Curiosities of Literature, Vol. II (of 3) - Edited, With Memoir And Notes, By His Son, The Earl Of Beaconsfield
by Isaac D'Israeli
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These disturbed audiences were too unpleasant to afford much employment to the actors. Francis Kirkman, the author and bookseller, tells us they were often seized on by the soldiers, and stripped and fined at their pleasure. A curious circumstance occurred in the economy of these strolling theatricals: these seizures often deprived them of their wardrobe; and among the stage directions of the time, may be found among the exits and the entrances, these: Enter the red coat—Exit hat and cloak, which were, no doubt, considered not as the least precious parts of the whole living company: they were at length obliged to substitute painted cloth for the splendid habits of the drama.

At this epoch a great comic genius, Robert Cox, invented a peculiar sort of dramatic exhibition, suited to the necessities of the time, short pieces which he mixed with other amusements, that these might disguise the acting. It was under the pretence of rope-dancing that he filled the Red Bull playhouse, which was a large one, with such a confluence that as many went back for want of room as entered. The dramatic contrivance consisted of a combination of the richest comic scenes into one piece, from Shakspeare, Marston, Shirley, &c., concealed under some taking title; and these pieces of plays were called "Humours" or "Drolleries." These have been collected by Marsh, and reprinted by Kirkman, as put together by Cox, for the use of theatrical booths at fairs.[153] The argument prefixed to each piece serves as its plot; and drawn as most are from some of our dramas, these "Drolleries" may still be read with great amusement, and offer, seen altogether, an extraordinary specimen of our national humour. The price this collection obtains among book-collectors is excessive. In "The bouncing Knight, or the Robbers robbed," we recognise our old friend Falstaff, and his celebrated adventure: "The Equal Match" is made out of "Rule a Wife and have a Wife;" and thus most. There are, however, some original pieces, by Cox himself, which were the most popular favourites; being characters created by himself, for himself, from ancient farces: such were The Humours of John Swabber, Simpleton the Smith, &c. These remind us of the extemporal comedy and the pantomimical characters of Italy, invented by actors of genius. This Cox was the delight of the city, the country, and the universities: assisted by the greatest actors of the time, expelled from the theatre, it was he who still preserved alive, as it were by stealth, the suppressed spirit of the drama. That he merited the distinctive epithet of "the incomparable Robert Cox," as Kirkman calls him, we can only judge by the memorial of our mimetic genius, which will be best given in Kirkman's words. "As meanly as you may now think of these Drolls, they were then acted by the best comedians; and, I may say, by some that then exceeded all now living; the incomparable Robert Cox, who was not only the principal actor, but also the contriver and author of most of these farces. How have I heard him cried up for his John Swabber, and Simpleton the Smith; in which he being to appear with a large piece of bread and butter, I have frequently known several of the female spectators and auditors to long for it; and once that well-known natural, Jack Adams of Clerkenwell, seeing him with bread and butter on the stage, and knowing him, cried out, 'Cuz! Cuz! give me some!' to the great pleasure of the audience. And so naturally did he act the smith's part, that being at a fair in a country town, and that farce being presented, the only master-smith of the town came to him, saying, 'Well, although your father speaks so ill of you, yet when the fair is done, if you will come and work with me, I will give you twelve pence a week more than I give any other journeyman.' Thus was he taken for a smith bred, that was, indeed, as much of any trade."

To this low state the gloomy and exasperated fanatics, who had so often smarted under the satirical whips of the dramatists, had reduced the drama itself; without, however, extinguishing the talents of the players, or the finer ones of those who once derived their fame from that noble arena of genius, the English stage. At the first suspension of the theatre by the Long Parliament in 1642, they gave vent to their feelings in an admirable satire. About this time "petitions" to the parliament from various classes were put into vogue; multitudes were presented to the House from all parts of the country, and from the city of London; and some of these were extraordinary. The porters, said to have been 15,000 in number, declaimed with great eloquence on the bloodsucking malignants for insulting the privileges of parliament, and threatened to come to extremities, and make good the saying "necessity has no law;" there was one from the beggars, who declared, that by means of the bishops and popish lords they knew not where to get bread; and we are told of a third from the tradesmen's wives in London, headed by a brewer's wife: all these were encouraged by their party, and were alike "most thankfully accepted."

The satirists soon turned this new political trick of "petitions" into an instrument for their own purpose: we have "Petitions of the Poets,"—of the House of Commons to the King,—Remonstrances to the Porters' Petition, &c.: spirited political satires. One of these, the "Players' Petition to the Parliament," after being so long silenced, that they might play again, is replete with sarcastic allusions. It may be found in that rare collection, entitled "Rump Songs," 1662, but with the usual incorrectness of the press in that day. The following extract I have corrected from a manuscript copy:—

Now while you reign, our low petition craves That we, the king's true subjects and your slaves, May in our comic mirth and tragic rage Set up the theatre, and show the stage; This shop of truth and fancy, where we vow Not to act anything you disallow. We will not dare at your strange votes to jeer, Or personate King PYM[154] with his state-fleer; Aspiring Catiline should be forgot, Bloody Sejanus, or whoe'er could plot Confusion 'gainst a state; the war betwixt The Parliament and just Harry the Sixth Shall have no thought or mention, 'cause their power Not only placed, but lost him in the Tower; Nor will we parallel, with least suspicion, Your synod with the Spanish inquisition. All these, and such like maxims as may mar Your soaring plots, or show you what you are, We shall omit, lest our inventions shake them: Why should the men be wiser than you make them? We think there should not such a difference be 'Twixt our profession and your quality: You meet, plot, act, talk high with minds immense; The like with us, but only we speak sense Inferior unto yours; we can tell how To depose kings, there we know more than you, Although not more than what we would; then we Likewise in our vast privilege agree; But that yours is the larger; and controls Not only lives and fortunes, but men's souls, Declaring by an enigmatic sense A privilege on each man's conscience, As if the Trinity could not consent To save a soul but by the parliament. We make the people laugh at some strange show, And as they laugh at us, they do at you; Only i' the contrary we disagree, For you can make them cry faster than we. Your tragedies more real are express'd, You murder men in earnest, we in jest: There we come short; but if you follow thus, Some wise men fear you will come short of us. As humbly as we did begin, we pray, Dear schoolmasters, you'll give us leave to play Quickly before the king comes; for we would Be glad to say you've done a little good Since you have sat: your play is almost done As well as ours—would it had ne'er begun. But we shall find, ere the last act be spent, Enter the King, exeunt the Parliament. And Heigh then up we go! who by the frown Of guilty members have been voted down, Until a legal trial show us how You used the king, and Heigh then up go you! So pray your humble slaves with all their powers, That when they have their due, you may have yours.

Such was the petition of the suppressed players in 1642; but, in 1653, their secret exultation appears, although the stage was not yet restored to them, in some verses prefixed to RICHARD BROME'S Plays, by ALEXANDER BROME, which may close our little history. Alluding to the theatrical people, he moralises on the fate of players:—

See the strange twirl of times; when such poor things Outlive the dates of parliaments or kings! This revolution makes exploded wit Now see the fall of those that ruin'd it; And the condemned stage hath now obtain'd To see her executioners arraign'd. There's nothing permanent: those high great men, That rose from dust, to dust may fall again; And fate so orders things, that the same hour Sees the same man both in contempt and power; For the multitude, in whom the power doth lie, Do in one breath cry Hail! and Crucify!

