The Thirst for Empire; How Tea Shaped the Modern World by Erika Rappaport. Princeton 2017.

Erika Rappaport’s book is as much about the manipulation of consumption, in this case food consumption, as it is about the development of tea as a food crop. It is also a significant point in both the evolution of the British Empire in India and the Temperance Movement in Britain.

The late nineteenth century was becoming a world of scarcity. The “Planter Raj,” as Rappaport calls British India, was competing for land and other resources with food crops for a growing South Asian population, but also with other commercial crops, most importantly cotton. And the cotton crop was vital to the growth of the Indian textile industry. Tea was grown and harvested mostly on white-owned tea plantations. The Indian Tea Association’s membership included British growers, British manufacturers, and British retailers.

Indian tea competed with tea from China in British and European markets. It was introduced to the American market, but here it met up with resistance. Here the consumption of tea was taxed, and hence opposed by those North Americans who disagreed with the English governance on political matters.  North Americans were opposed to that particular form of raising revenue. Hence the Boston Tea Party.

Indian “black tea” competed with a more established tea consumption, “green tea” from China. The latter was thought to be superior to the Indian product. Indian tea also competed with two other beverages, coffee and chocolate. They had arrived on the European market at about the same time. There were many coffee shops in London; there were also tea shops.

Proponents of Chinese tea claimed that Indian tea was adulterated, and that was often true. Opium was added as a “flavoring” in Chinese tea. Opium was cultivated in the Indian province of Assam, largely for the Chinese market. It was mostly grown by Indian peasants, and hence also competed for land and resources with Indian tea.

Indian tea had to overcome another hurtle before it was readily accepted in Britain and elsewhere, the Victorian temperance movement. Some looked upon this newish drink as a support for temperance, the avoidance of beer, whisky, and other intoxicants, teetotaler. Others thought it was yet another support for idleness.  The consumption of tea also became associated with the evangelical movement. There was some opposition, particularly to a tea-drinking Indian Army

Rappaport has an interesting discussion of the various ways in which Indian (and Sri Lankan) tea battled their way into Imperial and North American markets. To help with this, Indian tea was displayed in the popular exhibitions and worlds’ fairs of the time and by well-known entrepreneurs. Lipton became a brand of Indian tea introduced by Thomas Lipton.

Eventually tea promoters took on the Indian market. Hindu Orthodoxy tolerated tea drinking. Initially only those who could afford both the time and money involved, mostly moderately well-off women, took up tea drinking. Add in the sweets that usually accompanied tea-drinking and tea-time became a recognized meal.                          Tea eventually broke down caste, class, and gender barriers. It was brewed on the curb side for the ordinary Indian laborer. And eventually crowded out traditional inebriants: bhang, cannabis, and others. Iced tea now competes successfully with bubbly beverages. The colas got a boost in their competition with tea, following the American military around in World War II.

Could iced tea be considered hot tea’s major opponent? An intramural contest?

Once tea-drinking was well established in Britain and the Empire, it began to be taxed and proved to be an important revenue source for the Boer War and then WWI.

An Anti-Tea-Duty League carried on a long crusade, utilizing many of the arguments used to repeal the earlier “corn law”- the duty on grain. The tea duty returned in the 1930s. It became part of the Imperial Preference scheme, enacted in 1932, that benefitted Empire tea.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Willow Tea rooms is perhaps the most famous tea establishment in Britain. It was part of the Glasgow School of Art, built in a fashionable residential area and at the height of tea-drinking popularity. The room was festooned with images of young willow trees, all designed by Mackintosh. Sadly, it was destroyed by fire which left these wonderful tea rooms a smoldering ruin. Twice! But afternoon tea has survived.

Chasing the Last Laugh; How Mark Twain Escaped Debt and Disgrace with a Round-the-World Comedy Tour by Richard Zacks.

