Sunday 12 April 1663

(Lord’s day). Lay till 8 o’clock, which I have not done a great while, then up and to church, where I found our pew altered by taking some of the hind pew to make ours bigger, because of the number of women, more by Sir J. Minnes company than we used to have.

Home to dinner, and after dinner, intending to go to Chelsey to my Lord Sandwich, my wife would needs go with me, though she walked on foot to Whitehall. Which she did and staid at my Lord’s lodgings while Creed and I took a turn at Whitehall, but no coach to be had, and so I returned to them and sat talking till evening, and then got a coach and to Gray’s Inn walks, where some handsome faces, and so home and there to supper, and a little after 8 o’clock to bed, a thing I have not done God knows when.

Coming home to-night, a drunken boy was carrying by our constable to our new pair of stocks to handsel them, being a new pair and very handsome.

43 Annotations

First Reading

TerryF  •  Link

"to church, where I found our pew altered by taking some of the hind pew to make ours bigger, because of the number of women, more by Sir J. Minnes company than we used to have."

A recurring problem at St Olave, Hart St., solved, or at least ameliorated?

Friday 3 April 1663 “chappell…being most monstrous full, I could not go into my pew, but sat among the quire.”…

Sunday 15 March 1662/63 "with my wife and her woman Ashwell the first time to church, where our pew was so full with Sir J. Minnes’s sister and her daughter, that I perceive, when we come all together, some of us must be shut out, but I suppose we shall come to some order what to do therein." At Bradford’s instance we discussed the issue of the overpopulation of the Navy Office pew…

TerryF  •  Link

"Coming home to-night, a drunken boy was carrying by our constable to our new pair of stocks to handsel them, being a new pair and very handsome."

Methinks there are at least two things about this sentence worthy of comment:
1) Substance - a regular Saturday night event (what week went without it?! ask our constable!) is recorded in the Diary;
2) Form - that the stocks are "new" is notably repeated for the Diary - to define, or explain the use of "handsel"?

"handsel" may be one for the OED, but The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition uses a lot of other words for what seems to be "to inaugurate".

hand·sel :
NOUN: 1. Chiefly British A gift to express good wishes at the beginning of a new year or enterprise. 2. The first money or barter taken in, as by a new business or on the opening day of business, especially when considered a token of good luck. 3a. A first payment. b. A specimen or foretaste of what is to come.
TRANSITIVE VERB:.Inflected forms: hand·seled or hand·selled, hand·sel·ing or hand·sel·ling, hand·sels or hand·sels
1. To give a handsel to. 2. To launch with a ceremonial gesture or gift. 3. To do or use for the first time.
ETYMOLOGY: Middle English hanselle, from Old English handselen, a handing over ( hand, hand + selen, gift)and from Old Norse handsal, legal transfer ( hand, hand + sal, a giving).…

* * *
Q: Is "handsel" a word those of you who are or have been Over There in the UK commonly use/hear?

Tony Eldridge  •  Link

Coming home to-night, a drunken boy was carrying by our constable to our new pair of stocks to handsel them, being a new pair and very handsome
Terry F, you just beat me to this one!
All I can add is that, in nearly 70 years of living in England, I have never heard or read the word 'handsel'.

TerryF  •  Link

"in nearly 70 years of living in England, I have never heard or read the word ‘handsel’" - until now, Tony Eldridge!

The Select Glossary says "to try out, use for the first time," but my "inaugurate" preserves the ceremony of the older usage.

Glyn  •  Link

Thanks for explaining this, I had no idea what Pepys was talking about. So they've got brand new stocks and this drunk was the first one to use them being not only drunk but drunk on a Sunday when all the taverns are supposed to be shut.

And finally we now know that 'up betimes' means before 8 o'clock, at least for Pepys.

Bradford  •  Link

In 1975, to honor the Queen Mother's 75th birthday, Benjamin Britten set texts by Robert Burns as a cycle for voice and harp, called "A Birthday Hansel" (Op. 92). The British CD company Chandos explains that "A 'hansel', or 'handsel', is a small gift given at the beginning of a year to wish the recipient good luck," suggesting the word is archaic enough to be unfamiliar to today's classical music listeners, in Britain or elsewhere.

Does L&M give this final sentence with "carrying" where syntax in any era requires "carried"? That weird usage, added to the repetition of "new pair," suggests a writer momentarily interrupted at his task. Perhaps he was distracted by the little black dog?

dirk  •  Link

The Rev. Josselin's diary today:

"God good to us in our health, the season cold(.) oh how sadly is the Sabbath profaned god spare and pardon for his great mercy. visited sick Mr Elliston . God in mercy restore him."

dirk  •  Link


Websters Dictionary gives the following:

1. A sale, gift, or delivery into the hand of another; especially, a sale, gift, delivery, or using which is the first of a series, and regarded as on omen for the rest; a first installment; an earnest; as the first money received for the sale of goods in the morning, the first money taken at a shop newly opened, the first present sent to a young woman on her wedding day, etc. "Their first good handsel of breath in this world." (Fuller) "Our present tears here, not our present laughter, Are but the handsels of our joys hereafter." (Herrick)

2. Price; payment. Handsel Monday, the first Monday of the new year, when handsels or presents are given to servants, children, etc.

