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To Mrs. K___, On Her Sending Me an
English Christmas Pudding at Paris
by Helen Maria Williams 1823
What crowding thoughts around me wake,
What marvels in a Christmas-cake!
Ah say, what strange enchantment dwells
Enclosed within its odorous cells?
Is there no small magician bound
Encrusted in its snowy round?
For magic surely lurks in this,
A cake that tells of vanished bliss;
A cake that conjures up to view
The early scenes, when life was new;
When memory knew no sorrows past,
And hope believed in joys that last!--
Mysterious cake, whose folds contain
Life's calendar of bliss and pain;
That speak of friends for ever fled,
And wakes the tears I love to shed.
Oft shall I breathe her cherished name
From whose fair hand the offering came:
For she recalls the artless smile
Of nymphs that deck my native isle;
Of beauty that we love to trace,
Allied with tender, modest grace;
Of those who, while abroad they roam,
Retain each charm that gladdens home,
And whose dear friendship can impart
A Christmas banquet for the heart!
Boiled plum or Christmas pudding
Should be made in small patties, with an excellent puff paste, on which the meat [a combination of currants, raisins, beef-suet, sugar, nutmeg, mace, cloves, pippins (apples), and brandy] should be laid, and when baked, serve with burnt brandy.
Mrs. Glasse's Plum-Porridge Recipe
The Art of Cookery c 1750
Take a leg and shin of beef, put them into eight gallons of water, and boil them till they are very tender, and when the broth is strong strain it out; wipe the pot and put in the broth again; then slice six penny-loaves thin, cut off the top and bottom, put some of the liquor to it, cover it up and let it stand a quarter of an hour, boil it and strain it, and then put it in to your pot, let it boil a quarter of an hour, then put in five pounds of currants, clean washed and picked; let them boil a little, and put in five pounds of raisons of the sun stoned, and two pounds of prunes, and let them boil till they swell, then put in three quarters of an ounce of mace, half an ounce of cloves, two nutmegs, all of them beat fine, and mix it with a little liquor cold, and put them in a very little while, and take off the pot, then put in three pounds of sugar, a little salt, a quart of sack, a quart of claret, and the juice of two or three lemons. You may thicken with sago instead of bread (if you please); pour them into earthen pan, and keep them for use.
A Christmas Arrest
from The Gentleman's Magazine, 1822
Charles, Clapp, Benjamin Jackson, Denis Jelks, and Robert Prinset, were brought to Bow Street Office by O. Bond, the constable, charged with performing on several musical instruments in St. Martin's Lane, at half-past twelve o'clock on Christmas morning, by Mr. Munroe, the authorised principal Wait, appointed by..., who alone considers himself entitled, by his appointment, to apply for Christmas Boxes. He also urged that the prisoners, acting as minstrels, came under the meaning of the Vagrant Act,...; however the word 'minstrels' is omitted; consequently they are no longer cognizable under that Act of Parliament; and in addition to that, Mr. Charles Clapp, one of the prisoners, produced his indenture of having served seven years as an apprentice to the profession of a musician to Mr. Clay, who held the same appointment as Mr. Munroe... The prisons were discharged, after receiving an admonition from Mr. Hall, the sitting magistrate, not to collect Christmas Boxes
One of the best descriptions of the English Regency Christmas comes from an American--Washington Irving.
The illustrations here come from an 1876 printing of "Old Christmas".
|A Regency Christmas had many similarities to our own much-loved holiday. While there were no Saint Nicholases, no coloured electric decorations and no busy malls and very very few Christmas trees, there were still:|
The dinner was served up in the great hall, where the squire always held his Christmas banquet. A blazing crackling fire of logs had been heaped on to warm the spacious apartment, and the flame went sparkling and wreathing up the wide-mouthed chimney...
We were ushered into this banquetting scene with the sound of minstrelsy; the old harper being seated on a stool beside the fireplace, and twanging the roast beef of old England, with a vast deal more power than melody. Never did Christmas board display a more goodly and gracious assemblage of countenances; those who were not handsome were, at least happy; and happiness is a rare improver of your hard-favoured visage. The parson said grace, which was not a short familiar one, such as is commonly addressed to the deity, in these unceremonious days; but a long, courtly, well-worded one, of the ancient school. There was now a pause, as if something was expected, when suddenly the Butler entered the hall, with some degree of bustle; he was attended by a servant on each side with a large wax light, and bore a silver dish, on which was an enormous pig's head, decorated with rosemary, with a lemon in its mouth, which was placed with great formality at the head of the table. The moment this pageant made its appearance, the harper struck up a flourish; at the conclusion of which the young Oxonian, on receiving a hint from the squire, gave, with an air of the most comic gravity, an old carol, the first verse of which was as follows:
Caput apri defero
When the cloth was removed, the butler brought in a huge silver vessel of rare and curious worksmanship, which he placed before the squire. Its appearance was hailed with acclamation; being the Wassail Bowl, so renowned in Christmas festivity. The contents had been prepared by the squire himself, being a beverage on the skilful mixture of which he particularly prided himself; alleging that it was too abstruse and complex for the comprehension of an ordinary servant. It was a potation, indeed, that might well make the heart of a toper leap within him; consisting of the richest and raciest wines, highly spiced and sweetened, with roasted apples bobbing about the surface.
