Aug 042019
 

Today is the birthday (1792) of Percy Bysshe Shelley, one of the major English Romantic poets, who is regarded as among the finest lyric and philosophical poets in the English language, and one of the most influential. Shelley did not see fame during his lifetime, but recognition of his achievements in poetry grew steadily following his death. Shelley was a key member of a close circle of visionary poets and writers that included Lord Byron, John Keats, Leigh Hunt, Thomas Love Peacock and his own second wife, Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. I have reviewed a good deal of Percy’s life already in my post on Mary (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/mary-shelley/ ) which you should consult for extra details. I’ll be much briefer here because I don’t care for Shelley’s poetry.

Shelley is perhaps best known for classic poems such as “Ozymandias”, “Ode to the West Wind”, “To a Skylark”, “Music, When Soft Voices Die”, “The Cloud” and The Masque of Anarchy. His other major works include a groundbreaking verse drama, The Cenci (1819), and long, visionary, philosophical poems such as Queen Mab (later reworked as The Daemon of the World), Alastor, The Revolt of Islam, Adonais, Prometheus Unbound (1820) – widely considered to be his masterpiece –, Hellas: A Lyrical Drama (1821) and his final, unfinished work, The Triumph of Life (1822).

I gave a great deal of information about the middle section of his life in the Mary Shelley post, so let me look at the beginning and end. In 1804, Shelley entered Eton College, where he fared poorly, and was subjected to an almost daily mob torment at around noon by older boys.  The grabbed his books from his hands and had his clothes pulled at and torn until he cried out madly in his high-pitched “cracked soprano” of a voice. This daily misery could be attributed to Shelley’s refusal to take part in fagging (menial labor for older boys) and his indifference towards sports and other popular activities. Because of these peculiarities he acquired the nickname “Mad Shelley”.  He took a keen interest in science at Eton, which he would often apply to cause a surprising amount of mischief for a boy considered to be so sensible. Shelley would often use a frictional static electric machine to charge the door handle of his room, much to the amusement of other boys.  His mischievous side was again demonstrated by “his last bit of naughtiness at school” which was to blow up a tree on Eton’s South Meadow with gunpowder. Despite these incidents, a contemporary of Shelley, W. H. Merie, recalled that Shelley made no friends at Eton.

On 10 April 1810 he matriculated at University College, Oxford. Legend has it that Shelley attended only one lecture while at Oxford, but frequently read sixteen hours a day. His first publication was a Gothic novel, Zastrozzi (1810), in which he vented his early atheistic worldview through the villain Zastrozzi; this was followed at the end of the year by St. Irvyne; or, The Rosicrucian: A Romance (dated 1811).

In 1811 Shelley anonymously published a pamphlet called “The Necessity of Atheism”, which was brought to the attention of the university administration, and he was called to appear before the college’s fellows, including the dean, George Rowley. His refusal to repudiate the authorship of the pamphlet resulted in his expulsion from Oxford on 25th March 1811. Shelley was given the choice to be reinstated after his father intervened, on the condition that he would have to recant his avowed views. His refusal to do so led to a falling-out with his father.

On 8th July 1822, less than a month before his 30th birthday, Shelley drowned in a sudden storm in the Gulf of Spezia while returning from Leghorn (Livorno) to Lerici in his sailing boat, the Don Juan. The name Don Juan, a compliment to Byron, was chosen by Edward John Trelawny, a member of the Shelley–Byron circle in Pisa. However, according to Mary Shelley’s testimony, Shelley changed it to Ariel, which annoyed Byron, who forced the painting of the words “Don Juan” on the mainsail. The vessel, an open boat, was custom-built in Genoa for Shelley. It did not capsize but sank. Mary Shelley wrongly claimed in her “Note on Poems of 1822” (1839) that the design had a defect and that the boat was never seaworthy. In fact, the Don Juan was seaworthy; the sinking was due to a severe storm and the poor seamanship of the three men on board.  Numerous conspiracy theories circulated for decades:  Shelley was murdered, pirates attacked them, etc. etc., but all have been debunked

Two other Englishmen were with Shelley on the boat. One was a retired naval officer, Edward Ellerker Williams; the other was a boatboy, Charles Vivien. The boat was found ten miles (16 km) offshore, and it was suggested that one side of the boat had been rammed and staved in by a much stronger vessel. However, the life raft was unused and still attached to the boat. The bodies were found completely clothed, including boots. Shelley’s body was washed ashore and later, in keeping with quarantine regulations, was cremated on the beach near Viareggio.

Shelley’s close circle of friends included some of the most important progressive thinkers of the day, including his father-in-law, the philosopher William Godwin, and Leigh Hunt. Though Shelley’s poetry and prose output remained steady throughout his life, most publishers and journals declined to publish his work for fear of being arrested for either blasphemy or sedition. Shelley’s poetry sometimes had only an underground readership during his day, but his poetic achievements are widely recognized today, and his political and social thought had an impact on the Chartist and other movements in England, and reach down to the present day. Shelley’s theories of economics and morality, for example, had a profound influence on Karl Marx; his early – perhaps first – writings on nonviolent resistance influenced Leo Tolstoy, whose writings on the subject in turn influenced Mahatma Gandhi, and through him Martin Luther King Jr. and others practicing nonviolence during the American civil rights movement.

I am fine with much of his political and philosophical inclinations, but I have enormous trouble getting through his poetry.  I find the conscious use of archaic grammar and vocabulary tedious at best.  To a Skylark is an exemplar:

Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!
Bird thou never wert,
That from Heaven, or near it,
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.

Higher still and higher
From the earth thou springest
Like a cloud of fire;
The blue deep thou wingest,
And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.

I just can’t read further.

You could not by any stretch of the imagination call Shelley a foodie. His biographer Richard Stoddard noted that “He could have lived on bread alone without repining . . . Vegetables, and especially salads were acceptable.” Mary was the one who made sure he was fed, not that he noticed much. She “used to send him something to eat into the room where he habitually studied; but the plate frequently remained untouched for hours upon a bookshelf, and at the end of the day he might be heard asking, ‘Mary, have I dined?’”  When her aunt Everina fell ill, Mary, far away in Rome, asked a friend to put together a care package of her own: “jelly, oranges, spongecakes and her favourite kale.” Kale became a frequent gift.

Kale had a vogue for some time as a “miracle food” – which it is not – but it was around long before the fad.  In fact, it was commoner than cabbage in Britain for centuries as a basic green vegetable.  Young kale used to be chopped up into what we called “spring greens” (along with colewort), when I was a boy.  There is the secret for kale and for colewort (called collards in the US).  If you let the leaves grow big, they also get tough and hard to cook.  But if you cut them young in the spring, they are tender and easy to cook.  That means you have to grown them yourself of course.  Commercial greens are always going to be old and tough(er).  The simplest way to prepare kale is the strip the leaves from their stalks by hand and to rip them up into small pieces.  Wash the pieces thoroughly and then put them into a pot with the water still clinging to them. Cover tightly and steam until tender.  With young leaves, this is not a long process, but will take trial and error.  Drain and mix into the greens some olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and minced garlic.  Reheat for a few minutes, and serve.  Even Shelley would like that dish.  If you want to get fancier, serve the kale with poached egg on top – or add some chopped ham in with the kale.

Feb 212018
 

Today is the birthday (1907) of Wystan Hugh Auden an English poet noted for a large body of poetry that  engaged with politics, morals, love, and religion, and varied greatly in tone, form and content. Auden was born in York, grew up in and near Birmingham in a professional middle-class family, attended English boarding schools, and studied at Christ Church college, Oxford, beginning in 1925. Auden was reintroduced to Christopher Isherwood in 1925 by his fellow student A. S. T. Fisher (they had known one another in boarding school). For the next few years Auden sent poems to Isherwood for comments and criticism. From his Oxford years onward, Auden’s friends uniformly described him as funny, extravagant, sympathetic, generous, and, partly by his own choice, lonely. In groups he was often dogmatic and overbearing in a comic way. In more private settings he was diffident and shy except when certain of his welcome. He was punctual in his habits, and obsessive about meeting deadlines, while choosing to live amidst physical disorder.

Auden started at Oxford with a scholarship in biology, but had switched to English by his second year. Friends he met at Oxford include Cecil Day-Lewis, Louis MacNeice, and Stephen Spender. These four were commonly, though misleadingly, identified in the 1930s as the “Auden Group” for their shared (but not identical) left-wing views. By the time I became interested in poetry as a teen in the 1960s they were known as the “Poets of the 30s” even though they were all, with the exception of MacNeice, still quite active. Auden left Oxford in 1928 having barely scraped through finals, with a degree in English.

After a few months in Berlin in 1928–29 he spent five years (1930–35) teaching in English public schools, then travelled to Iceland (where he believed he had ancestry) and China in order to write books about his journeys. He came to wide public attention at the age of 23, in 1930, with his first book, Poems, followed in 1932 by The Orators. Three plays written in collaboration with Christopher Isherwood in 1935–38 built his reputation as a left-wing political writer. He moved to the United States partly to escape this reputation.

Auden taught from 1941 to 1945 in U.S. universities, followed by occasional visiting professorships in the 1950s. From 1947 to 1957 he spent winters in New York and summers in Ischia. From 1958 until the end of his life he spent his summers in Kirchstetten in Lower Austria, where he died, and in his last 2 years he spent the winter months in a cottage on the grounds of Christ Church. I was an undergraduate at the time, and saw him wandering up St Aldates towards Carfax once or twice. My college was opposite Christ Church. He looked lost and bewildered – not the man I knew from his poetry.

Auden’s work in the 1940s, including the long poems “For the Time Being” and “The Sea and the Mirror,” focused on religious themes. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his 1947 poem “The Age of Anxiety,” the title of which became a popular phrase describing the modern era. In 1956 he was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford, and served until 1961. His lectures were popular with students and dons, and served as the basis of his 1962 prose collection The Dyer’s Hand.

From around 1927 to 1939 Auden and Isherwood maintained a lasting but intermittent sexual friendship while both had briefer but more intense relations with other men. In 1939 Auden fell in love with Chester Kallman and regarded their relationship as a marriage. The relationship ended in 1941 when Kallman refused to accept the fidelity that Auden demanded, but the two maintained their friendship, and from 1947 until Auden’s death they lived in the same house or apartment in a non-sexual relationship, often collaborating on opera libretti such as The Rake’s Progress, for music by Igor Stravinsky.

Many of Auden’s poems during the 1930s and after were inspired by unconsummated love, and in the 1950s he summarized his emotional life in a famous couplet: “If equal affection cannot be / Let the more loving one be me” (“The More Loving One”). He had a gift for friendship and, starting in the late 1930s, a strong wish for the stability of marriage. In a letter to his friend James Stern he called marriage “the only subject.” Throughout his life, Auden performed charitable acts, sometimes in public (as in his 1935 marriage of convenience to Erika Mann that provided her with a British passport to escape the Nazis), but, especially in later years, more often in private. He was embarrassed if they were publicly revealed.

Auden was a prolific writer of prose essays and reviews on literary, political, psychological and religious subjects, and he worked at various times on documentary films, poetic plays, and other forms of performance. Throughout his career he was both controversial and influential. Critical views on his work ranged from sharply dismissive, treating him as a lesser follower of the likes of W. B. Yeats and T. S. Eliot, to strongly affirmative, as in Joseph Brodsky’s claim that he had “the greatest mind of the twentieth century.” After his death, his poems became known to a much wider public than during his lifetime through films, broadcasts and popular media. This was once popular:

Auden died in Vienna in 1973, a few hours after giving a reading of his poems at the Austrian Society for Literature. He died at the Altenburgerhof Hotel where he was staying overnight before his intended return to Oxford the next day. He was buried in Kirchstetten.

