Aug 102018
 

On this date in 1519, five ships under the command of Ferdinand Magellan’s command left Seville to begin the first ever circumnavigation of the world. One ship and 18 of the original crew made it back to Spain. Magellan died en route, but he is remembered in numerous place names, most especially the Strait of Magellan, and in modern discoveries such as the Magellanic Clouds (two irregular dwarf galaxies) as well as animal species, such as Magellanic penguins (which I saw when I visited Tierra del Fuego in 2011).

Christopher Columbus’ voyages to the West (1492–1503) had the goal of reaching the Indies and establishing direct commercial relations between Spain and Asian kingdoms. The Spanish soon realized that the lands of the Americas were not a part of Asia, but a new continent. The 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas reserved for Portugal the eastern routes that went around Africa, and Vasco da Gama and the Portuguese arrived in India in 1498. Castile urgently needed to find a new commercial route to Asia. After the Junta de Toro conference of 1505, the Spanish Crown commissioned expeditions to discover a route to the west. Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa reached the Pacific Ocean in 1513 after crossing the Isthmus of Panama, and Juan Díaz de Solís died in Río de la Plata in 1516 while exploring South America in the service of Spain.

In October 1517 in Seville, Magellan (already an experienced sailor, explorer, and soldier), contacted Juan de Aranda, Factor of the Casa de Contratación. Following the arrival of his partner Rui Faleiro, and with the support of Aranda, they presented their project to the Spanish king, Charles I, future Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Magellan’s project, if successful, would realize Columbus’ plan of a spice route by sailing west without damaging relations with the Portuguese. The idea was in tune with the times and had already been discussed after Balboa’s discovery of the Pacific. On 22nd March 1518 the king named Magellan and Faleiro captains so that they could travel in search of the Spice Islands in July. He raised them to the rank of Commander of the Order of Santiago, and granted them a number of monopolies on their discoveries. The expedition was funded largely by the Spanish Crown, which provided ships carrying supplies for two years of travel. Expert cartographer Jorge Reinel and Diogo Ribeiro, a Portuguese who had started working for Charles V in 1518 as a cartographer at the Casa de Contratación, took part in the development of the maps to be used in the travel. Several problems arose during the preparation of the trip, including lack of money, the king of Portugal trying to stop them, Magellan and other Portuguese incurring suspicion from the Spanish, and the difficult nature of Faleiro. Finally, thanks to the tenacity of Magellan, the expedition was ready. Through the bishop Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca they obtained the participation of merchant Christopher de Haro, who provided a quarter of the funds and goods to barter.

The flagship Trinidad (110 tons, crew 55), under Magellan’s command

San Antonio (120 tons; crew 60) commanded by Juan de Cartagena

Concepción (90 tons, crew 45) commanded by Gaspar de Quesada

Santiago (75 tons, crew 32) commanded by João Serrão

Victoria (85 tons, crew 43), named after the church of Santa Maria de la Victoria de Triana, where Magellan took an oath of allegiance to Charles V; commanded by Luis Mendoza.

The crew of about 270 included men from several nations, including Portugal, Spain, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Greece, England and France. Spanish authorities were wary of Magellan, who was Portuguese, so that they almost prevented him from sailing, switching his mostly Portuguese crew to mostly Spaniards. It included about 40 Portuguese, among them Magellan’s brother-in-law Duarte Barbosa, João Serrão, a relative of Francisco Serrão, Estêvão Gomes and Magellan’s indentured servant Enrique of Malacca. Faleiro, who had planned to accompany the voyage, withdrew prior to boarding. Juan Sebastián Elcano, a Spanish merchant ship captain living in Seville, embarked seeking the king’s pardon for previous misdeeds. Antonio Pigafetta, a Venetian scholar and traveler, asked to be on the voyage, accepting the title of “supernumerary” and a modest salary. He became a strict assistant of Magellan and kept an accurate journal. The only other sailor to report the voyage would be Francisco Albo, who kept a formal logbook. Juan de Cartagena was named Inspector General of the expedition, responsible for its financial and trading operations.

The fleet left Seville on this date in 1519 and descended the Guadalquivir River to Sanlúcar de Barrameda, at the mouth of the river. They remained there until 20th September 1519 when they left Spain. King Manuel I ordered a Portuguese naval detachment to pursue Magellan, but he evaded them. After stopping at the Canary Islands, Magellan arrived at Cape Verde, where he set course for Cape St. Augustine in Brazil. On 27th November the expedition crossed the equator; on 6th December the crew sighted South America. On 13th December they anchored near present-day Rio de Janeiro. There the crew was resupplied, but bad conditions caused them to delay. Afterwards, they continued to sail south along South America’s east coast, looking for the strait that Magellan believed would lead to the Spice Islands. The fleet reached Río de la Plata in early February, 1520.

For wintering over, Magellan established a temporary settlement called Puerto San Julian on March 30 [my birthday], 1520. On Easter (April 1 and 2), a mutiny broke out involving three of the five ship captains. Magellan took quick and decisive action. Luis de Mendoza, the captain of Victoria, was killed by a party sent by Magellan, and the ship was recovered. After Concepción’s anchor cable had been secretly cut by his forces, the ship drifted towards the well-armed Trinidad, and Concepcion’s captain de Quesada and his inner circle surrendered. Juan de Cartagena, the head of the mutineers on the San Antonio, subsequently gave up. Antonio Pigafetta reported that Gaspar Quesada, the captain of Concepción, and other mutineers were executed, while Juan de Cartagena, the captain of San Antonio, and a priest named Padre Sanchez de la Reina were marooned on the coast. Most of the men, including Juan Sebastián Elcano, were needed and so pardoned. Reportedly those killed were drawn and quartered and impaled on the coast; years later, their bones were found by Sir Francis Drake.

The journey resumed. The help of Duarte Barbosa was crucial in facing the riot in Puerto San Julian; Magellan appointed him as captain of the Victoria. The Santiago was sent down the coast on a scouting expedition and was wrecked in a sudden storm. All of its crew survived and made it safely to shore. Two of them returned overland to inform Magellan of what had happened, and to bring rescue to their comrades. After this experience, Magellan decided to wait for a few weeks more before resuming the voyage with the four remaining ships.

At 52°S latitude on 21st October 1520, the fleet reached Cape Virgenes and concluded they had found the passage, because the waters were brine and deep inland. Four ships began an arduous trip through the 373-mile (600 km) long passage that Magellan called the Estrecho (Canal) de Todos los Santos, (“All Saints’ Channel”), because the fleet travelled through it on 1st November or All Saints’ Day. The strait is now named the Strait of Magellan. He first assigned Concepcion and San Antonio to explore the strait, but the latter, commanded by Gómez, deserted and headed back to Spain on 20th November. On 28th November, the three remaining ships entered the South Pacific. Magellan named the waters the Mar Pacifico (Pacific Ocean) because of its apparent stillness. Magellan and his crew were the first Europeans to reach Tierra del Fuego just east of the Pacific side of the strait.

Heading northwest, the crew reached the equator on 13th February 1521. On 6th March they reached the Marianas and Guam. Pigafetta described the “lateen sail” used by the inhabitants of Guam, hence the name “Island of Sails” but he also writes the inhabitants “entered the ships and stole whatever they could lay their hands on”, including “the small boat that was fastened to the poop of the flagship.” “Those people are poor, but ingenious and very thievish, on account of which we called those three islands the islands of Ladroni.”

On 16th March Magellan reached the island of Homonhon in the Philippines, with 150 crew left. Members of his expedition became the first Europeans to reach the Philippine archipelago. Magellan relied on Enrique, his Malay servant and interpreter, to communicate with the indigenous peoples. He had been indentured by Magellan in 1511 after the colonization of Malacca, and had accompanied him through later adventures. They traded gifts with Rajah Siaiu of Mazaua who guided them to Cebu on 7th April.

Rajah Humabon of Cebu was friendly towards Magellan and the Spaniards; both he and his queen Hara Amihan were baptized as Christians and were given the image of the Holy Child (later known as Santo Niño de Cebu) which along with a cross (Magellan’s Cross) symbolizes the Christianization of the Philippines. Afterward, Rajah Humabon and his ally Datu Zula convinced Magellan to kill their enemy, Datu Lapu-Lapu, on Mactan. Magellan wanted to convert Lapu-Lapu to Christianity, as he had Humabon, but Lapu-Lapu rejected that. On the morning of 27th April 1521, Magellan sailed to Mactan with a small attack force. During the resulting battle against Lapu-Lapu’s troops, Magellan was struck by a bamboo spear, and later was surrounded and finished off with other weapons.

