Thursday 26 June 1662

Up and took physique, but such as to go abroad with, only to loosen me, for I am bound. So to the office, and there all the morning sitting till noon, and then took Commissioner Pett home to dinner with me, where my stomach was turned when my sturgeon came to table, upon which I saw very many little worms creeping, which I suppose was through the staleness of the pickle.

He being gone, comes Mr. Nicholson, my old fellow-student at Magdalene, and we played three or four things upon the violin and basse, and so parted, and I to my office till night, and there came Mr. Shepley and Creed in order to settling some accounts of my Lord to-night, and so to bed.

29 Annotations

First Reading

Bradford  •  Link

Have we seen this wormy entree before, or was it merely mentioned in a spoiler, or perhaps in Liza Picard?

At least this is one variation on the "Honey, I've brought the Boss home for supper" catastrophe which today's spouse is not likely to have to endure.

A. De Araujo  •  Link

"little worms creeping"
I smell foul play; I don't understand how Sarah and Jane and Will and the boy and above all Elizabeth have missed it!!

daniel  •  Link

"the staleness of the pickle."

was the sturgeon pickled?

Pauline  •  Link

"He being gone..."
Sounds like Pett was out of there like a light. Odd that Sam doesn't tell us more as to how he felt about this with a guest to dinner, or the guest's reaction. Perhaps this kind of mishap was taken in stride across the board at this time in the history of preserving and holding food.

Australian Susan  •  Link

Presumably, the sturgeon was not the only dish on offer and Commissioner Pett simply noted the little visitors on the fish and ate something else, Sam too and everyone just ignored the fish - he doesn't say anything else happened. Maybe one was just expected to brush the maggots away and eat it nevertheless, but Sam, having an unsettled tum (after the laxatives) couldn't face this. Maggots in food has been a problem faced by Australian settlers since the arrival of the First Fleet and people then did just cut away the magotty bits if the infestation was not too bad. Mrs Beeton refers to cutting away the portions of bacon or ham which have "gone rusty", i.e. bad: she implies this was something good servants should do before food is further dealt with or served.
Yuck, oh yuck, thank the Lord for refridgeration (an Australian invention, by the way).

dirk  •  Link

"...cutting away the portions...which have 'gone rusty'...this was something good servants should do before food is further dealt with or served"

In that case somebody didn't do his/her job properly before the sturgeon was served. Surprised Sam doesn't seem to be angry.

dirk  •  Link

refrigeration an Australian invention

There is apparently some debate as to who actually invented "the" refrigerator.

Oliver Evans proposed a mechanical refrigerator based on a vapor-compression cycle in 1805 and Jacob Perkins had a working machine built in 1834. Dr. John Gorrie created an air-cycle refrigeration system in about 1844, which he installed in a Florida hospital. In the 1850s Alexander Twining in the USA and James Harrison in Australia used mechanical refrigeration to produce ice on a commercial scale. Around the same time, the Carré brothers of France led the development of absorption refrigeration systems.

Stanard’s patent describes not a refrigeration machine, but an old-fashioned icebox [1891]. Elkins created a similarly low-tech device [1879].…

For most inventions, also have a look at…
Whether they’re **always** correct? also mentions one James Harrison who built a “Compressed ether machine” in Australia in 1855… This would be what Susan is referring to?

Cumgranissalis  •  Link

'Tis Summer and the heat will bring forth extra nutrients, that in some parts of the world still be appreciated along with some wonderful full flavored cheeses. Stomachs were, I doth believe a little better adjusted to the poorer faire. Just another form of population control. Survival of the fittest.
"...was the sturgeon pickled?..."
Read the book "Salt" by Mark Kurlansky , you will never use Tomato Ketchup or Worster Sorce or A1[HP]again.
tis a great reading, without pickling The world would not have survived.
tis the reason for sandwich , sand with salt wars fought over the stuff.

Cumgranissalis  •  Link

The real inventor will never truly be, known only the guy that got to the office first then receives the due signeted "patent", then gets the world acknowledgement and fees.

Rob  •  Link

I would think that mouldy/worm invested food would be quite the norm and sam and his guest simply did not consider it an issue.
By the way, James Harrison was British born near Glasgow Scotland in 1816 before travelling to Australia in 1837. Australian Susan seems to be up the old Aussie trick of pinching celebs/inventors/musicians etc and rebranding them as aussies aka; the bee gees/nicole kidman/russell crow to name but a few.

