The Atlantic Monthly/Volume 1/Number 4/Tea
Gossiping Mr. Pepys little imagined, when he wrote in his Diary, September 25th, 1660, "I did send for a cup of tee, (a China drink,) of which I never had drank before," that he had mentioned a beverage destined to exert a world-wide influence on civilization, and in due time gladden every heart in his country, from that of the Sovereign Lady Victoria, down to humble Mrs. Miff with her "mortified bonnet." Reader, if you wish some little information on the subjects of tea-growing, gathering, curing, and shipping, you must come with us to China, in spite of the war. We know how to elude the blockade, how to beard Viceroy Yeh; and in one of the great _hongs_ on the Canton River we will give you a short lecture on the virtues of Souchong and flowery Pekoe.
The native name of the article is _Cha_, although it has borne two or three names among the Chinese,—in the fourth century being called _Ming_. To botanists it is known as _Thea_, having many affinities with the Camellia. It has long been a doubtful point whether or not two species exist, producing the green and black teas. True, there are the green-tea country and the black-tea region, hundreds of miles apart; but the latest investigation goes to prove that there is really but one plant. Mr. Robert Fortune, whose recent and interesting work, "The Tea Countries of China and India," is familiar to many of our readers, has not only had peculiar facilities for gaining a knowledge of tea as grown in the Central Flowery Kingdom, but is, moreover, one of the most scientific of English botanists. He maintains the "unity theory" of the plant, and we are content to agree with him,—the differences in the leaves being owing to climate, situation, soil, and other accidental influences. The shrub is generally from three to six feet high, having numerous branches and a very dense foliage. Its wood is hard and tough, giving off a disagreeable smell when cut. The leaves are smooth, shining, of a dark green color, and with notched edges; those of the _Thea Bohea_, the black tea, being curled and oblong,—while those of the _Thea viridis_, the green tea, are broader in proportion to their length, but not so thick, and curled at the apex. The plant flowers early in the spring, remaining in bloom about a month; and its seeds ripen in December and January. According to Chinese authority, tea is grown in nearly every province of the empire; but the greater part of it is produced in four or five provinces, affording all that is shipped from Canton. Very large quantities, however, are consumed by the countries adjoining the western frontier, and Russia draws an immense supply by caravans, all of which is the product of the northwest provinces. The Bohea Hills, in Lat. 27° 47' North, and Long. 119° East, distant about nine hundred miles from Canton, produce the finest kinds of black tea; while the green teas are chiefly raised in another province, several hundred miles farther north. The soil of many plantations examined by Mr. Fortune is very thin and poor, in some places little more than sand, such soil as would grow pines and scrub oaks. The shrubs are generally planted on the slopes of hills, the plants in many places not interfering with the cultivation of wheat and other grain. They are always raised from seeds, which in the first place are sown very thickly together, as many of them never shoot; and when the young plants have attained the proper size they are transplanted into the beds prepared for them, although in some cases the seeds are sown in the proper situations without removal. Care is taken that the plants be not overshadowed by large trees, and many superstitious notions prevail as to the noxious influence of certain vegetables in the vicinity. Although the shrub is very hardy, not being injured even by snow, yet the weather has great influence on the quality of the leaves, and many directions are given by Chinese authors with regard to the proper care to be observed in the culture of the plant. Leaves are first gathered from it when it is three years old, but it does not attain its greatest size for six or seven,—thriving, according to care and situation, from ten to twenty years.
The famous Bohea Hills are said to derive their name from two brothers, Woo and E, the sons of a prince in ancient times, who refused to succeed him, and came to reside among these mountains, where to this day the people burn incense to their memory. Another legend states that the people of this district were first taught the use of tea as a beverage by a venerable man who suddenly appeared among them, holding a sprig in his hand, from which he proposed that they should make a decoction and drink it. On their doing so and approving the drink, he instantly vanished.