Chasing the Last Laugh; How Mark Twain Escaped Debt and Disgrace with a Round-the-World Comedy Tour by Richard Zacks. Anchor, 2017 paper.

In 1894 Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) took on an around-the-world-tour. A successful writer and publisher, he was, however, not a successful investor. A publishing company that he owned was failing, as was a company that had developed a new typesetting machine in which he owned now worthless stock. The publishing company, however, had had its successes. It had been the publisher of Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the highly successful The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. Twain had lined up several other Civil War generals, only to have the reading public turn away from the subject.

Richard Zacks has provided a revealing description of the life of a writer over a century ago that would seem familiar to many writers these days. The profession has its ups and downs.

Twain was also working on several writing projects; the most ambitious was a “complete works”, which included his short stories and two travel accounts already published. Each volume would have the same fancy binding. The set would then be marketed directly to Twain’s public by traveling salesmen.

It was decided by his managers, editors, and family that his best hope for a financial recovery was to undertake an around the world tour – first venues in the American west by train and then Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, India, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and South Africa, mostly sea voyages, which Twain much preferred over train travel. His manager would make arrangements, rent halls, etc. and schedule several lectures in each venue.  His wife, Olivia (Livy), and one of his three daughters, Clara, would accompany Livy. Zacks has succeeded in bringing together the trials and tribulations of travel in the late nineteenth century, the ignominy and exuberance of public entertainment, but also the perils to family life of this touring.

The touring circuit was well established, and Twain’s reception was gratifying. But the performance of a standup comedian was not to Twain’s liking. He would only accept the best in hotel accommodations and expected a lot from their staffs. He was a big enough star to expect the royal treatment from public officials in the towns where he performed. He was a grouch by nature.

Most of his tour entertained the English-speaking diaspora settled around the British Empire.  Surprisingly, his favorite part of the tour was the time he spent in India. He arrived in Bombay and was taken by India’s exotic opportunities. He says this of the Bombay train station in 1896.  “It was a very large station, yet when we arrived, it seemed as if the whole world was present – half of it inside, the other half outside, and both halves bearing mountainous head-loads of bedding…” His description is remarkably like my experience in the train station in Calcutta some seventy years later.

Twain loved being courted by the various “native princes” that the British had left in place – though under supervision. He liked rolling their titles off his tongue. He liked the fact that cows had the right-of-way on city streets. He liked the noisy crows that awakened him every morning.

The Twains decided that, upon completing their tour in Europe, they would find a place to live that was cheaper than their returning to the States. Vienna filled the bill. They liked hobnobbing with the Viennese elite. Clara took piano and voice lessons in anticipation of returning to a career in the US.

Livy was an important part of the tour. First it was partly her money that had been badly invested and lost. Hence to be recovered. Also she was his editor and routinely cut out some of his off-color jokes and stories. And particularly she censored his maxims, some of his best writing. For example. “Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to.”

There were tragedies involving the two other daughters during their stay abroad. Susy died while the Twains were in Europe. Jean was increasingly subject to epileptic seizures. Twain felt guilty about his daughters. Had he not made choices that brought on financial difficulties, he might have been in a better position to help his family. On the other hand his ‘chasing the last laugh’ had allowed him to get out of debt.

This is not a biography. Zacks has given us an account of Twain’s tour but we are left somewhere in the 1890s.


Defining Duty in the Civil War

Defining Duty in the Civil War; Personal Choice, Popular Culture, and the Union Home Front by J. Matthew Gallman. University of North Carolina Press, 2017 paper.

Matthew Gallman has described the ways in which the Union’s civilians understood the meaning of duty and citizenship in wartime. He has used a fascinating variety of evidential sources: the numerous newspapers and pamphlets of the day, humor magazines, literary journals, novels, and more to describe the character of popular culture during the Civil War.

Writers were responding to the high rates of literacy. Often letters home from soldiers at the front would be reprinted in the local press and thus circulate within the soldier’s community. Pre-printed cartes de visite stationery was a popular means of corresponding, and their patriotic themes were a good means of tracing popular opinion.

