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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 wh
msicalities, 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