Soyer's Soup

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter VII (30) | Start of Chapter

But the soup-shop of soup-shops, and the boiler of boilers, the one that sung the requiem to all that had gone before, was the immortalized one of Soyer, the French soup-maker and savory inventor for the "West End" of London. It would seem that the Government, on whose shoulders hung this mighty "potato-famine," had exhausted all its resources of invention "to stay the plague" but the one last mentioned, and, driven to their "wits' end," they happily hit upon this panacea.

Every minutia cannot be given, either of the "getting up," or the "recipe" itself; but the "sum and substance" was simply this, that a French cook from London was sent to Dublin with a recipe of his own concocting, made out of "drippings," whether of "shinbones" or "ox-tails" was not specified; but this "dripping" was to be so savory, and withal so nourishing, that with a trifling sum, Paddy could be fed, and fed too so that he could dig drains, cut turf, and spade gardens, on an advanced strength, which flung both the potato and "yellow Indian" entirely in the "back-ground." The work commenced: a new and splendid soup-shop in French and West End fashion soon gladdened the eyes of the expecting Irish. "By dad," exclaimed one as he passed it, "and there's the cratur that'll du the heart good; not a ha'porth of the blackguards will be fightin' for the 'yaller Indian' when that's in the stomach."

So great was this work, that the city was moved when the sound went forth that the boiler was ready, and the soup actually "under way." A great and general invitation was given to the lords and nobles, with wives, sons and daughters, to be there, and test this never-equaled sustainer of life and zest of palate—carriages, horsemen, and footmen, lords in velvet and broadcloth, ladies in poplins, satins, flounces and feathers, bedizened the train. Nor was this all: when anything great or good is afloat, the patriotism of Paddy, in high life and low, is aroused, and he waits not for cloak, shoe, or hat—if cloak, shoe and hat be lacking—but is ready on the spot. And here every beggar, from Liberty to Cook street, from way-side, hedge and ditch, whose strength was adequate, swelled this living, moving panorama. Wherever a feather waved in the breeze, there a rag fluttered in thrilling harmony. The procession entered the hall, where soup-ladles, plates and spoons, were in bright array. Lords and dukes, duchesses, baronesses, and "ladies of honor," walked round this fresh-steaming beverage, each taking a sip, and pronouncing it the finest and best. The hungry ones heard the verdict, and though some doubting ones might scoff, yet the multitude went away declaring they believed that the "blessed soup would put the life in 'em."

The celebrated patentee received his sovereigns, and returned to his sauce pots and dripping-pans in the metropolis of John Bull. The recipe was made over to safe hands, the fire extinguished under the boiler, the soup-shop closed, and poor Paddy waited long, and in vain, for the expected draught; nor did he awake from his hopeful anticipations till the streets of Dublin resounded, by night and by day, with

"Sup it up, sup it up, 'twill cure you of the gout," &c.

The poetry in refinement of style, in orthography or punctuation, did not equal Cowper's "John Gilpin," but in aptnesss of invention, and clearness of description, it was not a whit behind; and when the echo was beginning to swell on the breeze,

"Up flew the windows all,"

of many a dwelling, whose inmates would shrink from the gaze of the vulgar, and blush to be found reading by daylight, wit so coarsely expressed. The soup recipe was not entirely a thing of naught; it brought to the ballad-maker and ballad-singers ready cash for many a week; and the host of disappointed hungry ones who followed in the train, found in the poetic excitement a momentary pause of pain, which said,

"That the cheek may be tinged with a warm sunny smile,

Though the cold heart to ruin runs darkly the while."