Auden was a great admirer of M.F.K. Fisher — http://www.bookofdaystales.com/m-f-k-fisher/ In his introduction to Fisher’s The Art of Eating (1954) he writes: “I do not know anyone in the United States today who writes better prose.” He cites several examples, including this passage:

I now feel that gastronomical perfection can be reached in these combinations: one person dining alone, usually upon a couch or a hillside; two people, of no matter what sex or age, dining in a good restaurant; six people, of no matter what sex or age, dining in a good home. . . A good combination would be one married couple, for warm composure; one less firmly established, to add a note of investigation to the talk; and two strangers of either sex, upon whom the better-acquainted could sharpen their questioning wits.

The passage likely inspired Auden’s poem “Tonight at 7:30.”

My problem in finding a recipe is that Auden was not so much inspired by the food at dinner parties but by the company, and his admiration of Fisher concerns how she writes about people and places and things, not about recipes per se. Never mind. She gives a decent recipe for tapenade. I don’t know what she spells it tapénade: misplaced pretentiousness maybe. Tapenade is a Provençal dish consisting of puréed or finely chopped olives, capers, and olive oil. Its name comes from the Provençal word for capers, tapenas. It is a popular dish in the south of France, where it is generally eaten as an hors d’œuvre spread on bread, but sometimes it is used to stuff poultry for a main course. Tapenade’s base ingredients are capers and olives. The olives (most commonly black olive) and capers are finely chopped, crushed or blended. Olive oil is then added until the mixture becomes a paste. Tapenade is often flavored differently in varying regions with other ingredients such as garlic, herbs, anchovies, lemon juice or brandy. This is Fisher’s recipe slightly edited.

M.F.K. Fisher’s Tapénade

Ingredients

1 cup pitted, chopped black olives
½ cup anchovy fillets, chopped
½ cup canned tuna
1 tsp dry mustard
pepper
½ cup capers
1 cup olive oil
¼ cup lemon juice
1 ½ fl oz brandy

Instructions

Pound the first six ingredients in a mortar to form a paste (I use a food blender on pulse). Add the olive oil slowly like making mayonnaise. Mix in the lemon juice slowly, and then the brandy. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator.

Jan 252018
 

Today is the birthday (1627) of Robert William Boyle FRS, an Anglo-Irish natural philosopher, chemist, physicist, and inventor. Boyle is regarded today as one of the founders of modern chemistry, and one of the pioneers of modern experimental scientific method, even though, like his contemporary, Isaac Newton, he was an alchemist also. He is best known for Boyle’s law, which describes the inversely proportional relationship between the absolute pressure and the volume of a gas, if the temperature is kept constant within a closed system. Among his publications, The Sceptical Chymist is seen as a cornerstone book in the field of chemistry. He was a devout and pious Anglican and is noted for his writings in theology.

Boyle was born at Lismore Castle, in County Waterford, Ireland, the seventh son and fourteenth child of the 1st Earl of Cork (‘the Great Earl of Cork’) and Catherine Fenton. Lord Cork, then known simply as Richard Boyle, had arrived in Dublin from England in 1588 during the Tudor plantations of Ireland and obtained an appointment as a deputy escheator. He had amassed enormous wealth and landholdings by the time Robert was born, and had been created Earl of Cork in October 1620. Catherine Fenton, Countess of Cork, was the daughter of Sir Geoffrey Fenton, the former Secretary of State for Ireland, who was born in Dublin in 1539, and Alice Weston, the daughter of Robert Weston, who was born in Lismore in 1541.

As a child, Boyle was fostered out to a local family, as were his elder brothers. Boyle received private tutoring in Latin, Greek, and French and when he was 8 years old, following the death of his mother, he was sent to Eton College in England. His father’s friend, Sir Henry Wotton, was then the provost of the college. During this time, his father hired a private tutor, Robert Carew, who had knowledge of Irish, to act as private tutor to his sons in Eton. Boyle’s first language was Irish. After spending over three years at Eton, Boyle travelled abroad with a French tutor. They visited Italy in 1641 and remained in Florence during the winter of that year studying the “paradoxes of the great star-gazer,” Galileo Galilei, who was elderly but still living in 1641.

Boyle returned to England from continental Europe in mid-1644 with a keen interest in scientific research. His father had died the previous year and had left him the manor of Stalbridge in Dorset as well as substantial estates in County Limerick in Ireland. Boyle then made his residence at Stalbridge House, from 1644 to 1652, and conducted many experiments there. From that time, Boyle devoted his life to scientific research and soon took a prominent place in the band of enquirers, known as the “Invisible College”, who devoted themselves to the cultivation of the “new philosophy”. They met frequently in London, often at Gresham College, and some of the members also had meetings at Oxford.

Having made several visits to his Irish estates beginning in 1647, Boyle moved to Ireland in 1652 but became frustrated at his inability to make progress in his chemical work. In one letter, he described Ireland as “a barbarous country where chemical spirits were so misunderstood and chemical instruments so unprocurable that it was hard to have any Hermetic thoughts in it.” In 1654, Boyle left Ireland for Oxford to pursue his work more successfully. An inscription can be found on the wall of University College in the High Street in Oxford (now the location of the Shelley Memorial), marking the spot where Cross Hall stood until the early 19th century. It was here that Boyle rented rooms from the wealthy apothecary who owned the Hall.

Reading in 1657 of Otto von Guericke’s air pump, he set himself with the assistance of Robert Hooke to devise improvements in its construction, and with the result, the “machina Boyleana” or “Pneumatical Engine”, finished in 1659, he began a series of experiments on the properties of air. An account of Boyle’s work with the air pump was published in 1660 under the title New Experiments Physico-Mechanical, Touching the Spring of the Air, and its Effects. Among the critics of the views put forward in this book was a Jesuit, Francis Line (1595–1675), and it was while answering his objections that Boyle made his first mention of the law that the volume of a gas varies inversely to the pressure of the gas, which among English-speaking people is usually called Boyle’s Law after his name. The person who originally formulated the hypothesis was Henry Power in 1661. Boyle in 1662 included a reference to a paper written by Power, but mistakenly attributed it to Richard Towneley. In continental Europe the hypothesis is sometimes attributed to Edme Mariotte, although he did not publish it until 1676 and was likely aware of Boyle’s work at the time.

In 1663 the Invisible College became The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, and the charter of incorporation granted by Charles II of England named Boyle a member of the council. In 1680 he was elected president of the society, but declined the honor because of a scruple about oaths. In 1668 he left Oxford for London where he lived at the house of his elder sister Katherine Jones, Lady Ranelagh, in Pall Mall. His contemporaries widely acknowledged Katherine’s influence on his work, but later historiographies dropped her from the record. Theirs was “a lifelong intellectual partnership, where brother and sister shared medical remedies, promoted each other’s scientific ideas, and edited each other’s manuscripts.”

In 1669, Boyle’s health, never very strong, began to fail seriously and he gradually withdrew from his public engagements, ceasing his communications to the Royal Society, and advertising his desire to be excused from receiving guests, “unless upon occasions very extraordinary.” In the leisure thus gained he wished to “recruit his spirits, range his papers”, and prepare some important chemical investigations which he proposed to leave “as a kind of Hermetic legacy to the studious disciples of that art”, but of which he did not make known the nature. His health became still worse in 1691, and he died on 31 December that year, just a week after the death of the sister with whom he had lived for more than 20 years. He was buried in the churchyard of St Martin-in-the-Fields, his funeral sermon being preached by his friend Bishop Gilbert Burnet. In his will, Boyle endowed a series of lectures which came to be known as the Boyle Lectures.

Boyle’s great merit as a scientific investigator is that he carried out the principles which Francis Bacon espoused in the Novum Organum. Yet he would not avow himself a follower of Bacon, or indeed of any other teacher. On several occasions he mentions that to keep his judgment as unprepossessed as might be with any of the modern theories of philosophy, until he was “provided of experiments” to help him judge of them, he refrained from any study of the Atomical and the Cartesian systems, and even of the Novum Organum itself, though he admits to “transiently consulting” them about a few particulars. Nothing was more alien to his mental temperament than the spinning of hypotheses. He regarded the acquisition of knowledge as an end in itself. This, however, did not mean that he paid no attention to the practical application of science, but that pure knowledge was for Boyle a higher goal than applying scientific knowledge to utilitarian purposes.

Boyle was a committed alchemist, and, believing the transmutation of metals to be a possibility, he carried out experiments in the hope of achieving it. He was instrumental in obtaining the repeal, in 1689, of the statute of Henry IV against multiplying gold and silver. Despite all the important work Boyle accomplished in physics – the enunciation of Boyle’s law, the discovery of the part taken by air in the propagation of sound, and investigations on the expansive force of freezing water, on specific gravities and refractive powers, on crystals, on electricity, on color, on hydrostatics, etc. – chemistry was his favorite study. His first book, The Sceptical Chymist, published in 1661, criticized the “experiments whereby vulgar Spagyrists are wont to endeavour to evince their Salt, Sulphur and Mercury to be the true Principles of Things.” For him chemistry was the science of the composition of substances, not merely an adjunct to the arts of the alchemist or the physician. He endorsed the view that elements were the indivisible constituents of material bodies, and made the distinction between mixtures and compounds. He made considerable progress in the technique of detecting their ingredients, a process which he designated by the term “analysis”. He further supposed that the elements were ultimately composed of particles of various sorts and sizes, into which, however, they were not to be resolved in any known way. He studied the chemistry of combustion and of respiration, and conducted experiments in physiology, where, however, he was hampered by the “tenderness of his nature” which kept him from anatomical dissections, especially vivisections, though he knew them to be “most instructing”.

In addition to philosophy, Boyle devoted much time to theology, showing a very decided leaning to the practical side and an indifference to controversial polemics. At the Restoration of the king in 1660, he was favorably received at court and in 1665 would have received the provostship of Eton College had he agreed to take holy orders, but this he refused to do on the ground that his writings on religious subjects would have greater weight coming from a layman than a paid minister of the Church.

Moreover, Boyle incorporated his scientific interests into his theology, believing that natural philosophy could provide powerful evidence for the existence God. In works such as Disquisition about the Final Causes of Natural Things (1688), for instance, he criticized contemporary philosophers – such as René Descartes – who denied that the study of nature could reveal much about God. Instead, Boyle argued that natural philosophers could use the design apparently on display in some parts of nature to demonstrate God’s involvement with the world. He also attempted to tackle complex theological questions using methods derived from his scientific practices. In Some Physico-Theological Considerations about the Possibility of the Resurrection (1675), he used a chemical experiment known as the reduction to the pristine state as part of an attempt to demonstrate the physical possibility of the resurrection of the body. Throughout his career, Boyle tried to show that science could lend support to Christianity.

As a director of the East India Company he spent large sums in promoting the spread of Christianity in the East, contributing liberally to missionary societies and to the expenses of translating the Bible or portions of it into various languages. Boyle supported the policy that the Bible should be available in the vernacular language of the people. An Irish language version of the New Testament was published in 1602 but was rare in Boyle’s adult life. In 1680–85 Boyle personally financed the printing of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, in Irish. In this respect, Boyle’s attitude to the Irish language differed from the English Ascendancy class in Ireland at the time, which was generally hostile to the language and largely opposed the use of Irish (not only as a language of religious worship).

In his will, Boyle provided money for a series of lectures to defend the Christian religion against those he considered “notorious infidels, namely atheists, deists, pagans, Jews and Muslims”, with the provision that controversies among Christians were not to be mentioned.

Boyle’s Experiments and Considerations Touching Colours has a section in it on the use of syrup of violets as a chemical indicator. The syrup is normally violet, of course, but turns red when an acid is added and green in alkaline solutions. Modern, commercial syrups of violets are of no use for experimentation because they contain artificial coloring agents precisely so that they will not change color depending on what they are mixed with. You can, however, make your own syrup. I am a huge fan of violet as a flavoring, especially for the cream centers of dark chocolates. My sister sends me half a dozen from England every Christmas.

Here’s a 17th century MS recipe for syrup of violets. Click on the image to enlarge it.

Here’s a modern recipe that works just as well.