Pigafetta and Ginés de Mafra provided written documents of the events culminating in Magellan’s death:

When morning came, forty-nine of us leaped into the water up to our thighs, and walked through water for more than two cross-bow flights before we could reach the shore. The boats could not approach nearer because of certain rocks in the water. The other eleven men remained behind to guard the boats. When we reached land, [the natives] had formed in three divisions to the number of more than one thousand five hundred people. When they saw us, they charged down upon us with exceeding loud cries… The musketeers and crossbow-men shot from a distance for about a half-hour, but uselessly… Recognizing the captain, so many turned upon him that they knocked his helmet off his head twice… A native hurled a bamboo spear into the captain’s face, but the latter immediately killed him with his lance, which he left in the native’s body. Then, trying to lay hand on sword, he could draw it out but halfway, because he had been wounded in the arm with a bamboo spear. When the natives saw that, they all hurled themselves upon him. One of them wounded him on the left leg with a large cutlass, which resembles a scimitar, only being larger. That caused the captain to fall face downward, when immediately they rushed upon him with iron and bamboo spears and with their cutlasses, until they killed our mirror, our light, our comfort, and our true guide. When they wounded him, he turned back many times to see whether we were all in the boats. Thereupon, beholding him dead, we, wounded, retreated, as best we could, to the boats, which were already pulling off.

Magellan provided in his will that Enrique, his interpreter, was to be freed upon his death. But after the battle, the remaining ships’ masters refused to free the Malay. Enrique escaped his indenture on 1 May with the aid of Rajah Humabon, amid the deaths of almost 30 crewmen.

Pigafetta had been jotting down words in both Butuanon and Cebuano languages – which he started at Mazaua on 29 March and his list grew to a total of 145 words. He continued communications with indigenous peoples during the rest of the voyage.

Nothing of Magellan’s body survived. That afternoon the grieving rajah-king, hoping to recover his remains, offered Mactan’s victorious chief a handsome ransom of copper and iron for them but Datu Lapulapu refused. He intended to keep the body as a war trophy. Since his wife and child died in Seville before any member of the expedition could return to Spain, it seemed that every evidence of Ferdinand Magellan’s existence had vanished from the earth.

(click to enlarge)

It took another 16 months after Magellan’s death for the one surviving ship, Victoria, the smallest carrack in the fleet, to make it back to Seville after completing the first circumnavigation of the Earth. Only 18 men out of the original 237 men in the fleet were on board.

There are plenty of original accounts for you to read concerning the rigors and losses on the return. Meanwhile I will turn to the taste buds.

Magellan gin is a blue gin inspired by Magellan’s voyage, particularly the spices that Victoria had on board (notably cloves). Magellan is also the name of a camp cooking equipment company, and I have certainly cooked on stoves such as this one on camping trips (as well as in my first apartment in Buenos Aires).

I could certainly  you numerous pointers on how to turn out a feast using only a 2-burner camp stove, or how to waste an evening drinking blue gin, but instead I will focus on an indigenous Filipino ingredient, the kalamansi, in honor of the place where Magellan met his end. Kalamansi (Citrus microcarpa) is a citrus fruit used mostly for the sourness it gives to a dish. Despite its outer appearance and its aroma, the taste of the fruit itself is quite sour, although the peel is sweet. Kalamansi can be made into marmalade in the same way you make orange marmalade (see http://www.bookofdaystales.com/alice-liddell/  ).

  

The fruit can be frozen whole and used as ice cubes in beverages such as tea, soft drinks, water, and cocktails. The juice can be used in place of that of the common Persian lime. The juice is extracted by crushing the whole fruit, and makes a flavorful drink similar to lemonade. A liqueur can be made from the whole fruits, in combination with vodka and sugar.

 

Dec 232017
 

Today is the birthday (1812) of Samuel Smiles, was a Scottish author and government reformer who campaigned on a Chartist platform, but who became an almost overnight celebrity for his book Self-Help (1859), which promoted thrift and claimed that poverty was caused largely by irresponsible habits, while also attacking materialism and laissez-faire government. In some ways it was a testament to Victorian morality.

Born in Haddington, East Lothian, Scotland, Smiles was the son of Janet Wilson of Dalkeith and Samuel Smiles of Haddington. He was one of eleven surviving children. While his family members were strict Reformed Presbyterians, he was not religious. He studied at a local school, leaving at the age of 14. He apprenticed to be a doctor under Dr. Robert Lewins. This arrangement enabled Smiles to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh in 1829. There he also developed an interest in politics, and became a strong supporter of Joseph Hume (a strict fiscal conservative in Parliament). During this time, he contracted a lung disease, and his father was advised to send him on a long sea voyage.

His father died in the cholera epidemic of 1832, but Smiles was enabled to continue with his studies because he was supported by his mother. She ran the small family general store firm in the belief that the “Lord will provide.” Her example of working ceaselessly to support herself and his nine younger siblings strongly influenced Smiles’s future life.

In 1837, he wrote articles for the Edinburgh Weekly Chronicle and the Leeds Times, campaigning for parliamentary reform. In November 1838, Smiles was invited to become the editor of the Leeds Times, a position he filled until 1842. In May 1840, Smiles became secretary to the Leeds Parliamentary Reform Association, an organization that held to the six objectives of Chartism: universal suffrage for all men over the age of 21; equal-sized electoral districts; voting by secret ballot; an end to the need of MPs to qualify for Parliament, other than by winning an election; pay for MPs; and annual Parliaments.

As editor of the Leeds Times, he advocated radical causes ranging from women’s suffrage to free trade and parliamentary reform. By the late 1840s, however, Smiles became concerned about the recommendation of physical force by Chartists Feargus O’Connor and George Julian Harney, although he seems to have agreed with them that the movement’s current tactics were not effective, saying that “mere political reform will not cure the manifold evils which now afflict society.” In 1845, he left the Leeds Times and became a secretary for the newly formed Leeds & Thirsk Railway. After nine years, he worked for the South Eastern Railway.

In the 1850s, Smiles abandoned his interest in parliament and decided that self-help was the most important avenue to reform in society. In 1859, he published Self-Help; with Illustrations of Character and Conduct. The origins of Self-Help lay in a speech he gave in March 1845 in response to a request by a Mutual Improvement Society, published as, The Education of the Working Classes. In it Smiles said:

I would not have any one here think that, because I have mentioned individuals who have raised themselves by self-education from poverty to social eminence, and even wealth, these are the chief marks to be aimed at. That would be a great fallacy. Knowledge is of itself one of the highest enjoyments. The ignorant man passes through the world dead to all pleasures, save those of the senses … Every human being has a great mission to perform, noble faculties to cultivate, a vast destiny to accomplish. He should have the means of education, and of exerting freely all the powers of his godlike nature.

The newly founded Routledge publishing house rejected publishing Self-Help in 1855. Twenty years later Smiles was seated next to George Routledge at a dinner, and he said to him, “And when, Dr. Smiles, are we to have the honour of publishing one of your books?” Smiles replied that Mr. Routledge already had the honor of rejecting Self-Help. Although John Murray was willing to publish Self-Help on a half-profits system, but Smiles rejected the offer. In 1859, he self-published the book, retaining the copyright, while he paid John Murray a ten percent commission, for distribution, I presume. It sold 20,000 copies within one year of its publication. By the time of Smiles’s death in 1904 it had sold over a quarter of a million copies. Self-Help brought almost instant celebrity status and he became a much-consulted pundit. He was also deluged with requests to lay foundation stones, sit for his portrait, present prizes to orphan children, make speeches, and so forth, but he declined them all.

Smiles wrote articles for the Quarterly. In an article on railways, he argued that the railways should be nationalized and that third-class passengers should be encouraged. In 1861 Smiles published an article from the Quarterly, renamed Workers Earnings, Savings, and Strikes. He claimed poverty in many instances was caused by habitual imprudence:

Times of great prosperity, in which wages are highest and mills running full time are not times in which Mechanics’ Institutes and Schools flourish, but times in which publicans and beer sellers prosper and grow rich … A workman earning 50s. to 60s. a week (above the average pay of bankers’ clerks) was content to inhabit a miserable one-roomed dwelling in a bad neighbourhood, the one room serving as parlour, kitchen, and sleeping-room for the whole family, which consisted of husband, wife, four sons, two cats, and a dog. The witness was asked: Do you think this family was unable to get better lodgings, or were they careless? They were careless, was the reply.

