Saturday 22 August 1663

Up by four o’clock to go with Sir W. Batten to Woolwich and Sir J. Minnes, which we did, though not before 6 or 7 by their laying a-bed. Our business was to survey the new wharf building there, in order to the giving more to him that do it (Mr. Randall) than contracted for, but I see no reason for it, though it be well done, yet no better than contracted to be.

Here we eat and drank at the Clerke of the Cheques, and in taking water at the Tower gate, we drank a cup of strong water, which I did out of pure conscience to my health, and I think is not excepted by my oaths, but it is a thing I shall not do again, hoping to have no such occasion. After breakfast Mr. Castle and I walked to Greenwich, and in our way met some gypsys, who would needs tell me my fortune, and I suffered one of them, who told me many things common as others do, but bade me beware of a John and a Thomas, for they did seek to do me hurt, and that somebody should be with me this day se’nnight to borrow money of me, but I should lend him none. She got ninepence of me. And so I left them and to Greenwich and so to Deptford, where the two knights were come, and thence home by water, where I find my closet done at my office to my mind and work gone well on at home; and Ashwell gone abroad to her father, my wife having spoken plainly to her. After dinner to my office, getting my closet made clean and setting some papers in order, and so in the evening home and to bed.

This day Sir W. Batten tells me that Mr. Newburne (of whom the nickname came up among us forarse Tom Newburne) is dead of eating cowcumbers, of which, the other day, I heard another, I think Sir Nicholas Crisp’s son.

49 Annotations

First Reading

TerryF  •  Link

"strong water" = "distilled spirits"
(L&M Select Glossary)

TerryF  •  Link

Beware Cowcumbers, for they are deadly?!!

L&M transcribe and punctuate this sentence thus - "This day Sir W. Batten tells me that Mr. Newburne (of whom the nick-word came up among us for "Arise Tom Newburne") is dead of eating Cowcoumbers, of which the other day, I heard another, I think Sir Nich. Crisps son."

In 1699 John Evelyn will write about Cucumbers in *Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets*
"...the _Pulp_ in Broth is greatly refreshing, and may be mingl’d in most _Sallets_, without the least damage, contrary to the common Opinion; it not being long, since _Cucumber_, however dress’d, was thought fit to be thrown away, being accounted little better than Poyson."…

I thought maybe part of the problem with cucumbers was acute gastrointestinal "wind" -- but evidently the problem wasn't related to gastric distress; the Wikipedia article on cukes sez "English cucumbers....are (nearly) seedless, and are sometimes marketed as "Burpless," as the seeds give some people gas."…

Nix  •  Link

"bade me beware of a John and a Thomas" --

Hmmmm ... I wonder what Pembleton's first name was?

Australian Susan  •  Link

You see, it is all actually a scientific experiment gone wrong:

"...He had been eight years upon a project for extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers, which were to be put into phials, hermetically sealed and let out to warm the air in raw inclement summers." [Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels - The Voyage to Laputa]

dirk  •  Link

"bade me beware of a John and a Thomas"

A clever Gypsy... John and Thomas are probably the two most common English names, so how can she possibly be wrong there? (She didn't even need inside information for this.)

Todd Bernhardt  •  Link

"but bade me beware of a John and a Thomas, for they did seek to do me hurt"

Well, we all know that Sam may someday get in trouble because of John Thomas, so she's not too far off the mark...

Todd Bernhardt  •  Link

Sam continues to amuse me:

"we drank a cup of strong water, which I did out of pure conscience to my health, and I think is not excepted by my oaths, but [JUST IN CASE YOU'RE READING THIS, GOD] it is a thing I shall not do again, hoping to have no such occasion."

Robert Gertz  •  Link


"Are we agreed, brother Tom? After brother Sam has his 'accident' you take the things in his house, I apply to Sandwich for the Clerk of the Acts spot, we split his cash and as for Bess..."

"I bbbe the ooolder brother, JJJohnny, I sssshould have BBBess..."

"Tom, lad. A woman like that needs proper lookin' after...A man with title to his name and a prominent career."

"TTThen, I'll bbbe the Clerk of the AAActs."

"Tom...Ya can't even spell worth a damn. And I'm the other brother with a university education."

"I wwwant BBBBess. Sssshe likes me, she's aaalways bbbbeen kind to me."