Syrup of Violets

Ingredients

50g sweet violets
150ml boiling water
300gm white caster sugar

Instructions

Boil a 450ml bottle in clean water to sterilize it.

Remove all green matter, including stalks, from the violets, and place them in a clean glass or ceramic bowl. Pour the boiling water over the flowers, then cover the bowl with cling film or a tea towel, and let the violets infuse overnight.

When the violets have infused, place them with their water into the top of a double boiler. Add the sugar and stir well. Bring the water in the bottom of the double boiler to a slow boil, then place the top containing the violets, sugar, and water over the boiling water. Stir the violet mixture steadily until the sugar has completely dissolved.

When the sugar has dissolved remove the mixture from the heat, and strain it through muslin lining a funnel into the sterilized bottle. Cap the bottle and store in a cool place or the refrigerator.

 

 

 

Aug 282017
 

Today is the birthday (1906) of Sir John Betjeman, English poet, writer, and broadcaster who described himself in Who’s Who as a “poet and hack”. He was Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1972 until his death. In his own words:

I was born in London and so were my parents. I have lived in London most of my life. I was born in 1906. I am a poet and prose-writer, particularly on English architecture and topography. I founded and for many years edited the Shell Guides. I edited Collins’ Guide to English Parish Churches. I started in journalism as Assistant Editor of the Architectural Review. I was for some years architectural correspondent to the Daily Telegraph. I am a Companion of Literature and an Honorary Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Until my extended term of office expired last year. I was a member of the Royal Fine Art Commission. I am an honorary advisor to the Historic Buildings Committee of the GLC and one of her Majesty’s Commissioners of Ancient Monuments.

I’ll add a (very) little to this, but mostly appraise his poetry. Betjeman is a bit of a kindred spirit of mine in a way. He detested Oxford University teaching but enjoyed the overall experience (particularly the libraries and the fellow students), loved the English countryside, traveled a great deal, and saw humor in even mundane things.  Where we part company is in our view of England in general. His England was a comforting and reassuring home for him, full of foibles that could be endearing or irritating.  I mostly find the country irritating, with endearing bits around the edges.

Betjeman was born “John Betjemann”. His parents, Mabel (née Dawson) and Ernest Betjemann, had a family firm at 34–42 Pentonville Road which manufactured the kind of ornamental household furniture and gadgets distinctive to Victorians. The family name was changed to the less German-looking “Betjeman” during the First World War. His father’s forebears had actually come from the present-day Netherlands and had, ironically, added the extra “-n” during the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War to avoid the anti-Dutch sentiment existing at the time, more than a century earlier, setting up their home and business in Islington, in north London.

Betjeman was baptized at St Anne’s Church, Highgate Rise, a 19th-century church at the foot of Highgate West Hill. The family lived at Parliament Hill Mansions in the Lissenden Gardens private estate in Gospel Oak in north London. In 1909, the Betjemanns moved half a mile north to more opulent Highgate. Betjeman’s early schooling was at the local Byron House and Highgate School, where he was taught by T. S. Eliot. After this, he boarded at the Dragon School preparatory school in North Oxford and Marlborough College, a public school in Wiltshire. In his penultimate year, he joined the secret Society of Amici in which he was a contemporary of both Louis MacNeice and Graham Shepard. He founded The Heretick, a satirical magazine that lampooned Marlborough’s obsession with sport. While at school, his exposure to the works of Arthur Machen won him over to High Church Anglicanism, a conversion of importance to his later writing and conception of the arts.

Betjeman entered the University of Oxford with difficulty, having failed the mathematics portion of the university’s matriculation exam, Responsions. He was, however, admitted as a commoner (i.e. a non-scholarship student) at Magdalen College and entered the newly created School of English Language and Literature. At Oxford, Betjeman made little use of the academic opportunities. His tutor, a young C. S. Lewis, regarded him as an “idle prig” and Betjeman in turn considered Lewis unfriendly, demanding, and uninspired as a teacher. Betjeman particularly disliked the coursework’s emphasis on linguistics, and dedicated most of his time to cultivating his social life and his interest in English ecclesiastical architecture, and to private literary pursuits.

Here I resonate very much with Betjeman.  I have no doubt that Lewis was a self-important prick who looked down on his students. His writings on Christianity are grotesquely simplistic and the Chronicles of Narnia are not much better – 19th century “muscular Christianity” dressed up as fantasy. He was the quintessence of the Oxford scholar I could not stomach at any cost: thinking that all things in the world worth knowing are contained within half a mile of Carfax, and the top of Magdalen tower is the pinnacle of the universe.

At Oxford Betjeman was a friend of Maurice Bowra, later (1938 to 1970) to be Warden of Wadham. Betjeman had a poem published in Isis, the university magazine, and served as editor of the Cherwell student newspaper during 1927. His first book of poems was privately printed with the help of fellow student Edward James. He famously brought his teddy bear Archibald Ormsby-Gore up to Magdalen with him, the memory of which inspired his Oxford contemporary Evelyn Waugh to include Sebastian Flyte’s teddy, Aloysius, in Brideshead Revisited.

It is a common misapprehension, cultivated by Betjeman himself, that he did not complete his degree because he failed to pass the compulsory holy scripture examination, known colloquially as “Divvers”, short for “Divinity”. In Hilary term 1928, Betjeman failed Divinity for the second time. He had to leave the university for the Trinity term to prepare for a retake of the exam. Betjeman then wrote to the Secretary of the Tutorial Board at Magdalen, G. C. Lee, asking to be entered for the Pass School, a set of examinations taken on rare occasions by undergraduates who are deemed unlikely to achieve an honours degree. In Summoned by Bells Betjeman claims that his tutor, C. S. Lewis, said “You’d have only got a third” – but he had informed the tutorial board that he thought Betjeman would not achieve an honours degree of any class.

Permission to sit the Pass School was granted. Betjeman famously decided to offer a paper in Welsh. Osbert Lancaster tells the story that a tutor came by train twice a week (first class) from Aberystwyth to teach Betjeman. However, Jesus College had a number of Welsh tutors who more probably would have taught him. Betjeman finally had to leave at the end of the Michaelmas term, 1928. He did pass his Divinity examination on his third try but was sent down (expelled) after failing the Pass School. He had achieved a satisfactory result in only one of the three required papers (on Shakespeare and other English authors). Betjeman’s academic failure at Oxford rankled with him for the rest of his life and he was never reconciled with C.S. Lewis, towards whom he nursed a bitter detestation. This situation was perhaps complicated by his enduring love of Oxford, from which he accepted an honorary doctorate of letters in 1974.

This all seems wearily familiar. The vast bulk of my friends at Oxford plodded through their work and got average degrees before settling into a lifetime of drudgery in civil service, the military, or middle management; a sprinkling were meteorically successful so that I include among my erstwhile companions, Nobel laureates, knights bachelor, Oxford college heads, bishops, and the like; and a few, like myself and Betjeman, found the academic system laughably rigid and stupid, and so spent our time educating ourselves in the things that mattered to us and, having barely crawled through the examinations, found successes in various arenas of life.

Betjeman’s poems are often humorous, and in broadcasting he exploited his bumbling and fogeyish image. His wryly comic verse is accessible and has attracted a great following for its satirical and observant grace. W.H. Auden (an Oxford friend) wrote in his introduction to Slick But Not Streamlined that Betjeman was “so at home with the provincial gaslit towns, the seaside lodgings, the bicycle, the harmonium.” His poetry is similarly redolent of time and place, continually seeking out intimations of the eternal in the manifestly ordinary. There are constant evocations of the physical chaff and clutter that accumulates in everyday life, the miscellanea of an England now gone but not beyond the reach of living memory.

In a 1962 radio interview he told teenage questioners that he could not write about ‘abstract things’, preferring places, and faces. Philip Larkin wrote of his work, “how much more interesting & worth writing about Betjeman’s subjects are than most other modern poets, I mean, whether so-and-so achieves some metaphysical inner unity is not really so interesting to us as the overbuilding of rural Middlesex.”

Here’s one of his earliest poems which I like partly because its appraisal of death is, at best, comically sardonic, and partly because I lived for a year in Leamington which is the perfectly lackluster setting for a lackluster demise.

Death In Leamington

She died in the upstairs bedroom
By the light of the ev’ning star
That shone through the plate glass window
From over Leamington Spa

Beside her the lonely crochet
Lay patiently and unstirred,
But the fingers that would have work’d it
Were dead as the spoken word.

And Nurse came in with the tea-things
Breast high ‘mid the stands and chairs-
But Nurse was alone with her own little soul,
And the things were alone with theirs.

She bolted the big round window,
She let the blinds unroll,
She set a match to the mantle,
She covered the fire with coal.

And “Tea!” she said in a tiny voice
“Wake up! It’s nearly five”
Oh! Chintzy, chintzy cheeriness,
Half dead and half alive.

Do you know that the stucco is peeling?
Do you know that the heart will stop?
From those yellow Italianate arches
Do you hear the plaster drop?

Nurse looked at the silent bedstead,
At the gray, decaying face,
As the calm of a Leamington ev’ning
Drifted into the place.

She moved the table of bottles
Away from the bed to the wall;
And tiptoeing gently over the stairs
Turned down the gas in the hall.

Some of his poems have been set, quite successfully, to music. This one, “A Shropshire Lad,” concerning the death of Capt. Webb, famed channel swimmer (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/captain-webb/ ), has been popular among my friends for years.

His pre-war poem (1937), “Slough,” takes issue with the general quality of life in the new Trading Estate in Slough with its grimy and faceless factories, opening with the now famous lines:

Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough!
It isn’t fit for humans now . . .

Bombs did, in fact, fall on Slough during the Second World War and Betjeman later repudiated the poem although it was not written so much about Slough in particular but about burgeoning industrial growth in general. On the centenary of Betjeman’s birth in 2006, his daughter, Candida Lycett-Green, visited Slough and apologized for the poem saying her father “regretted having ever written it”. During her visit, Mrs Lycett-Green presented the mayor of Slough, David MacIsaac, with a book of her father’s poems. In it she wrote: “We love Slough”.

In the first series of The Office, which is set in Slough, Ricky Gervais, in the character of David Brent, reads extracts of the poem interjected with comments such as, “You don’t solve town planning problems by dropping bombs all over the place.”

In his deeply ironic “In Westminster Abbey” Betjeman shows his true feelings for people who pray for bombs to fall:

Gracious Lord, oh bomb the Germans.
    Spare their women for Thy Sake,
And if that is not too easy
   We will pardon Thy Mistake.
But, gracious Lord, whate’er shall be,
Don’t let anyone bomb me.
 

Keep our Empire undismembered
    Guide our Forces by Thy Hand,
Gallant blacks from far Jamaica,
    Honduras and Togoland;
Protect them Lord in all their fights,
And, even more, protect the whites.

 

Betjeman loved Victorian architecture and crusaded in its favor at a time when Victorian arts in general were lampooned as outdated and cluttered monstrosities. His statue stands outside St Pancras station in London which was in danger of being torn down until he put up a vigorous campaign to stop the destruction.

Victorian desserts are similarly ornately over the top so go for broke.

Meanwhile I’ll go with something a little less flamboyant in looks, but outrageously delicious: apple snow.  First, Mrs Beeton:

APPLE SNOW.

(A pretty Supper Dish.)

  1. INGREDIENTS.—10 good-sized apples, the whites of 10 eggs, the rind of 1 lemon, 1/2 lb. of pounded sugar.

Mode.—Peel, core, and cut the apples into quarters, and put them into a saucepan with the lemon-peel and sufficient water to prevent them from burning,—rather less than 1/2 pint. When they are tender, take out the peel, beat them to a pulp, let them cool, and stir them to the whites of the eggs, which should be previously beaten to a strong froth. Add the sifted sugar, and continue the whisking until the mixture becomes quite stiff; and either heap it on a glass dish, or serve it in small glasses. The dish may be garnished with preserved barberries, or strips of bright-coloured jelly; and a dish of custards should be served with it, or a jug of cream.

