"herring broth"

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Tue Jun 3 18:58:30 UTC 2003

As a contribution to our researches into food history, I offer the following:

John Middleton was indicted for an assault on Mary Gibson.  The prosecutrix is a married woman of reputation, a native of Ireland.  On Sunday the 2d. inst. the prisoner came into her apartment, where she and her husband were at breakfast, and enquired if she could not give him some herring-broth.  Conceiving this to be a gross national as well as personal insult, the prosecutrix threw the contents of the slop-bowl in his face, and he departed to all appearance perfectly satisfied.  [Later, he meets her in the street, as she is leaving church, and kicks her,] telling her at the same time that he was giving her a little herring-broth.  [6 months.]
New-York Commercial Advertiser, August 18, 1807, p. 2, col. 4 - p. 3, col. 1

It's not clear to me why "herring broth" should have been such an insult.  Perhaps you had to have been there.  As a guess, I believe that the herring has been considered a pretty poor kind of food, and so, perhaps, a broth made from herrings would be even more a symbol of poverty.  Other thoughts?


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998.

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