THE 1700s AND ONWARDS
And we know that lime is used in the manufacture of sherry, in order to free it from a portion of malic and tartaric acids, and to assist in producing its dry quality. Sack is spoken of as late as 1717, in a parish register, which allows the minister a pint of it on the Lord’s-day, in the winter season; and Swift, writing in 1727, has the lines—
“As clever Tom Clinch, while the rabble was bawling,
Rode stately through Holborn to die of his calling,
He stopped at the ‘George’ for a bottle of sack,
And promised to pay for it when he came back.”
He was probably of the same opinion as the Elizabethan poet, who sang—
“Sacke will make the merry minde be sad,
So will it make the melancholie glad.
If mirthe and sadnesse doth in sacke remain,
When I am sad I’ll take some sacke again”.
A recipe of this time, attributed to Sir Fleetwood Fletcher, is curious in its composition in more ways than one; and, as we seldom find such documents in rhyme, we give it —
“From famed Barbadoes, on the western main, Fetch sugar, ounces four; fetch sack from Spain,
A pint; and from the Eastern coast, Nutmeg, the glory of our northern toast;
O’er flaming coals let them together heat, Till the all-conquering sack dissolve the sweet;
O’er such another fire put eggs just ten, New-born from tread of cock and rump of hen;
Stir them with steady hand, and conscience pricking, To see the untimely end of ten fine chicken;
From shining shelf take down the brazen skillet,—
A quart of milk from gentle cow will fill it; When boil’d and cold, put milk and sack to eggs,
Unite them firmly like the triple leagues; And on the fire let them together dwell,
Till miss sing twice—you must not kiss and tell; Each lad and lass take up a silver spoon,
And fall on fiercely like a starved dragoon.”
About this time, one Lord Holies, who probably represented the total abstainers of the age, invented a drink termed Hydromel, made of honey, spring-water, and ginger; and a cup of this taken at night, said he, “will cure thee of all troubles,”—thus acknowledging the stomachic virtues of cups, though some warping of his senses would not let him believe, to a curable extent, in more potent draughts: being in charity with him, we hope his was a saving faith,—but we have our doubts of it, he died so young.
Another recipe of the same nature was, “The Ale of health and strength,” by the Duchess of St. Albans, which appears to have been a decoction of all the aromatic herbs in the garden (whether agreeable or otherwise), boiled up in small beer; and, thinking this account of its composition is sufficient, we will not indulge our readers with the various items or proportions.
One of the most amusing descriptions of old English cheer we ever met with is that of Master Stephen Perlin, a French physician, who was in England during the reign of Edward VI. and Mary. He says, writing for the benefit of his countrymen –
“The English, one with the other, are joyous, and are very fond of music; likewise they are great drinkers. Now remember, if you please, that in this country they generally use vessels of silver when they drink wine; and they will say to you usually at table, ‘Goude cheere, and also they will say to you more than one hundred times, ‘Drink oui and you will reply to them in their language, ‘Iplaigui.’ They drink their beer out of earthenware pots, of which the handles and the covers are of silver, &c.”
Worthy Master Perlin seems hardly to have got on with his spelling of the English tongue while he was studying our habits; his account, however, of olden customs is reliable and curious. The custom of pledging and drinking health’s is generally stated to have originated with the Anglo-Saxons; but, with such decided evidence before us of similar customs among the Greeks and Romans, we must, at any rate, refer it to an earlier period; and, indeed, we may rationally surmise that, in some form or other, the custom has existed from time immemorial.
In later times the term ” toasting” was employed to designate customs of a similar import, though the precise date of the application of this term is uncertain; and although we cannot accept the explanation given in the 24th number of ‘The Tatler’ yet, for its quaintness, we will quote it:—
“It is said that while a celebrated beauty was indulging in her bath, one of the crowd of admirers who surrounded her took a glass of the water in which the fair one was dabbling, and drank her health to the company, when a gay fellow offered to jump in, saying, ‘Though he liked not the liquor, he would have the toast’. This tale proves that toasts were put into beverages in those days, or the wag would not have applied the simile to the fair bather; and in the reign of Charles II.,
Earl Rochester writes— “Make it so large that, fill’d with sack, Up to the swelling brim, Vast toasts on the delicious lake, Like ships at sea, may swim.”
And in a panegyric on Oxford ale, written by Warton in 1720, we have the lines—
“My sober evening let the tankard bless, With toast embrown’d, and fragrant nutmeg fraught,
“While the rich draught, with oft-repeated whiffs, Tobacco mild improves.”
Johnson, in his translation of Horace, makes use of the expression in Ode I. Book IV. thus:—
There jest and feast; make him thine host, If a fit liver thou dost seek to toast; and Prior, in the ‘Camelion’, says, “But if at first he minds his hits, And drinks champagne among the wits, Five deep he toasts the towering lasses, Repeats your verses wrote on glasses.”
This last line has reference to the custom pursued in the clubs of the eighteenth century, of writing verses on the brims of their cups; they also inscribed on them the names of the favourite ladies whom they toasted: and Dr. Arbuthnot ascribes the name of the celebrated Kit-Cat Club, of which Dr. Johnson was a member, to the toasts drunk there, rather than to the renowned pastry-cook, Christopher Kat; for he says—
“From no trim beaux its name it boasts, Grey statesmen or green wits; But from its pell-mell pack of toasts, Of old Cat and young Kits.”
Among the latter may be mentioned Lady Mary Montagu, who was toasted at the age of eight years; while among the former denomination we must class Lady Molyneux, who is said to have died with a pipe in her mouth.
In the 17th century the custom of drinking health was conducted with great ceremony; each person rising up in turn, with a full cup, named some individual to whom he drank; he then drank the whole contents of the cup and turned it upside down upon the table, giving it, at the same time, a fillip to make it ring, or, as our ancient authority has it, “make it cry ‘twango’.
Each person followed in his turn; and, in order to prove that he had fairly emptied his cup, he was to pour all that remained in it on his thumb-nail; and if there was too much left to remain on the nail, he was compelled to drink his cup full again. If the person was present whose health was drank, he was expected to remain perfectly still during the operation, and at the conclusion to make an inclination of his head,—this being the origin of our custom of taking wine with each other, which, with sorrow be it said, is fast exploding.
A very usual toast for a man to give was the health of his mistress; and in France, when this toast was given, the proposer was expected to drink his cup full of wine as many times as there were letters in her name.
We now pass on to times which seem, in their customs, to approach more nearly to the present, yet far back enough to be called old times; and we think it may be pardoned if we indulge in some reminiscences of them, tacking on to our short-lived memories the greater recollection of history, and thus reversing the wheels of time, which are hurrying us forward faster than we care to go.
For we hold it to be an excusable matter, this halting awhile and looking back to times of simpler manners than those we are living in, of heartier friendships, of more genial trustings; and that these good qualities were pre-eminently those current during the 17th and 18th centuries we have abundant proof. Has not one of the most noble sentiments in the English language come down to us in a cup—the cup of kindness, which we are bidden to take for ‘Auld Lang Syne‘?
And truly there come to us from this age passed by, but leaving behind an ever-living freshness which can be made an heritage of cheerfulness to the end of time, such testimonies of good done by associable as well as social intercourse, that were we cynics of the most churlish kind, instead of people inclined to be kind and neighbourly, we could not refuse acknowledgment of the part played in such deeds by the cup of kindness.