Jun 212018
 

Today is the birthday (1764) of Admiral Sir William Sidney Smith, GCB, GCTE, KmstkSO, FRS a British naval officer who served in the American and French revolutionary wars, as well as the Swedish Navy,who later rose to the rank of admiral. Chances are that you have never heard of Sidney Smith (as he called himself), but have heard of the Duke of Wellington and Lord Nelson. Yet . . . Napoleon Bonaparte, reminiscing later in his life, said of Sidney Smith: “That man made me miss my destiny.” Why is this?

Sidney Smith was born into a military and naval family with connections to the Pitt family. He was born at Westminster, the second son of Captain John Smith of the Guards and his wife Mary Wilkinson, daughter of wealthy merchant Pinckney Wilkinson. Sidney Smith attended Tonbridge School until 1772. He joined the Royal Navy in 1777 and fought in the American Revolutionary War, where he saw action in 1778 against the American frigate Raleigh. For his bravery under Rodney in the action near Cape St Vincent in January 1780, Sidney Smith was, on 25th September, appointed lieutenant of the 74-gun third-rate Alcide, despite being under the required age of 19.

He distinguished himself under Admiral Thomas Graves at the Battle of the Chesapeake in 1781 and under Admiral George Rodney at the Battle of the Saintes and in consequence was given his first command, the sloop Fury. He was soon promoted to captain a larger frigate, but following the peace of Versailles in 1783, he was put ashore on half pay. During the peace, Smith chose to travel to France and first became involved with intelligence matters while observing the construction of the new naval port at Cherbourg. He also traveled in Spain and Morocco which were also potential enemies. In 1790, he applied for permission to serve in the Royal Swedish Navy in the war between Sweden and Russia. King Gustav III appointed him to command a light squadron and to be his principal naval adviser. Smith led his forces in clearing the Bay of Viborg of the Russian fleet, known as the Battle of Svensksund. The Russians lost 64 ships and over 1,000 men. The Swedes lost 4 ships and had few casualties. For this, Smith was knighted by the king and made a Commander Grand Cross of the Swedish Svärdsorden (Order of the Sword). Smith used this title, with King George III’s permission, but was mocked by fellow British officers as “the Swedish knight.” There were a number of British officers, on half pay like Smith, who had enlisted and fought with the Russian fleet and six had been killed in this action. As a result, Smith earned the enmity of many British naval officers for his Swedish service.

In 1792, Smith’s younger brother, John Spencer Smith, was appointed to the British embassy to the Ottoman court in Constantinople. Smith obtained permission to travel to Turkey. While there, war broke out with Revolutionary France in January 1793. Smith recruited some British seamen and sailed to join the British fleet under Admiral Lord Hood which had occupied the French Navy’s principal Mediterranean port of Toulon at the invitation of the French “Royalist” forces (they were not so much pro-royalty, as against the Reign of Terror). By Smith’s arrival in December 1793, the Revolutionary forces, including a colonel of artillery, Napoleon Bonaparte, had surrounded the port and were attacking it. The British and their allies had insufficient soldiers to mount an effective defense and so the port was evacuated. Smith, serving as a volunteer with no command, was given the task of burning as many French ships and stores as possible before the harbor could be captured. Despite his efforts, lack of support from the Spanish forces sent to help him left more than half of the French ships to be captured undamaged. Although Smith had destroyed more French ships than had the most successful fleet action to that date, Nelson and Collingwood, among others, blamed him for this failure to destroy all of the French fleet. Smith and Nelson were, at the same time, both friends and rivals. Both were strong-willed individuals with giant egos who preferred to buck the system rather than follow orders.

On his return to London, Smith was given command of the fifth-rate HMS Diamond and in 1795 joined the Western Frigate Squadron under Sir John Borlase Warren. This squadron consisted of some of the most skillful and daring captains including Sir Edward Pellew. Smith fitted the pattern and on one occasion took his ship almost into the port of Brest to observe the French fleet. In July 1795, Smith, commanding the western frigate squadron in HMS Diamond, occupied the Îles Saint-Marcouf off the coast of Normandy. He sacrificed two of his gun vessels, HMS Badger and HMS Sandfly, to provide materials and manpower for fortifying the islands and setting a temporary naval garrison. Further defenses were constructed by Royal Engineers, and Royal Marines and Royal Artillery detachments were established. The islands served as a forward base for the blockade of Le Havre, a launching point for intercepting coastal shipping, and as a transit point for French émigrés, and were held by the Navy for nearly 7 years.

Smith specialized in inshore operations, and on 19th April 1796, he and his secretary John Wesley Wright were captured while attempting to cut out a French ship in Le Havre. Smith had taken the ship’s boats into the harbor, but the wind died as they attempted to leave the harbor, and the French were able to recapture the ship with Smith and Wright aboard. Instead of being exchanged, as was the custom, Smith and Wright were taken to the Temple prison in Paris where Smith was to be charged with arson for his burning of the fleet at Toulon. As Smith had been on half pay at the time, the French considered that he was not an official combatant. Whilst in the Temple prison he commissioned a drawing of himself and his secretary John Wesley Wright from the French artist Philippe Auguste Hennequin, which is now in the British Museum.

He was held in Paris for two years, despite a number of efforts to exchange him and frequent contacts with both French Royalists and British agents. Notably Captain Jacques Bergeret, captured in April 1796 with the frigate Virginie, was sent from England to Paris to negotiate his own exchange; when the Directoire refused, he returned to London. The French authorities threatened several times to try Smith for arson, but never followed up on the threats. Eventually in 1798 the Royalists, who pretended to be taking him to another prison, helped Smith and Wright to escape. The royalists brought the two to Le Havre, where they boarded an open fishing boat and were picked up on 5th May by HMS Argo on patrol in the English Channel, arriving in London on 8th May 1798. Bergeret was then released, the British government considering the prisoner exchange as completed.

Following Nelson’s overwhelming victory at the Battle of the Nile, Smith was sent to the Mediterranean as captain of HMS Tigre, a captured 80-gun French ship of the line which had been brought into the Royal Navy. It was not a purely naval appointment, although he was ordered to place himself under the command of Lord St Vincent, the commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean. St Vincent gave him orders as Commodore with permission to take British ships under his command as required in the Levant. He also carried a military and diplomatic mission to Istanbul where his brother was now a Minister Plenipotentiary to the Sublime Porte. The mission’s task was to strengthen Turkish opposition to Napoleon and to assist the Turks in destroying the French army stranded in Egypt. This dual appointment caused Nelson, who was the senior officer under St Vincent in the Mediterranean, to resent Smith’s apparent superseding of his authority in the Levant. Nelson’s antipathy further adversely affected Smith’s reputation in naval circles.

Napoleon, having defeated the Ottoman forces in Egypt, marched north along the Mediterranean coast with 13,000 troops through Sinai and into what was then the Ottoman province of Syria. Here he took control of much of the southern part of the province, now modern-day Israel and Palestine, and of a single town in today’s Lebanon, Tyre. On the way north, he captured Gaza and Jaffa and massacred captured Turkish soldiers, whom he was unable to take with him or send back to Egypt. Napoleon’s army then marched to Acre.

Smith sailed to Acre and helped the Turkish commander Jezzar Pasha reinforce the defenses and old walls and supplied him with additional cannon deployed by sailors and marines from his ships. He also used his command of the sea to capture the French siege artillery being sent by ship from Egypt and to deny the French army the use of the coastal road from Jaffa by bombarding the troops from the sea. Once the siege began in late March 1799, Smith anchored HMS Tigre and Theseus so their broadsides could assist the defense. Repeated French assaults were driven back, several attempts to mine the walls were prevented. By early May, replacement French siege artillery had arrived overland and a breach was forced in the defenses. However, the assault was again repelled and Turkish reinforcements from Rhodes were able to land. On 9th May after another fierce bombardment, the final French assault was made. This, too, was repelled and Napoleon began making plans for the withdrawal of his army to Egypt. Shortly after this, Napoleon abandoned his army in Egypt and sailed back to France evading the British ships patrolling the Mediterranean.

Smith attempted to negotiate the surrender and repatriation of the remaining French forces under General Kléber and signed the Convention of El-Arish. However, because of the influence of Nelson’s view that the French forces in Egypt should be annihilated rather than allowed to return to France, the treaty was abrogated by Lord Keith who had succeeded St Vincent as commander-in-chief. The British decided instead to land an army under Sir Ralph Abercromby at Abukir Bay. Smith and Tigre were involved in the training and transport of the landing forces and as liaison with the Turks, but his unpopularity resulted in the loss of his diplomatic credentials and his naval position as Commodore in the eastern Mediterranean. The invasion was successful and the French defeated, although Abercromby was wounded and died soon after the battle. Following this Smith then supported the army under Abercromby’s successor John Hely-Hutchinson, which besieged and captured Cairo and finally took the last French stronghold of Alexandria. The French troops were eventually repatriated on similar terms as those previously obtained by Smith in the Convention of El-Arish.

1801, Smith received some honors and a pension of £1,000 for his services, but he was overshadowed again by Nelson who was being acclaimed as the victor of the Battle of Copenhagen. During the brief Peace of Amiens, Smith was elected Member of Parliament for Rochester in Kent in the election held in 1802. There is strong evidence that he had an affair with Princess Caroline of Brunswick, the estranged wife of the Prince of Wales. Although she became pregnant, she was notorious for having a number of other lovers at the same time, such as George Canning and Thomas Lawrence, so it is doubtful that the child was Smith’s. With the resumption of war with France in 1803, Smith was employed in the southern North Sea off the coast between Ostend and Flushing part of the forces gathered to prevent Napoleon’s threatened invasion.

Like Nelson, Smith was interested in new and unusual methods of warfare. In 1804 and 1805, he worked with the American inventor Robert Fulton on his plans to develop torpedoes and mines to destroy the French invasion fleet gathering off the French and Belgian coasts. However, an attempt to use the new weapons combined with Congreve rockets in an attack on Boulogne was foiled by bad weather and the French gunboats that came out to threaten the attackers. Despite this setback, suggestions were made that the rockets, mines and torpedoes be used against the combined French and Spanish Fleet in Cádiz. This was not necessary as the combined fleet sailed to defeat at the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805.

In November 1805, Smith was promoted to Rear Admiral, he was again sent to the Mediterranean under the command of Collingwood, who had become the commander-in-chief following Nelson’s death. Collingwood sent him to assist King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies to regain his capital of Naples from Napoleon’s brother King Joseph, who had been given the Kingdom of Naples.

Smith planned a campaign using Calabrian irregular troops with a force of 5,000 to march north on Naples. On 4 July 1806, they defeated a larger French force at the Battle of Maida. Once again, Smith’s inability to avoid offending his superiors caused him to be replaced as commander of the land forces despite his success. He was replaced by Sir John Moore, one of Britain’s most able soldiers. Moore abandoned Smith’s plan and resorted to making the island of Sicily a strong British base in the Mediterranean.

Smith was sent to join Admiral Sir John Thomas Duckworth’s expedition to Constantinople in February 1807. This was intended to forestall the French from making an alliance with the Turks to allow free passage of their army to Egypt. Despite Smith’s great experience in Turkish waters, his knowledge of the Turkish court, and his personal popularity with the Turks, he was kept in a subordinate role. Even when Duckworth eventually did ask for his advice, he did not heed it. Duckworth, instead of allowing Smith to negotiate with the Turks, which the French ambassador later said would have been the end of the French overtures, retreated back through the Dardanelles under heavy Turkish fire. Although this was a defeat, the withdrawal under fire was played up as a heroic feat. In the summer of 1807, Duckworth and Smith were recalled to England.

In October 1807, Spain and France signed a treaty to divide Portugal between them. In November 1807, Smith was appointed to command an expedition to Lisbon, either to assist the Portuguese in resisting the attack or to destroy the Portuguese fleet and blockade the harbor at Lisbon should that be unsuccessful. Smith arranged for the Portuguese fleet to sail for Brazil, at that time a Portuguese colony. He was involved in planning an attack on the Spanish colonies in South America, in combination with the Portuguese, contrary to his orders, but he was recalled to Britain in 1809 before any of the plans could be carried out. He received much popular acclaim for his actions and was treated as a hero, but the government continued to be suspicious of him, and he was not given any official honors. Smith was promoted to Vice Admiral on 31st July 1810. In the Royal Navy of the time, promotion was automatic and based on seniority, not a specific reward for good service. Upon safe arrival to Brazil escorting the Portuguese Royal Family, Smith was awarded the Grand Cross of the newly restored Order of the Tower and Sword by the prince-regent, John.

In July 1812, Smith again sailed for the Mediterranean aboard his new flagship, the 74-gun Tremendous. He was appointed as second in command to Vice Admiral Sir Edward Pellew. His task was to blockade Toulon and he transferred his flag to the larger Hibernia, a 110-gun first-rate. Blockade duty was tedious, as the French showed no inclination to come out of port and confront the British. Early in 1814, the Allies entered Paris and Napoleon abdicated, and was exiled to the island of Elba.