There is very great choice in the teas; connoisseurs being much more particular in their taste than even the most fastidious wine-drinkers. Purchasers inquire the position of the gardens from which the samples were taken; teas from the summit of a hill, from the middle, and from the base bearing different values. Some of the individual shrubs are greatly prized; one being called the "egg-plant," growing in a deep gully between two hills, and nourished by water which trickles from the precipice. Another is appropriated exclusively to the imperial use, and an officer is appointed every year to superintend the gathering and curing. The produce of such plants is never sent to Canton, being reserved entirely for the emperor and the grandees of the court, and commanding enormous prices; the most valuable being said to be worth one hundred and fifty dollars a pound, and the cheapest not less than twenty-five dollars. There is said to be a very fine kind called "monkey tea," from the fact that it grows upon heights inaccessible to man, and that monkeys are therefore trained to pick it. For the truth of this story I cannot vouch, and of course ask no one to believe it.
The picking of the leaf is frequently performed by a different class of laborers from those who cultivate it; but the customs vary in different places. There are four pickings in the course of the year,—the last one, however, being considered a mere gleaning. The first is made as early as the 15th of April, and sometimes sooner, when the delicate buds appear and the foliage is just opening, being covered with a whitish down. From this picking the finest kinds of tea are made, although the quantity is small. The next gathering is technically called "second spring," and takes place in the early part of June, when the branches are well covered, producing the greatest quantity of leaves. The third gathering, or "third spring," follows in about one month, when the branches are again searched, the most common kinds of tea being the result. The fourth gleaning is styled the "autumn dew"; but this is not universally observed, as the leaves are now old and of very inferior quality. These poorest sorts are sometimes clipped off with shears; but the general mode of gathering is by hand, the leaves being laid lightly on bamboo trays.
The curing of the leaf is of the utmost importance,—some kinds of tea depending almost entirely for their value on the mode of preparation. When the leaves are brought to the curing-houses, they are thinly spread upon bamboo trays, and placed in the wind to dry until they become somewhat soft; then, while lying on the trays, they are gently rubbed and rolled many times. From the labor attending this process the tea is called _kung foocha_, or "worked tea"; hence the English name of Congou. When the leaves have been sufficiently worked they are ready for the firing, an operation requiring the exercise of the greatest care. The iron pan used in the process is made red hot, and the workman sprinkles a handful of leaves upon it and waits until each leaf pops with a slight noise, when he at once sweeps all out of the pan, lest they should be burned, and then fires another handful. The leaves are then put into dry baskets over a pan of coals. Care is taken, by laying ashes over the fire, that no smoke shall ascend among the leaves, which are slowly stirred with the hand until perfectly dry. The tea is then poured into chests, and, when transported, placed in boxes enclosing leaden canisters, and papered to keep out the dampness. In curing the finest kinds of tea, such as Powchong, Pekoe, etc., not more than ten to twenty leaves are fired in the pan at one time, and only a few pounds rolled at once in the trays. As soon as cured, these fine teas are packed in papers, two or three pounds in each, and stamped with the name of the plantation and the date of curing.
Beside the hongs in Canton, which I shall presently speak of, there are large buildings, styled "pack-houses," containing all the apparatus for curing. Into these establishments foreigners are not readily admitted. Two or three rows of furnaces are built in a large, airy apartment, having a number of hemispherical iron pans inserted into the brick-work, two pans being heated by one fire. Into these pans the rolled leaves are thrown and stirred with the arm until too hot for the flesh to bear, when they are swept out and laid on a table covered with matting, where they are again rolled. The firing and rolling are sometimes repeated three or four times, according to the state of the leaves. The rolling is attended with some pain, as an acrid juice exudes from the leaves, which acts upon the hands; and the whole operation of tea-curing and packing is somewhat unpleasant, from the fine dust arising, and entering the nose and mouth,—to prevent which, the workmen often cover the lower part of the face with a cloth. The leaves are frequently tested, during the process of curing, by pouring boiling water upon them; and their strength and quality are judged of by the number of infusions that can be made from the same leaves, as many as fifteen drawings being obtained from the richest kinds.
