Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Six Wives and Oliver Wendell Holmes

Restaurant decor - the creation of a class of persons who style themselves as interior designers - is often bad, often merely bland, and often has an element of the random or downright bizarre. The other day I was eating in an Italian - or rather Italianate - restaurant, one of a small chain. Here the decor was generally bland to the point of being unnoticeable - a kind of creamy beige prevailed - but the graphics introduced that mystifying random note. Much of one wall - where you might reasonably expect something vaguely Italian or Mediterranean - was given over to stylised representations of all six wives of Henry VIII (no, this was nowhere near Hampton Court) with their names writ large in 'Gothic' script. Stranger still, another wall was embellished with a quotation from Oliver Wendell Holmes. The quotation itself was fair enough - 'The true essentials of a feast are only fun and feed' - but Oliver Wendell Holmes, for heaven's sake! There's a name that must mean little or nothing to today's readers - a giant of 19th-century American letters who is today probably even more forgotten than his fellow giants Longfellow, J.R. Lowell and Whittier. His most popular works were the Breakfast Table series of conversational essays, The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, The Poet of the Breakfast Table and The Professor at the Breakfast Table - and these were popular indeed, selling in such numbers even on this side of the Atlantic that they are still a frequent sight on the shelves of charity shops (I suspect second-hand bookshops have given up even trying to sell them). I must admit I have never knowingly read anything of Holmes's - is he worth looking into? Perhaps one of my American readers will know... Certainly his work (or at least one of his titles) was so familiar to English audiences that when Chivers launched its thick-cut Olde English marmalade in 1907, it commended it as 'the aristocrat of the breakfast table'. The label on the jar still bore that legend when I was a boy - which caused me some confusion when I first became aware that there was a book of more or less the same name. But I managed to live with it - just one more bewildering feature of a bewildering world...


  1. Yes, the aristocratic Chivers was a staple on our breakfast table too, but stupid boy that I was, I thought that because Old was Olde, it must have been in the jar for a while, and gave it a wide berth. The things that shape us.....

  2. Hi--America checking in here. Perhaps it is because of my training as a lawyer and lack of a literary education (I was an engineer before law school), but prior to reading your blog today the only Oliver Wendell Holmes I knew of was Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. He was a long-serving (1902-1932) and very influential US Supreme Court justice, known for clear and concise court opinions. Perhaps that was due to his father's influence or genes? I have one of Jr.'s books in my office (The Common Law)--a graduation gift that I started but never finished reading. Thanks for making me aware of the elder Holmes.

  3. An understandable misunderstanding, Mahlerman - Olde English is the most bizarre name for a marmalade really, like Cherry Blossom for black boot polish...
    Anonymous, I only learnt of OWH Jr when I checked out OWH Sr on Wikipedia. A talented family clearly - Sr was also a very prominent physician and medical reformer.

  4. Oliver Wendell Holmes was well known at one point in the states, as he was the name sake of Oliver Wendell Douglas, farmer, or "Green Acres" fame.

    Might not be a relevant reference here, but any American will know it.

  5. Restaurant decor--a topic I often rant about. I'd rather have the idiosyncratic vision, Henry VII wives and all, than the over precious, over designed sleekly opulent spaces of the fancy pants places around here. Not a hair out of place, not a spot or smudge to be seen--and nothing engaging or entertaining in the place either. Well, well, this is not to say there aren't some fine restaurants about. But I like the places that have some whimsy, some personality. And if there are cracks in the ceiling, or perhaps the odd wire running along a wall, I am not over concerned.

  6. I'm inclined to agree, Hope - but the thing that really annoys me about modern restaurant decor is the use of echoic surfaces that make it impossible to hold a conversation at anything less than a shout. Apparently this increases turnover - you don't want to let customers relax and hang around...


  7. شركة نقل عفش
    اهم شركات مكافحة حشرات بالخبر كذلك معرض اهم شركة مكافحة حشرات بالدمام والخبر والجبيل والخبر والاحساء والقطيف كذلك شركة رش حشرات بالدمام ومكافحة الحشرات بالخبر
    شركة مكافحة حشرات بالدمام
    شركة تنظيف خزانات بجدة الجوهرة من افضل شركات تنظيف الخزانات بجدة حيث ان تنظيف خزانات بجدة يحتاج الى مهارة فى كيفية غسيل وتنظيف الخزانات الكبيرة والصغيرة بجدة على ايدى متخصصين فى تنظيف الخزانات بجدة
    شركة تنظيف خزانات بجدة
    شركة كشف تسربات المياه بالدمام
    شركة نقل عفش واثاث


  8. شركة سكاي لخدمات نقل العفش والاثاث بالمنطقة العربية السعودية نحن نوفر خدمات نقل اثاث بالرياض ونقل عفش بالمدينة المنورة ونقل عفش بمكة ونقل عفش بالطائف نحن نقدم افضل نقل اثاث بخميس مشيط ونقل عفش بجدة
    شركة سكاي نقل العفش
    مدونة لنقل العفش
    شركة نقل عفش بمكة
    شركة نقل عفش بالرياض
    شركة نقل عفش بالمدينة المنورة
    شركة نقل عفش بجدة
    شركة نقل عفش بالطائف