Friday, November 19, 2010

Praising Ale with John Taylor the Water-Poet, 1637

Friday, November 19, 2010
Susan reporting:

With the weekend before us, we thought we'd start Happy Hour a bit early with English poet John Taylor (1578-1653), shown glowering, left, in a contemporary engraving.

Odds are that unless you were an English Lit major, you've never heard of Taylor – or, as he called himself, John Taylor the Water-Poet. Taylor wasn't some sighing, sonnet-penning courtier, but a member of the boatmen's guild, a rough-hewn, working waterman on the Thames who ferried passengers along the river for much of his adult life. (Think of a modern cab-driver writing poetry.) More than 150 publications are credited to Taylor, ranging from poems to singular travelogues to satirical, opinionated brochures. He's also the author of one of the earliest English palindromes: "Lewd did I live, & evil I did dwel."

This excerpt is from his Historie of the most part of drinks, in use now in the kingdomes of Great Brittaine and Ireland, which Taylor published in 1637. It was a subject dear to the waterman, and his Historie is clearly based on much personal, ah, research. While some of these drinks are long forgotten (a glass of pomperkin, anyone?), Taylor favored ale, and when he lists all its admirable qualities, who can blame him?

"First then, ALE is a singular remedy against all melancholick diseases, Tremor cordis, and Malacies of the spleene. It is purgative and of great operation against all gripings of the small guts. It cures the stone in the Bladder or Kidneys, and provokes Urine wonderfully. It mollifies Tumors and swellings in the body, and is very predominant in opening the obstructions of the Liver. It is the most effectuall for clearing of the sight, being applied outwardly. It asswageth the unsufferable paine of the Gowt. Ale was famous...from the highest and Noblest Palace to the poorest or meanest Colltage. Ale is universall, and for Vertue it stands allowable with the best receipts of the most Antientest Physitians. Ale is rightly called Nappy, for it will set a nap upon a man's thred-bare eyes when he is sleepy. It is called Merry-goe-downe, for it slides down merrily. It is such a nourisher of Mankinde, that if my mouth were as bigge as Bishopsgate, my Pen as long as a Maypole, and my Inke a flowing spring, or a standing fishpond, yet I could not with Mouth, Pen, or Inke, speak or write the true worth and worthiness of Ale."

Read here for more about John Taylor, or here to sample more of his work.

Above: Detail of Portrait of John Taylor the Water-Poet by Thomas Cockson, 1630


Keith said...

I just knew there was a good reason I drink stout.
Regards, Le Loup.

Sylvan Lady said...

"Ale is rightly called Nappy, for it will set a nap upon a man's thred-bare eyes when he is sleepy."

Oh don't I know that feeling, LOL!

Anonymous said...

'Merry-go-down' could make a righteous Budwiser ad. Just imagine.

Lady Burgley said...

True, John Taylor's works are rough around the edges, and lack the polish of many of his more cultured contemporaries. But he is still studied for his insight into the working classes, particularly his fellow-ferrymen as well as coachmen of the time. He's actually quite worth reading, and it's a shame he's not more widely known.

Theresa Bruno said...

Awesome post! I love that John Taylor was a working man and poet. Boatmen were big and strong, yet he had a softer side.

As Lady Burgley says, he is invaluable tool in understanding working class culture in 16th century England. I'm so glad I stumbled on this blog. Keep up the good work ladies!

Theresa Bruno said...

I am posting a link to this post on my blog! I just love it!

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