Many persons have imagined that the peculiar effects of green tea upon the nerves after drinking it, as well as its color, are owing to its having been fired in copper pans, which is not the case, as no copper instruments are used in its manufacture; but these effects are probably due to the partial curing of the leaf, and its consequent retention of many of the peculiar properties of the growing plant. The bloom upon the cheaper kinds of green tea is produced by gypsum or Prussian blue; and perhaps the effects alluded to are in some degree caused by these minerals. Such teas are prepared entirely for exportation, the Chinese themselves never drinking them.
Each foreign house employs an inspector or taster, whose business it is to examine samples of all the teas submitted to the firm for purchase. When a taster has a lot of teas to examine, several samples, selected from various chests, being placed before him, he first of all takes up a large handful and smells it repeatedly, then chews some of it, and records his opinion in a huge folio, wherein are chronicled the merits of every lot examined by him; and lastly, he puts small portions of the various kinds into a great many little cups into which boiling water is poured, and when the tea is drawn he takes a sip of the infusion. With all due deference to his art, sometimes, when the taster does not know exactly what to say of a sample, the book will bear witness that the parcel has "a decided tea flavor." But the accuracy of good tasters is really wonderful; they will classify and fix the true value of a chop of teas beyond dispute, and the East India Company's tasters were occasionally of eminent service in detecting frauds. A first-rate tea-taster may make a fortune in a few years; but, from constantly inhaling minute particles of the herb, the health is frequently ruined.
The teas which come to Canton are brought chiefly by water. Only occasional land stages are used in transportation, the principal one being the pass which crosses the Ineiling Mountain, in the north of the Canton or Quang-tong Province, cut through at the beginning of the eighth century. As every article of merchandise which goes through the pass, either from the south or the north, is carried across on the backs of men, several hundred thousand porters are here employed. Many tortuous paths are cut over the mountain, and through them are continually passing these poor creatures, condemned by poverty to terrible fatigue, the work being so laborious that the generality of them live but a short time. At certain intervals are little bamboo sheds, where travellers rest on their journey, smoking a pipe and drinking tea for refreshment; while at the summit of the pass is an immense portal, or kind of triumphal arch, erected on the boundary line of the two Provinces of Quang-tong and Kiang-si. The teas, securely packed in chests wrapped in matting, are placed in the boats which ply upon the rivers flowing from the tea countries into the Poyang Lake, and after successive changes are at length brought to the foot of the Ineiling Mountain, carried over it on the backs of men, and reshipped on the south side of the pass. The boats in which the tea is brought to Canton convey from five hundred to eight hundred chests each, and are called chopboats by foreigners, from each lot of teas being called a _chop_. They serve admirably for inland navigation, drawing but little water, and are so rounded as to make it almost impossible to overset one. A ledge is built upon each side of the boat for the trackers, who, when the wind fails, collect in the bow, and, sticking long bamboo poles into the bed of the stream, walk along the ledge to the stern, thus propelling the barge, and repeating the operation as often as they have traversed the length of the planks. A number of excise posts and custom-houses are established along the route from the tea regions to Canton, for the purpose of levying duties on the teas, none being allowed to be sent to that city by coastwise voyages.
And now of the various kinds of black and green teas.—But, Reader, I hear you cry, "Halt! halt! pray do not bore us with a dry catalogue of the 'Padre Souchongs' and 'Twankays'; we know them already."—Then speak for me, immortal Pindar Cockloft! crusty bachelor that thou art! who hast told that tea and scandal are inseparable, and hast so wittily described a gathering around the urn as
"A convention of tattling, a tea-party hight,
Which, like meeting of witches, is brewed up
Where each matron arrives fraught with tales
With knowing suspicion and doubtful surmise;
Like the broomstick-whirled hags that appear
Each bearing some relic of venom or death,
To stir up the toil and to double the trouble,
That fire may burn, and that cauldron may
The wives of our cits of inferior degree
Will soak up repute in a little Bohea;
The potion is vulgar, and vulgar the slang
With which on their neighbors' defects they
But the scandal improves,—a refinement in
As our matrons are richer and rise to Souchong.
