George William Bagby.

Selections from the miscellaneous writings of Dr. George W. Bagby (Volume 1) online

. (page 14 of 27)
Online LibraryGeorge William BagbySelections from the miscellaneous writings of Dr. George W. Bagby (Volume 1) → online text (page 14 of 27)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


discovering a finer hotel-keeper than Tom Ballard, the
very idea is absurd. Do you think it possible that any
other village of four hundred and sixty inhabitants can
support as many good newspapers as Fredericksburg ?
Did you ever eat any snaps cooked by an old Virginia
cook ? Look at the equestrian statue of Washington in
Richmond. Contemplate the puddle-ducks of Prince
Edward. Gaze about in all directions, and whenever
you find a good thing, that thing is a better thing in
Virginia than anywhere out of Virginia. These ques-
tions and simple statement of facts might, without the
least difficulty, be multiplied indefinitely. The pres-
ent number, however, will suffice. The proof is con-
clusive. Virginians are the greatest people on earth.
Nevertheless, they are a very various people. From
those stupendous accumulations of beef and lime-
stone which go by the name of men in the county of
Montgomery, to the chicken-cart drivers of the Pa-
munky, who, owing to the oscillations incident to
their favorite chills, are scarcely ever plainly visible,
but who, when seen, present a countenance of wax?
embellished with turkey-egg freckles, and an emacia-



CORNFIELD PEAS. 183

ted body, with an ague-cake on one side balanced by
a tickler on the other, from the former to the lat-
ter what an interval ! Between the inhabitants of
the Dismal Swamp, who appear to be composed of
bamboo-brier warp, with terrapin filling, and the rug-
ged and ruddy mountaineers of the northwest, who
look as if they had been torn by accident out of a
side of sole-leather what a difference ! Yet they are
all, more or less, Virginians, thank the Lord ! and
consequently, more or less, the greatest people in the
world. Let them be duly conscious and proud thereof.
If I were asked what this " more or less " means, to
what it is attributable, and why Virginians are the
greatest of people, I should say, quietly peas. If de-
sire were expressed- to know what sort of peas, I
should answer, loudly, CORNFIELD PEAS. In case this
view should fail to receive the cheerful acquiescence
of my interrogator, it would be my duty and my
glee to put his doubts for ever at rest by the cogent
argument following, to-wit :

I. By so much as a man is a Virginian, by so much
is he a great man.

No sane mind .will dispute this proposition.

II. Per contra, by so much as a man is not a Vir-
ginian, by so much he is not a great man.

This proposition will not be disputed by any sane
mind.

III. By so much as a man is not a great man, is
he a little man, or Yankee, or foreigner.

All sound intellects will agree that this is a logical
inference.



184 CORNFIELD PEAS.

IY. Wherever you find cornfield peas most abun-
dant, there you find that the Virginia characteristics
abound the most.

That is a matter of fact.

Y. Ergo, it follows that Virginians are the great-
est people in the world, because of cornfield peas, and
that they differ from each other, are more or less
Virginians, and consequently more or less great, in
exact proportion to the quantity of cornfield peas
they grow and devour ; for I take it for granted that
no rational eye could see a grown cornfield pea with-
out instantly introducing it to a palate which would
immediately become educated and enamored.

The chain of argumentation is complete and pro-
foundly irrefutable.

But examine the physical geography of the great
Commonwealth, and you will find that throughout
the Tide-water country, and on the south-side of the
river Jeems (for mercy's sake do not call it James) 9
cornfield peas are produced in profusion. And
where else do you find the unadulterated Virginian,
I would like to know ! In the Piedmont region
fewer cornfield peas are raised, and consequently the
people are not as thoroughgoing Virginians as they
should be. They are too fond of making money, and
don't care enough about the debates in the Conven-
tion. Why, they actually raise pippins in Nelson 1
When people quit limber-twigs and barkerliners, and
get to raising pippins, you may know that cornfield
peas are neglected, and New Jersey tastes corning
in. I have my opinion of such people.



