank implied boundaries of household privacy.
On the principle of conjugal solidarity, Pepys acted relentlessly and
brutally toward his spouse, owing to his need to keep her dependent. The
one thing over which Mrs. Pepys had sovereignty, or to put it more
accurately, veto power, was a given servant's presence in the household.
If she wished to have a servant dismissed, Pepys believed he had no
choice but to do so, regardless of how wrong, unfair, and arbitrary his
wife might be. She had a habit of accusing servants of lying, and he
would have to dismiss them even if his efforts to find out the truth
revealed no lying. After numerous intense quarrels over chamber maids,
Pepys finally permitted his wife to hire her own maid servant. The
results turned out to be excellent from Mrs. Pepys's point of view -- at
least until her husband began to seduce that servant, whereupon she
insisted that the girl be dismissed.
When Pepys's sister moved into the house, he made it clear to her that she would have servant status in the house. Indeed, to teach her to accept that status, he did not permit her to sit down at the table while he and his wife were dining. She too eventually was sent away. Pepys noticed that one of his male servants had found an excuse to wear a hat in the house. He took this as failure to mark respect for him. All the servants were supposed to go to church at least once on Sunday, and to sit only in their assigned places. On one occasion he was made uncomfortable, when he discovered that servants were sitting too close to him. Every Sunday evening he read prayers to everyone in the house. On one of the very rare occasions when he failed to do so, he had been drinking, and he feared the servants might find out.
Pepys's beliefs about household governance were not aberrant or atypical. They were perhaps most succinctly summed up in two prints by the French artist Abraham Bosse: The Husband who Beats his Wife, and The Wife who Beats her Husband. In these prints, authority, power, and order in the entire household are linked to male dominance; and female promiscuity is explained by the male's weakness.
On occasion, a servant would fight back. When Sarah was dismissed because Mrs. Pepys insisted on it, Samuel, as usual, almost wept. He then met the former servant in the city one day, and the girl told him that Mrs. Pepys had been "lending" money to an unemployed brother of Mrs. Pepys. This was a calculated revelation to prompt Pepys's inquiry into how his wife was spending her allowance. He declined to ask her about these allegations, perhaps out of fear of a quarrel and fear of what he would find out. Sarah, it turned out, went to work for some neighbors, thereby immediately provoking a "strangeness" between the Pepyses and those neighbors.
Accusations of lying, stealing, forgetfulness, and laziness were being made almost continually during the early 1660s in the Pepys household, as each spouse sought to establish a single hierarchy of control over the servants. Quarrels were many, and punishments at times violent. During one fit of rage, Mrs. Pepys and her maid "boxed each other in the ears." Pepys hit a servant girl with a broom for some inattentiveness, and he struck "his man" Will for failing to brush his coat. The little boy who lived with them -- and of whom Pepys was so proud when the child walked around the streets of London in his livery -- returned from an errand a half hour late, and Pepys beat him. On another occasion the boy was accused of stealing a coin. This prompted Pepys to beat him so long and so hard that the boy bled, and Pepys's arm hurt for the rest of the evening. The female servants attempted to intervene on the boy's behalf, as did the boy's family; but Samuel Pepys -- who admitted he was fond of the boy -- remained adamant. A place was finally found for the lad on one of the ships of the Royal Navy: he went to sea, and forever out of the Diary. Pepys wanted to beat another servant for the latter's failure to complete his Latin lesson. On occasions when he himself forgot something, he said: "I should beat myself for it." The violence that lay just below the surface in all these relations of dependency broke out between Mr. and Mrs. Pepys, especially over Samuel's promiscuity with a servant his wife had hired. Mrs. Pepys struck him on the head and pulled his hair. Tempers flared when he found that his wife was not tightly reining in the servants:
I was very angry and begin to find fault with my wife for not commanding her servants as she ought. Thereupon, she giving me some cross answer, I did strike her over her left eye such a blow, as the poor wretch did cry out and was in great pain; but yet her spirit was such as to endeavor to bite and scratch me. But I cogging with her, made her leave crying, and sent for butter and parsley, and friends presently one with another ...
During a quarrel, Mrs. Pepys came after him with heated fire tongs while he was in bed. For no reason at all, Pepys hit their pet monkey. He was very angry with the dog that Mrs. Pepys kept upstairs, because it fouled the house. The cat that jumped onto the bed in a fright during a summer storm do not seem to have been reprimanded.
Mrs. Pepys had to keep household accounts, which Pepys reviewed regularly. Learning that his wife had spent 25 shillings for earrings, he flew into a rage and insisted that she return them. A quarrel ensued, and when Mrs. Pepys finally accepted defeat and ordered a servant to return the earrings, Samuel intercepted the servant and countermanded the order. He admits that he simply wished to force his wife to return the jewelry, so that she would not "forget how to live cheap." The implicit reason was that her initiative had been taken without her husband's approval. On another occasion Mrs. Pepys and her maid faced him with a formal request to purchase a pearl necklace for Mrs. Pepys. Somewhat taken aback, he promised to do so when he could afford it. He could have afforded the necklace at the time, but he waited. He kept his promise, however, and ended up buying a more costly necklace than the one his wife had initially requested. The female dreams about pearl necklaces appear only rarely in Pepys. It was Vermeer who would immortalize them, as in the magnificent portrait of a lady looking at herself in a mirror, while holding up the pearl necklace that she is wearing (Dahlem Museum).
The need to dominate his wife and servants in the house did not, however, diminish Pepys's expressions of affection. There were very powerful erotic dimensions to this affection in some instances, but not in the case of all the maids. The simple pleasures of the company of servants, the attention to the details of cooking and carving and serving foul, the smooth table cloths, and the brushed clothes, combed wigs, and clean house meant a great deal to Pepys.
There is much research to be done on the history of private space, particularly on the relations between it and community and public life. Samuel Pepys remarks several times that none of his tests and trials in the Naval administration were as difficult or painful to him as the decisions he had to make in his own household. Pain and suffering the household did give him, certainly, but pleasure as well. Let us give him the last word:
We fell to dancing and continued, only with intermission for a good supper, till 2 in the morning, the music being Greeting and another most excellent violin and Theorbo, the best in town; and so, with mighty mirth and pleased with their dancing of Jiggs afterward, several of them, and among others Betty Turner, who did it mighty prettily; and lastly, W. Batelier's blackmore and blackmore-maid, and then to a countrydance again; and so broke up with extraordinary pleasure, as being one of the days and nights of my life spent with the greatest content, and that which I can but hope to repeat again a few times in my whole life. This done, we parted, the strangers home, and I did lodge my cousin Pepys and his wife in our blue chamber -- my cousin Turner, her sister, and The [sic] in our best chamber -- Babb, Betty, and Betty Turner in our own chamber; and myself and my wife in the maid's bed, which is very good our maids in the coachman's bed -- the coachman with the boy in his settle-bed; and Tom where he uses to lie; and so I did to my great content lodge at once in my house, with great ease, fifteen, and eight of them strangers of quality. My wife this day put on her first French gown, called a sac...
For citations and details about the events mentioned in this article see the Index that I made while reading this rich source.
The Diary of Samuel Pepys, ed. by Robert Latham and William Matthews (Berkeley, 1970-76) in nine volumes. Peter Thornton's Seventeenth-Century Interior Decoration in England, France, and Holland (New Haven, 1978) is a fine introduction to the subject. Mark Girouard's Life in the French Country House (London, Cassell, 2000) offers interesting comparative perspectives.