Of Roast Beef, Rat Excrement and You

Floris van Schooten, Breakfast

From the always interesting Laudator.  This seemed appropriate for Shrove Tuesday:

Roast Beef
Henry Fielding (1707-1754), Don Quixote in England (London: J. Watts, 1734), p. 14 (from Act I, Scene VI):

When mighty rost Beef was the Englishman’s Food,
It enabled our Hearts, and enriched our Blood;
Our Soldiers were brave, and our Courtiers were good.
Oh the Rost Beef of Old England,
And Old England’s Rost Beef!

Then, Britons, from all nice Dainties refrain,
Which effeminate Italy, France, and Spain;
And mighty Rost Beef shall command on the Main.
Oh the Rost Beef, &c.
Oh the Rost Beef, &c.

7 effeminate: a verb here (“To make womanish or unmanly; to enervate,” Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. effeminate, v., sense 2), not an adjective
8 Main: open sea

On different versions and authorship see Edgar V. Roberts, “Henry Fielding and Richard Leveridge: Authorship of ‘The Roast Beef of Old England’,” Huntington Library Quarterly 27.2 (Feb., 1964) 175-181.


This patriotic song surfaces constantly in the naval novels I enjoy, especially the mighty series by Patrick O’Brian.  I don’t like this verse at all:

When good Queen Elizabeth sat on the throne,
Ere coffee, or tea, or such slip-slops were known,
The world was in terror if e’er she did frown.

Oh! The Roast Beef of old England,
And old English Roast Beef!

So many things wrong with that verse.  Which it’s a horrid verse, as Preserved Killick would say.  NO COFFEE?

To correct for these errors, go NOW and buy some Mystic Monk Coffee and/or Tea.

My trip to England didn’t work for January, so I am thinking about April.

Meanwhile, a moment with Stephen, Preserved and Jack from The Mauritius Command:

‘Good morning, Killick,’ said Stephen. ‘Where’s himself?’

‘Good morning, sir,’ said Killick. ‘Which he’s still on deck.’

‘Killick,’ said Stephen, ‘what’s amiss? Have you seen the ghost in the bread-room? Are you sick? Show me your tongue.’

When Killick had withdrawn his tongue, a flannely object of inordinate length, he said paler still, ‘Is there a ghost in the bread-room, sir? Oh, no, and I was there in the middle watch. Oh, sir, I might a seen it.’

‘There is always a ghost in the bread-room. Light along that pot, will you now?’

‘I durs’nt, sir, begging your pardon. There’s worse news than the ghost, even. Them wicked old rats got at the coffee, sir, and I doubt there’s another pot in the barky.’

‘Preserved Killick, pass me that pot, or you will join the ghost in the bread-room, and howl forevermore.’

With extreme unwillingness Killick put the pot on the very edge of the table, muttering, ‘Oh, I’ll cop it: oh, I’ll cop it.’

Jack walked in, pouring himself a cup as he bade Stephen good morning, and said, ‘I am afraid they are all in.’

‘All in what?’

‘All the Frenchmen are in harbour, with their two Indiamen and the Victor. Have not you been on deck? We are lying off Port-Louis. The coffee has a damned odd taste.’

‘This I attribute to the excrement of rats. Rats have eaten our entire stock; and I take the present brew to be a mixture of the scrapings at the bottom of the sack.’

‘I thought it had a familiar tang,’ said Jack. ‘Killick, you may tell Mr Seymour, with my compliments, that you are to have a boat. And if you don’t find at least a stone of beans among the squadron, you need not come back. It is no use trying the Néréide; she don’t drink any.’

When the pot had been jealously divided down to its ultimate dregs, dregs that might have been called dubious, had there been any doubt of their nature, they went on deck.

Don’t get stuck with rat excrement in your coffee!

Order Mystic Monk now!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. optimist says:

    I’ve read the Patrick O’Brian books through from start to finish three times, and I’m still puzzled as to how to describe what Killick does with ‘which’. Any linguistic types care to comment?

  2. mike cliffson says:

    Which I can’t recall it being typified in Swan nor yet any other authority I’ve studied, which would be , for an odd use of a relative pronoun , unusual.Which is not what you asked.

  3. Mike says:

    Finally, finally, I did it: an order to MM coffee. I figure it will help sustain me thru Lent–aside from prayer, sacraments, and almsgivings, that is–and get me off Starbucks.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  4. Re: Killickian Which… One explanation HERE.

    This “which” pops up when there is a connection of a descriptive clause to a noun phrase that it describes. Which it functions much like “with respect to”.

    The Oxford English Dictionary touches on this usage in section 14.a. of its voice for “which”:

    14. a. (as pron. or adj.) With pleonastic personal pronoun or equivalent in the latter part of the relative clause, referring to the antecedent, which thus serving merely to link the clauses together: (a) with the pers. pron. (or the antecedent noun repeated) as subj. or obj. to a verb (principal or subordinate) in the relative clause, which is usually complex; […]

    In The Far Side Of The World Killickian “which” figures:

    ‘What luck?’ asked Jack.
    ‘Well, sir,’ said Killick, ‘Joe Plaice says he would venture upon a lobscouse, and Jemmy Ducks believes he could manage a goose-pie.’
    ‘What about pudding? Did you ask Mrs Lamb about pudding? About her frumenty?’
    Which she is belching so and throwing up you can hardly hear yourself speak,’ said Killick, laughing merrily. ‘And has been ever since we left Gib. Shall I ask the gunner’s wife?’
    ‘No, no,’ said Jack. No one the shape of the gunner’s wife could make frumenty, or spotted dog, or syllabub, and he did not wish to have anything to do with her.