At this period, though deprived of a theatre, the taste for the drama was, perhaps, the more lively among its lovers; for, besides the performances already noticed, sometimes connived at, and sometimes protected by bribery, in Oliver's time they stole into a practice of privately acting at noblemen's houses, particularly at Holland-house, at Kensington: and "Alexander Goff, the woman-actor, was the jackal, to give notice of time and place to the lovers of the drama," according to the writer of "Historica Histrionica." The players, urged by their necessities, published several excellent manuscript plays, which they had hoarded in their dramatic exchequers, as the sole property of their respective companies. In one year appeared fifty of these new plays. Of these dramas many have, no doubt, perished; for numerous titles are recorded, but the plays are not known; yet some may still remain in their manuscript state, in hands not capable of valuing them. All our old plays were the property of the actors, who bought them for their own companies. The immortal works of Shakspeare had not descended to us, had Heminge and Condell felt no sympathy for the fame of their friend. They had been scattered and lost, and, perhaps, had not been discriminated among the numerous manuscript plays of that age. One more effort, during this suspension of the drama, was made in 1655, to recal the public attention to its productions. This was a very curious collection by John Cotgrave, entitled "The English Treasury of Wit and Language, collected out of the most, and best, of our English Dramatick Poems." It appears by Cotgrave's preface, that "The Dramatick Poem," as he calls our tragedies and comedies, "had been of late too much slighted." He tells us how some, not wanting in wit themselves, but "through a stiff and obstinate prejudice, have, in this neglect, lost the benefit of many rich and useful observations; not duly considering, or believing, that the framers of them were the most fluent and redundant wits that this age, or I think any other, ever knew." He enters further into this just panegyric of our old dramatic writers, whose acquired knowledge in ancient and modern languages, and whose luxuriant fancies, which they derived from no other sources but their own native growth, are viewed to great advantage in COTGRAVE'S commonplaces; and, perhaps, still more in HAYWARD'S "British Muse," which collection was made under the supervisal, and by the valuable aid, of OLDYS, an experienced caterer of these relishing morsels.


The ancient Bacchus, as represented in gems and statues, was a youthful and graceful divinity; he is so described by Ovid, and was so painted by Barry. He has the epithet of Psilas, to express the light spirits which give wings to the soul. His voluptuousness was joyous and tender; and he was never viewed reeling with intoxication. According to Virgil:

Et quocunque deus circum caput egit honestum. Georg. ii. 392.

which Dryden, contemplating on the red-faced boorish boy astride on a barrel on our sign-posts, tastelessly sinks into gross vulgarity:

On whate'er side he turns his honest face.

This Latinism of honestum even the literal inelegance of Davidson had spirit enough to translate, "Where'er the god hath moved around his graceful head." The hideous figure of that ebriety, in its most disgusting stage, the ancients exposed in the bestial Silenus and his crew; and with these, rather than with the Ovidian and Virgilian deity, our own convivial customs have assimilated.

We shall probably outlive that custom of hard-drinking which was so long one of our national vices. The Frenchman, the Italian, and the Spaniard only taste the luxury of the grape, but seem never to have indulged in set convivial parties, or drinking-matches, as some of the northern people. Of this folly of ours, which was, however, a borrowed one, and which lasted for two centuries, the history is curious: the variety of its modes and customs; its freaks and extravagances; the technical language introduced to raise it into an art; and the inventions contrived to animate the progress of the thirsty souls of its votaries.[155]

Nations, like individuals, in their intercourse are great imitators; and we have the authority of Camden, who lived at the time, for asserting that "the English in their long wars in the Netherlands first learnt to drown themselves with immoderate drinking, and by drinking others' healths to impair their own. Of all the northern nations, they had been before this most commended for their sobriety." And the historian adds, "that the vice had so diffused itself over the nation, that in our days it was first restrained by severe laws."[156]

Here we have the authority of a grave and judicious historian for ascertaining the first period and even origin of this custom; and that the nation had not, heretofore, disgraced itself by such prevalent ebriety, is also confirmed by one of those curious contemporary pamphlets of a popular writer, so invaluable to the philosophical antiquary. Tom Nash, a town-wit of the reign of Elizabeth, long before Camden wrote her history, in his "Pierce Pennilesse," had detected the same origin.—"Superfluity in drink," says this spirited writer, "is a sin that ever since we have mixed ourselves with the Low Countries is counted honourable; but before we knew their lingering wars, was held in that highest degree of hatred that might be. Then if we had seen a man go wallowing in the streets, or lain sleeping under the board, we should have spet at him, and warned all our friends out of his company."[157]

Such was the fit source of this vile custom, which is further confirmed by the barbarous dialect it introduced into our language; all the terms of drinking which once abounded with us are, without exception, of a base northern origin.[158] But the best account I can find of all the refinements of this new science of potation, when it seems to have reached its height, is in our Tom Nash, who being himself one of these deep experimental philosophers, is likely to disclose all the mysteries of the craft.

He says—"Now, he is nobody that cannot drink super-nagulum; carouse the hunter's hoope; quaff vpse freeze crosse; with healths, gloves, mumpes, frolickes, and a thousand such domineering inventions."[159]

Drinking super-nagulum, that is, on the nail, is a device, which Nash says is new come out of France: but it had probably a northern origin, for far northward it still exists. This new device consisted in this, that after a man, says Nash, hath turned up the bottom of the cup to drop it on his nail, and make a pearl with what is left, which if it shed, and cannot make it stand on, by reason there is too much, he must drink again for his penance.

The custom is also alluded to by Bishop Hall in his satirical romance of "Mundus alter et idem," "A Discovery of a New World," a work which probably Swift read, and did not forget. The Duke of Tenter-belly in his oration, when he drinks off his large goblet of twelve quarts, on his election, exclaims, should he be false to their laws—"Let never this goodly-formed goblet of wine go jovially through me; and then he set it to his mouth, stole it off every drop, save a little remainder, which he was by custom to set upon his thumb's nail, and lick it off as he did."

The phrase is in Fletcher:

I am thine ad unguem

that is, he would drink with his friend to the last. In a manuscript letter of the times, I find an account of Columbo, the Spanish ambassador, being at Oxford, and drinking healths to the Infanta. The writer adds—"I shall not tell you how our doctors pledged healths to the Infanta and the arch-duchess; and if any left too big a snuff, Columbo would cry, Supernaculum! supernaculum!"[160]

This Bacchic freak seems still preserved: for a recent traveller, Sir George Mackenzie, has noticed the custom in his Travels through Iceland. "His host having filled a silver cup to the brim, and put on the cover, then held it towards the person who sat next to him, and desired him to take off the cover, and look into the cup, a ceremony intended to secure fair play in filling it. He drank our health, desiring to be excused from emptying the cup, on account of the indifferent state of his health; but we were informed at the same time that if any one of us should neglect any part of the ceremony, or fail to invert the cup, placing the edge on one of the thumbs as a proof that we had swallowed every drop, the defaulter would be obliged by the laws of drinking to fill the cup again, and drink it off a second time. In spite of their utmost exertions, the penalty of a second draught was incurred by two of the company; we were dreading the consequences of having swallowed so much wine, and in terror lest the cup should be sent round again."

Carouse the hunter's hoop.—"Carouse" has been already explained: the hunter's hoop alludes to the custom of hoops being marked on a drinking-pot, by which every man was to measure his draught. Shakspeare makes the Jacobin Jack Cade, among his furious reformations, promise his friends that "there shall be in England seven halfpenny loaves sold for a penny; the three-hooped pot shall have ten hoops, and I will make it a felony to drink small beer." I have elsewhere observed that our modern Bacchanalians, whose feats are recorded by the bottle, and who insist on an equality in their rival combats, may discover some ingenuity in that invention among our ancestors of their peg-tankards, of which a few may yet occasionally be found in Derbyshire;[161] the invention of an age less refined than the present, when we have heard of globular glasses and bottles, which by their shape cannot stand, but roll about the table; thus compelling the unfortunate Bacchanalian to drain the last drop, or expose his recreant sobriety.

We must have recourse again to our old friend Tom Nash, who acquaints us with some of "the general rules and inventions for drinking, as good as printed precepts or statutes by act of parliament, that go from drunkard to drunkard; as, still to keep your first man; not to leave any flocks in the bottom of the cup; to knock the glass on your thumb when you have done; to have some shoeing-horn to pull on your wine, as a rasher on the coals or a red-herring."

Shoeing-horns, sometimes called gloves, are also described by Bishop Hall in his "Mundus alter et idem." "Then, sir, comes me up a service of shoeing-horns of all sorts; salt cakes, red-herrings, anchovies, and gammon of bacon, and abundance of such pullers-on."

That famous surfeit of Rhenish and pickled herrings, which banquet proved so fatal to Robert Green, a congenial wit and associate of our Nash, was occasioned by these shoeing-horns.

Massinger has given a curious list of "a service of shoeing-horns."

—— I usher Such an unexpected dainty bit for breakfast As never yet I cook'd; 'tis not Botargo, Fried frogs, potatoes marrow'd, cavear, Carps' tongues, the pith of an English chine of beef, Nor our Italian delicate, oil'd mushrooms, And yet a drawer-on too;[162] and if you show not An appetite, and a strong one, I'll not say To eat it, but devour it, without grace too, (For it will not stay a preface) I am shamed, And all my past provocatives will be jeer'd at, MASSINGER, The Guardian, A. ii. S. 3.

