Thursday 20 July 1665

Up, in a boat among other people to the Tower, and there to the office, where we sat all the morning. So down to Deptford and there dined, and after dinner saw my Lady Sandwich and Mr. Carteret and his two sisters over the water, going to Dagenhams, and my Lady Carteret towards Cranburne.1 So all the company broke up in most extraordinary joy, wherein I am mighty contented that I have had the good fortune to be so instrumental, and I think it will be of good use to me. So walked to Redriffe, where I hear the sickness is, and indeed is scattered almost every where, there dying 1089 of the plague this week. My Lady Carteret did this day give me a bottle of plague-water home with me. So home to write letters late, and then home to bed, where I have not lain these 3 or 4 nights. I received yesterday a letter from my Lord Sandwich, giving me thanks for my care about their marriage business, and desiring it to be dispatched, that no disappointment may happen therein, which I will help on all I can. This afternoon I waited on the Duke of Albemarle, and so to Mrs. Croft’s, where I found and saluted2 Mrs. Burrows, who is a very pretty woman for a mother of so many children. But, Lord! to see how the plague spreads. It being now all over King’s Streete, at the Axe, and next door to it, and in other places.

22 Annotations

First Reading

Australian Susan  •  Link

Anyone know what "plague water" was? I do hope it is distilled herbs or something similar and not essence of plague corpse........
It really does sound as though Sam is finally taking notice of the epidemic and becoming concerned, but his "extraordinary joy" over the wedding arrangements (and the success of his part therein!) seem to override everything.

tyndale  •  Link

Plague water might refer to the recipe dreamed up by the College of Physicians, or it might just refer to any of the other remedies being sold - usually in form of powder.

Some ads from today's Newes:

"Monsieur Augiers famous Remedies for stopping and preventing the Plague, having not only been recommended by several Certificates from Lyons, Paris, Thoulouse, & c. but likewise experimented here by the special direction of the Lords of his Majesties most honourable Privy Council, and proved by Witnesses upon oath, and several Tryals, to be of singular virtue and effect, are to be had at Mr. Briggs his Office behind the Old Exchange; At Mr. Drinkwaters at the Fountain in Fleetstreet; At the Sugar-loaf & Tobacco Roll at Grayes-Inne Gate Holbourn; At the Red Lyon by the Gate upon London bridge; The White Bear in St. Laurence Lane; and at Mr. Robbins near the Red Lyon in Richmond."

"Aurum Volans, sive potabile, Being the true Philosophical preapration of Potable Gold, distilled by means of a pure Christaline and innocent Spririt, and known consequently to be the Universal Medicine and Antidote against all Pestilential and Contagious Distempers; as likewise a Sovereign remedy against Scorbutick and Venereal Evils. (To say no more of other Diseases) is to be sold at 5 l. the OUnce by Mr. Gabriel Bedel, and Mr. Thomas Collins, Stationers at the Middle Temple-Gate Fleetstreet, with particular directions for the use thereof, where the Author of the said Medicine does offer and undertake to give a clear demonstration of the thing it self, and s full satisfaction to all person desirous to be further informed therein."

And from the Intelligencer that Pepys bought the other day:

"An approved Antidote or Pectora [?] agains the Plague, prepared by some Eminent Physicians in the great year of Contagion, 1625. and taken with good success. Sold by Mr. Richard Lowndes, Book-seller at the White Lion in St Pauls Churchyard, sealed up at 12d. the Paper."

tyndale  •  Link

Here is the College's recipe for the "Plague-water of Mathias":

Take the roots of Tormentil, Angelica, Peony, Zedoarie, Liquorish, Elacampane, of each half an ounce, the leaves of Sage, Scordium, Celandine, Rue, Rosemary, Wormwood, Ros solis, Mugwort, Burnet, Dragons, Scabious, Agrimony, Baum, Carduus, Betony, Centery the less, Marygolds leaves and flowers, of each one handful; Let them all be cut, bruised, and infused three days in eight pints of White wine in the moneth of May, and distilled. Take of London Treacle two ounces, of Conserve of Wood-sorrel three ounces, of the temperate Cordial species half an ounce, of Syrupe of Limons enought to make all an electuary: Of they may be taken a dram and half for prevention, and the double quantity for cure.

Linda F  •  Link

I, for one, am surprised that Sam has eluded the plague to date, given his running from place to place -- so much embarking and debarking at waterfront spots where fleas and rats were not unknown; stops at pubs and other travel spots; his general loss of sleep; and his recent night sweat.

Pedro  •  Link

Plague Waters.

From The Great Plague by Moote and Moote…

Chemists on the canals of Venice developed their Venice plague water, which was widely merchandised as Venice treacle. The English rushed into the market with a variation, London Treacle. All the middling and upper-class people staying in London seemed to have a supply... For increased marketability plague waters and powders were named after famous users like Sir Walter Raleigh and were advertised with grandiose claims in L 'Estrange’s semi-weekly new sheets...

A. De Araujo  •  Link

"plague- water of Mathias"
If it didnt work it was because you missed some of the ingredients.