The old gentleman's whole countenance beamed with a serene look of in-dwelling delight, as he stirred this mighty bowl. Having raised it to his lips, with a hearty wish of a merry Christmas to all present, he sent it brimming round the board, for every one to follow his example according to the primitive custom; pronouncing it "the ancient fountain of good fellowship, where all hearts met together."
After the dinner table was removed, the hall was given up to the younger members of the family, who, prompted to all kind of noisy mirth by the Oxonian and Master Simon, made its old walls ring with their merriment, as they played at romping games. I delight in witnessing the gambols of children, and particularly at the happy holiday-season, and could not help stealing out of the drawing room on hearing one of their peals of laughter...
The door suddenly flew open, and a whimsical train came trooping into the room, that might almost have been mistaken for the breaking up of the court of Fairy. That indefatigable spirit, Master Simon, in the faithful discharge of his duties as lord of misrule, had conceived the idea of a Christmas mummery, or masqueing; and having called in to his assistance the Oxonian and the young officer, who were equally ripe for any thing that should occasion romping and merriment, they had carried it into instant effect. The old housekeeper had been consulted; the antique clothes presses and wardrobes rummaged and made to yield up the reliques of finery that had not seen the light for several generations; the younger part of the company had been privately convened from the parlour and hall, and the whole had been bedizzened out, into a burlesque imitation of an antique masque.
Master Simon led the van as "ancient Christmas," quaintly apparel'd in short cloak and ruff, and a hat that might have served for a village steeple, from under which, his nose curved boldly forth with a frost bitten bloom that seemed the very trophy of a December blast. He was accompanied by the blue eyed romp, dished up as "Dame mince pie," in the venerable magnificence of faded brocade, long stomacher, peaked hat, and high heeled shoes. The young officer figured in genuine Kendal Green as Robin Hood; the fair Julia in a pretty rustic dress as Maid Marian. The rest of the train had been metamorphosed in various ways; the girls trussed up in the finery of their great grandmothers, and the striplings bewhiskered with burnt cork, and fantastically arrayed to support the characters of Roast Beef, Plum Porridge, and other worthies celebrated in ancient masqueings. The whole was under the control of the Oxonian, in the appropriate character of Misrule...
It was inspiring to see wild-eyed frolick and warm-hearted hospitality breaking out from among the chills and glooms of winter, and old age throwing off its apathy, and catching once more the freshness of youthful enjoyment. I felt an interest in the scene, also, from the consideration that these fleeting customs were posting fast into oblivion; and that this was, perhaps, the only family in England in which the whole of them were still punctiliously observed. There was a quaintness, too, mingled with all this revelry, that gave it a peculiar zest: it was suited to the time and place; and as the old manor house almost reeled with mirth, and wassail, it seemed echoing back the joviality of long-departed years.
It is Christmas eve of the year 1811, and Napoleon has been working alone in his office at the palace of the Tuileries since 10 o'clock in the evening. The large room is almost entirely dark. Here and there, in the shadow, shine some gilded objects, such as the frame of a picture, the heads of lions adorning the arms of a chair, and the heavy tassel of a curtain. Under their shades of metal, the wax candles of the two candelabra light only the large table incumbered with atlases and thick books bound in green morocco and stamped with the "N" and the crown.
The master has been working for nearly two hours, and on the geographical maps and on the charts marking the situation of his armies he bends his formidable forehead--that forehead heavy with thoughts, heavy as the world of which he meditates the conquest.
He has already the greatness of Caesar and Charlemagne; he also wishes that of Alexander. He dreams this dream without wondering at it. He knows already the Orient; he has left behind him there an immortal legend. The Nile saw him one day, a thin general with long hair, mounted on a dromedary. On the banks of the Ganges the heavy Emperor, in his gray redingote, will need the elephant of Porus. He knows how to lead the people and how to fanaticize them. He will command soldiers over there with bronze faces, wearing turbans of white muslin; he will see mixed with his staff rajahs sparkling with jewels, and he will consult the ... idols, raising their 10 arms above their mitre of diamonds, about his destiny; since not long ago, in Egypt, the flat-nosed Sphinx, before which he dreamed, leaning on his saber, would not betray its secret ...
But suddenly he raises his head with a movement of surprise. In his office, tightly closed and of which the heavy curtains are lowered, whence comes that strange and profound murmur? It seems as if the large gold bees embroidered on the silk hangings all begin to hum. The Emperor listens more attentively, and in that noise he distinguishes vibrations of brass.
"Ah! yes--Christmas--the midnight mass."...
The Emperor dreams--and in the confused sound of the bells which call to the midnight Mass he imagines he hears the cadenced march of the troops and the rolling of the ammunition wagons far away on the icy roads of Germany and Poland. Intoxicated with paternal ambition, he thinks more than ever of the Grand Army and of the conquest of Russia and India, and he swears to himself to leave to his heir all the thrones of the Old World. He has already given to him the city of St. Peter for a toy; the new-born will soon have other holy cities among his playthings...
And while the Emperor pursues his monstrous chimera, imagining the reign of his son and of his son's successors on the entire world, and fancying himself, Naploeon, having become, in the course of time and of legend, a fabulous myth, a new Mars, a solar god triumphant in the midst of the Zodiac of his 12 marshals, the bells still ring, joyously, triumphantly, desperately, in honour of the poor little Child born at Bethlehem, who really conquered the world 1,900 years ago, not with blood and with victories, but with the word of peace and of love, and who shall reign over souls in the endless chain of centuries.