Quaker Universalist Voice

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Pepys and Quakers

A Book Review of Margaret Willes, The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn (2017)

Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn were major chroniclers of 17th century England and budding universalists in the search for the expanded understanding of the English Renaissance.  It was not easy or painless to expand the scope of respect and care for the world as England expanded its global military, cultural, political, and scientific reach, There was much groping and stumbling toward universal care in that century.

Author Margaret Willes, The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn (2017) describes the relationships of the two men and their distinctive contributions to the 17th century conversation in all its messiness and tumult. 

However, Willes fails to include Quaker founder George Fox in her contextual analysis of the 17th century of Pepys and Evelyn.  For that matter, Willes also omits reference to John Rogers of the Fifth Monarchy influence among Puritans.  (Fifth Monarchists followed the Daniel 2 prophecy and focused hope on the imminent reign of Jesus in 1666 as hinted by the number 666 in Revelation, which reflected the power of the religious ferment in England mixing in with the new empiricism of the English Renaissance in which Pepys and Evelyn were so prominent.) 

Quakers: One flavor of current Quakers adores George Fox for his embrace and quotations from the Protestant Christian Bible of the time.  Another flavor of current Quakers adores George Fox for the endorsement of that of God in everyone.  Both flavors seek to avoid the universalist implications of their adorations for expanding the scope of care to all the world.  Each flavor of Quakers stumbles in the use of language.  Each favors their singular myopic view within the U.S., but with different emphases and language.  Both are reluctantly groping in the area of expanding the scope of care.  This is the way that God moves in this world at this time through the lives of these imperfect creatures in the 17th century and the 21st century.

This omission of the Quakers in the 17th century ferment is particularly notable in this book.  But, from a contrasting and helpful viewpoint, this book is also an occasion for Quakers to be reminded that George Fox was not the only commentator in contemporary 17th century life and that Pepys and Evelyn were major commentators with whom Quakers today should be more familiar. This book may provide either a confirmation or a challenge to current Quaker thinking.  In either case, the Quaker community needs to focus its attention on this analysis as we continue to link faith and practice. 


  • How inclusive is the Quaker scope of care?
  • What can we say about the scope of care in the Quaker tradition?
  • Can Quakers take guidance from those outside the Quaker tradition?


Margaret Willes, The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn (2017)

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