PORTER.

This is probably one of those things I once knew but then forgot: porter “A dark-brown or black bitter beer, brewed from malt partly charred or browned by drying at a high temperature” is (according to the OED) “App[arently] short for porter’s ale … The beer was app. orig. either made for or chiefly drunk by porters and the lower class of labourers: compare the early quots. It probably arose as a popular descriptive term.” The first cite for porter’s ale is from Pope, A Further Account of the most Deplorable Condition of Mr. Edmund Curll (1716): “Nurs’d upon Grey Peas, Bullocks Liver, and Porter’s Ale”; that for porter just five years later, from Nicholas Amherst’s Terræ filius: or the secret history of the university of Oxford 1721–22 (27-30 May 1721): “We had rather dine at a Cook’s Shop upon Beef, Cabbage and Porter, than tug at an Oar, or rot in a dark, stinking Dungeon.”
I decided to see if I could find Pope’s A Further Account online, and sure enough, Google Books has it, so I am able to provide a fuller context for the citation. Pope is mocking the unfortunate Mr. Curll, to whom he has administered an emetic in revenge for behavior that displeased him, and he imagines Curll as saying:

Now G―d damn all folios, quartos, octavos, and duodecimos! ungrateful varlets that you are, who have so long taken up my house without paying for your lodging! Are you not the beggarly brood of fumbling journeymen! born in garrets among lice and cobwebs, nursed up on grey peas, bullocks liver, and porters ale?――Was not the first light you saw, the farthing candle I paid for? Did you not come before your time into dirty sheets of brown paper?――And have not I clothed you in double royal, lodged you handsomely on decent shelves, laced your backs with gold, equipped you with splendid titles, and sent you into the world with the names of persons of quality? Must I be always plagued with you? Why flutter ye your leaves and flap your covers at me? Damn ye all, ye wolves in sheep’s clothing; rags ye were, and to rags ye shall return.

Pope had an impressive facility with invective, and you didn’t want to get on his bad side if you could help it.

Comments

  1. Dunciad Variorum: Book II 1-4
    High on a gorgeous seat, that far outshone
    Henley’s gilt Tub, or Fleckno’s Irish Throne,
    Or that, where on her Curlls, the Public pours
    All-bounteous, fragrant grains, and golden show’rs
    [Pope’s note to line 3] Edm. Curl stood in the Pillory at Charing-Cross, in March, 1727-8.
    N.B. Mr. Curl loudly complain’d of this Note as an Untruth, protesting ‘that he stood in the Pillory not in March but in February’; and of another in verse 144. Saying ‘he was not tost in a Blanket, but a Rug.’ Curliad in 12[=duodecimo]. 1729. pag. 19 and 25.
    text of lines 143-144
    Himself among the storied Chiefs he spies,
    As from the blanket high in air he flies.
    [Pope’s note to line 143} The history of Curl’s being tossed in a blanket, and whipp’d by the scholars of Westminster, is ingeniously and pathetically related in a poem entituled Neck or Nothing. Of his purging and vomiting, see A full and true account of a horrid revenge on the body of Edm. Curl, etc.]
    I’m presuming the footnote is giving an alternate title to the same piece you quoted.
    It’s hard enough to do this in prose. Pope managed to do it in rhymed couplets.
    That is of course not the only mention of Curl in the Dunciad;

  2. rootlesscosmo says:

    As to the grey peas, an extract from “Humphry Clinker” may be apropos:
    “It must be owned, the Covent-garden affords some good fruit; which, however, is always engrossed by a few individuals of over-grown fortune, at an exorbitant price; so that little else than the refuse of the market falls to the share of the community; and that is distributed by such filthy hands, as I cannot look at without loathing. It was but yesterday that I saw a dirty barrow-bunter in the street, cleaning her dusty fruit with her own spittle; and, who knows but some fine lady of St. James’s parish might admit into her delicate mouth those very cherries which had been rolled and moistened between the filthy, and perhaps ulcerated, chops of a St. Giles’s huckster. –I need not dwell upon the pallid, contaminated mash, which they call strawberries; soiled and tossed by greasy paws through twenty baskets crusted with dirt; and then presented with the worst milk, thickened with the worst flour, into a bad likeness of cream: but the milk itself should not pass unanalysed, the produce of faded cabbage-leaves and sour draff, lowered with hot water, frothed with bruised snails, carried through the streets in open pails, exposed to foul rinsings, discharged from doors and windows, spittle, snot, and tobacco-quids from foot-passengers, over-flowings from mud-carts, spatterings from coach-wheels, dirt and trash chucked into it by roguish boys for the joke’s-sake, the spewings of infants, who have slabbered in the tin-measure, which is thrown back in that condition among the milk, for the benefit of the next customer; and, finally, the vermin that drops from the rags of that nasty drab that vends this precious mixture, under the respectable denomination of milk-maid.”

  3. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    nursed up on grey peas, bullocks liver, and porters ale
    Whether it’s ‘nursed up on’ or ‘nursed upon’ this was written around 1720, and goes to show that the commentary on awful British food (I see no reason to leave Scotland and Wales out of this, and would include Ireland if I knew the acceptable term) is much older than I had thought (Dickensian, roughly). Younger Britons have no idea just how foul food can be made to look, and without any malicious intent by the cook. I’ll never be able to forget a watery plate of sausages that looked like warm, greasy greyish condoms — this was breakfast, at a youth hostel in Monmouthshire, when I was fifteen.

  4. Plain Porter takes us back to Flann O’Brien and ‘The Workmans Friend’
    Performed here by the Dubliners
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwLB2Vei6tE&feature=related

  5. I’m presuming the footnote is giving an alternate title to the same piece you quoted.
    No, actually it’s a separate piece of invective. Once Pope got his fangs into you, he didn’t let go.

  6. Graham Asher says:

    Try Fuller’s London Porter. Available from many UK supermarkets including Waitrose. It’s hard to find porter on tap in pubs, unfortunately.

  7. “s ingeniously and pathetically related in a poem entituled Neck or Nothing.”
    Heh

  8. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    Rootless’s Humphrey Clinker excerpt has grown threefold in size and tenfold in vileness during the course of the day. What the hell is going on? It’s like some science-fiction trick, I’m expecting it to come bubbling out of my cd slot soon.

  9. Nobody expects the Rootless Humphrey Clinker excerpt!

  10. Ah, the weird and wonderful 18th century. Why do we think the 20th invented surrealism?

  11. rootlesscosmo says:

    Apologies to all, and thanks to Da Hat. The original paragraph got chopped short by the Comments page; Hat then looked up the quote and added some of the remainder; I then emailed the full juicy thing (it’s part of an even longer rant against the foulness of London and in favor of the salubriousness of country life) and our host graciously posted it.
    Coming soon: Roderick Random–the Video Game.

  12. marie-lucie says:

    18th century English milk: This morning I heard two interviews on the CBC (Canadian radio) about the pros and cons of unpasteurized milk. I drank unpasteurized milk (usually boiled at home) as a child, but no wonder pasteurization was introduced if what “Humphrey Clinker” describes was typical!

  13. On a minor point of terminology: I’m wondering why quarto, octavo, etc. are abbreviated in-4o, in-8o, etc.: why the in- ?

  14. marie-lucie says:

    I’m wondering why quarto, octavo, etc. are abbreviated in-4o, in-8o, etc.: why the in- ?
    Because the words are in Latin, and in that language they belong to phrases which include the preposition in (meaning ‘in’ or ‘into’). The large sheet of paper on which printing will be done is folded into pages measuring a quarter, an eighth, etc of its original size. If it is not folded, it remains a whole sheet and its size is in folio (lit. “in the sheet”), the largest possible size.

  15. Preachy Preach says:

    Porter tricky to find in pubs?
    What do you think Guiness is?

