My Cookery Books by Elizabeth Robins Pennell
IT was something of a shock that I woke one morning and found myself a collector of cookery books. I am not sure which seemed the more extraordinary, — that there should be cookery books to collect, or that I should be collecting them. I had thought — if indeed I had thought anything about it — that Mrs. Rorer and Cassell's Dictionary exhausted the literature of the subject, though I had heard of Mrs. Glasse: partly because the “First catch your hare,” which she never wrote, long since passed into a classical quotation; and partly because, when I first came to London, George Augustus Sala was still writing the newspaper notes he could rarely finish without a reference to “good old Hannah Glasse.” However, had I known then, as I do now, that cookery books are almost as old as time, my principles — and my purse — were against collecting anything, especially in London,
where it adds seriously to the burden of cleanliness. But who does go about it deliberately? Mr. Andrew Lang calls collecting a sport; Dr. Hill Burton defines it first as a “human frailty,” then as a “peculiar malady,” which is the definition I accept. Certainly I can trace my attack to its deadly germ.
I had undertaken, in an ambitious moment, to write a weekly column on cookery for the Pall Mall Gazette, when my only qualifications were the healthy appetite and the honest love of a good dinner usually considered “unbecoming to the sex.” To save me from exposure, a friend gave me Dumas' Dictionnaire de la Cuisine, the masterpiece of that “great artist in many varieties of form,” to quote Mr. Henley, as it is appropriate I should, since he was the friend who came so nobly to my aid. The book was useful beyond expectation. I borrowed from its pages as lavishly as Dumas had, in compiling it, helped himself from the dishes and menus of Beauvilliers and Vuillemot. The danger was that I might borrow once too often for the patience of my readers; and so, chancing presently on the uniformly bound works of Carême, Etienne, and Gouffé in a second-hand bookshop, I bought them, without stopping to ask if they were first
editions, — as they were not, — so far was the idea of collecting still from my mind. My one object was good “copy.” But booksellers always manage to know you are collecting before you know it yourself. Catalogues poured in upon me, and I kept on buying all the cookery books that promised to be of use. Gradually they spread out into an imposing row on my desk; they overflowed to the bookshelves ; they piled themselves up in odd corners ; they penetrated into the linen closet, the last place, I admit, the neat housekeeper should look for them. And yet, it was not until the summer when I went without a new gown, and carried off at Sotheby's, from the clutches of the dealer and the maw of the librarian, one of the few first editions of “good old Hannah Glasse” — the very copy from which Sala made hundreds of articles — for fifty dollars, and bought a bookcase for I do not remember how many more, that I realized what had happened, and then it was too late.
Anyhow, my sin has not been the “unlit lamp and the ungirt loin.” If it be a mistake to collect, at least I have collected so well that I have yet to find the collection of cookery books that can equal mine. It may
be put to shame when I consult M. Georges Vicaire's Bibliographie Gastronomique, with its twenty-five hundred entries, especially as M. Vicaire's knowledge of the English books on the subject is incomplete, and his ignorance of the American exhaustive, — he has never heard of Miss Leslie, poor man. But I am in countenance again when I refer to Mr. Carew Hazlitt's bibliography ; for I rejoice in a number of English books that have no place in it, while it barely touches upon foreign books, of which I have many. When it comes to actual collections, I triumph. Mr. Hazlitt speaks of the “valuable and extensive assemblage of English and foreign cookery books in the Patent Office Library ; ” but it dwindles to modest proportions when compared to mine. A private collection in Hampstead was described to me by Dr. Furnivall in terms that threatened my overwhelming discomfiture; but, on examination, cookery proved a side issue with the collector, and though I felt like slipping two or three of his shabby little calf-bound volumes into my pocket when he was not looking, there were innumerable gaps I could have filled. The cookery books at the British Museum are many, but diligent searching of the catalogue has not
revealed so great a number or as many treasures as my small bookcase contains. A rumor has reached me of an extraordinary series left as a legacy to the Public Library at Salem (Massachusetts) ; but I have not the money to cross the Atlantic and face the truth, or the courage to write to the librarian and hear it from him. I know, too, by repute, of the books of the Society of Cooks at Bordeaux; am I not just now in correspondence with their bookseller? There is also, I know, a Company of Cooks in the city of London, but I doubt if they own a book, or, for that matter, can claim a real cook in their ranks. Besides, so long as I have seen no other existing collection, I can continue to flatter myself that mine is unrivaled.