In March 1815, Napoleon escaped from Elba and gathering his veteran troops marched on Paris where he was reinstated as Emperor of the French. Smith traveling back to England had only reached Brussels by June. Hearing the gunfire of a great battle, he rode out of Brussels and went to meet the Duke of Wellington. Smith found him late in the day when he had just won the Battle of Waterloo. Smith started making arrangements for the collecting and treatment of the many wounded soldiers on both sides. He was then asked to take the surrender of the French garrisons at Arras and Amiens and to ensure that the Allied armies could enter Paris without a fight and that it would be safe for King Louis XVIII to return to his capital. For these and other services, he was finally awarded a British knighthood, the KCB, so he was not just “the Swedish Knight” any more.

Smith then took up the anti-slavery cause. The Barbary pirates had operated for centuries out of a number of North African ports. They had enslaved captured sailors and even made raids to kidnap people from European coasts, including England and Ireland. Smith attended the Congress of Vienna to campaign for funds and military action to end the practice of slave taking.

Smith had managed to run up significant debts through his diplomatic expenses, which the British government proved to be very slow in reimbursing. He also lived high lifestyle and his efforts to mobilize opinion against the slave trade had cost a good deal of money. In Britain, at that time debtors were often imprisoned until their debts were paid, so Smith moved his family to France, settling in Paris. Eventually the government did reimburse his expenditures and increased his pension, allowing him to live in some style. Despite frequent attempts to obtain a seagoing position, he was never to hold a command again. He died on 26th May 1840 following a stroke. He is buried with his wife in Père Lachaise Cemetery.

I have known Sidney Smith for many years because Sir Sidney Smith’s March is popular in folk circles. Makes me want to buy a new instrument. It’s a common tune for Northumbrian small pipes, but here it is on button accordion – my instrument.

 

As a small amusement for you, I found this version played on an ensemble of yuèqín (月琴) in China. The rendition is painfully slow and precise, and why Chinese musicians would play this defeats me (although the 2 on the left are foreigners – the leader is Chinese).

This English recipe for raspberry pie (called raspberry tart in the original) comes from the period of the French/Napoleonic wars, taken from William Augustus Henderson’s The Housekeeper’s Instructor (c. 1800). Raspberry pie happens to be a particular favorite of mine, so why not use it to celebrate Sidney Smith? Or choose any other recipe from the period.

ROLL out some thin puff-paste, and lay it in a patty pan; then put in some rasberries, and strew over them some very fine sugar.  Put on the lid, and bake it.- Then cut it open, and put in half a pint of cream, the yolks of two or three eggs well beaten, and a little sugar.  Give it another heat in the oven, and it will be fit for use.

Jun 122018
 

Today is the birthday (1920) of Peter Geoffrey Francis Jones, an English actor, screenwriter and broadcaster, known to several generations – mostly in the UK – for iconic roles. Jones was born in Wem in Shropshire and he was educated at Wem Grammar School and Ellesmere College where he performed in school plays. He made his first appearance as an actor in Wolverhampton at the age of 16 where he was fired after his first night. Subsequently he developed his acting chops in repertory in East Anglia.  In 1942 he first acted on the West End stage in Shaw’s The Doctor’s Dilemma and also in 1942 he made an uncredited film appearance in Fanny by Gaslight. His first film credit was for Peter Ustinov’s Vice Versa (1948).

Between 1952 and 1955 Jones starred alongside Peter Ustinov in the BBC radio comedy In All Directions. The show featured Jones and Ustinov as themselves in a car in London perpetually searching for Copthorne Avenue. The comedy derived from the characters they met along the way, often also played by themselves. The show was unusual for the time in that it was largely improvised—with the tape subsequently edited for broadcast by Frank Muir and Denis Norden, who also sometimes took part. Two of the more popular characters were Morris and Dudley Grosvenor, two rather stupid East End spivs whose sketches always ended with the phrase “Run for it Dudley” (or Morry as appropriate). One recording, from October 1952, survives in the BBC Sound Archive. The Grosvenor character was revived for a later radio series We’re in Business. Another notable radio role was as Mervyn Bunter in Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey stories. He was for 29 years a regular contestant on the panel game Just A Minute, becoming much-loved for his dry, acid wit. If you are not a Brit, chances are that you do not know this show, not understand its comic absurdity. Among other things, the show relies on the distinctiveness of the voices of participants to keep your anchor in its chaotic repartee.

Jones was the voice of The Book in the original radio series of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The creators had wanted someone with a “Peter Jonesy sort of voice” and after several rejections asked Jones himself. He reprised the role for the LP and the TV series. Jones narrated Douglas Adams’s later radio series Last Chance to See, in a style similar to the earlier series. Jones begins this first episode:

On television, Jones was best known for his lead role as Mr Fenner in the Classic Comedy series The Rag Trade (BBC TV 1961-63, LWT 1977-78), but he also had acting roles in the British comedy series The Goodies, the courtroom drama Rumpole of the Bailey, Holby City, Whoops Apocalypse, The Bill, Midsomer Murders, Minder and two episodes of The Avengers. Jones appears near the start of this pilot episode of The Rag Trade.

Jones plays the very middle class factory manager as a counterpoint to the working class women on the shop floor, and is normally the butt of their humor and pranks. I watched it because my family did, but the jokes based on the English class structure did not amuse me. (Socio-economic class systems do not amuse me).

From 1969 to 1971, Jones also starred (opposite Sheila Hancock) in a sitcom (for ITV, by Yorkshire Television) called Mr Digby, Darling, lasting 3 series (and 19 episodes). He also co-wrote and starred in the sitcom Mr Big (1977), with Ian Lavender, Prunella Scales and Carol Hawkins.

Jones featured in a raft of films, including Albert R.N. (1953), Private’s Progress (1956), School for Scoundrels (1960, reprising his Dudley Grosvenor character as a used-car salesman with Dennis Price), Just like a Woman (1967) alongside Wendy Craig, The Return of the Pink Panther (1975) and Chariots of Fire (1981).

Jones died of “natural causes,” aged 79, in 2000 in London. His wife, Jeri Sauvinet, a US theatre actor pre-deceased him in 1999. They had three children together; a daughter, Selena (later Carey-Jones and then Doggett-Jones), and two sons Charles Daniel Jones, and Bill Dare Jones.

Jones’s home town of Wem is close to Shrewsbury, and given that I have no information on his food likes I’ll go with Shrewsbury cakes. They are somewhat like shortbread, but are less crumbly and are flavored with rosewater. They used to accompany sweet dishes such as syllabub, but can be eaten plain with a cup of tea. They can keep a very long time in an air-tight tin.

This recipe is from, A daily exercise for ladies and gentlewomen : whereby they may learne and practise the whole art of making pastes, preserues, marmalades, conserues, tartstuffes, gellies, breads, sucket-candies, cordiall waters, conceits in sugar-workes of seuerall kindes : as also to dry lemonds, orenges, or other fruits : newly set forth according to the now approued receipts vsed both by honourable and worshipfull personages, by John Murrell (1617).  You can find modern recipes online, but I like this one because of its simplicity.

Take a quart of very fine flouwer, eight onces of fine sugar beaten and cersed [sieved], twelve ounces sweet butter, nutmeg grated, damaske rosewater- work together with your hands for halfe an houre, then roule in little round cakes about the thickness of three shillings, then take a glasse and cut the cakes, then strow some flower on white papers and bake them in an oven as hotte as for manchet. If the oven be not hotte sett your lid downe until they be baked enough, for they must lokke browne not white. you may keep them halfe a yeare but new baked are best.

You have your necessary proportions here. A quart of flour is about 14 ounces. Using the rosewater you can buy today for culinary purposes, you are going to need to cut it with plain water, otherwise the cakes will be really pungent. I don’t know how thick a shilling was in the 17th century, but modern Shrewsbury cakes are quite thick. Kneading for 30 minutes, seems like a lot, but is necessary with the kind of flour 17th century cooks would have used with a high gluten content. Manchet was a sweet wheat bread, meaning you should be using a hot oven (230°C/450°F).

 

Jun 092018
 

Today is the birthday (1891) of Cole Albert Porter one of the great composers and songwriters for the stage in the Jazz Age. Porter was born into a wealthy family in Indiana. His grandfather J. O. Cole (called at the time “The Richest Man in Indiana”) wanted his grandson to become a lawyer, and with that career in mind, he sent him to Worcester Academy in Massachusetts in 1905. Porter took an upright piano with him to school and found that music, and his ability to entertain, made it easy for him to make friends. Porter did well in school and rarely came home to visit. He became class valedictorian and was rewarded by his grandfather with a tour of France, Switzerland, and Germany. Porter entered Yale University in 1909, with a major in English and a minor in music, and also studied French. He was a member of Scroll and Key and Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity, and contributed to campus humor magazine The Yale Record. He was an early member of the Whiffenpoofs a cappella singing group and participated in several other music clubs. In his senior year, he was elected president of the Yale Glee Club and was its principal soloist.

After graduating from Yale, Porter enrolled in Harvard Law School in 1913. He soon felt that he was not destined to be a lawyer, and, at the suggestion of the dean of the law school, switched to Harvard’s music faculty, where he studied harmony and counterpoint with Pietro Yon.In 1915, Porter’s first song on Broadway, “Esmeralda”, appeared in the revue Hands Up. The quick success was immediately followed by failure: his first Broadway production, in 1916, See America First, a “patriotic comic opera” modeled on Gilbert and Sullivan, with a book by T. Lawrason Riggs, was a flop, closing after two weeks. Porter spent the next year in New York City before going overseas during World War I.

In 1917, when the United States entered World War I, Porter moved to Paris to work with the Duryea Relief organization. Some historians have been skeptical about Porter’s claim to have served in the French Foreign Legion, although the Legion lists Porter as one of its soldiers and displays his portrait at its museum in Aubagne. By some accounts, he served in North Africa and was transferred to the French Officers School at Fontainebleau, teaching gunnery to US soldiers. An obituary notice in The New York Times said that, while in the Legion, “he had a specially constructed portable piano made for him so that he could carry it on his back and entertain the troops in their bivouacs.”

Porter maintained a luxury apartment in Paris, where he entertained lavishly. His parties were extravagant and scandalous, with “much gay and bisexual activity, Italian nobility, cross-dressing, international musicians and a large surplus of recreational drugs.” In 1918, he met Linda Lee Thomas, a rich, Kentucky-born divorcée eight years his senior.] She was well-connected socially and the couple shared mutual interests, including a love of travel, and she became Porter’s confidant and companion. The couple married the following year. She was in no doubt about Porter’s homosexuality, but it was mutually advantageous for them to marry. For Thomas, it offered continued social status and a partner who was the antithesis of her abusive first husband. For Porter, it brought a respectable heterosexual front in an era when homosexuality was not publicly acknowledged. They were, moreover, genuinely devoted to each other and remained married from December 19th, 1919, until her death in 1954.

Porter enrolled at the Schola Cantorum in Paris where he studied orchestration and counterpoint with Vincent d’Indy. Meanwhile, Porter had his first big hit with the song “Old-Fashioned Garden” from the revue Hitchy-Koo in 1919. In 1920, he contributed the music of several songs to the musical A Night Out. Porter’s time in Paris was only minimally successful in terms of his music, however. At the age of 36, Porter reintroduced himself to Broadway in 1928 with the musical Paris, his first hit. It was commissioned by E. Ray Goetz at the instigation of Goetz’s wife and the show’s star, Irène Bordoni. She had wanted Rodgers and Hart to write the songs, but they were unavailable, and Porter’s agent persuaded Goetz to hire Porter instead.The songs for the show included “Let’s Misbehave” and one of his best-known list songs, “Let’s Do It”, which was introduced by Bordoni and Arthur Margetson. The show opened on Broadway on October 8th, 1928 and was an instant success. From that point on, Porter was a fixture on Broadway and in Hollywood.

You may look upon his musicals as period pieces, but I think his individual hits have stood the test of time. That may just be me, of course, because I am not a big fan of contemporary musicals. At best I find them vaguely irritating – caught between serious drama and opera. I’m also not a huge fan of Porter’s great stars, such as Ethel Merman and Fred Astaire, in their performances of his music. I like his own renditions better:

After a serious horseback riding accident in New York in 1937, Porter was left disabled and in constant pain, but he continued to work, partly because it distracted him from the pain. He had been estranged from his wife at this time because of his increasingly open affairs with men, and because she had disliked Hollywood, she had moved back to Paris. After Porter’s injury, she joined him in a suite of rooms at the Waldorf Hotel where they lived for the remainder of their lives. The Cole Porter Suite at the Waldorf can still be rented by the month.

Porter’s mother died in 1952, and his wife died from emphysema in 1954. By 1958, Porter’s injuries caused a series of ulcers on his right leg. After 34 operations, it had to be amputated and replaced with an artificial limb. His friend Noël Coward visited him in the hospital and wrote in his diary, “The lines of ceaseless pain have been wiped from his face…. I am convinced that his whole life will cheer up and that his work will profit accordingly.” In fact, Porter never wrote another song after the amputation and spent the remaining six years of his life in relative seclusion, seeing only intimate friends. He continued to live in the Waldorf Towers in New York in his memorabilia-filled apartment. On weekends he often visited an estate in the Berkshires, and he stayed in California during the summers. Porter died of kidney failure on October 15, 1964, in Santa Monica, California, at the age of 73. He is interred in Mount Hope Cemetery in his native Peru, Indiana, between his wife and father.

