Born: Dr. James Beattie, poet, 1735, Laurencekirk, Kincardineshire; George Stanley Faber, theological writer, 1773.
Died: Demosthenes, great Athenian orator, 322 B.C., Isle of Calauria; King Stephen of England, 1154, Canterbury; Geoffrey Chaucer, poet, 1400, London; William Elphinstone, founder of King's College, Aberdeen, 1514, Edinburgh; Evangelista Torricelli, inventor of the barometer, 1647, Florence; Charles Mordaunt, Earl of Peterborough, celebrated commander in Spain, 1735; Augustine Calmet, biblical commentator, 1757, Abbey of Senones; George II of England, 1760, Kensington; William Hogarth, painter and engraver, 1764, Chiswick; Sir James Graham, Bart., British states man, 1861, Netherby, Cumberland.
Feast Day: Saints Chrysanthus and Darla, martyrs, 3rd century. Saints Crispin and Crispinian, martyrs, 287. St. Gaudentins of Brescia, bishop and confessor, about 420. St. Boniface I, pope and confessor, 422.
St. Crispin's Day
St. Crispin and his brother Crispinian were natives of Rome, and having become converts to Christianity, travelled northwards into France, to propagate the faith. They fixed their residence at Soissons, where they preached to the people during the day, and at night earned their subsistence by the making of shoes. In this they followed the example of the apostle Paul, who worked at his craft of tent making, and suffered himself to be a burden to no man. They furnished the poor with shoes, it is said, at a very low price, and the legend adds that an angel supplied them with leather. In the persecution under the Emperor Maximian, they suffered martyrdom, and according to a Kentish tradition, their relics, after being cast into the sea, were washed ashore at Romney Marsh. In medieval art, the two brothers are represented as two men at work in a shoemaker's shop, and the emblem for their day in the Clog Almanacs is a pair of shoes.
From time immemorial, Crispin and Crispinian have been regarded as the patron saints of shoe makers, who used to observe, and still in many places celebrate, their day with great festivity and rejoicings. One special ceremony was a grand procession of the brethren of the craft with banners and music, whilst various characters representing King Crispin and his court were sustained by different members.
At Tenby, it was customary, on the eve of St. Crispin's Day, to make an effigy of the saint, and suspend it from the steeple or some other elevated place. In the morning it was formally cut down, and carried in procession throughout the town. In front of the doors of each member of the craft the procession halted, when a document, purporting to be the last will and testament of the saint, was read, and in pursuance thereof some article of dress was left as a memento of the noisy visit. At length, when nothing remained to be distributed, the padding which formed the body of the effigy was made into a football, and kicked about by the crowd till they were tired. As a sort of revenge for the treatment of St. Crispin, his followers hung up on St. Clement's Day the effigy of a carpenter, which was treated in a similar way.
THE BATTLE OF AZINCOURT
In connection with St. Crispin's Day occurs one of the most brilliant events of English history the celebrated battle of Azincourt, gained, like those of Crecy and Poitiers, under an immense disparity in point of numbers on the side of the victors, and also under the most disadvantageous circumstances from the effect of fatigue and privations. The chivalrous Henry V, after proclaiming what can only be designated a most unjustifiable war with France, had embarked on an expedition for its conquest at Southampton, in August 1415, and landed near Harfleur, which he invested and captured after a siege of thirty six days. So great, however, was the loss sustained by the English army, owing to a terrible dysentery which had broken out in the camp, that the project of reembarking for England was seriously deliberated in a council of war. The idea was indignantly rejected by Henry, who declared that he must first see a little more of 'this good land of France.'
With a greatly reduced army, he accordingly commenced a march through Normandy and Picardy to Calais; and after surmounting numerous difficulties, was engaged on 25th October, near the village of Azincourt or Agincourt, by D'Albret, the Constable of France, at the head of an army which outnumbered that of the English monarch in the proportion of at least six to one. In immediate prospect of the conflict, and in reference to the day on which it was to be fought, Shakspeare represents Henry delivering himself as follows:
This day is call'd the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say, Tomorrow is Saint Crispian:
Then will he strip his sleeve and shew his scars,
And say, These wounds I had on Crispian's day.
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he 'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day: then shall our names
Familiar in their mouths as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloster
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd:
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England, now a bed,
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here;
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon St. Crispin's day.
As in the two previous great battles between the English and French, the success of the former was mainly owing to their bowmen, whose arrows threw the French cavalry into confusion, and who them selves afterwards broke into the enemy's ranks, and did terrible execution with their hatchets and bill hooks. The chivalry of France was fearfully thinned, upwards of 7000 knights and gentlemen, and 120 great lords perishing on the field, whilst the loss of the English did not exceed 1600 men. An immense amount of plunder was obtained by the victors, the weakness of whose army, however, prevented them from improving their advantages, and they accordingly continued their march to Calais. From this Henry embarked for England, landed at Dover, and marching in triumph from thence to London, entered that city with a long array of captives, and a pageant of imposing splendour such as had been wholly unprecedented in the case of any previous English monarch.