Time.—From 30 to 40 minutes to stew the apples.

Average cost, 1s. 6d.

Sufficient to fill a moderate-sized glass dish.

Seasonable from July to March.

Next a video of an even more decadent recipe for apple snow that includes the cream that Beeton serves on the side.

Nov 132016
 

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I would have thought that the name World Kindness Day is self explanatory. It’s actually St Brice’s Day as well, but I think this is just a coincidence. It would be nice if there were no need for a special day for people to be kind on. This site lists the member nations of the World Kindness Movement which seeks – vainly I imagine – to promote kindness in the world: http://www.theworldkindnessmovement.org/member-nations/  The impression I get is that the “member nations” are not really governments who have signed on to pledge being kind in the world, but, rather, organizations within various nations who are dedicated to spreading kindness. This endeavor is, in my estimation, the foundation of Christianity, which appears to have been forgotten by the bulk of people who claim to be followers of Christ.

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So . . . before I go on to talk about St Brice’s Day and its associated activities let me exhort you to go out of your way today to be more than usually kind to people around you – not just friends, but strangers as well. Jesus told us to love our enemies. That’s probably pushing it for most people. Being kind to strangers is at least a step in the right direction. It beats the rudeness and selfishness I see daily. Let someone ahead of you in line, give up your seat to someone on the bus or subway, hold the door for someone with a big package . . . you know the drill. You don’t have to spend a fortune, or even spend anything at all. The point of the day is to shift your consciousness from one of looking inward to one of looking outward.

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I’m assuming Brice of Tours, whose celebration is today, was a kind man. Not much is known about him. Brice (Bricius) – c. 370 – 444 –  was the 4th bishop of Tours, succeeding his mentor, Martin of Tours, in 397. According to legend, Brice was an orphan. He was rescued by the bishop Martin and raised in the monastery at Marmoutiers. He later became Martin’s pupil, although the ambitious and volatile Brice was rather the opposite of his master in temperament.

As Bishop of Tours, Brice performed his duties, but was also said to succumb to worldly pleasures. After a nun in his household gave birth to a child that was rumored to be his, he performed a ritual by carrying hot coal in his coat to the grave of Martin, showing his unburned coat as proof of his innocence. The people of Tours, however, did not believe him and forced him to leave Tours. He could return only after he had travelled to Rome and had been absolved of all his sins by the Pope.

After seven years of exile in Rome, Brice returned to Tours when the administrator he had left in his absence died. Apparently he was a changed man. Upon returning, he served with such humility that on his death he was venerated as a saint. His memorial day is noted for two things: the St Brice’s Day massacre in England, and the running of the bulls in Stamford in Lincolnshire.

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The St. Brice’s Day massacre was the killing of Danes in the Kingdom of England, ordered by King Æthelred the Unready on 13 November 1002. It’s not possible to ascertain now the extent to which this order was carried out. Æthelred the Unready, or Æthelred II (Old English: Æþelræd),was king of the English from 978 to 1013, and again from 1014 to 1016. His modern sobriquet, Unready, is a misreading of the Old English unræd (meaning bad-counseled), a twist on his name ” Æþelræd”, meaning “noble-counseled”. It should not be interpreted as “unprepared”, but rather “ill-advised”.

From 991 onwards, Æthelred paid tribute, or Danegeld, to the Danish king. England had been ravaged by Danish raids every year from 997 to 1001, and in 1002 the king was told that the Danish men in England “would faithlessly take his life, and then all his councillors, and possess his kingdom afterwards”. In response, he “ordered slain all the Danish men who were in England”.

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There was certainly significant loss of life but the extent of the slaughter is unclear. Among those thought to have been killed is Gunhilde, who may have been the sister of King Sweyn I of Denmark. Her husband Pallig Tokesen, the Danish Ealdorman of Devonshire, may also have died in the massacre although, according to a different version, he was killed while defecting to join raiders ravaging the south coast.

The massacre in Oxford was justified by Æthelred in a royal charter of 1004 explaining the need to rebuild St Frideswide’s Church (now Christ Church Cathedral):

For it is fully agreed that to all dwelling in this country it will be well known that, since a decree was sent out by me with the counsel of my leading men and magnates, to the effect that all the Danes who had sprung up in this island, sprouting like cockle amongst the wheat, were to be destroyed by a most just extermination, and thus this decree was to be put into effect even as far as death, those Danes who dwelt in the afore-mentioned town, striving to escape death, entered this sanctuary of Christ, having broken by force the doors and bolts, and resolved to make refuge and defence for themselves therein against the people of the town and the suburbs; but when all the people in pursuit strove, forced by necessity, to drive them out, and could not, they set fire to the planks and burnt, as it seems, this church with its ornaments and its books. Afterwards, with God’s aid, it was renewed by me.

The skeletons of 34 to 38 young men, all aged 16 to 25, were found during an excavation at St John’s College, Oxford in 2008. Chemical analysis carried out in 2012 by Oxford University researchers suggests that the remains are Viking; older scars on the bones provide evidence that they were professional warriors. It is thought that they were stabbed repeatedly and then brutally slaughtered. Charring on the bones is consistent with historical records of the church burning.

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It seems unlikely that Æthelred directed his edict towards all Danes in England, including the inhabitants of the Danelaw, because the latter were numerous and well armed. More likely it was confined to frontier towns such as Oxford, and larger towns with small Danish communities, such as Bristol, Gloucester, and London. In response to the massacre King Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark invaded England in 1003. Æthelred fled to Normandy in 1013 and was replaced by Sweyn. He returned as king, however, after Sweyn’s death in 1014.

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The Stamford Bull Run was a bull-running and bull-baiting festival held on St Brice’s Day in the town of Stamford in Lincolnshire, supposedly for almost 700 years, until it was abandoned in 1837. According to local tradition (with zero primary evidence), the custom dates to the time of King John (1199 – 1216) when William de Warenne, 5th Earl of Surrey, standing on the battlements of the castle, saw two bulls fighting in the meadow beneath. Some butchers came to part the combatants and one of the bulls ran into the town, causing a great uproar. The earl, mounting his horse, rode after the animal, and enjoyed the sport so much, that he gave the meadow in which the fight began to the butchers of Stamford on condition that they provide a bull, to be run in the town every 13 November, for ever after. Typical invented story. There are solid references to the custom in the 17th century continuing into the 19th century. That’s about par for the course for calendar customs that are purportedly “ancient.” The town of Stamford acquired common rights in the grassy flood plain next to the River Welland, which until the last century was known as Bull-meadow, and today just as The Meadows.

The event was officially opened by the ringing of St Mary’s Church bells at 10.45 am, announcing the closing and boarding of shops and the barricading of the street with carts and wagons. By 11 am crowds had gathered and the bull was released, baited by the cheering of the crowd. It was then chased through the main street and down into the Welland River, where it was caught, killed and butchered. Its meat was sometimes sold to the poor supported as a charity by donations.

Local archivists in the 17th century described how the bull was chased and tormented for the day before being driven to the Bull-meadow and slaughtered. “Its flesh [was] sold at a low rate to the people, who finished the day’s amusement with a supper of bull-beef.” Given that the custom occurred around St Martin’s Day (11 Nov.) when Martlemas beef was a customary celebratory dish around England, I’d surmise a connexion somewhere.

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The event was a time of general drunken disorder and was abandoned in the 19th century after a campaign by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the intervention of special constables, the military and police brought in from outside put a stop to it – although it took several years. Some Stamford residents defended their ancient custom as a “traditional, manly, English sport; inspiring courage, agility and presence of mind under danger.” Its defenders argued that it was less cruel and dangerous than fox hunting, and one local newspaper asked “Who or what is this London Society that, usurping the place of constituted authorities, presumes to interfere with our ancient amusement?”

The last bull run was in 1839. The last known witness of the bull running was James Fuller Scholes who spoke of it in a newspaper interview in 1928 before his 94th birthday:

I am the only Stamford man living who can remember the bull-running in the streets of the town. I can remember my mother showing me the bull and the horses and men and dogs that chased it. She kept the St Peter’s Street – the building that was formerly the Chequers Inn at that time and she showed me the bull-running sport from a bedroom window. I was only four years old then, but I can clearly remember it all. The end of St Peter’s Street (where it was joined by Rutland Terrace) was blocked by two farm wagons, and I saw the bull come to the end of the street and return again. My mother told me not to put my head out of the window – apparently because she was afraid I should drop into the street.

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Nowadays Stamford has a quasi-revival of the bull run as part of its Georgian Festival in September. They construct a bull in effigy which they parade through the streets (participants dressed in Georgian costume), and set light to it with fireworks in the meadow in the evening.

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You could reprise spiced beef from my Martin of Tours post, if you like. That seems fitting. Or you could try pork haslet. Pork haslet is an old traditional Lincolnshire dish that is certainly also suitable for today. Lincolnshire pork sausages, as well as haslet, are noted for their prominence of sage. Haslet is a classic meatloaf that is usually served sliced cold as a sandwich filling along with hot English mustard, or with sliced tomatoes and green onions. The latter usage is one of the memorable tastes of my childhood.

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©Lincolnshire Haslet

Ingredients

1 lb/450 gm  pork shoulder
1 onion, peeled and quartered
5 oz/150 gm  breadcrumbs
sage leaves
salt and pepper
melted pork lard

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C.

Run the pork, onion, and sage leaves (to taste) twice through the coarse blade of a grinder (or pulse in a food processor). Add the breadcrumbs and salt and freshly ground pepper to taste, and mix well. Grease a loaf tin well with pork lard and fill it with the pork mix.

Place the loaf tin in a larger pan of water so that the water comes about halfway up the side of the loaf tin, and bake in the oven for 90 minutes.

Cool the loaf tin on a wire rack until it is cool enough to handle, but still warm to the touch. Unmold the haslet on to a plate and let cool completely.

Slice thickly and serve with mustard, or use as a sandwich filling with tomatoes and green onions. Wholewheat bread is a must.

In honor of World Kindness Day it would be a nice gesture to make haslet, or anything for that matter, and give some away to a stranger.

May 222016
 

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Today is Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost, which is celebrated in all the Western liturgical churches: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Methodist. In the Catholic Church it is officially known as the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. Prior to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, it marked the end of a three-week period when church weddings were forbidden. The period began on Rogation Sunday, the fifth Sunday after Easter. The currently prescribed liturgical color is white.

Feasts within the church typically celebrate people or events. Trinity Sunday is rare in that it focuses on a theological doctrine. The trinity is an important building block of Christianity although the doctrine itself does not appear as such in the Bible. During the 2nd to 4th centuries (and later) there was enormous debate as to the exact nature of Jesus (known as the Christological problem). Was he created by God, or was he co-equal and co-existent with God? In other words, was he the same as God? Where does the Holy Spirit fit in ? I spent almost a whole year at Oxford (ironically including Trinity term) studying this problem in theology and was thoroughly bored by it. Still am. Is the trinity three intertwined infinite lines or cigar shaped over time? Yawn.

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The essentials of the doctrine grow out of John’s gospel and is not evident in other gospels. John states that Jesus is the creative Word of God in human form:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

John is deliberately echoing the opening of Genesis here, making it clear that Jesus and God are the same thing (with the Spirit of God added in for good measure).

Over the course of several centuries the official church hammered out the doctrine and enshrined it in three major creeds – the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Subscribe to these creeds, and you are good to go; object to these creeds and you are a heretic. The doctrine is certainly a big puzzle. How can three things be one thing?  Usually it is explained as one thing having three manifestations – roughly (1) eternal being (2) human form (3) action. This is very rough. I won’t go into detail.

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The doctrine became official church dogma over the objections of early theologians such as Arius (250-336), who asserted that Jesus was created by God, and was therefore subordinate to him. The Ecumenical First Council of Nicaea of 325 deemed Arius’ philosophy (Arianism) to be a heresy. At the regional First Synod of Tyre in 335, Arius was exonerated. After his death, he was again anathemized and pronounced a heretic again at the Ecumenical First Council of Constantinople of 381.