Various chefs at the Waldorf have produced signature dishes that bear the Waldorf name, but none is better known than Waldorf salad. Unfortunately, it has changed beyond recognition from its simple beginnings. Waldorf salad was first created for a charity ball given in honor of the St. Mary’s Hospital for Children on March 14th, 1896 at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. Oscar Tschirky, who was the Waldorf’s maître d’hôtel, and who developed or inspired many of its signature dishes, is widely credited with creating the recipe. In 1896, the salad appeared in The Cook Book by “Oscar of the Waldorf.” The original recipe was just apples, celery, and mayonnaise. It did not contain nuts, but they had been added by the time the recipe appeared in The Rector Cook Book in 1928. Other ingredients, such as chicken, turkey, and dried fruit (e.g. dates or raisins) are sometimes added nowadays. The modern Waldorf salad also may include the zest of oranges and lemons. In truth, the original suits me better than all the later additions.

May 272018
 

Today is the feast of St Bede, usually simply called Bede, sometimes Venerable Bede (or Venomous Bede if you know Sellar and Yeatman). I don’t know why today is his feast day in some communions (Orthodox and Episcopalian). He died May 26th and some communions celebrate him today, some on May 25th, but none on May 26th. Bede was an English Benedictine monk at the monastery of St. Peter and its companion monastery of St. Paul in the kingdom of Northumbria of the Angles (now known as Monkwearmouth–Jarrow Abbey in Tyne and Wear). Bede was born on lands likely belonging to the Monkwearmouth monastery, and was sent there at the age of 7 and later joined Abbot Ceolfrith at the Jarrow monastery, both of whom survived a plague that struck in 686, an outbreak that killed a majority of the population there. While he spent most of his life in the monastery, Bede traveled to several abbeys and monasteries across the British Isles, even visiting the archbishop of York and King Ceolwulf of Northumbria.

Bede is well known as an author, teacher (a student of one of his pupils was Alcuin), and scholar, and his most famous work, Ecclesiastical History of the English People gained him the title “The Father of English History”. His ecumenical writings were extensive and included a number of Biblical commentaries and other theological works of exegetical erudition. Another important area of study for Bede was the academic discipline of computus, the science of calculating movable feast dates, especially Easter, an effort that was mired in controversy. He also helped establish the practice of dating years forward (and backwards) from the birth of Jesus (AD and BC), a practice which eventually became commonplace in medieval Europe. Bede was one of the greatest teachers and writers of the Early Middle Ages and is considered by many historians to be the single most important scholar of antiquity for the period between the death of Pope Gregory I in 604 and the coronation of Charlemagne in 800. In 1899, Pope Leo XIII declared him a Doctor of the Church. He is the only native of Great Britain to achieve this designation. Anselm of Canterbury, is also a Doctor of the Church, but was originally from Italy. I’ll give you a little biography, and then I want to assess Bede as an historian.

Almost everything that is known of Bede’s life is contained in the last chapter of his Ecclesiastical History of the English People. It was completed in about 731, and Bede implies that he was then in his fifty-ninth year, which would give a birth date of 672 or 673. A minor source of additional information is the letter by his disciple Cuthbert (not to be confused with the saint, Cuthbert, who is mentioned in Bede’s work) which relates Bede’s death. Bede, in the Historia, gives his birthplace as “on the lands of this monastery”. He is referring to the twinned monasteries of Monkwearmouth and Jarrow,[10] in modern-day Wearside and Tyneside respectively; there is also a tradition that he was born at Monkton, two miles from the monastery at Jarrow. Bede says nothing of his origins, but his connections with people of noble ancestry suggest that his own family was well-to-do. Bede’s first abbot was Benedict Biscop, and the names “Biscop” and “Beda” both appear in a king list of the kings of Lindsey from around 800, further suggesting that Bede came from a noble family.

Bede’s name reflects West Saxon Bīeda (Northumbrian Bǣda, Anglian Bēda). It is an Anglo-Saxon short name formed on the root of bēodan “to bid, command”. The name also occurs in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (late 9th century) as Bieda, one of the sons of the Saxon founder of Portsmouth. The Liber Vitae of Durham Cathedral names two priests with this name, one of whom is presumably Bede himself. Some manuscripts of the Life of Cuthbert, one of Bede’s works, mention that Cuthbert’s own priest was named Bede; it is possible that this priest is the other name listed in the Liber Vitae.

At the age of 7, Bede was sent, as a puer oblatus, to the monastery of Monkwearmouth by his family to be educated by Benedict Biscop and later by Ceolfrith. Bede does not say whether it was already intended at that point that he would be a monk. It was fairly common in Ireland at this time for young boys, particularly those of noble birth, to be fostered out as an oblate; the practice was also likely to have been common among the Germanic peoples in England. Monkwearmouth’s sister monastery at Jarrow was founded by Ceolfrith in 682, and Bede probably transferred to Jarrow with Ceolfrith that year. The dedication stone for the church has survived to the present day; it is dated 23rd April 685, and as Bede would have been required to assist with menial tasks in his day-to-day life it is possible that he helped in building the original church. In 686, plague broke out at Jarrow. The Life of Ceolfrith, written in about 710, records that only two surviving monks were capable of singing the full offices; one was Ceolfrith and the other a young boy, who according to the anonymous writer had been taught by Ceolfrith. The two managed to do the entire service of the liturgy until others could be trained. The young boy was almost certainly Bede, who would have been about 14.

When Bede was about 17 years old, Adomnán, the abbot of Iona Abbey, visited Monkwearmouth and Jarrow. Bede would probably have met the abbot during this visit, and it may be that Adomnan sparked Bede’s interest in the Easter dating controversy. In about 692, in Bede’s 19th year, he was ordained a deacon by his diocesan bishop, John, who was bishop of Hexham. The canonical age for the ordination of a deacon was 25; Bede’s early ordination may mean that his abilities were considered exceptional, but it is also possible that the minimum age requirement was often disregarded. There might have been minor orders ranking below a deacon; but there is no record of whether Bede held any of these offices. In Bede’s 30th year (about 702), he became a priest, with the ordination again performed by Bishop John.

In about 701 Bede wrote his first works, the De Arte Metrica and De Schematibus et Tropis. Both were intended for use in the classroom. He continued to write for the rest of his life, eventually completing over 60 books, most of which have survived. Not all his output can be easily dated, and Bede may have worked on some texts over a period of many years. His last-surviving work is a letter to Ecgbert of York, a former student, written in 734. A 6th century Greek and Latin manuscript of Acts of the Apostles that is believed to have been used by Bede survives and is now in the Bodleian Library at University of Oxford. ; it is known as the Codex Laudianus. Bede may also have worked on one of the Latin Bibles that were copied at Jarrow, one of which is now held by the Laurentian Library in Florence. Bede was a teacher as well as a writer. He enjoyed music, and was said to be accomplished as a singer and as a reciter of poetry in the vernacular. It is possible that he suffered a speech impediment, but this depends on a phrase in the introduction to his verse life of Saint Cuthbert. Translations of this phrase differ, and it is uncertain whether Bede intended to say that he was cured of a speech problem, or merely that he was inspired by the saint’s works.

In 708, some monks at Hexham accused Bede of having committed heresy in his work De Temporibus. The standard theological view of world history at the time was known as the Six Ages of the World. In his book, Bede calculated the age of the world for himself, rather than accepting the authority of Isidore of Seville, and came to the conclusion that Christ had been born 3,952 years after the creation of the world, rather than the figure of over 5,000 years that was commonly accepted by theologians. The accusation occurred in front of the bishop of Hexham, Wilfrid, who was present at a feast when some drunken monks made the accusation. Wilfrid did not respond to the accusation, but a monk present relayed the episode to Bede, who replied within a few days to the monk, writing a letter setting forth his defense and asking that the letter also be read to Wilfrid.

In 733, Bede traveled to York to visit Ecgbert, who was then bishop of York. The See of York was elevated to an archbishopric in 735, and it is likely that Bede and Ecgbert discussed the proposal for the elevation during his visit. Bede hoped to visit Ecgbert again in 734, but was too ill to make the journey. Bede also traveled to the monastery of Lindisfarne, and at some point visited the otherwise-unknown monastery of a monk named Wicthed, a visit that is mentioned in a letter to that monk. Because of his widespread correspondence with others throughout the British Isles, and due to the fact that many of the letters imply that Bede had met his correspondents, it is likely that Bede traveled to some other places, although nothing further about timing or locations can be guessed. It seems certain that he did not visit Rome, however, as he would have mentioned it in the autobiographical chapter of his Historia Ecclesiastica. Except for a few visits to other monasteries, his life was spent in a round of prayer, observance of the monastic discipline and study of the Scriptures. Bede died on the Feast of the Ascension, Thursday, 26th May 735, on the floor of his cell, singing “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit” and was buried at Jarrow.

One further oddity in Bede’s writings is that in one of his works, the Commentary on the Seven Catholic Epistles, he writes in a manner that gives the impression he was married. The section in question is the only one in that work that is written in first-person. Bede says: “Prayers are hindered by the conjugal duty because as often as I perform what is due to my wife I am not able to pray.” Another passage, in the Commentary on Luke, also mentions a wife in the first person: “Formerly I possessed a wife in the lustful passion of desire and now I possess her in honourable sanctification and true love of Christ.” The historian Benedicta Ward argues that these passages are Bede employing a rhetorical device.

Although Bede is mainly studied as a historian now, in his time his works on grammar, chronology, and Biblical studies were as important as his historical and hagiographical works. The non-historical works contributed greatly to the Carolingian renaissance.  Bede’s best-known work, the Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, was completed in about 731. Bede was aided in writing this book by Albinus, abbot of St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury. The first of the five books begins with some geographical background, and then sketches the history of England, beginning with Caesar’s invasion in 55 BCE. A brief account of Christianity in Roman Britain, including the martyrdom of St Alban, is followed by the story of Augustine’s mission to England in 597, which brought Christianity to the Anglo-Saxons. The second book begins with the death of Gregory the Great in 604, and follows the further progress of Christianity in Kent and the first attempts to evangelize Northumbria. These ended in disaster when Penda, the pagan king of Mercia, killed the newly Christian Edwin of Northumbria at the Battle of Hatfield Chase in about 632. The setback was temporary, and the third book recounts the growth of Christianity in Northumbria under kings Oswald of Northumbria and Oswy. The climax of the third book is the account of the Council of Whitby, traditionally seen as a major turning point in English history. The fourth book begins with the consecration of Theodore as Archbishop of Canterbury, and recounts Wilfrid’s efforts to bring Christianity to the kingdom of Sussex. The fifth book brings the story up to Bede’s day, and includes an account of missionary work in Frisia, and of the conflict with the British church over the correct dating of Easter. Bede wrote a preface for the work, in which he dedicates it to Ceolwulf, king of Northumbria. The preface mentions that Ceolwulf received an earlier draft of the book; presumably Ceolwulf knew enough Latin to understand it, and he may even have been able to read it. The preface makes it clear that Ceolwulf had requested the earlier copy, and Bede had asked for Ceolwulf’s approval; this correspondence with the king indicates that Bede’s monastery had excellent connections among the Northumbrian nobility.

Bede quoted his sources at length in his narrative, as Eusebius had done before him. Bede also appears to have taken quotes directly from his correspondents at times. For example, he almost always uses the terms “Australes” and “Occidentales” for the South and West Saxons respectively, but in a passage in the first book he uses “Meridiani” and “Occidui” instead, as perhaps his informant had done. At the end of the work, Bede added a brief autobiographical note; this was an idea taken from Gregory of Tours’ earlier History of the Franks. Bede’s work as a hagiographer, and his detailed attention to dating, were both useful preparations for the task of writing the Historia Ecclesiastica. His interest in computus, the science of calculating the date of Easter, was also useful in the account he gives of the controversy between the British and Anglo-Saxon church over the correct method of obtaining the Easter date.

Bede’s primary intention in writing the Historia Ecclesiastica was to show the growth of the united church throughout England. The native Britons (Celts), whose Christian church survived the departure of the Romans, earn Bede’s ire for refusing to help convert the Saxons. By the end of the Historia the English, and their Church, are dominant over the Britons. This goal, of showing the movement towards unity, explains Bede’s animosity towards the British method of calculating Easter: much of the Historia is devoted to a history of the dispute, including the final resolution at the Synod of Whitby in 664. Bede is also concerned to show the unity of the English, despite the disparate kingdoms that still existed when he was writing.

As I have been at pains to point out many times here, and in my teaching, the study and writing of history is not, not, not, the recording of facts. We can call that “archiving.” History is the process of finding meaning in those facts, and, of course, historians can (and do) differ on this point. Bede’s purpose, above all else, was rather ethnocentric: Anglo-Saxons good; Celts bad. He was also paving the way for a unified Anglo-Saxon kingdom which was finally achieved in the late 9th and early 10th centuries, by showing that the various kingdoms within the territory that is now England, all shared a common cultural heritage, and, thus, belonged united together. This endeavor is why he is sometimes called the father of English history, rather then simply being listed with a number of other chroniclers (whose main purpose was to record facts). He was doing real history in the modern sense. He let his biases creep in a bit too much, but there are plenty of modern historians who do the same.