Many biographies of Chaucer have been written at different times, but unfortunately very little which is trustworthy is to be gleaned from them.
If the reader can succeed in deciphering the almost obliterated legend on Chaucer's monument in Westminster Abbey, he will find it recorded that he died in the year 1400, at the age of seventy two. This fixes his birth about the year 1328, the second year of Edward III. Although the monument was not set up until about a century and a half after Chaucer's death, there seems no reason for discrediting its testimony; in any case, we have no better testimony, indeed, no other.
To decide where Chaucer was born, is a still more puzzling question. Fuller inclines to think that his native place was Woodstock, in Oxford shire. When Queen Elizabeth 'passed a fair stone house next to her palace in that town' to some tenant or other, this same building was described as Chaucer's House, and retained the name long afterwards. But as we find the poet living at Woodstock in Edward III's time, and dying there in his old age, the name of the house is accounted for. Another authority (Leland) leans to Berkshire, where Dunnington Castle, near Newbury, is said to have been Chaucer's family property. An oak in the park there, went by the name of Chaucer's Oak. But we afterwards find this same property in the possession of a certain Thomas Chaucer whether he were Chaucer's son or not makes no matter and thus the place need not by any means have been the poet's birthplace, so far as the name of the oak is concerned. Others maintain that London can justly claim the honours; and it appears from Chaucer's own words, in his Testament of Love, that, whether he were born there or not, he was certainly brought up there. His words are these:
Also in the citie of London, that is to mee soe deare and sweete, in which I was foorth growne; and more kindely love have I to that place than to any other in yerth (as every kindely creature hath full appetite to that place of his kindly' engendure).
Apropos of the poet's origin, Stowe records that 'Richard Chawcer, vintner, gave,' to the church of St. Mary Aldermary, his tenement and tavern, with the appurtenance, in the Royal Streete the corner of Kerion Lane, and was there buried, 1348: But as Stowe seems to have no grounds at all for his assertion that this same vintner was any relation to Chaucer, except his own imagination, we may set it aside. All that we know of Chaucer would lead us to believe that he came of good stock.
Chaucer was educated at Oxford or Cambridge it cannot be ascertained which and afterwards travelled it is not known where, or for how long a period. He returned home to become a courtier, and continued in great favour during the long reign of the third Edward; to all appearance winning honours, gaining friends, and meriting respect, as the first poet of his time.
But Chaucer gained, in Edward's court, something more substantial than honours. He held a succession of offices, which though under such ambiguous appellations as have come down to us they seem to our ignorance suspicious were probably of the nature of creditable sinecures, intended to afford the poet competence without toil, He him self informs us, that at this time the profits of his numerous grants enabled him to live with dignity and hospitality. He speaks of himself, looking back, in a sadder time, as 'once glorious in worldly wellfulnesse, and having such godes in welthe as maken men riche.' What would one not give to have been the guest of 'the morning star of song'.
Which first made to distil and reine
The gold dewe dropes of spech and eloquence.
Wood, in his Annals, describes Chaucer as having been a pupil of Wickliffe, when that enterprising priest was warden of Canterbury Hall. The story is too good to be true. Yet, if we see reason to reject the tradition, it is certain that Chaucer, if not a Wickliffite, sympathised with what we may call the advanced religionists. He considered the pope to be Antichrist, and abhorred the mendicant priests. Nor did these tendencies of his shew themselves only in words. As Chaucer was a good old English yeoman, so we conceive him to be slightly belied by the meek demureness of the likeness which survives of him. Who would expect to find Master Geoffrey Chaucer fined 'two shillings for beating a Franciscane frier in Fleet Street? Yet such was the fact.
Chaucer had a stanch friend in John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster, and champion of Wickliffe. Not merely an honourable relation of patron and client, but a bond of intimate friendship, existed between them. Duchess Blanche and the duke gave Chaucer to wife a favorite of their own. This was Philippa, sister to Catharine Rouet. Catharine was a knight's daughter, at the time John of Gaunt's mistress, and governess to his children, and afterwards his wife.
