WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Quill

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Quill

Happy New Year!

And in the words of Colonel Sherman Potter of M*A*S*H: “May she be a damn sight better than the old one.”

I typically binge books and television shows/movies over the holiday break. These past few weeks have been the exception in that we were simply too busy. Even though we’re still social distancing and being extremely careful, we did get out more and several typical holiday events resumed, so our schedule was full. Add to that, the weather was unseasonably warm, even for Texas, so we’ve been outside doing outside things – which was hopefully terribly good for our health.

When I found myself reading, I discovered a new pet peeve: the serial. Not book series, and not a set of full-size books with continuing side-storylines, but these short (even shorter-than-novella) serials that seem to be cropping up in my suggested reading lists. I’m talking thirty pages of characters repetitively ruminating over one or two events followed by a “to be continued” cliffhanging tag line, all for the price of a full-length book.

The times I’ve peeked at the entire serial collection, it was obvious the story could have been presented as one, full-length book. As a reader, separating the story into five short novellas feels like a money grab. As an author, this still feels like a money grab.

But perhaps I’m being too salty.

I’m beginning to feel a little petty-critical of fellow authors, so I’ll jump off my salt soapbox and look at some authors who wrote because they had to – they felt that compulsion and burn to put ink on paper. Or some simply felt the desire to set the world on fire with their words.


An author.

Maria Edgeworth, by John Downman, 1807, public domain.

Maria Edgeworth
(1 January 1767, Blackbourton, Oxfordshire — 22 May 1849, Edgeworthstown, Ireland)

Born in England, Edgeworth moved with her family to Ireland at the age of 15 and assisted her father with the management of their estate. There she learned the basics of the rural economy and Irish peasantry that would define her stories. She was fortunate that her parents supported her writing, and she found plenty of material and listening ears in her family of 24. Edgeworth wrote stories of children and Irish life; her first collection, The Parent’s Assistant, was published in 1796. Her first novel, Castle Rackrent in 1800, was praised for “social observations, character sketches, and authentic dialogue.” It was also praised for being free of moralising, which was attributed to her father’s editing of her earlier works. Sir Walter Scott and Jane Austen admired this new “regional novel” that highlighted the people of the area in which Edgeworth wrote.

Edgeworth never married, but she had many friends an acquaintances in literary and scientific circles. She took great pride and import in devoting herself to her family estate, and later working for the relief of peasants stricken during the Irish famine of 1846. Her novels continued to be regularly reprinted even in the 21st century, especially Moral Tales for Young People, 5 vol. (1801) and Letters for Literary Ladies (1795).

Frontispeice featuring an engraving of the author, Jane Porter, from The Pastor’s Fire-side: a Biographical Romance, 1846, Houghton Library.

Jane Porter
(17 January 1776 – 24 May 1850)

Born in Durham, England, but the daughter of a Scot, Jane Porter is considered one of the foremost female Scottish novelists and dramatists. After her father’s death, the family moved for a while to Edinburgh, where Walter Scott was a frequent visitor and storyteller in their home. Their next move found the family in London, where more artistic acquaintances further nurtured Porter (and two of her five siblings, a sister who also became a novelist, and a brother, a painter). Here she met Elizabeth Inchbald (actress, novelist), Anna Laetitia Barbauld (poet, essayist, literary critic, editor), Hannah More (poet, playwright, literary circle mistress), Elizabeth Hamilton (essayist, poet, satirist, novelist), Selina Davenport (novelist), Elizabeth Benger (biographer, novelist, poet), and Mrs Champion de Crespigny (artist, novelist).

Porter’s first novel was published in 1803 to moderate success, but her second novel in 1810, The Scottish Chiefs, soared to fame. The story features William Wallace as its hero, causing the book to bear the label as one of the first historical novels ever written. It remains popular among children in Scotland.

Hannah More 1745-1833, by Frances Reynolds, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

Hannah More

Born in Fishponds, More taught at a girl’s school in Bristol that was set up by her father (he also established a similar boy’s school). She was betrothed to William Turner, the owner of Belmont estate, at the age of two and twenty; the beauty of the area inspired her to begin to write poetry. Turner postponed their wedding three times over the span of six years before eventually breaking their engagement (which caused a possible nervous breakdown). He offered her £200 a year as recompense; she initially refused but after contemplation, accepted. These funds allowed her an independence women of the period rarely experienced, and she pursued a literary career with great success.

More wrote both poetry, plays, and social-cause pamphlets and essays, and was a champion of female education, social reform, and abolition. Her play, Percy, featured a forward by David Garrick, and was found in Mozart’s possessions upon his death. She was a member of London’s literary elite, keeping company with the likes of the Bluestocking group (until falling out with many of them over her anti-feminist/industry and piety views after the publishing of Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which More refused to read). She established twelve schools in the Mendip District of England, and was monetarily instrumental in the founding of Kenyon College in Ohio.

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Cock Ale

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Cock Ale

This week’s term is quite possibly a little bit of everything that you think it is.

Cock Ale

A provocative drink.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Cock Ale was a 17th Century drink flavored with fruit, spices, and the boiled meat of a cockerel or rooster.

You read that correctly: the boiled meat of a cockerel or rooster.

Screaming Rooster for Chicken Lovers, by Tina Lavoie, 1899

What would lead one to add the humble rooster to the humble ale? Just as there is today, there has always been the drive to keep drinks relevant and competitive. A new drink in town – coffee – was taking coin from the public houses, and barkeeps and brewers were stumped. But it seems as the popularity of coffee grew, certain parts of the male anatomy, perhaps, did not.

In The Women’s Petition Against Coffee, 1674, the authors bemoaned the unhappy and unwholesome effect coffee was rendering on their homes.

The Women’s Petition Against Coffee, 1674

“For can any woman of sense or spirit endure with patience,” they wrote, “that when…she approaches the nuptial bed, expecting a man that … should answer the vigour of her flames, she on the contrary should only meet a bedful of bones, and hug a meager useless corpse?”

It’s theorized that brewers seized on the opportunity to create a drink with aphrodisiac properties, one that would rectify the deleterious effects of “that unhappy berry,” coffee.

Of course, this could all be a load of claptrap.

The so-called “Women’s Petition” was rumored to have been written purely as satire, or even by those loyal to the crown in an attempt to destroy coffeehouses, which were seen as sites that fomented unrest by promoting political discussion and free-thinking.

Regardless of who or what brought it about, Cock Ale was most definitely in existence, brewed, and consumed.

The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened, by Kenelm Digby, 1669

Receipt for Cock Ale (its first printed recipe)

Take eight Gallons of Ale; take a Cock and boil him well; then take four pounds of Raisins of the Sun well stoned, two or three Nutmegs, three or four flakes of Mace, half a pound of Dates; beat these all in a Mortar, and put to them two quarts of the best Sack; and when the Ale hath done working, put these in, and stop it close six or seven days, and then bottle it, and a month after you may drink it. (From The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened, by Kenelm Digby, 1669)