Robinson Crusoe Quote

"He preferred, however, "gourmandization," was an idolater of a certain decent, commodious fish, called a turtle, and worshipped the culinary image wherever he nozed it put up."
---The Contradiction (1796)

Monday, 15 August 2011

Oatmeal: the Enlightenment Easy-Mac?

In 1778, John James, a curate's son, set off to Oxford to begin his undergraduate career at Queens College.  I had the chance to read some of his letters at the college's archives last week, and I admit I was pleasantly comforted to find that many of his concerns were uncannily similar to those of the present day.

Christchurch, not Queens, but you get the idea
A few examples:

--How to do one's own laundry: “I beg to be informed by my mother to what uses I must apply the napkins, and to what the towels; how long a pair of sheets must be used before they are washed, and what price I must set on a stock if my laundress should lose one" (October 9, 1778)

--Complaints about the college's food: “I am disgusted with the water and milk of Oxford.  Tea and coffee enervate and unhinge me for the whole day after."  (This is followed by an encomium to his parents on the virtues of hasty pudding).

--And thus proceeds to request a care package from good ol' mom: "This means no more than that I want a barrel of oatmeal, if you should have an opportunity of sending me one.”  

Oatmeal?  Really?  To the left you can see my favorite undergraduate snack procured from outside the college walls.  To each his own, I guess.  

And despite John James' protestations that "my eating almost never exceeds one shilling a day, except on very particular occasions" he has some trouble explaining to the parents why all his money has disappeared by the end of his first term.  "I cannot see," he claims "how [the expense] is swelled so high."

Ahh.  Such a familiar story.