The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 23rd January


Yes, I know, it’s a day late. I was singing all right? My and A’s first night at Orpheus & Eurydice, and a fun time we had, threatening the audience as furies. Hissed myself hoarse. Now in bed with a cold, but determined to throw it off by tomorrow lunchtime and the next performance.

Anyway, back to the birthday celebrations, and no one admitting to the 23rd January so back we got to the seventeenth century for another opinionated besom:

Hannah Woolley 1633-c.1675

Hannah started her working life at 14 running a school.moved on to be a governess, and ladies companion before eventually running a registry for domestic service in London in the 1670’s. She had a reasonable income and was able to support herself at 14. She bewailed the fate of gentlewomen fallen on hard times who hadn’t the knowledge to be anything but chamber maids or prostitutes. She wrote a scathing diatribe on the superficiality of women’s education in her recipe book The Queen-like Closet, and had a few hard things to say in The Gentlewoman’s Companion, alongside the recipes, alarming cure-alls and general household advice.

Now to the intent I may increase your wonder, I shall relate how I came to the knowledg of what I profess. When I was fourteen years old, I began to consider how I might improve my time to the best advantage, not knowing at that age any thing but what reason and fancy distated to me. Before I was Fifteen I was intrusted to keep a little School, and was the sole Mistress thereof. This course of life I continued till the age of Seventeen, when my extraordinary parts, appear’d more splendid in the eyes of a Noble Lady in this Kingdom, than really they deserv’d, who praising my works with the appellation of curious pieces of Art, was infinitely pleas’d therewith. But understanding withal, that I understood indifferently the smoth Italian, and could sing, dance and play on several sorts of Musical Instruments, she took me from my School, and greedily entertained me in her house as Governess of her only Daughter. Unto this honourable Person I am indebted for the basis, or ground-work of my Preserving and Cookery, by my observation of what she order’d to be done. By this Ladies means I came acquainted with the Court, with a deportment suitable thereunto.

A woman in this age is considered learned enough if she can distinguish her husband’s bed from that of another.

She described country gentlewomen as lacking “any agreeable discourse … like so many Mutes or Statues when they have happened into the company of the ingenious … [they] stared like so many distracted persons.”

I do daily find that in writing most women are to seek.  They many times spend their time learning a good hand; and their English and language is the one not easy to understand, the other weak and impertinent.  I meet with letters myself sometimes, that I could even tear them as I read them, they are so full of impertinency and so tedious.

She certainly seems short on patience. But she was prepared to shout about it and say that things could and should improve.

Your ambition, Gentlewomen, must mount more high, because your Convensation is most heavenly. It is immortality you aspire to, a lower orb cannot hold you; nothing else may confine you.

She also happily dished out advice on an appropriate letters including one to reject unwelcome affections and proposals of marriage ( I love this one, the cheek is magnificent.)

SIR,

IF it hath pleas’d Heaven you should love me, you cannot blame me though you suffer by it; should I accept the tenders of affection from all such amorour pretenders, I might be married to a whole Troop, and make my self a legal Prostitute. My inclinations lean not your way; wherefore give me leave to tell you, That you would do better to bestow your affections on some Lady who hath more need of a Servant than I have. And if you think your affection ought not to go unrewarded, receive the perswasions which I give you, never to trouble me more, lest you run a worse hazard by persevering in your intentions. Be advised by her who is.

Your faithful Monitor and humble Servant, etc.,

An early protest against domestic violence:

Blows are fitter for beasts than for rational creatures.

And an exhortation to choose who to marry:

Whatever you do, be not induced to marry one you have either abhorrency or loathing to.

Would we get on? She might want to rap me over the knuckles for inaccurate grammar, or consider me dull and impertinent. I hope not, I could promise to make one of her recipes – I quite like the sound of this one!

Quaking Pudding.

Slice the Crum of a Peny-manchet, and infuse it three or four hours in a pint of scalding hot Cream, covering it close, then break the bread with a spoon very small, and put to it eight Eggs (but four whites), and beat them together very well, then season it with Sugar, Rosewater and grated Nutmeg; if you think it too stiff, qualifie that fault with cold Cream, and beat them well together, then wet the bag or napkin, and flower it, put in the Pudding, and ty it hard, boil it half an hour, then dish it and put Butter to it, Rosewater and Sugar, and so serve it to the Table.

If she felt inclined we could set the world to rights and swap recipes for Quince Jelly over a glass or three of something mildly intoxicating, she seems to have a liking for Perry…

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Author: Cherry Potts

Cherry Potts is a published fiction writer, publisher, event organiser, photographer, cardmaker, NLP master practitioner, life coach and trainer. She is an enthusiastic singer. Through Arachne Press she publishes fiction and non fiction and runs spoken word events and cross-arts workshops for writers at interesting venues. Always interested in new opportunites to perform, write or explore writing.

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