Saturday 19 September 1663

Up pretty betimes, and after eating something, we set out and I (being willing thereto) went by a mistake with them to St. Ives, and there, it being known that it was their nearer way to London, I took leave of them there, they going straight to London and I to Brampton, where I find my father ill in bed still, and Madam Norbery (whom and her fair daughter and sister I was ashamed to kiss, but did, my lip being sore with riding in the wind and bit with the gnatts), lately come to town, come to see my father and mother, and they after a little stay being gone, I told my father my success. And after dinner my wife and I took horse, and rode with marvellous, and the first and only hour of, pleasure, that ever I had in this estate since I had to do with it, to Brampton woods; and through the wood rode, and gathered nuts in my way, and then at Graffam to an old woman’s house to drink, where my wife used to go; and being in all circumstances highly pleased, and in my wife’s riding and good company at this time, I rode, and she showed me the river behind my father’s house, which is very pleasant, and so saw her home, and I straight to Huntingdon, and there met Mr. Shepley and to the Crown (having sent home my horse by Stankes), and there a barber came and trimmed me, and thence walked to Hinchingbroke, where my Lord and ladies all are just alighted. And so I in among them, and my Lord glad to see me, and the whole company. Here I staid and supped with them, and after a good stay talking, but yet observing my Lord not to be so mightily ingulphed in his pleasure in the country as I expected and hoped, I took leave of them, and after a walk in the courtyard in the dark with Mr. Howe, who tells me that my Lord do not enjoy himself and please himself as he used to do, but will hasten up to London, and that he is resolved to go to Chelsey again, which we are heartily grieved for and studious how to prevent if it be possible, I took horse, there being one appointed for me, and a groom to attend me, and so home, where my wife staid up and sister for me, and so to bed, troubled for what I hear of my Lord.

31 Annotations

First Reading

A. De Araujo  •  Link

"my lip being sore with riding in the wind and bit with the gnats"
Too much information...

TerryF  •  Link

Are Messrs Howe and Pepys up to any good?

- "are heartily grieved" that "my Lord...will hasten up to London, and that he is resolved to go to Chelsey again"
- are "studious how to prevent if it be possible"

Yesterday I got to thinking that from the vantage of the Fens and "the Breedlings’ of the place", Sandwich's heading for London is surely going to Babel/Babylon (cities being spawning places for corruption) - but to Chelsea and Mrs. Betty Beck?! Unimaginable.

Paul Chapin  •  Link

"where my wife: staid up and sister for me"
Is this the true text? It's hard to follow. Maybe it means that Elizabeth and Pall were waiting up for him?

TerryF  •  Link

Paul, L&M also transcribe the puzzling construction. I think your construal of it must be correct.

Lurker  •  Link

"my Lord not to be so mightily ingulphed in his pleasure"

I have genuinely never heard that before...

Mary  •  Link

"bit with the gnats"

A sore lip would have been the least of Sam's problems if some of these 'gnats' should prove to be the malaria-bearing mosquitoes that were endemic to the Fenlands (and other marshy areas of Britain) at this time.

Pedro  •  Link

From Shakespeare to Defoe: Malaria in England in the Little Ice Age.

The English word for malaria was ague…William Shakespeare (1564–1616), who was born in the autumn of Bruegel's first fierce winter, mentioned ague in eight of his plays. For example, in The Tempest (Act II, Scene II), the slave Caliban curses Prosper, his master: "All the infections that the sun sucks up/ From bogs, fens, flats, on Prosper fall and make him / By inch-meal a disease!"…

Australian Susan  •  Link

Really good article, Pedro! Many thanks! It confirms the common belief held at this time that disease arose from "noxious vapours" and that the smelliness of the fens and other marshy areas (such as in Essex)was what caused the diseases. They thought the same thing about plague: curious beaked hoods were made designed to hold sweet smelling herbs in front of your face and thus not breathe in the supposedly plague-ridden air in a diseased area.
Australians, by the way, only make cork-strung hats to sell to tourists!
But flies etc are a nuisance: if any of you are planning a trip to the Centre (Uluru etc) buy a net for your face. The 17th century English only seemed to use net protection for bees.

