Robinson Crusoe Quote

"He preferred, however, "gourmandization," was an idolater of a certain decent, commodious fish, called a turtle, and worshipped the culinary image wherever he nozed it put up."
---The Contradiction (1796)

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Invasion, Beheadings and Jacobite Toasts: Not Your Grandmother's Newspaper Clippings

My last post suggested how an unlikely source –– a list of wagers made among friends –– may provide a glimpse into what went on behind the doors of the 18th century tavern.  But not every eating club doubled as a gambling club, and I have had to resign myself to the fact that the material for this project, no matter how hard I look, will most likely not come served on a magnificent platter, but rather will be gleaned from a haphazard potpourri of scraps.  So be it, I say.
"The Loyal Packet" records international
politics and the Jacobite Uprising at home
(Check out the note at the bottom)

If any wagers were made among members of the Wednesday's Club, which in terms of its middling, upwardly mobile social composition was very similar to the Centenary Club, they weren't recorded ... save for a failed lottery ticket.  But in 1715, I did find three newspaper clippings glued into the pages of its large leather-bound record book.

This finding got me wondering: what can these scraps of paper reveal about the inner lives of the club members?  Why do we hold onto newspaper clippings?  Or if not newspaper clippings –– only my grandmother does that –– what about links?

News didn't come cheap in those days, so papers were often left behind in eating and drinking establishments such as taverns and coffeehouses, where they then could be picked up, re-used and read aloud to groups of friends.  On the bottom of one clipping is a handwritten note: "presented to the Clubb by Mr Bate."   But who is this guy?  I couldn't find record or mention of him anywhere else, which suggests that Mr Bate showed up as the guest of someone else.

More importantly, why are these documents presented to the club?  Two of the papers are separate issues of "The Norwich Gazette, or, The Loyal Packet" both of which discuss the 1715 Jacobite Uprising led by "The Old Pretender," the son of the deposed King James II.  Specifically, the rather triumphalist tone of the "Loyal Packet" papers, which are published before the actual invasion took place, proclaim the ensuing defeat of the Pretender, whilst fully explicating the consequences of treasonous behavior, ie.

James Stuart, the Old Pretender
Invaded England in 1715
"They have actually begun to build a Scaffold in Westminster Hall for the Trial of the Earl of Oxford..."

Guess the Jacobite Rising of 1715 was no laughing matter for members of the Wednesday's Club, who quickly scribbled a new rule into their already seven-page long list of club rules.

17th August 1715
It is this day ordered by this society (nem con) that for the future no health shall bee begun by any member of this society on this club night besides the King's, to the Church as by Law established, the absent Members, and healths of the persons present, upon the forfeiture of halfe a crowne to the use of this Society.

The men of the Fountain Tavern apparently had the little tolerance for any Jacobite funny business.  (The third newspaper, in case you were wondering, is an issue of the London Gazette from shortly before the Glorious Revolution of 1688.  Obviously some kind of conversation about political loyalty was going on.) 

What does this tell us?  Because these clubs met so regularly, it is all too easy to forget that living in the 18th century was fraught with threats of invasion (in 1715, and again in 1745) and war being waged overseas on an almost constant basis.  In various places and in various ways, I've tried to suggest that the performance of taste within the communal meal had significant social stakes.  Who is to say that it didn't have political stakes as well?   

Friday, 23 September 2011

Who is William Innys?

Greetings, noble reader!  For the past week, the Authoress of this Blog has been immersed in a sea of Excel tables, trying to trace the popularity of Stew'd Cucumber, Hunting PuddingMock Turtle and Soup Santé.  And given that we are often most drawn to data we can visualize with the Eye, I suspect that my avid Readers are desirious of another Pye Chart.  But as we can never do more Injury to Truth, than by discovering too much of it, on some occasions, I humbly beg leave to redirect the Publick's attention to the practices of yet another Society not hitherto discussed by the Authoress of this Blog.  Permit me to educate you, dear reader, upon the Centenary Club.

Actually, the club was nameless throughout their first 100 years of existence; only in 1795 did they rename themselves (rather smugly, after their own anniversary).

Anyway, this club supped more often than they dined, which in the 18th century was usually a lighter meal, with fewer options, than the fare usually discussed on this Blog.  But what did the members do after supper was over?  Well, just the same thing as any other club of red-blooded gentlemen did in 18th century London ... they gambled.  Even though the Centenary Club's rule book states that "Any member who shall at any time during the club come to be disordered by drink, shall forfeit 6d," I suspect that, given all the bets (made, inevitably, in bottles of claret) going on, they took a very liberal view of the term "disordered."

