« November 2007 | Main | January 2008 »

December 31

The Ins and Outs of a New Year

The Year of Grace 1678 is almost upon us, and, in keeping with a tradition I began last year, I would like to present to my readers a list of those ideas which have fallen out of fashion this year and those which I believe will gain prominence in the New Year. Patrick has already amused me and Sean greatly with his “Ten Momentous Things, Changes, and Events of 1677,” and I hope that you will find my own list a pleasant diversion as you prepare for the New Year:

Out: Ice Cream. Despite its recent popularization by the French (it is rumored to be a favorite pudding of Madame de Montespan herself and was all the rage in Paris this year), it is my firm conviction that this ludicrous concoction—along with the croissant, the café au lait, and those unpleasant strands of potatoes fried in oil that the French have also introduced into contemporary cuisine—will fall out of favour permanently before this decade is over.

In: Syllabub. Unlike its silly, faddish counterpart, syllabub is a pudding that is quite clearly here to stay. If you want my prediction, this sumptuous dessert will be enjoyed throughout the world for centuries after “ice cream” has faded forever from gastronomical memory.

Out: Witchcraft. Following a number of poisonings in France recently, the French king was faced with the difficult problem of what to do with the abundance of suspects and their acquaintances who had been rounded up in connection with the case (under accusation of practicing witchcraft). There are those who maintain that his handling of the situation could have been more compassionate, but it is my opinion that he solved the problem the only way a king ought: with a felicitous use of judiciousness, common sense, and kindling.

In: Burnings. I will say one thing for the French, they do not make such a fuss about “due process” as one tends to encounter this side of the Channel. Louis XIV, for all his extravagance and frippery, is a man who knows when to exercise diplomacy and patience and when to rid himself of his problems simply by burning them. Having used the same method myself on a number of occasions, I can highly recommend it to any of my readers who are longing to “make a fresh start” in 1678.

Out: Patrick. My friend Patrick Thrasher is a world-renowned scholar, a respected and beloved member of the community, and a generous patron of the arts. He is also a tiresome bloody bore. When Patrick disappeared last year, I learned exactly what life was like without his learned influence, his unique sense of humor, his kind and thoughtful ministrations—but unfortunately, he has somehow found his way back into my life, and that blissful period is now but a distant memory. I have resolved this year to be less tolerant of my persistent houseguest.

In: EJT. When comparing the Thrasher brothers, it must be admitted in Patrick’s defense that Edward (or EJT as he likes to be called) is a villain, a murderer, and a dangerous fanatic. We all have our flaws, though, and Edward more than makes up for his with an aptitude and enthusiasm for golf, which (given the current scarcity of gentlemen willing to give this fascinating new sport a try) is a rare and commendable quality indeed.

Out: Spinoza. Spinoza died in February of 1677 in The Hague, and with him died one of the silliest, most preposterous books ever written: On the Improvement of the Understanding, which might more accurately be called On the Stultification of the Senses. Although the banning of his collected works has deprived me of an effective soporific, this necessary censorship—along with Spinoza's timely demise—has spared countless future students of philosophy the unpleasantness of encountering his absurd ideas. I would wager my fortune that mine is the very last generation that will ever have any occasion to read the works of Baruch Spinoza.

In: Spermatozoa. Despite producing an occasional bad apple like Spinoza, the Dutch are for the most part a useful people, and Patrick has insisted that I include a mention in this year’s list of Antoni Van Leeuwenhoek and his recent discovery of “Spermatozoa,” which he calls the “seed of life”. It has been known for generations that the process of getting this substance to fertilize an egg and thus produce life is an exceedingly difficult and unpleasant procedure, but Van Leeuwenhoek’s new theories about how it all works must certainly be accounted as interesting (biologically speaking), though they do not appear to be of much practical use in actually getting the job done.

Out: Whores. Regular readers of Peep This Diary will know that Sean and I have recently purchased a disreputable den of prostitution called The Crimson Unicorn and cleansed it of the sinful trollops who were once seen plying their trade in its infamous environs. They will also doubtless be pleased to hear that after being in our hands for little more than a month, The Unicorn may be crossed off the list of places where a common Englishman may find base comforts in the arms of a cheap whore. Which reminds me, actually—I need to remember to inform Messrs. Routledge & Sons, who publish the list, that this is the case.

In: Ladies of the Night. Although, in all honesty, they offer very similar services, The Crimson Unicorn’s well-mannered and carefully groomed Ladies of the Night appeal to a more respectable clientele than the low harlots who occupied the building before Sean and I took over its operation, and they have raised the tone of the establishment considerably. As a result, we charge double.*

*Sean has asked me to inform our readership that regular customers are still allowed to play at “Naughty Nurses” twice weekly for half price.

Ten Momentous Things, Changes, and Events of 1677

The good year of our Lord 1677 has come to its end, and not without adventures of all sorts. My ill-fated trip to the Orient being foremost among them, I have spent some time since my return catching up on all the news since my departure. NTL, given the popularity of last year's list, I have once again compiled the Ten Most Important Occurrences of 1677, as a partial record of this eventful year. I welcome comments on the strength of these ten as the years Most Important, or on any Omissions readers may have determined in my list.