Medieval cooking of Bede’s time is undocumented except for a number of images and occasional references in texts. The impression that most people are left with is that the rich ate mostly roast meat, and the rest ate bread and porridge with scavenged fruits and vegetables thrown in for good measure. There may be some truth to this image, but it is undoubtedly too narrow. There is a growing understanding that many medieval dishes often had the texture of a pureé, possibly containing small fragments of meat or fish. Nearly half of the recipes in the Beinecke MSS of the period are for dishes similar to stews or pureés. Such dishes could be broadly of three types: somewhat acid, with wine, vinegar, and spices in the sauce, thickened with bread; sweet and sour, with sugar and vinegar; and sweet, using then-expensive sugar. An example of such a sweet pureé dish for meat (it could also be made with fish) from one Beinecke manuscript is the rich, saffron-yellow “Mortruys”, thickened with egg:

Take brawn of capons & porke, sodyn & groundyn; tempyr hit up with milk of almondes drawn with the broth. Set hit on the fyre; put to sigure & safron. When hit boyleth, tak som of thy milk, boylying, fro the fyre & aley hit up with yolkes of eyron that hit be ryght chargeaunt; styre hit wel for quelling. Put therto that othyr, & ster hem togedyr, & serve hem forth as mortruys; and strew on poudr of gynger.

If you are having trouble with the language, here’s my paraphrase in modern English:

Mince chicken and pork that has been boiled. Mix together the meat, the boiling broth and some almond milk. Put the mixture on to heat and add sugar and saffron. When the mix is boiling, take some of the liquid and whisk it with egg yolks. Put this mix back in the pot and stir well to thicken. Serve the dish garnished with powdered ginger.

This is an aristocratic dish involving expensive items including sugar, saffron, and almond milk. In the modern world it is still extravagant, but affordable, and ought to be replicated easily.

May 242018
 

On this date in 1683 the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology in Oxford in England opened as the world’s first university museum. Its first building was erected in 1678–83 to house the cabinet of curiosities that Elias Ashmole gave to the University of Oxford in 1677. Ashmole’s original collection was made up of an odd assortment of objects which he had collected himself as well as from the gardeners, travelers, and collectors John Tradescant the elder and his son, John Tradescant the younger. The collection included antique coins, books, engravings, geological specimens, and zoological specimens—one of which was the stuffed body of the last dodo ever seen in Europe. However, by 1755 the stuffed dodo was so moth-eaten that it was destroyed, except for its head and one claw. The museum opened on this date with naturalist Robert Plot as the first keeper. The first building, which became known as the Old Ashmolean, is sometimes attributed to Sir Christopher Wren or Thomas Wood.

After the various specimens had been moved into new museums, the “Old Ashmolean” building on Broad Street was used as office space for the Oxford English Dictionary. Since 1924, the building has been established as the Museum of the History of Science, with exhibitions including the scientific instruments given to Oxford University by Lewis Evans (1853–1930), amongst them the world’s largest collection of astrolabes.

The present building dates from 1841–45. It was designed by Charles Cockerell in a classical style and stands on Beaumont Street. One wing of the building is occupied by the Taylor Institution, the modern languages faculty of the university, standing on the corner of Beaumont Street and St Giles’ Street. The main museum contains huge collections of archaeological specimens and fine art. It has one of the best collections in the world of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, majolica pottery, and English silver. The archaeology department includes the bequest of Arthur Evans and so has an excellent collection of Greek and Minoan pottery. The department also has an extensive collection of antiquities from Ancient Egypt and the Sudan, and the museum hosts the Griffith Institute for the advancement of Egyptology.

 

The interior of the Ashmolean has been extensively modernized in recent years and now includes a rooftop restaurant and large gift shop. In 2000, the Chinese Picture Gallery, designed by van Heyningen and Haward Architects, opened at the entrance of the Ashmolean and is partly integrated into the structure. The gallery was inserted into a lightwell in the Grade 1 listed building, and was designed to support future construction from its roof. Apart from the original Cockerell spaces, this gallery was the only part of the museum retained in the rebuilding. It houses the Ashmolean’s own collection, but is also used from time to time for the display of loan exhibitions and works by contemporary Chinese artists. It is the only museum gallery in Britain devoted to Chinese paintings.

The Sackler Library, incorporating the older library collections of the Ashmolean, opened in 2001 and has allowed an expansion of the book collection, which concentrates on Western classical history, archaeology and art history. On 26 November 2011, the Ashmolean opened to the public the new galleries of Ancient Egypt and Nubia. This second phase of major redevelopment now allows the Museum to exhibit objects that have been in storage for decades, more than doubling the number of coffins and mummies on display. The project received lead support from Lord Sainsbury’s Linbury Trust, along with the Selz Foundation, Mr Christian Levett, as well as other trusts, foundations, and individuals. Rick Mather Architects led the redesign and display of the four previous Egypt galleries and the extension to the restored Ruskin Gallery, previously occupied by the Museum Shop.

In May 2016, the museum opened new galleries dedicated to the display of its collection of Victorian art. This development allowed for the return to the Ashmolean of the Great Bookcase, designed by William Burges, and described as “the most important example of Victorian painted furniture ever made.”

As much as for any other reason, this post gives me an opportunity to give my opinion about museums, university or otherwise. In brief: I hate them. As someone who publishes in anthropology and archeology you may find this sentiment odd, but it is really straightforward. Museums house objects out of context, one way or another. In the case of museums like the Ashmolean, they house objects that were stolen from their original owners and cultures, and in many cases they want them back. Starting in the 17th century, and reaching a climax in the heady colonial period of the 19th century, English explorers, who called themselves archeologists, loaded wagon after wagon with antiquities and sent them back to England, either for display or for storage in dusty basements. Until recently, the great bulk of items stored by the Ashmolean (and the British Museum, etc etc.) never saw the light of day (and were generally so poorly cataloged that even serious researchers had trouble finding them). It’s true that they may not fare a whole lot better in their “home” cultures, but that is where they belong. Just last week I was wandering around antiquities in Rome, and the week before that in Istanbul. In some parks and museums there I saw piles of broken statues and columns and the like lying outside in heaps. This may not have been the best use for them, but at least they were at home: they were in a more natural context than in a basement in England (or even on display in England). They are not English !!!

The second way in which items are out of context in museums, is that by displaying them, as opposed to using them, they are dead. Every amphitheater in Italy I have visited is still used for performances. I’m glad they don’t throw Christians to the lions in the Coliseum in Rome any more – that’s taking context a bit too far. But they do still hold concerts there routinely. People live in apartments in Diocletian’s summer palace in Split in Croatia. These structures are an important part of modern people’s lives and heritage. The museum at my university once held an exhibit of traditional quilts – stretched flat on starkly lit walls. Quilts don’t belong hung on walls. They belong on beds. At least if you must display them, put them on beds in a gallery where you must walk around them, see the natural folds they make and how these folds impact how you see them, and use natural light which changes as the day progresses, creating endless patterns of light and shadow.

The only general exception I make for this grumpiness is for art paintings. They were painted to be displayed on walls, and even though they might be more natural in a living room or dining room, having them in museums allows more viewers. I still prefer to see them in some form of appropriate context. Here in Mantua you can see thousands of Renaissance and Baroque paintings commissioned by successive members of the Gonzaga family on display in their old residences. That is as good a context as any.

The Ashmolean now has a rooftop restaurant for visitors, and I could give you a recipe from their menu to be as out of context as the museum is. From what I can tell from reviews, the menu is eclectic (with a heavy dose of modern Italian) and is generally overpriced. Reviews of the dishes range from stellar to garbage. I never see this as a good sign. When half give a restaurant one star and half give it five, my immediate instinct is to believe the people who have given it one. They tend to be the people who know what they are talking about, and the people who tend towards the 4/5 end are easily impressed and don’t know what good food really is. Chances are the food at this restaurant is probably around 2/3 (that is, highly average – and overpriced). Let’s instead go with something 17th century in honor of Elias Ashmole himself. I’ve mentioned The Accomplisht Cook (1st ed. 1660) by Robert May before. It’s a strange compilation in that it is highly eclectic (as is the Ashmolean’s collections), drawing on recipes from Medieval times, as well as from different parts of Europe. There are 24 chapters, dividing the recipes according to May’s somewhat original classifications system. I am drawn to chapter III “Heads” for no other reason than that I am quirky also.

This recipe appeals to me greatly and I would replicate it for you if I had a calf’s head and oysters to hand:

To roast a Calves Head with Oysters.

Split the head as to boil, and take out the brains washing them very well with the head, cut out the tongue, boil it a little, and blanch it, let the brains be parbol’d as well as tongue, then mince the brains and tongue, a little sage, oysters, beef-suet, very small; being finely minced, mix them together with three or four yolks of eggs, beaten ginger, pepper, nutmegs, grated bread, salt, and a little sack, if the brains and eggs make it not moist enough. This being done parboil the calves head a little in fair water, then take it up and dry it well in a cloth filling the holes where the brains and tongue lay with this farsing or pudding; bind it up close together, and spit it, then stuff it with oysters being first parboil’d in their own liquor, put them into a dish with minced tyme, parsley, mace, nutmeg, and pepper beaten very small; mix all these with a little vinegar, and the white of an egg, roul the oysters in it, and make little holes in the head, stuff it as full as you can, put the oysters but half way in, and scuer in them with sprigs of tyme, roast it and set the dish under it to save the gravy, wherein let there be oysters, sweet herbs minced, a little white-wine and slic’t nutmeg. When the head is roasted set the dish wherein the sauce is on the coals to stew a little, then put in a piece of butter, the juyce of an orange, and salt, beating it up together: dish the head, and put the sauce to it, and serve it up hot to the table

May 212018
 

Today is the birthday (1780) of Elizabeth Fry (née Gurney), an English prison reformer, social reformer and philanthropist. Fry was a major driving force behind new legislation to make the treatment of prisoners more humane, and she was supported in her efforts by Queen Victoria.

Elizabeth Fry was born in Norwich in Norfolk, England into a prominent Quaker family, the Gurneys. Her childhood family home was Earlham Hall, which is now part of the University of East Anglia. Her father, John Gurney (1749–1809), was a partner in Gurney’s Bank. Her mother, Catherine, was a member of the Barclay family who were among the founders of Barclays Bank. Her mother died when Elizabeth was 12 years old. As one of the oldest girls in the family, Elizabeth was partly responsible for the care and education of the younger children, including her brother Joseph John Gurney, a philanthropist.

She met Joseph Fry (1777–1861), a banker whose uncle founded the Fry’s chocolate company, who was also a Quaker, when she was 20 years old. They married on 19th August 1800 at the Norwich Goat Lane Friends Meeting House and moved to St Mildred’s Court in the City of London. Elizabeth Fry was recorded as a minister of the Religious Society of Friends in 1811. Joseph and Elizabeth Fry lived in Plashet House in East Ham between 1809 and 1829, then moved to The Cedars on Portway in Forest Gate, where they lived until 1844. They had eleven children, five sons and six daughters.

Prompted by a family friend, Stephen Grellet, Fry visited Newgate Prison in 1813. The conditions she saw there horrified her. The women’s section was overcrowded with women and children, some of whom had not even received a trial. The prisoners did their own cooking and washing in the small cells in which they slept on straw. She returned the following day with food and clothes for some prisoners. She was unable to personally further her work for nearly 4 years because of difficulties within the Fry family, including financial difficulties at the Fry bank, which Elizabeth helped extricate her husband from. Put simply, she had a strong sense of business, and her husband had hardly any. Fry returned to Newgate in 1816 and was eventually able to fund a prison school for the children who were imprisoned with their mothers. Rather than attempt to impose discipline on the women, she suggested rules and then asked the prisoners to vote on them. In 1817 she helped found the Association for the Reformation of the Female Prisoners in Newgate. This association provided materials for women so that they could learn to sew and knit and then once they were out of prison they could earn money for themselves. This led to the eventual creation of the British Ladies’ Society for Promoting the Reformation of Female Prisoners in 1821 She also promoted the idea of rehabilitation instead of harsh punishment which was taken on by the city authorities in London as well as many other authorities and prisons.

Elizabeth Fry also campaigned for the rights and welfare of prisoners who were being transported. The women of Newgate Prison were taken through the streets of London in open carts, often in chains, huddled together with their few possessions. They were pelted with rotten food and filth by the people of the city. The fear was often enough to make women condemned to transportation riot on the evening before. Fry’s first action was to persuade the governor of Newgate prison to send the women in closed carriages and spare them this last indignity before transportation. She visited prison ships and persuaded captains to implement systems to ensure each woman and child would at least get a share of food and water on the long journey. Later she arranged each woman to be given scraps of material and sewing tools so that they could use the long journey to make quilts and have something to sell as well as useful skills when they reached their destination. She also included a Bible and useful items such as string and knives and forks in this vital care package. Elizabeth Fry visited 106 transport ships and saw 12,000 convicts. Her work helped to start a movement for the abolition of transportation. Transportation was officially abolished in 1837, however Elizabeth Fry was still visiting transportation ships until 1843.

