Tuesday, 14 February 2012

The Boz Ball

On a more cheerful note - on this day (Ss Cyril and Methodius - or, if you insist, St Valentine) in 1842, the literary superstar Charles Dickens was royally entertained in New York with the 'Boz ball' at the Park Theater. For this huge event with some 3,000 guests (at $2 a ticket), the city's finest caterer, Thomas Downing, was pressed into service, and he surely rose to the occasion, creating a centrepiece of 50,000 - yes, fifty thousand - oysters. The bill of fare also included 40 hams, 76 tongues, 50 rounds of beef, 50 jellied turkeys, 50 pairs of chickens and 25 of ducks, 2,000 fried mutton chops (served cold), 10,000 sandwiches and '12 floating swans - a new device' (what on earth was that?). This lot was followed by 350 quarts of jelly and blancmange, 300 quarts of ice cream, 300lb of candy mottoes, 2,000 candy kisses, 25 pyramids and 'Ladies Fingers in thousands'. All washed down with two hogsheads of lemonade, 60 gallons of tea, one and half barrels of port, 150 gallons (yes, gallons) of Madeira, and unlimited claret and coffee.
A good time was had by all - not least by Dickens and his wife, who was still at this time in favour with the great man - but it was not to last. Dickens was soon finding it irksome to have crowds following him everywhere and at all times, and, as he found out more about them, he became deeply disenchanted with American politics and appalled by American manners (not to mention resentful of wholesale American piracy of his works). After publication of the scathing American Notes and the equally unflattering (in its American scenes) Martin Chuzzlewitt, Dickens and America fell out spectacularly. Relations were restored, however, late in his career when Dickens returned to America to give some of his hugely popular public readings, and to revel again in the adoration of the American public. But by then he wasn't up to another Boz Ball banquet.

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