CORNFIELD PEAS. 185-

I have not the cornfield pea statistics of the Valley
at hand, but I am willing to swear that the annual
yield from Lexington to Winchester wouldn't fill an
Essex nigger's tater-hole. Apprized of this fact, will
anybody hereafter wonder at the appearance of the
Ruffner pamphlet ? Surely not. Yet this im-
portant fact, to the best of my recollection and be-
lief, was never mentioned during the whole of the
gubernatorial canvass. But, to test the matter, be-
gin at the lower end, the collar bone of the Northern
Neck, and travel up. You start in the midst of
unlimited cornfield peas and pure Virginians, but by
the time you get to Prince William you see scarcely
any cornfield peas, and hear people calling " fo'pence "
" fippenny bit !" Dad shine such a set! When I
got off the cars to go to Brentsville, the county seat
of Prince William (and a drearier place I never saw r
except ISTew Glasgow), a lad had the audacity to call
a ninepence a k< shill'n," right close to my ear. To
the latest hour of my life I shall regret that I did
not stab him to the heart with a Barlow knife, which-
I always carry, because I am a Virginian.

In Alexandria I am convinced that they seldom
eat cornfield peas ; at Harper's Ferry none at all ,~
and in the Pan Handle they never . heard of them.
Wheeling, Parkersburg, Sbepherdstow T n, Clarksburg,.
Woodstock, and along there, must be very deficient in
cornfield peas. I suppose some of the inhabitants of
these unhappy places emigrated from Eastern Vir-
ginia, and, having eaten abundantly of cornfield peas
in childhood and youth, retain enough of the noble-



186 CORNFIELD PEAS.

-constituents in their bones to give tone and character
to the towns they dwell in. As to Abingdon and
the Southwest generally, I have my grave doubts. I
reckon some small cornfield peas are raised in that
section, but, when eaten, become so mixed with
goose fat, taken from the neighboring goose farms
of Tennessee, as to lose half their virtues, and so
give rise to a set of people not exactly low, but de-
cidedly Brownlow in character and habits. I trust
the next Legislature will see the necessity of sending
out a large number of cornfield pea missionaries to
stock that country with the essential element of Vir-
ginia greatness.

It will be seen, then, that wherever in Virginia
there is a deficiency in the crop or a neglect of the
culture of cornfield peas, just there the pernicious
traits of Northern and Western character creep in.
Hence, further, the chemical inference that the es-
.sential oil or active principle of cornfield peas (what
might be called cornfield peanine) would, if copiously
.administered to the Yankee or the Hoosier, turn him
into a Virginian. Although I am not so clear on
this point, 1 should dislike to see the experiment tried
on a large scale. It is true, it might result happily,
might deabolitionize the Northern masses, and put
an end to the eternal agitation of slavery. But I arn
opposed, yet a while, to this wholesale transmutation
of useful menials into gentlemen. If we were all
gentlemen, existence would be intolerable. Life is
not worth a button to a Virginian who cannot look
down with infinite scorn upon nearly everybody else.



CORNFIELD PEAS. 1ST

I thank my ignorance that I have not'the remotest
suspicion of what the botanical name of the corn-
iield pea is. I know that it is found in a curved,
bumpy pod, three of which, if straightened out,
would be about as long as a leading editorial in the
Hichmond Whig. The outside of this pod is a lit-
tle rough, resembling green velvet, and the inside is
lined with white vegetable satin. In this sumptuous
bed of the interior repose a half dozen or so of the
blessed globules. There are several varieties the
best of which, according to the sworn statement of
my own and. many other respectable and reliable
palates, is the kind called the Grey Crowd er. As
its name implies, this noble pea is planted in the
cornfield, and, unlike the miserable Marrowfat, it
climbs, not a dead stick, but rises beside a living and
towering stalk. So far from injuring the corn, it
benefits its growth ; if not during its (the pea's) life-
time, after its (the pea's) death; for it is a notorious
fact, that the cornfield pea improves land better than
Peruvian guano, and almost as well as Kuffin's ferti-
lizer. As an edible, the vegtable has not its equal.
It is good for man and beast and nigger. It does
not agree with Irishmen. Its nutritious properties
.are unsurpassed. It is the concentrated quintessence
of the delightful. It is harmless. It may be eaten
in any quantity. It is hard to quit eating it. It
does you good all over. It is fine for the general
health. It fattens you up ; makes you strong and
sassy. Its taste is indescribably delicious. In brief,
it is meat, drink, lodging, house-rent, taxes, and a
Jree ticket to the fair and back again.



