Chris Gutteridge's favourite quotes from Samuel Pepys' diary

I have owned a copy of Samuel Pepys' Diary ever since the Latham & Mathews edition was published in the 1970s. It was always exciting when a new volume appeared in print! Since then, I have read it many times. I started again recently when I had nothing else to read, and decided to post some of the entries here that have particularly amused me. I'll continue to pass snippets on from time to time as the whim takes me.

6 January 1659/60

I went home and took my wife and went to my cosen, Thomas Pepys, and found them just sat down to dinner, which was very good; only the venison pasty was palpable beef, which was not handsome.

20th January 1659/60

...and from thence after a great and good dinner Mr. Falconberge would go drink a cup of ale at a place where I had like to have shit in a skimmer that lay over the house of office.

3rd February 1659/60

So to White Hall; where I staid to hear the trumpets and kettle-drums, and then the other drums, which are much cried up, though I think it dull, vulgar musique.

7th February 1659/60

Mr. Moore told me of a picture hung up at the Exchange of a great pair of buttocks shooting of a turd into Lawson's mouth, and over it was wrote "The thanks of the house."

15th August 1660

Here I lay all night in the old chamber which I had now given up to W. Howe, with whom I did intend to lie, but he and I fell to play with one another, so that I made him to go lie with Mr. Sheply. So I lay alone all night.

20th September 1660

This morning one came to me to advise with me where to make me a window into my cellar in lieu of one which Sir W. Batten had stopped up, and going down into my cellar to look I stepped into a great heap of turds by which I found that Mr. Turner's house of office is full and comes into my cellar, which do trouble me, but I shall have it helped.

14 Februaury 1660/61 Valentine's day.

Up earely and to Sir W. Battens. But would not go in till I asked whether they that opened the door was a man or a woman. And Mingo, who was there, answered "a Woman;" which, with his tone, made me laugh.

Batten's black manservant shows his sense of humour (traditionally, the first person of the opposite sex one saw on Valentine's day became one's Valentine).

6th April 1661

...and among other things met with Mr. Townsend, who told of his mistake the other day, to put both his legs through one of his knees of his breeches, and went so all day.

17th April 1661

Then comes Mr. Allen of Chatham, and I took him to the Mitre and there did drink with him, and did get of him the song that pleased me so well there the other day, of Shitten come Shites the beginning of love.

Here's the link to the ballad Pepys is referring to:

4th July 1661

Here Mr. Batersby the apothecary was, who told me that if my uncle had the emerods (which I think he had) and that now they are stopped, he will lay his life that bleeding behind by leeches will cure him, but I am resolved not to meddle in it.

27 July 1661

To Westminster; where at Mr. Mountagu's chamber I heard a Frenchman play .... upon the Gittar most extreme well; though, at the best, methinks it is but a bawble.

(It'll never catch on!)

23 September 1661 rode easily to Welling - where we supped well and had two beds in the room and so lay single; and must remember it that, of all the nights that ever I slept in my life, I never did pass a night with more epicurism of sleep - there being now and then a noise of people stirring that waked me; and then it was a very rainy night; and then I was a little weary, that what between waking and then sleeping again, one after another, I never had so much content in all my life. And so my wife says it was with her.

4 October 1661

I home - where I find my wife vexed at her people for grumbling to eat Suffolk cheese - which I also am vexed at.

17 October 1661

At noon, my wife being gone to my Cosen Snow's with Dr. Tho. Pepys and my brother Tom. to a venison pasty (which proved a pasty of salted pork)...

...he tells me it is a very poor dirty place - I mean the City and Court of Lisbone. That the King is a very rude and simple fellow; and for reviling of somebody a little while ago and calling of him cuckold, was run into the cods with a sword, and had been killed had he not told them that he was their king.

13 November 1661

To bed, and this night begin to lie in the little green Chamber where the maids lie; but we could not a great while get Nell to lie there, because I lie there and my wife; but at last, when she saw she must lie there or sit up, she with much ado came to bed.

22 November 1661

...and then my wife and I to church and there in the pew, with the rest of the company, was Captain Holmes in his gold-laced suit; at which I was troubled, because of the old business which he attempted upon my wife. So with my mind troubled, I sat still; but by and by I took occasion from the rain now holding up (it raining when we came into the church) to put my wife in mind of going to the christening (which she was invited to) of N. Osbornes child. Which she did; and so went out of the pew and my mind was eased.