Roulette was popular by the 18th century.  But I'm not really sure
what games the Centenary Club played; the minute books don't say.
The lists of wagers scrawled in the minute book's pages offer some interesting clues when it comes to that impossible question: what did members talk about when they all got together?  Many of the bets deal with rather quotidian events: the ages of other members, who will be elected "high steward," or whether the club will ever get out of debt.  Other wagers provide a glimpse into the pretty merciless world beyond the tavern doors; one note attests that "the scaffolds belonging to Mr Wells and Mr Saxon would not be struck by the next month" (1701).  King of gives a new meaning to the idea of a "polite and commercial people."

Public Executions: All fun and games for these guys?
But over a long century and then some, one name got stuck in my mind.  It was that of an otherwise unremarkable club member named William Innys, who took part in the club from mid-1717 to his death in 1756.

Who was this guy?  Well, we know that he was a livery-man; in 1749 he was chosen to officiate as the master of the Worshipful Company of Stationers on Lord Mayor's Day.   Contemporary printed documents refer to him as a Bookseller.  And the guy obviously liked to play fast and loose with his bottles of claret, as he happened to lay more wagers, and pay more fines, than anybody.

On May 5, 1736, Innys "paid ... a bottle of wine for laying a wager during the club time without having first obtained leave of the high steward, conforming to the order of the club."

And in December of that same year, it is written "Mr Innys do pay a bottle of wine for usurping upon the power of the high steward in declaring before his high steward."

A few years later, he is fined again (twice!) for using "reflecting" language.  I could go on and on.

Yes, this William Innys was quite the rabble-rouser; kind of like that slightly obnoxious friend who can perpetually be counted on to get too drunk and spend the rest of the evening trying to push everyone's buttons.  But you got to love him, because he's been in the club for a long time, and, well, he always makes the evening more memorable.  And I confess, dear readers, that as I turned the pages of this old leather-bound tome, I began to develop an affection for William Innys.  I grew concerned when I got to the 1750s and noticed that he was attending meetings with far less frequency.  The last time he came to the club was in late June, 1755.  In 1756, a written note confirmed my gravest fears.

William Innys .............. dead.

At the top of the page, you can see the club's note of William Innys's death
But what kind relics, I wonder, might ECCO (Eighteenth Century Collections Online) hold onto for the sake of Posterity's Curiosity?    I eagerly typed in William Innys's name and found this:

Yep ... and it was held over dinner

That's right; I guess they auctioned off all of Innys's books after his death.  Given that his life was more or less bound up with the printing industry, it isn't very surprising that Innys was quite the literary man.  He was an avid reader of Cervantes (Don Quixote) and Milton (Paradise Lost) but seemed to have no taste for the Richardsonian epistolary epics that took the 1740s by storm.  Neither was he a stranger to science, having owned Newton's Principia Mathematica, the anatomical work of Boerhaave and von Haller, and copies of the Royal Society's Philosophical Transactions.  His books suggest that he was a religious man (he owned various sermons and devotions) but also was a lover of history and natural philosophy.  

Innys happily straddled the worlds of the Ancients and the Moderns alike.    

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Men of the Upper Crust

My last post took a peek at the sweet treats most frequently served to the Thursday's Club over 1748-49, when the club first started recording its weekly dinners.  40 years later, the club mysteriously stopped recording its meals.  But what happened in between then?

Joseph Banks: Botanist, Collector, Gastronome
(I think he looks the part)

The club had witnessed some pretty significant changes over this period.  In 1779, the botanist Joseph Banks (most famous for his travels with Captain Cook) was elected President of the Society.  Banks was quite the dinner party aficionado; he headed the Thursday's Club for 42 years, and it was said that when he wasn't collecting exotic plants abroad, he patronized 12 different eating clubs in London. 

Then, in 1784, the club relocated from the Mitre Tavern to the popular Crown and Anchor on the Strand (only after drawing up a few new dinner provisions, which you can read about here).  The Crown and Anchor appears quite frequently in accounts of 18th century public dining.  Because of its large size and central location, it served as venue for everything from political rallies to charity events to Masonic meetings.   

So what did members get for dessert at this new location, almost 40 years after my last post?  You would think that, given the changed venue, and the greater availability of sugar and exotic fruits, we would see a little more creativity in the offerings. 

But lo and behold; my amateur "Pye Chart" reveals virtually the same sugary culprits: Gooseberry Pye, Marrow Pudding, and the marked persistence of the apple.  There are a few variations, of course –– dumplings and tarts popping up every now and then –– but pye remains the most ubiquitous form of pastry.  There are a few new additions, such as "Almond Cake," "Hunting Pudding" "Blamange" and the rather mysterious "Fruit Pyes," but these dishes are few and far between.      

