Friday 14 December 1660

Also all this day looking upon my workmen. Only met with the Comptroller at the office a little both forenoon and afternoon, and at night step a little with him to the Coffee House where we light upon very good company and had very good discourse concerning insects and their having a generative faculty as well as other creatures.

This night in discourse the Comptroller told me among other persons that were heretofore the principal officers of the Navy, there was one Sir Peter Buck, a Clerk of the Acts, of which to myself I was not a little proud.

31 Annotations

First Reading

David Quidnunc  •  Link

The birds -- and the bees

There was a theory still current (and dating back to Pliny and Aristotle) that insects were generated from putrefaction, sweat or dust. Several 17th-century scientists established that insect eggs were needed to generate still more of the little critters.
--L&M (Volume 1) note for this diary entry

David Quidnunc  •  Link

James Harrington VINDICATED!

This insect topic brought to mind the so-called "madness" of political philosopher James Harrington during his days in the Tower of London, which I mentioned in a note at the 9 January 1660 page.

John Aubrey thought Harrington's belief that his sweat was creating bees and flies was madness (perhaps out of Aubrey's own ignorance of the theory?). Here's what Aubrey said (I think "procatractique" means "practical"):

"Anno Domini 1660, he was committed prisoner to the Tower; then to Portsey castle. His durance in these Prisons(he being a Gentleman of a high spirit and a hot head) was the procatractique cause of his deliration or madnesse; which was not outragious, for he would discourse rationally enough and be very facetious company, but he grew to have a phancy that his Perspiration turned to Flies, and sometimes to Bees; and he had a versitile timber house built in Mr. Hart's garden (opposite to St. James's parke) to try the experiment. He would turne it to the sun, and sit towards it; then he had his foxtayles there to chase away and massacre all the Flies and Bees that were to be found there, and then shut his *Chassees* [window]. Now this Experiment was only to be tried in Warme weather, and some flies would lye so close in the cranies and cloath (with which it was hung) that they would not presently shew themselves. A quarter of an hower perhaps, a fly or two, or more, might be drawen-out of the lurking holes by the warmeth; and then he would crye out, Doe not you see it apparently that these come from me? 'Twas the strangest sort of madnes that ever I found in anyone: talke of any thing els, his discourse would be very ingeniose and pleasant."
-- Aubrey's Brief Lives, edited by Oliver Lawson Dick. "[window]", above, is in Dick's edition.

It's unclear to me when Harrington was actually doing this experiment -- after his imprisonment?

More on Harrington here:…

vincent  •  Link

"...and at night step a little with him to the Coffee House where we light upon very good company ..."
Such a wonderful description of London December at 5.0 of an evening. From gloom and chill[no doubt a bit Foggy too, being near the 'tems '('twas in the 1950's)] to well lit and nice company all of a buzz.

Jenny Doughty  •  Link

Vincent, I think the famous London 'pea-soupers' of the fifties were to do with air pollution and the use of coal fires. I'm not sure they would have been experienced to anything like that extent in 1660.

vincent  •  Link

Wooden Rivet on Thu 9 Jan 2003, 1:26 pm | Link
RE:Coals from Newcastle
In 1661, John Evelyn, a noted diarist of the day, wrote his anticoal treatise FUMIFUNGIUM: or the Inconvenience of the Aer and Smoake of London
book was Fumigugium: or the the inconveiniencie of the aer and smoak of London dissipated
vincent on Wed 7 May 2003, 4:59 am | Link
'coale sweet' a process to remove sulphur: Nr. Greenewich Ferry: -'where I saw Sir Jo: Winters new project of Charring Sea-Coale, to burne out the Sulphure & render it Sweete: he did it by burning them in such….”

vincent  •  Link

for the full text seefull text: at…
sample "...It was one day, as I was Walking in Your MAJESTIES Palace, at WHITE-HALL (where I have sometimes the honour to refresh my self with the Sight of Your Illustrious Presence, which is the Joy of Your Peoples hearts) that a presumptuous Smoake issuing from one or two Tunnels neer Northumberland-House1, and not far from Scotland-yard,2 did so invade
the Court; that all the Rooms, Galleries, and Places about it were fill'd and infested with it; and that to such a degree, as Men could hardly discern one another for the Clowd, and none could support, without manifest Inconveniency..."

