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Sam Ursu has posted 37 annotations/comments since 23 April 2020.

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Third Reading

About Wednesday 19 December 1660

Sam Ursu  •  Link

In response to… et al:

To be clear, the most common time to slaughter cattle (for meat) is definitely NOT in December.

Cattle are generally born in the springtime and are traditionally slaughtered at around 22-24 months, so February to April would be more traditional in terms of a "glut" of beef on the market.

Perhaps some folks are confusing beef with hogs, which ARE generally slaughtered at the end of autumn/early winter (in some places, it was done on certain specific days such as Michaelmas), for entirely practical reasons.

Traditionally, hogs were born in the spring time, weaned, fed by people in the summer, and then turned out into the forest to fatten up on mast (nuts and other stuff in the woods) in the autumn. Then, when the forest is out of "free food" come the end of autumn, and with winter making it costly (in every sense of the word) to keep feeding a full-grown pig, it makes sense to slaughter it.

And unlike cattle, pigs ARE suitable for slaughter at less than a year. Whereas a nine-month-old cow is still nowhere near maximum weight.

As for storage, (previously boiled) beef tongue lasts for a few weeks "as is" and can be served and eaten cold (i.e. without any more cooking needed, making it a kind of 'fast food' in this period). The bigger parts/cuts/joints would have all been salted and put into a barrel had long-term "shelf life" been the goal, so I think this gift of meat was clearly meant for Pepys' near-term consumption i.e. holiday feasting.

About Wednesday 3 October 1660

Sam Ursu  •  Link

What were "Winter Guards"?

Well, they were naval vessels that were NOT first-class ships of the line. This is because those big ships could only be safely used during summertime (i.e. in calmer seas, as autumn-winter in this part of the world is characterized by more frequent storms, and first-of-the-line ships were really tall and prone to foundering in higher waves).

Most commonly, a "Winter Guard" referred to a group of warships used for coastal defense during times of hostility (hence the name), but they were deployed against Holland during Pepys's lifetime. There is no official size of what constitutes a "Winter Guard" but it usually refers to a group of 10-30 vessels under one command, which can include fireships.

About Wednesday 29 August 1660

Sam Ursu  •  Link

A few notes about why the boy's clothes were brought up to Sam's chamber.

First, it's almost inconceivable to us in the modern era what clothes were like back then. I'm not referring to the fit or the fashion but to the availability of clothes. Everything was literally hand-sewn, often abroad.

Thusly, clothes were extremely expensive, even for the simplest of shirts. There's a lot of debate on HOW expensive they were, so let's just throw a ballpark figure out there and say a single shirt might've cost the equivalent of £1000 in modern prices (for a modern worker at a minimum wage job). So yes, the boy's clothes were extremely valuable.

However, that being said, "clothes" in those days came in two parts - the outer stuff that the public would see, and a kind of "underwear" (top and bottom) that only the wearer would see. This "underwear" was almost always linen. These would be MUCH cheaper than "outer" clothes and were what was washed, while the "outer" garments were rarely washed, and were worn until threadbare (and often mended several times).

Therefore, the boy's "clothes" in this case would've referred to his "outer" clothes, whatever they were.

Secondly, as Sam's indentured servant, it was likely that Sam provided AND owned the clothes of his apprentices, so bringing them up to the chamber was probably to stop a "disgruntled former employee" from stealing more items (the clothes).

Interestingly enough, the sheer expense of (outer) clothes played a huge role in the Black Death/Plague that struck a few years after this diary entry. Even at the height of the plague, most of the people who died from the plague had their clothes removed and then SOLD.

There's a village in the north of England called Eyam which holds a grisly record during this plague outbreak as having suffered the highest mortality rate.

Because of this, and the small size of the village (800 people), and the extensive documentation kept, we know for sure that the plague outbreak in Eyam began after a local man received a shipment of USED CLOTHES from London, which obviously were infected with the plague. To be more precise, it was the surviving body lice in the clothing which spread the plague.

Today, lice are only found in people's hair, and it's a minor nuisance. But in previous eras, there was a separate species of lice called "body" lice, which is a bit of a misnomer as they actually lived on people's clothing, not their bodies. And it was this totally separate species of lice that spread the Black Plague.

So yeah, in Sam's time, people like Will generally only had one (or maybe two, but usually one) pair of outer clothing, which was very, very expensive, so much so that, even if you died of the plague with sores oozing all over the fabric, and the garment was infested with body lice, it was still profitable to sell the clothes on to some other poor soul.

About Monday 27 August 1660

Sam Ursu  •  Link

Hold on a minute! You mean to tell me that someone gave Pepys TWO turtle doves as a present and NOBODY is going to mention the 12 Days of Christmas song? What??