The reason for pride may not be clear to the average woman, who looks upon the cookery book, at its best, as a kitchen Baedeker, or to the average man, who would consider it unmanly to look upon it at all. But that is simply because the average woman and the average man do not know. The cookery book has every good quality that a book can have. In the first place, it makes a legitimate appeal to the collector, and M. Vicaire and Mr. Hazlitt show what the bibliographer can do with it.
Man, the cooking animal, has had from the beginning a cooking literature. What are parts of the Old Testament, of the Vedas, but cookery books? You cannot dip into Athenæous without realizing what an inspiration food and drink always were to the Greek poet. As for the Romans, from Virgil to Horace, from Petronius to Lucian, praise of good eating and drinking was forever their theme, both in prose and in verse. Early French and English historical manuscripts and records are full of cookery; and almost as soon as there was a printing press cookery books began to be printed, and they have kept on being printed ever since. It would be strange if, among them, there were not a few that provided the excitement of the hunt and the triumph of conquest. For the lover of the early printed book, there are the De Honesta Voluptate of Platina, 1474; the Viandier of Taillevent, — about 1490, according to Vicaire, is the date of the first edition; and the Cœlius Apicius, 1486. For the “Elzevirian,” there is the little Patissier Français, that once fetched three thousand dollars in the sales room, and seldom brings less than three hundred, — prices that impart dignity to all cook books. For the “Editio-Princeps man,” there is the rare Mrs.
Glasse in folio, when always afterwards she appears in less ambitious octavo, — to name but the most widely known of all. These are not prizes to be dismissed lightly.
COLOPHON : COELIUS APICIUS, 1498.
Antonius mora Ad vulgus.
My pride compels me to add (in parenthesis, as it were, for I had not meant to write about it here) that I own not only the Mrs. Glasse, but the Cœlius Apicius. It is, in the 1498 edition, a beautiful book, printed in the Roman type William Morris approved and copied for the Kelmscott Press, the page harmoniously spaced, with noble margins, a place left at the beginning of divisions for the illuminator's capitals, and the paper tenderly toned with age. My copy is in surprisingly good condition, — not a tear or a stain anywhere. It has an interesting pedigree. Dr. Blackie's autograph and the bookplate of Dr. Klotz, the German collector, are on the fly-leaf. But it has no title-page! However, even in its mutilated state it is rare, and, though I cannot read it, — I went to school before the days of the higher education for women, and to a convent, so that all the Latin I learnt was the Ave and the Pater, the Credo and the Confiteor, — I look upon it as the corner stone of my collection.
Still, I am not like Dibdin's Philemon, and I like to read my books. It is another of the good qualities of the cookery book that when you can read it, it makes the best reading in the world. For this pleasure I must come to my shelf of the seventeenth-century English books; mostly small duodecimos in shabby battered calf, one in shabbier battered vellum, their pages browned and stained with constant use. It must not be thought that my collection leaps in this disjointed fashion from century to century. Some very rare and quaint sixteenth-century Italian books are the link between these duodecimos and the Apicius; but to interpret them I need a dictionary at my elbow. Besides, they have been well cared for by the bibliographer, and I want to show first, what has not been shown before, how delightful the old cookery book is as a book to read, not merely to catalogue or to keep handy on the kitchen dresser. I pass over also the printed copies of early poems and works, preserved in famous historical manuscripts, and edited in the last century by Dr. Pegge and other scholars, in our day chiefly by Dr. Furnivall and the Early English Text Society. Though I consider them as indispensable as Apicius, and though I own the
Forme of Cury and the Liber Cure Cocorum and the Noble Book of Cookery, and the rest, they are to be classed with Charles Lamb's books that are not books, so difficult are they to all but the expert. Unfortunately, I have none of the sixteenth-century English books, of which Hazlitt gives a list of eight. Perhaps they were issued in very small editions; more probably, they were so popular that, like the early romances from Caxton's and from Wynkyn de Worde's press, they were “thumbed out of existence.” After 1600 the supply seems to have been larger, no doubt because of the growing demand, and more copies have survived. Most of the cookery books of the seventeenth century went through several editions; not even Cromwell and the Puritans could check their popularity; and I like to think, when I turn over their thin, soiled, torn pages, that many people read them not solely for information, but for pleasure, like Pepys, that fine summer day when, his wife safe in the country, he carried his ladies to the king's pleasure boat, and then down the river, between the great wharves and the shipping, “all the way reading in a book of Receipts of making fine meats and sweetmeats . . . which made us good sport.”