Robert Gertz  •  Link

"If it didnt work it was because you missed some of the ingredients."

When I played Dr. Benjamin Rush at a public health lecture once, my argument was that we weren't bleeding heroically enough. "A mere pint is not what will cure!"

Though in fairness to Dr. Rush in his time he was a dedicated and courageous physician. Just a bit too much with the bleeding...

language hat  •  Link


OED: "an infusion of various herbs and roots in alcohol, taken as a remedy against the plague." A citation:

2000 Canberra Times (Austral.) (Nexis) 27 Feb. A28 The recipe for ‘plague-water’ calls for 20 roots, 17 flowers, 19 different kinds of seeds, together with spices and green walnuts, all chopped up and steeped in the lees of wine before being distilled in three runs.

JWB  •  Link

Probability of Sam's infection:

While Sam visited sites where a fea bite would not have been unexpected, he did not live and work in such a milieu. As to the other sources of infection-handling infected meat,eating undercooked meat, breathing asperated excreation from infected people & animals-Sam was at little risk.

cgs  •  Link

exposure does not mean infection.
There are enough variations, some unknown to confuse the cause.
E.G. small pox came in various levels, all the variables have to be satisfied.

No one solution solves a problem until all parameters be totally understood and implemented.

Glyn  •  Link

It's difficult to estimate how likely he was to be infected, but he regularly meets a lot of people from all levels of society. For example, paying off ordinary seaman, negotiating with merchants in the Exchange, working with his clerks, going to inns and plays, visiting Royalty.

What surprises me very much is how calm he is about all this. He's someone who regularly notes in his Diary every trivial ailment but he genuinely doesn't seemed to have altered his work patterns because of the plague.

We now know that it was carried by fleas but they didn't know that - it could have been bad air, dogs, cats or whatever. For all Pepys knew he could be risking his life stepping out the door but it doesn't seem to bother him. Strange.

Andrew Hamilton  •  Link


Thank you for the detailed recipe for plague water. It actually sounds fairly tasty.

CGS  •  Link

it rains cats and dogs, so the law says get rid of the C&D's

some cures?

Four ounces of the clarified juice of Scabious taken in the morning fasting, with a dram of Mithridate or Benice treacle, frees the heart from any infection of pestilence, if after the taking of it, the party sweat two hours in bed, and this medicine be again and again repeated, if need require. The green herb bruised and applied to any carbuncle or plague-sore, is found by certain experience to dissolve and break it in three hours space. The same decoction also drank, helps the pains and stitches in the side. The decoction of the roots taken for forty days together
lifterd from
The distilled water of the herb is also of good effect in the former diseases, and conduces much against the plague and pestilence, being taken with good treacle. The distilled water also, with a litter water and honey of roses, helps all the sores of the mouth or throat, being gargled often therewith. The juice dropped into the eyes, clears the sight, and takes away redness and other defects in them,

from previous posting

Australian Susan  •  Link

Sam's demenour

Remember that plague happened every summer - Sam is *beginning* to realise that *this* summer it is far, far worse than he could imagine. But the 1625 outbreak was almost as bad. (yes, I know that's before Sam's time, but his parents would have remembered it). Over 40,000 died of plague that summer. See…

Second Reading

Terry Foreman  •  Link

"there dying 1089 of the plague this week"

In the week 11-18 July. (L&M footnote)

Deborah  •  Link

The vector fleas needed to reach somewhere vulnerable to their bite, so long socks were a barrier. This could also be why plague happened in summer.

Do we have any information on Sam’s socks?

Gerald Berg  •  Link

Fleas. Lest we forget in our calumnies towards the London flea of the time: Not every flea would carry the plague. I would be curious to know the ratio of the Donne flea bite to plague bite?

Chris Squire UK  •  Link

OED has:

'plague-water n. now hist. an infusion of various herbs and roots in alcohol, taken as a remedy against the plague.

' . . 1665 S. Pepys Diary 20 July (1972) VI. 163 My Lady Carteret did this day give me a bottle of plague-water home with me . . '

Michaela  •  Link

It’s fascinating to read very logical opinions about how insouciant Sam’s behaviour was towards the plague danger - I would have agreed in 2008, but now, after our own plague, I feel we are seeing another proof that despite 357 years having passed, human behaviour has changed very little. Until we truly face the reality of imminent doom we have a sense of invincibility, that things like that only happen to other people.

Third Reading

Thomas M. Fiddler  •  Link

"What surprises me very much is how calm he is about all this. He's someone who regularly notes in his Diary every trivial ailment but he genuinely doesn't seemed to have altered his work patterns because of the plague."

I would add that people of Samuel Pepy's time lived much closer to death than we do in our era.

There were few useful medicines, no understanding of asceptic technique, germ theory, no antibiotics or antivirals. No imaging technology aside from rudimentary microscopes. Not to mention a lack of safe surgical interventions as well as high infant mortality.

People knew how to cope despite the manifold dangers that existence presented. Plague or no plague, they knew that life must go on.

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