To knock the glass on the thumb, was to show they had performed their duty. Barnaby Rich describes this custom: after having drank, the president "turned the bottom of the cup upward, and in ostentation of his dexterity, gave it a fillip, to make it cry ting."

They had among these "domineering inventions" some which we may imagine never took place, till they were told by "the hollow cask"

How the waning night grew old.

Such were flap-dragons, which were small combustible bodies fired at one end and floated in a glass of liquor, which an experienced toper swallowed unharmed, while yet blazing. Such is Dr. Johnson's accurate description, who seems to have witnessed what he so well describes.[163] When Falstaff says of Poins's acts of dexterity to ingratiate himself with the prince, that "he drinks off candle-ends for flap-dragons," it seems that this was likewise one of these "frolics," for Nash notices that the liquor was "to be stirred about with a candle's-end, to make it taste better, and not to hold your peace while the pot is stirring," no doubt to mark the intrepidity of the miserable "skinker." The most illustrious feat of all is one, however, described by Bishop Hall. If the drinker "could put his finger into the flame of the candle without playing hit-I-miss-I! he is held a sober man, however otherwise drunk he might be." This was considered as a trial of victory among these "canary-birds," or bibbers of canary wine.[164]

We have a very common expression to describe a man in a state of ebriety, that "he is as drunk as a beast," or that "he is beastly drunk." This is a libel on the brutes, for the vice of ebriety is perfectly human. I think the phrase is peculiar to ourselves: and I imagine I have discovered its origin. When ebriety became first prevalent in our nation, during the reign of Elizabeth, it was a favourite notion among the writers of the time, and on which they have exhausted their fancy, that a man in the different stages of ebriety showed the most vicious quality of different animals; or that a company of drunkards exhibited a collection of brutes, with their different characteristics.

"All dronkardes are beasts," says George Gascoigne, in a curious treatise on them,[165] and he proceeds in illustrating his proposition; but the satirist Nash has classified eight kinds of "drunkards;" a fanciful sketch from the hand of a master in humour, and which could only have been composed by a close spectator of their manners and habits.

"The first is ape-drunk, and he leaps and sings and hollows and danceth for the heavens; the second is lyon-drunk, and he flings the pots about the house, calls the hostess w—- e, breaks the glass-windows with his dagger, and is apt to quarrel with any man that speaks to him; the third is swine-drunk, heavy, lumpish, and sleepy, and cries for a little more drink and a few more clothes; the fourth is sheep-drunk, wise in his own conceit when he cannot bring forth a right word; the fifth is maudlen-drunk, when a fellow will weep for kindness in the midst of his drink, and kiss you, saying, 'By God! captain, I love thee; go thy ways, thou dost not think so often of me as I do of thee: I would (if it pleased God) I could not love thee so well as I do,' and then he puts his finger in his eye and cries. The sixth is martin-drunk, when a man is drunk, and drinks himself sober ere he stir; the seventh is goat-drunk, when in his drunkenness he hath no mind but on lechery. The eighth is fox-drunk, when he is crafty-drunk, as many of the Dutchmen be, which will never bargain but when they are drunk. All these species, and more, I have seen practised in one company at one sitting; when I have been permitted to remain sober amongst them only to note their several humours." These beast-drunkards are characterised in a frontispiece to a curious tract on Drunkenness where the men are represented with the heads of apes, swine, &c. &c.

A new era in this history of our drinking-parties occurred about the time of the Restoration, when politics heated their wine, and drunkenness and loyalty became more closely connected. As the puritanic coldness wore off, the people were perpetually, in 1650, warmed in drinking the king's health on their knees; and, among various kinds of "ranting cavalierism," the cavaliers during Cromwell's usurpation usually put a crumb of bread into their glass, and before they drank it off, with cautious ambiguity exclaimed, "God send this crum well down!" which by the way preserves the orthoepy of that extraordinary man's name, and may be added to the instances adduced in our present volume "On the orthography of proper names." We have a curious account of a drunken bout by some royalists, told by Whitelocke in his Memorials. It bore some resemblance to the drinking-party of Catiline: they mingled their own blood with their wine.[166] After the Restoration, Burnet complains of the excess of convivial loyalty. "Drinking the king's health was set up by too many as a distinguishing mark of loyalty, and drew many into great excess after his majesty's restoration."[167]


A writer of penetration sees connexions in literary anecdotes which are not immediately perceived by others: in his hands anecdotes, even should they be familiar to us, are susceptible of deductions and inferences, which become novel and important truths. Facts of themselves are barren; it is when these facts pass through reflections, and become interwoven with our feelings, or our reasonings, that they are the finest illustrations; that they assume the dignity of "philosophy teaching by example;" that, in the moral world, they are what the wise system of Bacon inculcated in the natural knowledge deduced from experiments; the study of nature in her operations. "When examples are pointed out to us," says Lord Bolingbroke, "there is a kind of appeal, with which, we are flattered, made to our senses, as well as to our understandings. The instruction comes then from our authority; we yield to fact, when we resist speculation."

For this reason, writers and artists should, among their recreations, be forming a constant acquaintance with the history of their departed kindred. In literary biography a man of genius always finds something which relates to himself. The studies of artists have a great uniformity, and their habits of life are monotonous. They have all the same difficulties to encounter, although they do not all meet with the same glory. How many secrets may the man of genius learn from literary anecdotes! important secrets, which his friends will not convey to him. He traces the effects of similar studies; warned sometimes by failures, and often animated by watching the incipient and shadowy attempts which closed in a great work. From one he learns in what manner he planned and corrected; from another he may overcome those obstacles which, perhaps, at that very moment make him rise in despair from his own unfinished labour. What perhaps he had in vain desired to know for half his life is revealed to him by a literary anecdote; and thus the amusements of indolent hours may impart the vigour of study; as we find sometimes in the fruit we have taken for pleasure the medicine which restores our health. How superficial is that cry of some impertinent pretended geniuses of these times who affect to exclaim, "Give me no anecdotes of an author, but give me his works!" I have often found the anecdotes more interesting than the works.

Dr. Johnson devoted one of his periodical papers to a defence of anecdotes, and expresses himself thus on certain collectors of anecdotes: "They are not always so happy as to select the most important. I know not well what advantage posterity can receive from the only circumstance by which Tickell has distinguished Addison from the rest of mankind,—the irregularity of his pulse; nor can I think myself overpaid for the time spent in reading the life of Malherbe, by being enabled to relate, after the learned biographer, that Malherbe had two predominant opinions; one, that the looseness of a single woman might destroy all her boast of ancient descent; the other, that French beggars made use, very improperly and barbarously, of the phrase noble gentlemen, because either word included the sense of both."

These just observations may, perhaps, be further illustrated by the following notices. Dr. J. Warton has informed the world that many of our poets have been handsome. This, certainly, neither concerns the world, nor the class of poets. It is trifling to tell us that Dr. Johnson was accustomed "to cut his nails to the quick." I am not much gratified by being informed, that Menage wore a greater number of stockings than any other person, excepting one, whose name I have really forgotten. The biographer of Cujas, a celebrated lawyer, says that two things were remarkable of this scholar. The first, that he studied on the floor, lying prostrate on a carpet, with his books about him; and, secondly, that his perspiration exhaled an agreeable smell, which he used to inform his friends he had in common with Alexander the Great! This admirable biographer should have told us whether he frequently turned from his very uneasy attitude. Somebody informs us, that Guy Patin resembled Cicero, whose statue is preserved at Rome; on which he enters into a comparison of Patin with Cicero; but a man may resemble a statue of Cicero, and yet not be Cicero. Baillet loads his life of Descartes with a thousand minutiae, which less disgrace the philosopher than the biographer. Was it worth informing the public, that Descartes was very particular about his wigs; that he had them manufactured at Paris; and that he always kept four? That he wore green taffety in France: but that in Holland he quitted taffety for cloth; and that he was fond of omelets of eggs?

