We know that Mr Weston is a gregarious man , and as a host for a party I think he might be perfect- constantly replenishing drink and encouraging jollity…(though I admit, his gregariousness in everyday life might begin to pall……)
We also know, however, that Mr Elton partook a little too much of his hospitality, for he became emboldened by the wine he had consumed and, in that dreadful carriage ride home to Vicarage Lane, proposed to an astounded Emma:
And the bell was rung, and the carriages spoken for. A few minutes more, and Emma hoped to see one troublesome companion deposited in his own house, to get sober and cool, and the other recover his temper and happiness when this visit of hardship were over…Isabella stept in after her father; John Knightley, forgetting that he did not belong to their party, stept in after his wife very naturally; so that Emma found, on being escorted and followed into the second carriage by Mr. Elton, that the door was to be lawfully shut on them, and that they were to have a tête-á-tête drive. It would not have been the awkwardness of a moment, it would have been rather a pleasure, previous to the suspicions of this very day; she could have talked to him of Harriet, and the three-quarters of a mile would have seemed but one. But now, she would rather it had not happened. She believed he had been drinking too much of Mr. Weston’s good wine, and felt sure that he would want to be talking nonsense….
But Mr. Elton had only drunk wine enough to elevate his spirits, not at all to confuse his intellects.
(Emma, Chapter 15)
So what made Mr Elton a man who was …. Unsafe in Carriages?
In addition to wine I think it highly likely. as this was a special occasion, that Mr Weston would have provided punch for his guests for toasting purposes. Punch was traditionally used as a genial drink to be taken in company in Jane Austen’s era.
Punch was phenomenally popular during the long 18th century. It developed as a drink as a result of the opening up of trade between Europe and the Far East. Punch derived its name from the Persian word Panj and the Hindu word Panch, both meaning five-referring to the number of ingredients used in the drink .
It was a originally a strong mixture of arrack, water, lemon juice, sugar and spices. Arrack was a distilled alcohol made from the secretion of rubber trees in Goa, or if made in Batavia, it was a distilled sprit made from rice and sugar.
The records of the East India Company actually show that not many barrels of arrack were imported to England during the long 18th century: the English used brandy or eau de vie instead, realizing that it was not merely intended for use as a fuel for keeping chafing dishes or kettles warm( like a methylated spirit burner)as it had been in the 17th century, but that it could, in fact, be consumed as an fine alcoholic drink.
Punch was traditionally served in ceramic punch bowls which were imported into England by the East India Company specifically for this purpose from the 1690s onwards. This is one from my collection dating from the mid to late 18th century:
The custom of sharing of a punch from a communal punch bowl takes its inspiration from the old Christmas custom of Wassailing, shown here in an illustration from Washington Irving’s book The Keeping of Christmas at Bracebridge Hall:
Punch was drunk from glass or metal-silver or silver gilt- punch cups, like these early 19th century (circa 1800) examples:
Not that in England punch was always consumed at room temperature ( unlike in Colonial America where many recipes for punch called for the use of ice).
Here is John Notts’ recipe for Punch Royal from his Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary of 1726:
And one for chamber maids….which is interesting and not a little saucy in its intent:
Mrs Rundell in her New System of Domestic Cookery (1819) records the fashion for milk punch
Punch was an expensive and time consuming drink to prepare. The rind of citrus fruit had to be carefully removed in a spiral for decorative purposes; the juice of citrus fruit lemons orange or limes- had to be squeezed by hand and sieved of its pips through a muslin strainer; the sugar and spices-expensive commodities both -had to be mixed in correct proportions and finally the expensive spirits added.
The spiral cut rinds of oranges were traditionally dangled in and over the edge of the bowl, as prepared by me on Ivan Day’s Christmas Past course;
Towards the end of the 18th century drinking punch in this manner communally from a bowl- was seen as a slightly old fashioned thing to do : the fashion in very smart society was for the passing not of ceramic bowls around the mahogany dining table, but for sliding bottles stands made of precious metal in various designs, and shimmering and expensive cut crystal decanters of individual spirits glittering in the candlelight ~ as shown in this sideboard at Fairfax House in York,
set up according to the directions given in Thomas Consett’s book The Footman’s Directory and Butlers Rememberancer (1823)
That is why Mrs Bennet betrays her old-fashioned habits when she orders a bowl of punch to be served to the servants at Lydia’s wedding in Pride and Prejudice…
“I will go to Meryton,” said she, “as soon as I am dressed, and tell the good, good news to my sister Phillips. And as I come back, I can call on Lady Lucas and Mrs. Long. Kitty, run down and order the carriage. An airing would do me a great deal of good, I am sure. Girls, can I do anything for you in Meryton? Oh! here comes Hill! My dear Hill, have you heard the good news? Miss Lydia is going to be married; and you shall all have a bowl of punch to make merry at her wedding.”
The taste for drinking punch still remained fashionable, even if it was not served in a bowl, but in individual glasses. As a method of conspicuous consumption it still remained popular as the ingredients here, for the recipe for the Prince of Wales Punch, demonstrates how very expensive it could be:
Three bottles of Champagne, tw of Madeira, one of Hock, one of Curacao, one quart of Brandy, one pint of Rum, and two bottles of selzer water, flavoured with four pounds of bloom raisins, Seville oranges, lemons,white sugar candy and diluted with iced green tea instead of water.
I tasted this on the Regency Cookery Course I attended at Ivan Day’s Historic Foods in Cumbria,and it was delicious. But potent. No wonder Mr Elton was emblodened.
If you would like to hear what happens on a Taste of Christmas Past Course, go here to listen to an Episode of Radio 4’s Food Programme which followed some people on one of Ivan’s courses.
And I take my leave of you till after Christmas,a season which for us ends just after New Year with the return to the office and to colleges and schools. But in Jane Austen’s era the end of the season was Twelfth Night-a time for revelry and great cakes, like the one below:
And that will be the subject of my next post.
So it only remains for me to wish you all a Merry Christmas with a view of Sir Joshua Reynolds Nativity...
and to hope to “see” you all again, on Twelth Night (January 6th!)