The Place for real traditions.Irish Culture begins in prehistory. First was a paleolithic mindset-based on hunting. The spirits of animals aid in this. Groups had totems- birds, boar,for identity. Next came a Neolithic awareness- crops, agriculture,farm animals. Villages and lineages. Multiple gods became single gods with many powers. Chieftains by birth ruled. Next the Bronze age with rule by heroes. We got cookbooks and recipes left the mind. How do we know what to do? That's our purpose.
Saturday, August 14, 2010
R. FROUDE'S attempt to secure from the American public a favorable judgment on the dealings of England with Ireland has had one good result—though we fear only one—in leading to a little closer examination of the real state of American opinion about Irish grievances than it has yet received. He will go back to England with the knowledge—which he evidently did not possess when he came here—that the great body of intelligent Americans care very little about the history of "the six hundred years of wrong," and know even less than they care, and could not be induced, except by a land-grant, or a bounty, or a drawback, to acquaint themselves with it; that those of them who have ever tried to form an opinion on the Anglo-Irish controversy have hardly ever got further than a loose notion that England had most likely behaved like a bully all through, but that her victim was beyond all question an obstreperous and irreclaimable ruffian, whose ill-treatment must be severely condemned by the moralist, but whom no sensible, man can be expected to weep over or sympathize with. The agencies which have helped to form the popular idea of the English political character are well known; those which have helped to deprive the Irish of American sympathy—and which, if Mr. Fronde bad judiciously confined himself to describing the efforts made by England to promote Irish well-being now, would probably have made his lectures very successful—are more obscure. "We ourselves pointed out one of the most prominent, and probably most powerful—the conduct of the Irish servant girl in the American kitchen. To this must, of course, be added the specimen of "home rule" to which the country has been treated in this city; but we doubt if this latter has really exercised as much influence on American opinion as some writers try to make out. A community which has produced Butler, Banks, Parker, Bullock, Tweed, Tom Fields, Oakey Hall, Fernando Wood, Barnard, and scores of others whom we might name, as the results or good Protestant and Anglo-Saxon breeding, cannot really be greatly shocked by the bad workings of Celtic blood and Catholic theology in the persons of Peter B. Sweeny, Billy Mcmullen, Jimmy O'Brien, Reddy the Blacksmith, or Judge McCunn. Let us give the devil his due, and refrain from all sham and hypocrisy. It is in the kitchen that the Irish iron has entered into the American soul; and it is in the kitchen that a great triumph was prepared for Mr. Froude had he been a judicious man. The memory of burnt steaks, of hard-boiled potatoes, of smoked milk, would have done for him what no state-papers, or records, or correspondence of the illustrions dead can ever do; it had prepared the American mind to believe the very worst he could say of Irish turbulence and disorder. Not one of his auditors but could find in his own experience of Irish cooking circumstances which would probably have led him to accept without question the execution of Silken Thomas, the massacre of Drogheda, or even the Penal Laws, as perfectly justifiable exercises of authority, and would certainly have made it easy for him to believe that English rule in Ireland at the present day is beneficent beyond example.
Nevertheless, we are constrained to say that in our opinion a great deal of the odium which surrounds Bridget, and which has excited so much prejudice not only against her countrymen, but against her ancestors, in American eyes, has a very insufficient foundation in reason. There are three characters in which she is the object of public suspicion and dislike—(1) as a cook; (2) as a party to a contract; (3) as a member of a household. The charges made against her in all of these have been summed up in a recent attack on her in the Atlantic Monthly, as " a lack of every quality which makes service endurable to the employer, or a wholesome life for the servant." And the same article charges her with " proving herself, in obedience, fidelity, care, and accuracy, the inferior of every kind of servant known to modern society." Of course, there is hardly a family in the country which has not had, in its own experience, illustrations of the extravagance of these charges. There is probably nobody who has long kept servants who has not had Irish servants who were obedient, faithful, careful, and even accurate in a remarkable degree. But then it must be admitted that this indictment is a tolerably fair rendering, if not of the actual facts of the case, at least of the impression the facts have left on the mind of the average employer. This impression, however, needs correction, as a few not very recondite considerations will show.
As a cook, Bridget is an admitted failure. But cooking is, it is now generally acknowledged, very much an affair of instinct, and this instinct seems to be very strong in some races and very weak in others, though why the French should have it highly developed and the Irish be almost altogether deprived of it, is a question which would require an essay to itself. No amount of teaching will make a person a good cook who is not himself fond of good food and has not a delicate palate, for it is the palate which must test the value of rules. "We may deduce from this the conclusion, which experience, justifies, that women are not naturally good cooks. They have had the cookery of the world in their hands for several thousand years, but all the marked advances in the art, and indeed all that can be called the cultivation of it, have been the work of men. "Whatever zeal women have displayed in it, and whatever excellence they have achieved in it, have been the result of influences in no way gastronomic, and which we might perhaps call emotional, such as devotion to male relatives or a desire to minister to the pleasure of men in general. Few or no women cook a dinner in an artistic spirit, and their success in doing it is nearly always the result of affection or loyalty—which is of course tantamount to saying that female cookery as a whole is, and always has been, comparatively poor. As a proof of this, we may mention the fact—for fact we think it is—that the art of cooking among women has declined at any given time or place—in the Northern States of the Union, for instance—pari passu with the growth of female independence. That is, as the habit or love of ministering to men's tastes has become weaker, the interest in cookery has fallen off. There are no such cooks among native American women now as there were fifty years ago; and passages in foreign cookery books which assume the existence among women of strong interest in their husbands' and brothers' likings, and strong desire to gratify them, furnish food for merriment in American households. Bridget, therefore, can plead, first of all, the general incapacity of women as cooks; and, secondly, the general falling off in the art under the influence of the new ideas. It may be that she ought to cultivate assiduously or with enthusiasm a calling which all the other women of the country ostentatiously despise, but she would be more than human if she did so. She imitates American women as closely as she can, and cannot live on the same soil without imbibing their ideas; and unhappily, as in all cases of imitation, vices are more easily and earlier caught than virtues.
