Friday 14 March 1661/62

At the office all the morning. At noon Sir W. Pen and I making a bargain with the workmen about his house, at which I did see things not so well contracted for as I would have, and I was vexed and made him so too to see me so critical in the agreement. Home to dinner. In the afternoon came the German Dr. Kuffler,1 to discourse with us about his engine to blow up ships. We doubted not the matter of fact, it being tried in Cromwell’s time, but the safety of carrying them in ships; but he do tell us, that when he comes to tell the King his secret (for none but the Kings, successively, and their heirs must know it), it will appear to be of no danger at all.

We concluded nothing; but shall discourse with the Duke of York to-morrow about it.

In the afternoon, after we had done with him, I went to speak with my uncle Wight and found my aunt to have been ill a good while of a miscarriage, I staid and talked with her a good while.

Thence home, where I found that Sarah the maid had been very ill all day, and my wife fears that she will have an ague, which I am much troubled for.

Thence to my lute, upon which I have not played a week or two, and trying over the two songs of “Nulla, nulla,” &c., and “Gaze not on Swans,” which Mr. Berkenshaw set for me a little while ago, I find them most incomparable songs as he has set them, of which I am not a little proud, because I am sure none in the world has them but myself, not so much as he himself that set them. So to bed.

27 Annotations

First Reading

Australian Susan  •  Link

"engine to blow up ships"
This sounds more like a torpedo than the submarine described in the links given above, especially given Sam's quite understandable fear of the thing blowing up the ship it was being transported on !But there is no mention of such an invention in the links provided.
Krebbel seems to have been a man ahead of his time with his inventions - like The Difference Engine of Victorian times: prototype computer, which relied on engineering not electronics (not invented at that time) and thus failed. There is a lovely scence in the film, The Four Musketeers (yes, I did get that right) showing the submarine being tried out at the time of the seige of La Rochelle.

Australian Susan  •  Link

Old term for malaria or any recurrent fever.

Eric Walla  •  Link

OK, so Mr. Berkenshaw has been redeemed in Sam's eyes? Or rather is it that Sam has always valued him, but simply set that value at less than 5l. a month?

Bill Braithwaite  •  Link

I hope Pepy's will be hoistin a few pints for St. Paddy's Day! I love it when this guy is drinkin & carousin! this guy is hilarious (in a brilliant way!!)

Rock On Sam Pepy's!!

Cheers, Billy ;))

Mary  •  Link

Dr. Kuffler's inventions.

According to an L&M footnote, the weapon alluded to here is a form of mine. The design for a submarine was a different project altogether.

Kuffler was seeking approval for a trial of the mine and for a reward of £10,000 if the trial proved successful.

bradw  •  Link


I was reminded that in the 19th Century, sea-mines were called torpedoes (e.g. Admiral Porter's order during the attack on Mobile Bay, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.") I wonder if van Drebbel coined this name?

The dictionary isn't much help--I looked up the etymology of "torpedo," and my Random House Unabridged says it's from the Latin for numb or stiff ("torpe[re]") + to be ("do").

Can any Latin scholars shed light on how this device merited this name?

JWB  •  Link

You don't want a Latin scholar but an ichthyologist.
Named for the Torpedo fish that uses electric jolt to stun(numb)its prey.

A. De Araujo  •  Link

"we concluded nothing"
seems like the inventor does not want to tell the whole story; could he have patented the invention at the time? was he afraid the weapon would fall on the wrong hands?

Katherine  •  Link

More on Torpedo

From the OED: 1. a. A flat fish of the genus Torpedo or family Torpedinid-, having an almost circular body with tapering tail, and characterized by the faculty of emitting electric discharges; the electric ray; also called cramp-fish, cramp-ray, numb-fish.

c1520 L. ANDREWE Noble Lyfe xcii. in Babees Bk. (1868) 239 Torpido is a fisshe, but who-so handeleth hym shalbe lame & defe of lymmes that he shall fele no thyng.

So, perhaps the name comes from the fact that a Torpedo (of that age) bore a resemblence to the stinging fish both in shape and in “sting”?

Australian Susan  •  Link

"engine to blow up ships"
So if L&M say this is a mine, do they give any other information? Did the Navy take K up on this? This advance in technology is just the sort of thing Sam is fascinated by, and he is frustrated by the secretive nature of Mr K. Do we get any more on this "engine" or is this it for the diary? I wonder how they worked and how large they were.

