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PEAS WITH THE KNIFE.
PROPOSE a Society. There are a hundred reasons why it should have an immediate and a signal success.
pose it at this season of the year, because it is the time when
a the holidays are in full flow; holidays being, if you will reduce them to their simple elements, the permission to do pretty much as you please. Freedom from the chain ; the loosing of “the jesses of the tongue ;” the silence of the overseer; the lock upon the school-room door; the dropped apron; the closed desk ;-are holiday marks. The song says,
“ the bow must be sometimes loose." The dog must be unleashed; the man must go free. Not only the wight who has ten hours' work per diem; the statesman who dozes through the long debates; the man who keeps shop from cock-crow to sunset. These are not the only, perhaps not the hardest, workers. Why did the Queen delight in her evenings at Highland inns? Why have we countless anecdotes of kings and queens escaping to the modest, humble ways of life, to make holiday? Because there are folk to whom coarse clothes are a delight, and the eggs and bacon of a village inn, a rare treat. The love of masquerading is only an expression of weariness with the monotony of one's actual condition. The duchess revels in the disguise of a milk-maid. I can understand a John Howard radiant, for an evening, in the dress of Jack Sheppard; and a Princess Metternich happy under the waxlights, as a nun. The holidays of the people are being fairly looked after now; but who have troubled themselves about the vacations of the unfortunate among the unfortunate—those persons who never have anything to do?
It is at the merriest time of year they are to be pitied most. “Merry Christmas!” they cry with scorn—as well they may—for how should it be merry Christmas to them? Where is the novelty ? Show them anything they cannot command at any other season. Their children have toys all the year round. Is roast beef a novelty ? Is plum-pudding anything more or less than an elaborately concocted indigestion ? In December, crowds of people are expectant of Norfolk turkeys, and are enraptured at the sight of the noble bird in the humble and doubtful company of sausages.
The people for whom I claim public sympathy would as soon eat the oldest cock
out of a neglected farmyard. They have made the acquaintance of the turkey aux Nouilles and à la Provençale, and truffée à la mode Toulouse. They understand a turkey to mean truffles, or to be at any rate à l'écarlate, And why he should not be, I cannot, I must confess, fairly understand. The dish is easy enough ; delicate, and to the British palate, novel. We can get a bunch of fresh celery leaves in this country : spice is within our reach: we have stewpans-and we have a pinch of intelligence within the Queen's dominions. An Englishman who gets a tough old turkey breaks his teeth upon him : a Frenchman stews him to tenderness, and flavours him. The turkey is the Frenchman's dish at this time of the year, as well as the Englishman's. The difference is in this—that while the Englishman has just skill enough to get his turkey from Norfolk to the spit; the Frenchman sits over his, and says, shall he contain truffles, or olives, or chestnuts, or even mushrooms? I want to know why a Norfolk turkey, which reaches a middle-class family that does not eat turkey as work-a-day food, should not be stuffed with sausage and chestnut? Moreover, why should not the turkey be accompanied to table by a dish of fine celery, in the Provençal manner ? They who have eaten turkey purée de marrons, or with black olives, are not en fête when Christmas comes, bringing roast beef, and plain turkey with sausages.
The answer of many will be, if this thing content them not, let them go discontented ; but I protest against the injustice, for they are the people who have the fewest holidays—who seldom or never get beyond rules-who cannot slip the cord. They are to be pitied at Christmas time, at Easter, at Whitsuntide, when they see thousands about them leaping with delight because there is a sprig of holly, aglow with berries, in the sirloin. Pity the poor creatures, I beg, who remain confined in the strict laws of their state, while the children are romping about the Christmas trees of Clapham and Bayswater, and Master Tommy has got his vagrant fingers in the apple-pie at Camden Town. What is the Michaelmas goose to them ? Conceive the slavery of the gilded wretch whose evening is spoiled by the failure of a sauce! Show some commiseration to him who must, though he ache with rheumatism in every limb, dress for his Christmas dinner. Shed a tear upon the gouty man who put on a tight boot at 6 P.M., on the 25th. These slaves have no holiday. They scoff and sneer and chafe over “Merry Christmas," for it is no festive time to them. I have heard Christmas simply described as just that particular season of the year “when Englishmen go mad about beef, and believe themselves bound to laugh while they eat an unscientific compound, the parallel of which is not to be found in any
other cuisine of the civivilized world." Now, plompouding au bain marie is a delicate and refined pudding in a fluted mould, which he who has so few holidays may or may not taste when it is passed round to him, in which apricot, marmalade, and apples figure, and to no disadvantage. It is excellent to the taste; but has it the flavour which hunter's pudding has to him who may give his free opinion—who has appetite for sauce, and may eat from his fingers, if this should be the most pleasurable method to his fancy?