To me, this suggests that the club members, whilst at the Mitre, cultivated a particular proclivity for the dish, which was, by the 1780s, ingrained as an unwritten tradition.  Apple Pie was, of course, believed to be a quintessential English dish in the 18th century; I've run across a couple poems about it throughout the course of my research.  You certainly can't say that about the suspiciously francophillic "Blamange."  

To the right, I've added an example "menu page" that demonstrates how the information was set down on the page at this time.  Notice all the repetition; the second half of the menu looks like a mirror image of the first half, and the roast (here a 'chine of mutton') constitutes the center piece.  I'm pretty sure this list resembles the way the dinner looked like when it was set upon the table.  It doesn't look like a modern-day menu in the slightest, with a progression from appetizer to main course to dessert.  But it doesn't say whether there was any rhyme or reason as to how the dishes were eaten.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Sweet Teeth

Zounds!  It's been a long day, good readers, and the Authoress of this Blog confesses that she has spent the past few hours recovering from her foray into the world of data, forms, and countless spreadsheets.  Entering 40 years of dinners into a database is no walk in the park, and working with a program that refuses to recognize anything other than the Gregorian Calendar (England used the Julian until 1752) doesn't make matters any easier.

So for today, I'm going to examine just the first two years of available records from the Thursday's Club, which begin in March, 1748.  (Mind you, these aren't the first meetings of the club's official incarnation ... the 1743-1747 records have been lost.)   And I suspect that going through everything set on the table –– from the profusion of pidgeon pyes to the perennial supplements of butter and cheese –– might fatigue my readers' tender appetites.  So, what the hell, let's just start with dessert.  

The pie-chart below breaks down all of the desserts consumed at the weekly meetings at the Mitre Tavern (the weekly meeting place) between 1748-1749.

I won't lie, readers; I was a little taken aback by my findings.  No Malaga Watermelons, no Jamaica Pepper, no Parmesan Cheese expertly aged to survive both fire and burial.  Instead, "Apple Pye," a rather ubiquitous and versatile dish that was consumed by the rich and poor alike, appeared on the table most often in these years.  Never since the Cider Craze of the 1670s have I witnessed such enthusiasm for the fruit.  A slight variation on this theme –– Apple Pye "Creamed" –– came in fourth, after Plumb and Marrow Pudding, respectively.  We get apple custard, which actually sounds pretty tasty, only once, but all in all, apple concoctions (codlings included) constitute nearly 40% of the desserts.  Seems like the most favored desserts of the R.S. primarily contained local fruits that corresponded to the rhythms of the season. 

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Eating between the Lines

You might have noticed, my avid readers, that the Authoress of this Blog has revealed a fair amount of cynicism when it comes to the 21st century feasibility of adopting an 18th century work-house diet.  At least it doesn't sound like very much fun.  But everything, I fear, is relative, and I don't want to demonize the workhouse overseers as a bunch of hypocritical cheapskate skallywags straight out of a Dickens novel.  

The New Poor Law of 1834 stipulated that every workhouse must have a bill of fare, but in the 18th century this wasn't required.  There was usually a diet table of some sorts, but this doesn't mean that it was always rigidly adhered to.  I've run across a bunch of announcements that the poor would, on certain days, be dining on things like "beans and bacon" and "mackarel ... as they master shall think convenient."  At one workhouse, I found out that a baronet was shelling out twenty pounds a year during the 1720s to ensure that the poor had roast beef for dinner every Sunday.

Economy was certainly a key element in the provision of the workhouse diet, and there were, at times, painful cutbacks –– my heart nearly broke, gentle readers, when in 1769 a cheaper and substantially less tasty-sounding broth was substituted for pudding at one workhouse on account of the latter's expense –– but overseers wanted the food to be more than just palatable, and often sent provisions back if the basics didn’t measure up to standards.
When in Rome...
(Rachel's Organic 'Divine Rice' Pudding)
And for the record, my friends, it "answered well"

When a vendor offered one London workhouse four different kinds of rice at different prices in 1796, the overseers opted for the second most expensive kind, deeming that the cheapest kind, "did not answer so well ... as to make rice milk."  And they only went with this upscale East India rice after whipping up some rice milk using the free sample, serving it up for dinner, and then informing the committee that, yes, indeed, the “poor were satisfied therewith."

We can't underestimate the centrality of the “bang” in contemporaries' desire to get their bang for the buck.