Paul H  •  Link

Torpedoes of the 19th century were sometimes called 'spar-torpedoes' because a semi-submerged explosive charge was attached to the end of a long piece of timber (i.e. a spar) and the other end of the spar was attached to a ship, which propelled it towards an enemy ship (and hoped to detonate it against the side of that target).
A very unreliable weapon... hence those torpedoes could 'be damned' and avoided.

Mary  •  Link


The term was most often applied to episodic fevers, such as malaria (tertian ague, etc.) but could also be used to designate any unexplained high fever, especially if rigors ensued. Ague is therefore often descriptive of the symptoms of an illness rather than defining the cause of the symptoms.

Sjoerd  •  Link

A weapon so dreadful....(for none but the Kings, successively, and their heirs must know it).

It is a good illustration of peoples respect and belief in the holy office of an absolute monarch.

And what is it all about ? A bomb in a bucket !

Compare Albert Einstein's letter to Roosevelt about the atomic bomb.

mike gresk  •  Link

many thanks for all the comments. it is a true joy to read the insightful comments. much thanks to all contirbutors.

Robert Gertz  •  Link

Shame it wasn't Drebbel's remarkable undersea rowboat, it would've been neat if Sam, like James I, Charlie's grand-dad, had got to try it out. If I remember correctly Drebbel invented a form of snorkel and even employed a chemical reaction to remove CO2 from the air which allowed his boat to stay under water for some few hours.

vicenzo  •  Link

After James died and Charles I became King, Drebbel was employed by the Office of Ordnance, making secret weapons for the King, including an unsuccessful floating petard (bomb), and in 1631, he merited a mention in a Jonson play…

Second Reading

Terry Foreman  •  Link

"engine to blow up ships""

Engine: The History of a Concept, From 14th-Century Poetry to Google
We think of "engine" as a mechanical device, but the word has roots that go way further back, and illuminate some of its newer meanings.…

Bill  •  Link

"trying over the two songs of “Nulla, nulla,” &c., and “Gaze not on Swans,”"

These two songs were mentioned on 11 February and 24 February 1661/62 with informative annotations. It would appear that Mr. Berkenshaw had more to do with their composition that SP implied on those days.

Bill  •  Link

"my wife fears that she will have an ague, which I am much troubled for"

There is a discussion of "this new disease, an ague and fever" in the annotations of 22 October 1661:…

Tonyel  •  Link

when he comes to tell the King his secret (for none but the Kings, successively, and their heirs must know it),
Reminds me of the old sketch of Ronald Reagan being shown a vast, empty hangar: "THERE'S your stealth bomber!"

Sasha Clarkson  •  Link

Kuffler and the "Emperor's New Weapon": there's an entry for him in Wikipedia as "Johannes Sibertus Kuffler"…

There's a longer article on Kuffler's father-in-law Cornelis Drebbel, who built a "submarine" (not a contemporary term) for James I, and actually took him on a trip in it.…

Although Kuffler gets no mention, there is also a short article on Drebbel in Britannica, including that

"In 1620 he completed his "diving boat." Propelled by oars and sealed against the
water by a covering of greased leather, the wooden vessel travelled the River Thames at a depth of 12 to 15 feet (about 4 metres) from Westminster to Greenwich. Air was supplied by two
tubes with floats to maintain one end above water."

Chris Squire UK  •  Link

OED has:

‘torpedo, n. < Latin torpēdo stiffness, numbness . .
1. a. A flat fish of the genus Torpedo .. . characterized by the faculty of emitting electric discharges . .
. . 1646 Sir T. Browne Pseudodoxia Epidemica iii. vii. 119 Torpedoes deliver their opium at a distance, and stupifie beyond themselves . .

. . 2. a. orig. A case charged with gunpowder designed to explode under water after a given interval so as to destroy any vessel in its immediate vicinity; later also, a self-propelled submarine missile, usually cigar-shaped, carrying an explosive which is fired by impact with its objective.

The original torpedo was a towed or drifting submarine mine, used to defend channels, harbours, and the like ( drifting or moored torpedo ); it was towed at an angle by means of a spar extending at right angles ( otter or towing torpedo ), or carried on a ram or projecting pole ( boom-torpedo, out-rigger-torpedo, spar-torpedo).
1776 J. Thacher Mil. Jrnl. (1823) 75 Mr. Bushnell gave to his machine the name of American Turtle or Torpedo . . ‘

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