Wednesday 11 June 1662

At the office all the morning, Sir W. Batten, Sir W. Pen, and I about the Victualler’s accounts. Then home to dinner and to the office again all the afternoon, Mr. Hater and I writing over my Alphabet fair, in which I took great pleasure to rule the lines and to have the capitall words wrote with red ink. So home and to supper. This evening Savill the Paynter came and did varnish over my wife’s picture and mine, and I paid him for my little picture 3l., and so am clear with him. So after supper to bed.

This day I had a letter from my father that he is got down well, and found my mother pretty well again. So that I am vexed with all my heart at Pall for writing to him so much concerning my mother’s illness (which I believe was not so great), so that he should be forced to hasten down on the sudden back into the country without taking leave, or having any pleasure here.

22 Annotations

First Reading

daniel  •  Link

" took great pleasure to rule the lines and to have the capitall words wrote with red ink. "

My, our Sam is exhibiting his most detail-oriented side. No wonder he went on to become a bureaucratic wonder! I admire you, Sam, if I had only one once of that conscientiousness.....

Bradford  •  Link

Did they leave extra spaces between each letter's entries for later additions? All it takes is one upset inkwell. . . .

A. De Araujo  •  Link

"So that I am Pall"
Well she didn't die so Pall must have been crying Wolf!

JWB  •  Link

"This evening Savill the Paynter came..."
The two pictures were completed in mid-January, so the vehicle (linseed oil?) was allowed to dry ~ 6 months before varnishing.

Pauline  •  Link

"...the Victualler's accounts….”
Filed (and listed) under “v” in the new system, or by company name? I assume order in the storing of documents (filing) as well as this alphabetized list. Or is this ‘Alphabet’ writing today making file labels?

Cumgranissalis  •  Link

Ah! that be where it all started, the red ink entries for what be owed.

Australian Susan  •  Link

Anyone know if any of these early records of the Navy Office survive in the PRO? And if so, are they ever on display?
Sam used the same sort of layout as he describes here for his diary - margins and red letters.

Mary  •  Link

Navy Office records

According to L&M, this 'Alphabet' is Pepys' own, personal, record; abstracts of contracts to which he first alluded on 16th April 1662. The original has not been traced.

Similarly the official contract-books for the period 1660 - 1686 also seem to have disappeared.

Mary  •  Link

Pall's alarm-call.

Although it's tempting to interpret Pall's action as purely selfish, let's not lose sight of the possibility that Margaret may have appeared very ill indeed for a day or two. A vicious bout of 'flu, a severe throat infection with accompanying raging fever, a thoroughly debilitating gastro-intestinal infection .... any of these and more could have given rise to real alarm in the case of an 'elderly' woman.

A. De Araujo  •  Link

"Pall's alarm-call"
Of course Mary, I was trying to interpret Pepys' thinking,very unreasonable towards his sister.

Robert Gertz  •  Link

Pall's alarm...

Sam's main source of anger is, he claims, that his father was deprived of having a nice time in London by Pall's exaggerated claims of Mum's illness. Very likely Paulina was not happy at being stuck alone in Brampton with Margaret and furious that Dad's London jaunt hadn't included her. Hard to say if anyone holds the moral cards here, but if Pall had been willing to be Sam and Bess' maid in order to stay on in London away from her parents earlier, surely Sam could have shown a little understanding that sis is bored to tears out in the sticks...

Glyn  •  Link

Australian Susan. Yes, the Public Record Office at Kew still has naval records from the 17th century.…

But you don't have to wait for them to be put on display. Any member of the public can sign in and order any records that they wish, so if you want to you can personally handle letters and documents with Pepys' signature. The hard part is using the indexes to find what you want, and spending the time to go to Kew though I suppose you could combine it with a visit to Kew Gardens

E  •  Link

No evidence!