She can make, too, an economical defence of the most powerful kind to the attacks on her in this line, and it is this: that whether her cooking be bad or good, she offers it without deception or subterfuge, at a fair rate, and without compulsion ; that nobody who does not like her dishes need eat them ; and that her defects of taste or training can only be fairly made a cause of hatred and abuse when she does work badly which somebody else is waiting to do better, if she would get out of the way. She has undertaken the task of cooking for the American nation, not of her own motion, but simply and solely because the American nation could find nobody else to do it. She does not, therefore, occupy the position of a broken-down or incompetent artist, but of a volunteer at a fire, or a passer-by when yon are lying in the ditch with your leg broken. The plain truth of the matter is, that the whole native population of the United States has almost suddenly and with one accord refused to perform for hire any of the services usually called "menial" or indoor. The men have found other more productive fields of industry, and the women, under the influence of the prevailing theory of life, have resolved to accept any employment at any wages sooner than do other people's house-work. The result has been a demand for trained servants which the whole European continent could not supply if it would, and which has proved so intense that it has drawn the peasantry out of the fields en masse from the one European country in which the peasantry was sufficiently poor to be, tempted, and spoke or understood the American language. No such phenomenon has ever been witnessed before. No country before has ever refused to do its own " chores," and called in an army of foreigners for the purpose. To complain bitterly of their want of skill is therefore, under the circumstances, almost puerile, from an economical point of view; while, to any one who looks at the matter as a moralist, it is hard to see why Bridget, doing the work badly in the kitchen, is any more a contemptible object than the American sewing-girl killing herself in a garret at $3 a week, out of devotion to " the principle of equality."
As a party to a contract, Bridget's defects are very strongly marked. Her sense of the obligation of contracts is feeble. The reason why this particular vice excites so much odium in her case is, that the inconveniencies of her breaches of contract are greater than those of almost any other member of the community. They touch us in our most intimate social relations, and cause us an amount of mental anguish out of all proportion to their real importance. But her spirit about contracts is really that of the entire community in which she lives. Her way of looking at her employer is, we sincerely believe, about the way of looking at him common among all employees. The only real restraint on laborers of any class among us nowadays is the difficulty of finding another place. "Whenever it becomes as easy for clerks, draughtsmen, mechanics, and the like to " suit themselves " as it is for cooks or housemaids, we find them as faithless. Native mechanics and seamstresses are just as perfidious as Bridget, but incur less obloquy, because their faithlessness causes less annoyance; but they have no more regard in making their plans for the interest or wishes of their employer than she has, and they all take the " modern view" of the matter. What makes her so fond of change is that she lives in a singularly restless society, in which everybody is engaged in a continual struggle to " better himself"—her master, in nine cases out often, setting her an example of dislike to steady industry and slow gains. Moreover, domestic service is a kind of employment which, if not sweetened by personal affection, is extraordinarily full of wear and tear. In it there is no real end to the day; and in small households, the pursuit and oversight, and often the " nagging," of the employer, or, in other words, the presence of an exacting, semi-hostile, and slightly contemptuous person is constant. This and confinement in a half-dark kitchen produce that nervous crisis which sends male mechanics and other male laborers engaged in monotonous callings off "on a spree." In Bridget's case it works itself off by a change of place, with a few days of squalid repose among " her own people " in a tenement house. •
As regards her general bearing as a member of a household, she has to contend with three great difficulties—ignorance of civilized domestic life, for which she is no more to blame than Russian mouzhiks; difference of race ond creed on the part of her employer (and this is one which the servants of no other country have to contend with); and lastly, the strong contempt for domestic service felt and manifested by all that portion of the American population with which she comes in contact, and to which it is her great ambition to assimilate herself. Those who have ever tried the experiment of late years of employing a native American as a servant, have, we believe, before it was over, generally come to look on Bridget as the personification of repose, if not of comfort; and those who have to call on native Americans, even occasionally, for services of a quasi-personal character, such as those of expressmen, hotel clerks, plumlbers, we believe are anxious to make their intercourse with these gentlemen an brief as possible. Most expressmen are natives, and are freemen of intelligence and capacity, but th«y carry your trunk into your hall with the air of convicts doing forced labor for a tyrannical jailer. If the spirit in which they discharge their duties—and they ore specimens of a large class—were to make its way into our kitchens, society would go to pieces.
In short, Bridget is the legitimate product of our economical, political, and moral condition. We have called her, in our extremity, to do duties for which she is not trained, and having got her here have surrounded her with influences and ideas which American society has busied itself for fifty years in fostering and spreading, and which taking hold of persons in her stage of development work mental and moral ruin. The things which American life aud manners preach to her are not patience, sober-mindedness, faithfulness, diligence, and honesty, but self-assertion, discontent, hatred of superiority of all kinds, and eagerness for physical enjoyment. Whenever the sound of the new gospel which is to win the natives back to the ancient and noble ways is heard in the land, it is fair to expect that it will not find her ears wholly closed, and that when the altar of duty is again set up by her employers, she will lay on it attractive beefsteaks, potatoes done to a turn, make libations of delicious soup, and will display remarkable fertility in " sweets " and an extreme fondness for washing, and learn to grow old in one family.
-The Nation, Volume 16,The Nation Company, 1873, p.6.