TerryF  •  Link

And Pepys was "bit the gnatts."

Great article, Pedro! Now I hope we will not see whether the "gnatts" were ague(malaria)-bearing mosquitoes.

jeannine  •  Link

Sammy’s Gnatty Kisses

On our Sam those gnats all did alight
Valiant swats could not stop their fierce bite
But to then give his kisses
To those poor little missus
Must have caused them a terrible fright!

GrahamT  •  Link

Shakespeare and ague.
A character in Twelfth Night is Sir Andrew Aguecheek, so presumably there was a recognised 'look' to those with malaria.
Is Sam actually talking about mosquitoes though? I have always recognised gnats and mosqitoes as two distinct species: gnats give a painful nip and fly in great swarms, but mosquitoes are painless until the allergic reaction kicks in, and are solitary.

PegH  •  Link

"mosquitoes are painless... and are solitary."

Graham? Ever been to Maine in the summertime? Sorry. Off topic. No self-control.

language hat  •  Link

I too find the idea of solitary mosquitoes odd.

Australian Susan  •  Link

I always thought gnats were just a small mosquito (any entomologists out there?). We have fearsomely huge ones here carrying Ross River fever, Dengue fever and other viral nasties, which the doctors just describe as "insect-bourne" and tell you to take pain-killers until the aches go away. My daughter has just been laid low with one of those.

Grahamt  •  Link

Gnats are a type of tiny blood sucking fly (dirk's link explains) but mosquitoes are not related. Mosquitoes push a proboscis into the skin and squirt an anesthetic/anti coagulant so that the host won't feel it and the blood won't clot. It is this that raises the itchy bumps as it is a strong allergen for many people. (e.g. me) Those without the allergic reaction will be bitten as much as us sensitive people, and won't even realise it. (Hence mosquitoes appearing to favour one person - they don't)
It is this injection that passes on malaria; if they only sucked they wouldn't be as dangerous. I have never heard of gnats passing on any human disease.
Gnats can often be seen as clouds around animals' heads at dusk. (they like the eyes, nose and lips) Mosqitoes tend to attack after dark and in small numbers. By solitary, I meant not in huge clouds like gnats, but I am sure you see more than one at a time near their breeding ponds. Gnats tend to live in the north (Finland and Scotland are notorious for their gnats) whereas mosquitoes like the warmer south. (gnat is anglo-saxon, mosquito is Spanish, reinforcing the north-south distribution) I get bitten more in one night in France than in my whole life in England. Oddly, gnats don't affect me.
It may be that American and Australian gnats/mosquitoes are different to European ones, the settlers naming them after their nearest European counterparts, even where there is no family link, like they did with robins and buzzards.

Aqua  •  Link

Relative term, I dothe thinke;"I too find the idea of solitary mosquitoes odd.".not really.
On any muggy warm English evening near canals, rivers or marsh, bogs or fens. One will find these little blighters swarming in clouds {in their 1000's}, doing their dance of seeking the warm moist air of nose and mouth of any warm body. Like most problems, the 80/20 rule is inforce. Nature provides some with immunity from attack by not having the required attraction. Others be punished for having the wrong switches of protection, and it ranges from light to down right dangerous.
Now that beautiful insect, the Mossie with its long snout, only attacks one in numbers {few to 100} that one can count easierly. Having been subjected to their eating styles, like swopping blood de-coagulant with a appertiser for ones blood, I can atest to one mozzie be equall to 1000 gnats along with lessor cozens, midges.
Depending on popularity of local human diseases, The Mossie will spread a variety of diseases. In California the mozzies spread the Nile disease, even it be here I 've yet to see or hear one, no need for the net [never let it be holee] .
Nature allows a few to escape the ravages of the attack. Mossies love any place that allows water to stagnate long enough for a complete hatch, match and dispatch cycle.
I believe that every ailment comes in various strengths and the subject under attack has from zero to 100% defence from none to keeling over,
The ague was one of the leading causes of death at this time, Old age be one of the lessor reasons for dying.[p103 Restoration London Eliza Picard.].