  16. Stout.

  17. Thanks, marie-lucie.

  18. “and goes to show that the commentary on awful British food ”
    What a damned shame that is. English food can be wonderful, especially in Dixie.
    “but no wonder pasteurization was introduced if what “Humphrey Clinker” describes was typical! ‘
    Humphrey Clinker has other examples of this kind of tirade, and they all have to do with the degeneracy and vanities of city life as compared to the wholesome country life that Dr. Jenkins has left behind on his travels. Milk in the countryside in that era was probably really good, depending on the pasturage. He takes some bitchy swipes at an iced dessert he is served at a dinner he was invited to (obviously above his station.)

  19. Preachy Preach says:

    As the Wikipedia article indicates on the topic of stout, it’s short for ‘stout porter’.

  20. I always thought it was called porter because porters drank it. In Dickens time it was the most popular kind of beer and was the easiest to keep from deteriorating because of the high alcohol content. Nowadays, British breweries produce it mainly as a seasonal drink in the winter, for example the London brewery Fullers as mentioned above.

  21. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    I suppose it was stout porters who drank it.
    Fractionally off topic, I like small quantities of the Weizenbier they sell in Tyskland that is cloudy with sediment. According to wiki it’s called Hefeweißbier, but they’ve probably cleaned up the name since they got rid of the ß-letter.
    I was taught, in Germany, to always use an ordinary double-s, that ß was a nazi hangover; but the architect who told me this also thought pitched roofs were kind of nazi (well he’s right, to some extent).

  22. According to wiki it’s called Hefeweißbier, but they’ve probably cleaned up the name since they got rid of the ß-letter.
    That is actually one ß that stays, due to the “ei” before it, as wiki does a fairly decent job of explaining (under Usage in German).
    There’s certainly nothing inherently nazi-ish about poor ß, except for that it’s associated with Fraktur, which Hitler preferred until he didn’t anymore. Which is itself a complicated story.
    And I also like Hefeweißbier and Porter.

  23. Oops, Fraktur.

  24. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    Anne, thank you so much for those links. The breadth of knowledge on this blog is a wonderful resource, I suppose I’ll have to buy the Blackletter book. I rather like the Walbaum-Fraktur of 1800, but most of them are very creepy thanks to the nazis. It’s ironic that Adolf himself didn’t like Fraktur.

  25. As the Wikipedia article indicates on the topic of stout, it’s short for ‘stout porter’.
    Yes, but that was long ago. Etymology is not destiny, or else you’d be using bead to mean ‘prayer.’ Guinness is now considered stout, not porter.

  26. Det var så lidt, Crown.

  27. It isn’t just etymology, though. In brewing terms, a stout is still in the porter family. The lines aren’t drawn all that clearly, either. Guinness is the classic example of a dry stout, but other members of the stout family (such as sweet stouts or oatmeal stouts) are more similar to porters. Porters themselves have tended to be pretty diverse, both now and historically.

  28. David Marjanović says:

    I was taught, in Germany, to always use an ordinary double-s, that ß was a nazi hangover;

    What the vertical gene transfer!?! There are people who believe such nonsense???
    There is a letter that’s associated with blackletter, but that’s the f-shaped “long s” which is explained in the Wikipedia ß article, and it died out with blackletter.
    There are people who seem to believe that the spelling reform of 1998 — 2005 abolished the ß, but “nazi hangover”… <headshake>

    Etymology is not destiny, or else you’d be using bead to mean ‘prayer.’

    Wow! Yet another connection to German (beten “to pray”) that is more or less obvious phonetically but so far removed in terms of meaning that I’d never have discovered it on my own!

  29. Yes, apparently at some point around the 14th century enough kids misunderstood the phrase “telling one’s beads” (= ‘saying one’s rosary’) as referring to the physical little objects rather than the ethereal communications they represented that parents gave up trying to correct them and went with the flow. It’s one of my favorite etymologies.

  30. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    He was talking about ess-zed, the one that looks like a beta — lots of people still used that in the nineties (in Hamburg, anyway).