To me, all these councils and arguments are a colossal waste of time. But they illuminate the inner workings of the official church (and why I have problems with organized religion). Arguments about the trinity were foundational in the split between Eastern and Western Christianity in 1054  http://www.bookofdaystales.com/east-west-schism/ meaning that in the course of 1000 years theologians could not agree. I tend to prefer Eastern approaches to Western ones. Western churches had a habit of using Aristotle and other philosophers to explain the nature of the trinity, whereas Eastern churches simply said that it could not be explained and should just be accepted as a mystery.  I’ll put it in simpler terms – don’t worry about it; get on with more important things.

In the traditional Divine Office of the Catholic Church, the Athanasian Creed (Quicumque vult), which is now rarely used, is said on this day at Prime. Before 1960, it was said on numerous days after Epiphany and Pentecost including Trinity Sunday. The 1960 reforms reduced it to once a year, on this Sunday. It is said as a kind of memorial to old arguments.

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Trinity Sunday has the status of a Principal Feast in the Church of England and is one of seven principal feast days in the Episcopal Church. Thomas Becket (1118–70) http://www.bookofdaystales.com/thomas-becket/ was consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury on the Sunday after Pentecost, and his first act was to ordain that the day of his consecration should be held as a new festival in honor of the Holy Trinity. This observance spread from Canterbury throughout the whole of western Christendom.

Johann Sebastian Bach composed a number of cantatas for Trinity Sunday. Three of them are extant, including O heilges Geist- und Wasserbad, BWV 165, Es ist ein trotzig und verzagt Ding, BWV 176, and Gelobet sei der Herr, mein Gott, BWV 129. This is my favorite:

Trinity term is the third and final term of the academic year at University of Oxford, the University of Dublin, Canterbury Christ Church University, and some independent schools in the United Kingdom. It runs from about mid April to about the end of June and is so named because Trinity Sunday falls within it.

The Cajun holy trinity, or holy trinity of Cajun cooking consists of onions, bell peppers and celery, the base for much of the cooking in the regional cuisines of Louisiana. The preparation of Cajun/Creole dishes such as étouffée, gumbo, and jambalaya all start from this base. The holy trinity is the Cajun and Louisiana Creole variant of mirepoix, Traditional mirepoix is 2 parts onions, 1 part carrots, and 1 part celery, whereas the holy trinity is 3 parts onions, 2 parts celery, 1 part green bell pepper.

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Étouffée (or etouffee) is a dish found in both Cajun and Creole cuisine typically served with shellfish over rice. The dish employs a technique known as smothering, a popular method of cooking in the Cajun areas of southwest Louisiana. In French, the word “étouffée” (borrowed into English as “stuffed” or “stifled”) means, literally, “smothered” or “suffocated”, from the verb “étouffer.” Étouffée can be made with any shellfish such as crab or shrimp, though the most popular version of the dish is made with crayfish, locally referred to as “crawfish.” Étouffée is typically served over rice.

Here is an extremely simple recipe for crawfish étouffée which I use sometimes when I am in a hurry. It is very clean tasting and fresh. Some Cajun cooks use a dark roux as a thickener and add Cajun spices as well.  Do as you wish.

Crawfish Étouffée

Ingredients

4 oz butter
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery
½ cup chopped bell peppers
1 pound peeled crawfish tails
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp flour
1 cup water or fish broth
salt
cayenne pepper
2 tbsp chopped parsley
3 tbsp chopped green onions

Instructions

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, celery, and bell peppers and sauté until soft and golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Add the crawfish and bay leaves. Reduce the heat to medium and cook the crawfish, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes.

Dissolve the flour in the water (or broth) and add to the crawfish mixture. Season to taste with salt and cayenne. Stir until the mixture thickens. Add the parsley and green onions and cook for about 2 minutes.

Remove the bay leaves and serve over plain boiled white rice.

Jan 272016
 

by Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson),photograph,2 June 1857

Today is the birthday (1832) of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known by his pen name Lewis Carroll, an English writer, mathematician, logician, Anglican deacon, and photographer. His most famous works are Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass, but his work in mathematics and logic, though limited in scope and much less well known, is of enduring value.

I’ve had a hard time appreciating the Alice books all of my life. When I was 4 years old my father read me the first chapter of Wonderland as a bedtime story, and that night I had a nightmare that I still remember vividly—everything in the world swirling in a kaleidoscopic jumble. For decades thereafter I could not hear or read the tales, see the classic illustrations, or watch depictions in films without recoiling in horror. I’m a little better now. In fact I managed to control my infantile fears long enough to write a post on the Mad Hatter here 3 years ago: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/mad-hatter-day/ For the moment I’ll pass over these books and return a little later. Meanwhile, a little about his personal life, then his mathematics and photography, plus minor quirks.

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During his early youth, Dodgson was educated at home in Croft-on-Tees in North Yorkshire. His reading lists preserved in the family archives testify to a precocious intellect: at the age of seven, he was reading books such as The Pilgrim’s Progress. He also suffered from a stammer – a condition shared by most of his siblings – that often influenced his social life throughout his years. At the age of twelve, he was sent to Richmond Grammar School (now part of Richmond School) in nearby Richmond.

In 1846, Dodgson entered Rugby School where he was evidently unhappy, as he wrote some years after leaving:

I cannot say … that any earthly considerations would induce me to go through my three years again … I can honestly say that if I could have been … secure from annoyance at night, the hardships of the daily life would have been comparative trifles to bear.

Scholastically, though, he excelled with apparent ease. “I have not had a more promising boy at his age since I came to Rugby”, observed mathematics master R. B. Mayor.

He left Rugby at the end of 1849 and entered Oxford University in May 1850 as a member of his father’s old college, Christ Church. He had been at Oxford only two days when he received a summons home. His mother had died of “inflammation of the brain” – perhaps meningitis or a stroke – at the age of 47. His early academic career wavered between high promise and irresistible distraction. He did not always work hard, but was exceptionally talented in mathematics and achievement came easily to him. In 1852, he was awarded first-class honours in Mathematics Moderations, and was shortly thereafter nominated to a Studentship by his father’s old friend Canon Edward Pusey. In 1854, he obtained first-class honours in the Final Honours School of Mathematics, placing first on the schools list. He remained at Christ Church studying and teaching, but the next year he failed an important scholarship through his self-confessed inability to apply himself to study. Even so, his talent as a mathematician won him the Christ Church Mathematical Lectureship in 1855, which he continued to hold for the next twenty-six years. Despite early unhappiness, Dodgson was to remain at Christ Church, in various capacities, until his death.

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Traces of Dodgson (and Alice) can be found all around Christ Church to this day. For example, almost opposite opposite Christ Church is Alice’s Shop on St Aldate’s. It was formerly frequented in Victorian times by Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, who used to buy sweets there. She lived at Christ Church with her father Henry Liddell, who was Dean of the College and Cathedral.

The shop was featured as the Old Sheep Shop in Through the Looking-Glass. One of the original John Tenniel illustrations shows the inside of the shop. It was used as a setting in Chapter 5 of the book (Wool and Water) and is owned by a sheep in the story:

She looked at the Queen, who seemed to have suddenly wrapped herself up in wool. Alice rubbed her eyes, and looked again. She couldn’t make out what had happened at all. Was she in a shop? And was that really — was it really a sheep that was sitting on the other side of the counter? Rub as she could, she could make nothing more of it: she was in a little dark shop, leaning with her elbows on the counter, and opposite to her was an old Sheep, sitting in an arm-chair knitting, and every now and then leaving off to look at her through a great pair of spectacles.

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The shop is characteristic of the dream-like qualities within the Looking-Glass world, in that every time Alice tries to focus on a specific object on its many shelves it changes shape and shifts to another shelf. At another point the shop itself vanishes and Alice finds herself outside with the sheep in a boat, having been given a pair of knitting needles which turn into oars in her hands. The sheep herself continues to be make scornful, personal remarks and then finally, on appearing back in the shop, sells Alice an egg, which promptly turns into Humpty Dumpty.

The overwhelming commercial success of the first Alice book changed Dodgson’s life in many ways. The fame of his alter ego “Lewis Carroll” soon spread around the world. He was inundated with fan mail and with sometimes unwanted attention. According to one popular, but almost certainly apocryphal, story, Queen Victoria herself enjoyed Alice In Wonderland so much that she commanded that he dedicate his next book to her, and was accordingly presented with his next work, a scholarly mathematical volume entitled An Elementary Treatise on Determinants. Dodgson himself vehemently denied this story, commenting “… It is utterly false in every particular: nothing even resembling it has occurred”; and it is unlikely for other reasons. As T.B. Strong comments in a Times article, “It would have been clean contrary to all his practice to identify [the] author of Alice with the author of his mathematical works.” He also began earning quite substantial sums of money, but continued with his post at Christ Church even though he disliked teaching.

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In 1856, Dodgson took up the new art form of photography under the influence first of his uncle Skeffington Lutwidge, and later of his Oxford friend Reginald Southey. He soon excelled at the art and became a well-known gentleman-photographer, and he seems even to have toyed with the idea of making a living out of it in his very early years.

A study by Roger Taylor and Edward Wakeling exhaustively lists every surviving print, and Taylor calculates that just over half of his surviving work depicts young girls, though about 60% of his original photographic portfolio is now missing. Dodgson also made many studies of men, women, boys, and landscapes; his subjects also include skeletons, dolls, dogs, statues, paintings, and trees. His pictures of children were taken with a parent in attendance and many of the pictures were taken in the Liddell garden because natural sunlight was required for good exposures.

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He also found photography to be a useful entrée into higher social circles. During the most productive part of his career, he made portraits of notable sitters such as John Everett Millais, Ellen Terry, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Julia Margaret Cameron, Michael Faraday, Lord Salisbury, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

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By the time that Dodgson abruptly ceased photography (1880), he had established his own studio on the roof of Tom Quad at Christ Church, created around 3,000 images, and was a master of the medium, though fewer than 1,000 images have survived time and deliberate destruction. Dodgson reported that he stopped taking photographs because keeping his studio working was too time-consuming. He used the wet collodion process which required considerable skill and experience.

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Controversy continues to surround Dodgson’s interest in Alice and other girls as photographic models. I honestly cannot make up my mind as to whether his interest was prurient, or simply part of a common Victorian aesthetic. For me, chronocentrism is as intriguing and troublesome as ethnocentrism. It’s impossible for me to put myself into the mind of a Victorian mathematician, or in the moral milieu of the time.

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Dodgson invented a writing tablet called the nyctograph that allowed note-taking in the dark, thus eliminating the need to get out of bed and strike a light when one woke with an idea. I find this so incredibly personal; I have never had the urge to wake in the middle of the night and write my ideas down. The device consisted of a gridded card with sixteen squares and system of symbols representing an alphabet of Dodgson’s design, using letter shapes similar to the Graffiti writing system on a Palm device.

He also devised a number of games, including an early version of what today is known as Scrabble. He appears to have invented — or at least certainly popularized — the “doublet” (word ladder), a form of brain-teaser that is still popular today, changing one word into another by altering one letter at a time, each successive change always resulting in a genuine word. For instance, CAT is transformed into DOG by the following steps: CAT, COT, DOT, DOG.

Within the academic discipline of mathematics, Dodgson worked primarily in the fields of geometry, linear and matrix algebra, mathematical logic, and recreational mathematics, producing nearly a dozen books under his real name. Dodgson also developed new ideas in linear algebra (e.g., the first printed proof of the Kronecker-Capelli theorem), probability, and the study of elections (e.g., Dodgson’s method) and committees; some of this work was not published until well after his death.

