The Art of Instruction

Edmund Hardy

Opening her review, Melissa mentions "a large clutch of early eighteenth century 'art of' poems" - among the examples of works still in currency enough to be quoted here and there, these include John Phillip's blank verse Cyder (1708), John Breval's The Art of Dress (1717), and William King's The Art of Cookery: in imitation of Horace's Art of Poetry (1708). King (1663-1712) was a writer of miscellaneous pieces - dialogues, mock-heroical poems, burlesques (including an Orpheus and Eurydice in which Orpheus goes down "a Hole / as black as any Coal" only to be met by a host of impish fairies...), and an imitation of Ovid, The Art of Love which Johnson considered "remarkable [...] for its purity of sentiment" (Lives). King also wrote an abandoned piece of comic geography about various lands where everyone eats too much and libraries have been replaced by collections of catalogued drinking vessels, called Crapula. He wants to make us merry, Johnson concluded.

The Art of Cookery contains no actual recipes, despite its inspiration being a translation of a Roman cook-book, and the previous example of Leonard Welsted's 'Apple-Pye' (1704) which is origin myth, recipe, instruction to Nelly the Servant, and warning against over-cooking,

While the red Crust beheld its form o'erthrown,
Th' exhausted Apples griev'd, their moisture flown
and so on (Welsted is one of Pope's Dunce-poets). The closest that King gets to a recipe is this:

You that from pliant Paste wou'd Fabricks raise,
Expecting thence to gain immortal Praise,
Your Knuckles try, and let your Sinews know
Their Power to knead, and give the Form to Dough,
Chuse your Materials right, your seas'ning fix,
And with your Fruit resplendent Sugar mix:
From thence of course the Figure will arise,
And Elegance adorn the Surface of your Pies.
The Figure is dough and poem, the pastry-cook's art and the poet's being to "frame the Image". The manifesto could be this couplet:

Unless some Sweetness at the Bottom lye,
Who cares for all the crinkling of the Pye?
No ornamental pye-crusts without they frame the content. The answer probably is that pye-crust enthusiasts and historians do indeed care for crinkling.

The haphazard arrangement of King's material - advice, moral instruction, where and when to clean your Eels, how many to eat with

Crowd not your Table, let your Number be
Not more than sev'n, and never less than three.
- is the aesthetic of a feast.

The instruction poem's confidence is imperial (covering the ground from which it's possible to think of "teaching the nations how to live"), and King lays out the table:

In Days of old our Fathers went to War,
Expecting sturdy Blows, and hardy Fare:
Their Beef they often in their Murrions stew'd,
And in their Basket-Hilts their Bev'rage brew'd.
Some Officer perhaps might give Consent,
To a large cover'd Pipkin in his Tent,
Where ev'ry thing that ev'ry Soldier got,
Fowl, Bacon, Cabbage, Mutton, and what not,
Was all thrown into Bank, and went to Pot.
But when our Conquests were extensive grown,
And thro' the World our British Worth was known,
Wealth on Commanders then flow'd in apace,
Their Champaign sparkl'd equal with their Lace:
Quails, Beccosicos, Ortelans were sent
To grace the Levee of a Gen'ral's Tent.
In their gilt Plate all Delicates were seen,
And what was Earth before became a rich Terrene.
Cookery, for King, is a "warlike art". In part a joke, but it's here that Gay's Walker, the comic persona set upon by all sides, releases the pressure, unaware of the laughter. Irony sends the instruction ringing back on itself.

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