A Talk About Tea

“Sir,” said our learned friend, Dr. Bushwhacker, “we are indebted to China for the four principal blessings we enjoy. Tea came from China, the compass came from China, printing came from China, and gunpowder came from China—thank God! China, sir, is an old country, a very old country.

There is one word, sir, we got from China that is oftener in the mouths of American people than any other word in the language. It is cash, sir, cash! That we derive from the Chinese. It is the name, sir, of the small brass coin they use, the coin with a square hole in the middle. And then look at our Franklin; he drew the lightning from the skies with his kite; but who invented the kite, sir? The long-tailed Chinaman, sir. Franklin had no invention; he never would have invented a kite or a printing-press. But he could use them, sir, to the best possible advantage, sir; he had no genius, sir, but he had remarkable talent and industry.

“Then, sir, we got our umbrella from China. The first man that carried an umbrella, in London, in Queen Anne’s reign, was followed by a mob. That is only one hundred and fifty years ago. We get the art of making porcelain from China. Our ladies must thank the Celestials for their tea-pots.

“Queen Elizabeth never saw a tea-pot in her life. In 1664 the East India Company brought two pounds two ounces of tea as a present for his Majesty King Charles the Second. In 1667 they imported one hundred pounds of tea.

“Then, sir, rose the reign of scandal. Queen scandal, sir! Then, sir, rose the intolerable race of waspish spinsters who sting reputations and defame humanity over their dyspeptic cups. Then, sir, the astringent principle of the herb was communicated to the heart, and domestic troubles were brewed and fomented over the tea-table. Then, sir, the age of chivalry was over, and women grew acrid and bitter; then, sir, the first temperance society was founded, and high duties were laid upon wines, and in consequence they distilled whisky instead, which made matters a great deal better, of course; and all the abominations, all the difficulties of domestic life, all the curses of living in a country village; the intolerant canvassing of character, reputation, piety; the nasty, mean, prying spirit; the uncharitable, defamatory, gossiping, tale-bearing, whispering, unwomanly, unchristianlike behaviour of those who set themselves up for patterns over their vile decoctions, sir, arose with the introduction of tea. Yes, sir; when the wine-cup gave place to the tea-cup, then the devil, sir, reached his culminating point.

“The curiosity of Eve was bad enough; but, sir, when Eve’s curiosity becomes sharpened by turgid tonics, and scandal is added to inquisitiveness, and innuendo supplies the place of truth, and an imperfect digestion is the pilot instead of charity; then, sir, we must expect to see human nature vilified, and levity condemned, and good fellowship condemned, and all good men, from Washington down, damned by Miss Tittle, and Miss Tattle, and the widow Blackleg, and the whole host of tea-drinking conspirators against social enjoyment.”

Here Dr. Bushwhacker grew purple with eloquence and indignation. We ventured to remark that he had spoken of tea “as a blessing” at first.

“Yes, sir,” responded Dr. Bushwhacker, shaking his bushy head, “that reminds one of Doctor Pangloss. Yes, sir, it is a blessing, but like all other blessings it must be used temperately, or else it is a curse! China, sir,” continued the doctor, dropping the oratorical and taking up the historical; “China, sir, knows nothing of perspective, but she is great in pigments. Indian ink, sir, is Chinese, so are vermilion and indigo; the malleable properties of gold, sir, were first discovered by this extraordinary people; we must thank them for our gold leaf. Gold is not a pigment, but roast pig is, and Charles Lamb says the origin of roast pig is Chinese; the beautiful fabric we call silk, sir, came from the Flowery Nation, so did embroidery, so did the game of chess, so did fans. In fact, sir, it is difficult to say what we have not derived from the Chinese. Cotton, sir, is our great staple, but they wove and spun, long staple and short staple, yellow cotton and white cotton, before Columbus sailed out of the port of Palos in the Santa Maria.”


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