It is an odd observation of Clarendon in his own life, that "Mr. Chillingworth was of a stature little superior to Mr. Hales; and it was an age in which there were many great and wonderful men of THAT SIZE." Lord Falkland, formerly Sir Lucius Carey, was of a low stature, and smaller than most men; and of Sidney Godolphin, "There was never so great a mind and spirit contained in so little room; so that Lord Falkland used to say merrily, that he thought it was a great ingredient in his friendship for Mr. Godolphin, that he was pleased to be found in his company where he was the properer man." This irrelevant observation of Lord Clarendon is an instance where a great mind will sometimes draw inferences from accidental coincidences, and establish them into a general principle; as if the small size of the men had even the remotest connexion with their genius and their virtues. Perhaps, too, there was in this a tincture of the superstitions of the times: whatever it was, the fact ought not to have degraded the truth and dignity of historical narrative. We have writers who cannot discover the particulars which characterise THE MAN—their souls, like damp gunpowder, cannot ignite with the spark when it falls on them.

Yet of anecdotes which appear trifling, something may be alleged in their defence. It is certainly safer for some writers to give us all they know, than to try their discernment for rejection. Let us sometimes recollect, that the page over which we toil will probably furnish materials for authors of happier talents. I would rather have a Birch, or a Hawkins, appear heavy, cold, and prolix, than that anything material which concerns a Tillotson, or a Johnson, should be lost. It must also be confessed, that an anecdote, or a circumstance, which may appear inconsequential to a reader, may bear some remote or latent connexion: a biographer who has long contemplated the character he records, sees many connexions which escape an ordinary reader. Kippis, in closing the life of the diligent Dr. Birch, has, from his own experience, no doubt, formed an apology for that minute research, which some have thought this writer carried to excess. "It may be alleged in our author's favour, that a man who has a deep and extensive acquaintance with a subject, often sees a connexion and importance in some smaller circumstances, which may not immediately be discerned by others; and, on that account, may have reasons for inserting them, that will escape the notice of superficial minds."


I flatter myself that those readers who have taken any interest in my volume have not conceived me to have been deficient in the elevated feeling which, from early life, I have preserved for the great literary character: if time weaken our enthusiasm, it is the coldness of age which creeps on us, but the principle is unalterable which inspired the sympathy. Who will not venerate those master-spirits "whose PUBLISHED LABOURS advance the good of mankind," and those BOOKS which are "the precious life-blood of a master-spirit, imbalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life?" But it has happened that I have more than once incurred the censure of the inconsiderate and the tasteless, for attempting to separate those writers who exist in a state of perpetual illusion; who live on querulously, which is an evil for themselves, and to no purpose of life, which is an evil to others. I have been blamed for exemplifying "the illusions of writers in verse,"[168] by the remarkable case of Percival Stockdale,[169] who, after a condemned silence of nearly half a century, like a vivacious spectre throwing aside his shroud in gaiety, came forward, a venerable man in his eightieth year, to assure us of the immortality of one of the worst poets of his age; and for this wrote his own memoirs, which only proved, that when authors are troubled with a literary hallucination, and possess the unhappy talent of reasoning in their madness, a little raillery, if it cannot cure, may serve at least as a salutary regimen.

I shall illustrate the case of condemned authors who will still be pleading after their trials, by a foreign dramatic writer. Among those incorrigible murmurers at public justice, not the least extraordinary was a M. Peyraud de Beaussol, who, in 1775, had a tragedy, Les Arsacides, in six acts, printed, "not as it was acted," as Fielding says on the title-page of one of his comedies, but "as it was damned!"

In a preface, this Sir Fretful, more inimitable than that original, with all the gravity of an historical narrative, details the public conspiracy; and with all the pathetic touches of a shipwrecked mariner, the agonies of his literary egotism.

He declares that it is absurd to condemn a piece which they can only know by the title, for heard it had never been! And yet he observes, with infinite naivete, "My piece is as generally condemned as if the world had it all by heart."

One of the great objections against this tragedy was its monstrous plan of six acts; this innovation did not lean towards improvement in the minds of those who had endured the long sufferings of tragedies of the accepted size. But the author offers some solemn reasons to induce us to believe that six acts were so far from being too many, that the piece had been more perfect with a seventh! M. de Beaussol had, perhaps, been happy to have known, that other dramatists have considered that the usual restrictions are detrimental to a grand genius. Nat. Lee, when in Bedlam, wrote a play in twenty-five acts.

Our philosophical dramatist, from the constituent principles of the human mind, and the physical powers of man, and the French nation more particularly, deduces the origin of the sublime, and the faculty of attention. The plan of his tragedy is agreeable to these principles: Monarchs, Queens, and Rivals, and every class of men; it is therefore grand! and the acts can be listened to, and therefore it is not too long! It was the high opinion that he had formed of human nature and the French people, which at once terrified and excited him to finish a tragedy, which, he modestly adds, "may not have the merit of any single one; but which one day will be discovered to include the labour bestowed on fifty!"

No great work was ever produced without a grand plan. "Some critics," says our author, "have ventured to assert that my six acts may easily be reduced to the usual five, without injury to the conduct of the fable." To reply to this required a complete analysis of the tragedy, which, having been found more voluminous than the tragedy itself, he considerately "published separately." It would be curious to ascertain whether a single copy of the analysis of a condemned tragedy was ever sold. And yet this critical analysis was such an admirable and demonstrative criticism, that the author assures us that it proved the absolute impossibility, "and the most absolute too," that his piece could not suffer the slightest curtailment. It demonstrated more—that the gradation and the development of interest required necessarily seven acts! but, from dread of carrying this innovation too far, the author omitted one act, which passed behind the scenes![170] but which ought to have come in between the fifth and sixth! Another point is proved, that the attention of an audience, the physical powers of man, can be kept up with interest much longer than has been calculated; that his piece only takes up two hours and three quarters, or three hours at most, if some of the most impassioned parts were but declaimed rapidly.[171]

Now we come to the history of all the disasters which happened at the acting of this tragedy. "How can people complain that my piece is tedious, when, after the first act, they would never listen ten minutes to it? Why did they attend to the first scenes, and even applaud one? Let me not be told, because these were sublime, and commanded the respect of the cabal raised against it; because there are other scenes far more sublime in the piece, which they perpetually interrupted. Will it be believed, that they pitched upon the scene of the sacrifice of Volgesie, as one of the most tedious?—the scene of Volgesie, which is the finest in my piece; not a verse, not a word in it, can be omitted![172] Everything tends towards the catastrophe; and it reads in the closet as well as it would affect us on the stage. I was not, however, astonished at this; what men hear, and do not understand, is always tedious; and it was recited in so shocking a tone by the actress, who, not having entirely recovered from a fit of illness, was flurried by the tumult of the audience. She declaimed in a twanging tone like psalm-singing; so that the audience could not hear, among the fatiguing discordances (he means their own hissing), nor separate the thoughts and words from the full chant which accompanied them. They objected perpetually to the use of the word Madame between two female rivals, as too comic; one of the pit, when an actress said Madame, cried out 'Say Princesse!' This disconcerted the actress. They also objected to the words apropos and mal-apropos. Yet, after all, how are there too many Madames in the piece, since they do not amount to forty-six in the course of forty-four scenes? Of these, however, I have erased half."

This historian of his own wrong-headedness proceeds, with all the simplicity of this narrative, to describe the hubbub.

"Thus it was impossible to connect what they were hearing with what they had heard. In the short intervals of silence, the actors, who, during the tumult, forgot their characters, tried with difficulty to recover their conception. The conspirators were prepared to a man; not only in their head, but some with written notes had their watchwords, to set their party a-going. They seemed to act with the most extraordinary concert; they seemed to know the exact moment when they were to give the word, and drown, in their hurly-burly, the voice of the actor, who had a passionate part to declaim, and thus break the connexion between the speakers. All this produced so complete an effect, that it seemed as if the actors themselves had been of the conspiracy, so wilful and so active was the execution of the plot. It was particularly during the fifth and sixth acts that the cabal was most outrageous; they knew these were the most beautiful, and deserved particular attention. Such a humming arose, that the actors seemed to have had their heads turned; some lost their voice, some declaimed at random, the prompter in vain cried out, nothing was heard, and everything was said; the actor, who could not hear the catch-word, remained disconcerted and silent; the whole was broken, wrong and right; it was all Hebrew. Nor was this all; the actors behind the scene were terrified, and they either came forwards trembling, and only watching the signs of their brother actors, or would not venture to show themselves. The machinist only, with his scene-shifters, who felt so deep an interest in the fate of my piece, was tranquil and attentive to his duty, to produce a fine effect. After the hurly-burly was over, he left the actors mute with their arms crossed. He opened the scenery! and not an actor could enter on it! The pit, more clamorous than ever, would not suffer the denouement! Such was the conduct, and such the intrepidity, of the army employed to besiege the Arsacides! Such was the cause of that accusation of tediousness made against a drama, which has most evidently the contrary defect!"