In 1866, Smiles became president of the National Provident Institution, but left in 1871, after suffering a debilitating stroke. He recovered from the stroke, eventually having to learn to read and write again. In 1875, his book Thrift was published. In it, he said that “riches do not constitute any claim to distinction. It is only the vulgar who admire riches as riches.” He claimed that the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 was “one of the most valuable that has been placed on the statute-book in modern times.” He also criticized Victorian laissez-faire:

When typhus or cholera breaks out, they tell us that Nobody is to blame. That terrible Nobody! How much he has to answer for. More mischief is done by Nobody than by all the world besides. Nobody adulterates our food. Nobody poisons us with bad drink. Nobody supplies us with foul water. Nobody spreads fever in blind alleys and unswept lanes. Nobody leaves towns undrained. Nobody fills gaols, penitentiaries, and convict stations. Nobody makes poachers, thieves, and drunkards. Nobody has a theory too—a dreadful theory. It is embodied in two words—Laissez faire—Let alone. When people are poisoned by plaster of Paris mixed with flour, “Let alone” is the remedy. When Cocculus indicus is used instead of hops, and men die prematurely, it is easy to say, “Nobody did it.” Let those who can, find out when they are cheated: Caveat emptor. When people live in foul dwellings, let them alone. Let wretchedness do its work; do not interfere with death.

In 1877, the letters young Smiles wrote home during his teenage sea voyage and the log he kept of his journey to Australia and America between February 1869 and March 1871 were published in London in book form, under the title A Boy’s Voyage Round the World.

In 1881 he claimed that,

Labour is toilsome and its gains are slow. Some people determine to live by the labour of others, and from the moment they arrive at that decision, become the enemies of society. It is not often that distress drives men to crime. In nine cases out of ten, it is choice not necessity. Moral cowardice is exhibited as much in public as in private life. Snobbism is not confined to toadying of the rich, but is quite as often displayed in the toadying of the poor… Now that the “masses” exercise political power, there is a growing tendency to fawn upon them, flatter them, speak nothing but smooth words to them. They are credited with virtues they themselves know they do not possess. To win their favour sympathy is often pretended for views, the carrying out of which is known to be hopeless. The popular agitator must please whom he addresses, and it is always highly gratifying to our self-love to be told that someone else is to blame for what we suffer. So it rarely occurs to these orators to suggest that those whom they address are themselves to blame for what they suffer, or that they misuse the means of happiness which are within their reach … The capitalist is merely a man who does not spend all that is earned by work.

Karl Marx he was not. The late 19th century and early 20th century saw the rise of New Liberalism, Keynesian economics, and socialism, all of which viewed thrift unfavorably. The New Liberal economists, J. A. Hobson and A. F. Mummery in their Physiology of Industry (1889), claimed that saving resulted in the underemployment of capital and labor during trade depressions. Over time Smiles fell out of vogue and now he is mostly seen as a Victorian curiosity although some of his ideals are still valuable. Certainly the self-help movement is alive and well.

On 16 April 1904, Samuel Smiles died in Kensington in London and was buried in Brompton Cemetery. Shortly before his death, he was reportedly offered a knighthood, which he declined to accept.

Mrs Beeton sounds almost like Smiles in the following passage, down to vaunting the Scots over the English for their legendary thrift.  If you are not a Brit you probably don’t know that the English make fun of the Scots for their frugality.

  1. IT HAS BEEN ASSERTED, that English cookery is, nationally speaking, far from being the best in the world. More than this, we have been frequently told by brilliant foreign writers, half philosophers, half chefs, that we are the worst cooks on the face of the earth, and that the proverb which alludes to the divine origin of food, and the precisely opposite origin of its preparers, is peculiarly applicable to us islanders. Not, however, to the inhabitants of the whole island; for, it is stated in a work which treats of culinary operations, north of the Tweed, that the “broth” of Scotland claims, for excellence and wholesomeness, a very close second place to the bouillon, or common soup of France. “Three hot meals of broth and meat, for about the price of ONE roasting joint,” our Scottish brothers and sisters get, they say; and we hasten to assent to what we think is now a very well-ascertained fact. We are glad to note, however, that soups of vegetables, fish, meat, and game, are now very frequently found in the homes of the English middle classes, as well as in the mansions of the wealthier and more aristocratic; and we take this to be one evidence, that we are on the right road to an improvement in our system of cookery. One great cause of many of the spoilt dishes and badly-cooked meats which are brought to our tables, arises, we think, and most will agree with us, from a non-acquaintance with “common, every-day things.” Entertaining this view, we intend to preface the chapters of this work with a simple scientific résumé of all those causes and circumstances which relate to the food we have to prepare, and the theory and chemistry of the various culinary operations. Accordingly, this is the proper place to treat of the quality of the flesh of animals, and describe some of the circumstances which influence it for good or bad. We will, therefore, commence with the circumstance of age, and examine how far this affects the quality of meat.

I’ve picked rumbledethumps as the dish to honor Smiles, partly because it’s Scottish, partly because it is a thrifty dish, and partly because I love the name. Rumbledethumps is a traditional dish from the Scottish Borders. The main ingredients are potato, cabbage and onion. It is similar to Irish colcannon, and English bubble and squeak, either served as an accompaniment to a main dish or as a main dish itself. I’ll also follow Smiles in recommending that you employ a little ingenuity in working out how to make rumbledethumps. You don’t need a recipe, just the idea (and I’ll give you a photo too).

Begin by shredding some cabbage and slicing an onion. Also boil some potatoes.  Fry the onions and cabbage in butter until they are soft. Mash the potatoes with a little butter plus salt and pepper to taste.  Combine all three well and place in a baking dish. Covered with shredded melting cheese of your choice, and bake in a hot oven until the top is golden and bubbly.

Aug 062016
 

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Today is the birthday (1809) of Alfred Tennyson FRS, poet laureate of Great Britain and Ireland during much of Queen Victoria’s reign, and still one of the most popular of British poets. He was one of the mainstays of my poetry lessons as a teen in Australia – bulwark of empire and British phlegm. A number of phrases from Tennyson’s work have become commonplaces of the English language, including “Nature, red in tooth and claw” ” ‘Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all”, “Theirs not to reason why, / Theirs but to do and die” . . . and so forth. However, I sympathize with W. H. Auden’s appraisal of Tennyson even if it is a bit harsh: “There was little about melancholia he didn’t know; there was little else that he did.”

Tennyson was born in Somersby, Lincolnshire, England. He was born into a middle-class line of Tennysons, but also had a noble and royal ancestry. He and two of his elder brothers were writing poetry in their teens and a collection of poems by all three was published locally when Alfred was only 17. Tennyson was a student at Louth Grammar School for four years (1816–1820) and then attended Scaitcliffe School, Englefield Green and King Edward VI Grammar School, Louth. He entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1827. In the spring of 1831, Tennyson’s father died, requiring him to leave Cambridge before taking his degree. He returned to his father’s rectory, where he was permitted to live for another six years and shared responsibility for his widowed mother and the family.

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Although Tennyson and his family were allowed to stay in the rectory for some time, they later moved to High Beach in Essex in 1837 until 1840. Tennyson then moved to London and lived for a time at Chapel House, Twickenham. In 1842, while living modestly in London, Tennyson published the two volume Poems, of which the first included works already published and the second was made up almost entirely of new poems, which met with immediate success and secured his name.

In 1850, after William Wordsworth’s death and Samuel Rogers’ refusal, Tennyson was appointed to the position of poet laureate. He held the position until his death in 1892, the longest tenure of any laureate before or since. Tennyson fulfilled the requirements of this position by turning out appropriate but often uninspired verse, such as a poem of greeting to Princess Alexandra of Denmark when she arrived in Britain to marry the future King Edward VII. In 1855, Tennyson produced one of his best-known works, “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” tribute to the British cavalrymen involved in an ill-advised charge on 25 October 1854, during the Crimean War.