Also, this is the first I've ever heard of anyone ever giving someone (who isn't a spouse or close family member) birds as a present - that's quite a "gift" considering how much upkeep and equipment you'd need to maintain them. And who has a spare birdcage lying around the house?


PS - the "!2 Days of Christmas" song was published in 1780, which makes me wonder just how long the tradition of giving people birds as a gift was around.

About Thursday 21 June 1660

Sam Ursu  •  Link

Worth mentioning here a bit more directly that the building housing the King's Wardrobe was converted into an orphanage following the execution of Charles I in 1649.

And here we see Pepys rather stone-heartedly witnessing the poor children (dressed in some kind of "tawny" aka brown fabric, probably hemp or jute) singing sweetly, doing their best to plead for a chance to continue to live there, to no avail.

Indeed, the children get turfed out, and a bit of money thrown their way instead of any active assistance from the government in resettling them and providing long-term accommodation and resources. Rather telling commentary on the Restoration, in my opinion.

Of course, the building does burn down in six years' time during the Great Fire, so perhaps it was for the best. But still...

About Tuesday 19 June 1660

Sam Ursu  •  Link

For anyone curious about this chocolate that Pepys found upon his return:

Certainly, it was not what people today mean by "chocolate," i.e. some kind of manufactured confectionary sweetened with sugar that's ready to eat. Rather, Pepys is referring to a kind of "cake" wrapped in cloth, made from an oily paste of roasted cacao beans shipped over from the Americas.

The first chocolate house (analogous to a coffeehouse) opened in London in 1657 (so three years before this diary entry), and specialized in turning that chocolate paste into a sugar-sweetened (and possibly also flavored with things like vanilla or aniseed) drink that was considered a luxurious beverage and/or had "medicinal" properties. Some chocolate houses even mixed it with ale.

Note: The indigenous cultures in the Americas drank a similar beverage (without ale, of course), but always unsweetened. The English (and Europeans in general) found it far too bitter, so pretty much always dosed it with sugar.

The chocolate (drink) consumed in Pepys' time would've been a lot stronger and less mellow/smooth tasting than a modern mug of hot chocolate. 17th century chocolate was drunk from a small bowl with no handles, lifted to the mouth with both hands.

To make the (chocolate) drink, one took a pinch of the chocolate paste and whisked it into hot water. But because the paste was quite oily, it took a lot of continuous whisking at the right water temperature until it would fully blend. This was a laborious technique to get right, though. Apparently, even the scientist Robert Hooke had a hard time making it (correctly) at home.

Nonetheless, this chocolate (drink) was quite posh and trendy during this era, and would definitely be something you'd serve to high-status guests to impress them (the paste itself also seems to have been a prestige gift, as it was quite expensive).

About Thursday 14 June 1660

Sam Ursu  •  Link

The Bank of England was not formed until 1694, so the only promissory notes used in England (and then, almost exclusively in London) at this time were from goldsmiths, making it highly unlikely that Pepys received £500 in paper form.

Furthermore, I'd say that the line "laid out my money" also pretty much confirms that we're talking about physical coins here (as opposed to tally sticks, etc).

Doing a little back of the envelope math, £500 in gold sovereigns (the highest value coin at that time) would've weighed just under 8 kilos (~17 American pounds), which is certainly heavy but not unfeasible for lugging around to taverns and the like.

Anything else, such as coins of smaller denominations would've greatly increased the weight. Furthermore, silver coins in this era were quite untrustworthy as most had been clipped or were badly worn or were outright forgeries made with baser metals (under Isaac Newton, in 1696, when he was head of the Mint, the "Great Recoinage" was implemented to try and clean up this problem).

That's why you see elites in this era using items like (silver) plate and expensive pieces of furniture in order to perform high-value transactions.

About Saturday 2 June 1660

Sam Ursu  •  Link

I'm really curious about the "white wine and sugar." Was that mixed together as a drink? Because the research I've seen says that sugar doesn't really dissolve well in wine (or any liquid that isn't piping hot).

Or were they just eating bits of sugar as a snack along with the oysters? I think that makes a little more sense to me (oysters are savory and sour, wine is dry, and the sweetness of the sugar would be a nice counterpoint), but that's my modern point of view.

About Tuesday 22 May 1660

Sam Ursu  •  Link

My best guess as to the type of gun Pepys fired would be what's called a "demi-cannon" as these were certainly used aboard English ships during the Anglo-Dutch wars.

As the name suggests, it's a smaller version of the "great guns" or full-sized cannons. Even so, we're talking about a barrel length of about 3.4 meters long (11 feet) that required something like 8kg of powder to fire a 32-pound (15kg) shot, so it would've been a tremendous (face-searing) blast indeed.