Such is the history of a damned dramatist, written by himself, with a truth and simplicity worthy of a happier fate. It is admirable to see a man, who was himself so deeply involved in the event, preserve the observing calmness which could discover the minutest occurrence; and, allowing for his particular conception of the cause, detailing them with the most rigid veracity. This author was unquestionably a man of the most honourable probity, and not destitute of intellectual ability; but he must serve as an useful example of that wrong-headed nature in some men, which has produced so many "Abbots of Unreason" in society, whom it is in vain to convince by a reciprocation of arguments; who assuming false principles, act rightly according to themselves; a sort of rational lunacy, which, when it discovers itself in politics and religion, and in the more common affairs of life, has produced the most unhappy effects; but this fanaticism, when confined to poetry, only amuses us with the ludicrous; and, in the persons of Monsieur de Beaussol, and of Percival Stockdale, may offer some very fortunate self-recollections in that "Calamity of Authors" which I have called "The Illusions of Writers in Verse."


As a literary curiosity, and as a supplemental anecdote to the article of PREFACES,[173] I cannot pass over the suppressed preface to the "Acajou et Zirphile" of Du Clos, which of itself is almost a singular instance of hardy ingenuity, in an address to the public.

This single volume is one of the most whimsical of fairy tales, and an amusing satire originating in an odd circumstance. Count Tessin, the Swedish Ambassador at the Court of France, had a number of grotesque designs made by Boucher, the king's painter, and engraved by the first artists. The last plate had just been finished when the Count was recalled, and appointed Prime Minister and Governor to the Crown Prince, a place he filled with great honour; and in emulation of Fenelon, composed letters on the education of a Prince, which have been translated. He left behind him in France all the plates in the hands of Boucher, who, having shown them to Du Clos for their singular invention, regretted that he had bestowed so much fancy on a fairy tale, which was not to be had; Du Clos, to relieve his regrets, offered to invent a tale to correspond with these grotesque subjects. This seemed not a little difficult. In the first plate, the author appears in his morning-gown, writing in his study, surrounded by apes, rats, butterflies, and smoke. In another, a Prince is drest in the French costume of 1740, strolling full of thought "in the shady walk of ideas." In a third plate, the Prince is conversing with a fairy who rises out of a gooseberry which he has plucked: two dwarfs, discovered in another gooseberry, give a sharp fillip to the Prince, who seems much embarrassed by their tiny maliciousness. In another walk he eats an apricot, which opens with the most beautiful of faces, a little melancholy, and leaning on one side. In another print, he finds the body of his lovely face and the hands, and he adroitly joins them together. Such was the set of these incomprehensible and capricious inventions, which the lighter fancy and ingenuity of Du Clos converted into a fairy story, full of pleasantry and satire.[174]

Among the novelties of this small volume, not the least remarkable is the dedication of this fairy romance to the public, which excited great attention, and charmed and provoked our author's fickle patron. Du Clos here openly ridicules, and dares his protector and his judge. This hazardous attack was successful, and the author soon acquired the reputation which he afterwards maintained, of being a writer who little respected the common prejudices of the world. Freron replied by a long criticism, entitled "Reponse du Public a l'Auteur d'Acajou;" but its severity was not discovered in its length; so that the public, who had been so keenly ridiculed, and so hardily braved in the light and sparkling page of the haughty Du Clos, preferred the caustic truths and the pleasant insult.

In this "Epistle to the Public," the author informs us that, "excited by example, and encouraged by the success he had often witnessed, he designed to write a piece of nonsense. He was only embarrassed by the choice of subject. Politics, Morals, and Literature, were equally the same to me: but I found, strange to say, all these matters pre-occupied by persons who seem to have laboured with the same view. I found silly things in all kinds, and I saw myself under the necessity of adopting the reasonable ones to become singular; so that I do not yet despair that we may one day discover truth, when we shall have exhausted all our errors.

"I first proposed to write down all erudition, to show the freedom and independence of genius, whose fertility is such as not to require borrowing anything from foreign sources; but I observed that this had sunk into a mere commonplace, trite and trivial, invented by indolence, adopted by ignorance, and which adds nothing to genius,

"Mathematics, which has succeeded to erudition, begins to be unfashionable; we know at present indeed that one may be as great a dizzard in resolving a problem as in restoring a reading. Everything is compatible with genius, but nothing can give it.

"For the bel esprit, so much envied, so much sought after, it is almost as ridiculous to pretend to it, as it is difficult to attain. Thus the scholar is contemned, the mathematician tires, the man of wit and genius is hissed. What is to be done?"

Having told the whimsical origin of this tale, Du Clos continues: "I do not know, my dear Public, if you will approve of my design; however, it appears to me ridiculous enough to deserve your favour; for, to speak to you like a friend, you appear to unite all the stages of human life, only to experience all their cross-accidents. You are a child to run after trifles; a youth when driven by your passions; and, in mature age, you conclude you are wise, because your follies are of a more solemn nature, for you grow old only to dote; to talk at random, to act without design, and to believe you judge, because you pronounce sentence.

"I respect you greatly; I esteem you but little; you are not worthy of being loved. These are my sentiments respecting you; if you insist on others from me, in that case,

"I am, "Your most humble and obedient servant."

The caustic pleasantry of this "Epistle Dedicatory" was considered by some mawkish critics so offensive, that when the editor of the "Cabinet de Fees," a vast collection of fairy tales, republished this little playful satire and whimsical fancy-piece, he thought proper to cancel the "Epistle:" concluding that it was entirely wanting in that respect with which the public ought to be addressed! This editor, of course, was a Frenchman: we view him in the ridiculous attitude of making his profound bow, and expressing all this "high consideration" for this same "Public," while, with his opera-hat in his hand, he is sweeping away the most poignant and delectable page of Acajou and Zirphile.


The history of a race of singular mendicants, known by the name of Tom o' Bedlams, connects itself with that of our poetry. Not only will they live with our language, since Shakspeare has perpetuated their existence, but they themselves appear to have been the occasion of creating a species of wild fantastic poetry, peculiar to our nation.

Bethlehem Hospital formed, in its original institution, a contracted and penurious charity;[175] its governors soon discovered that the metropolis furnished them with more lunatics than they had calculated on; they also required from the friends of the patients a weekly stipend, besides clothing. It is a melancholy fact to record in the history of human nature, that when one of their original regulations prescribed that persons who put in patients should provide their clothes, it was soon observed that the poor lunatics were frequently perishing by the omission of this slight duty from those former friends; so soon forgotten were they whom none found an interest to recollect. They were obliged to open contributions to provide a wardrobe.[176]

In consequence of the limited resources of the Hospital, they relieved the establishment by frequently discharging patients whose cure might be very equivocal. Harmless lunatics thrown thus into the world, often without a single friend, wandered about the country, chanting wild ditties, and wearing a fantastical dress to attract the notice of the charitable, on whose alms they lived. They had a kind of costume, which I find described by Randle Holme in a curious and extraordinary work.[177]

"The Bedlam has a long staff, and a cow or ox-horn by his side; his clothing fantastic and ridiculous; for being a madman, he is madly decked and dressed all over with rubins (ribands), feathers, cuttings of cloth, and what not, to make him seem a madman, or one distracted, when he is no other than a wandering and dissembling knave." This writer here points out one of the grievances resulting from licensing even harmless lunatics to roam about the country; for a set of pretended madmen, called "Abram men," a cant term for certain sturdy rogues, concealed themselves in their costume, covered the country, and pleaded the privileged denomination when detected in their depredations.[178]

Sir Walter Scott first obligingly suggested to me that these roving lunatics were out-door pensioners of Bedlam, sent about to live as well as they could with the pittance granted by the hospital.

The fullest account that I have obtained of these singular persons is drawn from a manuscript note transcribed from some of Aubrey's papers, which I have not seen printed.

