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“Around the Tea-table” by Thomas De Witt Talmage

Reverend Dr. Thomas De Witt Talmage (1832 – 1902) was one of the more prominent and popular religious leaders of his day. He was also something of a reformer, one who took part in efforts to stamp out various sorts of unsavory behavior, as evidenced in the titles of one of his books – The Abominations of Modern Society.

Tea lovers' delight! (ETS image)
Tea lovers’ delight! (ETS image)

In his later years Talmage focused more on lecturing and writing and his sermons were widely published. They are said to have reached an audience (25 million) that would be considerable even by today’s standards. You can find at least one volume of these sermons (New Tabernacle Sermons) even now, but it’s another of Talmage’s works that we’ll examine in this article.

Around the Tea-table dates to 1875 and is a hefty volume, totaling just over 500 pages. As the author notes in the Preface, though days tend to be busy for most people “at six o’clock in the evening we all come to the tea-table for chit-chat and the recital of adventures.” As for the content of the book, Talmage describes it in the following terms, “You may imagine that the following chapters are things said or conversations indulged in, or papers read, or paragraphs, made up from that interview.”

All of which comprises nearly 70 short chapters in all, with quaint titles like Wiseman, Heavyasbricks and Quizzle and The Advantage of Small Libraries. While the tales are related around the tea table they are not necessarily about tea, though tea does work its way into the proceedings.

As Talmage notes early on, “Be not surprised if, after your friends are seated at the table, the style of the conversation depends very much on the kind of tea that the housewife pours for the guests.” He goes on to suggest that drinking Young Hyson will produce talk that is “fresh, and spirited, and sunshiny” while Gunpowder will generate explosive talk and “somebody’s reputation will be killed before you get through.” As for lie tea, or tea that had been adulterated with various noxious substances, “the group are sure to fall to talking about their neighbors, and misrepresenting everything they touch.” Talmages claims that during one session where lie tea was served two lawsuits, four black eyes, and other sorts of unpleasantness were the end result.

I admit that I haven’t read all of Talmage’s weighty tome, but he has a relaxed, engaging and very readable style. Plus the book is broken into nice compact segments that are just about right for reading over a cup of tea. Check it out here or wherever else fine public domain books are offered.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

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