Friday, September 9, 2011

Darling, where's the tea chest? (gasp!)

One of the free books I nabbed off of iBooks (long live the public domain) is Henry Fielding's Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon, which I dove into because of my previously mentioned fascination with Portugal. The book is true to its title, however; it's all about the journey, and very little about Lisbon itself. What it illuminates is just how excruciating and slow 18th-century travel was, and during the journey Fielding and his companions were bereft when they feared the absolute worst had befallen them: they thought they'd lost their tea chest ...

We promised to be ready as soon as breakfast was over, but this was not so soon as was expected; for, in removing our goods the evening before, the tea-chest was unhappily lost. Every place was immediately searched, and many where it was impossible for it to be; for this was a loss of much greater consequence than it may at first seem to many of my readers. Ladies and valetudinarians do not easily dispense with the use of this sovereign cordial in a single instance; but to undertake a long voyage, without any probability of being supplied with it the whole way, was above the reach of patience. And yet, dreadful as this calamity was, it seemed unavoidable. The whole town of Ryde could not supply a single leaf; for, as to what Mrs. Francis and the shop called by that name, it was not of Chinese growth. It did not indeed in the least resemble tea, either in smell or taste, or in any particular, unless in being a leaf;...

When a good deal of time had been spent, most of it indeed wasted on this occasion, a thought occurred which every one wondered at its not having presented itself the first moment. This was to apply to the good lady, who could not fail of pitying and relieving such distress. A messenger was immediately despatched with an account of our misfortune, till whose return we employed ourselves in preparatives for our departure, that we might have nothing to do but to swallow our breakfast when it arrived. The tea-chest, though of no less consequence to us than the military-chest to a general, was given up as lost, or rather as stolen, for though I would not, for the world, mention any particular name, it is certain we had suspicions, and all, I am afraid, fell on the same person.

The man returned from the worthy lady with much expedition, and brought with him a canister of tea, despatched with so true a generosity, as well as politeness, that if our voyage had been as long again we should have incurred no danger of being brought to a short allowance in this most important article. At the very same instant likewise arrived William the footman with our own tea-chest. It had been, indeed, left in the hoy.

(Speaking of tea in Portugal, here's a recent article about the tea gardens in the Azores, Europe's only tea production, with some nice photos. It looks better than it tastes, but what a vacation this visit would be!)

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