March 16, 2021
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.
— Charles Dickens, The Uncommercial Traveller
March 2, 2021
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.
— Charles Dickens, The Uncommercial Traveller
February 23, 2021
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.
— Charles Dickens, The Uncommercial Traveller
February 16, 2021
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.
–Charles Dickens, The Uncommercial Traveller
August 29, 2017
I’m continuing mutating the Spiked Punch into a site dedicated to the Charles Dickens classic Our Mutual Friend (okay, that may be a small fiction, but it certainly sounds like a decent idea!), which started with Part I and Part II. If you haven’t read them, I suggest firmly-but-friendly that you do so right away, to get a little backstory about the story and to ensure you don’t miss our earlier quotes (actually, don’t miss the very first one, from years back). In this Cocktail Talk, the villainous (which also comical in a way) Wegg drops a phrase about drinking straight that I want to try and remember to utilize in the future.
Mr. Venus, reminded of the duties of hospitality, produced some rum. In answer to the inquiry, “Will you mix it, Mr. Wegg?” that gentleman pleasantly rejoined, “I think not, sir. On so auspicious an occasion, I prefer to take it in the form of a Gum-Tickler.”
Mr. Boffin, declining rum, being still elevated on his pedestal, was in a convenient position to be addressed. Wegg having eyed him with an impudent air at leisure, addressed him, therefore, while refreshing himself with his dram.
–Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend