|John Evelyn, author of Acetaria, 1699|
But Evelyn was hardly the only intellectual to pay attention to the vegetable kingdom.
I noticed a gentleman by the name of Philip Miller who began to attend dinners of the Thursday's Club in the Spring of 1752. He dined with the club frequently, attending two to three dinners a month on average. But he was always noted down as a "visitor." Of whom? I wondered. Where did he come from?
Apparently, Miller was anxious to please. For three consecutive weeks during the summer of 1753, Mr. Miller entertained the club with Aegyptian lettuces. What did this mean?
Philip Miller also authored the widely-read The Gardener's Dictionary, which classified 14 different kinds of lettuce, ranging from the "common garden" varieties to progressively more exotic and esteemed "Silesia" "Aleppo" and "Black Cos." Lettuces were valued in those days for their delicate qualities; coarser varieties, Miller attested, were only appropriate for "stewing rather than salleting."
I enjoyed flipping through this manual, as it provides a nice glimpse into the tastes of contemporary Londoners as set apart from the rest of the kingdom. "The most valuable of all the Sorts of Lettuces in England are the Versailles, the Silesia, and Cos," Miller claims, "tho' some People are very fond of the Royal and Imperial Lettuces; but they seldom sell so well in the London Markets as the other, nor are so generally esteem'd.
Guess Miller's expertise worked in his favor; he was elected a full-time member in July of 1753. The minute book noted, however, that Miller hadn't exactly been a stranger all this time:
"Mr Phillip Miller having been an Antient Member of this Society but being out of Town when the regulation of the Society was made in 1749 and having Applyed as a Candidate ever since June 1752 it was unanimously Agreed that the present Vacancy should be supplyed."
|Oh the suspense! Miller is voted in, and another guy is kicked out.|
What provoked the need for these men to institutionalize their weekly meals, to demarcate for them a specific time and place? And how did the formation of clubs affect friendships, acquaintance networks, the unspoken protocols of social life? For Philip Miller was not unlike an English Rip van Winkle. Time passes in his absence, and he eventually wakes up groggy and slightly baffled, forced to face the consequences of falling too long asleep.