    Thus, per my source: “Which”, here, connects a descriptive clause (“she is belching …”) to the noun phrase that it describes (“Mrs Lamb”), across two prepositional phrases and a conversational break. The function is roughly like a linking phrase such as “with respect to her”.

    Which that ought clear it up.

  5. Mike says:

    Thanks, Fr. Z. Order is processed and on its way!!

  6. Muv says:

    Thanks for the entertainment Fr. Zed. We clicked on the link at the bottom of the page on Laudator and have had ripping fun reciting “Bacon and Eggs.” They don’t write them like that any more.

    You haven’t missed much. England has definitely been the place not to be this January. Why not aim for May when Blighty is truly gloriously beautiful?

    Not giving coffee up for Lent then? Give us a nice cup of cha any day.

  7. Mike: It was the mention of the rat excrement that did it, I’ll bet.

  8. Mike says:

    Fr. Z: YES! Talk about a tipping point!!

  9. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    It is in some ways very hard to imagine that world in which coffee, tea, and tobacco were such extraordinary, expensive luxuries (well, many statists throughout the world have been working on returning tobacco to that situation… the scene in the film of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich where they share out some tobacco with utmost care is always vivid in my recollection).

    Does the verb ‘effeminate’ have a Late Latin ancestor? (“Noli effeminare!” one imagines some bold soul crying.)

    Do we know how they made coffee aboard? (I really must start the series…) Are there not things in rat excrement against which not even boiling avails?

  10. Mike says:

    Venerator–from a quick web search: “Some of the known diseases carried by rats include bubonic plague, dysentery, spotted fever, rabies, a type of meningitis and a respiratory disease called hantavirus.”

    More: “Since 1993, when hantavirus was first detected in the United States, about 380 people have been infected with the disease; 136 died, reports the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although no human cases have yet been found in Indiana, 30 states, from the west and southwest to the East Coast have reported human cases of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome.”

    Finally: “Another disease, lymphocytic choriomengitis, is spread by the common house mouse. An infected mouse sheds the virus in its urine, and chronically infected female mice transmit the infection to their offspring. As with the hantavirus, it is spread when a person inhales aerosolized particles of infected rodent urine, feces or saliva. Direct exposure can occur through a small cut or other open wound in a person’s finger or hand.”

    I worked with a teacher who was a Naval Academy Alum….he always took care of our faculty kitchen, God bless him, it was everyday ship-shape.

    Details matter.

  11. Venerator Sti Lot says:


    Thank you! Forewarned is at least on the road to forearmed… (I feel a bit faint, though, having worked cleaning where mice had gotten in, nested, etc., and looking ahead to more similar work…)

  12. Supertradmum says:

    Venerator, for many people tea, coffee and tobacco are luxuries. I would hope that some Americans would come to realize how privileged they are in having the luxury to give up such things for Lent, instead of not having choices for food or drink.

    When I came back to the States in late November, I was shocked by three things. The amount of food wasted daily and thrown out; the amount of food eaten at a sitting; and the nonchalance of the majority of Americans as to the plight of so many, even in the First World.

  13. Supertradmum says:

    PS Father Z., the roast beef in Ireland is vastly superior to the roast beef in England, although I do not know why.

  14. stephen c says:

    I always though that the word “which” used in the naval sense described in this post was a mix of a choice for an unusual but long-standing pronoun form (short for whichever, when answering an implied question in a non-adversarial but responsive Latinate way), as well as a subtle linguistic allusion to an unusual presence in a sphere where said presence was not expected (short for “the likes of which I have never seen”, a phrase pronounced a few billion times between 1700 and 1900), as well as a would-be humorous calque on certain Latin and Spanish pronouns which would have been well known, from their familiarity with Vergilian tags and half-translated Spanish drinking songs, to the officer class of English speaking navies circa the early 1800s, and known in a second hand way to the noncommissioned officer class of that time. (Olli subridens – to the which he smiled – springs first to mind for the Latin tags, but there are probably better examples).

  15. Athelstan says:

    Just took delivery on 40 bags of Mystic Monk for my parish. Coffee hour is about to get a bit more tasty.

    That’s one of my favorite passages from O’Brian. In the RN of old, you couldn’t be too choosy about what you ingested.

  16. An American Mother says:

    Our choir gave considerable support to Mystic Monk with a large purchase!

    Just for fun: the image on the video file is Hogarth’s “Calais Gate” – he was jugged in the Bastille for sketching the old gate because the French thought he was a spy – he painted this in revenge – it’s full of anti-French and anti-Jacobite (and anti-Catholic) imagery.

  17. Rouxfus says:

    A good lesson from O’Brian: disdain dubious dregs.

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