For Pepys, to whom, as Stevenson puts it, the whole world was a Garden of Armida, “infinite delight” lurked as naturally in a recipe as in his first periwig, or the nightingales at Vauxhall, or a lesson in arithmetic, or whatever else it might be. For us, of less buoyant temperament, if there be infinite delight, it is due, above all, to the magic of the past and the charm of association. Stateliness and elegance were the order of the day in the seventeenth century. The men, who arrayed themselves in gorgeous clothes, spoke in the rounded periods that were in keeping, — in the “brocaded language” of Mr. Gosse's expressive phrase. And the cookery books are full of this brocaded language, full of extravagant conceits, full of artificial ornament; a lover writing to his mistress, you would say, rather than a cook or a housewife giving practical directions. After the modern recipe, blunt to the point of brutality; after the “Take so much of this, add so much of that, and boil, roast, fry,” as the dull case may be, each fresh extravagance, each fresh affectation, is as enchanting as the crook of Lely's ladies or the Silvio of Herrick's verse. I should not want to try the recipes, so appalling often is the combination of savories
and sweets, so colossal the proportions. But they were written by artists who had as pretty a talent for turning a phrase as for inventing a new dish. Rose leaves and saffron, musk and “amber-greece,” orange flower and angelica, are scattered through them, until it seems as if the feast could have been spread only for Phillis or Anthea. And no water can be poured into their pots that is not “fair,” few blossoms chosen as ingredients that are not “pleasing.” Cakes are “pretty conceits,” and are garnished “according to art.” If cider leaves its dregs, these are “naughty,” and a sweet is recommended because it “comforteth the Stomach and Heart.” The names of the dishes are a joy: the tanzies of violets or cowslips, and the orangado phraises; the syllabubs and the frumenties, — “all-tempting Frumenty;” the wiggs and the pasties; the eggs in moonshine; the conserves of red roses; the possets without end, almost as lyrical as the poet's, made
“With cream of lilies, not of kine,
And maiden's blush for spicéd wine."
And the drinks: metheglin, — do we not know to the day the date of Pepys' first “brave cup” of it?—
meath, hydromel, hypocras, — a word that carries one to the Guildhall buttery, a certain Lord Mayor's Day, where Pepys is gayly tippling; hypocras “being to the best of my present judgment only a mixed compound drink, and not any wine,” which he had forsworn by solemn vow. “If I am mistaken, God forgive me! but I hope and do think I am not.” Who would not share Pepys' easy conscience? Hypocras was “only,” Dr. Twin's way, a strong compound of spice and herbs and sugar steeped for days in a gallon of good Rhenish wine; in very good claret wine, Giles Rose's way.
All the cookery books of the century are written in this brocaded language, all reveal the same pleasant fancy, all contain the same pretty dishes and strange drinks. But still, they have their differences that divide them into three distinct classes. Many are simply the old family manuscript collection of recipes, at that period common in every household of importance, put into print; to a few the master cook gives the authority of his name and experience; while there are others in which cookery is but one of several arts “exposed” by the accomplished women, to whom curing leprosy was as simple as cooking a dinner, killing rats as ordinary a pastime as
making wax flowers, and who had altogether attained a degree of omniscience that the modern contributor to a ladies' paper might well envy.
The old manuscript collection of recipes has that touch of romance we feel in a bit of half-worn embroidery or a faded sampler. The fragrance of rosemary and thyme lingers about its leaves. It is full of memories of the stillroom and the cool, spacious pantry. I have two or three, bought before I realized into what depths of bankruptcy I should plunge if I added manuscripts to my printed books. I have seen many others. In all, the tone and quality of the paper would make the etcher sigh for the waste, while the handwriting — sometimes prim, sometimes distinguished, sometimes sprawling — represents generations of careful housewives. The collection, evidently, has grown at hap-hazard: the new dish eaten at a neighbor's, jotted down before its secret is forgotten; the new recipe brought by a friend, entered while she is still by to answer for its accuracy. The style is easy and confidential; it abounds in little asides and parentheses; and always credit is given where credit is due! This, you are assured, is “Lady Dorchester's cake” or “Lady Fitzharding's nun's bisket;”
these are “Lady Kent's brown Almonds” or “Lady Compton's preserved Barford pipins;” and you must not mistake for any other “Mrs. Oldfield's lemon cream” or “Mrs. Brereton's colours for marble cake.” Now and then, as if to lend a professional air, a famous chef is cited, — Bartolomeo Scappi or Robert May, — but this is seldom. And as a housekeeper, in those days, had to know how to relieve an indigestion as well as how to make the dish that caused it; as she was, in a word, the family or village doctor, medical prescriptions are mingled with the recipes. As like as not, a cake or cream is wedged between “Aqua Mirabilis, Sir Kellam Digby's way,” and “A most excellent Water for ye Stone;” or an “Arrangement of Cucumbers” separates Dr. Graves's “Receipt for Convulsion Fitts” from “A Plague Water.”
