For our second Cocktail Talk from Dickens’ novel of family, riots, and ravens (among other things), we head to a gathering of prentices, as they say. Focusing mostly on one specific apprentice, the Captain of the group, a man of slight size but outsized self-importance, perhaps, and of finely-tuned calves, the swell named Mr. Tappertit. Not the villain of the book (I’d say there isn’t solely one), but not the nobelest of characters, no matter the below quote. Oh, be sure you read the Barnaby Rudge Cocktail Talk Part 1 to learn more about the book (and don’t miss the many other Dickens Cocktail Talks, either).
‘Sound, captain, sound!’ cried the blind man; ‘what does my noble captain drink–is it brandy, rum, usquebaugh? Is it soaked gunpowder, or blazing oil? Give it a name, heart of oak, and we’d get it for you, if it was wine from a bishop’s cellar, or melted gold from King George’s mint.’
‘See,’ said Mr. Tappertit haughtily, ‘that it’s something strong, and comes quick; and so long as you take care of that, you may bring it from the devil’s cellar, if you like.’
‘Boldly said, noble captain!’ rejoined the blind man. ‘Spoken like the ‘Prentices’ Glory. Ha, ha! From the devil’s cellar! A brave joke! The captain joketh. Ha, ha, ha!’
I’ve had a goodly amount of Charles Dickens Cocktail Talk posts here on the Spiked Punch blog (started in the 1800s in honor of Dickens naturally), but never one from the underrated and underread book Barnaby Rudge, a situation which I’m going to remedy over the next few weeks, as I’ve recently re-read it, and so am primed for Cocktail Talks from it. You can learn more about the book from scholars more learned than I, but I will give you this: it has one of the finest, or most well-imagined, fictional pubs ever, The Maypole, in which some of the action centers. Also, it’s a book (like so much of Dickens) that while taking place in the past is finely attuned to the present, in this case as the sort-of second part of the book takes place around the actual London anti-Catholic (in theory, at least) riots, driven by Lord George Gordon, and the “politics” and demagoguery and players around such mirror a lot of what we see today. Sad, in a way. But the Maypole is nice! Until the . . . well, I won’t give too much more away. But I will start out at the Maypole, when one of the book’s main characters (out of a full and varied cast, as Dickens does), locksmith Gabriel Vaden, arrives at the pub on a stormy night.
When he got to the Maypole, however, and Joe, responding to his well-known hail, came running out to the horse’s head, leaving the door open behind him, and disclosing a delicious perspective of warmth and brightness – when the ruddy gleam of the fire, streaming through the old red curtains of the common room, seemed to bring with it, as part of itself, a pleasant hum of voices, and a fragrant odour of steaming grog and rare tobacco, all steeped as it were in the cheerful glow – when the shadows, flitting across the curtain, showed that those inside had risen from their snug seats, and were making room in the snuggest corner (how well he knew that corner!) for the honest locksmith, and a broad glare, suddenly streaming up, bespoke the goodness of the crackling log from which a brilliant train of sparks was doubtless at that moment whirling up the chimney in honour of his coming – when, superadded to these enticements, there stole upon him from the distant kitchen a gentle sound of frying, with a musical clatter of plates and dishes, and a savoury smell that made even the boisterous wind a perfume – Gabriel felt his firmness oozing rapidly away. He tried to look stoically at the tavern, but his features would relax into a look of fondness. He turned his head the other way, and the cold black country seemed to frown him off, and drive him for a refuge into its hospitable arms.
‘The merciful man, Joe,’ said the locksmith, ‘is merciful to his beast. I’ll get out for a little while.’
And how natural it was to get out! And how unnatural it seemed for a sober man to be plodding wearily along through miry roads, encountering the rude buffets of the wind and pelting of the rain, when there was a clean floor covered with crisp white sand, a well swept hearth, a blazing fire, a table decorated with white cloth, bright pewter flagons, and other tempting preparations for a well-cooked meal – when there were these things, and company disposed to make the most of them, all ready to his hand, and entreating him to enjoyment!
