They Could “Take It.”
Take Henry the Eighth; if there was one thing he liked as well as a wedding it was a free-for-all among the giblets and knuckle-bones. It has even been suggested that it was only the wedding breakfasts that lured him to marriage so often. Of course eating was fine sport in those times when the gentlemen of the court derived good clean fun from flinging well-gnawed shin-bones and trotters at the varlets and knaves, many of whom cherished bumps or contusions as marks of the royal favour, and aim. Henry certainly could “take it.” But, even if he did believe in the adage: “Every man his own widower,” his outlook was as broad as his intake and, making allowance for his belief in the sanctity of widowerhood, he proved that character can be built from the belt up. There was gout, of course, but some maintained that it was worth it.
And little Samuel Pepys, whose days appeared to have been lived by the colander rather than the calendar, left his diary to prove that you can't rise far with a sinking feeling in the pit of the vest. Scanning the Pepysian pages one certainly feels that had Samuel devoted a little less time to
“Often a matter of opportunity.”
literary lip-smacking he might have been First Lord instead of secretary to the Admiralty. Still, he rose by his own efforts. Some men rise from nothing. Samuel rose from the table. Follow a few of his jottings, sandwiched between court gossip, royal intrigue and spots of departmental defalcation! On the 9th day of December, 1659, he records: “This night Mr. Gauden sent me a great chine of beef and half a dozen of tongues.” On the 22nd he remarked: “Went to the Sun Taverne on Fish Street Hill to a dinner of Captain Teddiman's …. where he had a very fine dinner, good musique, and a great deal of wine. I very merry. Went to bed; my head achine all night.” And the next day: “Home, and found my wife and maid with much ado had made shift to spit a great turkey.” And, day after day, he records such chop-smacking events as: “Here we supped very merry, and late to bed.” “Went by coach to Walthamstowe. Here we had a venison
pasty brought hot from London, and were very merry.” “To a dinner of young Mr. Bernard's …. where we had a most excellent dinner, but a pie of such pleasant variety of good things, as in all my life I never tasted.” And, “To dinner to Sir W. Penn's … and we had, besides a good chine of beef and other good cheer, eighteen mince pies in a dish, the number of years that he hath been married.” “He and I went to breakfast in my chamber upon a collar of brawn.” “…. dined by my wife's bedside with great content, having a mess of brave plum porridge and a roasted pullet for dinner, and I sent for a mince pie abroad, my wife not being well, to make any herself yet.” “To dinner with my wife, to a good hog's harslet, a piece of meat I love.” “And very merry we were with our pasty, very well baked; and a good dish of roasted chickens; pease, lobsters, strawberries.” “At noon, to dinner, where the remains of yesterday's venison, and a couple of brave green geese, which we are fain to eat alone, because they will not keep, which troubled us.” “To Sir W. Batten's …. and a great feast, and good discourse and merry, and so home to bed …” “At noon a good venison pasty and a turkey to ourselves ….” “A brave dinner by having a brace of pheasants.”
Even during the great fire of London Samuel kept one eye on the Admiralty and the other on the pantry. He records: “Sir W. Batten not knowing how to remove his wine, did dig a pit in the garden, and laid it there…. And in the evening Sir W. Penn and I did dig another, and put our wine in it; and I my parmazan cheese, as well as my wine and some other things.”