There were many ways in which young men in the Union could meet their intention of serving their country, either in the field of battle or on the home front. Initially there were sufficient enlistments of willing young men to cover the needs of what was assumed would be a short war. But volunteers soon proved insufficient. Other options. You could find an old lady who was willing to convince a provost marshal of her total dependence upon you. Or young men could pay a $300.00 commutation fee ($9,150 in 2017 dollars). You could apply for a deferment, arguing that you were engaged in an occupation necessary to the war effort. You could accept a bounty as an incentive to enlist. The money given out as bounties was raised by your local community. (Bounty jumpers were those who went AWOL and returned home.) You could hire a substitute. There was always Canada.

You could claim to have a “bad spleen’” and prove it with a doctor’s note, forged if necessary. You could mutilate your trigger finger. Gallman argues that these options were a combination of patriotic appeals and something akin to market-like incentives.

There were also conscientious objectors, not to be confused with those who opposed the war for political reasons, the Copperheads. Quakers had a long-standing antipathy to war. But there were also numerous Quakers who had contracts to supply materiel for the battlefield. And they profited while others fought.

Professor Gallman (History, UF) could have buttressed his clear arguments with a quick look at “the songs that fought the Civil War.” (See The model would be The Songs that Fought the War; Popular Music and the Home Front, 1939-1945.) Tell My Father is perhaps the most moving of the popular songs of the Civil War era. Familiar to me: The Yellow Rose of Texas, When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, We’re Tenting Tonight on the Old Camp Ground, Marching through Georgia, and a disproportionate number of songs that celebrate the Irish involvement in the Union cause.

Some are marching songs, many sung around the campfire. They would have been available as sheet music for the home front and the parlor piano.  Their sentiments matched the meaning of duty and citizenship in wartime that Gallman describes.

The Lincoln Administration was remarkably patient with this imperfect recruitment. It did not argue that all those who avoided war service were unpatriotic. Rather his Administration looked for ways in which these nineteenth-century peaceniks could find opportunities to serve their country off the battlefield.

Lincoln regarded conscription as an opportunity to select those who could best serve their country on the battlefield. Conscription was not a conscription of the unwilling but rather selecting from a nation that had volunteered en masse.

The system led to abuse. And no amount of humor. One petition to a provost marshal asking for the bearer’s relief from military service because his vital importance to the home front was attested to and signed by 500 ladies!

Urban elite males sought opportunities to receive a command. They then had to recruit their unit. That would take time, effort, and money. At times these would-be commanders would hang around army headquarters as though they were on active duty, but without a unit. General McClellan found this so bothersome that he ordered all officers to return to their units or be removed from army command posts.

The various strategies for appearing dutiful are almost exclusively white male contrivances. In the early years of the war, the stated aim was the preservation of the union; all patriotic men were to serve their country to restore its unity. With the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 war aims changed. Slave emancipation emerged as the main aim. Northern civilians were much less enthusiastic about that objective, which affected enlistment.

What about blacks? The participation of African Americans was more complicated. Confederate forces threatened to enslave black soldiers from northern cities who were taken captive. Blacks, until late in the war, were paid less than white soldiers and were primarily used for heavy labor rather than infantry.

Northern white men were entering the period of service as individuals looking for the best way to serve their country. Northern black males, on the other hand, constructed a collective response of their race to defining duty in the Civil War.

Blood, Bone and Marrow; A Biography of Harry Crews by Ted Geltner. University of Georgia Press, 2016.

Blood, Bone and Marrow; A Biography of Harry Crews by Ted Geltner. University of Georgia Press, 2016.

A fine biographer of Gainesville’s Harry Crews, Ted Geltner has also described the trials and tribulations of those who make their living “from their pen.” It is not an easy life, and Crews, given the other life choices he made, found parts of it very difficult.