Elizabeth Fry wrote in her book Prisons in Scotland and the North of England that she stayed the night in some of the prisons and invited nobility to come and stay and see for themselves the conditions prisoners lived in. Her kindness helped her gain the friendship of the prisoners and they began to try to improve their conditions for themselves. Thomas Fowell Buxton, Fry’s brother-in-law, was elected to Parliament for Weymouth and began to promote her work among his fellow MPs. In 1818 Fry gave evidence to a House of Commons committee on the conditions prevalent in British prisons, becoming the first woman to present evidence in Parliament.

Elizabeth Fry also helped the homeless, establishing a “nightly shelter” in London after seeing the dead body of a young boy in the winter of 1819/1820 on the streets. In 1824, during a visit to Brighton, she instituted the Brighton District Visiting Society. The society arranged for volunteers to visit the homes of the poor and provide help and comfort to them. The plan was successful and was duplicated in other districts and towns across Britain. Elizabeth Fry also used her influential network and worked with other prominent Quakers to campaign for the abolition of the slave trade.

After her husband went bankrupt in 1828, Fry’s brother became her business manager and benefactor. Thanks to him, her work expanded. In 1838 the Friends sent a party to France: Fry and her husband, Lydia Irving, and abolitionists Josiah Forster and William Allen. They were there on other business but despite the language barrier Fry and Lydia Irving visited French prisons.

In 1840 Fry opened a training school for nurses. Her program inspired Florence Nightingale, who took a team of Fry’s nurses to assist wounded soldiers in the Crimean War.

In 1842, Frederick William IV of Prussia went to see Fry in Newgate Prison during an official visit to Great Britain. The king, who had met Fry during her previous tours of the continent promoting welfare change and humanitarianism, was so impressed by her work that he told his reluctant courtiers that he would personally visit the gaol when he was in London.

Queen Victoria admired Fry’s work and granted her an audience a few times before she became queen, and contributed money to her cause after she ascended the throne. Robert Peel was also an admirer, and passed several acts to further her cause including the Gaols Act 1823. The act was largely ineffective, because there were no inspectors to make sure that it was being followed.

Fry died from a stroke in Ramsgate, England, on 12th October 1845. Her remains were buried in the Friends’ burial ground at Barking. More than a thousand people stood in silence during the burial at the Ramsgate memorial. Following her death, a meeting chaired by the Lord Mayor of London, resolved that it would be fitting “to found an asylum to perpetuate the memory of Mrs Fry and further the benevolent objects to which her life had been devoted.” An 18th-century town house was purchased at 195 Mare Street, in the London Borough of Hackney and the first Elizabeth Fry refuge opened its doors in 1849. Funding came via subscriptions from various city companies and private individuals, supplemented by income from the inmates’ laundry and needlework. Such training was an important part of the refuge’s work. In 1924, the refuge merged with the Manor House Refuge for the Destitute, in Dalston in Hackney, becoming a hostel for girls on probation for minor offences. The hostel soon moved to larger premises in Highbury, Islington and then, in 1958, to Reading, where it remains today.

I searched Mrs Beeton and found this anecdote on prisons and punishment, rather typical of Victorian humor, followed by her recipe for baked ham, which I think would make a fine dish in honor of Elizabeth Fry (although I would love to sneak in a bar of Fry’s Turkish Delight in honor of her husband’s uncle).

  

HOG NOT BACON. ANECDOTE OF LORD BACON.—As Lord Bacon, on one occasion, was about to pass sentence of death upon a man of the name of Hogg, who had just been tried for a long career of crime, the prisoner suddenly claimed to be heard in arrest of judgment, saying, with an expression of arch confidence as he addressed the bench, “I claim indulgence, my lord, on the plea of relationship; for I am convinced your lordship will never be unnatural enough to hang one of your own family.”

“Indeed, replied the judge, with some amazement,” I was not aware that I had the honour of your alliance; perhaps you will be good enough to name the degree of our mutual affinity.”

“I am sorry, my lord,” returned the impudent thief, “I cannot trace the links of consanguinity; but the moral evidence is sufficiently pertinent. My name, my lord, is Hogg, your lordship’s is Bacon; and all the world will allow that bacon and hog are very closely allied.”

“I am sorry,” replied his lordship, “I cannot admit the truth of your instance: hog cannot be bacon till it is hanged; and so, before I can admit your plea, or acknowledge the family compact, Hogg must be hanged to-morrow morning.”

TO BAKE A HAM.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—Ham; a common crust.

Mode.—As a ham for baking should be well soaked, let it remain in water for at least 12 hours. Wipe it dry, trim away any rusty places underneath, and cover it with a common crust, taking care that this is of sufficient thickness all over to keep the gravy in. Place it in a moderately-heated oven, and bake for nearly 4 hours. Take off the crust, and skin, and cover with raspings, the same as for boiled ham, and garnish the knuckle with a paper frill. This method of cooking a ham is, by many persons, considered far superior to boiling it, as it cuts fuller of gravy and has a finer flavour, besides keeping a much longer time good.

Time.—A medium-sized ham, 4 hours.

Average cost, from 8d. to 10d. per lb. by the whole ham.

Seasonable all the year.

May 042018
 

Today is the birthday (1827) of John Hanning Speke, an English explorer and officer in the British Indian Army who made three exploratory expeditions to Africa. He is most associated with the search for the source of the Nile and was the first European to reach Lake Victoria. Speke traveled with Richard Burton on several occasions (  ) and an unpleasant rivalry developed between the two men, mostly spurred by Burton.

Speke was born in Orleigh Court, Buckland Brewer, near Bideford in North Devon. In 1844 he was commissioned into the British Army and posted to India, where he served under Sir Colin Campbell during the First Anglo-Sikh War. He spent his leave exploring the Himalayas and once crossed into Tibet.  In 1854 he made his first voyage to Africa, first arriving in Aden to ask permission of the Political Resident of the British Outpost to cross the Gulf of Aden and collect specimens in Somaliland for his family’s natural history museum in Somerset. This was refused because Somaliland was considered dangerous (as he came to find out). Speke then asked to join an expedition about to leave for Somaliland led by the already famous Richard Burton who had Lt William Stroyan and Lt. Herne recruited to come along, but a recent death left the expedition one person short. Speke was accepted because he had traveled in remote regions alone before, had experience collecting and preserving natural history specimens and had done astronomical surveying. Initially the party split with Burton going to Harrar, Abyssinia, and Speke going to Wadi Nogal in Somaliland . During this trip Speke had trouble with the local guide who cheated him and after they returned to Aden, Burton, who had also returned, saw that the guide was jailed and executed. This incident probably led to larger troubles later on. Now all 4 men traveled to Berbera on the coast of Somaliland where they wanted to trek inland towards the Ogaden. While camped outside Berbera they were attacked at night by 200 spear wielding Somalis. During this raid Speke ducked under the flap of a tent to get a clearer view of the scene and Burton thought he was retreating and called for Speke to stand firm. Speke did so and then charged forward shooting several attackers. The misunderstanding of this incident laid the foundation of the disputes and dislikes between Speke and Burton later on. Stroyan was killed by a spear, Burton was seriously wounded by a spear impaling both cheeks and Speke was wounded, and the only one captured, Herne came away unwounded.

Speke was tied up and stabbed several times with spears, one thrust cutting through his thigh along his femur before exiting. Speke used his bound fists to give his attacker a facial punch which gave him the opportunity to escape, although he was followed by a group of Somalis and he had to dodge spears as he was running for his life. Rejoining Burton and Herne, the trio eventually managed to escape in a boat passing along the coast. The expedition was a severe financial loss and Speke’s natural history specimens from his earlier leg were used to make up for some of it. Speke handed Burton his diaries that Burton used as an appendix in his own book on his travels to Harrar. It seemed unlikely that the two would join up again and Burton believed that he would not lead an expedition to the interior of Africa after this failed journey, even though this was his fervent desire.

Despite the first failure, in 1856, Speke and Burton went to East Africa to find the Great Lakes, which were rumored to exist in the center of the continent. They were hoping that the expedition would locate the source of the Nile. The journey, which started from Zanzibar Island in June 1857, was extremely strenuous and both men fell ill from a variety of tropical diseases once they went inland. By 7th November 1857 they had traveled over 600 miles on foot and donkey and they reached Kazeh (Tabora), where they rested and recuperated among Arab slave traders who had a settlement there. In Kazeh, Burton became gravely ill and Speke went temporarily blind as they travelled further west. After an arduous journey, the two arrived in Ujiji in February 1858 and became the first Europeans to reach Lake Tanganyika (although Speke was partially blind at this point and could not properly see the lake). They decided to explore the lake but it was vast and they could get only small canoes from the locals. Burton was too ill to journey and thus Speke crossed the lake with a small crew and some canoes to try to rent a larger vessel from an Arab who, they were told, had a large boat and lived on the west side of the lake. (Lake Tanganyika is over 400 miles long on the north-south axis but only about 30 miles wide.) During this trip Speke was marooned on an island and suffered severely when he became temporarily deaf after a beetle crawled into his ear and he tried to remove it with a knife. Speke was notable to rent the larger vessel from the Arab and so returned. Because the pair were unable to explore Lake Tanganyika properly, they initially mistakenly thought that a river flowed out of it from the north side. A few weeks later Sidi Mubarak Bombay confirmed via locals that the river flowed into the lake, but because neither man actually saw this river, this remained a source of speculation.

They had also heard of a second lake to the north-east, and in May 1858, they decided to explore it on the way back to the coast. But Burton was too weak to make the trip and thus stayed in base camp when the main caravan halted again at Kazeh. Speke went on a 47-day side trip that was 452 miles up and down in which he took 34 men with Bombay and Mabruki as his captains, and on 30th July 1858 became the first European to see Lake Victoria and the first to map it. It was this lake that eventually proved to be the source of ther Nile. However, much of the expedition’s survey equipment had been lost at this point and thus vital questions about the height and extent of the lake could not be answered easily. Speke’s eyes were still bothering him and he only saw a small part of the southern end of the lake and his view was blocked by islands in the lake so he could not judge the size of the lake well. However, Speke did estimate the elevation of Lake Victoria at 4000 feet by observing the temperature at which water boiled at that level.

From the beginning, the relationship between Speke and Burton was one of opposites. Burton considered Speke to be an inferior linguist and a less experienced traveler in remote regions (which was partially true), but Burton also appears to have been jealous of Speke and far less able to relate to the safari caravan to keep the expedition motivated and moving (a vital factor as they were completely dependent on their safari crew). Speke enjoyed hunting and provided the caravan with meat, while Burton was not much interested in such pursuits. Burton was appointed the head of the expedition and considered Speke the second in command, although the pair seemed to have shared the hardships and labors of the journey pretty much evenly. Once it became clear that Speke might have found the source of the Nile the relationship deteriorated further. Why Burton did not journey back to Lake Victoria with Speke to reconnoiter the Lake better after Speke returned to base camp in Kazeh is unclear. Burton was incapacitated and had to be carried by bearers, but this had been true for a great deal of the trip.

While Speke and Burton were instrumental in bringing the source of the Nile to the wider world and were the first to record and map this section of Africa, the efforts and labors of Sidi Mubarak Bombay and Mabruki were instrumental in discovering the lake. Bombay was captured as a child near Lake Nyasa by slave traders and was sold to Indian merchants on the coast of Africa who took him to Sindh. Thus, he spoke Hindustani and after his master’s death he sailed back to Zanzibar where Speke and Burton met and hired him. Both spoke Hindustani, which greatly facilitated the travel in the interior as Bombay spoke several native languages beside Swahili. Speke was much attached to Bombay and spoke highly of his honesty and conscientiousness. Bombay’s efforts in dealing with hostile peoples, interpreting and keeping the safari crew on track was a great help to the expedition.[6] Less is known of Mabruki, the other caravan leader, but he was later known as Mabruki Speke, and like Bombay became one of East Africa’s great caravan leaders and was also a Yao, like Bombay. Because of Speke’s recommendations both Bombay and Mabruki served on Henry Stanley’s 1871 expedition to find Livingstone.

On 26th September 1859 they began the return journey from Kazeh because the military leaves for both men were coming to an end. Again, Speke and Burton suffered from severe illnesses and had to be carried in litters by the porters some of the way. Once Speke and Burton were back on the coast they went by ship to Zanzibar and then traveled to Aden. When back at the coast Burton wrote a letter to Norton Shaw of the Royal Geographical Society (which had partially sponsored the journey) in which Burton enclosed a map of Lake Victoria made by Speke and wrote “there are grave reasons for believing it to be the source of the principal feeder of the White Nile.” Once in Aden, Burton was not granted a medical certificate to travel and thus Speke left on HMS Furious and arrived in England on 8th May 1859. Burton arrived on 21st May 1859.

New disagreements arose in England. Burton maintained that they had promised each other in Aden not to make public announcements until they were both back in England and Burton accused Speke of a breach of promise by publicly claiming they found the source of the Nile on their trip. Burton now turned against the theory that Lake Victoria was the source of the Nile (and now said the river flowing out of the north side of Lake Tanganyika was the source) and thus also reversing himself from the position he took in the letter to Norton Shaw. In that same letter to Shaw, Burton had also stated that Speke would present his findings to the RGS as he was prevented from traveling as he was in poor health and would be in England a short time after Speke. The jealousies and accusations between the two men increased, further inflamed by their respective circles of friends and people who stood to gain from the feud such as book publishers and newspapers. Burton was still extremely weak and once he appeared in front of a committee of the RGS he was not able to make a convincing case for his leading a second expedition to settle the outstanding matters about the Nile. The rift widened, and perhaps became irreversible, when Speke was chosen to lead a subsequent expedition instead of Burton. The two presented joint papers concerning the expedition to the RGS on 13th June 1859.