188 CORNFIELD PEAS.

You wretclied, wretched guzzlers and gormandi-
zers! you that sit at the would-be splendid tables of
the Metropolitan, St. .Nicholas, Girard, and Revere,
gobbling up your pates, terrenes, ragouts and fricas-
sees, swilling your Burgundy and Imperial out of your
wine-coolers ! there is, if you did but know it, on
this earth, or rather in its Eden, Virginia, a diviner
thing than your poor tongues ever tasted. "What,
namely ?" Peas, egad ! Aye ! cornfield peas ! the
central, ethereal, intensely-condensed, elaborated,,
sempiternal, luxurious fruition of all that is nectare-
ous, ambrosial, vivifying and exalting in the wide
realm of nature's alchemy. Too good, too good for
you, ye Northern gormandizers, ye urban bibblers !
Fit diet only for gods, for Virginians, and for nig-
gers ! Not a pea, not a fragment of a pea, not the
smallest black eye of a pea, not even a pea-shell, or
the glimpse thereof, shall ye have ; no, not to save
this mighty Union.

Properly to understand the indescribable merits of
the cornfield pea, and to enjoy the same, one must
know how to prepare it. They are never eaten raw ?
except in the sterile lands adjoining the North Caro-
lina line. There, I am told, they are inclosed in a
paste composed of persimmons and tar, and in this
state much relished by ladies during the intervals of
snuff-dipping. In the grand Commonwealth, how-
ever, the true scientific method of preparing them
for the table is as follows: Gather your peas before
sundown, ere the dew falls. On the morrow, at or
about ten or eleven of the clock, extricate your peas



CORNFIELD PEAS. 189

from their natural wrappings by a dexterous manipu-
lation of the thumb-nail, after the manner of goug-
ing out the eyes of a courthouse adversary. Rinse
your peas. Then parbile (yes, bile I will say bile)
p&rbile them. Next fry them with two or three or
more slices (according to the quantity of peas cooked)
of streaked middling, encouraging as much as possi-
ble the exudation of the bacon gravy, retaining and
disseminating the same throughout the luguminous
collection by the instrumentality or process of gently
mashing the individual members or peas with a spoon.
The agglutinated composite of grease and of peas
.should now present a dark brown, but not quite
scorched aspect, and such being the case, your peas,
after being emptied into a deepish dish, may be
swiftly transferred from the kitchen to the table.

But you are by no means ready, however much
you may think so, to eat your peas, unless you have
earnestly studied the harmonies of food, and with
especial reference to the unchangeable affinities of
the cornfield pea. A brief hint of explanation will
make my meaning clear, perchance, to-wit : butter-
milk and ashcake go together, don't they ? Hoecake
and sweet milk middling and snaps ham and cab-
bage bacon and greens beefsteak and onions
chine and turnips lamb and green peas jole and
turnip sallet, (not salad) sweet potatoes and young
ducks shoat and butter beans and so on; all these
fit into one another and make each other better, hey?
Well, cornfield peas have a partner, to which they
are attached as passionately, and even more so, than
any of the couples just named.



190 CORNFIELD PEAS.

As for meats, there are but two real old Virginia,
meats bacon and fried chicken, and cornfield peas-
go well with either of them. I have heard of people
who ate the divine pea with veal, and mention was
once made to me of a Scotch Presbyterian whose
habit was to mix baked eels with cornfield peas ; but
Heaven has kindly preserved me from witnessing
spectacles of such idiocy. The precise, and indeed
the only harmonious companion of cornfield peas m
tomatoes, ("a" broad, very broad as thus, "to-mar-
tus," if you please.) But your tomatoes must not
be cooked. They must be raw. They must be
peeled and sliced in slices not too thin. They must
not be dressed with vinegar, pepper and salt, and the
like of that. Or with mustard. Or associated with
cucumbers. They must be sprinkled with a little
not much sugar; not white sugar, always, invari-
ably brown sugar. Let nothing tempt you from
brown. Sprinkled with a little brown sugar, finely
divided with a knife, and intimately mingled with
the peas, the immortal dish is utterly ready.

Now ! Fall to. Don't eat slowly. Eat fast, and
take large mouthfuls a knife blade, heaped up the
whole length, at every pop. Say not a word. An-
swer no questions. Keep your eyes immovably
fixed on your peas. Come down steadily to your
work. Fill your plate again and again. Once more.
A quart every time. Don't be alarmed. Eat on.
Let out girth. Unbutton your waistcoat. Make a
fresh start. Scorn the imputation of a memory that
charges you with already having had some peas. Let



CORNFIELD PEA6. 191

your intrepid stomach give the lie to your recollec-
tion. Eat more. Eat a heap more. Stop ? Never
while there is a pea in the dish. You must not
starve. What ! When the low grounds are full of
peas. Away with the haggard thought. Banish the
emaciated conception. Keep on eating. But why
don't you eat f Thar's plenty. " Another plateful ?"'
That's sensible ; that's what I call a coming appetite..
No, no, no ; don't snatch your plate away a man is
never helped until his plate is packed eight inches
high. Pitch in, freely, fearlessly, copiously, Appo-
mattoxly. Ah ! that's the lick. Now you're coming
to town. Hand over hand. Go it! Rip! Now
one last, long, large, illimitable mouthful, and you
are done. "Ah a a!" " You feel good; you're
bound to feel good. Stop ! not an inch, don't budge
an inch, or you are a dead man, dead as Hector."