  31. marie-lucie says:

    Before they became “beads”, what were those things called? And “bead” has yet another meaning in construction as a small rounded line on the woodwork (sorry if I can’t be more explicit), or yet a thin line of a glue-like product between two surfaces to be bonded together. There is also “to draw a bead on” something, which suggests a straight line. That’s a lot of beads.

  32. John Emerson says:

    I’ve looked up “bead” a few times and the meanings are tantalizingly almost-related. At the same time, I could also believe that the various “beads” are etymologically unrelated. (I can’t remember the reality of the case, if I ever knew it).

  33. John Emerson says:

    I’ve looked up “bead” a few times and the meanings are tantalizingly almost-related. At the same time, I could also believe that the various “beads” are etymologically unrelated. (I can’t remember the reality of the case, if I ever knew it).

  34. Frank Lloyd Crown says:

    A bead (beading) in woodwork is probably so-called because it looks like a necklace bead when drawn in section, but I’m an architect and you guys call that kind of misinformation ‘anecdotal’. There’s another thing, called a j-bead, which is a strip of metal used to protect corners in sheetrock construction — I think that just comes from the first meaning, but looks like a j when drawn in section. This is insanely boring, I’ll stop now.

  35. Before they became “beads”, what were those things called?
    Good question. My first guess was pearl, because of German Perle, but the OED does not give such a meaning. Anybody know?

  36. Guinness is the classic example of a dry stout, but other members of the stout family (such as sweet stouts or oatmeal stouts) are more similar to porters
    I’m sorry, mwg, but you’re entirely wrong. Sweet stout and oatmeal stout are nothing like porter. The only difference between porter and *dry” stout (which needn’t necessarily come from Ireland) is that stout, as “stout porter”, was stronger, though today, as gravities have fallen, that difference has effectively been lost in modern versions of the two drinks: Guinness stout now is weaker than Guinness porter was before the First World War. If you want to learn more on the history of stout (warning – gratuitous plug alert) download my ebook Amber Gold and Black, the Story of Britain’s Great Beers here.
    It was still possible to find brewers advertising “pale stout” in the early 1840s, incidentally.
    On the substantive matter of the Pope quote as the alleged first sighting of porter, I’ve always been worried that he refers to “porter’s ale”: the separation of ale as a distinct category from beer was still maintained at this time, and would be for another century – ale in Pope’s time contained hops, but fewer than beer did, and it wasn’t designed to last as long. Porter was always referred to as a beer, and I’m sure Pope would have known this. (note the reference two pages earlier in the Google Books link LH gives, “Resolved, That no member of this society for the future mix stout in his ale in a morning”). So what did Pope mean by “Porter’s Ale”? I don’t think we can take it for granted that he meant “porter” in the later sense.
    There’s a pub, btw, in Twickenham, close to Pope’s old home, called the Pope’s Grotto, though you can’t buy porter there, as the brewer that owns it, Young’s, doesn’t brew porter any more …

  37. Thanks for the info, Zytho! I just sent you an e-mail about the beer book I’m editing; let me know if you don’t receive it.

  38. I still have to disagree. In modern brewing, porters tend to be a fairly diverse group of beers. The examples of oatmeal stout and sweet stout that I have had fit in well with many of the porters (although I concede that modern sweet stouts aren’t terribly common and the examples I’ve had may have been poor).
    I must disagree with you that an oatmeal stout has nothing to do with porters. An oatmeal stout is essentially a stout with malted (or unmalted) oatmeal substituted for some portion of the pale malt used in the grist. Obviously the oatmeal makes a difference to the finished product, but an oatmeal stout is clearly a minor variation on a dry stout, and hence clearly related to porter. The reconstructed oatmeal stout recipes in my copy of Harrison’s Old British Beers and How To Brew Them are similar to many of the reconstructed porter and stout recipes from the same period, with the obvious exception of the oatmeal.

  39. John Emerson says:

    MWG seems unaware of the potency and significance of oatmeal. Oatmeal is hardly “merely”.

  40. John Emerson says:

    MWG seems unaware of the potency and significance of oatmeal. Oatmeal is hardly “merely”.

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