TITLE : THE COMPLEAT COOK, 1655.
In the printed books of the seventeenth century there is an attempt at classification. “Incomparable Secrets in Physick and Chirurgery,” if revealed, form a section apart; but in other respects those I have put in the first class share the characteristics of the manuscripts. Their titles at once point to their origin. Almost all are Closets or Cabinets opened. There are exceptions. I have a
fascinating Compleat Cook, a tiny volume, neatly bound in calf, “expertly prescribing the most ready wayes, whether Italian, Spanish, or French, For dressing of Flesh and Fish, Ordering of Sauces, or making of Pastry,” which was printed for Nathaniel Brook, the great publisher of cookery books, at the Angel in Cornhill, 1655. I have also two Delights: one “printed by R. Y. and are to bee sold by James Boler 1632,” with a sadly defaced title-page, upon which little is legible save the sage advice, “Reade, practise, and Censure;” and another of 1683, “printed for Obadiah Blagrave at the Sign of the black Bear in St. Pauls Churchyard.” I have also a Pearl of Practice, and Hartman's True Preserver and Restorer of Health. But Closet or Cabinet is the more frequent title. When the name of the author does not appear, it is usually the Queen's Delight of which there is question, the Queen's Closet or Cabinet which is opened. In my first edition of The Queen's Closet Opened, published by the same publisher, Nathaniel Brook, and in the same year, 1655, as The Compleat Cook, the title-page states that these are the Incomparable Secrets “as they were presented to the Queen by the most Experienced Persons of our times, many whereof were honoured with
her own practice, when she pleased to descend to these most private Recreations;” and that they were “Transcribed from the true Copies of her Majesties own Receipt Books, by W. M. one of her late servants.” In my later edition of 1668, a portrait of Henrietta Maria — most likely a copy from Hollar, — severe in feature and dress, faces the title-page, much to my satisfaction; for, if the book turns up every now and then in booksellers' catalogues, mine is the only copy in which I have yet seen the portrait. When the name of the author does appear, it is usually one of great distinction. There is a “Ladies Cabinet Opened by the Rt Hon. and Learned Chymist, Lord Ruthven, containing Many Rare Secrets and Rich Ornaments of several kindes and different Uses.” My copy, published in 1655, by Bedell and Collins, at the Middle Temple Gate, Fleet Street, is, alas, a second edition; 1639 is the year of the first. But the second has the advantage of containing the most gallant of prefaces. “Courteous Ladies,” it begins; and it ends, “I shall thus leave you at liberty as Lovers in Gardens, to follow your own fancies. Take what you like, and delight in your choice, and leave what you list to him whose labour is not lost if anything please.” Another Closet,
“Whereby is Discovered Several ways for making of Metheglin, Cherry-Wine, etc., together with Excellent Directions for Cookery,” was opened by no less a person than Sir Kenelm Digby, whose “name does sufficiently auspicate the Work,” as his son, who published it, writes in an inimitable preface. As he appears in Vandyck's portrait, Sir Kenelm Digby is so very elegant with his shining armor, so very intellectual with his broad expanse of forehead, that one would as soon expect to hear of Lord Salisbury or Mr. Balfour writing a cookery book. His Closet has no place in Vicaire's Bibliography, nor in Hazlitt's; I have often wondered why; for, of all, it is my favorite. I agree with his delightful son that it “needs no Rhetorical Floscules to set it off,” so pleasant is the thought of this “arrant mountebank,” as Evelyn called him, — this “romantic giant,” as later kinder critics have it, — in the intervals between his duties as chancellor to the queen mother, and his intrigues for the Church, and his adventures as Theagenes, and his studies as astrologer, and his practice as amateur physician, sitting quietly at his desk writing out his recipes, as carefully as any master cook or scrupulous housewife.
TITLE : THE QUEEN'S CLOSET OPENED, 1655.