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His mathematical work attracted renewed interest in the late 20th century. Martin Gardner’s book on logic machines and diagrams, and William Warren Bartley’s posthumous publication of the second part of Carroll’s symbolic logic book have sparked a reevaluation of Carroll’s contributions to symbolic logic. Robbins’ and Rumsey’s investigation of Dodgson condensation, a method of evaluating determinants, led them to the Alternating Sign Matrix conjecture, now a theorem. The discovery in the 1990s of additional ciphers that Carroll had constructed, in addition to his “Memoria Technica”, showed that he had employed sophisticated mathematical ideas in their creation.

Dodgson’s life remained little changed over the last twenty years of his life, throughout his growing wealth and fame. He continued to teach at Christ Church until 1881, and remained in residence there until his death. He died of pneumonia following influenza on 14 January 1898 at his sisters’ home, “The Chestnuts” in Guildford. He was two weeks away from turning 66 years old. He is buried in Guildford at the Mount Cemetery.

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Here’s a few favorite quotations:

It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.

She generally gave herself very good advice, (though she very seldom followed it).

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
“I don’t much care where –”
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says “Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.”

One of the deep secrets of life is that all that is really worth the doing is what we do for others.

If everybody minded their own business, the world would go around a great deal faster than it does.

“Alice laughed. ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said. ‘One can’t believe impossible things.’
I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

I’m not strange, weird, off, nor crazy, my reality is just different from yours.

If you drink much from a bottle marked ‘poison’ it is certain to disagree with you sooner or later.

English mathematician, writer and photographer Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll (1832 - 1898) with Mrs George Macdonald and four children relaxing in a garden. (Photo by Lewis Carroll/Getty Images)

In Hints for Etiquette: Or, Dining Out Made Easy, Dodgson mocks dining habits of his era:

As caterers for the public taste, we can conscientiously recommend this book to all diners-out who are perfectly unacquainted with the usages of society. However we may regret that our author has confined himself to warning rather than advice, we are bound in justice to say that nothing here stated will be found to contradict the habits of the best circles. The following examples exhibit a depth of penetration and a fullness of experience rarely met with:

I

In proceeding to the dining-room, the gentleman gives one arm to the lady he escorts– it is unusual to offer both.

II

The practice of taking soup with the next gentleman but one is now wisely discontinued; but the custom of asking your host his opinion of the weather immediately on the removal of the first course still prevails.

III

To use a fork with your soup, intimating at the same time to your hostess that you are reserving the spoon for beefsteaks, is a practice wholly exploded.

IV

On meat being placed before you, there is no possible objection to your eating it, if so disposed; still in all such delicate cases, be guided entirely by the conduct of those around you.

V

It is always allowable to ask for artichoke jelly with your boiled venison; however there are houses where this is not supplied.

VI

The method of helping roast turkey with two carving-forks is praticable, but deficient in grace.

I am so thoroughly reminded of Mrs Beeton’s rules and admonitions by this parody. Here she is on oysters – tribute to the Walrus and the Carpenter:

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FRIED OYSTERS.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—3 dozen oysters, 2 oz. butter, 1 tablespoonful of ketchup, a little chopped lemon-peel, 1/2 teaspoonful of chopped parsley.

 Mode.—Boil the oysters for 1 minute in their own liquor, and drain them; fry them with the butter, ketchup, lemon-peel, and parsley; lay them on a dish, and garnish with fried potatoes, toasted sippets, and parsley. This is a delicious delicacy, and is a favourite Italian dish.

 Time.—5 minutes. Average cost for this quantity, 1s. 9d.

 Seasonable from September to April.

 Sufficient for 4 persons.

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THE EDIBLE OYSTER:—This shell-fish is almost universally distributed near the shores of seas in all latitudes, and they especially abound on the coasts of France and Britain. The coasts most celebrated, in England, for them, are those of Essex and Suffolk. Here they are dredged up by means of a net with an iron scraper at the mouth, that is dragged by a rope from a boat over the beds. As soon as taken from their native beds, they are stored in pits, formed for the purpose, furnished with sluices, through which, at the spring tides, the water is suffered to flow. This water, being stagnant, soon becomes green in warm weather; and, in a few days afterwards, the oysters acquire the same tinge, which increases their value in the market. They do not, however, attain their perfection and become fit for sale till the end of six or eight weeks. Oysters are not considered proper for the table till they are about a year and a half old; so that the brood of one spring are not to be taken for sale, till, at least, the September twelvemonth afterwards.

SCALLOPED OYSTERS.

I.

INGREDIENTS.—Oysters, say 1 pint, 1 oz. butter, flour, 2 tablespoonfuls of white stock, 2 tablespoonfuls of cream; pepper and salt to taste; bread crumbs, oiled butter.

Mode.—Scald the oysters in their own liquor, take them out, beard them, and strain the liquor free from grit. Put 1 oz. of batter into a stewpan; when melted, dredge in sufficient flour to dry it up; add the stock, cream, and strained liquor, and give one boil. Put in the oysters and seasoning; let them gradually heat through, but not boil. Have ready the scallop-shells buttered; lay in the oysters, and as much of the liquid as they will hold; cover them over with bread crumbs, over which drop a little oiled butter. Brown them in the oven, or before the fire, and serve quickly, and very hot.

Time.—Altogether, 1/4 hour.

Average cost for this quantity, 3s. 6d.

Sufficient for 5 or 6 persons.

II.

Prepare the oysters as in the preceding recipe, and put them in a scallop-shell or saucer, and between each layer sprinkle over a few bread crumbs, pepper, salt, and grated nutmeg; place small pieces of butter over, and bake before the fire in a Dutch oven. Put sufficient bread crumbs on the top to make a smooth surface, as the oysters should not be seen.

Time.—About 1/4 hour.

Average cost, 3s. 2d.

Seasonable from September to April.

STEWED OYSTERS.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—1 pint of oysters, 1 oz. of butter, flour, 1/3 pint of cream; cayenne and salt to taste; 1 blade of pounded mace.

 Mode.—Scald the oysters in their own liquor, take them out, beard them, and strain the liquor; put the butter into a stewpan, dredge in sufficient flour to dry it up, add the oyster-liquor and mace, and stir it over a sharp fire with a wooden spoon; when it comes to a boil, add the cream, oysters, and seasoning. Let all simmer for 1 or 2 minutes, but not longer, or the oysters would harden. Serve on a hot dish, and garnish with croutons, or toasted sippets of bread. A small piece of lemon-peel boiled with the oyster-liquor, and taken out before the cream is added, will be found an improvement.

 Time.—Altogether 15 minutes.

 Average cost for this quantity, 3s. 6d.

 Seasonable from September to April.

 Sufficient for 6 persons.

 THE OYSTER AND THE SCALLOP.—The oyster is described as a bivalve shell-fish, having the valves generally unequal. The hinge is without teeth, but furnished with a somewhat oval cavity, and mostly with lateral transverse grooves. From a similarity in the structure of the hinge, oysters and scallops have been classified as one tribe; but they differ very essentially both in their external appearance and their habits. Oysters adhere to rocks, or, as in two or three species, to roots of trees on the shore; while the scallops are always detached, and usually lurk in the sand.

 OYSTER PATTIES (an Entree).

289. INGREDIENTS.—2 dozen oysters, 2 oz. butter, 3 tablespoonfuls of cream, a little lemon-juice, 1 blade of pounded mace; cayenne to taste.

Mode.—Scald the oysters in their own liquor, beard them, and cut each one into 3 pieces. Put the butter into a stewpan, dredge in sufficient flour to dry it up; add the strained oyster-liquor with the other ingredients; put in the oysters, and let them heat gradually, but not boil fast. Make the patty-cases as directed for lobster patties, No. 277: fill with the oyster mixture, and replace the covers.

Time.—2 minutes for the oysters to simmer in the mixture.

Average cost, exclusive of the patty-cases, 1s. 1d.

Seasonable from September to April.

THE OYSTER FISHERY.—The oyster fishery in Britain is esteemed of so much importance, that it is regulated by a Court of Admiralty. In the month of May, the fishermen are allowed to take the oysters, in order to separate the spawn from the cultch, the latter of which is thrown in again, to preserve the bed for the future. After this month, it is felony to carry away the cultch, and otherwise punishable to take any oyster, between the shells of which, when closed, a shilling will rattle.

TO KEEP OYSTERS.

  1. Put them in a tub, and cover them with salt and water. Let them remain for 12 hours, when they are to be taken out, and allowed to stand for another 12 hours without water. If left without water every alternate 12 hours, they will be much better than if constantly kept in it. Never put the same water twice to them.

OYSTERS FRIED IN BATTER.

 INGREDIENTS.—1/2 pint of oysters, 2 eggs, 1/2 pint of milk, sufficient flour to make the batter; pepper and salt to taste; when liked, a little nutmeg; hot lard.

 Mode.—Scald the oysters in their own liquor, beard them, and lay them on a cloth, to drain thoroughly. Break the eggs into a basin, mix the flour with them, add the milk gradually, with nutmeg and seasoning, and put the oysters in the batter. Make some lard hot in a deep frying-pan, put in the oysters, one at a time; when done, take them up with a sharp-pointed skewer, and dish them on a napkin. Fried oysters are frequently used for garnishing boiled fish, and then a few bread crumbs should be added to the flour.

Time.—5 or 6 minutes.

Average cost for this quantity, 1s. 10d.

Seasonable from September to April.

Sufficient for 3 persons.

EXCELLENCE OF THE ENGLISH OYSTER.—The French assert that the English oysters, which are esteemed the best in Europe, were originally procured from Cancalle Bay, near St. Malo; but they assign no proof for this. It is a fact, however, that the oysters eaten in ancient Rome were nourished in the channel which then parted the Isle of Thanet from England, and which has since been filled up, and converted into meadows.

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“O Oysters,” said the Carpenter,
“You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?’
But answer came there none–
And this was scarcely odd, because
They’d eaten every one.

 

Sep 252015
 

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Today is the birthday (1897) of William Cuthbert Faulkner, Southern U.S. writer and Nobel Prize laureate from Mississippi. Faulkner wrote novels, short stories, a play, poetry, essays, and screenplays. He is primarily known for his novels and short stories set in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, based on Lafayette County, Mississippi, where he spent most of his life. Faulkner is one of the most celebrated writers in Southern literature. Though his work was published as early as 1919, and largely during the 1920s and 1930s, Faulkner was relatively unknown until receiving the 1949 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Faulkner was born in New Albany, Mississippi, the first of four sons of Murry Cuthbert Faulkner and Maud Butler. Soon after his first birthday, his family moved to Ripley, Mississippi, where his father worked as the treasurer for the family-owned Gulf & Chicago Railroad Company. Murry hoped to inherit the railroad from his father, John Wesley Thompson Falkner, but John had little confidence in Murry’s ability to run a business and sold it for $75,000. Following the sale of the railroad business, Murry became disappointed and planned a new start for his family by moving to Texas and becoming a rancher. Maud, however, disagreed with this proposition, and it was decided that they would move to Oxford, Mississippi, where Murry’s father owned several businesses, making it easy for Murry to find work. Thus, four days prior to William’s fifth birthday on September 21, 1902, the Falkner family settled in Oxford, where he lived on and off for the rest of his life.

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As a schoolchild, Faulkner was initially successful, not least because his mother taught him to read before he went to school. He excelled in the first grade, skipped the second, and continued doing well through the third and fourth grades. However, beginning somewhere in the fourth and fifth grades of his schooling, Faulkner became a much quieter and withdrawn child. He skipped school as he saw fit and became indifferent to his schoolwork, even though he began to study the history of Mississippi on his own time in the seventh grade. The decline of his performance in school continued and Faulkner wound up repeating the eleventh, and then twelfth, and never graduated from high school.

At this point in the history of my blog I feel the need to emphasize the fact that so many famous people struggled with formal education and either failed out or quit. I wouldn’t want to generalize about this fact, but it is curious to me. As a lifelong teacher and academic I would say that poor teaching has a great deal to do with it. Both as a student as a teacher I’ve experienced the gamut from truly inspiring people to utter dullards, the latter, sadly, in the majority. What lights my fire is being goaded into THINKING, not being made to memorize reams of facts. Facts are very important, don’t get me wrong, but they are not the foundation of education – thinking is. Some people, such as Faulkner, learn to think all on their own; but most have to be taught, and a great many never learn. I see this as the great tragedy of the modern world, but it is more than likely that this state of affairs has always existed in all cultures and in all times.