Considering Pepys said that the gun was "over against my cabin" seemingly in a fixed position, I think we can rule out any kind of musket or hand-held weapon.

Demi-cannons were lit by touching a taper (candle) to a fuse, which burned down for a few seconds and then ignited the powder. Obviously, this would be incredibly dangerous for anyone who was too close when the cannon went off.

According to the diary, since they were firing these cannons off all day long, it's credible that Pepys could've asked for and been given a chance to fire one personally, although I have to believe that the sailors had a good chuckle when he nearly blew off his face.

About Monday 23 April 1660

Sam Ursu  •  Link

As for bowling (playing ninepins) aboard a ship:

First, it must be understood that bowling was a popular sport in this era. There's the legendary story of Drake bowling (albeit on land) as the Spanish Armada approached England about 70 years before Pepys' time, for context. Drake, of course, was a mariner through and through.

Besides its general popularity as a sport (on land), the impetus for shipboard bowling, I believe, is that the navy used wooden balls for practicing/aiming the firing of the ship's cannons (a cannonball is about the same size as a bowling ball). Therefore, there were plenty of wooden balls about onboard, so it makes sense that sailors would also use them for some bowling games/matches.

Furthermore, a quick search shows that the British Navy even today has a really active bowling program for its sailors (they even hold competitions), so it seems that the tradition hasn't gone away even in modern times.

About Sunday 8 April 1660

Sam Ursu  •  Link

I have to admit, when I read that one passage, I could just instantly see in my mind Pepys ("Peeps") and Lt. Lambert giggling and laughing as they crammed closer to the window, passing the scope back and forth as they "peeped" on the ladies on the other ships.

Just a truly visceral reaction on my part, and judging by the comments above, I wasn't the only one. After all, one minute, Pepys is stuck in some far-off century with weird words and archaic customs, and the next, he's doing a Bud Light commercial with Spuds MacKenzie :)

About Friday 16 March 1659/60

Sam Ursu  •  Link

My apologies for the double post. I just realized that this is a better translation to modern English:

"The tyrant, the last of all the kings [we shall ever have], left us this year, 1648, when England gained its freedom on January xx."

About Friday 16 March 1659/60

Sam Ursu  •  Link…

"I'm not a Latin scholar, but I read:
"Exit tyrannus, Regum ultimus, anno libertatis Angliae, anno Domini 1648, Januarie xxx" as..."

Not quite. Here's a more fluid translation:

"The tyrant, who shall be the last of all the kings [we shall ever have], leaves us this year, 1648, the year that England gained its freedom, January xxx"

More literally:

"The tyrant leaves, the last of the kings, the year of England's freedom, the year of our Lord 1648, January xxx"

Second Reading

About Site statistics 2022

Sam Ursu  •  Link

I only caught the last nine months or so, so I'd definitely love a full trip 'round the Diary!

About The Next Chapter of Samuel Pepys

Sam Ursu  •  Link

Thank you for this wonderful epitaph!

Just wanted to point out that it's a little unclear how many men "jacked" Pepys and his friends:

"Sam, his lady friends and John, were robbed by two masked men. Although they were quite frightened, they were not harmed. Two of the robbers were caught, tried and hanged."

About Monday 31 May 1669

Sam Ursu  •  Link

I too join my voice to the chorus singing the praises of this wonderful diary and the people who put it together and contributed their knowledge, wisdom, and insight. This website is always my first stop in the morning. Thank you!

About Tuesday 27 April 1669

Sam Ursu  •  Link

I'll just add here that "nepotism" refers to Popes (and others) giving their children and family members sinecures and other remunerative posts in the Church, a source of condemnation by Protestant thinkers.

About Tuesday 27 April 1669

Sam Ursu  •  Link

"Nipote' is Itallian for both 'nephew' and 'grandson'."

To be clear, the same is true in Romanian (nepot) because they both inherited the custom from the Latin, although the meaning of "grandchild" is far older. The stem of the word nephew means "descendent" which is key to the origin of the word "nepotism" esp. in the Catholic context germane to this discussion.

In terms of the book Pepys was reading, the word "nephew" refers to the fact that many priests (and some Popes) sired children, and it became a custom to refer to these as their "nephews" since having children was forbidden.

About Monday 15 March 1668/69

Sam Ursu  •  Link

As for the meal - pretty sure Sam and William went to a trendy, new restaurant, chose a LIVE chicken that they wanted to eat, and then went to the park (to do what, I wonder?) while the chicken was killed, plucked, and then cooked/roasted to order. Good luck finding that kind of dining experience in Britain anymore!

As for the price, I get the feeling he was saying "Yeah, it was a little expensive, but totally worth it." Especially when it seems that most places were serving cold (pre-cooked) meat in those days.