1 January 1661/62

Waking this morning out of my sleep on a sudden, I did with my elbow hit my wife a great blow over her face and nose, which waked her with pain - at which I was sorry. And to sleep again.

19 January 1661/62

To church in the morning, where Mr. Mills preached upon Christ's being offered up for our sins. And there, proveing the æquity with what Justice God would lay our sins upon his Son, he did make such a sermon (among other things, pleading from God's universal Soverainty over all his Creatures, the power he has of commanding what he would of his Son, by the same rule as that he might have made us all and the whole world from the beginning to have been in hell, arguing from the power the potter has over his clay), that I could have wished he had let it alone. And speaking again, that God the Father is now so satisfyd by our Security for our debt, that we might say at the last day, as many of us as have interest in Christ's death - Lord, we owe thee nothing - our debt is paid - we are not beholden to thee for anything, for thy debt is paid to thee to the full - which methinks were very bold words.

4 February 1661/62 noon to my Lord Crewes - where one Mr. Templer (an ingenious [man] and a person of honour he seems to be) dined; and discoursing of the nature of Serpents, he told us some that in the waste places of Lancashire do grow to a great bigness, and that do feed upon larkes, which they take thus - they observe when the lark is soared to the highest, and do crawle till they come to be just underneath them; and there they place themselfs with their mouths uppermost, and there (as is conceived) they do eject poyson up to the bird; for the bird doth suddenly come down again in its course of a circle, and falls directly into the mouth of the serpent - which is very strange. He is a great traveller; and speaking of the Tarantula, he says that all the harvest long (about which times they are most busy) there are fidlers go up and down the fields everywhere, [in] expectation of being hired by those that are stung.

28 February 1661/62

Home; and to be as good as my word, I bid Will get me a rod, and he and I called the boy up to one of the upper rooms of the Controllers house toward the garden, and there I reckoned all his faults and whipped him soundly; but the rods were so small that I fear they did not much hurt to him, but only to my arme, which I am already, within a Quarter of an houre, not able to stir almost. After supper, to bed.

4 April 1662

I was much troubled today to see a dead man lie floating upon the waters; and had done (they say) these four days and nobody takes him up to bury him, which is very barbarous.

6 April 1662

Thence to the Chappell, and there, though crowded, heard a very honest sermon before the King by a Canon of Christ Church - upon these words: "Having a forme of godlinesse but denying," &c. Among other things, did much insist upon the sin of adultery - which methought might touch the King and the more because he forced it into his sermon, methought besides his text.

18 April 1662

This morning, sending the boy down into the cellar for some beer, I fallowed him with a cane, and did there beat him for his staying of arrands and other faults, and his sister came to me down and begged for him: so I forebore. And afterwards in my wife's chamber did there talk to Jane how much I did love the boy for her sake and how much it doth concern to correct the boy for his faults, or else he would be undone. So at last she was well pleased.

[Waynman Birch was dismissed in July 1663, and in the following November was packed off to Barbados. He was a 'pretty well-looked boy' and had been in Pepys's service since September 1660. His escapades included one small explosion, an attempt at running away and 'strange things...not fit to name'.]

21 May 1662

...walking into White-hall garden; and in the privy Garden saw the finest smocks and linen petticoats of my Lady Castlemaynes, laced with rich lace at the bottomes, that ever I saw; and did me good to look upon them.

22 May 1662

He hath also sent each of us some anchoves, Olives, and Muscatt; but I know not yet what that is, and am ashamed to ask.

25 May 1662

Lord's day. To trimming myself, which I have this week done every morning, with a pumice stone, which I learnt of Mr. Marsh when I was last at Portsmouth; and I find it very easy, speedy and cleanly, and shall continue the practice of it.

14 June 1662

...we all went out to the Tower hill; and there, over against the Scaffold, made on purpose this day, saw Sir Henry Vane brought. A very great press of people. He made a long speech, many times interrupted by the Sheriffe and others there; and they would have taken his paper out of his hand, but he would not let it go. But they caused all the books of those that writ after him to be given the Sheriffe; and the Trumpets were brought under the scaffold, that he might not be heard...

...And so fitted himself for the block, and received the blow. He had a blister or Issue upon his neck, which he desired them not hurt. He changed not his colour or speech to the last, but died justifying himself and the cause he had stood for; and spoke very confidently of his being presently at the right hand of Christ. And in all things appeared the most resolved man that ever died in that manner, and showed more of heate than cowardize, but yet with all humility and gravity.