Tennyson initially declined a baronetcy in 1865 and 1868 (when tendered by Disraeli), finally accepting a peerage in 1883 at Gladstone’s earnest solicitation. In 1884 Victoria created him Baron Tennyson, of Aldworth in the County of Sussex and of Freshwater in the Isle of Wight. Tennyson was the first person to be raised to a British peerage for his writing.

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Colonel George Edward Gouraud, Thomas Edison’s European agent, made sound recordings of Tennyson reading his own poetry, late in his life. They include recordings of “The Charge of the Light Brigade” and excerpts from “The splendour falls” (from The Princess), “Come into the garden” (from Maud), “Ask me no more” “Ode on the death of the Duke of Wellington” and “Lancelot and Elaine.” Here’s a video of one of his recordings. The animation is awful, as well as being distracting, but if you look away you can get a sense of the man and his poetry in vivo.

Tennyson continued writing into his eighties. He died on 6 October 1892 at Aldworth, aged 83. He was buried at Westminster Abbey.

Though Prince Albert was largely responsible for Tennyson’s appointment as laureate, Queen Victoria became an ardent admirer of Tennyson’s work, writing in her diary that she was “much soothed & pleased” by reading “In Memoriam A.H.H.” after Albert’s death. The two met twice, first in April 1862, when Victoria wrote in her diary, “very peculiar looking, tall, dark, with a fine head, long black flowing hair & a beard, oddly dressed, but there is no affectation about him.” Tennyson met her a second time nearly two decades later, and at that point the Queen told him what a comfort “In Memoriam A.H.H.” had been.

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With Tennyson being the quintessential Victorian it is no surprise that Isabella Beeton mentions him extravagantly:

But Tennyson has ventured beyond dates, and quinces, and syrups, which may be thought easy to be brought in by a poet. In his idyl of “Audley Court” he gives a most appetizing description of a pasty at a pic-nic:—

“There, on a slope of orchard, Francis laid
A damask napkin wrought with horse and hound;
Brought out a dusky loaf that smelt of home,
And, half cut down, a pasty costly made,
Where quail and pigeon, lark and leveret, lay
Like fossils of the rock, with golden yolks
Imbedded and injellied.”

We gladly quote passages like these, to show how eating and drinking may be surrounded with poetical associations, and how man, using his privilege to turn any and every repast into a “feast of reason,” with a warm and plentiful “flow of soul,” may really count it as not the least of his legitimate prides, that he is “a dining animal.”

Tennyson’s poem leads us effortlessly to aspics (Imbedded and injellied), one of the great bulwarks of Victorian fine dining. First I give you Beeton’s basic recipe, which is perfectly serviceable to this day, although a considerable effort.

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Aspic, or Ornamental Savoury Jelly.

  1. INGREDIENTS. — 4 lbs. of knuckle of veal, 1 cow-heel, 3 or 4 slices of ham, any poultry trimmings, 2 carrots, 1 onion, 1 faggot of savoury herbs, 1 glass of sherry, 3 quarts of water; seasoning to taste of salt and whole white pepper; 3 eggs.

Mode. — Lay the ham on the bottom of a stewpan, cut up the veal and cow-heel into small pieces, and lay them on the ham; add the poultry trimmings, vegetables, herbs, sherry, and water, and let the whole simmer very gently for 4 hours, carefully taking away all scum that may rise to the surface; strain through a fine sieve, and pour into an earthen pan to get cold. Have ready a clean stewpan, put in the jelly, and be particular to leave the sediment behind, or it will not be clear. Add the whites of 3 eggs, with salt and pepper, to clarify; keep stirring over the fire, till the whole becomes very white; then draw it to the side, and let it stand till clear. When this is the case, strain it through a cloth or jelly-bag, and use it for moulding poultry, etc. Tarragon vinegar may be added to give an additional flavour.

Time. — Altogether 4–1/2 hours. Average cost for this quantity, 4s.

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Nowadays, the ready availability of commercial gelatin makes this laborious process unnecessary, but I have reproduced it from time to time because the flavor is unbeatable. Poultry or veal in aspic was a mainstay of the Victorian sideboard, as were luscious fruit jellies. They’re not popular any more, and the few times I have made them they’ve not been winners with my guests. They are simplicity itself, however, and worth experimenting with once in a while. I use a plain metal bowl, grease it lightly with clear oil, then put some decorative herbs in the bottom, pack it with cooked chicken, then pour in a good aspic to cover. It needs to chill in the refrigerator overnight. Then, when you are ready to serve, dip the bowl briefly in hot water, then place a plate over the bowl, invert it and give it a few sharp taps to unmold the aspic. With any luck it will come out clean. Serve the aspic sliced on a bed of lettuce or mixed greens.

Jun 202016
 

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The June solstice is the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere and the Winter Solstice  in the Southern Hemisphere. The date varies between June 20 and June 22, depending on the year, and which time zone you are in. The June Solstice this year (2016) in Universal Coordinated Time (UTC – formerly GMT) is on Monday, 20 June 2016 at 22:34 UTC, which is Monday, 20 June 2016, 23:34 BST in London, but on Tuesday, 21 June 2016 at 06:34 CST in Los Angeles. So when is it? The thing is that the exact time of the solstice is determined by the moment when the sun’s zenith is at its furthest point from the equator. On the June solstice, the sun reaches its northernmost point and the Earth’s North Pole tilts directly towards the sun, at about 23.4 degrees. It is also known as the northern solstice because it occurs when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Cancer in the Northern Hemisphere.

This means that, strictly speaking, the solstice is not really a day, but a moment in time. The day on which that moment in time occurs, however, is generally referred to as the solstice, and significant events take place on that day. Ancient cultures went to great lengths to calculate when solstices were to happen, especially the winter solstice. With days getting colder and nights getting longer, it’s comforting to know that things are going to turn around, and Spring is on its way. It’s a ridiculous modern chronocentrism (http://www.passionintellectpersistence.com/chronocentrism/ ) to believe that we are oh-so-smart and know better, but primitive peoples in the distant past thought that the sun was dying every winter and that they had to light big bonfires and perform superstitious magic to bring it back. Hogwash. People really aren’t that stupid. When the same thing happens year after year, you kinda get the idea. The numerous monuments all over the world, aligned to solstices, make it clear that ancient peoples knew what they were doing and were skilled observers.

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Calculating an extremely precise moment for solstices (and equinoxes) is a function of modern astrophysics. I suspect that I am like most people who don’t really care when the exact point is, as long as I know roughly. When I lived in Buenos Aires my apartment had a great view of the setting sun, and because the sunsets were amazing, and different, every day, I got in the habit of photographing the sun every evening as it set. When you’ve done this for a year (and I did it for three – because I’m just a tad driven), you notice how days and nights lengthen and shorten, and how the position of the sun on the horizon shifts over the course of the year.

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Naturally, around the solstices you are aware that the sun’s apparent movement along the horizon is changing direction. It’s not a blink-of-the-eye moment; it takes several days to notice. But it’s evident over time. It’s good if you have a specialist to tell you exactly when the change occurs, otherwise you end up saying “Oh, the sun is heading back in the other direction – damn, I missed the turning point !” It’s much better to be able to have a party right when the change is happening. Here’s a decent video explaining solstices and other stuff if you are interested. There’s a lot more here than just explaining the seasons https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82p-DYgGFjI

When it comes to dating my blog posts I have several challenges. When does the June solstice occur this year, for example? In Italy, where I am now, it is today (20 June), but in California it is tomorrow by their reckoning. Sorry Californians – I’m going with where I am now. I liken this to figuring out when my birthday is (and when other people’s birthdays are). I was born at 9 pm on 30 March in Argentina. Obviously I don’t celebrate at exactly 9 pm Buenos Aires time; that’s going a bit far, even for me. If I were to, though, I’d have to figure out when it is 9 pm in Buenos Aires according to my current time zone. I am not that nuts. I celebrate my birthday from midnight to midnight where I am (and I try to wish people a happy birthday when it is the day of their birthday where they are). With blog posting, things are not quite so simple.

My server is set to UTC, so it changes from one day to the next at midnight UTC.  Here in Italy that is not a big problem because my local time (which is summer time) is only 2 hours ahead of UTC, so what I think the date and time are locally, is not so different from what my server thinks it is (not that my server does a lot of thinking).  When I was in Argentina and China it was a whole different story. What date my server thinks it is makes a difference to me because my posts are date stamped. If I want to say “today is . . . blah blah,” I have to synchronize with my server so that the date stamp is correct. That meant that when I was in Argentina I had to get the day’s post finished and up before 8 pm or it was stamped on the wrong date, and in Kunming, I could dither around until 7 am and still get a post up for the day before. I’ll be in real trouble if I ever move to Alaska. Fortunately that’s unlikely to happen in this lifetime.