"Tom, ya stupid lug! If it weren't for me you'd never have the brains or guts for this!! I'm taking the job...And Bess. And that's that!!" turns on contemptuous heel.

Tom staring at the pair of shears in his hand...


Robert Gertz  •  Link

"Forarse Tom Newburne", dead of cucumbers.

No...No, I am not pursuing this one.

Robert Gertz  •  Link

"Arise, Tom Newburne" so much better...

Still...No, absolutely not.

TerryF  •  Link

But “Arise Tom Newburne” is so right for a dead man!

Was his "nick-word" prophetic?

TerryF  •  Link

(Sorry Robert, I didn't notice AND yours is better.)

Susan, I LOL at the quotation from Swift! Was that the inspiration for *The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds* (1972)?

(Swift's been appropriate two days in a row.)

James in Illinois  •  Link

On the issue of cucumbers, I grew up in the (US) South, where some people still cut the ends off of a cucumber and then rub the cut ends over the skin of the cucumber before slicing it to "remove the poison." Superstitions die hard! Note, of course, that it would be easy to find out whether it mattered. But if the theory of cucumber poison was correct, you'd be poisoned! Sort of like hitting two sticks together when in the woods to keep the bears away. "Do you ever see any bears?" "No. See--it works!"

Patricia  •  Link

John Evelyn wrote: "Let them therefore be pared, and cut in thin Slices", but where I live it is said that, if you leave the peel on, the cucumber won't give you gas. Then again, nobody leaves the peel on any cucumber but an English cucumber, so that fits with the business about Burpless, seedless cucumbers. And I'm left wondering, just how many cucumbers did Newburne eat???

aqua  •  Link

was it a cucumber but a look alike?

Australian Susan  •  Link

With reference to cucumbers and sunbeams: see also "The Fourth Bear" by Jasper Fforde (… ) which has giant exploding cucumbers and much dastardly plotting.

Benvenuto  •  Link

"bade me beware of a John and a Thomas, for they did seek to do me hurt"
Haha! -- "John Thomas" is English slang for one's privy member, in case anyone didn't know. Whether it was in Sam's day i don't know, but it seems a peculiarly apt warning.

alanB  •  Link

A fool and his money are easily parted. A few days ago, Sam was talking to a parrot, today to a gypsy: it costs him nine pence this time, otherwise he'll be dead to'marrow'. (Would you like some pegs for your flies sir?) I wonder how Sam would deal with the 6pm cold telephone caller trying to sell him a new kitchen.

Australian Susan  •  Link

I think Sam would loathe modern cold callers, but he would be the man in the wine bar boring everyone with his new PDA with all the extra features. A real new gadget freak.

JonTom Kittredge  •  Link

"Sam may someday get in trouble because of John Thomas"
Excuse me? I resent the implication; John Thomas to my knowledge always being an affable, helpful bloke.

Shortly after I was born (in Cincinnati, Ohio), my parents were asked by English friends of theirs what they named their new child. "John Thomas." Pause. "Oh, how unfortunate." But I've never had reason to regret it.

Ann  •  Link

Doesn't Sam mention eating pickles several times previous to this? Are 17th Century pickles made of something else, or does the pickling process remove the "poison?" On another note, if the rumors about Tom Newburne are true (we've previously heard others had died, only to find out later it was a false report), it likely had nothing to do with the fact that he ate cukes.

Michael Robinson  •  Link

dead of cucumbers.

In my personal experience pickling in boiling brine with herbs and vinegar will often keep the cuces for three or four weeks, or longer, without fermentation -- providing the skins are removed first to get rid of the major bacteria. But if you are eating fresh cuces, unwashed, from a well manured bed who knows what you might be putting into the system at the same time.

Michael Robinson  •  Link

dead of cucumbers

PS In the US there have been outbreaks of e-coli in the past decade that have caused fatalities, just from the use of unwashed salad materials in chain restaurant salad bars.

TerryF  •  Link

"cowcumbers" - is this phonetically spelt?

"Cowcoumbers" "cucumbers"? how would they have been pronounced? Would anyone have said "kyew-cumers"?

Glyn  •  Link

I estimate that Pepys gave the gypsy the very approximate equivalent of 5 pounds (8 US dollars or euro, very roughly), which seems overly generous to me.

