Based on an address given at the Pepys Commemoration service at St. Olave’s on 25 May 2011

On 26 May 1703, John Evelyn wrote in his diary:

‘This day died Mr Samuel Pepys, a very worthy industrious and curious person, none in England exceeding him in the knowledge of the Navy, in which he has passed through all the most considerable offices, Clerk of the Acts, Secretary to the Admiralty all which he performed with greate integrity. When King James the 2nd went out of England he laid down his office, would serve no more, but withdrawing himself from all publique affairs, lived at Clapham with his partner (formerly his Clerk) Mr Hewer in a very noble house and sweet place where he enjoyed the fruits of his labours in great prosperity, was universally beloved, hospitable, generous, learned in many things, skill’d in musick, a very great cherisher of learned men of whom he had the conversation…’

I am not a scholar; and there have been many learned discourses on Pepys and the Navy, Pepys and the Restoration, Pepys and the Royal Society, Pepys and Music. Looking at Evelyn’s description of his great friend, all that seemed left for me to talk about when I was asked to give this address was Pepys’s generous hospitality. Sitting in the garden of the Travellers Club with Oliver Ross (the Rector of St. Olave’s) and a glass of wine, the title of this address took shape. I then, being a good lawyer, decided to see what the Oxford English Dictionary had to say about the word convivial:

Of or belonging to a feast or banquet
Characterised by feasting or jovial companionship
Fond of feasting and good company: disposed to enjoy
festive society’

The citation of its first recorded use is from Sir John Denham’s poem ‘Old Age’:

‘Which feasts convivial meetings we did name.’

This was written, appropriately, in 1668. Indeed, Sir John was well- known to both Pepys and Evelyn, and appears in both their diaries. He was a poet and architect and was Sir Christopher Wren’s predecessor as Surveyor General of the King’s Works. Burlington House was attributed to him, as were some of the original designs for Greenwich. Many have doubted these attributions: but he was certainly consulted about alterations to Hinchingbrooke House, the seat of Pepys’s patron, the Earl of Sandwich. The doubts about his being responsible even in small part for such architectural gems as Burlington House and Greenwich find an echo in Evelyn’s comment that, ‘he was a better poet than architect’. And his poetry was itself no better than pedestrian.

The title for the address was clearly, therefore, appropriate. And food in one form or another is described frequently throughout the Diary. Christopher Driver and Michelle Berriedale – Johnson wrote an entertaining and informative monograph entitled Pepys at Table, published in 1984 by Bell and Hyman, giving, amongst other things, recipes for dishes mentioned in the Diary. I decided to see whether there was a theme that I could follow which provided not only a description of Pepys’s hospitality, but also some insight into the progression of his life through the nine years of the Diary. I looked for an annual event and found it in the ‘feast of the stone’.

After suffering great pain for much of his life due to a bladder stone, Pepys underwent surgery at the age of twenty-five. It was carried out in the home of his cousin, Jane Turner. He resolved to mark the success of the operation every year. The first reference to what had become, and for some time at least would continue to be, the ‘feast of the stone’ is in the entry for 26 March 1660. Pepys was aboard the Swiftsure, commanded by his patron, then Edward Mountagu Esq., who had recently been reappointed General at Sea by General Monck. The Restoration was still a few weeks away. But the fleet was being made ready for King Charles’ return.

‘26. This day it is two years since it pleased God that I was cut of the stone at Mrs. Turner’s in Salisbury court. And did resolve while I live to keep it a festival, as I did the last year at my house, and for ever to have Mrs. Turner and her company with me. But now it pleases God that I am where I am and so am prevented to do it openly … At night Mr. Sheply and W. Howe came and brought some bottles of wine and something to eat at my Cabbin, where we were very merry, remembering the day of my being cut of the stone. The Captain, Cuttance, came afterwards and sat drinking a bottle of wine till 11 a-clock at night, which is a kindness he doth not usually do to the greatest officer in the ship. And so to bed.’

This is perhaps more interesting as a reminder of Pepys’s intimate involvement in the preparations for the return of Charles II than a description of a feast, but it sets the scene. In March 1661 the entry in the Diary reads:

‘26. Up early to do business in my study. This is my great day, that three years ago I was cut of the stone – and blessed be to God, I do yet find myself very free from pain again … And at noon by coach to my father’s where Mrs. Turner, The[oph]., Joyce, Mr. Morrice, Mr. Armiger, Mr. Pierce the surgeon and his wife – my father and mother and myself and my wife. Among other things, because Mrs. Turner and her company eate no flesh at all this Lent and I had a great deal of good flesh, which made their mouths water.’

This repeats the theme of thanks to God; and is a good example of Pepys’s gentle humour. It was clearly a modest family gathering. In March 1662 the relevant entry reads:

‘26. Up earely – this being, by God’s great blessing, the fourth solemne day of my cutting for the stone this day four year. And am by God’s mercy in very good health, and like to do well, the Lord’s name be praise for it … At noon came my good guest Mrs. Turner, The[oph], and Cosen Norton, and a gentleman, one Mr. Lewin of the King’s life-guard; by the same token he told us of one of his fellows, killed this morning in the dewell. I had a pretty dinner for them – viz: a brace of stewed Carps, six roasted chicken, and a Jowle of salmon hot, for the first course – a Tanzy and two neats’ tongues and cheese the second. And were very merry all the afternoon talking and singing and piping on the Flagelette … We had a man-cook to dress dinner today, and sent for Jane to help us.’