Mary  •  Link

" I was not a little proud"

Presumably Pepys hopes that he, too, may receive a knighthood as Clerk of the Acts. However, L&M footnote makes it clear that Buck's knighthood was exceptional and that no other Clerk was knighted in the whole course of the 17th Century.

At this point, Pepys is the only one of the five resident members of the board who is not a knight.

Mary  •  Link

Coal fires and pollution

In addition to the smoke from domestic fires, there were also all those cookshops and taverns firing-up their ranges and plenty of blacksmiths around who would have been making their contribution to the atmosphere, not to mention breweries, whitsters and other commercial undertakings.

There was also the nature of the coal itself to consider. Many folk burned the very dirty but cheaper 'brown coal' which gave off even more noxious smoke than efficient types such as anthracite.

J A Gioia  •  Link

Also all this day looking upon my workmen.

one is reminded of the old plumbers' joke: 'my fee is $10 an hour. if you are going to watch me, it's $15.'

Ruben  •  Link

The birds - and the bees

I think that SP and his friends discussed the wonders of God’s world and how some small creatures generate and others could not. They did not know better.
It was only in 1668, years later, that Francesco Redi (an Italian)presented his famous experiment: he put meat in jars and left some open and some he closed the lid. In those jars that were closed the meat putrified but in those left open the meat was full of eggs, maggots,and the like.
If you want to know more abour Redi look in:… and enjoy.

Nix  •  Link


Probably "procatarctic" --



[= F. procatarctique (16th c. in ittr?), ad. mod.L. procatarctic-us, a. Gr. - antecedent, f. to begin first.]

Med. Applied to an external cause which is the immediate occasion of a disease. Also applied gen. to the immediate or exciting cause of any effect, as distinguished from its predisposing cause or ground. (Opposed to PROEGUMENAL.)

1603 HOLLAND Plutarch Explan. Words, Procatarcticke causes of sicknesse, be such as are evident and comming from without, which yeeld occasion of disease, but do not mainteine the same: as the heat of the Sunne, causing headach or the ague. 1627 W. SCLATER Exp. 2 Thess. (1629) 185, I can but wonder at Arminius and others, seeking in the vessels of Mercy, the Procatarcticke Cause of Election. 1666 G. HARVEY Morb. Angl. xii. 132 The procatarctick or external causes of Pulmonique Consumptions. 1717 J. KEILL Anim. Oecon. (1738) 234 No procatarctic Cause appears of so great a Perspiration in the Night. 1822-34 Good’s Study Med. (ed. 4) I. 559 In early times the causes of diseases chiefly contemplated were proegumenal or predisponent and procatarctic or occasional. Thus an hereditary taint..may be regarded as a proegumenal cause of gout, and catching cold..may form its procatarctic cause.
†b. By some applied to the primary cause.

1658 PHILLIPS s.v., Procatarctick cause, that cause which foregoeth or beginneth another cause [1696 (ed. 5) addsand cooperates with others which are subsequent]. 1681 tr. Willis’ Rem. Med. Wks. Vocab., Procatarctic, remote, not next cause of a disease. 1689 AUBREY Lives, Lucius Cary (1898) I. 152 It so broke and weakned the king’s army, that ‘twas the procatarctique cause of his ruine. 1695 TRYON Dreams & Vis. App. 256 Pride may justly be said to be the chief Procatarctick, or remote original cause of Madness. 1714 MANDEVILLE Fab. Bees (1725) I. 311 Whoever would accuse Ignorance, Stupidity, and Dastardness, as the first, and what Physicians call the Procatarctic Cause, let him examine into the Lives..and Actions of ordinary Rogues and our common Felons, and he will find the reverse to be true.
B. as n. (ellipt. for procatarctic cause).