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Faulkner spent much of his boyhood listening to stories told to him by his elders. These included Civil War stories shared by the old men of Oxford and stories told by the family’s Mammy Callie of the Civil War, slavery, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Falkner family. Faulkner’s grandfather would also tell him of the exploits of William’s great-grandfather, after whom he was named, William Clark Falkner, who was a successful businessman, writer, and a Civil War hero. Telling stories about William Clark Falkner, whom the family called “Old Colonel”, had already become something of a family pastime when Faulkner was a boy.

In adolescence, Faulkner began writing poetry almost exclusively. He did not write his first novel until 1925. His literary influences are deep and wide. He once stated that he modeled his early writing on the Romantic era in late 18th and early 19th century England. He attended the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) in Oxford, enrolling in 1919, and attended three semesters before dropping out in November 1920. He was able to attend classes at the university despite not graduating high school because his father was a business manager there. He skipped classes often and received a D grade in English. However, some of his poems were published in campus journals.

From Lyceum, University of Mississippi.  Sysid 89912.  Scanned as tiff in 2009/06/23 by MDAH.  Credit:  Courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History

When he was 17, Faulkner met Philip Stone, who would later become an important early influence on his writing. Stone was four years his senior and came from one of Oxford’s older families; he was passionate about literature and had already earned bachelor’s degrees from Yale and the University of Mississippi. At the University of Mississippi, Faulkner joined the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. There he was supported in his dream to become a writer. Stone read and was impressed by some of Faulkner’s early poetry and was one of the first to discover Faulkner’s talent and artistic potential. Stone became a literary mentor to the young Faulkner, introducing him to writers such as James Joyce, who would come to have an influence on Faulkner’s own writing. In his early 20s, Faulkner would give poems and short stories he had written to Stone, in hopes of them being published. Stone would in turn send these to publishers, but they were uniformly rejected.

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The younger Faulkner was greatly influenced by the history of his family and the region in which he lived. Mississippi marked his sense of humor, his sense of the tragic position of Black and White Americans, his characterization of Southern characters, and his timeless themes, including fiercely intelligent people dwelling behind the façades of good old boys and simpletons.

I have to admit that I am not a big Faulkner fan. I know the U.S. South quite well. I have lived there and done fieldwork there for many years, and was married to a Southerner. I’ve even published a number of articles and books about Southern culture. But I am an outsider and cannot summon any sentimentality or romanticism except maybe when it comes to the food, of which I am very fond. The privilege, poverty, bigotry, and racism, which are deeply rooted, all disgust me. I am not part of that world. Faulkner was completely embedded in that world and could see it in a way that I cannot. I acknowledge Faulkner as a great writer, but his subject matter is not to my taste at all. I suspect that you have to be totally outside the culture of the Deep South or totally immersed in it to like his writing. Unfortunately I am caught somewhere in the middle.

Here are a few quotations that appeal to me, mostly because they are of a general nature and have an inspiring quality for me:

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Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.

Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.

You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.

We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it.

Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Do not bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.

The past is never dead. It’s not even past.

In writing, you must kill all your darlings.

Given the choice between the experience of pain and nothing, I would choose pain.

I’ve given you plenty of classic Southern recipes in the past and could give you many more. But the Faulkner museum reports that his favorite dish was salmon croquettes using the recipe on the can. Make sure you use a good, old fashioned cast-iron skillet, black with age, as found in every Southern kitchen.

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Salmon Croquettes

Ingredients

1 16-ounce can pink salmon, drained and picked clean of stray bones and skin
2 large eggs
1 tsp lemon pepper
1 tsp garlic salt
2 tbsp minced onion
1 tbsp dill pickle relish
10-12 saltine crackers, crumbled
all-purpose flour
vegetable oil

Instructions

Mix all the ingredients except the flour and oil in a bowl until thoroughly combined. Divide into 6 balls, and then flatten them to form round patties about ½” thick. Let them rest for about an hour (in the refrigerator if you must).

Heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium high heat in a heavy skillet.

Dredge the croquettes in flour, shake off the excess, and sauté until golden on one side, then flip them and brown on the other. Be careful in handling them because they are a bit fragile.

Drain on wire racks and serve with Southern favorites such as greasy collards or mustard greens, and boiled potatoes.

Nov 022014
 

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Today is All Souls, the last of a trio of days, Halloween, All Saints, and All Souls, associated with honoring departed souls. One year I will get round to talking about them, but this year I want to celebrate All Souls College at Oxford, officially, “The Warden and the College of the Souls of All Faithful People Deceased in the University of Oxford,” certainly the oddest college at the university, and maybe at any university.

There are no undergraduate members of the college, and all of its members automatically become fellows (full members of the College’s governing body). Each year, recent graduates of Oxford and other universities are eligible to apply for Examination Fellowships through a competitive examination and interview process (once described as “the hardest exam in the world”).

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The College was founded by Henry VI of England and Henry Chichele (fellow of New College and Archbishop of Canterbury), in 1438. The Statutes provided for the Warden and forty fellows – all to take Holy Orders; twenty-four to study arts, philosophy and theology; and sixteen to study civil or canon law. The College’s Codrington Library, completed in 1751, was built through the bequest of Christopher Codrington, one time governor of the Leeward Islands. Today the College is primarily a graduate research institution supported by its endowment.

Although the college now has no undergraduate members, there were times when it did, especially in the early 17th century, on the instigation of Robert Hovenden (Warden of the college from 1571 to 1614), in order to provide the fellows with servientes (household servants). The admission of undergraduates for this purpose was abandoned in the 19th century, although four Bible Clerks remained on the foundation until 1924.

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The chapel was built between 1438 and 1442 and remained largely unchanged until the Commonwealth. Oxford, having been a largely Royalist stronghold, suffered under the Puritans’ wrath. The 42 misericords date from the Chapel’s building, and show a resemblance to the misericords at Higham Ferrers. Both may have been carved by Richard Tyllock.

Christopher Wren was a fellow from 1653, and in 1658 produced a sundial. This was originally placed on the South wall of the Chapel, until it was moved to the quadrangle (above the central entrance to the Codrington Library) in 1877. During the 1660’s a screen was installed in the Chapel, which was based on a design by Wren. However, this screen needed to be rebuilt by 1713. By the mid-19th century the Chapel was in great need of renovation, and so the current structure is heavily influenced by Victorian architectural ideals.

Around 500 Oxford undergraduates who have received a first class honors degree, and students from other universities with equivalent results during the previous three years, are eligible to apply for Examination Fellowships (sometimes informally referred to as “Prize Fellowships”) of seven years each. Several dozen typically do so (although this figure has climbed steeply in recent years). Two examination fellows are usually elected each year, although the college has awarded a single place in previous years, and made no award on rare occasions.

The competition, offered since 1878 and open to women since 1979, takes place over two days in late September, with two examinations of three hours each per day. Two are on subjects of the candidates’ choice. Options include Classics, English Literature, Economics, History, Law, Philosophy, and Politics. Candidates who choose Classics as their subject have an additional translation examination on a third day.Two are on general subjects. For each general examination candidates choose from a list of three questions, such as:

“‘If a man could say nothing against a character but what he could prove, history could not be written’ (Samuel Johnson). Discuss.”

“Should the Orange Prize for Fiction be open to both men and women?”

“Does the moral character of an orgy change when the participants wear Nazi uniforms?”

Before 2010, candidates also faced another examination, a free-form essay on a single, pre-selected word. This has since been discontinued, much to the dismay of many members of the university at large. Oxford entrance examinations in general usually have a few questions that are a bit off the wall and are meant to test your wit and imagination as well as intellect. For my entrance exams I did some standard papers, such as European history, Greek and Latin translation, and Latin composition. But there was a fourth on general topics. One question that got me especially high marks was “Why do crosswords?” (the English cryptic kind).

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Essay words for the All Souls exam have included, water, style, integrity, innocence, and bias. This essay was dropped because the examiners felt that it was not a good test of the candidates’ potential to pursue worthwhile research. I find this a little hard to fathom given that undergraduate education at Oxford (certainly in my time), tends to be on the narrow side, and the one-word essay was a chance for the examiners to see a broader side of the candidates. Four to six finalists are invited to a viva (oral exam), then dinner with about 75 members of the college. The dinner, in theory, does not form part of the assessment, but is supposed to be simply a reward for those candidates who have reached the latter stages of the selection process. However, a friend of mine, who was a fellow for many years, told me that the candidates are informally judged on their quality as dinner companions. Whether this is decisive or not, I do not know. During this discussion he also passed on a legend that at one time the dessert was cherry pie – a test to see what the candidates did with the pits.

About one dozen Examination Fellows are at the college at any one time. There are no compulsory teaching or research requirements; they can study anything for free at Oxford with room and board provided. As “Londoners” they can pursue approved non-academic careers if desired, with a reduced stipend, as long as they pursue academia on a part-time basis and attend weekend dinners at the college during their first academic year. As of 2011 each Examination Fellow receives a stipend of £14,842 annually for the first two years; the stipend then varies depending on whether the fellow pursues an academic career.

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Every hundred years, and generally on 14 January, there is a commemorative feast after which the fellows parade around the College with flaming torches, singing the Mallard Song and led by a “Lord Mallard” who is carried in a chair, in search of a legendary mallard that supposedly flew out of the foundations of the college when it was being built. During the hunt the Lord Mallard is preceded by a man bearing a pole to which a mallard is tied – originally a live bird, latterly either dead (1901) or carved from wood (2001). The last mallard ceremony was in 2001 and the next will be held in 2101. The precise origin of the custom is not known but it dates from at least 1632, when the archbishop of Canterbury chastised the fellows for drunken rioting at the feast.

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Here’s a sterling English recipe for cherry pie. Make sure you include the pits!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/cherrypie_91973

 

 

Jun 102014
 

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On this date in 1829 the first Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge universities took place, making it one of the oldest official sporting events in the world. The Boat Race is an annual rowing race between the Oxford University Boat Club and the Cambridge University Boat Club, rowed between competing eights on the River Thames in London. It usually takes place on the last weekend of March or the first weekend of April.

Although the first race was in 1829, the event has been held annually since 1856, except during the First and Second World Wars. The course covers a 4.2-mile (6.8 km) stretch of the Thames in West London, from Putney to Mortlake. Members of both teams are traditionally known as “blues” and each boat as a “Blue Boat,” with Cambridge in light blue and Oxford, dark blue. As of 2014 Cambridge have won the race 81 times and Oxford 78 times, with one dead heat. As a graduate of Oxford, and bow oar for my college as a student, I am an avid fan.

The race is a well-established and popular fixture in the British sporting calendar. Upwards of 250,000 people watch the race live from the banks of the river each year (in 2009, a record 270,000 people watched the race live) while a further 15 million or more watch it on television around the world.

1841

1841

The tradition was started in 1829 by Charles Merivale, a student at St John’s College, Cambridge, and his school friend from Harrow, Charles Wordsworth, who was studying at Christ Church, Oxford. Cambridge challenged Oxford to a race at Henley-on-Thames but lost easily. As the Oxford stroke, Staniforth, and four of his crew were from Christ Church, then Head of the River (a story for another time), the decision was – eventually – taken to race in the dark blue of that college, which still persists. There is a dispute as to the source of the color chosen by Cambridge. The second race was in 1836, with the venue moved to a course from Westminster to Putney. Over the next two years, there was disagreement over where the race should be held, with Oxford preferring Henley and Cambridge preferring London. Cambridge therefore raced Leander Club in 1837 and 1838 instead. Following the official formation of the Oxford University Boat Club in 1839, racing between the two universities resumed on the Tideway and the tradition continues to the present day, with the loser challenging the winner to a rematch annually. The race is governed by a Joint Understanding between Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Clubs.

