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!
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.’
We are back for more Cocktail Talking from 1800s writer Wilkie Collins’ lesser-known gem No Name. If you haven’t read the No Name Part I Cocktail Talk, then I strongly suggest you do, to get a little background on the book, and the author (and if you really want to go into history, of a slightly less recent sort, but far more recent than the author himself, check out another Wilkie via The Yellow Mask and Other Stories Cocktail Talk). Did all that? Fan-Victorian-tastic! In this, our second No Name treat, our heroine Magdalen Vanstone is (in disguise – just letting you know that to be intriguing!) getting a tour of a house from one of its occupants, the charming (and tipsy) old sailor Mazey, who is a well-done memorable character, especially when he’s talking about monks drinking grog!
“No more, my dear — we’ve run aground here, and we may as well wear round and put back again,” said old Mazey. “There’s another side of the house — due south of you as you stand now — which is all tumbling about our ears. You must go out into the garden if you want to see it; it’s built off from us by a brick bulkhead, t’other side of this wall here. The monks lived due south of us, my dear, hundreds of years afore his honor the admiral was born or thought of, and a fine time of it they had, as I’ve heard. They sang in the church all the morning, and drank grog in the orchard all the afternoon. They slept off their grog on the best of feather-beds, and they fattened on the neighborhood all the year round. Lucky beggars! lucky beggars!”
If you’re interested in cooking, in living well, use a gas stove, have eaten while in the military, have worn a beret or enjoy wearing colorful clothes, like French, English, or other European cuisine, have a healthy (or unhealthy) interest in celebrity chefs or celebrities in general, are curious about kitchen inventions, have been known to knock back a bit of bubbly regularly, are wondering where the first American-style cocktail bar was in London, have a thing for Dickens’ era history, or just want to learn about an awfully interesting fella, I strongly suggest you read Roth Cowen’s Relish: The Extraordinary Life of Alexis Soyer, Victorian Celebrity Chef. It’s quite a rollicking read as far as biographies go, because Soyer was quite a rollicking character. A famous chef in Paris by the time he was 20 (called “The Enfant Terrible of Monmartre”), Soyer really became a hit after political uprising sent him to England (he’d made one amazing, and amazingly described, banquet for the wrong people when the right people were uprising). He eventually became head chef at the famous Reform Club, where he designed the most modern kitchen ever seen, including being one of the first to use gas stoves instead of coal, along with a bunch of other culinary-minded inventions and innovations. Eventually, he did a host of things (I’m not going to mention them all–really, read the book) consumerist and philanthropic, published cookbooks, had his name on condiments, had a hugely fantastic failure of a, well, restaurant isn’t really the word, but at least is related, made and lost lots of money, became well-known, and then died in his late 40s. For the amount of work he did for the poor and military of the U.K., you’d think he’d be better revered, but he hasn’t been (though maybe the last few years have been kinder). As you can tell, I was pretty struck by Soyer when reading the book, so much so that I’ve decided to have a week of quotes from the book (which may mean three posts, maybe more), some by him, and some about him. Starting with one from earlier in his life, and then moving on–all to try and entice you to learn more about the great Soyer.
…he was particularly skilled at mimicking the comic turns of whichever show was playing. He had a musical ear and sang, by all accounts, nearly as well as Levasseur, one of the most admired bass singers in France. A dandy with a penchant for outlandish costumes, a terrible flirt, a skiller storyteller and an impish practical joker, Alexis had even considered switching careers to try his luck on the stage.
By two in the morning he would be at the Provence Hotel, the Ceder Cellars, or Evan’s Late Supper Rooms in Covent Garden–also frequented by Thackeray–where customers descended a flight of stone steps to a smoky basement called the Cave of Harmony, which was in fact a large raucous music hall and café serving simple, alcohol-absorbing meals of fatty chops, sausages, grilled kidneys in gravy, Welsh rarebit, and baked potatoes. Here the exclusively male clientele would stay until the early hours, cheering and heckling the professional glee singers and comic acts while knocking back the cheap booze–stout, pale ale, punch, grog, hot whisky and water.
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