Pas de deux

This morning some of the Commissioners of Parliament and Sir W. Batten went to Sir G. Carteret’s office here in town, and paid off the Chesnut. I carried my wife to White Friars and landed her there, and myself to Whitehall to the Privy Seal, where abundance of pardons to seal, but I was much troubled for it because that there are no fees now coming for them to me. Thence Mr. Moore and I alone to the Leg in King Street, and dined together on a neat’s tongue and udder.
From thence by coach to Mr. Crew’s to my Lord, who told me of his going out of town to-morrow to settle the militia in Huntingdonshire, and did desire me to lay up a box of some rich jewels and things that there are in it, which I promised to do. After much free discourse with my Lord, who tells me his mind as to his enlarging his family, &c., and desiring me to look him out a Master of the Horse and other servants, we parted. From thence I walked to Greatorex (he was not within), but there I met with Mr. Jonas Moore, and took him to the Five Bells, and drank a glass of wine and left him. To the Temple, when Sir R. Parkhurst (as was intended the last night) did seal the writings, and is to have the 2000l. told to-morrow.
From, thence by water to Parliament Stairs, and there at an alehouse to Doling (who is suddenly to go into Ireland to venture his fortune); Simonds (who is at a great loss for 200l. present money, which I was loth to let him have, though I could now do it, and do love him and think him honest and sufficient, yet lothness to part with money did dissuade me from it); Luellin (who was very drowsy from a dose that he had got the last night), Mr. Mount and several others, among the rest one Mr. Pierce, an army man, who did make us the best sport for songs and stories in a Scotch tone (which he do very well) that ever I heard in my life. I never knew so good a companion in all my observation.
From thence to the bridge by water, it being a most pleasant moonshine night, with a waterman who did tell such a company of bawdy stories, how once he carried a lady from Putney in such a night as this, and she bade him lie down by her, which he did, and did give her content, and a great deal more roguery.
Home and found my girl knocking at the door (it being 11 o’clock at night), her mistress having sent her out for some trivial business, which did vex me when I came in, and so I took occasion to go up and to bed in a pet.
Before I went forth this morning, one came to me to give me notice that the justices of Middlesex do meet to-morrow at Hicks Hall, and that I as one am desired to be there, but I fear I cannot be there though I much desire it.

We dance
on one leg
and dine together on a tongue.

Who is going to lay up
a box of rich things?
Who is enlarging his horse?

We walk
on glass stairs
to sudden fortune or to love

and make the best stories,
the most pleasant stories—
how on such
a night as this
she and I found some trivial business
and took occasion
to go to bed.

We meet
and desire to be here,
but I fear I cannot
(be here, desire).

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 6 December 1660.

Psalm 19:2

This morning the Proposal which I wrote the last night I showed to the officers this morning, and was well liked of, and I wrote it fair for Sir. G. Carteret to show to the King, and so it is to go to the Parliament.
I dined at home, and after dinner I went to the new Theatre and there I saw “The Merry Wives of Windsor” acted, the humours of the country gentleman and the French doctor very well done, but the rest but very poorly, and Sir J. Falstaffe as bad as any.
From thence to Mr. Will. Montagu’s chamber to have sealed some writings tonight between Sir R. Parkhurst and myself about my Lord’s 2000l., but he not coming, I went to my father’s and there found my mother still ill of the stone, and had just newly voided one, which she had let drop into the chimney, and could not find it to shew it me. From thence home and to bed.

Night showed morning
as in a theater
the still of the void,
which she had let drop
into me.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 5 December 1660.


To Whitehall to Sir G. Carteret’s chamber, where all the officers met, and so we went up to the Duke of York, and he took us into his closet, and we did open to him our project of stopping the growing charge of the fleet by paying them in hand one moyety, and the other four months hence. This he do like, and we returned by his order to Sir G. Carteret’s chamber, and there we did draw up this design in order to be presented to the Parliament. From thence I to my Lord’s, and dined with him and told him what we had done to-day. Sir Tho. Crew dined with my Lord to-day, and we were very merry with Mrs. Borfett, who dined there still as she has always done lately. After dinner Sir Tho. and my Lady to the Playhouse to see “The Silent Woman.” I home by water, and with Mr. Hater in my chamber all alone he and I did put this morning’s design into order, which being done I did carry it to Sir W. Batten, where I found some gentlemen with him (Sir W. Pen among the rest pretty merry with drink) playing at cards, and there I staid looking upon them till one o’clock in the morning, and so Sir W. Pen and I went away, and I to bed. This day the Parliament voted that the bodies of Oliver, Ireton, Bradshaw, &c., should be taken up out of their graves in the Abbey, and drawn to the gallows, and there hanged and buried under it: which (methinks) do trouble me that a man of so great courage as he was, should have that dishonour, though otherwise he might deserve it enough.