Not only are these Closets and Cabinets and Delights as
sweet with rosemary and thyme and musk as the manuscripts; they are as exact in referring every dish to its proper authority, they retain the tone of intimacy, they abound in personal confidences. “My Lady Middlesex makes Syllabubs for little glasses with spouts, thus,” you read in one collection; in another, “My Lady Glin useth her Venison Pasties” in such and such a fashion; in a third, that “this is the way the Countess de Penalva makes Portuguez eggs for the Queen.” The adjectives have the value of a personal recommendation: “The most kindley way to preserve plums, cherries, and gooseberries;” “A most Excellent Sirup of Violets both in taste and tincture;” “A singular Manner of making the Sirup of Roses;” “another sort of Marmalade very comfortable for any Lord or Lady Whatsoever;” “An excellent conceit upon the kernels of dry Walnuts.” The medicines receive equal tenderness: “An exceeding fine Pill used for the Gout;” “a delicate Stove to sweat in;” “The Gift of God, praise be to Him, for all manners of sores;” “A Precious Water to Revive the Spirits.” Who would not swallow a dozen such pills and gifts and waters, or sweat a dozen times in such a stove, without a murmur! But it is the confidential manner that I adore.
The compiler of the little vellum-bound Delight is forever taking you into his confidence. He revels in hints and innuendoes: “There is a Country Gentlewoman whom I could name, which” does so and so; or “This of a Kinde Gentlewoman whose skill I doe highly commend and whose case I do greatly pity;” and you divine all sorts of social mysteries. He has sudden outbursts of generosity: “I have robbed my wives Dairy of this secret, who hath hitherto refused all recompenses that have been offered her by gentlewomen for the same, and had I loved a Cheese myself so well as I like the receipt, I think I could not so easily have imparted the same at this time. And yet, I must needs confesse, that for the better gracing of the Title, wherewith I have fronted this pamphlet, I have been willing to publish this with some other secrets of worth, for the which I have been many times refused good store both of crowns and angels. And therefore let no Gentlewoman think this Booke too deare, at what price soever it shall be valued upon the sale thereof, neither can I esteem the worke to be of lesse than twenty years gatherings.” And people think the art of self-advertisement was evolved but yesterday! Sir Kenelm Digby is the great master of this confidential style.
If he gives my Lady Hungerford's meath, he must explain that she sent him special word that “She now useth (and liketh better) a second Decoction of Herbs,” which he also conscientiously records. If he recommends a second meath, it is because a certain chief burgomaster of Antwerp, for many years, drank it, and nothing else, “at meals and all times, even for pledging of Healths. And though he was of an extraordinary vigour every way, and had every year a child, had always a great appetite and good digestion, and yet was not fat.” He is at pains to assure you that though Mr. Webbe, probably a master cook, did use to put in a few cloves and mace in the king's meath, “the King did not care for them;” that the “Hydromel, as I made it weak for the Queen Mother was exceedingly liked by everybody;” that Sir Edward Bainton's metheglin, “My Lord of Portland (who gave it me) saith was the best he ever drank;” that for his strange dish of tea and eggs, Mr. Waller's advice is that “the water is to remain upon the tea no longer than while you can say the Miserere Psalm very leisurely.” I sometimes think, if I were in need of bedside books, — which I am thankful to say I am not, — I should give my choice, not to Montaigne and Howell with Thackeray, but to Sir Kenelm
Digby and the other openers of the old Closets and Cabinets. 1
The success of these books may have helped to drive the English cook into authorship. The artist has not always the patience to be silent while the amateur dogmatizes upon his art. There is a suggestion of revolt in the preface Robert May, the “Accomplisht Cook,” addressed to his fellow practitioners. “I acknowledge,” he says, “that there hath already been several Books publisht . . . for aught I could perceive to little purpose, empty and unprofitable Treatises, of as little use as some Niggards Kitchen, which the Reader, in respect of the confusion of the Method, or barrenness of those Authours Experience, hath rather been puzzled, than profited by.” Mock humility has never been the characteristic of the cook. He has always respected himself as the pivot of civilization. Other men, at times, have shared this respect with him. The Greeks crowned him with gold and
flowers. He went clothed in velvet, wearing a gold chain, in Wolsey's day. And in between, during the Roman rule, during ages of dark and mediæval barbarity, the ceremonial of dinner and its serving testified that the light of truth still glimmered, if dimly. But none ever understood so well as he the full dignity of his profession. “A modest Master Cook must be looked on as a contradiction in Nature,” was a doctrine in the classical kitchen. By the middle of the seventeenth century Vatel ruled in France, and in England every distinguished chef was ready to swear, with Ben Jonson's Master-Cook in the Masque, that
“A boiler, range, and dresser were the fountains
Of all the knowledge in the universe;”
that the school of cookery, that “deep School,” is
“Both the nurse and mother of the Arts.”