Crews was born in rural Bacon County, Georgia, the son of a couple that scrambled to keep food on the table during the 1930s Depression.  His was a ‘dysfunctional’ family. Harry, his mother, and brother moved to Jacksonville for work during World War II. Crews had polio as a child and an almost fatal accident. While playing a favorite children’s game “Crack the Whip,” he fell into a large caldron of boiling water and was severely burned. Geltner describes this difficult childhood, though Crews’ version in his autobiography is fonder of both Bacon County and Jacksonville.

The Crews household was not an environment that valued education, but Geltner contends that Harry did. Upon graduation from high school, he joined the marines, served during the Korean War, and took advantage of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act renewed during the War to give veterans an opportunity to go to college. He entered the University of Florida, eventually coming across its creative writing program. However, because he never liked mentorship or criticism, Crews did not take to its methodologies.

Geltner has given a detailed description of Harry’s writing life: how he wove his observations of the world of Georgia and north Florida into his novels, the pile of rejection letters that he received in the early days of his professional writing career, and the tenuous relationship that Crews had with his various agents and editors.

It may have seemed to Crews that success was long in coming.  But, most authors wait much longer before they have the success that Crews had from his earliest novels, Cool Hand Luke and The Gospel Singer.

Crews had the good fortune to receive strong support from perhaps the most formidable quarter of the writing and publishing world, literary critics. These “gate keepers” were never as critical of his work as Harry often was of his own writing.

This biographer gives credit to Harry’s several wives and women friends who guided him through a life with his best friend, the bottle. Though Geltner makes it clear that Harry normally had to “dry out” before he could get any serious writing done and there were long “droughts” when writing wasn’t possible.

Moreover even though his “life style” consumed his income, Crews was fortunate to have had advances from his various publishers and then moderately good royalties. He was also fortunate in have a ‘real job’ that complemented his writing career, first at a community college in Broward County, Florida and then on the faculty of the Creative Writing Program at his alma mater, the University of Florida.

Crews took his teaching seriously; his class was popular and there was always a waiting list to get in. But he was often absent. Geltner gives Melvin New credit for creating an environment that Harry respected. As head of the English Department, New was aware of the gap between the academics and the writers.  He also appreciated the fact that as Harry’s fame grew, so did Florida’s ability to attract well-known writers to join the English faculty. However, Crews was a difficult colleague. Keeping peace amongst that faculty and finding continued support within the English Department for the program wasn’t easy.

There was a more accommodating environment for Harry – the local bars. Gainesvillians will recognize Harry’s favorites: the Rathskeller, Orange & Brew, the Windjammer, and Lillian’s. When he was in these settings, he was the ‘king of the hill,’ sure-footed, though not so sure-footed by the end of the evening.

In addition to being a novelist, Crews also tried out journalism, writing a regular column, “Grits,” in Playboy Magazine and then guest columns in Esquire. Hunter S. Thompson had fashioned a writing style, “gonzo journalism” for Harry and other writers to follow. In addition to magazine journalism Harry also dabbled with script-writing for Hollywood, the playwright’s art, and a short-lived acting career.

One of the best stories that Geltner tells is Harry’s trying out for the role of the American celebrity. It turns out that Madonna and Sean Penn had added our Harry Crews to Donald Trump’s guest list for the Mike Tyson-Michael Spinks boxing match staged in July 1988 in Atlantic City, New Jersey near Trump’s hotel and casinos. Madonna had recently finished The Knockout Artist and been “blown away.” Trump showed his displeasure at her including this “unknown writer.” From Geltner’s account it was clear that the life of celebrity was not for Harry nor Harry for that celebrity world.

Most of Harry Crews’ titles are still in print. His continued reputation will, however, likely rest with his autobiographical A Childhood; The Biography of a Place, published to much acclaim in 1978. A second volume was on the way when Crews died in March 2012.

A Is for Arsenic; The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup. Bloomsbury, 2015.