Mary  •  Link

Sam's gnats.

A glance at the OED shows that the word 'muskita' does not appear in English until 1583 and that for at least the next 100 years or so, the mosquito was very much regarded as a foreign kind of gnat. It may therefore be that Sam, like his contemporaries, makes no distinction between native gnats and native mosquitoes, the one term serving to identify various kinds of native, biting 'small fly.'

Pedro  •  Link

"Like most problems, the 80/20 rule is inforce."

In England we sometimes refer to midges as gnats...

Quantum Midge Dynamics…

GrahamT  •  Link

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Pedro. That made my day. Now we need research into the anti-gnaton and the anti- mosquiton, to come up with a Unified cow field theory. This could revolutionise quantum physics. Pepys' gnat versus Schödingers cat. Heisenberg's uncertainty principle makes much more sense when deciding how a mosquito can get through nets and chemicals to leave 17 bites in one night. I obviously have the wavelength of the diffraction grating (mosquito net) wrong. How many Angstroms is a mosquito?

Lurker  •  Link

According to a wiki I know, a mosquito should be less then 150MÅ.

dirk  •  Link

Gnats & mosquitos

Mary, I think you're right. In Middle English there certainly doesn't seem to have been any distinction between gnats and mosquitos -- and anything else that flies, buzzes and stings -- at least for the non-specialist

gnat: noun - gnat, mosquito, flying stinging insect

Middle English Glossary
[part of the Canterbury tales site:… ]

in aqua  •  Link

Yes Mary be Correct. It was a flea under the microscope that made it possible to discover that all flies not be gnarling gnotty gnib gnats looking for a gnap or a gnatter on a gnome that wrote a gnome. lifted from a version of OED.

1. a. A small two-winged fly of the genus Culex, esp. Culex pipiens, the female of which has a sharp pointed proboscis, by means of which it punctures the skins of animals and sucks their blood. In U.S., the common mosquito, Culex mosquito.
c893 K Alfred did say before burning his cup cakes,waet gnaettas comon over eall waet land
C 1000 before K Willy came Sax leechd I Deao wyrt[ fleabane] gnaettas & micg4a & flean acwelle
c1250 Gnattes...smalle gretely to sen, and sarp on bite.
1398 Trevesa barth ... A gnatte is lytill flye and highte Culex.
1471 Paston lett no 674 III 12, I wold fayne my gray horse wer kept in mew for gnattys.
1529 More conf.... Lawes...lyke vnto cobwebbes, in whych the lyttle Knattes, and Flyes stycke styll and hange fast.
other meaning of gnotty gnatte
c1386 CHAUCER Manciple's T. 151 Noght worth to thee, in comparison, The mountance of a gnat.
2. Applied to other insects resembling this; in U.S., to a small stinging fly of the genus Simulium.
1787 BEST Angling (ed. 2) 99 The Little black Gnat. Ibid. 116 The Blue-Gnat. 1799 G. SMITH Laboratory II. 290 The white-gnat. This is composed of a black head, and a pale wing.

Chy  •  Link

Pepys' regular complaints about his lip (the last I recall to do with his sheets) puts me in mind that perhaps he has the cold sore virus, flare-ups of which he mistakenly attributes to other factors.

Kevin Peter  •  Link

It may be that in this case his lips are simply dried out from the wind blowing over the fens.

Paul Reiter  •  Link

Happenstance, I came across your blog whilst looking for confirmation that gnat came from the Viking.