"Till the breaking out of the civil wars, Tom o' Bedlams did travel about the country; they had been poor distracted men, that had been put into Bedlam, where recovering some soberness, they were licentiated to go a begging; i.e., they had on their left arm an armilla, an iron ring for the arm, about four inches long, as printed in some works.[179] They could not get it off; they wore about their necks a great horn of an ox in a string or bawdry, which, when they came to a house, they did wind, and they put the drink given to them into this horn, whereto they put a stopple. Since the wars I do not remember to have seen any one of them." The civil wars, probably, cleared the country of all sorts of vagabonds; but among the royalists or the parliamentarians, we did not know that in their rank and file they had so many Tom o' Bedlams.

I have now to explain something in the character of Edgar in Lear, on which the commentators seem to have ingeniously blundered, from an imperfect knowledge of the character which Edgar personates.

Edgar, in wandering about the country, for a safe disguise assumes the character of these Tom o' Bedlams; he thus closes one of his distracted speeches—"Poor Tom, Thy horn is dry!" On this Johnson is content to inform us, that "men that begged under pretence of lunacy used formerly to carry a horn and blow it through the streets." This is no explanation of Edgar's allusion to the dryness of his horn. Steevens adds a fanciful note, that Edgar alludes to a proverbial expression, Thy horn is dry, designed to express that a man had said all he could say; and, further, Steevens supposes that Edgar speaks these words aside; as if he had been quite weary of Tom o' Bedlam's part, and could not keep it up any longer. The reasons of all this conjectural criticism are a curious illustration of perverse ingenuity. Aubrey's manuscript note has shown us that the Bedlam's horn was also a drinking-horn, and Edgar closes his speech in the perfection of the assumed character, and not as one who had grown weary of it, by making the mendicant lunatic desirous of departing from a heath, to march, as he cries, "to wakes, and fairs, and market-towns—Poor Tom! thy horn is dry!" as more likely places to solicit alms; and he is thinking of his drink-money, when he cries that "his horn is dry."

An itinerant lunatic, chanting wild ditties, fancifully attired, gay with the simplicity of childhood, yet often moaning with the sorrows of a troubled man, a mixture of character at once grotesque and plaintive, became an interesting object to poetical minds. It is probable that the character of Edgar, in the Lear of Shakspeare, first introduced the hazardous conception into the poetical world. Poems composed in the character of a Tom o' Bedlam appear to have formed a fashionable class of poetry among the wits; they seem to have held together their poetical contests, and some of these writers became celebrated for their successful efforts, for old Izaak Walton mentions a "Mr. William Basse, as one who has made the choice songs of 'The Hunter in his career,' and of 'Tom o' Bedlam,' and many others of note." Bishop Percy, in his "Reliques of Ancient English Poetry," has preserved six of what he calls "Mad Songs," expressing his surprise that the English should have "more songs and ballads on the subject of madness than any of their neighbours," for such are not found in the collection of songs of the French, Italian, &c., and nearly insinuates, for their cause, that we are perhaps more liable to the calamity of madness than other nations. This superfluous criticism had been spared had that elegant collector been aware of the circumstance which had produced this class of poems, and recollected the more ancient original in the Edgar of Shakspeare. Some of the "Mad Songs" which the bishop has preserved are of too modern a date to suit the title of his work; being written by Tom D'Urfey, for his comedies of Don Quixote. I shall preserve one of more ancient date, fraught with all the wild spirit of this peculiar character.[180]

This poem must not be read without a continued reference to the personated character. Delirious and fantastic, strokes of sublime imagination are mixed with familiar comic humour, and even degraded by the cant language; for the gipsy habits of life of these "Tom o' Bedlams" had confounded them with "the progging Abram men."[181] These luckless beings are described by Decker as sometimes exceeding merry, and could do nothing but sing songs fashioned out of their own brains; now they danced, now they would do nothing but laugh and weep, or were dogged and sullen both in look and speech. All they did, all they sung, was alike unconnected; indicative of the desultory and rambling wits of the chanter.


From the hag and hungry goblin That into rags would rend ye, All the spirits that stand By the naked man, In the book of moons defend ye! That of your five sound senses You never be forsaken; Nor travel from Yourselves with Tom Abroad, to beg your bacon.


Nor never sing any food and feeding, Money, drink, or clothing; Come dame or maid, Be not afraid, For Tom will injure nothing.

Of thirty bare years have I Twice twenty been enraged; And of forty been Three times fifteen In durance soundly caged. In the lovely lofts of Bedlam, In stubble soft and dainty, Brave bracelets strong, Sweet whips ding, dong, And a wholesome hunger plenty.

With a thought I took for Maudlin, And a cruse of cockle pottage, And a thing thus—tall, Sky bless you all, I fell into this dotage. I slept not till the Conquest; Till then I never waked; Till the roguish boy Of love where I lay, Me found, and stript me naked.

When short I have shorn my sow's face, And swigg'd my horned barrel; In an oaken inn Do I pawn my skin, As a suit of gilt apparel. The morn's my constant mistress, And the lovely owl my morrow; The flaming drake, And the night-crow, make Me music, to my sorrow.

The palsie plague these pounces, When I prig your pigs or pullen; Your culvers take Or mateless make Your chanticleer and sullen; When I want provant with Humphrey I sup, And when benighted, To repose in Paul's, With waking souls I never am affrighted.

I know more than Apollo; For, oft when he lies sleeping, I behold the stars At mortal wars, And the rounded welkin weeping. The moon embraces her shepherd, And the Queen of Love her warrior; While the first does horn The stars of the morn, And the next the heavenly farrier.

With a heart of furious fancies, Whereof I am commander: With a burning spear, And a horse of air, To the wilderness I wander; With a knight of ghosts and shadows, I summoned am to Tourney: Ten leagues beyond The wide world's end; Methinks it is no journey!

The last stanza of this Bedlam song contains the seeds of exquisite romance; a stanza worth many an admired poem.


It is said that the frozen Norwegians, on the first sight of roses, dared not touch what they conceived were trees budding with fire: and the natives of Virginia, the first time they seized on a quantity of gunpowder, which belonged to the English colony, sowed it for grain, expecting to reap a plentiful crop of combustion by the next harvest, to blow away the whole colony.

In our own recollection, strange imaginations impeded the first period of vaccination; when some families, terrified by the warning of a physician, conceived their race would end in a species of Minotaurs—

Semibovemque virum, semivirumque bovem.

We smile at the simplicity of the men of nature, for their mistaken notions at the first introduction among them of exotic novelties; and yet, even in civilised Europe, how long a time those whose profession or whose reputation regulates public opinion are influenced by vulgar prejudices, often disguised under the imposing form of science! and when their ludicrous absurdities and obstinate prejudices enter into the matters of history, it is then we discover that they were only imposing on themselves and on others.

It is hardly credible that on the first introduction of the Chinese leaf, which now affords our daily refreshment; or the American leaf, whose sedative fumes made it so long an universal favourite; or the Arabian berry, whose aroma exhilarates its European votaries; that the use of these harmless novelties should have spread consternation among the nations of Europe, and have been anathematised by the terrors and the fictions of some of the learned. Yet this seems to have happened. Patin, who wrote so furiously against the introduction of antimony, spread the same alarm at the use of tea, which he calls "l'impertinente nouveaute du siecle." In Germany, Hanneman considered tea-dealers as immoral members of society, lying in wait for men's purses and lives; and Dr. Duncan, in his Treatise on Hot Liquors, suspected that the virtues attributed to tea were merely to encourage the importation.[182]

Many virulent pamphlets were published against the use of this shrub, from various motives. In 1670, a Dutch writer says it was ridiculed in Holland under the name of hay-water. "The progress of this famous plant," says an ingenious writer, "has been something like the progress of truth; suspected at first, though very palatable to those who had courage to taste it; resisted as it encroached; abused as its popularity seemed to spread; and establishing its triumph at last, in cheering the whole land from the palace to the cottage, only by the slow and resistless efforts of time and its own virtues."[183]

The history of the Tea-shrub, by Dr. Lettsom, usually referred to on this subject, I consider little more than a plagiarism on Dr. Short's learned and curious dissertation on Tea, 1730, 4to. Lettsom has superadded the solemn trifling of his moral and medical advice.