Agatha Christie is perhaps the best known detective novelist of the last century, and her best-known fictional detectives are Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. This is an analysis of the poisons used in her novels and short stories. (These days murderers – even in England – mostly use guns). Christie has provided an elaborate Appendix of her fictional murders and what the murderer used, poisons and otherwise.  She claims that her stories are based on the true crimes of the day. Her first novel was accepted in 1920; she died in 1976; we presume of natural causes.


Kathryn Harkup points out that Christie knew what she was about. She had volunteered as an apothecary’s assistant during the Great War and eventually became licensed. Her copy of Martindale’s Extra Pharmacopoeia is well thumbed. Harkup, a chemist, investigates the poisons used by the murderer in fourteen of Christie’s novels.


The poisons are arranged in alphabetical order, hence beginning with arsenic. Arsenic was widely available in Christie’s time. It was kept around the house because arsenic, like several of the other poisons Christie uses in her “crime career,” was sold as a pesticide and weed killer.


The symptoms for arsenic poisoning were numerous and not unlike those of other poisons – acute stomach pains, vomiting, and diarrhea. Until other antidotes were developed, the common means of treating someone who had been poisoned with arsenic, either on purpose or by an unintended contact with the pesticide, was activated charcoal. Alternatives to charcoal were developed during the Great War because the Lewisite gas used on the Western Front was an arsenic-based poison.


More recently another poisonous gas, sarin, has been considered a military weapon designed to be used much as Lewisite gas was in the Great War. It stops the production of mucus and hence was at one time used in cough medicine. It is colorless, odorless, and can kill within minutes of receiving a lethal dose. It is the B poison in Markup’s book because one form of the poison was called belladonna.


Hydrogen cyanide is perhaps the most common form of cyanide, a notorious poison. It can be obtained from various sources, such as in the stones of apricots, apples, and peaches. And cassava; the residual cyanide in cassava, an important food source, can be fatal. Hydrogen cyanide is notorious because it was used to kill inmates at German death camps in the last years of World War II. A German chemical firm, IG Farben manufactured it under the trade name Zyklon B. Biting into a capsule containing hydrogen cyanide in a powdery form was a common means of committing suicide amongst the National Socialist elite. Hitler swallowed cyanide but then also shot himself in April 1945.


And so on, through the alphabetical listing that Kathryn Markup has provided. But stopping at two more letters of the alphabet: n – nicotine and o – opium (which includes morphine and heroin as popular forms). Nicotine was a New World drug; tobacco was imported into Europe in the sixteenth century by Spanish explorers and early colonists. It is very addictive. It is most commonly smoked but can also be chewed and snorted. (The latter two are considered declassee; spittoons have largely disappeared.)


Recently electronic-cigarettes have been introduced as a means of reducing the health-related problems associated with breathing in tobacco smoke. The judgment is still out on whether it is a step toward a ‘healthier’ means of consuming what is after all a lethal poison. Never having smoked, I, like many of my generation, nevertheless, ingested ‘secondhand smoke’ riding in the back of our family car.


Not a word about marijuana or hemp (M is represented by monkshood. H by hemlock.), nor cannabis.


Opium, obtained from the opium poppy, is a popular street drug, more commonly consumed in the form of heroin or morphine, which are the more concentrated forms. There is some evidence that opium was used by the ancient Sumerians as an analgesic. As laudanum it was widely consumed in the nineteenth century as pain medicine and to relieve diarrhea. Codeine, another mild form of morphine, was used as a cough suppressant.


Markup doesn’t mention this but morphine was widely used to treat pain during the American Civil War. Hence many of the veterans wounded in the War returned home addicted. Opium poppies are only one of many species of poppies. The seeds from other poppy species are used to flavor bakery goods. We celebrate those growing in Flanders Fields as a memorial to World War I.