With Hyson, a beverage that's still more refined,
Our ladies of fashion enliven their mind,
And by nods, innuendoes, and hints, and what
Reputations and tea send together to pot;
While madam in cambrics and laces arrayed,
With her plate and her liveries in splendid
Will drink in Imperial a friend at a sup,
Or in Gunpowder blow them by dozens all
There, now, Reader, you have the best classification extant of teas; and I will not detain you with any long descriptions of other kinds, seldom heard of by Americans, such as the "Sparrow's Tongue," the "Black Dragon," the "Dragon's Whiskers," the "Dragon's Pellet," the "Flowery Fragrance," and the "Careful Firing."
Perhaps a notice of the great hongs will prove more interesting to you. They stretch for miles along the Canton River, and in the busy season are crammed with hundreds of thousands of chests, filled with the fragrant herb. The hongs front upon the river, in order that cargo-boats may approach them; but they have also another entrance at the end which opens from the suburbs. Imagine a building twelve hundred feet long by twenty to forty broad, and in some portions fifty feet high, built of brick, of one story, here and there open to the sky, with the floor as level as that of a ropewalk, and of such extent, that, to a person standing at one end, forms at the other end appear dwarfed, and men seem engaged in noiseless occupations: you have here the picture of a Chinese hong. In these warehouses the tea is assorted, repacked, and then put on board the chop-boats and sent down the river to the ships at their anchorage off Whampoa. Here are enormous scales for weighing the chests; here, where the light falls in from the roof, are tables placed for superintendents, who carefully watch the workmen; farther off, are foreigners inspecting a newly arrived chop; at the extreme end is the little apartment where the tea merchant receives people upon business; and through the high door beyond, we see the crowded river, and chopboats waiting for cargoes. At the river end of the building a second story is added, often fitted up with immense suites of beautiful rooms, elegantly furnished, and abounding with rare and costly articles of _virtù_. Here is a door leading higher still, out upon the roof, which is flat. Below us is the river with its myriads of boats, visible as far as the eye can reach, no less than eighty-four thousand belonging to Canton alone. On our right is the public square, where of late stood the foreign factories, now destroyed by the mob, while the flags of France, England, and America have disappeared. On our left is another vista of river life, the pagoda near Whampoa, and the forts of Dutch and French Folly. In our rear is the immense city of Canton, and opposite to us, across the river, lies the verdant island of Honan, with its villages, its canals, and its great Buddhist temple. On descending, we find that a servant has placed for us on a superb table in one of the pretty rooms cups of delicious tea,—it being the custom in all the hongs to offer the beverage to strangers at all times. A cup of the aromatic Oulong will serve to steady our nerves for the completion of the tea-lecture.
The visitor will soon form some idea of the magnitude of the tea trade, by going from one hong to another, and finding all of them filled with chests, while armies of coolies are bringing in chops, sorting cargoes, loading chop-boats, making leaden canisters, packing, and labelling the packages. A heavy gate, with brilliant, figures painted on it, and adorned with enormous lanterns, swings yawning open, and admits the stranger. Just inside of the gate, at a little table, sits a man who keeps count of the coolies, as they enter with chests of tea, and sees that they do not carry any out except for good reasons. Looking down the length of the hong, a busy scene presents itself. It is crammed with big square chests just from the tea regions, and piled up to the roof. Presently a string of coolies, stretching out like a flock of wild geese, come past, and set down chests enough on the floor to cover half an acre. These half-naked fellows are nimble workmen, and will unload a boat full of tea in an incredibly short time. Very valuable as an animal is the cooly: he is a Jack-at-all-trades; works at the scull of a boat, or in a tea pack-house; bears a mandarin's sedan-chair, or sweeps out a chamber. His ideas are as limited as his means, and nearly as much so as his clothing; but he works all day without grumbling at his lot, is cheerful, and seems to enjoy life, although he lives on a few cents a day. He sleeps soundly at night, though his accommodations are such as an American beggar would scorn. Any person visiting a hong will see on the sides of the building, at a considerable elevation from the ground, a number of shelves with divisions arranged like berths in a steamboat, intended for beds, but consisting of rough boards with square wooden blocks for pillows. Each one is enclosed with a coarse blue mosquito-netting; and mounting to the apartments by a ladder, here the coolies sleep the year round.