Together with James Augustus Grant, Speke left Portsmouth on 27th April 1860 and departed from Zanzibar in October 1860. The expedition approached the lake from the southwest, but Grant was often sick and was not able to travel with Speke much of the time. In this period of African history, Arab slave traders had created an atmosphere of great distrust towards any foreigners entering central Africa, and most African groups either fled or fought when encountering them, assuming all outsiders to be potential slavers. Lacking much in the way of guns and soldiers, the only thing the expedition could do was to make peace offerings to locals, and both men were severely delayed, and their supplies depleted by demands for gifts and fees of passage. After numerous months of delays Speke reached Lake Victoria on 28th July 1862, and then travelled on the west side around Lake Victoria but only seeing it from time to time. On the north side of the lake, Speke found the Nile flowing out of it and discovered the Ripon Falls. Whilst at the court of Muteesa I, the Kabaka (king) of Buganda, the local kingdom, who treated Speke with kindness, Speke was given two girls of about 12 and 18 out of the entourage of the Queen Mother. Speke took a serious liking to the elder, Meri, whom he fell in love with, according to his diaries (which were redacted when they were published as books later). While Meri proved loyal to Speke and fulfilled her task of being a “wife” as commanded by the Queen Mother, she showed no emotional attachment to Speke. Speke spent several months at the court of Mutesa and when he had given up winning Mere’s heart, tried to arrange a better relationship for Mere with another man, without success. Finally, given permission by Mutesa in June 1862 to leave, Speke then travelled down the Nile, now reunited with Grant.

Because of travel restrictions placed by the local chieftains, slave raiding parties, tribal wars and the difficulty of the terrain, Speke was not able to map the entire flow of the Nile from Lake Victoria north.  By January 1863 Speke and Grant reached Gondokoro in Southern Sudan, where he met Samuel Baker and his “wife”. (Her name was Florence von Sass and she had been rescued by Baker from a slave market in Vidin during a hunting trip in Bulgaria.) Speke had expected to meet John Petherick and his wife Katherine at Gondokoro, as they had been sent by the RGS south along the Nile to meet Speke and Grant. However, the Pethericks were not there but on a side expedition to trade ivory, as they had run out of funds for their expedition. This caused some hard feelings between Pethrick and Speke, and Baker played into this so he could assume a greater role as an explorer and co-discoverer of the Nile. Speke, via Baker’s ship, then continued to Khartoum where he sent a celebrated telegram to London: “The Nile is settled.” Speke’s expedition did not resolve the issue, however. Burton claimed that because Speke had not followed the Nile from the place it flowed out of Lake Victoria to Gondokoro, he could not be sure they were the same river. Baker and Florence, meanwhile, stayed in Gondokoro and tried to settle the issue of the flow of the river from there to Lake Victoria by travelling south. They eventually, after tremendous hardships including being racked by fevers and held up by rulers for months on end, found Lake Albert and the Murchison Falls.

Speke and Grant now returned to England where they arrived in June 1863 and were welcomed as genuine heroes. This did not last long in Speke’s case however. Disputes with Burton, who was relentless in his criticisms and a very compelling public speaker and strong writer, left Speke’s discoveries in less than an ideal light. Speke had also committed to write a book for John Blackwood which he found difficult. He failed to give a good and full report to the RGS for many months and thus, in effect, failed to defend his positions concerning the Nile. In addition Speke had a public dispute with the Pethericks who had by and large acted according to their RGS instructions but Speke had felt they had not. All this led Roderick Murchison, president of the RGS, to take a dislike to Speke and was not inclined to fund a third expedition led by Speke. Just as Burton had overplayed his hand after the first trip Speke now did the same. The RGS asked that a public debate be held between Speke and Burton to try to settle questions concerning the source of the Nile.

The debate was planned between Speke and Burton before the geographical section of the British Association in Bath on 16th September 1864, but Speke died the previous afternoon from a self-inflicted gunshot wound while shooting at Neston Park in Wiltshire. A contemporary account of the events surrounding his death appeared in The Times:

Speke set out from his uncle’s house in company with his cousin, George Fuller, and a gamekeeper, Daniel Davis, for an afternoon’s shooting in Neston Park. He fired both barrels in the course of the afternoon and about 4 p.m. Davis was marking birds for the two guns who were about 60 yards apart. Speke was seen to climb on to a stone wall about 2 feet high: for the moment he was without his gun. A few seconds later there was a report and when George Fuller rushed up Speke’s gun was found behind the wall in the field into which Speke had jumped. The right barrel was at half-cock: only the left barrel was discharged. Speke who was bleeding seriously was sensible for a few minutes and said feebly, “Don’t move me.” George Fuller went for assistance leaving Davis to attend him; but Speke survived for only about 15 minutes, and when Mr. Snow, surgeon of Box, arrived he was already dead. There was a single wound in his left side such as would be made by a cartridge if the muzzle of the gun—a Lancaster breech-loader without a safety guard—were close to the body; the charge had passed upwards through the lungs dividing all the large blood vessels over the heart, though missing the heart itself.

An inquest concluded that the death was accidental, though the idea of suicide appealed to some. Given that the fatal wound was just below Speke’s armpit, suicide seems unlikely. Burton, however, could not set aside his own strong dislike of Speke and was vocal in spreading the idea of a suicide, claiming that Speke feared the debate. Speke was buried in Dowlish Wake, Somerset, five miles from the ancestral home of the Speke family.

Given that Speke, a noble Victorian, was deathly ill much of his time in central Africa, here is what Mrs Beeton would have prescribed. You can substitute gazelle or antelope for the mutton.

THE INVALID’S CUTLET.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—1 nice cutlet from a loin or neck of mutton, 2 teacupfuls of water, 1 very small stick of celery, pepper and salt to taste.

Mode.—Have the cutlet cut from a very nice loin or neck of mutton; take off all the fat; put it into a stewpan, with the other ingredients; stew very gently indeed for nearly 2 hours, and skim off every particle of fat that may rise to the surface from time to time. The celery should be cut into thin slices before it is added to the meat, and care must be taken not to put in too much of this ingredient, or the dish will not be good. If the water is allowed to boil fast, the cutlet will be hard.

Time.—2 hours’ very gentle stewing. Average cost, 6d.

Sufficient for 1 person. Seasonable at any time.

 

 

 

 

Apr 272018
 

On this date in 711 CE Moorish troops led by Tariq ibn Ziyad landed at Gibraltar to begin what turned into the Muslim invasion of the Iberian Peninsula. (The name Gibraltar is the Spanish version of the Arabic name Jabal Ṭāriq meaning “Mountain of Tariq”which refers to the Rock of Gibraltar). One can make too much of single dates in history. July 4th 1776 gets celebrated in the US as Independence Day even though the war for independence had already started, and continued for a number years after. Dates get enshrined in history books because people like symbols to hang on to. The Umayyad conquest of Visigothic Hispania, the initial expansion of the Umayyad Caliphate over a large section of the Iberian peninsula, took from 711 to 788. The conquest resulted in the destruction of the Visigoth kingdom and the establishment of the independent Emirate of Córdoba under Abd ar-Rahman I, who completed the unification of Muslim-ruled Iberia, or al-Andalus. The conquest marks the westernmost expansion of both the Umayyad Caliphate and Muslim rule into Europe. One can peg the landing at Gibraltar as significant, but Muslim expansion into Iberia had begun earlier, and continued for many years after.

The historian al-Tabari transmits a tradition attributed to the Caliph Uthman (579 –  656) who stated that the road to Constantinople was through Hispania, “Only through Spain can Constantinople be conquered. If you conquer (Spain) you will share the reward of those who conquer (Constantinople).” The conquest of Hispania followed the conquest of North Africa.

Precisely what happened in Iberia in the early 8th century is uncertain. There is one contemporary Christian source, the Chronicle of 754 (which ends on that date), regarded as reliable but often vague. There are no contemporary Muslim accounts, and later Muslim compilations, such as that of Al-Maqqari from the 17th century, reflect later ideological influence. This paucity of early sources means that detailed specific claims need to be regarded with caution. Historical opinion about the initial nature of the expedition is divided into four directions (I favor #4):

(1) It was sent to aid one side in a civil war in the hope of plunder and future alliance.

(2) It was a reconnaissance force sent to test the military strength of the Visigoth kingdom.

(3) It was the first wave of a full–scale invasion.

(4) It was an unusually large raiding expedition with no direct strategic intentions.

The Visigoths who controlled Iberia from the 5th to the early 8th centuries were successors of the Western Roman empire. They, like other groups who swept over the Roman empire in the 5th century, are known to history as barbarians, because that is what the Romans called them. The word “barbarian” has changed meaning over time, unfortunately, and has corrupted our modern view of them. The Latin word from which the English word derives comes from the Greek βάρβαρος (barbaros), used by the ancient Greeks initially for certain Anatolians whose language sounded to them like, “bar bar bar bar . . .”  So, they were the “bar bar” people. We would say, “blah, blah people” these days. In other words, “barbarian” had no especially negative connotations, it just meant foreigners who spoke an incomprehensible language.

The Visigoths were barbarians in the ancient Roman sense (i.e. non-Romans), not in the modern sense. Therefore, saying that the Moorish conquest of the Visigoths in Iberia was a move that “civilized” a barbarian land is a stretch. This period in European history is often known as the Dark Ages, not because they were especially barbaric, but because we have few historical sources to judge them accurately, and archeology is of only limited help. There is no doubt that Islamic philosophers, mathematicians, scientists, and astronomers of the period were more accomplished then European Christians and pagans, and we owe them a great debt because they preserved a great many texts from ancient Greece that Christians destroyed or lost.

Tariq ibn Ziyad was a Muslim Berber client of Musa bin Nusair, the governor of Islamic Africa (Ifriqiya), who invaded Iberia with a disputed number of Berber men (anywhere from 1,700 to 7,000) in 711, while Roderic, king of the Visigoths was in the north fighting the Basques. The tale that Julian, Count of Ceuta, facilitated the invasion, because one of his daughters had been dishonored by Roderic, is apocryphal. By late July, a battle took place at the Guadalete River in the province of Cádiz. Roderic was betrayed by his troops, who sided with his enemies, and the king was killed in battle. The Muslims then took much of southern Spain with little resistance, and went on to capture Toledo, where they executed several Visigothic nobles. In 712, Musa, arrived with another army of 18,000, with large Arab contingents. He took Mérida in 713 and invaded the north, taking Saragossa and León, which were still under king Ardo, in 714. After being recalled by the Caliph, Musa left his son Abd al-‘Aziz in command. By 716, most of the Iberian Peninsula was under Islamic rule, with Septimania taken between 721 and 725.

The first expedition led by Tariq was made up mainly of Berbers who had themselves only recently come under Muslim influence. It is probable that this army represented a continuation of an historic pattern of large-scale raids into Iberia dating to the pre–Islamic period, and hence some historians believe that actual conquest was not originally planned. Both the Chronicle of 754 and later Muslim sources speak of raiding activity in previous years, and Tariq’s army may have been present for some time before the decisive battle. This possibility is supported by the fact that the army was led by a Berber and that Musa, who was a major player in North Africa, only arrived the following year, because as a governor he had not stooped to lead a mere raid, but hurried across once the unexpected triumph by Tariq and the possibilities for further conquests became clear. Several Arab-Muslim writers mention the fact that Tariq had decided to cross the strait of Gibraltar without informing his superior and wali Musa as evidence that he had planned no more than a raid. The Chronicle of 754 states that many townspeople fled to the hills rather than defend their cities, which might support the view that this was expected to be a temporary raid rather than a permanent change of government.

The only effective resistance to Muslim conquest was in Asturias, where a Visigothic nobleman, Pelagius (Pelayo), revolted in 718, allied with the Basques and defeated the Muslims at the battle of Covadonga. Resistance also continued in the regions around the Pyrenees with the establishment of the Marca Hispanica from 760 to 785. The Berbers settled in the south and the Meseta Central in Castile. Initially, the Muslims generally left Christians alone to practice their religion, although non-Muslims were subject to Islamic law and treated as second-class citizens. The northern areas of Iberia drew little attention to the conquerors and were hard to defend when taken. The high western and central sub-Pyrenean valleys remained unconquered.

The resistance of 1718 eventually evolved into the Reconquista (the Reconquest) which dragged on for 700 years. The Muslims were generically called Moors even though most were Arabs, and the battle to oust them spawned a series of traditional dances and dramas, including Moros y Cristianos, which I researched for over 30 years. The final act of the Reconquista, the Fall of Granada at the beginning of 1492 http://www.bookofdaystales.com/fall-of-granada/  led almost seamlessly to Columbus’ voyage of discovery and the Spanish conquest of much of the Americas.

Islamic Iberia was known at the time as al-Andalus (الأنْدَلُس ), which eventually metamorphosed into “Andalusia” the shrunken vestige of al-Andalus as the Reconquista progressed. Cooking in al-Andalus is represented by an anonymous MS of the 13th century, brimming with recipe ideas which show how Spanish cooking evolved over the centuries, and how much it owes to Arab influence. Many of the recipes from the MS are translated here: http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Medieval/Cookbooks/Andalusian/andalusian1.htm#Heading34 Worth a browse.