1694 WESTMACOTT Script. Herb. 212 It is a procatarctic of the scurvy.

john lauer  •  Link

the 'proximal' cause, as opposed to the 'root' cause, is a distinction still confused today (as it is above), even in its general (not medical or legal) usage. At least we don't use that ugly word anymore.

Jenny Doughty  •  Link

Vincent and Mary - I stand corrected - thank you :-)

Orrin  •  Link

". . . of which to myself I was not a little proud."

Ummm . . . Anyone know why the knowledge that a Sir Peter Buck, Clerk of the Acts, sat on the Navy Board would so chuff up our Sam?

Pauline  •  Link

why the knowledge that a Sir Peter Buck was Clerk of the Acts chuffs up our Sam
He is proud to have risen to a position that a "sir" has held.

See Mary above at 8:07 am

David Duff  •  Link

What are "whitsters"?

dirk  •  Link


WHITSTER: A bleacher of cloth.

By the way this is an excellent guide to some of the more obscure professions throughout recent history.

Mary  •  Link


As Dirk says, bleachers of cloth and hence, by extension, laundries and laundry-workers in general.

Terry F  •  Link

R.I.P the FUMIFUGIUM link vincent supplied; available now are this work and others by Evylyn at an FTP site at the Pennsylvania State University:…

(copy and paste this address into your browser)

Pedro  •  Link

On the 14th December Allin reaches Smyrna…

Allin left on the 6th of January 60/61 after the party had hunted for wild boar and hare, and generally enjoyed the hospitality of the merchants.

“I took both my boats and waited upon my Lord to carry him and the merchants to Saneto Venerando, the burying place, and from thence up the hill by a fountain of excellent water and so to Polycarp's tomb and then to the castle, whereupon the top there is a little chapel and a fair prospect into the valley where there is a double-sided aquaduct. We then descended into a green place where was a hole full of rubbish stones. We went down into a cave or cellar which was arched 4 arches one way and 5 arches another, very large and strong. We took a walk about the castle and descended to see the ruins of an old decayed theatre where the story reports Polycarp was torn by wild beasts.

(Journals of Sir Thomas Allin edited by RC Anderson)

Second Reading

Terry Foreman  •  Link

Fumifugium, or, The inconveniencie of the aer and smoak of London dissipated together with some remedies humbly proposed by J.E. esq. to His Sacred Majestie, and to the Parliament now assembled is a pamphlet published in London, John Evelyn. It is one of the earliest known works on air pollution. [ links to the text at this page's end ]…

Bill  •  Link

"at night step a little with him to the Coffee House"

Probably the Coffee House in Exchange Alley which had for its sign, Moral, or the Turk's Head. It is frequently referred to in subsequent pages.
---Wheatley (1894)

Newcomer  •  Link

How typical that the conversation at the coffee house turned to the science of nature, instead of song and merriment, as it tends to do at an alehouse. I wonder if Pepys reflected on the surprising stimulative effect of this novel concoction.

john  •  Link

"Also all this day looking upon my workmen."

He seems to spend a lot of time supervising his workmen. Why?

Edith Lank  •  Link

This whole first year of the Diary is
"Young Man on the Make"
"What Makes Sammy Run?"

Weavethe hawk  •  Link

I wish some of these annotators would concentrate on improving their modern spelling, and resist the temptation to try to invent their own versions of archaic spelling in their posts. Very pretentious.

Third Reading

MartinVT  •  Link

Note to Sam: Patience. You've been Clerk of the Acts for less than one year. Don't get ahead of yourself — knighthoods have to be earned. Sir Peter Buck held the job for seven years before getting tapped on the shoulder by James I.…

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Sir Robert Slingsby seems to be having a good influence on Pepys; coffee, suggesting a knighthood was a possibility after years of hard work, and he appears to be competent at what his job. Maybe Pepys will follow his example.

A quorum for the Navy Board to do business when sitting was 2, so the office is functioning without the hard-drinking Sir Wills who are still away supervising the lifting of the wreck at Deptford.

Considering how lost Pepys appeared to be when Elizabeth was also away, he seems to be making no great effort to be with her now she's home. Funny fellow.

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