In Richard II's reign, when the duke's influence declined, Chaucer got into trouble, in consequence of which he found his means considerably straitened. He involved himself in some Wickliffite disturbances, and had to seek safety in flight. Venturing soon after to return to London, he was seized and imprisoned in the Tower. Here, it is said, either faltering in courage through the rigour of his confinement, or provoked by the ingratitude of certain accomplices, he informed against the rest, and regained his liberty. For some time after, though he retained apparently many of his grants, Chaucer seems to have been in rather low water. He describes himself as 'being berafte out of dignitie of office, in which he made a gatheringe of worldly godes.' Soon after his release he disposed of sundry pensions, took his leave of the court, and retired to Woodstock.
It is probable that Chaucer remained for the most part in retirement during the rest of his life. He seems to have written much, if not the whole, of his Canterbury Tales during this period. He died an old man, and persisted to the last, says Wood, in his dislike of 'friers.' He is said to have died in the Romish faith. The statement has been disputed, but we scarcely see on what grounds. He does not appear to have been a Wickliffite, although he supported, in certain cases, members of that party. It must be borne in mind that hatred of monks, with their ignorance and licentiousness, and disrespect of reigning popes, worse than the monks, were not by any means in that day, nor indeed long afterwards, inconsistent with strict adherence to the Romish tenets.
Though we have seen that his hatred of the friars was unabated to the last moment, there were some things for which Chaucer, on his dying bed, is said to have been sorry. 'Of that he wrote of love and baudery,' records Wood, 'it grieved him much on this death bed: for one that lived shortly after his time maketh report, that when he saw death approaching, he did often cry out: 'Woe is me, woe is me, that I cannot recall and annull those things which I have written of the base and filthy love of men towards women: but, alas! they are now continued from man to man, and I cannot do what I desire.'
It is some comfort to find the old man repenting of those blemishes in his works which so often offend the reader of a more refined age. Chaucer's last words, at least, were consistent with his profession. From an old folio edition of his works, dated 1602, presented to the British Museum by Tyrwhitt in 1786, we have gleaned a little tribute to the poet, not unworthy to be recovered from the grasp of oblivion:
A BALLADE IN THE PRAISE AND COMMENDACION OF MASTER GEFFRAY CHAUCER FOR HIS GOLDEN ELOQUENCE
Maister Geffray Chaucer, that now lithe in grave,
The noble rhetoricion, and poet of Great Britaine,
That worthy was, the lamer of poetry to have
For this his labour, and the palme to attaine,
'Which first made to distil, and reine,
The gold delve dropes, of speck and eloquence,
Into English tonge, through his excellence.
It appears that Chaucer had children. He dedicates one of his treatises to a son, Lewis. Fuller mentions a son Thomas Thomas Chaucer, 'sole son of Geffery Chaucer, that famous poet, from whom he inherited fair lands at Dunnington Castle in this county (Berkshire), and at Ewelme, in Oxfordshire. He married Maud, daughter and co-heir of Sir John Burwash, by whom he had one only daughter, named Alice, married unto William de la Pole, Duke of Norfolk. He lyeth buried under a fair tomb in Ewelme Church.' Whether this was really a son of Geoffrey Chaucer, has been doubted, with or without sufficient reason we are unable to say; but if he was, he was not, as we have seen, the 'sole son.'
THE EARL OF PETERBOROUGH
Like Charles XI of Sweden, the character of the great Earl of Peterborough presents a singular combination of the hero and the madman. His career in Spain, as commander of the British forces in the War of Succession, resembles more the history of Amadis or Orlando, than an episode in real warfare; and in the achievements recorded of him, we find ourselves transported once more to the legendary times of chivalry. The conquest of Valencia, more especially, which he commenced with a detachment of 150 dragoons, and accomplished as much to the astonishment of his own army as to the bewilderment of the prostrated enemy, overpowers us with wonderment; and had the narrative only descended to us from antiquity, instead of being the chronicle of an undisputed fact, it would have been infallibly discredited as fabulous and extravagant. Had it not been for the mulishness of the Archduke Charles, as well as the political jealousies and dissensions at home, which prevented his plans from being carried out, and ultimately occasioned his premature recall to England, there seems little reason to doubt that Peterborough might have seated a German monarch on the throne of Madrid, and altered very materially the future arrangements of European diplomacy. But the advantages so surprisingly gained were destined ere long to be as rapidly lost; and in the battle of Almanza, after Peterborough's departure, the prestige, which the British arms had won in the siege of Barcelona and the Valencian campaign, was sadly forfeited.
Peterborough's private life was far from regular; and in all the phases of this extraordinary man's history, we perceive the same enthusiastic bravery and intellectual acumen, the same warmth and generosity of disposition, and the same eccentricities and absurdities, the last two qualities shewing themselves in his love of practical jokes and whimsical adventures. The following anecdote is related in connection with one of his youthful escapades. He was courting a young lady who was remarkably fond of birds, and had taken a fancy to an uncommonly fine canary which belonged to a widow, the keeper of a coffee house at Charing Cross. She besought Peterborough, then Lord Charles Mordaunt, to procure for her, as a pledge of his affection, this unrivalled songster.