By the way, Mr Pepys your colleagues Batten and Minnes are both old men - they're entitled to sleep in as late as 5 or 6 a.m.!

muria  •  Link

re: pickeled or out of ones guord: Samuell did suffer a surfeit of Gherkins from the Baltic back here
"...but by what I know not, unless it be by my late quantitys of Dantzic-girkins that I have eaten..."…
Preparation can cause problems too, and there be those that have allegies, that create serious problems, I did have a minor series of allegies relating to Garden Veggies.
Some mouth to rectum systems have problems processing unknown foods.

Glyn  •  Link

I wonder if Pepys is a more hard-headed businessman than his superiors. I get the feeling that they would have been happy to pay a bonus to Mr Randall for doing an excellent job, but Pepys is saying that that's only what he was contracted to do.

Presumably Mr Randall was escorting them over the whole building, putting them under a bit of salesmanship and pressure and Pepys is resisting it.

So in answer to alanB's speculation, I think he would have no trouble in repulsing cold callers (unless they were selling brand new electronic gizmos, perhaps).

Would it be good practice to pay an extra amount to a Contractor who has done a good job for them?

Patricia  •  Link

Glyn: excellent point. Pepys et al have no problem accepting gratuities for doing what they're already being paid to do, yet Sam doesn't want to pay Randall in exactly the same circumstances. You'd think the money was coming out of Sam's own pocket.

Michael Robinson  •  Link

Pepys is a more hard-headed businessman

Am I alone in noting a real toughening up and maturing of Pepys over the past 18 months as he has had to deal first with the Brampton matters and also tackling the various dockyard and supply problems. To me there seems to be a decided change in tone and character from the entries of 1659/60.

Batten and Minnes as old and experienced might be more used to, and more accepting of, the ways of the world and human nature.

aqua  •  Link

You are correct M.R.
Some people grow because they have learnt to think in order to solve a problem [that be Samuell], and can solve problems that be new, others just apply known remedies,[ fine most of the time], which suit the leaders until the result is disaster then have to seek out those that can step outside the box.
This is a period of time for a new understanding of rules of running an organisation. They could not just put back the old royalists in total,put in charge a few kissing cozens [they tried], but had to use those despicable Roundheads that could get the job done.
That was Charle's saving grace, the country wanted stability, hated the Militias running around terrorising nice Royalists, but was wise enough to employ many of his nemesises [mallable Roundheads] , to work for the new regime with better rewards.
The protesting work Ethic contrasted with the Catholic work ethic, and status of the betters and allowing the tradesmen [sorry merchants] to have a say in running of the country via controlling funds thru the elite parliament[ MPs only really represented the gents that had 20 quids worth of propery, not copy holders and renters and other layabouts] , Charles then took a bribe from his Buddy the Sun king, so disenfranchising the Merchant gang [MP and their pacmen]
But it is great That the son of a Pricklouse, by hard work was influencing the art of government.

A. Hamilton  •  Link

a real toughening up and maturing of Pepys over the past 18 months

Absolutely, Michael. His growth of judgment and mastery of new tools of office, his focus and determination to work hard, his growing sense of success, and his well-earned self-confidence are very evident in the diary of the last years and a half,and quite absorbing to follow.

Bradford  •  Link

To triangulate between cucumbers and Ohio and mortality, I believe it was James Thurber who related the local wisdom, heard in his youth, that to eat cucumbers and drink buttermilk on a hot summer's day would lead to certain death. Or maybe you'd just wish you were.

"somebody should be with me this day se’nnight to borrow money of me, but I should lend him none. She got ninepence of me."
He hasn't gotten all that tough, m'lads, unless when he wrote this down he was laughin'.

TerryF  •  Link


"Among Germanic peoples it was once normal to record the passage of time by the number of nights rather than days....It’s a quirk of the language that fortnight has survived as standard British English (though not American) while sennight is now defunct. It did last into the twentieth century in some areas as a dialect term, though eventually driven out by competition with the shorter week."…

Some of us Americans, who are children of the night, use "fortnight" (albeit not "se'enniight").

Aye, Bradford, sometimes Pepys is a soft touch.

TerryF  •  Link

Is Pepys, ah, generous touching his accoutrements.

"But, Bess, my new beaver was all for the sake of official appearances!
I must impress those who might otherwise short the King."