Imagine his dismay, then, when the amateur began to masquerade before the world as artist. Had Sir Kenelm Digby ever turned out as much as a posset or a syllabub, could Lord Ruthven, the learned, make a peacock to look like a porcupine, or an entremose of a swan, that either should strut his little day as an authority? Only the artist has the right to speak on his art. And as Leonardo
had written his treatises, as Reynolds was later to deliver his discourses, so Robert May, Will Rabisha, Giles Rose, and others, perhaps, whom I have not in my collection, began to publish books upon cookery. Jealousy of the Frenchman may have been an additional incentive. France had already the reputation for delicate dining which she has never lost, and the noble lord or lady who patronized the young apprentice sent him for his training across the Channel. May and Rabisha had both served their term in French households. But it was another matter when the French chef's book was translated into English, and threatened to rob the English cook of his glory at home. May's preface is full of sneers at the “Epigram Dishes” with which the French “have bewitched some of the Gallants of our Nation.”
Whatever the cook's motive in writing, he gave his book a character all its own. The actual dishes and drinks may be those of Closets and Cabinets, but the tone of intimacy disappears from the recipe; no name but the author's vouches for the merits of a dish; the writer is no longer on a level of equality with his readers, but addresses them from a higher plane, the plane of knowledge. There is no mistaking the air of authority. Officers
of the Mouth receive their instructions, and irresistible little cuts of birds of strange shape, and joints of no shape at all, devices for pies and pastry, are introduced as a guide to the Carver and Sewer. Nothing is neglected, from the building up of those magnificent — the adjective is May's — triumphs and trophies, those subtleties, as elaborate as Inigo Jones's setting of a masque, that were “the delights of the Nobility,” to the folding of “all sorts of Table-linen in all sorts of Figures, a neat and gentill Art,” much in vogue. And throughout, the writer never forgets his own importance. He is as serious as Montaigne's Italian chef, who talked of cooking with the gravity of the theologian and in the language of the statesman. His style is as fantastic as that of the cook in Howell's letter to Lady Cottington. He “will tell your Ladyship,” Howell writes, “that the reverend Matron, the Olla podrida hath Intellectuals and Senses; Mutton, Beef, and Bacon are to her as the Will, Understanding, and Memory are to the Soul; Cabbages, Turnips, Artichokes, Potatoes, and Dates are her five Senses, and Pepper the Common-sense; she must have Marrow to keep Life in her, and some Birds to make her light; by all means she must go adorned with Chains of Sausages.”
The very title of the cook's treatise was a marvel of bombast. Robert May's — the book was first published in 1660, by Nathaniel Brook — must be given in full: “The Accomplisht Cook, or the Art and Mystery of Cookery. Wherein the whole Art is revealed in a more easie and perfect Method, than hath been publisht in any Language. Expert and ready wayes for the Dressing of all sorts of Flesh, Fowl and Fish: The Raising of Pastes; the best Directions for all manner of Kickshaws, and the most Poinant Sauces; with the Tearms of Carving and Sewing. An exact Account of all Dishes for the Season; with other A la mode Curiosities. Together with the lively Illustrations of such necessary Figures as are referred to Practice. Approved by the Fifty Years Experience and Industry of Robert May, in his Attendance on several Persons of Honour.” Let me quote just one other, for though it is as long, it is also as irresistible. The book is Will Rabisha's; the date, 1673; the publisher, E. Calvert at the sign of the Black Spread Eagle at the West End of St. Paul's; and the title: “The whole Body of Cookery Dissected, Taught, and fully manifested, Methodically, Artificially, and according to the best Tradition of the English, French, Italian, Dutch
etc. Or, a Sympathy of all varieties in Natural Compounds in that Mysterie. Wherein is contained certain Bills of Fare for the Seasons of the year, for Feasts and Common Diets. Wherunto is annexed a Second Part of Rare Receipts of Cookery: with certain useful Traditions. With a book of Preserving, Conserving and Candying, after the most Exquisite and Newest manner: Delectable for Ladies and Gentlewomen.” A title, this, that recalls Dorothy Osborne's coxcombs who “labour to find out terms that may obscure a plain sense.”
The note may be pitched high, but not too high for the grandiloquent flights that follow. Dedications, prefaces, introductory poems, are in harmony, and as ornate with capitals and italics as the dishes are with spices and sweets. The Accomplisht Cook is further “embellished” with May's portrait: a large, portly person, with heavy face, but determined mouth, wearing his own hair, though I hope he lived long enough to take, like Pepys, to a periwig, so well would it have become him. Below the portrait, verses, engraved on the plate, declare with poetic confusion that,
“Would'st thou view but in one face,
All hospitalitie, the race
Of those that for the Gusto stand,
Whose tables a whole Ark comand
Of Nature's plentie, would'st thou see
This sight, peruse May's booke, 'tis hee."