He offered, accordingly, an enormous sum to its owner, who, however, was so much attached to it, that she refused to part with it at any price. Determined to gain the prize, he contrived to obtain another bird, of the same size and colour, but a hen, and wholly tuneless. The coveted bird was almost never allowed to be out of sight of its mistress, who sat behind the bar of the coffee house; but one day Peterborough succeeded in getting her out of the way on some pretext, and made use of the opportunity to effect an exchange of the canaries. This was about the time of James II's expulsion. After the Revolution, Peterborough happened to be visiting the coffee house where he had committed the fraud, and ventured to remark to the landlady:
I would have bought that bird of yours, and you refused my money for it; I daresay you are by this time sorry for it' 'Indeed, sir,' she replied, 'I am not, nor would I now take any money for him; for would you believe it? From the time that our good king was forced to go abroad and leave us, the dear creature has not sung a note!
As illustrative of his puerile propensity to petty mischief, it is recorded that, one day while riding in his coach, and seeing a dancing master, with pearl coloured silk stockings, and otherwise sprucely attired, picking his steps daintily along the street, he jumped down and pursued him with a drawn sword, forcing the poor man to run ankle deep into the gutter, into which, however, the earl himself was also forcibly drawn. When stationed at the town of Huete, he learned that a very beautiful young lady had just taken refuge there, in a convent. Peterborough was determined to get a sight of this celebrated fair one, but he was well known as a gay Lothario, and the strictness of the lady abbess would have opposed an effectual bar to the gratification of his wishes. Procuring the attendance, then, of an engineer officer, he proceeded with him to the convent, and demanded admission, for the purpose of tracing out a line of defences in the garden, preparatory to converting the place into a fort for protecting his position at Huete. The lady abbess and her nuns, including the object of Peterborough's curiosity, rushed out in an agony of terror, and besought him to spare their convent. It would seem that the great general was not inexorable, and the construction of the fort was indefinitely postponed. Whether the real purpose of his ruse was ever discovered by the fair nun whose beauty prompted the act, or how far she appreciated it, history does not record.
A strong antipathy existed between Peterborough and the Duke of Marlborough. On one occasion, the former was surrounded by an angry mob who took him for the duke, at that time rather unpopular. He ran a chance of receiving some violent usage, when he exclaimed 'Gentlemen, I shall convince you by two good and sufficient reasons that I am not the Duke of Marlborough. First, I have only five guineas in my pocket; and, second, here they are at your service,' suiting his action at the same time to the word, by scattering the money amongst the crowd. He was then allowed to depart amid loud huzzas, after having thus hurled an ingenious satire both at the wealth and avarice of the great commander.
When very young, Lord Peterborough was married to the daughter of a Kincardineshire baronet, by whom he had two sons, who predeceased their father, being cut off by smallpox within six weeks of each other, and a daughter, who became Duchess of Gordon. Left a widower, and solitary in his old age, he contracted a private marriage with Miss Anastasia Robinson, a celebrated opera singer, whose beauty and talents were only surpassed by her rare modesty and worth, and who proved to him a most devoted wife. The union was subsequently acknowledged by him, and publicly solemnised. He died at Lisbon, whither he had gone in the hope of reestablishing his failing health, at the age of seventy seven.
DEATH OF GEORGE II: CURIOUS SUPERSTITION
On the morning of 25th October 1760, George II expired suddenly at Kensington, at the age of seventy six. The cause of death was the rupture of the right ventricle of the heart. Though never a popular sovereign, the glories attending the British arms during the latter years of George II's reign were such as to conciliate largely the affections of his subjects. Frugal to penuriousness, choleric, and by no means correct in moral deportment, he was, nevertheless, honest and open in character, and possessed of considerable personal courage, as evinced by his bravery at the battle of Dettingen. To both George and his father must be accorded the credit of eminently prudent and judicious management, enabling them alike to preserve the allegiance of their subjects throughout a peculiarly difficult and critical period, and secure for the country a degree of material prosperity such as it had never before enjoyed.
Two years previous to his death, George II had been attacked by a serious illness, which was expected to prove fatal; but he rallied, and regained for a short period the enjoyment of good health. A curious circumstance, illustrative of popular superstition, is mentioned in connection with this indisposition by Lord Chesterfield, and quoted by Earl Stanhope in his History of England:
It was generally though this majesty would have died, and for a very good reason for the oldest lion in the Tower, much about the king's age, died a fortnight ago!