26 June 1662

...took Commissioner Pett home with me to dinner, where my stomach was turned when my sturgeon came to table, upon which I saw very many little worms creeping, which I suppose was through the staleness of the pickle.

30 June 1662

Up betimes and to my office, where I found Griffens girl making it clean; but God forgive me, what a mind I have to her, but did not meddle with her. She being gone, I fell upon boring holes for me to see from my closet into the great office, without going forth, wherein I please myself much.

3 August 1662

This day, among other stories, he told me how despicable a thing it is to be a hangman is in poleland, although it be a place of credit. And that in his time there was some repairs to be made of the gallowes there, which was very fine of stone; but nobody could be got to mend it till the Burgo-Maister or Mayor of the towne, with all the companies of those trades which were necessary to be used about those repairs, did go in their habits, with flags, in solemn procession to the place, and there the Burgo-Maister did give the first blow with the hammer upon the wooden work, and the rest of the Maisters of the Companies upon the works belonging to their trades, that so, workmen might not be ashamed to be employed upon doing of the gallows-works.

[The hangman often had difficulty in finding a wife: in Cracow females under sentence of death were spared if they would marry an executioner.]

5 September 1662

And among other pretty discourse, some was of Sir Jerom Bowes, Embassador from Queene Elizabeth to the Emperor of Russia - who, because some of the noblemen there would go up the stairs to the Emperor before him, he would not go up till the Emperor had ordered those two men to be dragged downstair, with their heads knocking upon every stair till they were killed. And when he was come up, they demanded his sword of him before he entered the room. He told them, if they would have his sword, they should have his boots too; and so caused his boots to be pulled off and his night-gown and night-cap and slippers to be sent for, and made the Emperor stay till he could go in his night-dress, since he might not go as a soldier. And lastly, when the Emperor in contempt, to show his command over his subjects, did command one to leap from the window down and broke his neck in the sight of our Embassador, he replied that his mistress did set more by, and did make better use of the necks of her subjects: but said that, to show what her subjects would do for her, he would, and did, fling down his gantlett before the Emperor and challenged all the nobility there to take it up in defence of the Emperor against his Queene. For which, at this very day, the name of Sir Jer. Bowes is famous and honoured there.

[The Russian Emperor was Ivan the Terrible. He once rewarded the French envoy’s boldness in remaining covered (i.e. keeping his hat on) in the royal presence by nailing his hat to his head. Bowes, at his next interview, defiantly wore his hat and in answer to the Tsar’s threats, announced that he represented ‘not a cowardly king of France … but the invincible Queen of England, who does not vail her Bonnet nor bare her Head to any Prince living’.]

25 September 1662

This evening I sat awhile at Sir W. Batten's with Sir J. Mennes, &c., where he told us, among many other things, how in portugall they scorn to make a seat for a house of office. But they do shit all in pots and so empty them in the river.
I did also hear how the woman formerly nurse to Mrs. Lemon (Sir W. Batten's daughter) her child was torn to pieces by two dogs at Walthamstow this week, and is dead - which is very strange.

29 September 1662

...and then to the King's Theatre, where we saw Midsummers nights dreame, which I had never seen before, nor shall ever again, for it is the most insipid ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life. I saw, I confess, some good dancing and some handsome women, which was all my pleasure.

27 October 1662

Thence to White-hall, and walked long in the galleries till (as they are commanded to all strange persons) one came to tell us, we not being known and being observed to walk there four or five houres (which was not true, unless they count my walking there in the morning), he was commanded to ask who we were; which being told, he excused his Question, and was satisfied. These things speak great fear and jealousys.

30 October 1662 the Question how it comes to pass that there are no boars seen in London, but many Sowes and pigs, it was answered that the Constable gets them a-nights.

27 November 1662

...I saw them pretty well go by. I could not see the Embassador in his coach - but his attendants in their habitts and fur-caps very handsome comely men, and most of them with Hawkes upon their fists to present to the King. But Lord, to see the absurd nature of Englishmen, that cannot forbear laughing and jeering at every thing that looks strange.

[The entry of the Russian Ambassador].