Whoa. This is one of the weirder days in my history. I’ve just realized I’ve never had a Bleak House Cocktail Talk on Spiked Punch before. I mean, you’d think I’d know, right? I write the posts! But there have been many, many posts on here, too many, really, and lots of Dickens Cocktail Talks, and my memory (writing about drinks and all) isn’t as up to snuff as the snuffiest, and I just on some level in my mind took it for granted that I’d had at least one Bleak House Cocktail Talks, but never stopped to check, until today, as I’m rereading said book, and so did indeed double and triple check and, well, weirdly, I never have had a quote from Bleak House on here. Whoa. See, Bleak House may be my favoritest Dickens book of the whole lot of ‘em. Maybe. Hard to say, and I am as we all are different people in some small manner on different days. But it is an all-time classic of the written world, an immense treasure for anyone who likes reading, and if you don’t, well, then check out the BBC Bleak House mini-series, cause it is the absolute tops. Bleak-Freaking-House! Not the peppiest, but I’ve laughed lots when re-reading. Cried, too. Jarndyce and Jarndyce man, it’s a killer. I don’t feel I need to outline the book, cause it’s well-known enough, but I do feel I need to have multiple Cocktail Talks from it to make up for my missteps in not having any on here already. I’m going to start with a dinner recitation from a ‘Slap-Bang’ dining house, where three chaps have been dining out: Guppy (a somewhat central character, who it’s hard not feel for, though he’s a little silly with his slicked-down hair, and a little, not un-savory, but not someone completely trustworthy), who works in one of the central law firms, and his pals Mr. Jobling (less central, law stationer), and Mr. Smallweed (lower clerk in the same firm as Guppy, and grandson to one serious shaking villain).
Mr. Smallweed, compelling the attendance of the waitress with one hitch of his eyelash, instantly replies as follows: Four veals and hams is three, and four potatoes is three and four, and one summer cabbage is three and six, and three marrows is four and six, and six breads is five, and three Cheshires is five and three, and four pints of half-and-half is six and three, and four small rums is eight and three, and three Pollys is eight and six. Eight and six in half a sovereign, Polly, and eighteenpence out!
Not at all excited by these stupendous calculations, Smallweed dismisses his friends with a cool nod, and remains behind to take a little admiring notice of Polly, as opportunity may serve, and to read the daily papers: which are so very large in proportion to himself, shorn of his hat, that when he holds up The Times to run his eye over the columns, he seems to have retired for the night, and to have disappeared under the bedclothes.
You know (cause you know things) I love Dickens, and have many Charles Dickens Cocktail Talks on this very blog thingy, and cause of that (the love), I tend to re-read his books on the regular, and one of my favs is one not quite as well know, Dombey and Son. To get all the particulars of why it’s a fav, to read loads of cocktail and spirits (and dog!) quotes from the book, well, let me point you to the Dombey and Son Cocktail TalksPart I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV, instead of prattling on again here. Instead, I’ll just prattle that I’ve recently re-read the book once again (and I will again, I’m sure!), and had to have at least one more Cocktail Talk. So, here it is, featuring Cap’n Cuttle himself, along with his bestie Sol and said Sol’s niece Walter.
‘Ah!’ he said, with a sigh, ‘it’s a fine thing to understand ’em. And yet it’s a fine thing not to understand ’em. I hardly know which is best. It’s so comfortable to sit here and feel that you might be weighed, measured, magnified, electrified, polarized, played the very devil with: and never know how.’
Nothing short of the wonderful Madeira, combined with the occasion (which rendered it desirable to improve and expand Walter’s mind), could have ever loosened his tongue to the extent of giving utterance to this prodigious oration. He seemed quite amazed himself at the manner in which it opened up to view the sources of the taciturn delight he had had in eating Sunday dinners in that parlour for ten years. Becoming a sadder and a wiser man, he mused and held his peace.
‘Come!’ cried the subject of this admiration, returning. ‘Before you have your glass of grog, Ned, we must finish the bottle.’
‘Stand by!’ said Ned, filling his glass. ‘Give the boy some more.’
‘No more, thank’e, Uncle!’