I crossed the International Date Line by ship from west to east in 1965 on the way from Australia to England. That was a trifle surreal. You’re sitting down to dinner on Wednesday night, go to bed, and then next morning it’s Wednesday again. Time zones, the Date Line, Summer Time, etc. are all human artifacts that are important in the global age, but they can mess you up. I tend to be happiest when I can organize my life by the sun, and not by clocks. My body tells me what I need to know. I can’t remember the last time I woke to an alarm clock. If I have something urgent to do, such as catching a plane, I’ll set an alarm to be sure. But I always wake before it goes off. When light fades I go to bed, and when dawn breaks I am up.

Solstices are of marginal interest to me. They do mark the passage of the seasons, and that’s important, but I don’t do much to celebrate them. I get the feeling that a lot of “sun worshippers” at Stonehenge and the like, are ordinary folks trying to invest their humdrum mechanized, modern lives with some kind of meaning beyond clock watching and the daily grind.  More power to them. If you want an excuse for a party, go for it, but don’t expect me to be there. I answer to my own rhythms these days, and they don’t generally involve hanging out with other people.

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As it happens, Queen Victoria succeeded to the British crown on this date in 1837. William IV died at the age of 71 in the early hours of the morning. Victoria wrote in her diary, “I was awoke at 6 o’clock by Mamma, who told me the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Conyngham were here and wished to see me. I got out of bed and went into my sitting-room (only in my dressing gown) and alone, and saw them. Lord Conyngham then acquainted me that my poor Uncle, the King, was no more, and had expired at 12 minutes past 2 this morning, and consequently that I am Queen.” Official documents prepared on the first day of her reign described her as Alexandrina Victoria, but the first name was withdrawn at her own wish and not used again. She had just turned 18, which meant that a regency could be avoided, but was young and inexperienced in government and had to grow into the role. This she did over her 63 year reign, the longest in British history until Elizabeth II surpassed her in 2015.

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My mum always made apple Charlotte on Sundays to replace the usual apple crumble for the winter months. It’s a good treat for this time of year. If you make it with wild berries or a mix of berries and apples, which I usually do, it’s called Summer Pudding. Either will do for a celebration today. Here is Mrs Beeton first to combine solstice festivities with the Victorian:

A VERY SIMPLE APPLE CHARLOTTE.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—9 slices of bread and butter, about 6 good-sized apples, 1 tablespoonful of minced lemon-peel, 2 tablespoonfuls of juice, moist sugar to taste.

Mode.—Butter a pie-dish; place a layer of bread and butter, without the crust, at the bottom; then a layer of apples, pared, cored, and cut into thin slices; sprinkle over these a portion of the lemon-peel and juice, and sweeten with moist sugar. Place another layer of bread and butter, and then one of apples, proceeding in this manner until the dish is full; then cover it up with the peel of the apples, to preserve the top from browning or burning; bake in a brisk oven for rather more than 3/4 hour; turn the charlotte on a dish, sprinkle sifted sugar over, and serve.

Time.—3/4 hour. Average cost, 9d.

Sufficient for 5 or 6 persons.

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This is not quite the way my mum did it, nor I. I completely line a buttered pudding basin with bread, fill it with apple slices (or berries), top with a lid of bread, then bake in a 300°F oven for 45 minutes. I used to add sugar to the apples, but I don’t any more because I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, and I try to minimize sugar intake. Use white sugar if you do.

May 012016
 

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On this date in 1851 Queen Victoria and Prince Albert opened the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations or The Great Exhibition, sometimes referred to as the Crystal Palace Exhibition in reference to the temporary structure in which it was held. It was an international exhibition that took place in Hyde Park, London, from 1 May to 11 October 1851. It was the first in a series of World’s Fair exhibitions of culture and industry that became popular in the 19th century and was a much anticipated event. The Great Exhibition was organized by Henry Cole and Prince Albert. It was attended by numerous notable figures of the time, including Charles Darwin, Samuel Colt, members of the Orléanist Royal Family, and the writers Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll, George Eliot, and Alfred Lord Tennyson. Music for the opening was under the direction of Sir George Thomas Smart and the continuous music from the exhibited organs for the Queen’s procession was under the superintendence of William Sterndale Bennett.

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The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations was organized by Prince Albert, Henry Cole, Francis Henry, George Wallis, Charles Dilke and other members of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce as a celebration of modern industrial technology and design. It was primarily a response to the highly successful French Industrial Exposition of 1844; its prime motive was for “Great Britain [to make] clear to the world its role as industrial leader.” Prince Albert was an enthusiastic promoter of the self-financing exhibition; the government was persuaded to form the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 to establish the viability of hosting such an exhibition. Queen Victoria and her family visited three times. Although the Great Exhibition was a platform on which countries from around the world could display their achievements, Great Britain sought to prove its own superiority. The British exhibits at the Great Exhibition “held the lead in almost every field where strength, durability, utility and quality were concerned, whether in iron and steel, machinery or textiles.” Great Britain also sought to provide the world with the hope of a better future. Europe had just struggled through “two difficult decades of political and social upheaval,” and now Great Britain hoped to show that technology, particularly its own, was the key to a better future.

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The Exhibition was described as,

Large, piled-up ‘trophy’ exhibits in the central avenue revealed the organisers’ priorities; they generally put art or colonial raw materials in the most prestigious place. Technology and moving machinery were popular, especially working exhibits. [Visitors] could watch the entire process of cotton production from spinning to finished cloth. Scientific instruments were found in class X, and included electric telegraphs, microscopes, air pumps and barometers, as well as musical, horological and surgical instruments.

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A special building, nicknamed The Crystal Palace, or “The Great Shalimar”, was built to house the show. It was designed by Joseph Paxton with support from structural engineer Charles Fox, the committee overseeing its construction including Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and went from its organization to the grand opening in just nine months. The building was architecturally adventurous, drawing on Paxton’s experience designing greenhouses for the sixth Duke of Devonshire. It took the form of a massive glass house, 1851 feet (about 564 m) long by 454 feet (about 138 m) wide and was constructed from cast iron-frame components and glass made almost exclusively in Birmingham and Smethwick. From the interior, the building’s large size was emphasized with trees and statues; this served, not only to add beauty to the spectacle, but also to demonstrate human triumph over nature. The Crystal Palace was an enormous success, considered an architectural marvel, but also an engineering triumph that showed the importance of the Exhibition itself. The building was later moved and re-erected in an enlarged form at Sydenham in south London, an area that was renamed Crystal Palace. It was destroyed by fire on 30 November 1936.

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Crystal Palace, Sydenham, London, in ruins following the devastating fire of 30 November 1936

Crystal Palace, Sydenham, London, in ruins following the devastating fire of 30 November 1936

Six million people—equivalent to a third of the entire population of Britain at the time—visited the Great Exhibition. The average daily attendance was 42,831 with a peak attendance of 109,915 on 7 October. The event made a surplus of £186,000 (£18,370,000 in 2016), which was used to found the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum. They were all built in the area to the south of the exhibition, nicknamed Albertopolis, alongside the Imperial Institute. The remaining surplus was used to set up an educational trust to provide grants and scholarships for industrial research; it continues to do so today.

The Exhibition caused controversy as its opening approached. Some conservatives feared that the mass of visitors might become a revolutionary mob, whilst radicals such as Karl Marx saw the exhibition as an emblem of a capitalist fetishism of commodities. King Ernest Augustus I of Hanover, shortly before his death, wrote to Lord Strangford about it:

The folly and absurdity of the Queen in allowing this trumpery must strike every sensible and well-thinking mind, and I am astonished the ministers themselves do not insist on her at least going to Osborne during the Exhibition, as no human being can possibly answer for what may occur on the occasion. The idea … must shock every honest and well-meaning Englishman. But it seems everything is conspiring to lower us in the eyes of Europe.

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In modern times, the Great Exhibition is a symbol of the Victorian Age, and its thick catalogue, illustrated with steel engravings, is a primary source for High Victorian design. A memorial to the exhibition, crowned with a statue of Prince Albert, is located behind the Royal Albert Hall. It is inscribed with statistics from the exhibition, including the number of visitors and exhibitors (British and foreign), and the profit made.