PORTRAIT OF ROBERT MAY.
A few pages further on there is another panegyric in verse, “on the unparallel'd Piece of Mr. May, his Cookery,” and an appeal “to the Reader of (my very loving Friend) Mr. Robert May, his incomparable Book of Cookery,” by an admirer who thinks only the pen
“Of famous Cleaveland or renowned Ben,
If unintoom'd might give this Book its due.”
Will Rabisha has but one poet to sing his praise; he, however, does it thoroughly:—
“Brave Book, into the world begone,
Thou vindicatest thy Authour fearing none,
That ever was, or is, or e're shall be
Able to find the parallel of thee.”
The dedications are obsequious for such great men, but obsequiousness in dedications was the fashion of the day. May's book is dedicated not alone to Sir Kenelm Digby, but to Lord Lumley, Lord Lovelace, Sir William Paston, Sir Frederick Cornwallis, all of whom, with the exception
of Lord Lovelace, contributed to Sir Kenelm Digby's collection of recipes. “The Mæcenas's and Patrons of this Generous Art,” May calls them, in a rhetorical outburst. Rabisha, on the other hand, pays his tribute to two “illustrious duchesses,” and three “renowned, singular good, and vertuous Ladies,” to whose “boundless unspeakable virtues” he would do the honor that in him lies. May was the “most humbly devoted servant to their Lordships,” and Rabisha the “poor, unworthy servant till death” of their graces and ladyships. But this was mere posing. The real man in May comes out when he addresses as “Most Worthy Artists” the master cooks and young practitioners to whom he hopes his book will be useful; when he explains that he writes because “God and my own Conscience would not permit me to bury these my Experiences with my Silver Hairs in the Grave.” No one shall say of him that he “hid his Candle under a Bushel.” It is the real Rabisha who dwells upon the “Many years study and practice in the Art and Mysterie of Cookery” that are his qualifications as author, and the duty of “the ingenious men of all Arts and Sciences to hold forth to Posterity what light or knowledge” they understand to be obscure in their art.
The same spirit betrays itself here and there in the recipes. “The fruits and flowers that you make white must be kept in a dry place,” writes Giles Rose, or his translator, “if you will keep them for your credit and honour.” For your credit and honor! There spoke the artist. Or again, for the whipping of cream, your whisk “ought to be made of the fine small twigs of Birch, or such like wood neatly peeled, and tied up in quantity a little bigger than your thumb, and the small ends must be cut off a little, for fear of breaking in your cream, and so you come to be made ashamed.” That is the kind of thing, as Stevenson says, that reconciles one to life! The flamboyant recipes, the monumental menus, are amusing; but what I love best in my cookery books is the “vanity of the artist” that is their inspiration.
It was the vanity of the superior woman that inspired Mrs. Hannah Woolley, now forgotten by an ungrateful world. In 1670 she published The Queen-Like Closet or Rich Cabinet, with a Supplement added in 1674, that eclipsed all the Treasuries and Guides and Practices for Ladies that had already appeared, as it excels those that, later on, were to take it as model. It is the only seventeenth-century book of the kind in my collection;
but were the others on the shelf with it, I should still turn to Mrs. Woolley as the perfect type of the Universal Provider of her age and generation. She was simply amazing, as no one knew better than herself. Like Robert May, she did not believe in hiding her candle under a bushel; but where May wrote for the greater honor of his art, she wrote for the greater honor of herself. Even had she pined for the peace of obscurity, — which she did not, — her remarkable talents had made her conspicuous since childhood. Before she was fifteen she had been the mistress of a little school, — she tells the tale herself, — where she continued till the age of seventeen, “when my extraordinary parts appeared more splendid in the eyes of a noble lady in this Kingdom than really they deserved, and she greedily entertained me in her house as Governess of her only Daughter.” Then, at the death of the first lady, this prodigy was as greedily appropriated by a second, and presently “gained so great an esteem among the Nobility and Gentry of two Counties, that I was necessitated to yield to the importunity of one I dearly lov'd, that I might free myself from the tedious caresses of many more.” As, before she had done with life, she had been married to “two
