My old friend Grumio, for whose intellect, percipience and erudition I have long had the greatest respect, emailed this to me the other day:
I learnt the history of Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper today, that is, who Peter Piper was. Am I very behind? Did everyone know this except me?
I replied that he and I may well be the only ones who had not known this, and he came back with:
Why, he was Pierre Poivre, of course, yer actual Frenchman who smashed the Dutch monopoly on nutmeg by picking a peck of pickled pepper from the Dutch-controlled Moluccas and taking it to Mauritius and starting a whole new spice island from scratch and preventing us having to call it notemuskaat all our lives. Piper is Latin for pepper. The pepper was pickled in brine so as to survive the voyage. Here he is, looking a bit smug, I grant you. I find that dead interesting, me.
In all honesty I had to tell him that I found this piece of information to be perhaps not-long-for-this-world interesting but certainly rather less than dead interesting, and that the picture of this French person which he attached was not at all interesting.
Moreover, the information itself is confusing: nutmeg (one of two spices obtained from the tree Myristica Fragrans, the other being mace), has nothing to do with pepper, pickled or not. It also fails to mention the fact that on a journey to the East Indies Pierre Poivre was involved in a naval battle with the British and that he was struck by a cannonball on the wrist, an injury requiring amputation of part of his right arm.
Come to think of it, that is not tremendously interesting, either, so perhaps I was being hard on Grumio. It was just that I can normally count on a man who contributes under pseudonyms to two satirical magazines, and who writes brilliant and witty essays, also pseudonymously, in several respected monthlies, to provide me on a Monday morning with something more substantial in the way of intellectual sustenance than this stuff about nutmeg.