But back to Agatha Christie and the use of poisons as a common form of homicide. Entertainment for Christie fans; impressive chemistry; a reminder to us of our connections to the plant world – its occasional perils, and ecstasies.

The Songs That Fought the War.

The Songs That Fought the War; Popular Music and the Home Front, 1939-1945 by John Bush Jones.  Brandeis University Press, 2006.

In 1941, just before our entry into World War II, the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, on behalf of its membership, attempted to double its licensing fees. Nightclubs, theaters, dance halls, and radio stations that featured live musical performances paid a licensing fee for the songs they performed. Radio broadcasters – NBC, CBS, and their affiliates – responded with a boycott of all songs that ASCAP controlled, and the agency and its composers lost the battle.

Less than a year later the American Federation of Musicians barred its members from making recordings of popular songs to be replayed in these venues. AFM hoped to preserve the jobs of the thousands of musicians employed by radio stations and did help keep live performance alive and well.

Meanwhile song writers kept writing new songs.


Local radio stations of any size had a band that “plugged” popular songs, playing their own arrangements. Numerous bands and vocalists performed in nightclubs, and those live performances were often broadcast over the radio networks. There were numerous network variety shows as well, the most popular being ‘Your Hit Parade’. Broadway musicals of the day incorporated popular songs. Films were an important opportunity for song writers, musicians, and singers. Sheet music sales were still a measure of a song’s popularity. The recording industry and the thousands of juke boxes around the country that played those records were, of course, also a major part of any record’s success.


John Bush Jones’s entertaining book explains this enormous achievement of wartime popular music. He contends that the war years were “happy” times despite the carnage abroad. The country was remarkably united and prosperous. There was a mood of cultural excitement and participation. Oddly Jones also shows that a good portion of the songs which had wartime themes were about loneliness and separation. “I’ll Walk Alone,” “Saturday Night is the Loneliest Night of the Week,” and “You’ll Never Know” are three of many. Christmas brought out this mood. Hence Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” was the most popular of all the songs that fought the war. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Have Yourself a Merry, Merry Christmas” had similar themes.


Sixteen million American men and women served in the armed forces, out of a population of 130 million. And millions more moved to find work in defense industries. The social angst that would seemly have been the result of both displacements was eased with lighted-hearted, up-beat songs. Thus “Mairzy Doats” and “Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive.”


Some of the jobs in the defense industries were held by African-Americans. And they also made their contribution to Tin Pan Alley. “Ain’t Misbehaven,’” “Honeysuckle Rose,” and ”Shoo-Shoo Baby” were three. The Andrew Sisters made a big hit out of “Shoo-Shoo Baby.”


Concerned about the country’s morale, the Office of War Information wanted songs with patriotic themes. It welcomed those about boot camp and army life that were amusing without being critical. Songs about combat deaths and men who would never return, were taboo, of course. There was little formal censorship, however. Most of this restraint was self-imposed. Country-western song writers, Jones contends, were the more likely to venture into proscribed themes.


The OWI was looking for a one single war song that would match the great success of “Over There” in World War I. WWII never produced one, although two songs came close: “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” and the service song “The Army Air Corps.” “God Bless America,” all about American exceptionalism, surprisingly never did.


Axis-bashing was common, though generally good-natured. Jones quotes Carson Robison’s “Hitler’s Last Letter to Hirohito;” Hitler is offering Hirohito some tips that would help him have a good day. “Why don’t you review your great navy? / ‘Twill boost your morale, I am sure. / Just borrow a suit from a diver, / and you’ll have an int’resting tour.” Japan’s navy had largely been sunk in the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway.


Only six when the war ended, I have been puzzled about why I know so many of these songs so well. It turns out that school children in Garwin, Iowa at least continued to sing the songs that fought the war well into the 1950s. I wish my music teacher had played some good boogie-woogie on the school piano. She could have led us in “The Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy (of Company B).”


The war years had a rich popular culture, and they seem to have been blessed with more than their share of memorable tunes.