‘Yes, yes,’ said Sol, ‘a little more. We’ll finish the bottle, to the House, Ned – Walter’s House. Why it may be his House one of these days, in part. Who knows? Sir Richard Whittington married his master’s daughter.’
I have a tear in my eye, as while I could probably have a fair more Cocktail Talks from the Charlie Dickens collection of essays The Uncommercial Traveller, for now (but perhaps not forever), this will our last one. If you’ve missed any of the previous four, then be sure to read The Uncommercial Traveller Cocktail Talks Part 1, Part II, Part III, and Part IV, and while you’re in the reading mood, check out all the Dickens Cocktail Talks. Don’t read so much that your eyes tire, however, as you won’t want to miss the below quote. From one of the laugh-out-loud-ier pieces in the collection (and there are many funny scenes throughout, so that’s saying something), called “A Little Dinner in an Hour,” the below quote is just a small part of a regrettable dining experience Dickens has with his pal Bullfinch, when they are traveling for some business and decide to book a meal at a local spot that once was rumored to be worthy. But now leaves much to be desired! Ah, I wish I could have been there to watch it all unfold (if not to actually partake in it). A fine end to our Cocktail Talk tour through the book. Sherry, please!
‘It’s quite impossible to do it, gentlemen,’ murmured the waiter; ‘and the kitchen is so far off.’
‘Well, you don’t keep the house; it’s not your fault, we suppose. Bring some sherry.’
‘Waiter!’ from Mr. Indignation Cocker, with a new and burning sense of injury upon him.
The waiter, arrested on his way to our sherry, stopped short, and came back to see what was wrong now.
‘Will you look here? This is worse than before. Do you understand? Here’s yesterday’s sherry, one and eightpence, and here we are again two shillings. And what the devil does ninepence mean?’
This new portent utterly confounded the waiter. He wrung his napkin, and mutely appealed to the ceiling.
‘Waiter, fetch that sherry,’ says Bullfinch, in open wrath and revolt.
‘I want to know,’ persisted Mr. Indignation Cocker, ‘the meaning of ninepence. I want to know the meaning of sherry one and eightpence yesterday, and of here we are again two shillings. Send somebody.’
The distracted waiter got out of the room on pretext of sending somebody, and by that means got our wine. But the instant he appeared with our decanter, Mr. Indignation Cocker descended on him again.
As we continue traveling with our pal Charles Dickens writing as The Uncommercial Traveller (be sure to read The Uncommercial Traveller Cocktail Talks Part I and Part II, to have a little more background on this collection of essays that isn’t perhaps read enough – oh, and be sure to see all Dickens Cocktail Talks, too), today we walk with him through London into a dining establishment that he’s very positive on, due to it’s low prices and big portions (remaining taste throughout), all focused it seems to me to be supportive of all income ranges. Great, right! Except there’s one facet that Dickens isn’t a fan of, and, really, who can blame him.
The most enthusiastic admirer of those substantials, would probably not object to occasional inconstancy in respect of pork and mutton: or, especially in cold weather, to a little innocent trifling with Irish stews, meat pies, and toads in holes. Another drawback on the Whitechapel establishment, is the absence of beer. Regarded merely as a question of policy, it is very impolitic, as having a tendency to send the working men to the public-house, where gin is reported to be sold. But, there is a much higher ground on which this absence of beer is objectionable. It expresses distrust of the working man.
This is going to be a long quote (as a warning – but not to push you away from reading it, cause it is awesome), so not much in the way of introduction here. For more of that, be sure to read The Uncommercial Traveller Cocktail Talk Part I. Here in Part II, we’re going to hang outside another public house, but this time with a very wonderful dog, in an essay all about London “shy neighborhoods” and the animals (and people, thought a little less) that hang out within them. Dickens from all I can tell, had a big fondness for dogs – check out the Dombey and Son Cocktail Talk all about Diogenes the dog, my favorite Dickens character, for another example. Perhaps after you read the below, which has rockets up my list of favorite Dickens quotes quite rapidly. For the whole thing, but highlighted by the phrase “an intelligence of ears and tail” which I find absolutely spot on and lovely.
