Thursday, August 21, 2008
"To Think of Tea!" by Agnes Repplier, 1932
As a slow reader, I am not normally one to start and finish a book in a single evening, but I did last night. It's the 1932 book "To Think of Tea!" by Agnes Repplier. Is she possibly one of the ladies in the photo opposite the title page? The book doesn't say. I don't know anything about Agnes except that she has written what is possibly the most delightful, lively and entertaining book about tea I've ever read.
I learned so much that was so helpful, so interesting. For instance, we tea lovers have long heard that it was the Portuguese Catherine of Braganza who brought tea to the court of England. But I did not know it was because Catherine was barren that her husband, Charles II, "strove to give her what trifling pleasures he could." Agnes makes lots of social commentary throughout her book, noting sweetly that Charles "was always, save in the matter of faithfulness, considerate of his spouse." She compares him with other rulers who were both unfaithful and ill-tempered, so I suppose she has a point.
And though I never before have been tempted to read James Boswell's biography of Dr. Samuel Johnson, now I'm quite eager to read it. A million times I've read the quote that Johnson was "a hardened and shameless tea-drinker, who has for many years diluted his meals with only the infusion of this fascinating plant; whose kettle has scarcely time to cool; who with tea amuses the evening, with tea solaces the midnight, and with tea welcomes the morning." I had no idea how literally this was meant: Johnson was forever The Guest Who Will Not Leave and was often up til 2 a.m., 4 a.m. or later with a host, often on the pretense of requiring more tea. (Agnes says the doctor did not know the wise counsel of Marcus Aurelius, "Be able to be alone.")
I could easily share a dozen more charming passages, but permit me one more. Keep in mind she is writing in 1932, when the tea room craze in America was in its heyday. She was put out that some tea rooms did not, in fact, serve tea, and the ones that did didn't take it seriously. "A whole page, several columns wide, about tea-rooms holds never a word about tea, save and except the satanic suggestion to put a piece of preserved ginger, or a couple of cloves, into the tea-pot." I love Agnes, and I'll bet some of you will too. I found my copy of her book on eBay, and if you come across one yourself, I'd love to hear your review!