“The Multifaceted Mr. Dickens” — Tom Gauld


Charles Dickens’s Own Punch

At Victorian Web, Philip V. Allingham shares a recipe for Charles Dickens’s punch:

“Charles Dickens’s Own Punch,” according to Brenda Marshall in The Charles Dickens Cookbook (1981), was that with which Mr. Micawber regales the eponymous youth in Chapter XXVIII of David Copperfield , the literary progeny with whom Dickens most closely identified himself. In an 1847 letter Dickens gave the following recipe for this second punch:

Peel into a very common basin (which may be broken in case of accident, without damage to the owner’s peace or pocket) the rinds of three lemons, cut very thin and with as little as possible of the white coating between the peel and the fruit, attached. Add a double handful of lump sugar (good measure [although Dickens had rather small hands]), a pint of good old rum, and a large wine-glass of good old brandy‹if it be not a large claret glass, say two. Set this on fire, by filling a warm silver spoon with the spirit, lighting the contents at a wax taper, and pouring them gently in. Let it burn three or four minutes at least, stirring it from time to time. Then extinguish it by covering the basin with a tray, which will immediately put out the flame. Then squeeze in the juice of the three lemons, and add a quart of boiling water. Stir the whole well, cover it up for five minutes, and stir again.

At this moment of crisis, the inimitable Boz suggests skimming off the lemon pips and doing some judicious sampling before one places the jug (sealed with leather on top) in a hot oven for ten minutes. However, the text’s editor proposes stove-top heating instead — “it could possibly alight in a modern oven.”


Book Acquired, 9.28.2012


Foundation, a history of England from Peter Ackroyd. From a recent Guardian profile:

Ackroyd’s trademark insight and wit, and the glorious interconnectedness of all things, permeate each page. One thing that struck me was the realisation that history isn’t nearly as linear as we thought. Something is invented, or discovered, or philosophised, and we tend to think that that’s knowledge known from then on, but even in this single volume there are endless forgettings.

“Absolutely,” comes his fast answer, spoken, as ever, gently and with a strange mix of confidence and self-effacement. “One thing which most interested me was the fact that neglect, or our genius for forgetfulness, occurs at every level of social and political activity. The same mistakes, the same confusions, occur time and time again. It sometimes seems to me that the whole course of English history was one of accident, confusion, chance and unintended consequences – there’s no real pattern.”

What he discovered, or rediscovered, is that “what underlines that random happenstance are the deep continuities of national life that survive, uninfluenced by the surface events. In this book, I have little chapters on, say, medieval medicine, or punishment, or medieval humour, simply to convey the broad continuities that underlie this bewildering range of events. Continuities of the soil, the land, the earth.” And these help create human – English – sensibilities? “Yes. As I said in my London book, it’s a sort of territorial imperative, the landscape; the shape of the geology, almost, has a definite though not comprehended effect on human behaviour, human need. So that’s one of the things I was trying to explore I suppose.”

Italo Calvino on Charles Dickens

Italo Calvino on Charles Dickens’s last novel Our Mutual Friend. Essay from Why Read the Classics?:

The Thames at nightfall, dark and muddy, with the tide rising up the piers of the bridges: against this backdrop, which this year’s news stories have brought to our attention in the most lugubrious light, a boat approaches, almost touching the floating logs, barges and rubbish. At its prow stands a man staring with vulture-like eyes at the current as though looking for something; at the oars, half-hidden by the hood of her cheap cloak, is a girl with an angelic face. What are they looking for? We soon learn that the man recovers the corpses of suicides or murder victims who have been flung into the river: the waters of the Thames seem to contain every day a rich catch for this particular fisherman. As soon as he sees a corpse floating on the water’s surface, the man removes the gold coins from his pockets, and then drags him with a rope to a riverside police station, where he will receive a reward. The angelic girl, the daughter of the boatman, tries not to look at this macabre booty: she is terrified, but continues to row.

The openings of Dickens’ novels are often memorable, but none is better than the first chapter of Our Mutual Friend, the second last novel he wrote, and the last one he completed. Carried along on the corpse-fisher’s boat, we seem to enter the dark side of the world.

In the second chapter everything changes. We are now surrounded by characters out of a comedy of manners, attending a dinner-party at the house of parvenus where everyone pretends to be old friends but in fact they barely know each other. However, before the chapter ends the guests’ conversation suddenly turns to the mystery of a man who drowned just as he was about to inherit a vast fortune, and this takes us back to the suspense of the opening chapter.

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