Australian Susan  •  Link

Please, please, I lay *no* claims to Nicole, the BGs or Russell, but James Harrison as inventor of refridgeration is taught in all Australian schools - without him, no cheap meat would have been sent all the way to Europe - this was a case of a need driving an invention - something akin to space blankets and pens which can write upside down which were born of the need to have these things in space. In Sam's day, and in his working world, I guess inventions/improvements/ideas linked to long distance sea travel were the ones which got done - just as the drive to work out longitude led to accurate timepieces early in the next century.

Harry  •  Link

refrigeration an Australian invention

Just after the war our "refrigerator" was a big box lined with thermostatic material. During the summer we bought large blocks of ice from a local supplier (I can't remember which, possibly the coal merchant).

Before the invention of refrigeration, snow was packed during the winter into deep narrow cavities dug into the ground and was stored there to provide ice for the rest of the year. In Paris this was located south of the river in what is now rue de la Glacière in the 13ème arrondissement

Tony Eldridge  •  Link

"worms"in food. I believe it is still practice in the Royal Navy to tap a biscuit on the table before eating. This stems from the weevils which infested hard-tack biscuits in the good old days which were obviously taken for granted.
On inventions, I recall reading that the US spent millions devising a pen that could write in zero gravity - the Russians just used pencils.

A. Hamilton  •  Link

Stomachs were, I doth believe a little better adjusted

Reading of the stale pickle brings back summer-time memories to test the stomach, of baiting up two mile-long trot lines with pickled eel to pursue Callinectes hastatus along the Wye River in Maryland. The eel pickle was a very strong brine that became suffused with the green fat of the eel chopped into two-inch-long bites for the delectation of the blue crab. The smell was potent, and it was a good thing that baiting up was done well before sunrise. I always supposed that the smell diffused underwater was a major attractor for the crabs. After a day's catch, one had to haul in both lines hand over hand and coil them back into the pickle, then set aside one's clothes and wash thoroughly before reentering society.

Xjy  •  Link

The Swedes are very proud of the gas absorption refrigerator (von Platen, Munters) with no moving parts, the foundation of Electrolux as a home appliance mulitnational.
Einstein's fridge is very interesting, too.
Right now my fridge-freezer is broken and needs replacing, so I'm using water-evaporation for cooling till this is done.

Xjy  •  Link

Funny how everyone reacts to the little critters and not the rotting dead meat. The worms are cleaning up the rotten bits. This is now acknowledged in medicine and they're used to clean up gangrenous areas, cos they only eat dead flesh.
Weevils in flour etc are much more unpleasant... as are the flies that lay the maggot eggs.

Glyn  •  Link

When does he say in the Diary that he acquired this sturgeon - how old is it?

If the little things are alive on the fish then they could still be alive inside you when you eat it. I imagine tapeworms would have been something that their doctors would have often had to treat.

A. Hamilton  •  Link

this sturgeon - how old is it?

Sam relates dining on May 11 on a piece of sturgeon from a barrel sent to him by "Captain Cocke," a vendor to the Navy. At a guess, that sturgeon -- if it is the same one -- is now probably at least two months from capture and pickling.…

AllanD  •  Link

It seems the sturgeon might be a better cure, than the "physic", for being "bound".

Ruben  •  Link

...there came Mr. Shepley and Creed in order to settling some accounts of my Lord to-night...
And I ask:
How did this trio "settled" accounts?
Did they had "orders to pay" that they settled in accounting books?
Did they payed Sandwich's suppliers at the spot?

A. De Araujo  •  Link

"foul play"
maybe it wasn't foul play at all;I was thinking of "whatever happened to baby Jane" with Joan Crawford and Bette Davis
later remade with Lynn and Vanessa Redgrave; twentieth century things.

language hat  •  Link

"the Russians just used pencils"

Off topic, but since the myth has been brought up I feel obliged to counter it:

"NASA also used pencils until 1965 when Paul Fisher developed the space pen (using his own money, not public money, actually). It uses a higher viscosity ink than a regular ballpoint, as well as a pressurized ink reservoir, and it works in almost any situation you can imagine. You can buy one for about $25 these days, and the Russians have used them since 1968. Incidentally, pencils offer certain hazards in a zero gravity environment, such as broken leads floating into eyes or causing electrical shorts (graphite is an excellent conductor)."


