The Art of Entertaining Part 5
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_Sherry Cobbler_: Full wine-gla.s.s of sherry, very little brandy, sugar, sliced lemon, cracked ice. This is but one tumblerful.
_k.u.mmel_: This liqueur is very good served with shaved ice in small green claret-cups.
_Punch_: One bottle Arrack, one bottle brandy, two quart bottles dry champagne, one tumblerful of orange curacoa, one pound of cracked sugar, half a dozen lemons sliced, half a dozen oranges sliced. Fill the bowl with large lump of ice and add one quart of water.
_Shandygaff_: London porter and ginger ale, half and half.
"And while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn Throws up a steamy column, and the cups That cheer but not inebriate wait on each, So let us welcome peaceful evening in."
Whatever objections can be urged against all other systems of entertaining, including the expense, the bore it is to a gentleman to have his house turned inside out, the fatigue to the lady, the disorganization of domestic service, nothing can be said against afternoon tea, unless that it may lead to a new disease, the _delirium teamens_. There is danger to nervous women in our climate in too great indulgence in this delicious beverage. It sometimes murders sleep and impairs digestion. We cannot claim that it is always safer than opium.
It was very much abused in England in 1678, ten years after Lords Arlington and Ossory brought it over from the meditative Dutchman, who was the first European to appreciate it. It was then called a "black water with an acrid taste." It cost, however, in England sixty s.h.i.+llings a pound, so that it must have been fas.h.i.+onable. Pepys in his diary records that he sent for a cup of tea, a "China drink which he had not used before." He did not like it, but then he did not like the "Midsummer Night's Dream." "The most insipid, ridiculous play I ever saw in my life," he writes; so we do not care what he thought about a blessed cup of tea.
In the middle of the sixteenth century, with pasties and ale for breakfast, with sugared cakes and spiced wines at various hours of the day, with solid "noonings," and suppers with strong potations of sack and such possets as were the ordinary refreshments, it is not probable that tea would have been appreciated. The Dutch were crafty, however; they saw that there was a common need of a hot, rather stimulating beverage, which had no intoxicating effects. They exported sage enough to pay for the tea, and got the better of even the wily Chinaman, who avowed some time after, in their trade with America, "That spent tea-leaves, dried again, were good enough for second-chop Englishmen."
Jonas Haunay wrote a treatise against tea-drinking in Johnson's time, and that vast, insatiable, and shameless tea-drinker took up the cudgels for tea, settling it as a brain-inspirer for all time, and wrote Ra.s.selas on the strength of it. Cobbett wrote against its use by the labouring cla.s.ses, and the "Edinburgh Review" endorsed his arguments, stating that a "prohibition absolute and uncompromising of the noxious beverage was the first step toward insuring health and strength for the poor," and a.s.serting that when a labourer fancied himself refreshed with a mess of this stuff, sweetened with the coa.r.s.est brown sugar and diluted by azure-blue milk, it was only the warmth of the water which consoled him for the moment. Cobbett claimed that the tea-table cost more to support than would keep two children at nurse.
The "Quarterly Review" in an article written perhaps by the most famous chemist of the day, said, however, that "tea relieves the pains of hunger rather by mechanical distention than by supplying the waste of nature by adequate sustenance," but claimed for it the power of calm, placid, and benignant exhilaration, greatly stimulating the stomach, when fatigued by digestive exertion, and acting as an appropriate diluent of the chyle. More recent inquiries into the qualities of the peculiar power of tea have tended to raise it in popular esteem, although no one has satisfactorily explained _why_ it has become so universally necessary to the human race.
An agreeable little book called "The Beverages We Indulge In," "The Herbs Which We Infuse," or some such t.i.tle, had a great deal to do with the adoption of tea as a drink for young men who were training for a boat-race, or who desired to economize their strength for a mountain climb. But every one, from the tired washerwoman to the student, the wrestler, the fine lady, and the strong man, demands a cup of tea.
To the invalid it is the dearest solace, dangerous though it may be.
Tannin, the astringent element in tea, is bad for delicate stomachs and seems to ruin appet.i.te. Tea, therefore, should never be allowed to stand. Hot water poured on the leaves and poured off into a cup can hardly afford the tannin time to get out. Some tea-drinkers even put the grounds in a silver ball, perforated, and swing this through a cup of boiling water, and in this way is produced the most delicate cup of tea.
The famous Chinese lyric which is painted on almost all the teapots of the Empire is highly poetical. "On a slow fire set a tripod; fill it with clear rain-water. Boil it as long as it would be needed to turn fish white and lobsters red. Throw this upon the delicate leaves of choice tea; let it remain as long as the vapour rises in a cloud. At your ease drink the pure liquor, which will chase away the five causes of trouble."
The "tea of the cells of the Dragons," the purest Pekoe from the leaf-buds of three-year-old plants, no one ever sees in Europe; but we have secured many brands of tea which are sufficiently good, and the famous Indian tea brought in by the great Exposition in Paris in 1889 is fast gaining an enviable reputation. It has a perfect bouquet and flavour. Green tea, beloved by our grandmothers and still a favourite with some connoisseurs, has proved to have so much theine, the element of intoxication in tea, that it is forbidden to nervous people. Tea saves food by its action in preventing various wastes to the system.