These now common beverages are all of recent origin in Europe; neither the ancients nor those of the middle ages tasted of this luxury. The first accounts we find of the use of this shrub are the casual notices of travellers, who seem to have tasted it, and sometimes not to have liked it: a Russian ambassador, in 1639, who resided at the court of the Mogul, declined accepting a large present of tea for the Czar, "as it would only encumber him with a commodity for which he had no use." The appearance of "a black water" and an acrid taste seems not to have recommended it to the German Olearius in 1633. Dr. Short has recorded an anecdote of a stratagem of the Dutch in their second voyage to China, by which they at first obtained their tea without disbursing money; they carried from home great store of dried sage, and bartered it with the Chinese for tea, and received three or four pounds of tea for one of sage: but at length the Dutch could not export sufficient quantities of sage to supply their demand. This fact, however, proves how deeply the imagination is concerned with our palate; for the Chinese, affected by the exotic novelty, considered our sage to be more precious than their tea.

The first introduction of tea into Europe is not ascertained; according to the common accounts it came into England from Holland, in 1666, when Lord Arlington and Lord Ossory brought over a small quantity: the custom of drinking tea became fashionable, and a pound weight sold then for sixty shillings. This account, however, is by no means satisfactory. I have heard of Oliver Cromwell's tea-pot in the possession of a collector, and this will derange the chronology of those writers who are perpetually copying the researches of others, without confirming or correcting them.[184]

Amidst the rival contests of the Dutch and the English East India Companies, the honour of introducing its use into Europe may be claimed by both. Dr. Short conjectures that tea might have been known in England as far back as the reign of James the First, for the first fleet set out in 1600; but had the use of the shrub been known, the novelty had been chronicled among our dramatic writers, whose works are the annals of our prevalent tastes and humours. It is rather extraordinary that our East India Company should not have discovered the use of this shrub in their early adventures; yet it certainly was not known in England so late as in 1641, for in a scarce "Treatise of Warm Beer," where the title indicates the author's design to recommend hot in preference to cold drinks, he refers to tea only by quoting the Jesuit Maffei's account, that "they of China do for the most part drink the strained liquor of an herb called Chia hot." The word Cha is the Portuguese term for tea retained to this day, which they borrowed from the Japanese; while our intercourse with the Chinese made us no doubt adopt their term Theh, now prevalent throughout Europe, with the exception of the Portuguese. The Chinese origin is still preserved in the term Bohea, tea which comes from the country of Vouhi; and that of Hyson was the name of the most considerable Chinese then concerned in the trade.

The best account of the early use, and the prices of tea in England, appears in the handbill of one who may be called our first Tea-maker. This curious handbill bears no date, but as Hanway ascertained that the price was sixty shillings in 1660, his bill must have been dispersed about that period.

Thomas Garway, in Exchange-alley, tobacconist and coffee-man, was the first who sold and retailed tea, recommending it for the cure of all disorders. The following shop-bill is more curious than any historical account we have.

"Tea in England hath been sold in the leaf for six pounds, and sometimes for ten pounds the pound weight, and in respect of its former scarceness and dearness it has been only used as a regalia in high treatments and entertainments, and presents made thereof to princes and grandees till the year 1657. The said Garway did purchase a quantity thereof, and first publicly sold the said tea in leaf or drink, made according to the directions of the most knowing merchants into those Eastern countries. On the knowledge of the said Garway's continued care and industry in obtaining the best tea, and making drink thereof, very many noblemen, physicians, merchants, &c., have ever since sent to him for the said leaf, and daily resort to his house to drink the drink thereof. He sells tea from 16s. to 50s. a pound."

Probably, tea was not in general use domestically so late as in 1687; for in the diary of Henry, Earl of Clarendon, he registers that "Pere Couplet supped with me, and after supper we had tea, which he said was really as good as any he had drank in China." Had his lordship been in the general habit of drinking tea, he had not probably made it a subject for his diary.

While the honour of introducing tea may be disputed between the English and the Dutch, that of coffee remains between the English and the French. Yet an Italian intended to have occupied the place of honour: that admirable traveller Pietro della Valle, writing from Constantinople, 1615, to a Roman, his fellow-countryman, informing him that he should teach Europe in what manner the Turks took what he calls "Cahue," or as the word is written in an Arabic and English pamphlet, printed at Oxford, in 1659, on "the nature of the drink Kauhi or Coffee." As this celebrated traveller lived to 1652, it may excite surprise that the first cup of coffee was not drank at Rome; this remains for the discovery of some member of the "Arcadian Society." Our own Sandys, at the time that Valle wrote, was also "a traveller," and well knew what was "Coffa," which "they drank as hot as they can endure it; it is as black as soot, and tastes not much unlike it; good they say for digestion and mirth."

It appears by Le Grand's "Vie privee des Francois," that the celebrated Thevenot, in 1658, gave coffee after dinner; but it was considered as the whim of a traveller; neither the thing itself, nor its appearance, was inviting: it was probably attributed by the gay to the humour of a vain philosophical traveller. But ten years afterwards a Turkish ambassador at Paris made the beverage highly fashionable. The elegance of the equipage recommended it to the eye, and charmed the women: the brilliant porcelain cups in which it was poured; the napkins fringed with gold, and the Turkish slaves on their knees presenting it to the ladies, seated on the ground on cushions, turned the heads of the Parisian dames. This elegant introduction made the exotic beverage a subject of conversation, and in 1672, an Armenian at Paris at the fair-time opened a coffee-house. But the custom still prevailed to sell beer and wine, and to smoke and mix with indifferent company in their first imperfect coffee-houses. A Florentine, one Procope, celebrated in his day as the arbiter of taste in this department, instructed by the error of the Armenian, invented a superior establishment, and introduced ices; he embellished his apartment, and those who had avoided the offensive coffee-houses repaired to Procope's; where literary men, artists, and wits resorted, to inhale the fresh and fragrant steam. Le Grand says that this establishment holds a distinguished place in the literary history of the times. It was at the coffee-house of Du Laurent that Saurin, La Motte, Danchet, Boindin, Rousseau, &c., met; but the mild streams of the aromatic berry could not mollify the acerbity of so many rivals, and the witty malignity of Rousseau gave birth to those famous couplets on all the coffee drinkers, which occasioned his misfortune and his banishment.

Such is the history of the first use of coffee and its houses at Paris. We, however, had the use before even the time of Thevenot; for an English Turkish merchant brought a Greek servant in 1652, who, knowing how to roast and make it, opened a house to sell it publicly. I have also discovered his hand-bill, in which he sets forth, "The vertue of the coffee-drink, first publiquely made and sold in England, by Pasqua Rosee, in St. Michael's Alley, Cornhill, at the sign of his own head."[185]

For about twenty years after the introduction of coffee in this kingdom, we find a continued series of invectives against its adoption, both for medicinal and domestic purposes. The use of coffee, indeed, seems to have excited more notice, and to have had a greater influence on the manners of the people, than that of tea. It seems at first to have been more universally used, as it still is on the Continent; and its use is connected with a resort for the idle and the curious: the history of coffee-houses, ere the invention of clubs, was that of the manners, the morals, and the politics of a people. Even in its native country, the government discovered that extraordinary fact, and the use of the Arabian berry was more than once forbidden where it grows; for Ellis, in his "History of Coffee," 1774, refers to an Arabian MS., in the King of France's library, which shows that coffee-houses in Asia were sometimes suppressed. The same fate happened on its introduction into England.

Among a number of poetical satires against the use of coffee, I find a curious exhibition, according to the exaggerated notions of that day, in "A Cup of Coffee, or Coffee in its Colours," 1663. The writer, like others of his contemporaries, wonders at the odd taste which could make Coffee a substitute for Canary.