Worthy Eminent and brave Persons,” it is uncertain whether the first or the second “dearly loved” was Mr. Richard Woolley, “Master of Arts and Reader at St. Martin, Ludgate.” The one thing certain is that it was from his house, in the Old Bailey in Golden Cup Court, she addressed the female sex, to whom her books — she wrote three in all — were to be a guide “in all Relations, Companies, Conditions, and States of Life, even from Childhood down to Old Age; and from the Lady at the Court to the Cook-maid in the Country.” There is a portrait of her in one of the books: a large, pompous woman, with heavy bunches of curls on either side her face, in a low velvet gown and pearls, who looks fit to tackle anything. And indeed, it must be said of her that she never shrank from duty. She even stooped to poetry, since it was the fashion to introduce it in the beginning of all such books, and her rhymes are surprisingly frivolous and jingling for so severe a lady. “I shall now give you,” is her introduction to the Supplement, which she rightly calls A Little of Every Thing, — “I shall now give you some Directions for Washing Black and White Sarsnet, or Coloured Silks; Washing of Points, Laces, or the like; starching of Tiffanies, making clean Plate,
cleaning of Gold and Silver Lace, washing Silk Stockings, adorning of Closets with several pretty Fancies; things excellent to keep the Hands White and Face and Eyes clear; how to make Transparent Work, and the Colours thereto belonging; also Puff Work; some more Receipts for Preserving and cookery; some Remedies for such Ailments as are incident to all People; as Corns, Sore Eyes, Cut Fingers, Bruises, Bleeding at Nose; all these you may help by my directions, with a small matter of cost; whereas else you may be at a great charge and long Trouble, and perhaps endanger your Eyes or Limbs. I shall give you none but such things as I have had many years experience of with good success, I praise God.”
Nor does this exhaust her resources. She offers, for “a reasonable Gratuity,” to find good places for servants who will call upon her at Golden Cup Court. She is as full of stories of the astounding cures she has wrought as the manufacturer of a patent pill. She writes letters to serve as models, so many does she meet with that she could tear as she reads, “they are so full of impertinency and so tedious.” She has advice for parents and children which “may prevent much wickedness for the future.”
She teaches waxwork. On one page she is dressing the hearth for summer time ; on the next playing the art master, for she has seen “such ridiculous things done as is an abomination to an Artist to behold.” As for example : “You may find in some Pieces, Abraham and Sarah, and many other Persons of Old Time, cloathed as they go now adaies, and truly sometimes worse.” And that the female sex — and, as we know from the examples of Mrs. Pepys and Pegg Penn, the female sex was then busy painting — may not fall into similar error, she informs them of both the visage and habit of the heroes they, in their modesty, will be most apt to paint. Thus, “If you work Jupiter, the Imperial feigned God, He must have long Black-Curled hair, a Purple Garment trimmed with Gold, and sitting upon a Golden Throne, with bright yellow Clouds about him ;” or, if it be Hymen, the God of Marriage, you must work him “with long Yellow Hair in a Purple or Saffron-Coloured Mantle.” There was nothing this ornament to her sex was afraid to teach.
To judge from the condition of my copy of The QueenLike Closet, she was not unappreciated. The title-page has gone; the dog's-ears and stains and tatters might make one weep, were they not such an admirable testimonial.
In 1678 it was presented to Mary Halfpenny by “Brother John Halfpenny when he was at Trinity College,” and the fly-leaves are covered with her own recipes for syllabubs and gooseberry wine, for orange pudding and “plane” cake; and there is on one page a valuable note from her, to the effect that the time of mushrooms is about the middle of September. Later, at some unknown date, the book became the property of Anna Warden; and about the middle of the next century it answered the purpose of family Bible to the Keeling family, so that I know to the hour when Thomas and Rebecca, children of James and Rebecca, were born, — destined to grow up and prosper, I hope, under the large and benevolent guidance of Hannah Woolley. I have never had the luck of the French collector who picked up Rousseau's copy of the Imitation of Christ, with the famous periwinkle from Les Charmettes pressed between the pages. But I prize even these modest names and notes on a fly-leaf or a margin; for me, they add a distinctly personal charm to the shabby little old cookery book.
Personal charm enough it has in itself, you might say, when it belongs to the seventeenth century. The eighteenth-
century books are not without fascination and character, but they have lost something of the freshness, the naïveté, the exuberance, of youth; the style is more sophisticated; the personality of the author is kept more in the background. May and Rabisha, Giles Rose and Hannah Woolley, are so entertaining in their selfrevelations, they tell us so much of their age, besides the manner of its cookery, that the wonder is they should be cheerfully ignored, now that Howell and Evelyn and Pepys are household names.
1 I am not sure that I would not add Gervase Markham's English Housewife (1631) and Dr. Muffett's Healths Improvement (1655). Markham is, perhaps, the prettiest and most graceful of all these writers. But both books have come into my collection only recently, since this chapter was written. [Return to text]