The teas are not generally brought to the hongs until sold. Before sale they are stored in warehouses, chiefly on Honan Island, opposite the city; but after disposal the large-sized chests are carried into the hongs, where they are sorted and repacked into smaller boxes, according to the wants of the purchaser. You will see different parts of the floor covered with packages large and small, into which the coolies are shaking teas. Each box contains a leaden canister, into some of which the teas are loosely poured, while in others the herb is wrapped in papers of half a pound weight, each stamped with Chinese characters. The canister is then closed by a lid, and afterward securely fastened down by the top of the chest. These canisters are made near at hand. Look around, and a few rods off you will see three or four expert hands turning the large sheets of the prepared metal into shape. Knowing the required size, the operators have a cubic block placed on the metal sheet, which, bending like paper, is folded over the block, assuming its shape, and the edges of the canister are instantly soldered by a second hand; a third, with the aid of another wooden form, prepares the lids; and thus a knot of half a dozen workmen, keeping steadily at their tasks, will make a large number of canisters in a day. Besides the laborers who cultivate and those who cure the tea, and the porters and boatmen who transport it, thousands are employed in different occupations connected with the trade. Carpenters make the chests, plumbers the leaden canisters, while painters adorn the boxes containing the finer kinds of teas with brilliant flowers or grotesque scenes.
About the season of the arrival of the tea in Canton, the Chinese dealers come to the foreign factories with "musters," or samples in nice little tin canisters, with the names of the owners written on paper pasted down the sides, and you can select such as you like. The principal business is of course held with the tea merchants themselves, not those who come from the North, but the Cantonese, while the minor business of all the hongs is in a great measure conducted through the "pursers," or foremen, who act between the Chinese and the foreigners, bringing in the accounts to the shipping-houses, and receiving the orders for cargoes. Give one of these men an order for tea and go to the hong shortly afterward, you will find numbers of workmen employed for you;—some bringing in the small boxes; others filling them, or, when filled, fastened, papered, and covered with matting, securing them firmly with ratans; others, finally, labelling them on the outer covering,—the labels being printed with the name of the vessel, of the tea merchant, of the tea, and of the Canton forwarding-house, also with the initials of the purchaser, and the number of the lot. These labels are printed rapidly, being cut by one set of hands to the proper size for the use of the others who stamp them. All the types are carved in blocks of wood, and the whole formed into a frame; then, in a little space just large enough for work,—for the printer has no immense establishment with signs on the outside of "Book and Job Printing,"—a Chinaman will sit down, snatch up a paper in one hand, and stamp it instantly with the wooden block letters, moistened with the coloring mixture used in printing.
When the teas are fairly ready to be conveyed to the ships, heavy cargo-boats are moored at the foot of the hong, their crews prepare for the chop, and the coolies within the hong stand ready to carry the chests. Every box is properly weighed, papered, and bound with split ratan, the bill of the purchase has gone duly authenticated to the foreign factory, and the teas bid farewell to their native soil. The word is given, and each cooly, placing his two chests in the ropes swinging from his shoulder-bar, lifts them from the ground, and with a brisk walk conveys them on board the chop-boat, where they are carefully stowed away. As they are carried out of the hong, a fellow stands ready, and, as if about to stab the packages, thrusts at each one two sharp sticks with red ends, leaving them jammed between the ratan and the tea-box. One of these sticks is taken out when the chest leaves the chop-boat, and the other when it reaches the deck of the vessel; and as soon as one hundred chests are passed into the ship, the sticks are counted and thus serve as tallies. Should the two bundles not correspond, a chest is missing somewhere, and woe betide the blunderer!