This little snippet gives the sense, and also reveals a few problems in actually recreating the recipe which is for a type of lamb sausage. The translator notes that the Arabic for “meatball,” “al-bunduqa,” became the Spanish “albondiga,” but the Arabic is derived from the word “hazelnut,” suggesting that the meatballs of the day were small. Here I will add the necessary caution that etymological reasoning of this sort can trip you up.  The ingredient that baffles most cooks is murri naqî’ It is apparently an ingredient unique to al-Andalus and means “infused” or “marinated” murri. There is a great deal of disagreement about what murri is, although food historians favor the idea that it was a fermented sauce made from barley flour that vaguely resembles soy sauce, and was used as a salt substitute.

Recipe for Mirkâs

It is as nutritious as meatballs and quick to digest, since the pounding ripens its and makes it quick to digest, and it is good nutrition. First get some meat from the leg or shoulder of a lamb and pound it until it becomes like meatballs. Knead it in a bowl, mixing in some oil and some murri naqî’, pepper, coriander seed, lavender, and cinnamon. Then add three quarters as much of fat, which should not be pounded, as it would melt while frying, but chopped up with a knife or beaten on a cutting board. Using the instrument made for stuffing, stuff it in the washed gut, tied with thread to make sausages, small or large. Then fry them with some fresh oil, and when it is done and browned, make a sauce of vinegar and oil and use it while hot. Some people make the sauce with the juice of cilantro and mint and some pounded onion. Some cook it in a pot with oil and vinegar, some make it râhibi with onion and lots of oil until it is fried and browned. It is good whichever of these methods you use.

Apr 242018
 

Today is the birthday (1533) of William I, Prince of Orange, also widely known as William the Silent or William the Taciturn (from Dutch: Willem de Zwijger), or more commonly as William of Orange (Willem van Oranje) in the Netherlands, which is a bit confusing for Brits because they know his great-grandson by that name as king of Great Britain. William the Silent was the main leader of the Dutch revolt against the Spanish Habsburgs that set off the Eighty Years’ War (1568–1648) and resulted in the formal independence of the United Provinces in 1581. He was born in the House of Nassau as Count of Nassau-Dillenburg. He became Prince of Orange in 1544 and is thereby the founder of the House of Orange-Nassau and the ancestor of the monarchy of the Netherlands. Within the Netherlands he is also known as Father of the Fatherland. (Vader des Vaderlands).

William was born in Dillenburg castle, then in the County of Nassau-Dillenburg, in the Holy Roman Empire (now in Hesse in Germany). He was the eldest son of William, Count of Nassau by his second wife Juliana of Stolberg-Werningerode. William’s father had one surviving daughter by his previous marriage, and his mother had four surviving children by her previous marriage. His parents had twelve children together, of whom William was the eldest; he had four younger brothers and seven younger sisters. The family was religiously devout and William was raised a Lutheran.

In 1544, William’s first cousin, René of Châlon, Prince of Orange, died childless. In his will, René of Chalon named William the heir to all his estates and titles, including that of Prince of Orange, on the condition that he receive a Roman Catholic education. William’s father acquiesced to this condition on behalf of his 11-year-old son, and this was the founding of the house of Orange-Nassau. Besides the principality of Orange (located today in France) and significant lands in Germany, William also inherited vast estates in the Low Countries (present-day Netherlands and Belgium) from his cousin. Because of his young age, Emperor Charles V, who was the overlord of most of these estates, served as regent until William was old enough to rule them himself.

William was sent to the Netherlands to receive the required Roman Catholic education, first at the family’s estate in Breda and later in Brussels, under the supervision of Mary of Hungary, governor of the Habsburg Netherlands (Seventeen Provinces). In Brussels, he was taught foreign languages and received a military and diplomatic education under the direction of Champagney (Jérôme Perrenot), brother of Granvelle.

Anna van Egmond

On 6th July 1551, William married Anna van Egmond en Buren, daughter and heiress of Maximiliaan van Egmond, a Dutch nobleman. Anna’s father had died in 1548, and therefore William became Lord of Egmond and Count of Buren upon his wedding day. The marriage was a happy one and produced three children, one of whom died in infancy. Anna died on 24th March 1558.

Being a ward of Charles V and having received his education under the tutelage of the Emperor’s sister Mary, William came under the particular attention of the imperial family, and became a favorite. He was appointed captain in the cavalry in 1551 and received rapid promotion thereafter, becoming commander of one of the Emperor’s armies at the age of 22. This was in 1555, when Charles V sent him to Bayonne with an army to take the city in a siege from the French. William was also made a member of the Raad van State, the highest political advisory council in the Netherlands. It was in November of the same year (1555) that the gout-afflicted Emperor Charles V leaned on William’s shoulder during the ceremony when he abdicated his Spanish possessions in favor of his son, Philip II of Spain.

In 1559, Phillip appointed William as stadtholder (governor) of the provinces of Holland, Zeeland and Utrecht, thereby greatly increasing his political power. A stadtholdership over Franche-Comté followed in 1561.

Although he never directly opposed the Spanish king, William soon became one of the most prominent members of the opposition in the Council of State, together with Philip de Montmorency, Count of Hoorn, and Lamoral, Count of Egmont. They were mainly seeking more political power for themselves against the de facto government of Count Berlaymont, Granvelle and Viglius of Aytta, but also for the Dutch nobility and, ostensibly, for the Estates, and complained that too many Spaniards were involved in governing the Netherlands. William was also dissatisfied with the increasing persecution of Protestants in the Netherlands. Brought up as a Lutheran and later a Catholic, William was very religious but was still a proponent of freedom of religion for all people. The activity of the Inquisition in the Netherlands, directed by Cardinal Granvelle, prime minister to the new governor Margaret of Parma (1522–83) (natural half-sister to Philip II), increased opposition to Spanish rule among the then mostly Catholic population of the Netherlands. Lastly, the opposition wished to see an end to the presence of Spanish troops.

According to the Apology, William’s letter of justification, which was published and read to the States General in December 1580, his resolve to expel the Spaniards from the Netherlands had originated when, in the summer of 1559, he and the Duke of Alva had been sent to France as hostages for the proper fulfillment of the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis following the Hispano-French war. During his stay in Paris, on a hunting trip to the Bois de Vincennes, King Henry II of France started to discuss with William a secret understanding between Philip II and himself aimed at the violent extermination of Protestantism in France, the Netherlands “and the entire Christian world.” The understanding was being negotiated by Alva, and Henry had assumed, incorrectly, that William was aware of it. At the time, William did not contradict the king’s assumption, but he had decided for himself that he would not allow the slaughter of “so many honorable people,” especially in the Netherlands, for which he felt a strong compassion.

Anna of Saxony

On 25th August 1561, William married for the second time. His new wife, Anna of Saxony, was described by contemporaries as “self-absorbed, weak, assertive, and cruel”, and it is generally assumed that William married her to gain more influence in Saxony, Hesse and the Palatinate. The couple had five children. Up to 1564, any criticism of governmental measures voiced by William and the other members of the opposition had ostensibly been directed at Granvelle. However, after the latter’s departure early that year, William, who may have found increasing confidence in his alliance with the Protestant princes of Germany following his second marriage, began to openly criticize the king’s anti-Protestant politics. In an iconic speech to the Council of State, William, to the shock of his audience, justified his conflict with Philip by saying that, even though he had decided for himself to keep to the Catholic faith, he could not agree that monarchs should rule over the souls of their subjects and take from them their freedom of belief and religion.

In early 1565, a large group of lesser noblemen, including William’s younger brother Louis, formed the Confederacy of Noblemen. On 5th April, they offered a petition to Margaret of Parma, requesting an end to the persecution of Protestants. From August to October 1566, a wave of iconoclasm (known as the Beeldenstorm) spread through the Low Countries. Calvinists (the major Protestant denomination), Anabaptists, and Mennonites, angered by Catholic oppression and theologically opposed to the Catholic use of images of saints (which in their eyes conflicted with the Second Commandment), destroyed statues in hundreds of churches and monasteries throughout the Netherlands.

Following the Beeldenstorm, unrest in the Netherlands grew, and Margaret agreed to grant the wishes of the Confederacy, provided the noblemen would help to restore order. She also allowed the more important noblemen, including William of Orange, to assist the Confederacy. In late 1566, and early 1567, it became clear that she would not be allowed to fulfil her promises, and when several minor rebellions failed, many Calvinists and Lutherans fled the country. Following the announcement that Philip II, unhappy with the situation in the Netherlands, would dispatch his loyal general Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, Duke of Alba (also known as “The Iron Duke”), to restore order, William set aside his functions and retreated to his native Nassau in April 1567. He had been (financially) involved with several of the rebellions.

After his arrival in August 1567, Alba established the Council of Troubles (known to the people as the Council of Blood) to judge those involved in the rebellion and the iconoclasm. William was one of the 10,000 to be summoned before the Council, but he failed to appear. He was subsequently declared an outlaw, and his properties were confiscated. As one of the most prominent and popular politicians of the Netherlands, William emerged as the leader of armed resistance. From here it all gets yet more complicated, so I will leave you to look into the history for yourself, if you are interested. The religious wars of the 16th century in Europe are extraordinarily complicated. To a great extent, the ideological and theological wrangles that fueled the battles between Catholic and Protestant heads of states, and the struggles within Protestant factions, were a giant red herring. The religious wars were fundamentally about power, land, and wealth. William was caught in the middle of it all for his entire life. He did not help matters by alternately swearing allegiance to Catholic and Protestant traditions, nor by preaching religious toleration. He simply ended up creating enemies on all sides.

Charlotte of Bourbon

In July 1581, after seemingly interminable wars in the Low Countries, the Staten Generaal declared that they no longer recognized Philip II of Spain as their ruler, in the Act of Abjuration. This was a formal declaration of independence, although William still had struggles on his hands to establish the Netherlands as truly independent from the French, represented by the Duke of Anjou who claimed sovereignty. On 18th March, the Spaniard Juan de Jáuregui attempted to assassinate William in Antwerp. Although William suffered severe injuries, he survived thanks to the care of his wife Charlotte and his sister Mary. While William slowly recovered, Charlotte died on 5th May. The Duke of Anjou was not very popular with the population. The provinces of Zeeland and Holland refused to recognize him as their sovereign, and William was widely criticized for what was called his “French politics”. When Anjou’s French troops arrived in late 1582, William’s plan seemed to pay off, as even the Duke of Parma feared that the Dutch would now gain the upper hand.

Louise de Coligny

However, Anjou himself was displeased with his limited powers and secretly decided to seize Antwerp by force. The citizens, who had been warned in time, ambushed Anjou and his troops as they entered the city on 18th January 1583, in what is known as the “French Fury”. Almost all of Anjou’s men were killed, and he was reprimanded by both Catherine de Medici and Elizabeth I of England (whom he had courted). Anjou’s position became untenable, and he subsequently left the country in June. His departure discredited William, who nevertheless maintained his support for Anjou. William stood virtually alone on this issue and became politically isolated. Holland and Zeeland nevertheless maintained him as their stadtholder and attempted to declare him count of Holland and Zeeland, thus making him the official sovereign. In the middle of all this, William married for the fourth and final time on 12th April 1583 to Louise de Coligny, a French Huguenot and daughter of Gaspard de Coligny. She was to be the mother of Frederick Henry (1584–1647), William’s fourth legitimate son.

Gérard

The Burgundian Catholic Balthasar Gérard (born 1557) was a subject and supporter of Philip II, and regarded William of Orange as a traitor to the king and to the Catholic religion. In 1581, when Gérard learned that Philip II had declared William an outlaw and promised a reward of 25,000 crowns for his assassination, he decided to travel to the Netherlands to kill William. He served in the army of the governor of Luxembourg, Peter Ernst I von Mansfeld-Vorderort, for two years, hoping to get close to William when the armies met. This never happened, and Gérard left the army in 1584. He went to the Duke of Parma to present his plans, but the Duke was unimpressed. In May 1584, he presented himself to William as a French nobleman, and gave him the seal of the Count of Mansfelt. This seal would allow forgeries of the messages of Mansfelt to be made. William sent Gérard back to France to pass the seal on to his French allies.

Gérard returned in July, having bought two wheel-lock pistols on his return journey. On 10 July, he made an appointment with William  in his home in Delft, now known as the Prinsenhof. That day, William was having dinner with his guest Rombertus van Uylenburgh. After William left the dining room and walked downstairs, van Uylenburgh heard Gérard shoot William in the chest at close range.The bullet holes are still visible in the wall:

Gérard fled immediately, but was captured and brutally executed. According to official records, William’s last words were:

Mon Dieu, ayez pitié de mon âme; mon Dieu, ayez pitié de ce pauvre peuple. (My God, have pity on my soul; my God, have pity on this poor people).