The official descriptive and illustrated catalogue of the event lists exhibitors not only from throughout Britain but also from its ‘Colonies and Dependencies’ and 44 ‘Foreign States’ in Europe and the Americas. Numbering 13,000 in total, the exhibits included a Jacquard loom, an envelope machine, kitchen appliances, steel-making displays and a reaping machine that was sent from the United States.

Naturally we have to go with Mrs Beeton for a recipe. Her extravagant displays (often involving crystal) are a start.

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But then there is this:

GENERAL REMARKS.

  1. AN ANECDOTE IS TOLD of the prince de Soubise, who, intending to give an entertainment, asked for the bill of fare. His chef came, presenting a list adorned with vignettes, and the first article of which, that met the prince’s eye, was “fifty hams.” “Bertrand,” said the prince, “I think you must be extravagant; Fifty hams! do you intend to feast my whole regiment?” “No, Prince, there will be but one on the table, and the surplus I need for my Espagnole, blondes, garnitures, &c.” “Bertrand, you are robbing me: this item will not do.” “Monseigneur,” said the artiste, “you do not appreciate me. Give me the order, and I will put those fifty hams in a crystal flask no longer than my thumb.” The prince smiled, and the hams were passed. This was all very well for the prince de Soubise; but as we do not write for princes and nobles alone, but that our British sisters may make the best dishes out of the least expensive ingredients, we will also pass the hams, and give a few general directions concerning Sauces, &c.
  2. THE PREPARATION AND APPEARANCE OF SAUCES AND GRAVIES are of the highest consequence, and in nothing does the talent and taste of the cook more display itself. Their special adaptability to the various viands they are to accompany cannot be too much studied, in order that they may harmonize and blend with them as perfectly, so to speak, as does a pianoforte accompaniment with the voice of the singer.

Sauce soubise, named in honor of the prince, is easy to make, and goes well with ham, fish or poultry.

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Sauce Soubise

Ingredients

250g (9 oz) onion, peeled and finely sliced
60g (4½ tbsp) butter
12g plain flour
2½ dL (1 cup) clear veal or chicken broth
2 tbsp crème fraîche
pinch nutmeg
pinch caster sugar
salt and white pepper

Instructions

Place the onions in a thick bottom saucepan with 40g of butter and sauté them gently over medium-low heat, covered, for 20-25 minutes. Stir frequently and do not allow them to take on color. Stir in the flour and allow to cook, stirring, for another 5 minutes. Stir in the broth and add the seasonings to taste. Bring gently to a simmer while stirring constantly. Cover and let the sauce cook, at a very gentle simmer for at least 45 minutes. Stir from time to time.

Force the sauce through a double layer of cheesecloth lining a sieve and put back on the heat. Then add the rest of the butter and the crème fraîche. Let the sauce cook for another 5 minutes. Check the seasoning and serve (in a crystal jug !!).

Mar 292016
 

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The official opening ceremony of the Royal Albert Hall took place on this date in 1871. A welcoming speech was given by Edward, the Prince of Wales; Queen Victoria was too overcome to speak. At some point, the Queen remarked that the Hall reminded her of the British constitution. I haven’t the vaguest idea what she meant by this. There is no written British constitution. At best it can be described as a hodge-podge of statutes beginning with Magna Carta. Maybe the Hall is similar? (i.e. a mélange of all things British).

Royal Albert Hall is a concert hall on the northern edge of South Kensington, London, best known for holding the Proms concerts annually each summer since 1941. It has a capacity (depending on configuration of the event) of up to 5,272 seats. The Hall is a registered charity held in trust for the nation and receives no public or government funding.

Since its opening by Queen Victoria in 1871, the world’s leading artists from many performance genres have appeared on its stage and it has become one of the UK’s most treasured and distinctive buildings. Each year it hosts more than 390 shows in the main auditorium, including classical, rock and pop concerts, ballet, opera, film screenings with live orchestra, sports, award ceremonies, school and community events, charity performances and banquets. A further 400 events are held each year in the non-auditorium spaces. I’ve been to concerts there a few times, the first being a sort of hippie-fest featuring the Incredible String Band (look them up!!) in 1968.

The Hall was originally supposed to have been called the Central Hall of Arts and Sciences, but the name was changed to the Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences by Queen Victoria upon laying the Hall’s foundation stone in 1867, in memory of her late husband consort, Prince Albert who had died six years earlier. It forms the practical part of a national memorial to the Prince Consort – the decorative part is the Albert Memorial directly to the north in Kensington Gardens, now separated from the Hall by the road Kensington Gore.

The Hall, a Grade I listed building, is an ellipse in plan, with major and minor axes of 83 m (272 ft) and 72 m (236 ft). The great glass and wrought-iron dome roofing the Hall is 41 m (135 ft) high. It was originally designed with a capacity for 8,000 people and has accommodated as many as 9,000 (although modern safety restrictions mean that the maximum permitted capacity is now 5,544 including standing in the Gallery).

Around the outside of the building is a great mosaic frieze, depicting “The Triumph of Arts and Sciences”, in reference to the Hall’s dedication. Proceeding anti-clockwise from the north side the sixteen subjects of the frieze are: (1) Various Countries of the World bringing in their Offerings to the Exhibition of 1851; (2) Music; (3) Sculpture; (4) Painting; (5) Princes, Art Patrons and Artists; (6) Workers in Stone; (7) Workers in Wood and Brick; (8) Architecture; (9) The Infancy of the Arts and Sciences; (10) Agriculture; (11) Horticulture and Land Surveying; (12) Astronomy and Navigation; (13) A Group of Philosophers, Sages and Students; (14) Engineering; (15) The Mechanical Powers; and (16) Pottery and Glassmaking.

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Above the frieze is an inscription in 12-inch-high (300 mm) terracotta letters that combines historical fact and Biblical quotations: “This hall was erected for the advancement of the arts and sciences and works of industry of all nations in fulfilment of the intention of Albert Prince Consort. The site was purchased with the proceeds of the Great Exhibition of the year MDCCCLI. The first stone of the Hall was laid by Her Majesty Queen Victoria on the twentieth day of May MDCCCLXVII and it was opened by Her Majesty the Twenty Ninth of March in the year MDCCCLXXI. Thine O Lord is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty. For all that is in the heaven and in the earth is Thine. The wise and their works are in the hand of God. Glory be to God on high and on earth peace.”

A concert followed the opening by Victoria, when the Hall’s acoustic problems became immediately apparent. Engineers first attempted to solve the strong echo by suspending a canvas awning below the dome. This helped and also sheltered concertgoers from the sun, but the problem was not solved: it used to be jokingly said that the Hall was “the only place where a British composer could be sure of hearing his work twice.” Nowadays there are hanging baffles to combat the echo.

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The BBC Promenade Concerts, known as “The Proms” are the most famous feature of the Hall.  In 1942, following the destruction of the Queen’s Hall in an air raid, the Hall was chosen as the new venue for the proms. In 1944 with increased danger to the Hall, part of the proms were held in the Bedford Corn Exchange. Following the end of World War II the proms continued in the Hall and have done so annually every summer since. The event was founded in 1895, and now each season consists of over 70 concerts, in addition to a series of events at other venues across the United Kingdom on the last night.  Jiří Bělohlávek described The Proms as “the world’s largest and most democratic musical festival” of all such events in the world of classical music festivals.

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Proms (short for promenade concerts) is a term which arose from the original practice of the audience promenading, or strolling, in some areas during the concert. Proms concert-goers, particularly those who stand, are sometimes described as “Promenaders”, but are most commonly referred to as “Prommers.”

“Last Night” has become a national institution televised and celebrated worldwide. They were originally conducted by Proms founder, Sir Henry Wood, and then by Sir Malcolm Sargent (under whose baton I first heard them). Sargent was a wonderful master of ceremonies – hilariously grandiloquent. When Sir Colin Davis took over from Sargent in 1967 he tried to downplay the “Britishness” of the event, in particular by trying to exclude “Rule Britannia” as being overtly symbolic of British colonial tyranny. Well, it is, that is, if you treat it literally. Davis had to lighten up, though, at the outcry. Tradition won. The point is that there is a mocking tone to its rendition – especially these days – and is, at best, patriotic and not jingoistic. Here it is, to make my point:

And here’s “Jerusalem,” another Last Night fixture:

I don’t see any other choice than to give Mrs Beeton’s trifle recipe as a tribute to the Hall – both outrageous Victorian masterpieces. I love her description of adding the sherry and brandy which amounts to “add a bucket load” but using very prim tones. Every trifle I have ever made following this recipe has vanished in minutes, no matter how large I have made it.