In old times, it was customary to name the lions in the Tower menagerie after the reigning kings, and the fate of the royal beast was thought to be bound up with that of human majesty. The notion is humorously alluded to by Addison, in the Free holder, where he represents the Jacobite country squire inquiring anxiously at the keeper, at the Tower, whether none of the lions had fallen sick on the taking of Perth and the flight of the Pretender!
PUNCH AND PUNCH BOWLS
On the 25th October 1694, Admiral Edward Russell, then commanding the Mediterranean fleet, gave a grand entertainment at Alicant. The tables were laid under the shade of orange trees, in four garden walks meeting in a common centre, at a marble fountain, which last, for the occasion, was converted into a Titanic punch bowl. Four hogsheads of brandy, one pipe of Malaga wine, twenty gallons of lime juice, twenty five hundred lemons, thirteen hundred weight of fine white sugar, five pounds weight of grated nutmegs, three hundred toasted biscuits, and eight hogsheads of water, formed the ingredients of this monster brewage. An elegant canopy placed over the potent liquor, prevented waste by evaporation, or dilution by rain; while, in a boat, built expressly for the purpose, a ship boy rowed round the fountain, to assist in filling cups for the six thousand persons who partook of it.
Punch is comparatively a modern beverage, and came to us from India, in the latter part of the seventeenth century. One of the earliest printed notices of it, is in Fryer's Travels, published in 1672, where we are told that punch is an enervating liquor, drunk on the Coromandel Coast, and deriving its name from the Industani word paunch, signifying five; the number of ingredients required to form the mixture. Sailors brought the novel compound from the east, and for some time it seems to have been drunk by them alone. On the first day that Henry Teonge joined the ship Assistance, as naval chaplain, in 1675, he drank part of three bowls of punch, a liquor very strange to him; and we are not surprised, when he further naively informs us, that he had considerable difficulty in finding his pillow when he attempted to go to bed. However great a stranger punch was then to him, they soon became intimately acquainted, for it appears from his amusing Diary, that naval officers, in those days, were ready to mix and quaff capacious bowls of punch on the slightest provocation.
The Indian potation, making its way from sea to land, met everywhere with a most welcome reception. In 1680, appeared from the pen of Captain Ratcliff a doggrel poem, entitled Bacchanalia Coelestia, which had an immense popularity, though now almost utterly forgotten. In this effusion, Jupiter is represented with the minor deities on Mount Olympus, hearing for the first time of the novel beverage just invented on earth, and deter mined to try it. Accordingly, all unite to compound a jovial bowl of punch.
Apollo despatched away one of his lasses,
Who filled up a pitcher from th' well of Parnassus.
To poets new born, this water is brought;
And this they suck in for their morning's draught.
Juno for lemons sent into her closet,
Which, when she was sick, she infused into posset:
For goddesses may be as qualmish as gipsies;
The sun and the moon we find have eclipses;
These lemons were called the Hesperian fruit,
When vigilant dragon was sent to look to 't.
Three dozen of these were squeezed into water;
The rest of th' ingredients in order came after.
Venus, the admirer of things that are sweet,
Without her infusion there had been no treat,
Commanded her sugar loaves, white as her doves,
Supported to the table by a brace of young loves,
So wonderful curious these deities were,
The sugar they strained through a sieve of thin air.
Bacchus gave notice by dangling a bunch,
That without his assistance there could be no punch,
What was meant by his sign was very well known,
For they threw in a gallon of trusty Langoon.
Mars, a blunt god, though chief of the briskers,
Was seated at table still twirling his whiskers;
Quota he, ' Fellow gods and celestial gallants,
I'd not give a fig for your punch without Nantz;
Therefore, boy Ganymede, I do command ye
To put in at least two gallons of brandy.
Saturn, of all the gods, was the oldest,
And we may imagine his stomach was coldest,
Did out of his pouch three nutmegs produce,
Which, when they were grated, were put to the juice.
Neptune this ocean of liquor did crown,
With a hard sea biscuit well baked in the sun.
This bowl being finished, a health was began,
Quoth Jove, ' Let it be to our creature called Man;
'Tis to him alone these pleasures we owe,
For heaven was never true heaven till now.'
Since the gods and poor mortals thus do agree,
Here's a health unto Charles his Majesty.
The toasted biscuit, though long since disused as an ingredient of punch, formed, from a very early period, a favourite addition to many old English drinks. Rochester, when instructing Vulcan how to contrive him a drinking up, says:
Make it so large, that filled with sack
Up to the swelling brim,
Vast toasts, on the delicious lake,
Like ships at sea may swim.
It was from this use of toasted bread or biscuit, that we acquired the word toast as applied, in the first instance, to a beautiful woman, whose health is often drunk; and, latterly, to the act of drinking the health of any person, or to any idea or sentiment, as it is termed.
