Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

use, besides other alcoholic mixtures, a pint of brandied port, or even less, would be considered a very questionable character in France, Spain, or Italy, or even in Germany. And, therefore, although our gentlemen of the present day, are not abandoned, on festal occasions, to such brutal stretches of polluted insanity as their grandfathers were, yet this will not excuse their present ordinary practices in this respect, amid the blaze of general intelligence and refinement of the nineteenth century.

CHAPTER XVIII.

DRINKING USAGES COMMON TO THE THREE KINGDOMS,

CONTINUED.

Liquor sometimes drunk in order to save it-Story of Henny Marchbanks

Ladies' Forenoon Wine-bibbing-Gradations and Classification of British Society-Simplification of Manners-Austrian Womenof Fashion-Drinking Healths together during Dinner obsolete in the more Modish Circles-Teetotal Societies ought to undertake Anti-usage OperationsEnergy of Courtesy Usages-Moral Compulsion-Influence of Drinking Usage on these.

There is, sometimes, another motive, of rather an anomalous nature, that forces people to liquor. Drinking, of every kind, produces consumption ; but sometimes people drink wine in order to prevent it from being wasted. Some years ago. I heard an anecdote which will illustrate this. In a certain community, a respectable burgess of Scotland, once upon a time, treated his family to a jaunt in the country, for the purpose of visiting a glen and a waterfall, celebrated in those parts. A particular and valued friend of his wife was solicited to be of the number; and as the worldly circumstances of the parties were comparatively affluent, a post-chaise was not considered an undue expense. Accordingly, on the morning appointed, they set off, man, wife, and children, accompanied by their friend, Miss Henrietta Marjoribanks, an elderly maiden of frugal habits, and sedulously attentive to all points of domestic economy. They reached the inn at the neighbourhood of the fall, near their own dinner-hour; and, that they might view the beauties of nature with more inward satisfaction, they determined on dining before they should repair to the principal scene.

As their numbers and equipage were somewhat imposing in a rural district, it was judged consistent and respectable,

; the

instead of drinking water only, or ordering, at best, a noggin of whisky punch, that they should call for a bottle of port wine; this also would fulfil the sentimentalism of drinking " for the good of the house.” In those days of high duties and French wars, wine was not so general a beverage as now; and being rather cold and alien to stomach acquainted chiefly with piping hot potations (i.e. whisky toddy), the bottle was left unfinished. This was noticed by Miss Marjoribanks, and produced an interruption in the even tenor of her mind; she directed the attention of the master of the feast to the circumstance, and pressed him and his lady, without success, to finish what she assured him he would find he was to pay smartly for, when the bill should be called; her honour was also engaged to prevent loss to her friends as much as possible, seeing she was to be at no part of the day's expense. The party, however, was anxious to get away; younger portion gave not a few signs of impatience of the delay that had already intervened; Miss Henrietta was in a minority, and saw, with pain, a glass and a half of good wine left in the bottom of the bottle, and to be paid for, too; nay, it might be two glasses, or more. The rest got quickly to their feet; hats and bonnets were speedily put on; but, as they went out of the room, Miss Marjoribanks's thrifty regrets came to such a height, that she declared her resolution to drink the residue of the port herself, rather than see it thus wasted: this she put into execution as fast as possible, and followed her friends, who were now in full march to the grand object of their expectation.

It was a balmy summer afternoon; the children urged their parents to get on at double-quick time across the sunny sward; and they were not long in beginning to hear the thunder of the noble cascade, and to descry the snowy mists that its boiling waters elevated to the heavens. Sound, however, was the chief object, for a time, that met the curious sense. From the peculiarities of the place, they were obliged to suspend part of their thirst for novelty, to pass, at some little distance, the principal fall, and get to the upper parts of the river, so as to descend thence, by sundry winding ways, to the margin of the stupendous basin, into which poured the “roaring strength of floods ;” and where, as Abyssinian Bruce remarks of a similar scene, it looked as if one of the elements had broken loose, and got the dominion over nature. They, therefore, for a time, merely surveyed the swallows sporting over the tops of the trees which covered the amphitheatre that

encircled the linn; or, at best, caught a glimpse of the white sheet of foam through the apertures of interwoven boughs. On coming abreast of the upper river, they passed among difficult and perilous paths, Miss Henrietta heroically leading the van, till they arrived over a deep and tranquil pool, where the magnificent waters, here and there covered with spots of foam, slowly eddied in towards the bank, before they wound forth into the beautiful but terrific expanse of the main stream that smoothly and brightly led sheer over the precipice. Here some birchen twig caught the upper part of Miss Marjoribanks's bonnet, and she, giving her head rather an imprudent toss in order to disengage her veil, lost balance, wavered to one side, and finally slipt over a ledge of rock, and plunged into the dark and slowly-revolving sea of waters at its base. The party were thunderstruck; the children, with one accord, raised such a shriek as made wood and welkin ring; the mother of the family was at first speechless, and stared, with clenched hands and swollen eye-balls, on this unexpected sight. She was, however, quickly called both to recollection and to words, on turning round, and seeing pretty decided proofs that her worthy husband was not going to allow his wife's best friend to perish in the abyss, without an attempt at least at a rescue; he had cast off his silver-buckled shoon, parted with his coat and brown bob-wig, when his partner flew upon him like a dragon, and, grasping him with the gripe of despair, “Are ye demented ? are ye demented ?" she exclaimed ; would ye kill yourself? oh! would ye murder yourself? Let Henny Marchbanks gang-let her gang-let her just gang.