It is thus peculiarly acceptable to elderly persons, and to the tired labouring-woman. Doubtless Mrs. Gamp's famous teapot with which she entertained Betsy Prig contained green tea.
There is an unusually large amount of nitrogen in theine, and green tea possesses so large a proportion of it as to be positively dangerous. In the process of drying and roasting, this volatile oil is engendered. The Chinese dare not use it for a year after the leaf has been prepared, and the packer and unpacker of the tea suffer much from paralysis. The tasters of tea become frequently great invalids, unable to eat; therefore our favourite herb has its dangers.
More consoling is the legend of the origin of the plant. A drowsy hermit, after long wrestling with sleep, cut off his eyelids and cast them on the ground. From them sprang a shrub whose leaves, shaped like eyelids and bordered with a fringe of lashes, possessed the power of warding off sleep. This was in the third century, and the plant was tea.
But what has all this to do with that pleasant visage of a steaming kettle boiling over a blazing alcohol lamp, the silver tea-caddy, the padded cozy to keep the teapot warm, the basket of cake, the thin bread and b.u.t.ter, the pretty girl presiding over the cups, the delicate china, the more delicate infusion? All these elements go to make up the afternoon tea. From one or two ladies who stayed at home one day in the week and offered this refreshment, to the many who came to find that it was a very easy method of entertaining, grew the present party in the daytime. The original five o'clock tea arose in England from the fact that ladies and gentlemen after hunting required some slight refreshment before dressing for dinner, and liked to meet for a little chat. It now is used as the method of introducing a daughter, and an ordinary way of entertaining.
The primal idea was a good one. People who had no money for grand spreads were enabled to show to their more opulent neighbours that they too had the spirit of hospitality. The doctors discovered that tea was healthy. English breakfast tea would keep n.o.body awake. The cup of tea and the sandwich at five would spoil n.o.body's dinner. The ladies who began these entertainments, receiving modestly in plain dresses, were not out of tone with their guests who came in walking-dress.
But then the other side was this,--ladies had to go to nine teas of an afternoon, perhaps taste something everywhere. Hence the new disease, _delirium teamens_. It was uncomfortable to a.s.sist at a large party in a heavy winter garment of velvet and fur. The afternoon tea lost its primitive character and became an evening party in the daytime, with the hostess and her daughters in full dress, and her guests in walking-costume.
The sipping of so much tea produces the nervous prostration, the sleeplessness, the nameless misery of our overwrought women; and thus a healthful, inexpensive and most agreeable adjunct to the art of entertaining grew into a thing without a name, and became the large, gas-lighted ball at five o'clock, where half the ladies were in _decollete_ dresses, the others in fur tippets. It was p.r.o.nounced a breeder of influenzas, and the high road to a headache.
If a lady can be at home every Thursday during the season, and always at her position behind the blazing urn, and will have the firmness to continue this practice, she may create a _salon_ out of her teacups.
In giving a large afternoon tea for which cards have been sent out, the hostess should stand by the drawing-room door and greet each guest, who, after a few words, pa.s.ses on. In the adjoining room, usually the dining-room, a large table is spread with a white cloth; and at one end is a tea service with a kettle of water boiling over an alcohol lamp, while at the other end is a service for chocolate. There should be flowers on the table, and dishes containing bread and b.u.t.ter cut as thin as a shaving. Cake and strawberries are always permissible. One or two servants should be in attendance to carry away soiled cups and saucers, and to keep the table looking fresh; but for the pouring of the tea and chocolate there should always be a lady, who like the hostess should wear a gown closed to the throat; for nothing is worse form now-a-days than full dress before dinner. The ladies of the house should not wear bonnets.
When tea is served every afternoon at five o'clock, whether or no there are visitors, as is often the case in many houses, the servant--who, if a woman, should always in the afternoon wear a plain black gown, with a white cap and ap.r.o.n--should place a small, low table before the lady of the house, and lay over it a pretty white cloth. She should then bring in a large tray, upon which are the tea service, and a plate of bread and b.u.t.ter, or cake, or both, place it upon the table, and retire,--remaining within call, though out of sight, in case she should be needed. The best rule for making tea is the old-fas.h.i.+oned one: "one teaspoonful for each person and one for the pot." The pot should first be rinsed with hot water, then the tea put in, and upon it should be poured enough water, actually boiling, to cover the leaves. This decoction should stand for five minutes, then fill up the pot with more boiling water, and pour it immediately.
Some persons prefer lemon in their tea to cream, and it is a good plan to have some thin slices, cut for the purpose, placed in a pretty little dish on the tray. A bowl of cracked ice is also a pleasant addition in summer, iced tea being a most refres.h.i.+ng drink in hot weather. Neither plates nor napkins need appear at this informal and cosey meal. A guest arriving at this time in the afternoon should always be offered a cup of tea.