The following anecdote, from the Tatler, tells us how a piece of toasted bread, in a prepared drink, became ideally connected with a lovely woman. It must be premised that, at one time, it was the fashion for ladies, attired in elegant dresses made for the purpose, to bathe publicly in the baths of the city of Bath.
It happened, on a public day, a celebrated beauty was in the Cross bath, and one of the crowd of her admirers took a glass of the water in which the fair one stood, and drank her health to the company. There was in the place a gay fellow, half fuddled, who offered to jump in, and swore though he liked not the liquor, he would have the toast. He was opposed in this resolution; yet this whim gave foundation to the present honour which is clone to the lady we mention in our liquor, who has ever since been called a toast.
The five ingredients spirit, water, sugar, lemon, and spice from which punch derived its name, were in time reduced to four:
Whene'er a howl of punch we make
Four striking opposites we take
The strong, the weak, the sour, the sweet,
Together mixed most kindly meet.
And when they happily unite,
The bowl is pregnant with delight.
Or, as another minor poet thus describes the 'materials:'
Whilst I sat pensive in my elbow chair,
Four nymphs appeared, 0 how divinely fair!
Unda came first, in water colours gay;
Brandysia next, as bright as Phoebus' ray.
In a straw gown, then came Limonia keen,
And Saccharissa sweet, was near her seen;
They, to divert my melancholy strain,
Me, all at once agreed to entertain;
And, to relieve my grief oppressed soul,
To mix their different quotas in a bowl.
First Unda added to the bowl her share,
Water, as crystal clear, her hand as fair:
Brandysia, next her spirit did impart,
To give a warmth and fillip to the heart;
Nor did Limonia make the drink too keen,
For Saccharissa sweetly stepp'd between.
Whilst fairest Unda pours the limpid stream,
And brisk Brandysia warms the vital frame;
Whilst Saccharissa and Limonia meet
To form that grateful contrast, famed sour sweet,
And all together make the bowl complete;
I'll drink; no longer anxious of my fate,
Nor envy the poor rich, nor little great.
During the whole of the last century, punch ruled with sovereign sway. Besides its peculiar attractions, it had. a kind of political prestige, as being the favourite beverage of the dominant Whig party; the Tories, at first, regarding it with prejudicial eyes as a foreign interloper coming in about the same time as an alien usurper. The statesmen, generals, and admirals of King William, whether Dutch or English, revelled in 'punch.' The wits and essayists of Anne's Augustan age praised it as the choicest of liquors need we speak of Johnson, Reynolds, Garrick, Fox, Sheridan, as punch drinkers!
The punch bowl was an indispensable vessel in every house above the humblest class. And there were many kindly recollections connected with it, it being very frequently given as a present. No young married couple ever thought of buying a punch bowl; it was always presented to them by a near relative. And the complete change in the feelings of society, as respects drinking usages, is prominently shewn by the fact, that a punch bowl was in the last century considered to be a very suitable present from a merchant or banker to a trusty clerk or book keeper, or from a ship owner to a sea captain. Bowls were made and painted with inscriptions and devices for testimonial purposes; the first successful whaling voyage from Liverpool is commemorated by a punch bowl, given by the merchants to the fortunate captain. This bowl, on which the ship is depicted in full sail, is now in the collection of Mr. Joseph Mayer, the eminent archaeologist.
There is no error in saying, that the punch bowl was frequently one of the most cherished of household effects. In dissenters' families, from its being used as a baptismal font, it acquired a kind of semi sacred character; and the head of a household naturally felt a solemn, benignant pride in dispensing hospitality from the vessel in which his father, himself, and his children had been christened. Nor did the high churchman less esteem the bowl. Punch, as the clergy admitted, was a thoroughly orthodox liquor; for though excess in wine was reprobated by the Scriptures, there was not, from the first chapter of Genesis to the last in Revelation, one word said against punch!
Songs, innumerable, proclaimed the virtues of punch, and extolled it as a panacea for all diseases. Dr. Short, a physician of great ability and repute, writing in 1750, says that 'punch is an admirable liquor the best liquor in the world the universe cannot afford a better liquor for students.' But doctors differ, and Dr. Cheyne, with much better judgment, asserted that there was not one salutary ingredient in it, except the water. Alluding to its Indian origin, he termed it a 'heathenish liquor,' and stigmatised it as being 'nearest arsenic, in its deleterious and poisonous qualities: It was, no doubt, the unhealthy qualities of punch, the horrible headaches it inflicted, that drove it completely out of use. Besides, it was a terror to tidy housewives; 'the nastiest, sloppiest sluster,' as an old lady once told the writer, ever placed on a dining room table. For a continual filling of glasses from flowing bowls, with continually increasing unsteadiness of hands, soon made a swimming table and a drenched carpet. Punch stains, too, were in some materials ineradicable in black cloth particularly so, leaving small holes, as if the cloth had been burned by a strong acid.