For men and Christians to turn Turks and think To excuse the crime, because 'tis in their drink! Pure English apes! ye may, for aught I know, Would it but mode—learn to eat spiders too.[186] Should any of your grandsires' ghosts appear In your wax-candle circles, and but hear The name of coffee so much called upon, Then see it drank like scalding Phlegethon; Would they not startle, think ye, all agreed 'Twas conjuration both in word and deed? Or Catiline's conspirators, as they stood Sealing their oaths in draughts of blackest blood, The merriest ghost of all your sires would say, Your wine's much worse since his last yesterday. He'd wonder how the club had given a hop O'er tavern-bars into a farrier's shop, Where he'd suppose, both by the smoke and stench, Each man a horse, and each horse at his drench.— Sure you're no poets, nor their friends, for now, Should Jonson's strenuous spirit, or the rare Beaumont and Fletcher's, in your round appear, They would not find the air perfumed with one Castalian drop, nor dew of Helicon; When they but men would speak as the gods do, They drank pure nectar as the gods drink too, Sublim'd with rich Canary—say, shall then These less than coffee's self, these coffee-men; These sons of nothing, that can hardly make Their broth, for laughing how the jest does take, Yet grin, and give ye for the vine's pure blood A loathsome potion, not yet understood, Syrop of soot, or essence of old shoes, Dasht with diurnals and the books of news?

Other complaints arose from the mixture of the company in the first coffee-houses. In "A Broadside against Coffee, or the Marriage of the Turk," 1672, the writer indicates the growth of the fashion:—

Confusion huddles all into one scene, Like Noah's ark, the clean and the unclean; For now, alas! the drench has credit got, And he's no gentleman who drinks it not. That such a dwarf should rise to such a stature! But custom is but a remove from nature.

In "The Women's Petition against Coffee," 1674, they complained that "it made men as unfruitful as the deserts whence that unhappy berry is said to be brought; that the offspring of our mighty ancestors would dwindle into a succession of apes and pigmies; and on a domestic message, a husband would stop by the way to drink a couple of cups of coffee." It was now sold in convenient penny-worths; for in another poem in praise of a coffee-house, for the variety of information obtained there, it is called "a penny university."

Amidst these contests of popular prejudices, between the lovers of forsaken Canary, and the terrors of our females at the barrenness of an Arabian desert, which lasted for twenty years, at length the custom was universally established; nor were there wanting some reflecting minds desirous of introducing the use of this liquid among the labouring classes of society, to wean them from strong liquors. Howell, in noticing that curious philosophical traveller, Sir Henry Blount's "Organon Salutis," 1659, observed that "this coffa-drink hath caused a great sobriety among all nations: formerly apprentices, clerks, &c., used to take their morning draughts in ale, beer, or wine, which often made them unfit for business. Now they play the good-fellows in this wakeful and civil drink. The worthy gentleman, Sir James Muddiford, who introduced the practice hereof first in London, deserves much respect of the whole nation." Here it appears, what is most probable, that the use of this berry was introduced by other Turkish merchants, besides Edwards and his servant Pasqua. But the custom of drinking coffee among the labouring classes does not appear to have lasted; and when it was recently even the cheapest beverage, the popular prejudices prevailed against it, and ran in favour of tea. The contrary practice prevails on the continent, where beggars are viewed making their coffee in the street. I remember seeing the large body of shipwrights at Helvoetsluys summoned by a bell, to take their regular refreshment of coffee; and the fleets of Holland were not then built by arms less robust than the fleets of Britain.

The frequenting of coffee-houses is a custom which has declined within our recollection, since institutions of a higher character, and society itself, have so much improved within late years. These were, however, the common assemblies of all classes of society. The mercantile man, the man of letters, and the man of fashion, had their appropriate coffee-houses. The Tatler dates from either to convey a character of his subject. In the reign of Charles the Second, 1675, a proclamation for some time shut them all up, having become the rendezvous of the politicians of that day. Roger North has given, in his Examen, a full account of this bold stroke: it was not done without some apparent respect to the British constitution, the court affecting not to act against law, for the judges were summoned to a consultation, when, it seems, the five who met did not agree in opinion. But a decision was contrived that "the retailing of coffee and tea might be an innocent trade; but as it was said to nourish sedition, spread lies, and scandalise great men, it might also be a common nuisance." A general discontent, in consequence, as North acknowledges, took place, and emboldened the merchants and retailers of coffee and tea to petition; and permission was soon granted to open the houses to a certain period, under a severe admonition, that the masters should prevent all scandalous papers, books, and libels from being read in them; and hinder every person from spreading scandalous reports against the government. It must be confessed, all this must have frequently puzzled the coffee-house master to decide what was scandalous, what book was fit to be licensed to be read, and what political intelligence might be allowed to be communicated. The object of the government was, probably, to intimidate, rather than to persecute, at that moment.

Chocolate the Spaniards brought from Mexico, where it was denominated Chocolati; it was a coarse mixture of ground cacao and Indian corn with rocou; but the Spaniards, liking its nourishment, improved it into a richer compound, with sugar, vanilla, and other aromatics. The immoderate use of chocolate in the seventeenth century was considered as so violent an inflamer of the passions, that Joan. Fran. Rauch published a treatise against it, and enforced the necessity of forbidding the monks to drink it; and adds, that if such an interdiction had existed, that scandal with which that holy order had been branded might have proved more groundless. This Disputatio medico-diaetetica de aere et esculentis, necnon de potu, Vienna, 1624, is a rara avis among collectors. This attack on the monks, as well as on chocolate, is said to be the cause of its scarcity; for we are told that they were so diligent in suppressing this treatise, that it is supposed not a dozen copies exist. We had chocolate-houses in London long after coffee-houses; they seemed to have associated something more elegant and refined in their new term when the other had become common.[187] Roger North thus inveighs against them: "The use of coffee-houses seems much improved by a new invention, called chocolate-houses, for the benefit of rooks and cullies of quality, where gaming is added to all the rest, and the summons of W—— seldom fails; as if the devil had erected a new university, and those were the colleges of its professors, as well as his schools of discipline." Roger North, a high Tory, and Attorney-General to James the Second, observed, however, these rendezvous were often not entirely composed of those "factious gentry he so much dreaded;" for he says "This way of passing time might have been stopped at first, before people had possessed themselves of some convenience from them of meeting for short despatches, and passing evenings with small expenses." And old Aubrey, the small Boswell of his day, attributes his general acquaintance to "the modern advantage of coffee-houses in this great city, before which men knew not how to be acquainted, but with their own relations, and societies;" a curious statement, which proves the moral connexion with society of all sedentary recreations which induce the herding spirit.


Herbert, the faithful attendant of Charles the First during the two last years of the king's life, mentions "a diamond seal with the king's arms engraved on it." The history of this "diamond seal" is remarkable; and seems to have been recovered by the conjectural sagacity of Warburton, who never exercised his favourite talent with greater felicity. The curious passage I transcribe may be found in a manuscript letter to Dr. Birch.

"If you have read Herbert's account of the last days of Charles the First's life, you must remember he tells a story of a diamond seal, with the arms of England cut into it. This, King Charles ordered to be given, I think, to the prince. I suppose you don't know what became of this seal, but would be surprised to find it afterwards in the Court of Persia. Yet there Tavernier certainly carried it, and offered it for sale, as I certainly collect from these words of vol. i. p. 541.—'Me souvenant de ce qui etoit arrive au Chevalier de Reville,' &c. He tells us he told the prime minister what was engraved on the diamond was the arms of a prince of Europe, but, says he, I would not be more particular, remembering the case of Reville. Reville's case was this: he came to seek employment under the Sophy, who asked him 'where he had served?' He said 'in England under Charles the First, and that he was a captain in his guards.'—'Why did you leave his service?' 'He was murdered by cruel rebels.'—'And how had you the impudence,' says the Sophy, 'to survive him?' And so disgraced him. Now Tavernier was afraid, if he had said the arms of England had been on the seal, that they would have occasioned the inquiry into the old story. You will ask how Tavernier got this seal? I suppose that the prince, in his necessities, sold it to Tavernier, who was at Paris when the English court was there. What made me recollect Herbert's account on reading this, was the singularity of an impress cut on the diamond, which Tavernier represents as a most extraordinary rarity. Charles the First was a great virtuoso, and delighted particularly in sculpture and painting."

This is an instance of conjectural evidence, where an historical fact seems established on no other authority than the ingenuity of a student, exercised in his library, on a private and secret event, a century after it had occurred. The diamond seal of Charles the First may yet be discovered in the treasures of the Persian sovereign.

Warburton, who had ranged with keen delight through the age of Charles the First, the noblest and the most humiliating in our own history, and in that of the world, perpetually instructive, has justly observed the king's passion for the fine arts. It was indeed such, that had the reign of Charles the First proved prosperous, that sovereign about 1640 would have anticipated those tastes, and even that enthusiasm, which are still almost foreign to the nation.

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