Afternoon tea, in small cities or in the country, in villages and academic towns, can well be made a most agreeable and ideal entertainment, for the official presentation of a daughter or for the means of seeing one's friends. In the busy winter season of a large city it should not be made the excuse for giving up the evening party, or the dinner, lunch, or ball. It is not all these, it is simply itself, and it should be a refuge for those women who are tired of b.a.l.l.s, of over dressing, dancing, visiting, and shopping. It is also very dear to the young who find the convenient tea-table a good arena for flirtation. It is a form of entertainment which allows one to dispense with etiquette and to save time.
Five-o'clock teas should be true to their name, nor should any other refreshment be offered than tea, bread and b.u.t.ter, and little cakes.
If other eatables are offered the tea becomes a reception.
There is a high tea which takes the place of dinner on Sunday evenings in cities, which is a very pretty entertainment; in small rural cities, in the country, they take the place of dinners. They were formerly very fas.h.i.+onable in Philadelphia. It gave an opportunity to offer hot rolls and b.u.t.ter, escalloped oysters, fried chicken, delicately sliced cold ham, waffles and hot cakes, preserves--alas!
since the days of canning, who offers the delicious preserves of the past? The hostess sits behind her silver urn and pours the hot tea or coffee or chocolate, and presses the guest to take another waffle. It is a delightful meal, and has no prototype in any country but our own.
It is doubtful, however, whether the high tea will ever be popular in America, in large cities at least, where the custom of seven-o'clock dinners prevails. People find in them a violent change of living, which is always a challenge to indigestion. Some wit has said that he always liked to eat hot mince-pie just before he went to bed, for then he always knew what hurt him. If anyone wishes to know what hurts him, he can take high tea on Sunday evening, after having dined all the week at seven o'clock. A pain in his chest will tell him that the hot waffle, the cold tongue, the peach preserve, and that "last cup of tea" meant mischief.
Oliver Cromwell is said to have been an early tea-drinker; so is Queen Elizabeth,--elaborate old teapots are sold in London with the cipher of both; but the report lacks confirmation. We cannot imagine Oliver drinking anything but verjuice, nor the lion woman as sipping anything less strong than brown stout. Literature owes much to tea. From Cowper to Austin Dobson, the poets have had their fling at it. And what could the modern English novelist do without it? It has been in politics, as all remember who have seen Boston Harbor, and it goes into all the battles, and climbs Mt. Blanc and the Matterhorn. The French, who despised it, are beginning to make a good cup of tea, and Russia bathes in it. The Samovar cheers the long journeys across those dreary steppes, and forms again the most luxurious ornament of the palace. On all the high roads of Europe one can get a cup of tea, except in Spain. There it is next to impossible; the universal chocolate supersedes it. If one gets a cup of tea in Spain, there is no cream to put in it; and to many tea drinkers, tea is ruined without milk or cream.
In fact, the poor tea drinker is hard to please anywhere. There are to the critic only one or two houses of one's acquaintance where five o'clock tea is perfect.
THE INTELLECTUAL COMPONENTS OF DINNER.
"Lend me your ears."
"It has often perplexed me to imagine," writes Nathaniel Hawthorne, "how an Englishman will be able to reconcile himself to any future state of existence from which the earthly inst.i.tution of dinner is excluded. The idea of dinner has so imbedded itself among his highest and deepest characteristics, so illuminated itself with intellect, and softened itself with the kindest emotions of his heart, so linked itself with Church and State, and grown so majestic with long hereditary custom and ceremonies, that by taking it utterly away, Death, instead of putting the final touch to his perfection, would leave him infinitely less complete than we have already known him. He could not be roundly happy. Paradise among all its enjoyments would lack one daily felicity in greater measure than London in the season."
No dinner would be worth the giving that had not one witty man or one witty woman to lift the conversation out of the commonplace. As many more agreeable people as one pleases, but one leader is absolutely necessary.
Not alone the funny man whom the _enfant terrible_ silenced by asking, "Mamma would like to know when you are going to begin to be funny,"
but those men who have the rare art of being leaders without seeming to be, who amuse without your suspecting that you are being amused; for there never should be anything professional in dinner-table wit.
The dinner giver has often to feel that something has been left out of the group about the table; they will not talk! She has furnished them with food and wine, but can she amuse them? Her witty man and her witty woman are both engaged elsewhere,--they are apt to be,--and her room is too warm, perhaps. She determines that at the next dinner she will have some mechanical adjuncts, even an empirical remedy against dulness. She tries a dinner card with poetical quotations, conundrums, and so on. The Shakspeare Club of Philadelphia inaugurated this custom, and some very witty results followed:--
"Enter Froth" (before champagne).
"What is thine age?" (_Romeo and Juliet_) brings in the Madeira.
"Who hath created this indigest?"
Pray you bid these unknown friends welcome, for it is a way to make us better friends.--_Winter's Tale._
See, here he comes swelling like a turkey c.o.c.k.--_Henry IV._
Sweet stem from York's great stock.--_Henry VI._
The Art of Entertaining Part 5
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The Art of Entertaining Part 5 summary
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