Origin: OE. Handsal, hansal, hansel, AS. Handslena giving into hands, or more prob. Fr. Icel. Handsal; hand hand + sal sale, bargain; akin to AS. Sellan to give, deliver. See Sell, Sale.…

A. De Araujo  •  Link

"but no coach to be had"
So what else is new?

TerryF  •  Link

"Does L&M give this final sentence with 'carrying' where syntax in any era requires 'carried'?"

Bradford, yes they do (I made pains to check).

JWB, thanks for the link to the earlier occurrence, "handsellig", and language hat's clarification of it. That was a while back indeed!

TerryF  •  Link

JWB, sorry, that should have been "handselled"...

jeannine  •  Link

The only Hansel most of us probably knew before today…

Sorry, couldn't resist....I'd never heard the word before either. Thanks Terry and Dirk for the explanations.

in Aqua Scripto  •  Link

Hansel and Gretal Dah! the first time and greeting too.
The L&M #X companion; doth say Handsel/Hansel: try out,use for the first time.
Handsome be generous

TerryF  •  Link

Gretel's Hansel is a word with another root altogether...

Hansel is a dialectal diminutive of Hans, Danish, Dutch and German pet form of Johann[es], and means more or less "Jacko"; Gretel is a dialectal diminutive of Gretchen, German and Dutch pet form of Margaret, so "Gretchie"?

A bit OT, but....

in Aqua Scripto  •  Link

It takes approximately [in theory] an hour to walk the 3 1/2 miles, " wife would needs go with me, though she walked on foot to Whitehall. ...", as long as her shoes not be patterns and when going down the Strand, did not see some nice Boutiques.

Mary  •  Link

the use of 'carrying' in this passage

is a very well attested form of the passive voice throughout the period of Middle English and Early Modern English. It may be met in such contexts as, "the house is building" or "the house is a-building". The latter form may feel more familiar.

Sam is simply using a slightly (but not very) old-fashioned form.

Tony Eldridge  •  Link

"Handsel" and "carrying"
One of the chief pleasures of this site is the sharing of erudition from around the globe. Thanks to all for proving that there is always something new to be learnt. I must try to think of a way to introduce handsel into a conversation.

alanB  •  Link

Up late and to bed early since God knows when. Is there no end to Sam's indulgence and blasphemy? No mention of the sermon.

Robert Gertz  •  Link

"My God. What stocks."

"Indeed, lad." the constable nods proudly. "Brand new this day. Note the exquisite yet strongly functional craftsmanship. A lot of pride and heart went into the making."

"Now...hic...You are sure I'm the...hic...first."

"Son...Would your local constable being lyin' to ye? Now the crowd here will be wanting a few autographs before I get ye set."

A. Hamilton  •  Link

One of the chief pleasures of this site

I completely agree with this comment by Tony Eldridge

celtcahill  •  Link

Sam's English is a very, very, good English, and I note - as example the many people here - that such folks like the old words too. Hansel not the least among them.

celtcahill  •  Link

HanDsel that is.

dreamalittle  •  Link

The OED entry for 'handsel, v.' (citations removed for brevity) reads:

1. trans. To give handsel to (a person); to present with, give, or offer, something auspicious at the commencement of the year or day, the beginning of an enterprise, etc.; to inaugurate the new year to (any one) with gifts, or the day to (a dealer) by being his first customer; to present with earnest-money or a luck-penny in auspication of an engagement or bargain.

2. To inaugurate with some ceremony or observance of an auspicious nature; to auspicate.

b. fig. (ironical).

3. To inaugurate the use of; to use for the first time; to be the first to test, try, prove, taste.

Hence handselling vbl. n.


I suspect that Sam had definition 2b in mind.

JohnT  •  Link

For what it is worth, " handsel" is a UK crossword setters' favourite and so familiar to addicts of The ( London) Times daily puzzle, but has no other usage.

Stolzi  •  Link


I first encountered the word a long time ago in a charming poem by Robert Herrick, contemporary of Sam (1591-1674).…

The "coral" mentioned in the poem would be a piece used for teething.

Douglas Robertson  •  Link

The use of "carrying" in this passage

is apparently not even slightly old-fashioned, according to an essay by one John Lamont posted at the University of Toronto's History of English website:

"The passive progressive, as in 'It was being done,' is not attested until 1754, and not with frequency until the end of the eighteenth century" ("The Progress of English Verb Tenses and the English Progressive"…).

(Incidentally, at another point the author has occasion to cite the Diary: "Before the passive form took firm root, ongoing past actions in the passive voice, such as 'he was being treated' were often expressed in the simple passive, as Pepys does in his [24 March (DR)] 1662 Diary III: 'I went to see if any play was acted'”.)