In Scotland, the jolly topers of its western metropolis, the city of Glasgow, long enjoyed an undisputed preeminence in the manufacture of punch. The leading ingredients, rum and lemons, were compounded with sugar and cold water, after a peculiarly artistic fashion, which was supposed to be only known to the initiated. This far famed liquor came into disrepute, on the occasion of the visitation of the cholera to Scotland, about 1833. Being proscribed by the medical faculty, it lost its hold on public favour, a position which it has never since regained. Advanced ideas on the question of temperance have, doubtless, also had their influence in rendering obsolete, in a great measure, this beverage, regarding which some jovial spirits of the old school, reverting sorrowfully to their youthful days, will inform you that gout has considerably increased in the west since the abandonment of punch for claret and champagne.
As may readily be supposed, many of the old tavern signs displayed a punch bowl. Addison, in the Spectator, notices a sign near Charing Cross, representing a punch bowl curiously garnished, with a couple of angels hovering over, and squeezing lemons into it. The most popular tavern of the last century that exbibited a punch bowl on its sign, was the 'Spiller's Head,' in Clare Market. Spiller was a fellow of infinite jest; he started in life as a landscape painter, but taking to the stage, became a very popular actor, and was the original 'Mat of the Mint' in the Beggars' Opera.
Akerby, his biographer, an artist also, says that Spiller, in the character of Mat, outdid his usual outdoings to such a degree, that whenever he sung, he executed his part with so truly sweet and harmonious a tone, and in so judicious and ravishing a manner, that the audience could not avoid putting his modesty to the blush by repeated clamours of encore.' The history of the sign is curious. Spiller, as may be learned from one of his benefit tickets, engraved by Hogarth, was not unacquainted with the inside of a debtor's prison. During his last confinement, he so charmed one of the turn keys with his wit, that the man, on Spiller's liberation, resigned office, and took a tavern, so that he might oftener enjoy the laughter provoking comedian's company. As many notabilities flocked to the house for the same purpose, the original sign was considered scarcely suitable; and so, as Akerby informs us, 'by the concurrent desire of an elegant company, who were assembled there over a bowl of arrackpunch one evening, and by the generous offer of Mr. Laguerre, who was one of the company, and as excellent a master in the science of painting as music, the sign was changed from the 'Bull and Butcher' to 'Spiller's Head,' and painted by the said Mr. Laguerre gratis, in a manner and with a pencil that equals the proudest performances of those who have acquired the greatest wealth and reputation in the art of painting.'
The accompanying illustration, representing Spiller with a punch-bowl before him, is taken from an engraved copy of the sign in question. But ere this could be painted and set up, Spiller, struck down by apoplexy on the stage, had fallen a victim to the pernicious bowl. And so the following lines were painted beneath the figure:
'View here the wag, who did his mirth impart, With pleasing humour, and diverting art. A cheerful bowl in which he took delight, To raise his mirth, and pass a winter's night. Jovial and merry did he end his days, In comic scenes and entertaining plays.'
The 'Spiller's Head' was a favourite haunt of the wits and artists of the Hob arthia era. At a later period, when Clare Market was voted low, and ' Old Slaughters' became the artists' house of resort, they were waited on there by a witty waiter, whom they named Suck, from his habit of slily drinking out of the bowls of punch, as he carried them upstairs to the company. This practice, however disgusting it would be considered now, was then looked upon as a mere trifling indiscretion, and forgiven in consideration of the waiter's wit and birth, he being, according to his own account, an illegitimate son of the renowned Spiller.
THE CHURCH BUILT BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE MEDMENHAM CLUB
On the 25th of October 1761, the six musical bells of West Wycombe chimed their first merry peal, to announce the completion of the tower which forms part of one of the most extraordinary churches in the kingdom. The old church was entirely demolished, with the exception of a portion of the tower and chancel, which were again united by the new nave, and made to suit its peculiar and original design. The only door into it is through the tower at the west end; and such is the effect of its general appearance, that if a stranger were brought into it blindfolded through the grave yard, he could scarcely believe himself in a place of Christian worship. It is a large oblong room, sixty feet in length, and forty in width; the ceiling is flat, and painted in mosaic pattern, with a festooned border on the side walls, where they join the ceiling. The windows, which are large and numerous, are the common sashes of the period, each with a window seat, that opens, so as to form a cupboard; the floor is paved with black and white marble in lozenges; the seats are mere movable benches the pulpit and reading desk, which stand respectively on each side of the entrance to the chancel, are mahogany arm chairs, with a book stand in front. Each stands on a low chest of drawers, and when required for divine service, the drawers are pulled out to form steps for the minister to enter. The clerk's desk is somewhat similar, but stands at a distance down the nave. The font, placed in the centre, is of marble; it is about the size, and has the appearance of a small wash hand basin; four doves are placed round the verge of the font; and it rests on a slender pillar, round which a serpent is entwined, as if pursuing the doves.