30 December 1662

With the officers I had good discourse, particularly of the people at the Cape of Good Hope - of whom they of their own knowledge do tell me these one or two things: viz., that when they come to age, the men do cut off one of the stones of each other, which they hold doth help them to get children the better and to grow fat. That they never sleep lying, but always sitting upon the ground. That their speech is not so articulate as ours, but yet understand one another well. That they paint themselves all over with the grease the Dutch sell them (who have a fort there) and Sutt.

6 January 1662/63 twelfth night

And after dinner to the Dukes house and there saw Twelfth night acted well, though it be but a silly play, and not related at all to the name or day.

Only, myself somewhat vexed at my wife's neglect in leaving of her scarfe, waistcoat, and night-dressings in the coach today that brought us from Westminster, though I confess, she did give them to me to look after - yet it was her fault not to see that I did take them out of the coach. I believe it might be as good as 25s. loss or thereabouts.

9 January 1662/63

At last we were pretty good friends and my wife begun to speak again of the necessity of her keeping somebody to bear her company; for her familiarity with her other servants is it that spoils them all, and other company she hath none (which is too true); and called for Jane to reach her out of her trunk, giving her the keys to that purpose, a bundle of papers; and pulls out a paper, a copy of what, a pretty while since, she had wrote in a discontent to me, which I would not read but burned. She now read it, and it was so picquant, and wrote in English, and most of it true, of the retirednesse of her life and how unpleasant it was, that being wrote in English and so in danger of being met with and read by others, I was vexed at it and desired her and then commanded her to tear it - which she desired to be excused it; I forced it from her and tore it, and withal took her other bundle of papers from her and leapt out of the bed and in my shirt clapped them into the pocket of my breeches, that she might not get them from me; and having got on my stockings and breeches and gown, I pulled them out one by one and tore them all before her face, though it went against my heart to do it, she crying and desiring me not to do it. But such was my passion and trouble to see the letters of my love to her, and my Will, wherein I had given her all I have in the world when I went to sea with my Lord Sandwich, to be joyned with a paper of so much disgrace to me and dishonour if it should have been found by any body. Having torn them all, saving a bond of my uncle Robts. which she hath long had in her hands, and our Marriage=licence and the first letter that ever I sent her when I was her servant, I took up the pieces and carried them into my chamber, and there, after many disputes with myself whether I should burn them or no, and having picked up the pieces of the paper she read today and of my Will which I tore, I burnt all the rest. And so went out to my office - troubled in mind.

12 January 1662/63

After dinner to the Change to buy some linen for my wife; and going back, met our two boys; mine had struck down Creedes boy in the dirt, with his new suit on in the dirt, all over dirty, and the boy taken by a gentlewoman into a house to make clean, but the poor boy was in a pitiful taking and pickle; but I basted my rogue soundly.

8 February 1662/63

Whether the wind and the cold did cause it or no, I know not; but having been this day or two mightily troubled with an iching all over my body, which I took to be a louse or two that might bite me - I find this afternoon that all my body is inflamed, and my face in a sad redness and swelling and pimpled; so that I was, before we had done walking, not only sick but ashamed of myself to see myself so changed in my countenance; so that after we had thus talked, we parted and I walked home with much ado ... the ways being so full of ice and water by peoples' trampling. At last got home and to bed presently and had a very bad night of it, in great pain in my stomach and great fever.

9 February 1662/63

Could not rise and go to the Duke, as I should have done with the rest, but keep my bed; and by the apothecary's advice, Mr. Battersby, I am to sweat soundly, and that will carry all this matter away; which nature would of itself eject, but this will assist nature - it being some disorder given the blood; but by what I know not, unless it be by my late great Quantitys of Dantzicke=girkins that I have eaten.
In the evening came Sir J. Mennes and Sir W. Batten to see me. And Sir J. Mennes advises me to the same thing; but would not have me take anything from the apothecary, but from him, his Venice Treakle being better than the others; which I did consent to and did anon take and fell into a great sweat; and about 10 or 11 a-clock came out of it, and shifted myself and slept pretty well alone (my wife lying in the red chamber above);
<<10>> and in the morning most of my disease, that is, itching and pimples, were gone. In the morning visited by Mr. Coventry and others, and very glad I am to see that I am so much enquired after and my sickness taken notice of as I did. I keep my bed all day and sweat again at night, by which I expect to be very well to-morrow.

[Modern medical opinion is that it probably was an allergy to the Danzig gerkins.]