THE REGENCY AND VICTORIAN PERIOD
Be it remembered, however, such bright oases in social history do not shine from gluttonous tables—are not the property of hard-drinking circles, with their attendant vices. We seek for them in vain at the so-called social boards of the last century, where men won their spurs by excessive wine-drinking, and “three-bottle men” were the only gentlemen; neither do we meet them amid the carousals of Whitehall and Alsatia, or, nearer to our own day, among the vicious coteries of the Regency.
The scenes we like to recall and dwell upon are those of merry-makings and jollity; or of friendly meetings, as when gentle Master Isaac, returning from his fishing, brings with him two-legged fish to taste his brewage (and a very pleasant and commendable cup the great master of the gentle art will drink with them).
Or when pious Master Herbert chances to meet with a man he liketh, who hath the manner of loving all things for the good that is in them, and who, like his greater companion, (for no one in that quality of mind was greater than Herbert,) had a respect for what, in others, were occasions of stumbling, could use good gifts without abusing them, and think the loving-Cup of spiced wine an excellent good cordial for the heart.
Or when Dr. Donne (scarce a man in England wiser than he), laying aside for the time his abstruse learning, mixed a mighty cup of gillyflower sack, and talked over it with Sir Kenelm Digby (hardly a lesser man than himself), of the good gifts lavishly offered, but by some rudely abused, and by others unthankfully taken; discussed the merits of plants and fruits, or the virtues, harder to be discovered, of stones and metals; while they marvelled at that scheme which adapted each body, animate or inanimate, to the station ordained to it, and at the infinite goodness of Him who made man head of all, and gave him power and discernment that he might show, by the moderate use of things healthy and nourishing, the wisdom of Him who ordained them to cheer and to cherish.
A great regard for the wholesome had Sir Kenelm Digby, whose carefulness in the concoction of his favourite cup was such that he could not brew it aright if he had not Hyde Park water—a rule of much value in Sir Kenelm’s day, no doubt; but modern “improvements,” unfortunately, interfere with the present use of it. Other apostles of the truest temperance (moderation) there were, and we cherish them as men who have deserved well of their country.
Dr. Parr, for example, who could drink his cider-cup on the village green on a Sunday evening, while his farming parishioners played at bowls. Or again, still more legibly written in social history, and to some extent leaving an impress upon our national life, the club-gatherings of the last century, where men of farseeing and prudent philosophy (Addison, Steele, Goldsmith, Johnson, and others), whose names are interwoven with the history of their time, meeting together, talked of human joys and human sorrows over claret cups,—men witty themselves, and the cause of wit in other men, like sweet Sir John, whose devotion to ‘sherris sack’ cost him his character, and will therefore deny him admission to our gallery of men who have drunk wisely and warily, and therefore well.
While speaking of these times, we must not forget to mention “the cup that cheers, but not inebriates;” for it was from the introduction of tea- and coffee-houses that clubs sprang into existence by a process unnecessary here to dilate on, but of which an excellent account may be found in Philip and Grace Wharton’s ‘Wits and Beaux of Society.’
The first coffee-house established was the ‘Grecian/ kept by one Constantine, a Greek, who advertised that “the pure berry of the coffee was to be had of him as good as could be anywhere found,” and shortly afterwards succeeded in securing a flourishing trade by selling an infusion of the said berry in small cups.
After him came Mr. Garraway, who set forth that “tea was to be had of him in leaf and in drink;” and thus took its rise Garraway’s well-known coffee-house, so celebrated for the sayings and doings of Dr. Johnson, one of which, being somewhat to the point, we may, in passing, notice. “I admit,” said he, “that there are sluggish men who are improved by drinking, as there are fruits which are not good till they are rotten; there are such men, but they are medlars”.
In the eighteenth century the principal cups that we find noted were those compounded of Beer, the names of which are occasionally suggestive of too great a familiarity on the part of their worshippers, to wit Humptie-dumptie, Clamber-clown, Stiffle, Blind Pinneaux, Old Pharaoh, Three-threads, Knock-me-down, Hugmatee, and Foxcomb. All these were current at the beginning of that century; then, towards the end of it we find Cock-ale, Stepony, Stitchback, Northdown, and Mum.
All these were very similar in composition, and their precise recipes scarcely worth recording. Many noted houses of entertainment, both in town and country, were distinguished by their particular brewage of these compounds. But we can only find a single instance of a house becoming famous in this century for claret-cups, in many respects the most desirable of any drink: that one hostelry was the ‘Heaven/ in Fleet Street, so often quoted by the ephemeral writers of the age.
Modern English customs connected with drinking may be said to be conspicuous from their absence; for, save in the Grace-cups, and Loving-cups of civic entertainments and other state occasions, we do not remember customs worth alluding to. Certain of our cathedral establishments and colleges retain practices of ancient date relating to the passing round of the grace-cup; of such is the Durham Prebend’s cup, which is drank at certain feasts given by the resident Prebend to the corporation and inhabitants of the city, and for which, under an old charter, he is allowed a liberal sum of money annually.
This composition is still brewed from the original recipe, and served in the original ancient silver cups, which are at least a foot high, and hold between two and three quarts. The cups are carried into the room by a chorister-boy, attired in a black gown, preceded by a verger, also wearing a black gown trimmed with silver braid, and bearing in his hand a silver wand.
A Latin grace is then chanted, and the Prebend presents the boy with a shilling, who, having placed the cups on the table, marches out of the room, accompanied by the verger. The cups are then passed down each side of the table, and quaffed, by each guest in succession, to an appropriate toast.
For the “sensation-drinks” which have lately travelled across the Atlantic we have no friendly feeling; they are far too closely allied to the morning dram, with its thousand verbal mystifications, to please our taste; and the source from which “eye-openers” and “smashers” come, is one too notorious for un-English behaviour to be welcomed by any man who deserves well of his country: so we will pass the American bar, with its bad brandies and fiery wine, and express our gratification at the slight success which “Pick-me-up,” “Corpse-reviver,” “Chain-lightning,” and the like, have had in this country.