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TO MAKE A TRIFLE.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—For the whip, 1 pint of cream, 3 oz. of pounded sugar, the whites of 2 eggs, a small glass of sherry or raisin wine. For the trifle, 1 pint of custard, made with 8 eggs to a pint of milk; 6 small sponge-cakes, or 6 slices of sponge-cake; 12 macaroons, 2 dozen ratafias, 2 oz. of sweet almonds, the grated rind of 1 lemon, a layer of raspberry or strawberry jam, 1/2 pint of sherry or sweet wine, 6 tablespoonfuls of brandy.

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Mode.—The whip to lay over the top of the trifle should be made the day before it is required for table, as the flavour is better, and it is much more solid than when prepared the same day. Put into a large bowl the pounded sugar, the whites of the eggs, which should be beaten to a stiff froth, a glass of sherry or sweet wine, and the cream. Whisk these ingredients well in a cool place, and take off the froth with a skimmer as fast as it rises, and put it on a sieve to drain; continue the whisking till there is sufficient of the whip, which must be put away in a cool place to drain. The next day, place the sponge-cakes, macaroons, and ratafias at the bottom of a trifle-dish; pour over them 1/2 pint of sherry or sweet wine, mixed with 6 tablespoonfuls of brandy, and, should this proportion of wine not be found quite sufficient, add a little more, as the cakes should be well soaked. Over the cakes put the grated lemon-rind, the sweet almonds, blanched and cut into strips, and a layer of raspberry or strawberry jam. Make a good custard by recipe No. 1423, using 8 instead of 5 eggs to the pint of milk, and let this cool a little; then pour it over the cakes, &c. The whip being made the day previously, and the trifle prepared, there remains nothing to do now but heap the whip lightly over the top: this should stand as high as possible, and it may be garnished with strips of bright currant jelly, crystallized sweetmeats, or flowers; the small coloured comfits are sometimes used for the purpose of garnishing a trifle, but they are now considered rather old-fashioned.

Average cost, with cream at 1s. per pint, 5s. 6d.

Sufficient for 1 trifle. Seasonable at any time.

Jun 032015
 

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On this date in 1839 in Humen in southern China, Lin Zexu (林则徐) destroyed 1.2 million kg of opium confiscated from British merchants, providing Britain with a casus belli to open hostilities, resulting in the First Opium War.

Lin was born in Houguan (侯官; modern Fuzhou, Fujian). The second son of the family, his father was Bin Re, a Chinese official active in the Qing dynasty. As a child, he was already “unusually brilliant”. In 1811, he received a jinshi degree in the imperial examination, and in the same year, he was appointed to the Hanlin Academy. He rose rapidly through various grades of provincial service. He was opposed to the opening of China but felt the need of a better knowledge of foreigners, which drove him to collect a great deal of material about the geography and cultures of the world. He later gave this material to Wei Yuan, who published the Illustrated Treatise on the Maritime Kingdoms in 1843. He became Governor-General of Hunan and Hubei in 1837, where he launched a suppression campaign against the trading of opium.

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An ever-growing demand for tea and low demand for British products, combined with China’s acceptance of only silver (and not gold) in payment, resulted in large continuous trade deficits. Attempts by the British (Macartney in 1793), the Dutch (Van Braam in 1794), Russia (Golovkin in 1805) and the British yet again (Amherst in 1816) to negotiate access to the China market were resounding failures. After 1817, the British began counter-trading in Indian opium, as a way to both reduce the trade deficit and finally gain profit from the formerly money-losing Indian colony. Opium was most commonly used as a treatment for cholera. The Qing government originally tolerated the importation of opium because it imposed an indirect tax on Chinese subjects, while allowing the British to double tea exports from China to England, which profited the monopoly on tea exports of the Qing imperial treasury and its agents. However, by 1820, accelerated opium consumption reversed the flow of silver, just when the Qing imperial treasury needed to finance the suppression of rebellions within China. The Viceroy of Guangdong began efforts to constrain the trade, but due to large increases in the supply of opium, the long coast line of South China, and corruption (the Qing coastal navy was one of the largest smugglers of opium), these efforts failed. Meanwhile, memorials (official letters) received from officials such as Huang Juezi urged the Daoguang Emperor to take measures that would eliminate the opium trade.

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A formidable bureaucrat known for his adherence to Confucian values, Lin was sent to Guangdong (Canton) as imperial commissioner by the emperor in late 1838 to halt the illegal importation of opium by the British. He arrived in March 1839 and made a huge impact on the opium trade within a matter of months. He arrested more than 1,700 Chinese opium dealers and confiscated over 70,000 opium pipes. He initially attempted to get foreign companies to forfeit their opium stores in exchange for tea, but this ultimately failed and Lin resorted to using force in the merchants’ enclave despite previous agreements and understandings. It took Lin a month and a half before the merchants gave up nearly 1.2 million kilograms (2.6 million pounds) of opium. Beginning 3 June 1839, 500 workers labored for 23 days in order to destroy all of it, mixing the opium with lime and salt and throwing it into the sea outside of Humen Town.

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In 1839, Lin also wrote an extraordinary memorial to Queen Victoria in the form of an open letter published in Canton, urging her to end the opium trade. (full text

http://acc6.its.brooklyn.cuny.edu/~phalsall/texts/com-lin.html )

The letter is filled with Confucian concepts of morality and spirituality. His primary line of argument is that China is providing Britain with valuable commodities such as tea, porcelain, spices and silk, while Britain sends only “poison” in return. Lin appears to have been unaware that opium was not banned in the Middle East, Europe and the Americas, and was commonly used for its medicinal rather than recreational effects. He accuses the “barbarians” (a reference to the private merchants) of coveting profit and lacking morality. His memorial expressed a desire that the Queen would act “in accordance with decent feeling” and support his efforts. He writes:

We find that your country is sixty or seventy thousand li from China. Yet there are barbarian ships that strive to come here for trade for the purpose of making a great profit. The wealth of China is used to profit the barbarians. That is to say, the great profit made by barbarians is all taken from the rightful share of China. By what right do they then in return use the poisonous drug to injure the Chinese people? Even though the barbarians may not necessarily intend to do us harm, yet in coveting profit to an extreme, they have no regard for injuring others. Let us ask, where is your conscience?

It’s probably just as well that the letter never arrived as I am sure Victoria would not have been amused. Neither Lin nor the emperor appreciated the depth or changed nature of the problem. They did not see the change in international trade structures, the commitment of the British government to protecting the interests of private traders (a commitment the Qing government would never have thought of), and the peril to the survival of the British traders posed when they surrendered their opium. Moreover, the British viewed the opening of China to free trade as a moral issue as well.

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[click image]

Open hostilities between China and Britain started in 1839 in what later would be called “The First Opium War.” The immediate effect was that Lin banned all trade with Britain unless they signed a bond stopping all opium imports, and Elliot issued an order to British companies not to sign. Before this, Lin had pressured the Portuguese government of Macau, so the British found themselves without refuge, except for the bare and rocky harbors of Hong Kong. Soon, however, Qing imperial forces were faced with a British imperial force, which included the East India Company’s (EIC) steam warship Nemesis and improved weapons.

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In late October, the Thomas Coutts arrived in China and sailed to Canton Province. This ship was owned by Quakers, who refused to deal in opium. The ship’s captain, Warner, believed Elliot had exceeded his legal authority when he banned the signing of the no opium trade bond. The captain negotiated with the governor of Canton and hoped that all British ships could unload their goods at Chuenpee, an island near Humen. To prevent other British ships from following the Thomas Coutts, Elliot ordered a blockade of the Pearl River. Fighting began on 3 November 1839, when a second British ship, the Royal Saxon, attempted to sail to Canton. Then the British Royal Navy ships HMS Volage and HMS Hyacinth fired a warning shot at the Royal Saxon.