Chamber us close
in the hand—one moiety.
Like the silent woman
on a playing card, I stayed
looking upon the gallows
and the hanged man.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 4 December 1660.

Stalking the wild platypus

A new post at Idle Words is always an event. Maciej Cegłowski is the king of humorous, long-form travel blogging; my only complaint is that he rarely posts more than two or three times a year. But when he does, it’s worth the wait. This time, he’s exploring the Atherton Tableland region of Queensland, on the trail of one of Australia’s oddest, yet still quite common, species: the platypus.

The platypus inhabits Tasmania, most of the east coast of Australia, and the nightmares of the little worms and crustaceans that are its primary food. One of the many things distinguishing it from other mammals is a soft electrosensory bill, which can sense delectable muscle contractions in prey animals as they try to escape. To a platypus, fear is an appetizer. The creature’s brain integrates these minute electrical currents with its equally acute sense of touch, giving it a vivid and unimaginably alien mental picture of the stream bottom. It dives with its eyes closed.

To try to spot a platypus, I’ve ventured into the Atherton Tableland, an upland plateau stretching from Innisfail to Port Douglas in the northern part of the animal’s range. While the Northern Queensland coast is unabashedly tropical, with lush rain forest that runs directly onto postcard beaches, the Atherton Tableland looks more like Iowa, albeit an Iowa with a thriving banana industry. If the air conditioning is working, there’s little to remind you how close you are to the Equator. The tableland is a sleepy and bucolic region of farms and old mining towns, one of which, Yungaburra, boasts a platypus viewing area.

On the map, Yungaburra looks like it should be easy drive from Townsville. This is a joke my map loves to play. Like the American West coast, the area is so thinly settled that you are constantly embarking on thirteen-hour drives to places you thought you’d visit for lunch. I’m dismayed but not particularly surprised to find myself still in the car at nightfall, climbing a series of switchbacks to the relatively high elevation of the tableland. Once on top, I pass through a series of one-horse towns that are boarded up for the night even though it’s only eight o’clock. Between the towns, the darkness is Stygian.

Read the rest.

The snows of yesteryear

This morning I took a resolution to rise early in the morning, and so I rose by candle, which I have not done all this winter, and spent my morning in fiddling till time to go to the office, where Sir G. Carteret did begin again discourse on Mr. Holland’s proposition, which the King do take very ill, and so Sir George in lieu of that do propose that the seamen should have half in ready money and tickets for the other half, to be paid in three months after, which we judge to be very practicable. After office home to dinner, where come in my cozen Snow by chance, and I had a very good capon to dinner. So to the office till night, and so home, and then come Mr. Davis, of Deptford (the first time that ever he was at my house), and after him Mons. L’Impertinent, who is to go to Ireland to-morrow, and so came to take his leave of me. They both found me under the barber’s hand; but I had a bottle of good sack in the house, and so made them very welcome.
Mr. Davis sat with me a good while after the other was gone, talking of his hard usage and of the endeavour to put him out of his place in the time of the late Commissioners, and he do speak very highly of their corruption.
After he was gone I fell a reading ‘Cornelianum dolium’ till 11 o’clock at night with great pleasure, and after that to bed.

This is no
winter in which
I am snow
under the barber’s hand

but a sack of hard time,
late and gone.
I read a clock with pleasure
after that.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 3 December 1660.

The Icelandic origin of the hobbit hole

Nancy Marie Brown’s blog God of Wednesday is essential reading for any fan of Old Norse literature and all things Icelandic. Her most recent post is all about turf houses:

Whenever I see an Icelandic turf house, especially from the back, I think of the opening of Tolkien’s The Hobbit:

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

When I first went to Iceland, I wondered why it seemed so familiar. Then I learned that Tolkien had read William Morris’s journal of his travels to Iceland in 1873 and used them as the basis for much of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins’s quest.

Morris’s view of an Icelandic turf house, though, was that of a guest. “We are soon all housed in a little room about twelve feet by eight,” he writes, “two beds in an alcove on one side of the room and three chests on the other, and a little table under the window: the walls are panelled and the floor boarded; the window looks through four little panes of glass, and a turf wall five feet thick (by measurement) on to a wild enough landscape of the black valley, with the green slopes we have come down, and beyond the snow-striped black cliffs and white dome of Geitland’s Jokul.”

Quaint and pretty, it seems–with a little imagination, it could be a hobbit hole.

But what was it really like to live in a turf house?

Read the rest.