It is said that the nave was thus constructed, that it might he used for convivial and other secular meetings, the window seats being wine bins, and cupboards for domestic utensils.
Ad! well a day! but this seems wondrous strange!
Is this a mart where gossips sell and buy?
A room for lectures, or a stock exchange?
Is that, which seems a pulpit to the eye,
A desk, where auctioneers their labours ply?
The chancel, which is very small, can scarcely be seen from the nave, for the entrance is so blocked up on both sides by the manorial pews, or rather galleries, that the passage between is exceedingly harrow. When entered, it has a rich and gorgeous appearance. The ceiling is brilliantly painted with a representation of the Last Supper the windows are filled with stained glass; the altar rails are of massive oak, elaborately carved; the communion table inlaid with mosaic work; and the floor paved with fine polished marble. Yet the whole has a secular appearance.
The tower, which has large unsightly windows, is surmounted by a low spire, on which is placed a large hollow ball forming a room, with a seat round it that will hold twelve persons. But as it is entered by a ladder outside the spire, few persons have the nerve to make themselves acquainted with its interior. On the north wall, outside the church, which is dedicated to St. Lawrence, there is a representation of him suffering martyrdom on a gridiron, with this inscription:
Though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
And on the south side, there is a sun dial, with this text:
Keep thy tongue from evil speaking, lying, and slandering.
Near the east end of the church is erected a large hexagonal mausoleum, without a roof. This singular building contains niches and recesses for sepulchral urns and monuments, and stands, together with the church, on a very high hill apart from the village. When seen at a distance, it is impossible to describe the odd appearance which the whole pile presents the ball above the tower looking as if flying in the air.
These remarkable structures were built by the gay and eccentric Sir Francis Dashwood, about the time he became Lord le Despencer. He was the originator and president of the notorious Medmenham Club, or Monks of St. Francis, as they named themselves, assuming the garb, but not the austerities, of that order. About half way down the hill is an excavation, a quarter of a mile long, and running under the church, which is also said to have been his lordship's work, but more probably he only adapted it to his fancy. It is entered by a massive door, formed in an artificial ruin, and consists of a series of lofty caves, connected by a passage, which is in some places divided into two or three parts by huge pillars of chalk, left to support the roof. Near the middle of the excavation, there is a small pool, which is now crossed by stepping stones, but formerly, it is said, it could only be passed in a boat. The excavation terminates in a large, lofty, circular cavern, with a vaulted roof, in which is a hook for suspending a lamp or chandelier.
Here, according to local tradition, the Medmenham Club occasionally held its meetings. And certainly, if its president wished to be near his home, this spot would be convenient, being only half a mile distant. So also, if the club desired special secrecy, no place could be more suitable, seeing that when the door at the entrance was barred from within, and the pool, which the monks called the Styx, was crossed in their boat, their doings in this cavern would be as secure from interruption from the rest of the world, as if they were actually being enacted in the infernal regions themselves. But it is probable, notwithstanding all that has been said on the subject, that nothing was really practised either here, or at Medmenham, their usual place of meeting, more profane or immoral than what was openly practised in most of the convivial societies of that period. This was strenuously maintained in his old age by the last surviving member of the society. And doubtless it was only the mystery and eccentricities with which they chose to invest their proceedings, that gave rise to so many foolish tales and conjectures respecting their doings.
As to the assertions and insinuations against them by the author of Chrysal, they are unworthy of credit, since his description of their place of meeting shews that he had no personal knowledge of the subject. Medmenham Abbey is not, as he states, in an island, but beautifully situated on the north bank of the Thames; and the room in which the club met remains just as described by Langley in 1797, and is now frequently used by picnic parties. The rest of the building, though occupied by cottagers, has been so slightly altered externally, that the whole has realised the appearance predicted by Langley seventy years ago. The additional ruined tower, cloister, and other corresponding parts, as he says, were made with so much taste and propriety, that, now they have become clothed with ivy and mosses, they can scarcely be distinguished from the ancient remains; and the whole building has now assumed such a natural and picturesque appearance, that more than one eminent artist has chosen it for the subject of his pencil, probably regarding the whole as the interesting remains of an ancient monastery.