Wednesday 11 November 1663

Up and to my office all the morning, and at noon to the Coffee-house, where with Dr. Allen some good discourse about physique and chymistry. And among other things, I telling him what Dribble the German Doctor do offer of an instrument to sink ships; he tells me that which is more strange, that something made of gold, which they call in chymistry Aurum fulminans, a grain, I think he said, of it put into a silver spoon and fired, will give a blow like a musquett, and strike a hole through the spoon downward, without the least force upward; and this he can make a cheaper experiment of, he says, with iron prepared.

Thence to the ’Change, and being put off a meeting with T. Trice, he not coming, I home to dinner, and after dinner by coach with my wife to my periwigg maker’s for my second periwigg, but it is not done, and so, calling at a place or two, home, and there to my office, and there taught my wife a new lesson in arithmetique and so sent her home, and I to several businesses; and so home to supper and to bed, being mightily troubled with a cold in my stomach and head, with a great pain by coughing.

20 Annotations

First Reading

Pedro  •  Link

"an instrument to sink ships;"

History of the torpedo

The first reference to the idea of a self-propelled underwater weapon appears in a play by Ben Jonson where the following dialogue occurs:-

"Thos.-They write here one Cornelius Son hath made the Hollanders an invisible eel to swim the Haven at Dunk irk, and sink all the shipping there.

Pennyboy.-But how is't done?

Cymbal.-I'll show you, Sir, it is an automa, runs under water, with a snug nose, and has a nimble tail made like an augur, with which tail she wriggles betwixt the costs of a ship, and sinks it straight.

Penny boy-A most brave device to murder their flat bottoms."…

JWB  •  Link

"Fulminating Gold, the First High Explosive:
In 1659, Thomas Willis and Robert Hooke demonstrated that a powder of gold hydrazide explodes on a mere concussion, without the need for air or sparks (which were once thought to be required for any kind of ignition).

Gold hydrazide (also known as aurodiamine) is a water-soluble substance obtained by letting an ammoniacal solution react with an auric hydroxide precipitate (itself obtained from a gold solution prepared with aqua regia). Gold hydrazide has a dirty olive-green color (AuHNNH2 ).

Gold hydrazide is apparently only one of several explosive compounds which have been called fulminating gold (aurum fulminans). Around 1603, another kind of fulminating gold ("Goldkalck" or "Gold Calx") was described as the precipitate of gold by potassium carbonate.

These kinds of "fulminating gold" are distinct from "gold fulminate", the gold salt of fulminic acid (CNOH), another expensive explosive...
In spite of its price, fulminating gold is said to have been used militarily in 1628. The discovery of fulminating gold has been attributed to the alchemist Basil Valentine (Basilius Valentinus) a legendary benedictine monk who is regarded by some as the "father of modern chemistry". We're told Basil Valentine was born in 1394, although his main work (The Twelve Keys of Basil Valentine) was first published only in 1599."…

jeannine  •  Link

Thanks Pedro and JWB -you answered all of the questions I had while reading today's passage!

Xjy  •  Link

Unconventional instruments of death
Science marches on! And after discoursing about the physics and chemistry of death, Sam the bourgeois revolutionary malgré lui teaches his woman arithmetic.
The second periwig was presumably needed when the first was being deloused, as it would be improper to appear in public as a roundhead?
I wonder if the coughing is due to too much smoke at the coffee (coughin? coffin?) shop.

Pedro  •  Link

"Unconventional instruments of death"

Xjy, I understand that "it's not the cough that carries you off; it's the coffin they carry you off in."

But showing my ignorance, what is a "bourgeois revolutionary malgré lui?"

Dan Jenkins  •  Link

Pedro asked, what is a "bourgeois revolutionary malgré lui?"

Well, "malgré lui" means "in spite of himself." And, our Sam, despite his earlier life through the Revolution, has become quite the bourgeois bureaucrat, but his Republican, Puritan thoughts leak through upon occasion.

So, he is a bourgeois revolutionary in spite of himself.

Dan Jenkins  •  Link

"bourgeois revolutionary malgré lui"

Our Sam is/will be revolutionizing the Navy Office through his procedural improvements and testing. That is a longlasting revolutionary legacy for him.

Not all revolutions are fought with sword and gun, nor even grand ideals, but the slow incremental slog of changes can lead the world to turn 'round too.

aqua  •  Link

Revolutionary be Sam, in more ways than one, shares his new Knowledge with his bed mate, still a rare commodity to share thy knowledge, sell it yes, but freely given, a sign of true democracy- share- not play the Laud." taught my wife a new lesson in arithmetique..."