The feast has grown! In 1663, the feast was postponed until April. The entry reads:

‘4. Up betimes and to my office. Home to dinner whither by and by comes Roger Pepys, Mrs. Turner, her daughter, Joyce Norton and a young lady, a daughter of Coll. Cockes – my uncle Wight – his wife and Mrs. Anne Wight – this being my feast, in lieu of what I should have had a few days ago, for my cutting of the Stone, for which the Lord make me truly thankful. Very merry before, at, and after dinner, and the more for that my dinner was great and most neatly dressed by our own only mayde. We had a Fricasse of rabbets and chicken – a leg of mutton boiled – three carps in a dish – a great dish of a side of lamb – a dish of roasted pigeons – a dish of four lobsters – three tarts – a Lamprey pie, a most rare pie – a dish of anchovies – a good wine of several sorts; and all things mighty noble and to my great content.’

A real feast! This was the last detailed record of the great stone feasts. Perhaps Pepys realised that he could not improve on it for a family occasion. In 1664 he merely relates that he held the feast on 26 March and identifies those who were there – Mrs Turner, of course, being among them. And in 1666 he records that on 9 June, he, together with Mrs Turner, Theo Joyce and others enjoyed ‘a very good venison pasty – this being indeed instead of my stone feast the last March – and very merry we were’. That must have been a bit of a come-down for the guests, although perhaps more digestible.

The 28 November 1666 witnesses a new chapter in Pepys’s hospitality. The Diary entry reads:

‘…and I by hackney coach to several places to get things ready against dinner, and then home and did the like there, to my great satisfaction; and at noon comes my Lord Hinchingbrooke, Sir Tho. Crew, Mr John Crew, Mr. Carteret, and Brisband. I had six noble dishes for them, dressed by a man-cook, and commended, as endeed they deserved, for exceedingly well done. We eat with great pleasure, and I enjoyed myself in it with reflections upon the pleasures which I at best can expect, yet not to exceed this – eating in silver plates, and all things mighty rich and handsome about me. A great deal of fine discourse, sitting almost til dark at dinner; and then broke up with great pleasure, especially to myself, and they away.’

This combination of fewer dishes of food, but fine serving dishes and more refined company is repeated on 4 January 1667:

‘Anon comes our company – my Lord Brouncker – Sir W. Penn, his Lady, and Peg and her servant, Mr. Lownder – my Lady Batten – Sir. W. Batten being forced to dine at Sir. R. Foord’s, being invited – Mr. Turner and his wife. Here I had good room for ten, and no more my table would have held well had Sir J. Mennes (who was fallen lame) and his sister and niece and Sir W. Batten come, which was a great content to me to be without them. I did make them all gaze to see themselves served so nobly in plate; and a neat dinner endeed, though but seven dishes Mighty merry I was and made them all – and they mightily pleased.’

Pepys’s almost childish pleasure in being able to show off his increasing prosperity, and to increasingly exalted company, is one of the constantly endearing features of the Diary. As far as the meal itself is concerned, however, it is significant in exemplifying the trend towards fewer dishes. This was considered a French invention, and one which Pepys and his wife enjoyed. The first detailed account in which such a meal is ascribed to the French is in the entry for 12 May 1667:

‘And on our way bethought ourselves of going alone, she and I, to a French house for dinner, and so enquired out Monsieur Robins my periwig-maker, who keeps an ordinary, and in an ugly street in Covent Garden did find him at the door, and so we in; and in a moment almost have the table covered, and clean glasses, and all in the French manner, and a mess of potage first and then a couple of pigeons a l’estouve, and then a piece of boeuf-a-la mode, all exceedingly well seasoned and to our great liking; at least, it would have been anywhere else but in this bad street and in a periwig-maker’s house.’

This is another entry which displays Pepys’s lively style and epitomises the difference between the vividness of his diary and the informative but less readable diary of his friend, John Evelyn. The final extract I want to refer to confirms the arrival in society of the French style of dining in Pepys’s last description of hosting a fine meal. The entry for 23 January 1669 reads:

‘Up, and again to look after the setting things right for dinner, which I did to a very good content; and so to the office, where all the morning til noon, when word brought me to the Board that my Lord Sandwich, Peterburgh, and Sir Ch. Herberd; and presently after them come my Lord Hinchingbrooke, Mr. Sidny, and Sir Wm. Godolphin; and after greeting them, and some time spent in talk, dinner was brought up, one dish after another, but a dish at a time; but all so good, but above all things the variety of wines, and excellent of their kind, I had for them, and all in so good order, that they were mightily pleased, and myself full of content at it; and endeed it was, of a dinner of about six or eight dishes, as noble as any man need to have I think – at least, all was done in the noblest manner ever I had any, and I have rarely seen in my life better anywhere else – even at Court.’

I hope that these few quotations justify the choice of subject which was made by Oliver and me that summer evening last year. They have enabled us to watch not only the development of English culinary tastes, at least in Pepys’s circle, during those momentous nine years, but also the development and character of a very remarkable man. They show the social ascent of Pepys. They show his childish pride, as I have said, at being able to display the fruits of his success. But they also show the marvellously engaging and attractively loyal man he was. For all his pride at the lavishness of his feasts, and the silver on which they were served, he enjoyed the company of his old friends. The last dinner apart, which was clearly a more formal affair, Mrs Turner was a constant guest. As Evelyn said, he was clearly ‘hospitable, generous’; and the pleasure people took in his company supports the description of ‘universally beloved’.

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