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ladies Literature And Tea

In spite of the fact that coffee is just as important a beverage as
tea, tea has been sipped more in literature.

Tea is certainly as much of a social drink as coffee, and more of
a domestic, for the reason that the teacup hours are the family
hours. As these are the hours when the sexes are thrown together,
and as most of the poetry and philosophy of tea-drinking
teem with female virtues, vanities, and whimsicalities, the
inference is that, without women, tea would be nothing, and
without tea, women would be stale, flat, and uninteresting. With
them it is a polite, purring, soft, gentle, kind, sympathetic,
delicious beverage.

In support of this theory, notice what Pope, Gay, Crabbe,
Cowper, Dryden, and others have written on the subject.

The tea-cup times of hood and hoop,
And when the patch was worn

--wrote Tennyson of the early half of the seventeenth century.

What a suggestive couplet, full of the foibles and follies of the
times! A picture a la mode of the period when fair dames made
their red cheeks cute with eccentric patches. Ornamented with
high coiffures, powdered hair, robed in satin petticoats and
square-cut bodices, they blossomed, according to the old
engravings, into most fetching figures. Even the beaux of the
day affected feminine frills in their many-colored, bell-skirted
waistcoats, lace ruffles, patches, and powdered queues.

Dryden must have succumbed to the charms of women through
tea, when he wrote:

And thou, great Anna, whom three realms obey,
Dost sometimes take counsel, and sometimes tay.

From the great vogue which tea started grew a taste for china;
the more peculiar and striking the design, the more valuable the

Pope in one of his satirical compositions praises the composure
of a woman who is

Mistress of herself though china fall.

Even that fine old bachelor, philosopher, and humorist, Charles
Lamb, thought that the subject deserved an essay.

In speaking of the ornaments on the tea-cup he says, in Old

I like to see my old friends, whom distance cannot diminish,
figuring up in the air (so they appear to our optics), yet on terra
firma still, for so we must in courtesy interpret that speck of
deeper blue which the decorous artist, to prevent absurdity, has
made to spring up beneath their sandals. I love the men with
women's faces and the women, if possible, with still more
womanish expressions.

Here is a young and courtly Mandarin, handing tea to a lady
from a salver--two miles off. See how distance seems to set off
respect! And here the same lady, or another--for likeness is
identity on tea-cups--is stepping into a little fairy boat, moored
on the hither side of this calm garden river, with a dainty,
mincing foot, which is in a right angle of incidence (as angles
go in our world) that must infallibly land her in the midst of a
flowery mead--a furlong off on the other side of the same
strange stream!

The Spectator and the Tatter were also susceptible to the
female influence that tea inspired. In both of these journals there
are frequent allusions to tea-parties and china. At these
gatherings, poets and dilletante literary gentlemen read their
verses and essays to the ladies, who criticised their merits.
These literary teas became so contagious that a burning desire
for authorship took possession of the ladies, for among those
who made their debut as authors about this time were Fanny
Burney, Mrs. Alphra Behn, Mrs. Manley, the Countess of Winchelsea,
and a host of others.

One of the readers of the Spectator wrote as follows:

Mr. Spectator: Your paper is a part of my tea-equipage, and
my servant knows my humor so well that, calling for my breakfast
this morning (it being past my usual hour), she answered,
the Spectator was not come in, but that the tea-kettle
boiled, and she expected it every minute.

Crabbe, too, was a devotee of ladies, literature, and tea, for he

The gentle fair on nervous tea relies,
Whilst gay good-nature sparkles in her eyes;
And inoffensive scandal fluttering round,
Too rough to tickle and too light to wound.

What better proof do we want, therefore, that to women's
influence is due the cultivation and retention of the tea habit?
Without tea, what would become of women, and without women
and tea, what would become of our domestic literary men and
matinee idols? They would not sit at home or in salons and
write and act things. There would be no homes to sit in, no
salons or theatres to act in, and dramatic art would receive a
blow from which it could not recover in a century, at least.

In the year 1700, J. Roberts, a London publisher, issued a
pamphlet of about fifty pages which was made up as follows:

Poem upon Tea in Two Cantos . . . 34 pages
Dedication of the poem . . . . . . 6
Preface to the poem . . . . . . . 2
Poem upon the poem . . . . . .. . 1
Introduction to the poem . . . . . 4
To the author upon the poem . . 1
Postscript . . . . . . . . . .. . 3
Tea-Table . . . . . . . . . . . . 2

The poem--pi?ce de r?sistance--which is by one Nahum Tate,
who figures on the title-page as Servant to His Majesty, is an
allegory; and although good in spots is too long and too dry to
reproduce here. The poem upon the poem, The Introduction,
and the Tea-Table verses will be found interesting and

Next: on Our English Poetry And This Poem Upon Tea

Previous: the Tea-table

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