1877

1877

The only race to be declared a dead head was in 1877. Legend in Oxford has it that the judge, “Honest John” Phelps, was asleep under a bush when the race finished, leading him to announce the result as a “dead heat to Oxford by four feet.” This is not borne out, however, by contemporary reports. This was from The Times

Oxford, partially disabled, were making effort after effort to hold their rapidly waning lead, while Cambridge, who, curiously enough, had settled together again, and were rowing almost as one man, were putting on a magnificent spurt at 40 strokes to the minute, with a view of catching their opponents before reaching the winning-post. Thus struggling over the remaining portion of the course, the two eights raced past the flag alongside one another, and the gun fired amid a scene of excitement rarely equalled and never exceeded. Cheers for one crew were succeeded by counter-cheers for the other, and it was impossible to tell what the result was until the Press boat backed down to the Judge and inquired the issue. John Phelps, the waterman, who officiated, replied that the noses of the boats passed the post strictly level, and that the result was a dead heat.

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The course is 4 miles and 374 yards (6.779 km) from Putney to Mortlake, passing Hammersmith and Barnes; it is sometimes referred to as the Championship Course, and follows an S shape, east to west. The start and finish are marked by the University Boat Race Stones on the south bank. The clubs’ presidents toss a coin (the sovereign used in 1829) before the race for the right to choose which side of the river (station) they will row on: their decision is based on the day’s weather conditions and how the various bends in the course might favor their crew’s pace. The north station (‘Middlesex’) has the advantage of the first and last bends, and the south (‘Surrey’) station the longer middle bend.

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During the race the coxes compete for the fastest current, which lies at the deepest part of the river, frequently leading to clashes of blades and warnings from the umpire. This year (2014) a clash caused the Cambridge #2 to become unseated and lose his blade for several strokes, and broke his rigger. In consequence Oxford won handily, and the clash was ruled Cambridge’s fault for being in Oxford’s water despite being warned off by the umpire. A crew that gets a lead of more than a boat’s length can cut in front of their opponent, making it extremely difficult for the trailing crew to gain the lead. For this reason the tactics of the race are generally to go fast early on, and few races have a change of the lead after halfway (though this happened in 2003, 2007 and 2010). Here’s the 2014 race (the first 5 minutes are the crucial bit):

The race is rowed upstream, but is timed to start on the incoming flood tide so that the crews are rowing with the fastest possible current. If a strong wind is blowing from the west it will be against the tide in places along the course, causing the water to become very rough. The conditions are sometimes such that an international regatta would be cancelled, but the Boat Race has a tradition of proceeding even in potential sinking conditions.

In the 1912 race, run in extremely poor weather and high winds, both crews sank. Oxford rowed into a significant early lead, but began taking on water, and made for the bank shortly after passing Hammersmith Bridge to empty the boat out: although they attempted to restart, the race was abandoned at this point because Cambridge had also sunk, while passing the Harrods Depository. In the Book of Heroic Failures it is further reported, colorfully but perhaps not entirely reliably, that Oxford’s attempted restart was briefly delayed as a crewman exchanged words with a friend called Boswell in the crowd: and that as the abandonment was announced, some of the Cambridge crew came swimming past the Oxford position, minus their boat. The race was re-rowed two days later, again in poor weather, and Oxford won by six lengths.

Cambridge also sank in 1859 and 1978, while Oxford did so in 1925, and again in 1951; the 1951 race was re-rowed on the following Monday. In 1984 the Cambridge boat sank after colliding with a barge before the start of the race, which was then rescheduled for the next day. Here’s the 1951 sinking with wonderful 1950’s newsreel commentary style – very different from today’s:

Recent years have seen especially dramatic races. In 2001 the race was halted by umpire Rupert Obholzer just over a minute after the start, following repeated warnings to both crews to move apart, and then a clash of blades. The blade of Cambridge bowman Colin Swainson dislodged from his hand and in consequence the umpire immediately stopped the race. Despite Oxford having a lead when the race was stopped, the boats were restarted level with each other; this decision was highly contentious, especially when Cambridge went on to win after the restart.

In 2002 the favored Cambridge crew led with only a few hundred meters to go, when a Cambridge oarsman (Sebastian Mayer, who was later part of the winning 2004 Cambridge crew) collapsed from exhaustion and Oxford rowed through to win by three-quarters of a length. They did so on the outside of the last river bend, a feat last accomplished in 1952.

In the 2003 race Cambridge were substantially heavier and appeared to be the favorites. Two days prior to the race, however, the Cambridge crew suffered a collision on the river in which oarsman Wayne Pommen was injured. With a replacement (Ben Smith) in Pommen’s seat, Cambridge went on to lose by the narrowest margin ever: just one foot (30 cm). In that year, there were two pairs of brothers rowing: Matt Smith and David Livingston for Oxford, and Ben Smith and James Livingston for Cambridge. All four had been pupils together at Hampton School in south-west London. Cambridge gained revenge in 2004 in a race marred by dramatic clashes of oars in the early stages, and the unseating of Oxford’s bowman.

The 2006 race was won by Oxford. Cambridge had started as strong favorites but, despite heavy rain creating rough water, made a tactical decision not to use a pump to remove excess water from the boat. Oxford did use a pump and overtook Cambridge to win. Cambridge had introduced pumps as early as 1987.

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In the 2012 race, after almost three-quarters of the course had been rowed, the race was halted for over 30 minutes when a lone protester, Australian Trenton Oldfield, entered the water from Chiswick Eyot and deliberately swam between the boats near Chiswick Pier with the intention of protesting against spending cuts, and what he saw as the erosion of civil liberties and a growing culture of elitism within British society. Once spotted by assistant umpire Sir Matthew Pinsent, both boats were required to stop for safety reasons. The umpire, John Garrett, decided to restart the race from the eastern end of Chiswick Eyot. Shortly after the restart the boats clashed and the oar of Oxford crewman Hanno Wienhausen was broken. Garrett judged the clash to be Oxford’s fault and allowed the race to continue. Cambridge quickly took the lead and went on to win the race. The Oxford crew entered a final appeal to the umpire which was quickly rejected; and Cambridge were confirmed as winners by 4 ¼ lengths. It was the first time since 1849 that a crew had won the boat race without an official recorded winning time. After the end of the race Oxford’s bow man, Alex Woods – a medical student at Pembroke College – received emergency treatment after collapsing in the boat from exhaustion. Because of the circumstances, the post-race celebrations by the winning Cambridge crew were unusually muted and the planned award ceremony was cancelled.

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Oldfield was convicted in October 2012 of causing a public nuisance, fined £750 and sentenced to six months imprisonment. In June 2013 he was refused the right to remain in the UK, a decision against which he successfully appealed, with the appeal judge stating that there was “a public interest in providing a platform for protest at both common law and the European Convention on Human Rights.”

There are no sporting scholarships at Oxford or Cambridge, so in theory every student must obtain a university place on academic merit. But there have been unproven accusations that some students are admitted to the universities for their rowing skill without meeting the normal academic standards. Participants in the boat race are indeed academically capable: the 2005 Cambridge crew, for example, contained four PhD students, including a qualified medical doctor and a veterinarian.

From 1978 to 1983 the race was won every year by Oxford crews that included Boris Rankov, who was then a graduate student at Oxford and recognized as a powerhouse of the crews. Although Rankov was a bona fide student (and is now a professor at the University of London), this led to the establishment of the informal “Rankov Rule,” to which the teams have adhered ever since, that no rower may compete in the boat race more than four times as an undergraduate, and four times as a graduate.

In order to protect the status of the race as a competition between genuine students, the Boat Race organizing committee in July 2007 refused to award a blue to 2006 and 2007 Cambridge oarsman Thorsten Engelmann, as he did not complete his academic course and instead returned to the German national rowing team to prepare for the Beijing Olympics. This has caused a debate about a change of rules, and one suggestion appears to be that only students that are enrolled in courses lasting at least two years should be eligible to race.

Sue Brown

Sue Brown

The race is for heavyweight eights (i.e. eight rowers with a cox steering, and no restrictions on weight). Female coxes are permitted: the first to appear in the Boat Race was Sue Brown for Oxford in 1981. In fact female rowers would be permitted in the men’s boat race, though the reverse is not true. Although the contest is strictly between amateurs, and the competitors must be students of the university for which they race, the training schedules the teams undertake are very grueling. Typically each team trains for six days a week for six months before the event.

I am going to show my unmitigated bias and give you an Oxford recipe. Oxford sausages are a distinctive variety of pork and veal sausage commonly associated with, and thought to have been developed in, the city of Oxford.  Oxford sausages are noted for the addition of veal, in contrast to many traditional British sausages which contain only pork, and their high level of  seasoning. References to the “Oxford” style of sausage date back to at least the early 18th century, but it was more widely popularized owing to inclusion in Isabella Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861), which regular readers will know as one of my foundational cookbooks for classic British recipes.

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The first published reference to a sausage that closely resembles the modern Oxford sausage is by John Nott in his book The Cook’s and Confectioner’s Dictionary: Or, the Accomplish’d Housewife’s Companion, (1723). In the text Nott, cook to the Duke of Bolton, refers to the sausages as “Oxford Skates” (or “Kates”, as listed in the index). Whether this was a common local recipe or one created by Nott is unclear. By the late 18th century the spice-rich nature of the Oxford sausage had entered popular consciousness to such an extent that Thomas Warton used The Oxford Sausage as the title for his compilation of “highly spiced” political and satirical college verse, first published in 1764 and republished a number of times in the following 50 years. A number of variations on the recipe were published over the years, until Isabella Beeton selected the Oxford style as her exemplar for a typical pork sausage in her cookbook. With the popularity of this book the recipe reached a much wider audience, and Oxford sausage was for a time available as a canned, processed product. However, with the rise of mass-production, supermarkets, and global distribution, the Oxford sausage fell out of favor. The modern rise of local food movements has resulted in the Oxford sausage being revived, albeit in a revised form.

As with most regional foodstuffs, different recipes for Oxford sausages vary in many aspects, but all follow a similar ingredient list. The modern Oxford sausage is typically a mixture of ground pork and veal, seasoned with lemon and herbs and spices. Nott’s 1723 recipe calls for pork or veal, seasoned with salt, pepper, clove, mace and sage. The spice content also appears in many other late 18th and early 19th century recipes, with mace or nutmeg being consistent ingredients. Mrs. Beeton’s recipe broadly follows the same formula, excepting that a 50:50 mixture of pork and veal is specified, with the addition of a similar quantity of beef suet. Beeton also includes lemon peel, although she was not the first to do so. As first produced, the Oxford sausage did not have a skin or other casing, but was hand-formed and floured before frying. However, modern forms are commonly made in a conventional, linked “banger” style, with natural pork or sheep casings. Beeton mentions both types.

Here is Beeton’s recipe.

TO MAKE SAUSAGES.

(Author’s Oxford Recipe.)

837. INGREDIENTS.—1 lb. of pork, fat and lean, without skin or gristle; 1 lb. of lean veal, 1 lb. of beef suet, 1/2 lb. of bread crumbs, the rind of 1/2 lemon, 1 small nutmeg, 6 sage-leaves, 1 teaspoonful of pepper, 2 teaspoonfuls of salt, 1/2 teaspoonful of savory, 1/2 teaspoonful of marjoram.

Mode.—Chop the pork, veal, and suet finely together, add the bread crumbs, lemon-peel (which should be well minced), and a small nutmeg grated. Wash and chop the sage-leaves very finely; add these with the remaining ingredients to the sausage-meat, and when thoroughly mixed, either put the meat into skins, or, when wanted for table, form it into little cakes, which should be floured and fried.

Average cost, for this quantity, 2s. 6d.

Sufficient for about 30 moderate-sized sausages.

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I use these sausages for classic English bangers and mash – sausages embedded in mashed potato and smothered in onions and gravy. The basic sausage mix can also be used for any recipe calling for sausage meat, such as Scotch eggs.