10) Death of Francis Glisson (below): An old and beloved colleague, he passed away not long after my return to London. A renowned Doctor of Physick, his study of the liver has advanced medicine immeasurably, and has saved many of us the trouble of investigating the most boring of organs.


9) Marriage of Mary to her coz William of Orange: So much preferable to that cad, the Dauphin Louis.

8) The New Management at the Crimson Unicorn: Though I am loathe to list the same establishment on two "best of" lists in a row, Jack and Sean's active involvement in the management of the best baudy house in all of London surely merits it. I have not yet determined whether this is an event of great joy or woe; but, given their harsh efforts to cut costs, and their extreme dislike of credit - even mine, and even though previous management supplied them such credit quite generously - I am leaning towards the latter. But the new sconces are nice.

7) The removal of Thomas Killigrew from the the post of Master of the Revels: Nearly as incompetent as he is unfunny, I was mightily pleased to find upon my return that he had lost his post. I am certain that ninny Pepys is disappointed; I know he found Killigrew amusing. Need I mention that Killigrew is a Papist?

6) Jean Racine's Phèdre: I have only read it - the text was given to me by a colleague before I departed for points east; I read it a dozen times on the outbound journey alone - and I have heard that the opening performances were not well received, but this play is a masterpiece. For Racine's sake, I hope History reveals this to be true.

5) Henry Purcell named to the court of Charles II: I have very high hopes for this young composer. His compositions and performances as organist at Westminster have certainly earned him the posting.

4) The death of Wenceslaus Hollar, etcher:  A great loss for all involved in Natural Philosophy. None in the City had his gift for representation, nor his production speed. His illustrative work has enabled many, many great minds to study flora & fauna seen in person by only a lucky few. Examples:



I had hoped to enlist Hollar in illustrating my own texts on my discoveries in the Orient.

3) Elias Ashmole's gift of the Tradescant Collection to Oxford University: An unprecedented scholastic opportunity, and we all look forward to the new Facilities built to house the Collection. Of course, the bequest is something of a blow to Viscount Brouncker, who had been trying to secure the collection for the Royal Society for the better part of the decade.

2) Completion of the Monument to the Great Fire of London: Wren does it again (with some help from Robert Hooke). Not only is the monument a fitting tribute to that catastrophe, but it affords a grand view of the City from its pinnacle...and it is a spectacular scientific instrument as well! It functions both as a large zenith telescope AND a laboratory for conducting gravity experiments. My only complaint: the illustrative carvings and inscription around its base fail to mention the cause of the Fire - a Papist conspiracy. Someone should fix this.

1) Discovery of Youthful Medicine in the Orient: I alluded to a "Font of Youth" in a much earlier post, and, while I hesitate to use quite such exuberant language this time around, I NTL believe something there, most likely the water, is responsible for the youthful aspect of even the oldest of men in that far away Delta. Should we be able to determine the exact cause of their longevity, we shall be able to export it back to the West, radically improving the Englishman's quality of life and earning a fortune in the process. History, I think, will show this to be far and away the Most Important Occurrence of the year - perhaps even the decade.

December 1


Running a bawdy house is proving more difficult than I had anticipated. There are, it turns out, some rather delicate matters related to managing the personnel that require a softer touch than I have been accustomed to in directing affairs at a shipyard or a loading dock. By way of an example: this afternoon, when I informed Ms. Mary Walker (who is generally a model employee and a top money-earner for the business) that she was looking particularly burly today, not to mention a good deal older than her years, and could she perhaps lose five pounds and find a way of concealing her wrinkles by Monday, she suddenly burst into tears and ran from the room, leaving me to wonder whether she had caught a gnat in her eye, or remembered some awful event that had overwhelmed her upon recollection. When I attempted to discuss this strange behaviour with the others in the room, no one would look me in the eye. Sean was even quite short with me when I asked him what I had done to elicit such an odd reaction from the girl.

I have since learned from Patrick that one should never broach the subject of a woman’s weight or age without exercising an extreme amount of delicacy and care. Apparently, raising topics of this sort can provoke a chemical reaction that directly affects the tear ducts, and, occasionally, certain lobes of the brain which can cause an otherwise gentle woman to become irrational and violent. The reason for this, Patrick tells me, is that overly scientific talk, such as the discussion of body mass and its fluctuations, or the physical effects of aging, is so distressing to women (whose brains are not equipped to comprehend mathematical or scientific concepts) that too much of it can send their bodies into a kind of apoplexy, which is extremely unpredictable, and sometimes quite dangerous. I am very fortunate to be acquainted with a man like Patrick—whose understanding of the female gender is unrivaled—or else I am quite certain that I would make mistakes of this sort all the time!

I had vowed to post on this blog at least twice a week from now on, but, since my difficulties with the staff may make such an undertaking close to impossible (and I have no desire to frustrate my readers), I have asked Patrick’s brother Edward to fill in for me during my busier times. You may look forward to the occasional guest post from him in the coming weeks—and I can assure you that if you look past the unfortunate fact that he is a religious fanatic and a homicidal maniac, you will find a great deal of interest and good sense in his writing. In the meantime, I will let you know how things progress with the staff—now that I know what makes them tick, I am certain that they will grow to love me in no time at all.