I am a mosquitologist (the author of the Shakespeare paper in Emerging Infectious Diseases. It heartened me to see that someone has read it!

I suspect he was bitten by Ae. caspius or Cx pipiens, or Cx molestus though I am not very familiar with Anglo-Saxon mozzies. And gnats are mosquitoes, undoubtedly a Viking word. Very pretentious for us to switch to "mosquito" which is eSpanish. Just like the ague, which we abandoned for "malaria", italian for bad air.

Mosquitoes (female mosquitoes) bite, but lots of people mistake other insects for mosquitoes.

I agree that Pepys probably had herpes simplex (cold sores) if the complaint was recurrent. Also, mosquitoes unlikely to have bitten him only on the lips, and probably not in the day.

In a rush, but thanks for interesting reading.

Paul Reiter
Institut Pasteur

Second Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

YESTERDAY: "... one Blinkhorne, a miller, of whom we might inquire something of old Day’s disposal of his estate, and in whose hands it now is; and by great chance we met him, and brought him to our inn to dinner; and instead of being informed in his estate by this fellow, we find that he is the next heir to the estate, which was matter of great sport to my cozen Thomas and me, to see such a fellow prevent us in our hopes, he being Day’s brother’s daughter’s son, whereas we are but his sister’s sons and grandsons; so that, after all, we were fain to propose our matter to him, and to get him to give us leave to look after the business, and so he to have one-third part, and we two to have the other two-third parts, of what should be recovered of the estate, which he consented to; and after some discourse and paying the reckoning,"

I find it strange Pepys didn't stop to codified this agreement while in the neighborhood. Apparently these three distant cousins shook hands and that was it?

Tonyel  •  Link

How splendid that Paul Reiter should home in on this site with his definitive information. Now I need someone to identify what it is that sneaks up my legs when walking through corn stubble at this time of year - its bites are plentiful and itchy but, hopefully, don't carry the ague.

Chris Squire UK  •  Link

Re: ’ . . my lip being . . bit with the gnatts)

‘gnat, n.1< Old English gnæt(t strong masculine, cognate with German dialect gnatze weak feminine.
1.a. A small two-winged fly of the genus Culex, esp. Culex pipiens, the female of which has a sharp pointed proboscis, by means of which it punctures the skins of animals and sucks their blood.
In the United States: the common mosquito, Culex mosquito
. . 1617 S. Hieron Penance for Sinne in Wks. (1620) II. 75 Let not our sermons be as the spiders web, thorow which doe breake the greater flies, while onely the lesser gnats are taken.

. . 2. Applied to other insects resembling this; (U.S.) a small stinging fly of the genus Simulium.
. . 1867 F. Francis Bk. Angling vi. 186 The Black Gnat..has been called ‘the fisherman's curse’.’
‘gnat's piss n. slang a very weak beverage; a drink of poor quality.
1959 I. Opie & P. Opie Lore & Lang. Schoolchildren ix. 164 Weak tea may be ‘gnat's piss’ . . ‘
In Britain we also have the mighty midge:

‘midge, n.< Germanic . . Perhaps ultimately related to a number of forms in other Indo-European languages (showing various different extended forms of the same base), such as: ancient Greek μυῖα, classical Latin musca, Albanian mizë, all in sense ‘fly’.
1. a. A small insect resembling a gnat; (Entomol.) any of numerous insects of the dipteran families Chironomidae and Ceratopogonidae, which are commonly found in swarms near water or marshy areas.
Midges of the family Ceratopogonidae are the ‘biting midges’; those of the family Chironomidae are the ‘non-biting midges’.
. . 1658 J. Rowland tr. T. Moffett Theater of Insects in Topsell's Hist. Four-footed Beasts (rev. ed.) 953 These small Summer Gnats..are properly called in English Midges.
1668 W. Charleton Onomasticon Zoicon 43 Culices..Gnats, & si parvi sunt Midges . . ‘

Log in to post an annotation.

If you don't have an account, then register here.