We don't know if the serious illness of Mrs Pepys Senior was:
a) real
b) exaggerated by Mrs Pepys
c) exaggerated by Paulina
d) exaggerated by them both in collusion
d) exaggerated by a local doctor for financial gain
etc etc

language hat  •  Link

"to have the capitall words wrote with red ink"

Hence the word "rubric," from Latin rubrica, formed from ruber 'red'; OED:

2. a. A heading of a chapter, section, or other division of a book, written or printed in red, or otherwise distinguished in lettering; a particular passage or sentence so marked.
c1450 St. Cuthbert (Surtees) 1317 Of this chapiter the sext, In the rubryke is the text, How bosilus bare witnes [etc.]. 1658 PHILLIPS, Rubrick,.. a noted sentence of any book marked with red Letters. [&c]

Australian Susan  •  Link

In the new prayer book which all the clergy are presently learning in 1662, the "rubric" was, as language hat points out, written in red. The rubric in a prayer book are, usually, the instructions, so to speak, for how to carry out the services. Nowadays in a prayer book, they can be any colour, though often red, but are still called the rubric.
From this practice is also dervied the term Red Letter Days, which are the important Saints' Days in the church Calendar, because these also used to be printed in red. The term is still used, but the printing is no longer in red. Similarly, there are Red Letter Bibles, which have all Jesus's words printed in red type, because these are deemed to be the most important words in the Bible. Anyone know why red was chosen for this function? Other than the obvious one that it stands out? Is that it?

Wim van der Meij  •  Link

Apart indeed from the fact that red will stand out against the black or brown of the usual ink used, red was cheap and easy to make and did not fade. It was usually made from madder (Rubia tinctorum - in Dutch 'meekrap'), which had been used by the Greeks already.

Cumgranissalis  •  Link

Madder: many refs in the British parliaments for limiting trade, "too much red ink? I be thinking"

Second Reading

John York  •  Link

Red ink appears not to be made from Madder, which is well known for producing a red dye, but from Vermilion.
" Red ink in manuscripts goes back at least to the fifth century and flourished until the fifteenth. Vermilion is mercuric sulphide, and is turned into red ink by grinding up and mixing it with white of egg and gum arabic. Red ink can also be made from brazilwood chips which were infused in vinegar and mixed with gum arabic. Brazilwood, one should explain, is not a native of South America - the country was named after its abundance of the well-known trees already familiar to makers of medieval red ink."
Ink in -…

Bill  •  Link

"I took great pleasure to rule the lines and to have the capitall words wrote with red ink"

Red ink is made thus: take wine vinegar a pint; raspings of brazil, one ounce; alum, half an ounce; boil them gently, and add five drams of gum arabic; dissolve the gum, strain the ingredients, and keep the liquid for use.
---A New and Complete Dictionary of Arts and Sciences, 1763.

Third Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

A brief history of English and Colonial handwriting:

"For centuries, legible handwriting was an essential skill for businesspeople and government officials. Laws, deeds, proclamations, contracts and military orders all had to be recorded somehow. But without a standard, different penmanship styles were like different languages.

"Writing masters in the papal treasurer’s office first developed an italic cursive script that morphed into the handwriting taught to American schoolchildren in the 20th century.

"After the sack of Rome in 1527, the pope’s writing masters moved to Southern France. But without the Roman Catholic Church enforcing handwriting discipline, they began to come up with new styles of writing alphabets.

"The Italic cursive evolved into italic circumflessa, which further evolved into a French style called rhonde.

"French government officials complained they couldn’t read documents because they were written in different hands. The Controller-General of Finances then decided all legal documents had to be written in one of three handwriting styles: the coulee, the rhonde and the speed hand.

"The French rhonde migrated to England, where it developed into the English round hand.

"George Bickham, a giant in the pantheon of penmen, was a key figure in the development of handwriting. A calligrapher and an engraver, in 1733 he collected samples of penmanship from 24 writing teachers in London. He engraved them and published them in a book, "The Universal Penman".