TerryF  •  Link


Stolzi, Herrick's lovely poem joins Bradford's citation of "Benjamin Britten set texts by Robert Burns as a cycle for voice and harp, called 'A Birthday Hansel' (Op. 92)" as an tribute to inauguration from the arts (Britten's doubly).
Thank you both.

Mary  •  Link

"carrying" again.

The passive progressive 'being done' would equate to "being carried" rather than to "carrying".

"Carrying" in this context shows a much earlier usage.

Douglas Robertson  •  Link

"The passive progressive ‘being done’ would equate to “being carried” rather than to “carrying”."

Right, Mary; that's what I am equating it to. I take the sentence to mean "Coming home tonight, we saw a drunken boy being carried by our constable..." (with "coming home tonight" being an unattached modifier referring to Sam [and Elizabeth?] rather than to the boy).

If, as you suggest, "was carrying" should be translated as simple "carrying," then how can it be a passive form at all? Please clarify or elaborate.

celtcahill  •  Link

I badly miss the 'Rocky and Bullwinkle ' versions of fairy tales....

A. De Araujo  •  Link

Some years ago I attended a performance of Engelberth Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel;when at the ended the witch is thrown into the oven, the audience(adults) broke into prolonged applause; yes, witches have had a very bad press.

celtcahill  •  Link

Thankyouthannkyouthankyou !

Bradford  •  Link

When the construction "a drunken boy was carrying by our constable" is used to express the fact that "a drunken boy was being carried by our constable," i.e., "a constable was carrying a drunken boy," something's agley somewhere in the reversal of agent and subject. Put it down to Juvenile Drinking: An Age-Old Problem.

Robert Gertz  •  Link

"So I get the back of the hand for being five minutes late when he calls me at that ungodly hour and then he sleeps till 8?"

"Way of the world, Will Hewer." Hater nods wisely.

Mary  •  Link

More haste, less speed.

No, I wasn't implying that "carrying" and "was carrying" were equivalent expressions in this context. "was carrying" is incontrovertibly passive here .......... I foolishly omitted the "was" when posting in haste.

What I am not so sure about is the late (18th century) attestation of the "was being done" type that you quote from Lamont. Will revert to this at a later date.

Moira  •  Link

As a child growing up in Scotland(Glasgow) it was a tradition that a new purse and /or wallet be "handselled" ie a small amount of money was put in for luck. It was considered vey bad form to give an empty purse as a gift

Harvey  •  Link

'Hansel' ... In the early 1960s in New Zealand the Headmaster of my secodary school announced that the new Grand piano would be 'Hanselled'. he felt it necessary to say that one 'Baptised a child, Christened and ship and 'Hanselled' a grand piano'. He was an erudite Scotsman of literary persuasion and clearly the word was not well known.

Second Reading

Michael Sheehan  •  Link

Where I'm from (Limerick ,Ireland) the word was in common usage when I was a boy and it meant to give money,usually a coin, to somebody to give them good luck. If you were to give a girl or woman a new purse for example then you had to "hansel" it with a coin inside. Children were also "hanselled" at significant times (on their birth, first communion, etc.) by friends ,family or neighbours by giving them coins.
The word is commonly thought to come from Middle English by way of the Old Norse word "Handsal" referring to a legal transfer, such as a transfer of land.
Interestingly, in Limerick, until fairly recently there was an area called Park which was almost exclusively given over to the production of vegetables on small plots or allotments by a coterie of families that had been associated with the area since quite ancient times. Local legend had it that these small market gardening families had descended from the Vikings who had once conquered large parts of Ireland, including Limerick. The men that worked these plots were referred to locally as the "Park Danes". They also had a peculiar way of marking out their plots of land with the use of a single stone known as a bound-stone instead of the much more common and traditional use of stone walls or ditches favoured throughout Ireland. This single stone practice some believe is connected to similar practices of demarcation in Denmark.

Sasha Clarkson  •  Link

Type in "Seething lane to Whitehall" on Google maps.

Even by the most direct route, it's the best part of three miles: a significant walk, I'd have thought, for a woman encumbered by Sunday finery. Elizabeth must have had some sturdy footwear. Pavements (sidewalks) barely existed (until after 1666 in London), and roads were full of potholes, dirt and worse ...

I'm a fast walker, and I reckon it would take me 35 minutes or so on my own, but walking in company is slower: I guess that the walk took them an hour.

Creed seems to be using Sandwich's Whitehall lodgings at the moment: he has his family home in Oundle, about 20 miles from Brampton/Hinchinbrooke, but appears to have no lodgings of his own in London. Of course, as a bachelor he wouldn't need a household. His recent appointment as Treasurer to the Fleet is over, but he's still acting as Sandwich's retainer: presumably waiting for something else "to turn up".

Third Reading

Ruslan  •  Link

For those that cannot be bothered to type in "Seething lane to Whitehall" on Google maps, here is a direct link.…

Google estimates that it would take 54 mins to walk.

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