In the busy season the chop-boats are seen pushing down the river with every favorable tide. As for pushing against the tide, no Chinaman ever thinks of such a thing, unless absolutely compelled, the value of time being quite unknown in China. Coolly anchoring as soon as the tide is adverse, the crew fall to playing cards until it is time to get under way again. Nearly every chop-boat contains a whole family, father, mother, and children,—sometimes an old grandparent, also, being included in the domestic circle,—and all assist in working. At the stern of the boat the wife has a little cooking-apparatus, and prepares the cheap rice for the squad of eager gormandizers, who bolt it in huge quantities without fear of indigestion. The family sit down to their repast on the deck; the men keep an eye to windward and a hand on the tiller; the mother knots the cord that goes around the baby's waist into an iron ring, and, feeling secure against the bantling's falling overboard, chats sociably, occasionally enforcing a mild reproof to a vagabond son by a tap on the head with her chopstick. There is but one dish, rice, of a very ordinary sort and of a pink color, but all seem to thrive upon it. The meal over, the men smoke their pipes, and the wife washes her cooking utensils with water drawn from the muddy river, and then, strapping her infant to her back, overhauls the scanty wardrobe and mends the ragged garments.
It is interesting to mark how accurately the chop-boat is brought alongside of the ship for which it is destined. No matter how strong the wind blows or the tide runs, the sails are trimmed as occasion requires, and the big scull does its offices without ever the least mistake. The boat running under the quarter scrapes along the edge, the ropes are thrown, caught, and belayed, and the crew prepare for passing the cargo into the vessel's hold. The stevedores who load the ships are very active men. They have also good heads, and, measuring the length, breadth, and height of the hold, calculate pretty accurately how many chests the ship will carry, and the number of small boxes to be squeezed into narrow places. When the hold is full the hatch is fastened down and caulked, as exposure to the salt air injures the teas. The finest kinds are so delicate, indeed, that they cannot be exported by sea; for, however tightly sealed, they would deteriorate during the voyage. The very superior flavor noticed by travellers in the tea used at St. Petersburg is doubtless to be attributed in an important measure to its overland transportation, and its consequent escape from dampness; the large quantities consumed in Russia being, as before observed, all carried from the northwest of China to Kiakhta, whence it is distributed over the empire.
One of the most remarkable and interesting facts in the history of commerce is the comparatively recent origin of the tea trade. The leaves of the tea-plant were extensively used by the people of China and Japan centuries before it was known to Western nations. This is the more singular from the fact that the silks of China found their way to the West at a very early period,—as early, at least, as the first century of the Christian era,—while the use of tea in Europe dates back only about two hundred years. The earliest notices of its use in the countries where it is indigenous are found in the writings of the Moorish historians and travellers, about the end of the eighth century, at which time the Mahometans were freely allowed to visit China, and travel through the empire as they pleased. Soliman, an Arabian merchant, who visited China about A.D. 850, describes it under the name of _Sah_, as being the favorite beverage of the people; and Ibn Batuta, A.D. 1323, speaks of it as used for correcting the bad properties of water, and as a medicine. Mandelslo, a German, who travelled in India, 1638-40, in describing the customs of the European merchants at Surat, speaks of tea as of something unfamiliar. The reasons he gives for drinking both it and coffee are charmingly incongruous, as is generally the case when men undertake to find some solemn excuse for doing what they like. "At our ordinary meetings every day we took only _Thé_, which is commonly used all over the Indies, not only among those of the Country, but among the _Dutch_ and _English_, who take it as a Drug that cleanses the stomach and digests the superfluous humours, by a temperate heat particular thereto. The Persians, instead of _Thé_, drink their _Kahwa_, which cools and abates the natural heat which _Thé_ preserves."[A] Of its first introduction into Europe little is known. In 1517, King Emanuel of Portugal sent a fleet of eight ships to China, and an embassy to Peking; but it was not until after the formation of the Dutch East India Company, in 1602, that the use of tea became known on the Continent, and even then, although the Hollanders paid much attention to it, it made its way slowly for many years. The first notice of it in England is found in Pepys's "Diary," under date of September 25th, 1660,—as before quoted. In 1664, the East India Company presented to the king, among other "raretyes," 2 lb. 2 oz. of "thea"; and in 1667, they desire their agent at Bantam to send "100 lb. waight of the best tey that he can gett."[B] From this insignificant beginning the importation has grown from year to year, until ninety million pounds went to Great Britain in 1856, forty million coming to the United States the same year.