"The book had 19 complete alphabets, such as Gothic, which was falling out of fashion except for legal documents. Bickham’s book – still available, on Amazon — popularized the new English round hand. You can see it in Microsoft Word as the Copperplate typeface.

"Bickham had an alphabet for everyone, or at least anyone who needed to write. There were alphabets for English gentlemen, alphabets for merchants, alphabets for women and girls.

"Like many other things, the English round hand crossed the Atlantic to the colonies. Writing masters taught the English round in writing schools, or they traveled the countryside like peddlers looking for pupils.

"Boston [MASS.] had three writing schools by the time of the American Revolution. They taught more boys than the better-known Latin School. The curriculum was narrow: boys were taught math and penmanship so they could produce dignified-and readable documents. If you wanted to be a merchant, bookkeeper, legal clerk or engrosser, you needed to have decent handwriting.

"It wasn’t easy. You had to know how to make a quill from a goose feather, mix ink, rule lines on paper or parchment and write without spotting or smudging the writing surface. You had to know how to sit or stand, what angle to position the paper and how to hold the pen."

Examples and more info at

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

"You had to know how to make a quill from a goose feather, mix ink ..."

A traditional quill pen consists of a feather that has been trimmed to around 9 ins. long, had its shaft stripped of barbs, and had the inside and outside of the hollow barrel cleaned of membrane and wax. The quill is then dried, typically by curing it in sand, and the tip is shaped into a nib with a channel split (cut) to hold the ink.

The earliest fluid inks were carbon-based black inks twhich probably originated in China around 2700 BCE. Iron gallotannate (iron gall) ink eventually replaced carbon and became the primary ink used with quill pens from the Middle Ages until the beginning of the 20th century. Iron gall ink is a permanent, deep purple-black or blue-black ink that darkens as it oxidizes, and is made from iron salts and gallotannic acids from organic sources (such as trees and vegetables).

[The author] was eager to start writing once I acquired my pen and ink, but I hadn’t considered what type of paper to use. Watercolor paper was too absorbent, printer paper and a coated writing tablet weren’t absorbent enough (although the pen glided across both beautifully), but a good-quality sketchbook offered the right amount of absorbency.

At first I dipped the pen in the jar of ink and then removed the excess by rubbing the barrel of the feather along the rim of the ink jar. This didn’t remove enough ink to prevent drips, so I used a paper towel to blot the excess. Once that was done, using the quill pen was no different from using my favorite metal-tipped ink pen. I held the quill the same way and applied about the same amount of pressure to the paper to write.

Once I found the right paper, I practiced loading the tip with ink and writing the alphabet and short sentences. This was challenging because using a quill pen requires frequently dipping the pen tip back into the jar for more ink, which affected the quality and consistency of the letters. In trying to finish a word or sentence before replenishing the ink, I would find myself pressing too hard on the quill tip, which quickly dulled the point and resulted in me cracking my first pen.

With only one quill remaining, I sought the advice of more experienced quill users. They recommend using a felt cushion underneath the writing paper to preserve the quill’s point; I didn’t have any felt, so I used an old linen napkin. I expected it to be more difficult to write with a soft backing rather than a solid tabletop, but I was amazed at how much easier and smoother it was to write. And I didn’t crack my pen!

San Diego Sarah  •  Link


I smeared the ink on many of my early efforts by trying to move or stack the paper too soon. Blotting paper was (and still is) a popular way of preventing ink from smearing, but my attempts to use a clean piece of paper on top of my iron gall ink still resulted in smudges.
I had good luck with a technique that predates blotting paper: sand.
I used sterile terrarium sand from the craft store and sprinkled it over my still-wet ink. The sand absorbed the wet ink in a matter of minutes and, once I shook off the sand, my quill ink writing was dry and (relatively) smudge-free. (More than I can say for my hands and shirtsleeves.)

Successfully writing with a quill pen took more practice and patience than I expected. Once I got the hang of it, there was something soothing about the rhythm of the old-fashioned process.

Excerpted from…

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