But to US he confides his vanity!

language hat  •  Link


OED: "The spelling cowcumber prevailed in the 17th and beg. of 18th c.; its associated pronunciation [COW-cumber] was still that recognized by Walker; but Smart 1836 says ‘no well-taught person, except of the old school, now says cow-cumber.. although any other pronunciation.. would have been pedantic some thirty years ago’."

Bradford  •  Link

I belatedly thought of the British poet William Cowper (1731-1800, author of "The Castaway") whose name I did not recognize when I first heard it said out loud (he doesn't get much of a look-in these days), inasmuch as who would expect it to be pronounced "Cooper"?

Australian Susan  •  Link

"e" and "a" can cause problems with pronunciation of English proper names: e.g. Ker is car, Derby is Darby, Hervey is Harvey and so on.

Second Reading

Terry Foreman  •  Link

"Our business was to survey the new wharf building there, in order to the giving more to him that do it (Mr. Randall) than contracted for"

On 15 June Edward Rundells (house carpenter at Deptford yard) had sent in his bill for framing and pitching the new wharf, and had charged more than his contract allowed for. CSPD 1663-4, p. 171. He made a habit of under-estimating, and Pepys distrusted him: ib., 1664-5, pp.381-2. (L&M footnote)

Terry Foreman  •  Link

The Gypsy "bade me beware of a John and a Thomas, for they did seek to do me hurt, and that somebody should be with me this day se’nnight to borrow money of me, but I should lend him none."


Terry Foreman  •  Link

"And so I left them...and so to Deptford, where the two knights were come"

"the two knights" were, of course, Sir W. Batten and Sir J. Mennes.

Louise Hudson  •  Link

People in Pepys' time believed a lot of old wives takes about food. They thought tomatoes were poisonous, too. There was good reason to be wary of acid foods on lead pewter plates. But having no knowledge of modern science, there were a lot of superstitions around, some reasonable, some not. If someone they know got sick and died after eating a particular food, they would reasonably blame the food. There were no reliable agencies to check the safety of food back then and few could read. It was every man, woman and child for him or herself--and people died like flies.

Athena  •  Link

I wondered whether the cucumbers had been cooked in vinegar in a copper vessel, inducing copper-poisoning in the consumer.

RSGII  •  Link

Tomatoes, or certain varieties of tomatoes can be poison to certain people. About 50 years ago I visited a Rockefeller Foundation research station in India. One of their projects was to breed out the attribute of a local tomato that was fatal to a portion of the local population.

Farmer Emily  •  Link

Re: the deadly cowcumbers

I remember how angry my grandmother was when my sister was fed cucumbers in the summer. She was scared sis would come down with the dreaded Summer Complaint, an occasionally deadly case of diarrhea. It was attributed to eating raw cucumbers (and perhaps other vegetables) in the summer, but was later found by science to be caused by spoiled/bad milk.

This happened in southeast Kansas, USA in the late 1980s. When I read this entry that is what I thought of.

Chris Squire UK  •  Link

OED has:

‘John Thomas n. . . (b) slang the penis.
1879–80 Pearl (1970) 76 As around her fair form I a firm hold took, And John Thomas I silently buried.
. . 1957 L. Durrell Justine 249 She had neatly tied his dresstie to his John Thomas, a perfect bow.’

So not a bit of slang that Our Hero would’ve recognised!

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

In the later 17th Century, particularly after London's Great Fire, with a reduced demand for timber, the active management of woodland declined.

Gypsies colonized Dulwich Woods, and told the fortunes of Londoners who rode out to meet them, including Samuel Pepys.

Margaret Finch was called the "Queen of the Norwood Gypsies," and she died in 1740, at the age of 108 (image is in the Public Domain). It may have been her mother or aunt who told Pepys' fortune.

More information about Dulwich Woods, etc.…

Third Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

"Mr. Newburne (of whom the nickname came up among us forarse Tom Newburne)"

Pepys isn't one for sharing people's nicknames with us -- his Diary is very formal in this regard. But everyone had one -- makes sense in a society where the same first names were used in every generation by every branch of the family. You frequently read of this confusion in the Parliamentary biographies of the time. I wonder why Pepys never shared his private name for Adm. Penn? Anyways, nicknames are a very old custom:…

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