Would the man kill his wife and bairns ? help me! help me!" with other expostulatory interjections to the same effect, which probably would have succeeded, had not a glimpse of Miss Henny's white hands, flapping the darkbrown waters, like the wings of a wild duck at play, and the too horrible idea of a human creature being buried deep in the devouring flood below, overcome all prudential calculations, and instigated him, with more agility than his years would have indicated, to disengage himself from the conjugal grasp, and to scuttle down among the bushes, and drop plump over head and ears into the gulph below. The first clutch made him master of the laced mutch, and false brown frontlets of Miss Henny, which, however, came home to his hand, as sailors say of an unfixed anchor; and the eddy slowly moving its prey towards the rim of the cataract, it seemed not improbable that all was over with the destruction-doomed object

of solicitude, when, with a noble reach, executed at immense personal risk to an individual who could not swim, he succeeded with one hand in getting hold of the party-coloured integuments of Miss Henny's scalp, and with the other, as if by miracle, he kept firm possession of a tough hazel twig; his great toe meanwhile resting on the point of a rock, and himself all the while up to the lip in water. With great muscular exertion, our hero managed to keep matters in this condition till the postilion cut the reins and traces of the carriage, and, with the assistance of some labourers, who had been alarmed and summoned by the cries of the children, accomplished the landing upon terra firma of Miss Marjoribanks and her gallant deliverer. Now it has been hinted, that all this tribulation and trouble might have been avoided by a less careful consideration on the part of Miss Henny in regard to the port wine remainder.

Ladies still, in Scotland, of the middle and upper-middle ranks, in the great majority of cases, drink healths in brandied wines in the earlier parts of the day. On the very exceptionable practice of using so strong a beverage, on an empty stomach, in the forenoon, which itself would subject a woman to the imputation of drunkenness on the continent, we do not at present remark; but only point out the necessity that seems to exist, of ladies and gentlemen giving up the mere complimentary use of liquors themselves, if they would wish to see their country reclaimed from the extensive and fatal system of rule and etiquette in that respect, so universally established throughout the land, as, we suppose, will be admitted after a perusal of the above details. Mrs. Trollope states that, among the circles of the highest ton in Vienna,“ a young lady cannot touch wine of any kind, without very materially tarnishing the delicacy of her high breeding thereby.”

After an investigation of the customs of ladies of the middle and upper-middle classes in various parts of England, I am compelled to make the same charge here also of their drinking brandied wine in compliment in the forenoon. It is not easy to be explicit in the meaning of the term “lady.” This, like its counterpart of “gentleman" in the other sex, is a flexible expression. But the wife or daughter of a merchant of moderate capital, of a minister or clergyman of limited means, or of a professional man of confined practice, is adjudged to be a lady in common parlance. Although the classification may be accounted fanciful, it is possible to conceive of the mass of British society as arranged into the six following

classes ; and shades of difference sufficiently deep may be discerned in the peculiar style of manners and customs of each, on various points; viz. 1. The beggar; 2. Working men; 3. Master workmen; 4. Merchants of moderate capital, ministers, and professional men not of the highest grades, which may be denominated the middle rank; 5. A higher class of these, which may be denominated the upper-middle rank, and may further include country gentlemen of moderate incomes; 6. The highest class, which may comprehend, not only the nobility, but also country gentlemen of very large fortune, judges, rich and dignified clergy, and professional men of great wealth and eminence. No doubt in this last class there are many circles within circles, and shades of caste which the student of modish life alone can detect; but the above adjustment may suit the present purpose.

Our investigations, limited and unsuitable to the subject, as they have been, lead us to believe that females in England, in some numbers, of the 5th class, and those of the 4th class generally, use brandied wine in compliment in the forenoon, as well as at table during dinner, in compliment there also. These practices have been discontinued to a great degree, as regards compliment and courtesy, in females of the sixth or highest class.

Doubtless, as we have hinted, considerable difficulty in many cases may exist, with great varieties of persons, as to the status exactly described by the word“ lady.

A female of the uppermost order may reject the term as applied to those lower in the scale, but this circumstance is of small moment when we are engaged in investigations of matters that affect multitudes, and where reference is made chiefly to masses of population of great numerical extent. In this view the practice of fractional parts of the population become of consequence only as they affect the grand national calculation.

One is sometimes amused in talking over the particular usage above noted, with the difficulty one finds of persuading individuals of the 6th class that the practice alluded to exists at all among respectable females in Great Britain. Their answer frequently is, “Why, such things are not now done in society;” as if their circle comprehended the whole mass of the British world! We may judge of the value of such remarks, when we recollect that the individuals in the nation who keep four-wheeled carriages amount only to a ninehundredth part of the whole.

« ForrigeFortsæt »