I originally thought that a recipe for speculaas (Dutch windmill cookies) would be good to celebrate the establishment of the Netherlands, because the wars under William, were one of the reasons that the Dutch separated from Spanish and French traders, and began seeking their own methods of trading for spices in the East Indies, and speculaas are heavily flavored with spices from Indonesia. However, digging around, I discovered I had already given a recipe here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/global-wind-day/ 

I also note that a properly styled “Dutch cuisine” had not quite emerged at this point. In the 16th century dishes were shared quite widely across much of Europe. However, Lancelot de Casteau wrote Ouverture de cuisine in 1585 (published in 1604), and he was the master chef for three prince-bishops of Liège in the 16th century: Robert de Berghes, Gérard de Groesbeek, and Ernest of Bavaria. This cookbook is generally seen as a bridge between Medieval recipes and those of the new haute cuisine.  It is obviously an eclectic cuisine. Here, first, is the recipe for sausages in soup (pottage):

Saulcisses en potage.

Prennez les saulsisses, & les fricassez en beurre, puis prennez quartre ou cinq pommes pellées & couppées par petits quartiers, & quartre ou cinq oignons couppez par rondes tranches, & les fricassez en beurre, & les mettez tout dedans vn pot auec les saulsisses, & mettez dedans noix muscade, canelle, auec vin blanc ou rouge, du succre, & le faictes ainsi esteuuer.

Sausages in pottage.

Take sausages, & fry them in butter, then take four or five peeled apples & cut into small quarters, & four or five onions cut into rings, & fry them in butter, & put all of them into a pot with the sausages, & put therein nutmeg, cinnamon, with red or white wine, sugar, & let them then all stew.

Having read this recipe I wondered what sausages were suitable. The book does not specify but gives this recipe for Boulogne sausages:

Pour faire saulsisse de Bologne.

Prennez six liures de chair de porc vn peu grasse, & la coupez par tranches,
& la mettez en vn drap, mettez la dans vne presse pour presser le sang dehors, & la laissez vne heure en presse tant que le sang soit tout dehors, puis la hacherés grossement, point trop menu, mettés dedans quatre onces de sel, vne
once de poiure, estampés grossement, vne once de canelle bien puluerisée par fin tamier, & meslés tout ensemble
auec le sel, & mettés dedans la chair, & prennez huict onces de vin d’Espaigne, & meslez le bien auec les mains vne demye heure, que tout soit bien encorporé dedans la chair, puis prennez des boyaux de boeuf selon la grosseur que voulés auoir les saulcisses, puis les emplissez de chair si fort que pouuez, & aiez vne grosse eplingue en main pour tousiours percer le boiau, afin qu’il ny ait point de vent dedans, & que la chair soit bien serrée, puis liés le boyau bien ferme dessus & dessous de la longueur que voulez auoir les saulcisses, puis ayez vn chaudron d’eau bouillante sur le feu, & faictes boulir les saulsisses dedans trois ou quatre bouillons, & les tirez dehors, puis les pendez a la cheminée cinq ou six iours tant qu ils soient bien seiches.

To make Boulogne sausage.

Take six pounds of slightly fatty pork, & cut into slices, & put in a cloth, put it in a press to squeeze out the blood, & let sit one hour in the press until the blood is all out, then chop it coarsely, not too small, put therein four ounces of salt, an ounce of pepper, grind coarsely, one ounce of cinnamon well powdered with a fine sieve, & mix all together with the salt, & put into the meat, & take eight ounces of Spanish wine, & mix it well by hand for a half hour, when all will be incorporated into the meat, then take beef intestines that are thicker than you want the sausage, then fill with the meat as hard as possible, & have a thick eplingue at hand for always piercing the intestine, at the end that doesn’t have any hole therein, & that the meat will be well compacted, then tie the intestine well closed thereon & thereon of the length that you want to have the sausage, then have a cauldron of boiling water on the fire, & put to boil the sausages in three or four boilings, & cut them apart, then hang them at the chimney five or six days until they are well dried.

 Posted by at 3:54 pm
Apr 222018
 

Today is the birthday (1707) of Henry Fielding, English novelist and dramatist known primarily as the author of Tom Jones, written at a time when the English novel was in its infancy. He holds a significant place in the history of law enforcement, and, with his half-brother John, founded what some have called London’s first police force, the Bow Street Runners.

Fielding was born in Sharpham in Somerset, and educated at Eton College, where he established a lifelong friendship with William Pitt the Elder. When Fielding was 11, his mother died. A suit for custody was brought by his grandmother against his father, Lt. Gen. Edmund Fielding, whom she deemed irresponsible. The settlement placed Fielding in his grandmother’s care, although he continued to see his father in London. In 1725, Fielding tried to abduct his cousin, Sarah Andrews, while she was on her way to church. To avoid prosecution, he fled. In 1728, he travelled to Leiden to study classics and law at the university. However, lack of money obliged him to return to London and he began writing for the theatre. Some of his work was savagely critical of the government of the prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole.

The Theatrical Licensing Act of 1737 is alleged to be a direct response to his activities. The particular play that triggered the Licensing Act was the unproduced, anonymously authored, The Golden Rump, but Fielding’s dramatic satires had set the tone. Once the act was passed, political satire on the stage became virtually impossible, and playwrights whose works were staged were viewed as suspect. Fielding therefore retired from the theater and resumed his career in law in order to support his wife, Charlotte Craddock, and two children, by becoming a barrister. Fielding’s lack of business sense meant he and his family often endured periods of poverty, but he was helped by Ralph Allen, a wealthy benefactor, on whom Squire Allworthy in Tom Jones was later based. Allen went on to provide for the education and support of Fielding’s children after Fielding’s death.

Fielding never stopped writing political satire and satires of current arts and letters. The Tragedy of Tragedies (for which Hogarth designed the frontispiece) was, for example, quite successful as a printed play. He also contributed a number of works to journals of the day. From 1734 until 1739 he wrote anonymously for the leading Tory periodical, The Craftsman, against Walpole. Fielding’s patron was the opposition Whig MP (and his boyhood friend from Eton) George Lyttelton. Lyttelton followed his leader Lord Cobham in forming a Whig opposition to Walpole’s government, called the Cobhamites (who also included Fielding’s other Eton friend, William Pitt). In The Craftsman, Fielding articulated the opposition’s attack on bribery and corruption in British politics.

Fielding dedicated his play Don Quixote in England to the opposition Whig leader, Lord Chesterfield, and it was published on 17th April 1734, the same day writs were issued for the general election. He dedicated his 1735 play The Universal Gallant to Charles Spencer, 3rd Duke of Marlborough, a political follower of Chesterfield. The other prominent opposition newspaper, Common Sense, was named after a character in Fielding’s Pasquin (1736) and was founded by Chesterfield and Lyttelton. Fielding continued to air his political views in satirical articles and newspapers in the late 1730s and early 1740s. He became the chief writer for the Whig government of Henry Pelham.

Fielding took to writing novels in 1741, irritated by Samuel Richardson’s success with Pamela. His first big success was an anonymous parody: Shamela. This satire follows the model of the famous Tory satirists of the previous generation, such as, Jonathan Swift and John Gay. Fielding followed Shamela with Joseph Andrews (1742), an original work supposedly dealing with Pamela’s brother, Joseph. His purpose in this book, however, was more than parody, for he intended, as he announced in the preface, a “kind of writing which I do not remember to have seen hithereto attempted in our language.” In this new kind of writing, which Fielding called a “comic epic poem in prouse,” he creatively blended two classical traditions: that of the epic, which had been poetic, and that of the drama, but emphasizing the comic rather than the tragic. Another distinction of Joseph Andrews and of the novels to come was the use of everyday reality of character and action as opposed to the fables of the past. Although begun as a parody, it developed into an accomplished novel in its own right and is considered to mark Fielding’s debut as a serious novelist. In 1743, he published a novel in the Miscellanies volume III (which was the first volume of the Miscellanies): The History of the Life of the Late Mr Jonathan Wild the Great, which is sometimes counted as his first, as he almost certainly began it before he wrote Shamela and Joseph Andrews. It is a satire of Walpole that draws a parallel between him and Jonathan Wild, the infamous gang leader and highwayman. He implicitly compares the Whig party in Parliament with a gang of thieves being run by Walpole, whose constant desire to be a “Great Man” (a common epithet for Walpole) ought to culminate in the antithesis of greatness: being hanged.

His anonymous The Female Husband (1746) is a fictionalized account of a notorious case in which a female transvestite was tried for duping another woman into marriage. This was one of a number of small pamphlets, and cost sixpence at the time. Though a minor item in Fielding’s œuvre, the subject is consistent with his ongoing preoccupation with fraud, shamming and masks. His greatest work, Tom Jones (1749), came next.  If you don’t know it, read it. The hallmark of the book is its presentation of English life and character in the mid-18th century (akin to Hogarth’s art). Every social type is represented, and through them every shade of moral behavior.

Fielding married Charlotte Craddock in 1734 at the Church of St Mary in Charlcombe, Somerset. She died in 1744, and he later modelled the heroines of both Tom Jones and Amelia on her. They had five children together; their only daughter Henrietta died at age 23, having already been “in deep decline” when she married military engineer James Gabriel Montresor some months before. Three years after Charlotte’s death, Fielding disregarded public opinion by marrying her former maid Mary Daniel, who was pregnant. Mary bore five children: three daughters who died young, and sons William and Allen.

Despite this scandal, Fielding’s consistent anti-Jacobitism and support for the Church of England led to his being rewarded a year later with the position of London’s chief magistrate, while his literary career broadened. Most of his work was concerned with London’s criminal population of thieves, informers, gamblers, and prostitutes. In a corrupt and callous society, he became noted for his impartial judgements, incorruptibility, and compassion for those whom social inequities had forced into crime. The income from his office, which he called “the dirtiest money upon earth,” dwindled because he refused to take money from the very poor. With his younger half-brother, John, he helped found the Bow Street Runners, in 1749, which were, arguably, London’s first police force.

Both Fieldings did much to enhance judicial reform and improve prison conditions. Fielding’s influential pamphlets and enquiries included a proposal for the abolition of public hangings. This did not, however, imply opposition to capital punishment as such – as is evident, for example, in his presiding in 1751 over the trial of the notorious criminal James Field, finding him guilty in a robbery and sentencing him to hang. John Fielding, despite being blind by then, succeeded his older brother as chief magistrate, becoming known as the “Blind Beak of Bow Street” for his ability to recognize criminals by their voices alone.

In January 1752 Fielding started a fortnightly periodical, The Covent-Garden Journal, which he published under the pseudonym of “Sir Alexander Drawcansir, Knt. Censor of Great Britain” until November of the same year. In this periodical, Fielding directly challenged the “armies of Grub Street” and the contemporary periodical writers of the day in a conflict that would eventually become the Paper War of 1752–3.

Fielding then published “Examples of the Interposition of Providence in the Detection and Punishment of Murder” (1752), a treatise in which he rejected the deistic and materialistic visions of the world in favor of belief in God’s presence and divine judgement, arguing that the murder rate was rising due to neglect of the Christian religion. In 1753 he wrote “Proposals for Making an Effectual Provision for the Poor.”

Fielding’s ardent commitment to the cause of justice as a great humanitarian in the 1750s (for instance, his support of Elizabeth Canning) coincided with rapid deterioration in his health. Gout, asthma, cirrhosis of the liver and other afflictions made him use crutches. His ill health led him to Portugal in 1754 in search of a cure, but he died in Lisbon, reportedly in physical pain and mental distress, only two months later. His tomb is in the city’s English Cemetery (Cemitério Inglês), which is now the graveyard of St. George’s Church, Lisbon.

“The Roast Beef of Old England” was originally written by Henry Fielding for his play The Grub-Street Opera, first performed in 1731, and I gave it full coverage here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/roast-beef-old-england/  The 18th century saw a number of changes in food habits and fashions in England, including an increase in the use of vegetables in dishes, the popularity of potatoes, and a great interest in Continental cuisines, especially French. “The Roast Beef of Old England” was written as a counterblast to this trend, touting good, hearty roast beef as proper fare for the English rather than all this foreign muck – bisques and ragouts and whatnot (rather like Burns’s praise of haggis). John Nott published The Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary: or, the Accomplish’d Housewives Companion in 1723, and from it we catch a glimpse of changing food tastes in England. You can find a .pdf of the full text in facsimile here: https://ia802700.us.archive.org/14/items/cooksandconfect00nottgoog/cooksandconfect00nottgoog.pdf It is organized alphabetically based on the name of the principal ingredient discussed. The section on beef is curious because there is no mention of good old-fashioned roast beef, but plenty of recipes for fricassee, braised beef, stuffed beef rolls and the like. Times were changing.

Here is a recipe for an asparagus omelet:

  1. To make an Amlet of Asparagus

Blanch your Asparagus, cut them in short Pieces, fry them in fresh Butter, with a little Parsley and Chibols [green onions]; then pour in some Cream, season them well, and let them boil over a gentle Fire: In the mean time make an Amlet with new laid Eggs, Cream, and Salt ; when it is enough, dress it on a Dish ; thicken the Asparagus with the Yolk of an Egg or two, turn the Asparagus on the Amlet, and serve it up hot.

Despite lack of precise measurements, it’s an easy enough recipe to follow if you have some experience in the kitchen, and worth a shot. I normally make an asparagus omelet by frying some asparagus spears in butter, making an omelet, and then folding the asparagus in before serving. This 18th century recipe is not so very different except that the asparagus has a creamy sauce with it.