[Footnote A: Mandelslo's _Voyages and Travels into the East Indies_, p. 18, ed. 1662.]
[Footnote B: Grant's _History of the East India Company_. London, 1813, p. 76.]
The "Edinburgh Review," in an article on this subject, says: "The progress of this famous plant has been somewhat like the progress of _Truth_;—suspected at first, though very palatable to those who had the courage to taste it; resisted as it encroached; abused as its popularity seemed to spread; and establishing its triumph at last in cheering the whole land, from the palace to the cottage, only by the slow and resistless efforts of time and its own virtues."
Many substitutes for tea are in vogue among the Chinese, but in general only the very lowest of the population are debarred the use of the genuine article. Being the universal drink, it is found at all times in every house. Few are so poor that a simmering tea-pot does not stand ever filled for the visitor. It is invariably offered to strangers; and any omission to do so is considered, and is usually intended, as a slight. It appears to be preferred by the people to any other beverage, even in the hottest weather; and while Americans in the heats of July would gladly resort to ice-water or lemonade, the Chinaman will quench his thirst with large draughts of boiling tea.
The Muse of China has not disdained to warble harmonious numbers in praise of her favorite beverage. There is a celebrated ballad on tea-picking, in thirty stanzas, sung by a young woman who goes from home early in the day to work, and lightens her labors with song. I give a few of the verses, distinctly informing the reader, at the same time, that for the real sparkle and beauty of the poem he must consult the Chinese original.
"By earliest dawn I at my toilet only half-dress my hair
And seizing my basket, pass the door, while yet the mist is thick.
The little maids and graver dames, hand in hand winding along,
Ask me, 'Which steep of Semglo do you climb to-day?'
"In social couples, each to aid her fellow, we seize the tea twigs,
And in low words urge one another, 'Don't delay!'
Lest on the topmost bough the bud has now grown old,
And lest with the morrow come the drizzling silky rain.
"My curls and hair are all awry, my face is quite begrimed;
In whose house lives the girl so ugly as your slave?
'Tis only because that every day the tea I'm forced to pick;
The soaking rains and driving winds have spoiled my former charms.
"Each picking is with toilsome labor, but yet I shun it not;
My maiden curls are all askew, my pearly fingers all benumbed;
But I only wish our tea to be of a superfine kind,—
To have it equal his 'Sparrow's Tongue' and their 'Dragon's Pellet.'
"For a whole month where can I catch a single leisure day?
For at the earliest dawn I go to pick, and not till dusk return;
Till the deep midnight I'm still before the firing-pan.
Will not labor like this my pearly complexion deface?
"But if my face is lank, my mind is firmly fixed
So to fire my golden buds they shall excel all beside.
But how know I who'll put them into the gemmy cup?
Who at leisure will with her taper fingers give them to the maid to
Will any one say, after this, that there is no poetry connected with tea?
The theme, in truth, is replete with poetical associations, and of a kind that we look in vain for in connection with any other potable. Unlike the Anacreontic in praise of the grape,—song suggestive chiefly of bacchanal revels and loose jollity,—the verse which extols "the cup that cheers, but not inebriates," brings to mind home comforts and a happy household. And not only have some of the "canonized bards" of England celebrated its honors,—like Pope, in the "Rape of the Lock," when describing Hampton Court,—
"There, thou great Anna, whom three realms obey,
Dost sometimes counsel take, and sometimes _tea_,"—
but, if it be true that
"Many are poets who have never penned
how many an unknown bard have we among us, who, at the close of a hard day's work, tramps cheerily home, whistling,—
"Molly, put the kettle on,
We'll all have tea,"—
and thinking of a well-spread board, a simmering urn, a sweet wife, and rosy-cheeked children, waiting his coming. Grave father of a family! Your heart has grown cold and hard, if you have ceased to enjoy such scenes. Young husband! cannot you remember the first time you hoped with good reason, when, as you took leave after an afternoon call, a pair of witching eyes looked into yours, and a sweet voice sounded sweeter, as it timidly asked, "Won't you stay—_and take a cup of tea_?"