The Qing navy’s official report claimed that the navy attempted to protect the British merchant vessel, also reporting a great victory for that day. In reality, they were out-classed by the Royal Naval vessels and many Chinese ships were sunk. Elliot reported that they were protecting their 29 ships in Chuenpee between the Qing batteries. Elliot knew that the Chinese would reject any contacts with the British and there would eventually be an attack with fire boats. Elliot ordered all ships to leave Chuenpee and head for Tung Lo Wan, 20 miles (30 km) from Macau, but the merchants preferred to harbor in Hong Kong.

In 1840, Elliot asked the Portuguese governor in Macau to let British ships load and unload their goods there in exchange for paying rent and any duties. The governor refused for fear that the Qing Government would discontinue supplying food and other necessities to Macau. On 14 January 1840, the Qing Emperor asked all foreigners in China to halt material assistance to the British in China. In retaliation, the British Government and EIC decided that they would attack Canton. The military cost would be paid by the British Government.

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Some commentators claim that Lord Palmerston, the British Foreign Secretary, initiated the Opium War to maintain the principle of free trade. Britain certainly needed to uphold its reputation, its honor, and its commitment to global free trade. China was pressing Britain just when the British faced serious pressures in the Near East, on the Indian frontier, and in Latin America. In the end the government’s need to maintain its prestige abroad forced the decision to go to war.

But there were critics at home. William Gladstone denounced the war as “unjust and iniquitous” and criticized Lord Palmerston’s willingness “to protect an infamous contraband traffic.” The public and press in the United States and Britain expressed outrage that Britain was supporting the opium trade. Lord Palmerston justified military action by saying that no one could “say that he honestly believed the motive of the Chinese Government to have been the promotion of moral habits” and that the war was being fought to stem China’s balance of payments deficit. John Quincy Adams commented that opium was “a mere incident to the dispute… the cause of the war is the kowtow—the arrogant and insupportable pretensions of China that she will hold commercial intercourse with the rest of mankind not upon terms of equal reciprocity, but upon the insulting and degrading forms of the relations between lord and vassal.”

In June 1840, an expeditionary force of British Indian army troops aboard 15 barracks ships, four steam-powered gunboats and 25 smaller boats reached Canton from Singapore. The marines were headed by James Bremer. Bremer demanded the Qing Government compensate the British for losses suffered from interrupted trade.

British military superiority drew heavily on newly applied technology. British warships wrought havoc on coastal towns; the steam ship Nemesis was able to move against the winds and tides and support a gun platform with very heavy guns and congreve rockets. In addition, the British troops were the first to be armed with modern rifles, which fired more rapidly and with greater accuracy than matchlock muskets and artillery wielded by Manchu Bannermen and Han Green Standard Army troops, though Chinese cannons had been in use since previous dynasties.Following the orders of Lord Palmerston, a British expedition blockaded the mouth of the Pearl River and moved north to take Zhoushan. Led by Commodore J.J. Gordon Bremer in the Wellesley, they captured the empty city after an exchange of gunfire with shore batteries that caused only minor casualties.

Illustration Of Opium War Battle

The next year, 1841, the British captured the Bogue forts that guarded the mouth of the Pearl River—the waterway between Hong Kong and Canton. Meanwhile, at the far west in Tibet, the start of the Sino-Sikh war added another front to the strained Qing military. By January 1841, British forces commanded the high ground around Canton and defeated Bannermen at Ningbo and at the military post of Dinghai. In the same year the British made three unsuccessful attempts to capture the harbor of Keelung on the northeast coast of Taiwan.

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Once the British took Canton, they sailed up the Yangtze and captured the emperor’s tax barges, a devastating blow since it slashed the revenue of the imperial court in Beijing to just a fraction of what it had been. By the middle of 1842, the British had defeated the Chinese at the mouth of their other great riverine trade route, the Yangtze, and occupied Shanghai. The war finally ended in August 1842, with the signing of China’s first Unequal Treaty, the Treaty of Nanking. In the supplementary Treaty of the Bogue, the Qing empire also recognized Britain as an equal to China and gave British subjects extraterritorial privileges in treaty ports. In 1844, the United States and France concluded similar treaties with China, the Treaty of Wanghia and Treaty of Whampoa respectively.

The war marked the start of what 20th century nationalists called the “Century of Humiliation”. The ease with which the British forces defeated the numerically superior Chinese armies damaged the Qing dynasty’s prestige. The Treaty of Nanking was a step to opening the lucrative Chinese market to global commerce and the opium trade. The interpretation of the war, which was long the standard in the People’s Republic of China, was summarized in 1976: The Opium War, “in which the Chinese people fought against British aggression, marked the beginning of modern Chinese history and the start of the Chinese people’s bourgeois-democratic revolution against imperialism and feudalism.”

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The Treaty of Nanjing, the Supplementary Treaty of the Bogue, and two French and American agreements were all “unequaled treaties” signed between 1842 and 1844. The terms of these treaties undermined China’s traditional mechanisms of foreign relations and methods of controlled trade. Five ports were opened for trade, gunboats, and foreign residence: Guangzhou, Xiamen, Fuzhou, Ningbo, and Shanghai. Hong Kong was seized by the British and became a free and open port. Tariffs were abolished thus preventing the Chinese from raising future duties to protect domestic industries and extraterritorial practices exempted Westerners from Chinese law. This made them subject to their own civil and criminal laws of their home country. Most importantly, the opium problem was never addressed and after the treaty was signed opium addiction doubled. China was forced to pay 21 million silver taels as an indemnity, which was used to pay compensation for the traders’ opium destroyed by Commissioner Lin. A couple years after the treaties were signed internal rebellion began to threaten foreign trade. Due to the Qing government’s inability to control collection of taxes on imported goods, the British government convinced the Manchu court to allow Westerners to partake in government official affairs. By the 1850s the Chinese Maritime Customs Service, one of the most important bureaucracies in the Manchu Government, was partially staffed and managed by Western Foreigners. Some time between 1858 and 1860 opium was legalized.

Commissioner Lin, often referred to as “Lin the Clear Sky” for his moral probity, was made the scapegoat. He was blamed for ultimately failing to stem the tide of opium imports and usage as well as for provoking an unwinnable war through his rigidity and lack of understanding of the changing world. Nevertheless, as the Chinese nation formed in the 20th century, Lin became viewed as a hero, and has been immortalized at various locations around the world.

I talked about Cantonese cuisine a little while ago http://www.bookofdaystales.com/may-4th-movement/ and suggested that replicating recipes from China was virtually impossible, and that you could come here instead. I can’t really be quite so craven again so soon. What I can suggest is that when cooking Chinese food in the West you try to stick to traditional ingredients. Western meats – chicken, pork, and beef – are not quite the same, but will do. Western pork is not anywhere near as fatty or flavorful as Chinese pork, but is probably healthier. I’ve often had dishes in Yunnan where the “pork” was, in fact, little cubes of fat with no meat. Early on I learnt to say 没有过多的肥猪肉 – “not too much fat” to quizzical looks which I think meant “idiot foreigner.” Actually, Cantonese dishes are much less fatty than those from Yunnan. Chinese vegetables are not difficult to find in the West. The main principles I urge are not to use Western onions, carrots, or broccoli. For onions use only green onions (cut in 1” lengths), and broccoli rabe for broccoli.

In Buenos Aires I used to make a tasty dish of stir fried vegetables after one of my monthly outings to barrio chino. The limitation I had, and all Western cooks have, is that you cannot get the wok hot enough to do a really good job. Cooks in China use gas jets that look like blast furnaces, which can get the wok fiery hot in seconds. You’ll never replicate this at home. Anyway, do the best you can.

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Fire up your wok until it smokes. You can use a heavy skillet if you must, but it will not get the ingredients cooked evenly like a nicely rounded wok where you can toss them freely. When the wok is smoking, add a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil (or lard) and swirl it around to coat the surface. Toss in your vegetables of choice cut in slices or bite sized pieces: green onions, minced garlic, bok choy, Chinese cabbage, Chinese mushrooms, lotus root, flowering chives, broccoli rabe, or whatever. Fry on the highest heat for about 2 minutes, tossing and stirring with a rounded spatula constantly. Then throw in flavoring sauce of choice. I used to use a mix of hoisin sauce, soy sauce, and rice wine. For a “cleaner” taste I used chicken broth, rice wine, and a little rice starch. Toss again for a minute or so to coat the vegetables and reduce the sauce. Serve with steamed rice.