Ebo  •  Link

"Was the sturgeon pickled?"

Wasn't "pickle" also a word for a garnish like modern relish? Could Pepys be saying that he thought the fish was okay, but the sauce they put on it was spoiled?

I know it's a long shot -- seems to me the fish would go bad before most sauces, and if the sauce was off they'd just serve the fish sauceless. But I didn't know, so I thought I'd ask.

Robert Gertz  •  Link

Perhaps Sam had brought the ("my") fish home as a special dinner treat. That would explain his lack of upset at his domestic staff.

Robert Gertz  •  Link

Settling of accounts by night, eh...Heh, heh...

Cut to Thames riverfront, midnight...

A quivering merchant faces the terrifyingly pleasant smiles of Shepley and Creed...A nervous Pepys standing by, uncomfortable about this little duty for His Lordship.

"So, Mr. Shepley. A dank and dreary night." "Yes, indeed Mr. Creed."

"Were I still of the fanatique persuasion I might say this was a night to truly put the fear of God into men's hearts, eh Mr. Shepley?"

"Oh, indeed, Mr. Creed."

"Gentlemen..." Pepys hisses. "Shouldn't we to the matter at hand?" He eyes the fearful merchant, still clinging to his bill as if it were a life preserver...Which unfortunately it is not.

"Indeed, Mr. Pepys..." Creed grins, turning to the merchant. "I see Mr. Finn you hold a bill of attainder on our Lord Sandwich to the sum of some 1000L. A most distressing thing which weighs heavily on the Earl's mind."

"Most...Heavily, sir." Shepley nods, looking meaningfully at the heavy anchor and chain beside him.

"I...Perhaps if my Lord the Earl needs a bit more time. Naturally I understand his position." Finn nervously perspiring as he tries to maintain a light air.

"He understands milord's position, Mr. Shepley." Creed smiles.

"I knew that he would, Mr. Creed. The discerning nature of his character is written on his face." Shepley nods.

"Gentlemen..." Pepys urges.

"Well, as I see we all understand His Lordship's position in this matter, I think we can call this discussion closed." Creed beams.

"Indeed, indeed. Quite settled for now." Finn nods eagerly.

Phew...Pepys mops brow. Nasty business to be mixed in...

"But..." Creed sighs, turning to block the little merchant's anxiously desired exit. "I fear the future, Mr. Shepley."

"Indeed, Mr. Creed." Shepley nods. "And as a God-fearing man, like His Lordship...You should. Should he not, Mr. Finn?"

Uh...Finn looks to both men, now on either side of him, then at Pepys.

"Pepys? I think Shepley and Mr. Finn and I shall continue our philosophic debate on the river." Creel nods to Pepys.

The river...? Finn blinks.

"You ought to get on home and write His Lordship to inform him that this little matter is permanently settled as of fifteen minutes from now. Come along, Mr. Finn, we have deep matters to discuss."

"Very deep." Shepley nods...As they lead poor Finn off. Pepys watching.

Second Reading

arby  •  Link

Australia, at least, has particularly speedy maggot development. More than once I was faced with maggoty, flyblown food that had been stored covered in a warming cabinet for 6-8 hours. In a hospital no less. Maybe they should have hung corks on strings from the plate.

Louise Hudson  •  Link

Worms in fish won't kill you. There are worms in fish even today and we've all probably feasted on them. Preservation methods being so primitive in Pepys' time would have meant most fish were infested. Rather than pickling, per se, fish were probably brined with salt--though not long enough on the day sturgeon was placed before Pepys.

The refrigerator was, no doubt, a matter of simultaneous invention, like the typewriter. Everyone on earth needed to preserve food and everyone needed a reliable way to do it. Someone, somewhere was bound to come up with mechanical refrigeration sooner or later. The person(s) who got it going would have been the one(s) who got the credit, which has happened with most inventions (of which necessity is always the mother).

PS Panda  •  Link

Poor Sam! "Bound" again... I can't help thinking that his city-dweller diet must have been lacking fresh fruit and vegetables. That; and long meetings where he'd have to hang on must have made the management of his internal economy a tricky business.

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