At a small butcher’s, in a shy neighbourhood (there is no reason for suppressing the name; it is by Notting-hill, and gives upon the district called the Potteries), I know a shaggy black and white dog who keeps a drover. He is a dog of an easy disposition, and too frequently allows this drover to get drunk. On these occasions, it is the dog’s custom to sit outside the public-house, keeping his eye on a few sheep, and thinking. I have seen him with six sheep, plainly casting up in his mind how many he began with when he left the market, and at what places he has left the rest. I have seen him perplexed by not being able to account to himself for certain particular sheep. A light has gradually broken on him, he has remembered at what butcher’s he left them, and in a burst of grave satisfaction has caught a fly off his nose, and shown himself much relieved. If I could at any time have doubted the fact that it was he who kept the drover, and not the drover who kept him, it would have been abundantly proved by his way of taking undivided charge of the six sheep, when the drover came out besmeared with red ochre and beer, and gave him wrong directions, which he calmly disregarded. He has taken the sheep entirely into his own hands, has merely remarked with respectful firmness, ‘That instruction would place them under an omnibus; you had better confine your attention to yourself—you will want it all;’ and has driven his charge away, with an intelligence of ears and tail, and a knowledge of business, that has left his lout of a man very, very far behind.
The Uncommercial Traveller by our pal Charles Dickens is not a book one hears about enough – heck, even a Dickens head like me hadn’t had it in his hands until recently. But I scored a copy, which isn’t really that hard, though said copy is like a print-to-order thing, with no, like TOC, or copyright notes, or title page, anything. Which is fine, and definitely better than no copy at all! If you don’t know (and I’ll admit, I didn’t know much until I got said copy), The Uncommercial Traveller is a collection of personal essays, or literary sketches as they say, that Dickens originally published in a journal he founded called “All the Year Round” (if anyone wants to gift me a few original copies of that, go right ahead), and really involves the main character (Dickens, that is, as far as it goes) writing about his wanderings around London, the UK, and (in a dreamy sort-of way and regular ways) Europe, including visiting the site of a famous shipwreck, strolling the city in the wee hours due to insomnia, mapping out the haunts of neighborhood dogs, visiting the town he grew up in, and more. They are all written in the Dickensian style, with wit, insights that remain relevant today, details rendered through his particular peculiar eye, and all. He stops at pubs and hotels and other watering holes, too, as he loved such, and drinks, so it makes for good Cocktail Talk-ing (oh, don’t miss all the past Charles Dickens Cocktail Talks, as there are many jolly ones). I’m not sure yet how many Uncommercial Traveller Cocktails Talks I’ll have yet, but you can bet they’ll be more! We’re going to start at one of those neighborhood public houses, one attended by theatre-goers during intermission. And while it does have drinks! It’s really an ode to the sandwich. But I love sandwiches! Especially with drinks.
Between the pieces, we almost all of us went out and refreshed. Many of us went the length of drinking beer at the bar of the neighbouring public-house, some of us drank spirits, crowds of us had sandwiches and ginger-beer at the refreshment-bars established for us in the Theatre. The sandwich—as substantial as was consistent with portability, and as cheap as possible—we hailed as one of our greatest institutions. It forced its way among us at all stages of the entertainment, and we were always delighted to see it; its adaptability to the varying moods of our nature was surprising; we could never weep so comfortably as when our tears fell on our sandwich; we could never laugh so heartily as when we choked with sandwich; Virtue never looked so beautiful or Vice so deformed as when we paused, sandwich in hand, to consider what would come of that resolution of Wickedness in boots, to sever Innocence in flowered chintz from Honest Industry in striped stockings. When the curtain fell for the night, we still fell back upon sandwich, to help us through the rain and mire, and home to bed.
The Man Behind the Evening's PlansA.J. Rathbun is a freelance food and entertainment writer, poet and author, a frequent guest on the Everyday Food program (Martha Stewart Living/Sirius satellite radio), and is a contributor to culinary & entertainment magazines such as Every Day with Rachael Ray, The Food Network Magazine, Real Simple, Wine Enthusiast, and many others. Of course, there's so much more to it than that...Read More