The poulterers' shops are still packed with birds, this January. The pheasant is the favourite with us, as with our neighbours. " Pheasant," the British housekeeper says, rubbing his red hands, “pheasant and bread sauce, I take it, nothing can be much finer than that.” With what a zest he sets-to on the 25th, a numerous and united family about him! The roast pheasant is a treat, a Christmas treat ; and everybody present is free to confess it. The expectant mouths about the table are accustomed to plain roast and boiled. It is a happy sight. It is a holiday, indeed! Not one of that party ever tasted Faisan à la Silésienne, with the choucroute and the oysters. None of them want their pheasant piqué. They are strangers to quenelles aux truffes, or pheasant à la Bohémienne. Hence Christmas is a mighty festival ; and the geese on Michaelmas day, that come, en bourgeois, with sage and onions, are delights. The mother will have no more idea of dishing up the remains of the birds, than she has of a bird à la Monglas; but her boys will romp about the house, and her girls will wear roses in their cheeks, and all will agree that it is a very happy time. As, indeed, it is, and should be, in sad England, where people so seldom stir themselves to put on holiday clothes. Our neighbours have fites without number, and a fite with them means laughter, a banquet, and a dance. The air rings with their laughter. They sing all the way out and home. The highest and mightiest among them break out of the stiff school of the upper world in a downright manner, and romp and laugh. One November's accounts from Compiègne showed the sans façon Empress Eugénie (and none can wear a statelier look than Napoleon's bride) shutting the windows with her own fair hands. That was holiday to her.
In England, where we take our pleasures soberly, and where we have nothing much more melancholy to show the foreigner than the British crowd, say on a gala day at the Crystal Palace; we have a class, and a large one, so compassed round about with the gentilities, and so over-indulged, that even the glimmer of the sun through a fog, which the British tradesman or mechanic calls a holiday, is denied them. They can never frisk. They are startled at the word.
VOL. IV., N. S. 17).
Their servants keep them in order. There is a circle round which they may move, and which, by way of change, they may cross; but beyond which they may not travel. They have an eminently polite Christmas dinner. You should see the weary eyes of the host falling upon the plum-pudding. The butler is as blasé as the rest; and, in his own mind, very much regrets that master feels himself compelled to dine on Christmas day very much as the grocer round the corner is dining. The ladies wonder what on earth can put the housemaids in such high spirits. “Christmas-day is very much like any other day to us," say they ; "only we are obliged to see a monstrous joint of beef which sickens us, and the children will have us taste a pudding which we hold in abhorrence."
I pity these poor people, and it is in their favour I am venturing to plead that next Christmas may find them less desolate than they were in 1869.
“ The beggars but a common sate deplore,
The rich poor man's emphatically poor,” writes Cowley. Compassionate the poor rich, I say, at all festive seasons of the year, for they bring no holiday to them. He who talked about the people to whom every day was a Sunday, was a superficial observer of the abject slaves of society; of the unfortunates without a want; of the miserable wretches who are never permitted to desire anything for five minutes. I beseech the fortunate reader to whom Christmas is a huge, long-anticipated holiday; the fortunate one who can joy in the toasting of chestnuts ; the lucky elf whose eyes beam over the edges of a mince-pie; the favoured of fortune who is robust enough to send his plate up twice for pudding ; the wight of strong tooth who can give a good account of the Michaelmas drumstick ;-to vouchsafe one moment's thought to the plight of the rich man who sends the turkey away untasted, his memory carrying him back to black olives! I want to assemble some good Samaritans who will comfort him, and compel him to be merry with his happy poor fellow-creatures.
I propose to establish-just as there are Christmas goose-clubs in Whitechapel, and other quarters where the slender purses abidea Society for Promoting the Eating of Peas with the Knife on Christmas Day. The patrons shall consist exclusively of persons who are in the habit of listing peas to their lips with their knife whenever the peas present themselves. The society shall be governed by a committee of people who prefer a steel fork. During the sittings of the committee every member shall be bound to keep both his elbows firmly planted upon the table. The chairman shall wear his hat art
fully pitched on the side of his head. The secretary shall smoke a pipe, the aperture of the bowl downwards. It shall be the duty of this august assembly to disseminate among the classes who are now unable to enjoy the Christmas holidays, and who have a positive aversion for the customary British fare, a new sensation, a Christmas custom which they shall be bound under pains and penalties to observe only on the 25th of December in each year.
This custom shall be the conveyance of peas to the mouth with the knife. I have selected peas for a good reason, I think, viz., that it will be extremely difficult to get them. Now, I am quite certain that the trouble which it costs a poor man to obtain a roast and a pudding, with nuts and oranges to follow, is half the enjoyment. The table is his field of victory. His carving-knife, in his sight, is a trusty sword as well. In the same way the rich poor fellow who cannot enjoy Christmas festivities as they are regulated at present, will set to work with eagerness to procure the dish of green peas. What do you think of Christmas green-pea clubs, with the landlords of Mivart's and Long's for treasurers ? There would be a tussle in that. We should hear soon of Benevolent Associations for the distribution of Christmas green peas among necessitous members of the upper class. A zest would, in short, be given to the national holiday among the rich poor creatures, whom the middle and lower classes have so long cruelly left out in the cold on Christmas day.
Then my committee would complete the delightful work of charity, and would gratuitously teach the upper class to eat the peas, got after so much toil and fret, with their knife. Think, only for a single moment, of the fun that would be imported to the Christmas banquet of the rich poor! The roasting of the chestnuts in the parlour behind the shop would be as tame as stocking-mending, to it. The butler would scarcely be able to contain himself.
I have thrown out this idea as an act of duty. I have been doomed to see so much of the dulness of Christmas ; and to hear so much about its jollity. With an aching heart have I walked the streets of London on many a 25th of December, observing the thousands of happy faces that have shaken the shadows of London life off for twenty-four hours; wondering why I should be left cool, and placid, and unexpectant, going on my way to the table where the turkey will show the black diamonds through. And I drew up my plan for the relief of the rich poor at Christmas, as the consequence of these observations.