JWB  •  Link

Sam's second periwigg

Recall Blackburne's words on 9th: "the old army...every man in his apron and frock...whereas the others go with their belts and swords, swearing and cursing, and stealing;" With this in mind I came across this by Bunyan:
"Upon Apparel"
"God gave us Cloaths to hide our Nakedness,
And we by them, do it expose to View.
Our Pride, and unclean Minds, to an excess,
By our Apparel we to others shew."

Periwiggs, like combat boots must be issued in pairs I suppose, rotating each day to allow them to dry out.

Robert Gertz  •  Link

Since Cornelius Drebbel died in 1633, I assume Sam has been studying old archives about his inventions?

"Top Secret: For Level H-7 staff only"

"Report to the Naval Office on the sinking of naval vessels via self-propelled underwater automata. Dr. Cornelius Drebbel."

"Say, Bess. Look what else I found in the archives today by that crazy Dutchman. This one's sillier even than that 'submersible' idea. Tis pity your father and the late Dr. Drebbel never got to socialize."

"Hmmn...Sam'l? It says it's a secret document. Should you be bringing these things home?"

"My dear girl. I am Clerk of the Acts of the Royal Navy. My home is as much office as my office. Besides...If these crazy notions had any merit surely our navy would've employed them. Who could possibly be interested in such nonsense?"

Cut to The Hague...Where a vast fleet of submersibles lies at anchor awaiting a jubiliant inspector general, the gallant Admiral De Ruyter.

But that's another universe...

Don McCahill  •  Link

We're told Basil Valentine was born in 1394, although his main work (The Twelve Keys of Basil Valentine) was first published only in 1599."

Not unusual, as there were no printing presses in Europe in 1394. I suspect that many early manuscript books were initially published in the 1550-1700 period as publishers sought works to feed their presses.

Australian Susan  •  Link

Coffee (n.) He that is coughed upon.
from NYT competition for new definitions of commonplace words.(my favourite being "Pokemon (n.) A Rastafarian proctologist", but this is off-topic. Sorry!)

Glyn  •  Link

A working wooden submarine, or "submerged ship", to the design of Cornelius Drebbel is on display in Heron Square, Richmond, Surrey; it was built using 17th-century craftsmanship and rowed under the surface of the river for several miles. Go to and key Drebbel into the search box to find some photos of it.

It's unclear whether Drebbel actually built this, although reputable eye-witnesses said that he had. The big problem for the modern builders wasn't keeping the hull watertight or propulsion but the build-up of carbon dioxide inside the ship.

Still, if Drebbel had invented a primitive but working submarine and torpedo 180 years early and in time for the Anglo-Dutch Wars ...

Second Reading

Terry Foreman  •  Link

"something made of gold, which they call in chymistry Aurum fulminans"

For experiments with gold fulminate at this time, see Thomas] Birch, The History of the Royal Society of London for Improving of Considerable of Those Papers Communicated to the Society, which Have Hitherto Not Been Published, are Inserted as a Supplement to the Philosophical Transactions, Volume 1 1756 (Google eBook)…
(Per L&M footnote)

Terry Foreman  •  Link

It was not until the early 19th century that fulminates were first used successfully as detonators in firearms. (Continuing the L&M footnote above)

Chris Squire UK  •  Link

Re: ‘ . . which they call in chymistry Aurum fulminans . . ‘

‘fulminating, adj. < Latin
That fulminates*.
1. a. Detonating, violently explosive. fulminating gold . . fulminating powder, formerly, a mixture of nitre, potash, and sulphur; now sometimes applied to other violently explosive powders, chiefly containing fulminate of mercury.
1646 Sir T. Browne Pseudodoxia Epidemica ii. v. 89 These afford no fulminating report.
. . 1695 J. Woodward Ess. Nat. Hist. Earth 206 The Fulminating Damp will take fire at a Candle.
. . 1807 T. Thomson Syst. Chem. (ed. 3) II. 12 This powder is fulminating gold, which is composed of five parts of yellow oxide of gold and one part of ammonia . . ‘

* ‘ . . 6. b. intr. To explode with a loud report, detonate, go off.
1667 Henshaw in Sprat Hist. Royal Soc. 275 If you fulminate it [salt-petre] in a Crucible.
1738 G. Smith tr. Laboratory v. 133 The Saltpetre and Tartar will soon begin to fulminate.
1853 W. Gregory Inorg. Chem. (ed. 3) 255 A dark powder is formed, which fulminates violently when heated.’

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