[long] antedating: eggnog (c1774)

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Sun Dec 23 16:49:39 UTC 2007

At 12/23/2007 02:06 AM, Benjamin Zimmer wrote:
>Just in time for the holidays, a fine antedating from Heidi Harley:

Yes, that must have been a pleasant discovery while reading before
the fire, but (as Margot Charlton wrote) the databases are the
Scrooges.  I assume the Boucher c1774 "eggnog" has to be -- is the
word "depreciated"? -- in some way, since the book is dated 1806.

(Only 2 years after his death; perhaps someone discovered a
manuscript among his papers, and decided to publish it?  I note that
Harvard's Houghton Library has _A supplement to Dr. Johnson's
Dictionary of the English language, or, A glossary of obsolete and
provincial words / by the late Rev. Jonathan Boucher ... ; part the
first._, with an "Eden, Frederick Morton, Sir, 1766--1809, ed."  So
perhaps Eden found, or was given, a posthumous manuscript.)

In passing, I'm wondering whether the reported 1806 date is
correct.  The above Harvard copy is dated 1807, and WorldCat gives
that year also.  (Published in London; 5 copies worldwide, not at the
British Library.)  Not in ESTC either, so presumably not published before 1800.

EAN Scrooge tells me there are 13 occurrences of "eggnog" and
"egg-nog" (none of "egg[-]nogg") before 1800, the earliest the
Independent Gazetteer (Philadelphia), 1788 Oct. 16.  (The writer of
the piece dates it Oct. 13.)   In the spirits of the season, I quote
the containing sentence (although its exact relationship to the rest
of the essay is obscure to me):

"Rummaging now the brain, many conceits may be found, much truth of
all kinds, whole store rooms of curses and unmentionable damns, with
devils of all shapes and colours, thousands of encomiums on oysters,
hot suppers, and devilish fine wines; and there are so many different
qualities and dispositions that intestine wars are never over; when
wine and beer, punch and eggnog meet, instantly ensues a quarrel, and
it is raised so high, that the brains boil like mush in a pot with
heat, and was it not for the holes I before mentioned, which let out
the steam, the skull must be cracked."

A few years later, in the Virginia Chronicle (Norfolk) of 1793 Jan.
26, it appears seasonably:

"On last Christmas Eve several gentlemen met at Northampton
court-house, and spent the evening in mirth and festivity, when
EGG-NOG was the principal Liquor used by the company.  After they had
indulged pretty freely in this beverage, a gentleman in company
offered a bet that not one of the party could write four verses,
extempore, which should be rhyme and sense; and when it was taken up
by a gentleman present, who wrote the first five verses following; to
which the subjoined answer was immediately given.  As I think them
applicable to the occasion, you will oblige me by inserting them in
your next week's paper."

I skip the first poem, but the answer is an ode to egg-nog:

Let Wine, alas! resign its boasted praise
To rouse the Muse, and prompt the Poet's lays,
Since rival worth now boasts superior art,
To infuse the transports of the glowing heart.
'Tis Egg-Nog now whose golden streams dispense
Far richer treasures to the ravish'd sense.
The Muse from Wine derives a transient glare,
But Egg-Nog's draughts afford her solid fare.
The first escapes by exhalation's power,
And leaves the Muse more languid than before.
The latter, firm, remains her steady friend,
Sustains her talk, nor quits her to the end.
On old prescription one relies for fame,
While solid merit props the others claim.

(Of course, we have only the submitter's claim, a full month later,
that the two poems were actually written on the occasion.  Colonial
poets and wits, such as Mather Byles, or Honest Ben, were not above

I apologize for what some might criticize as my "bah humbug", but I
am unable to resist taking notice of the neglected 18th century,
especially when it is colonial.


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