Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Mince-Pie Mystery

[Fanny Kemble to H.]

1812 Rittenhouse Square,

Saturday, January 10, 1874.


y Christmas present to O— was three dozen of the finest wine I could procure here. The things I got for him in Dublin were so trifling, that I had quite a misgiving about offering them to him, though, when I mustered up courage to show him the old-fashioned seal I had had engraved with his monogram, and found that he liked it, I was very much pleased and relieved, for really people's presents to each other are on such a magnificent scale here that one hardly knows what to offer them. . . .

I had some very beautiful flowers given to me. M— sent me, in a magnificent china flower-pot of English fabric (a pale delicate green, with birds, butterflies, and flowers scattered all over it), a large Catalonia jasmine in full bloom. It was Mr. Butler's first gift to me before we were married; and on Christmas Day, M—, to whom I had given it years ago, and in whose gardener's care it has been ever since, sent it back to me in this beautiful vase, and covered with fragrant blossoms, a strange flowering again of former memories–of the tempo passato che non torna piu. . . .

The weather here now is perfectly lovely, mild and bright, only unnaturally warm for the time of year. I suppose we shall have the rest of our pinching cold (of which we had a bitter instalment while I was at Champlost in November) in the early spring, which I shall be sorry for. Dr. W— and S— and their boy dined with me on Christmas Day, and Ellen insisted on hanging green Christmas garlands round the dining-room, but was very unhappy because she could not find a handsome sprig of holly with bright berries to send up on the plum pudding, for the honor of England.

Mr. S—'s Christmas gift of a turkey does not seem so strange to me as to you. Our old friends, the Mayows, who were Norfolk people, invariably sent us at Christmas a huge turkey, for which kind of domestic fowl, as you probably know, that county is famous. My old and dear friend, William Donne, I know always sends a similar tribute to Arthur M— from his small Norfolk estate. Here, where I think the turkey is quite as much the national bird as the eagle, people are not unapt to send each other mince-pies of very large size and especially rich and delicate composition. M—, whose cook is famous for their manufacture, sent me one made like a huge tart, and one to Dr. W—, who is a great favorite of hers, and has a tenderness for that unwholesome Christmas dainty. I heard a ludicrous and touching story of an American diplomatic lady, who received at Christmas, while at her embassy abroad, a huge mince-pie from "home," all the way across the Atlantic. Her husband invited some of their compatriots (exiles like themselves) to dine with them and share this national dainty, but when it appeared on the table a considerable piece of it was missing. The gentleman looked surprised and not altogether pleased, when his wife, with a charming mixture of shame and simple naïveté (as she was described to me), exclaimed, "Oh, George, I couldn't help it; it was so like home!"
. . . God bless you, dearest friend.

-from Further Records, 1848-1883: A Series of Letters by Frances Anne Kemble (New York: Henry Holt, 1891).

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