"Boy! take this gentleman up in his chair and
carry him round to the shady side of the house and
keep the flies off him till sundown. You hear !
Quick sir ! Mark time ! Forward ! march !"

Pea ! blessed pea ! thrice-blessed cornfield pea !
sublime pellet ! celestial molecule ! divine little gob !
oh! pluperfect ellipse of vegetable fatness and
sweetness ! how much is due to thee. All that Yir-
ginia is, or has been, or can be, is owed to thee.
Without thee there is no Virginia. The majesty of
our mothers, the honor of our sires, the beauty of
our daughters, the courage of our sons, the strength
of our slaves, the fertility of our soil, the salubrity of
our climate, and the magnificence of our scenery, I



192 COBNFIELD PEAS.

.ascribe to thee. Our glorious Past began with a
" P." Our Patriotism, our Pride, our Power, our
Politics, our Pre-eminence, commence with a P.
Our Progress is nothing without a P. The very
name of Patrick Henry starts with a P. Thomas
Jefferson wrote with a Pen, two-thirds of which was
-a "-Pe." Chief Justice Marshall delivered his de-
cisions in a Court that would never have been Su-
preme without a P. More blessed than these, the
Pater Patrice, could boast a double P two capital
P's. The essence of Peas interpermeated his pure
and inapproachable spirit. The soul of Washington
was a solid cornfield pea !



MY UNCLE FLATBACK'S PLANTATION.

A RAMBLING SUMMER PIECE.



WHEN yon got to the little town of F ,
look out of the car window, O passenger on

the S side railroad! and you will see an old

gentleman, with a long knotty staff in his hand, a
broad-brimmed white wool hat on his head, a heavy
iron-grey beard on his chin, a small long-tail black
coat, out at elbows, on his back, and tow-linen panta-
loons on his nether extremities a striking object in
the large motley crowd which swarms around the
depot every time the train arrives. This is my
Uncle Flatback, come to town to get the mail and
take notes of every man who enters the bar-room, in
the basement of that commodious tavern you see
across the way. A remarkable man is old Flatback
"Uncle Jeems," or, in that negro dialect which
Yirginians so delight in, u Unc' Jirn" as he is gen-
erally called, for short. Do you wish to know more
of him ? You will get out of the cars, follow the rail-
road track through the Deep Cut, over the Buffalo
Bridge and along the great embankment, until you
come to a persimmon tree on the right hand side of
the road. Looking to the South, you catch a glimpse
of a house embosomed in trees, with stables and other
13



194 MY UNCLE FIATBACK'S PLANTATION.

outhouses close by. That is the Flatback mansion,
dubbed Mountain View, from the circumstance that
the blue knob of a mountain, in an adjacent county,
is visible from the premises.

I am sure you will like Uncle Flatback's house
and yard the former is so cool and roomy, the lat-
ter so level, green and shady. Indeed, there are two
houses, an old and a new one, joined by a covered
passage, with folding doors, which when thrown
wide open, in the summer time, turn the passage into
a porch the most -delightful part of the house ; for
the breeze is always blowing there. The old house
is charming, I think. It is only a story and-a-half
high, and is built in that solid, honest way which
was the rule every where in Virginia before the
new-fangled, flimsy, slazy style of the Yankees was
introduced. The chimneys are in one corner of the
rooms, and being big, old-fashioned, triangular fel-
lows enough bricks in one of them to make a
modern house one chimney answers for half a
dozen rooms, if need be ; consequently the rooms
are five-sided instead of square which pleases me
mightily, because it is Virginian, and smacks of the
old days. If ever I build a house, I shall pattern
after the old Virginia style. Hang your model cot-
tages your suburban villas your Hudson river
contraptions ; I'd as soon eat cod-fish chowder and
cold bread, or subscribe to a Yankee newspaper, as
live in one of them.

There are four rooms below, including the dining
room, and two above stairs, in the old house. Uncle



195

Platback inhabits the room next to the little back
porch, which looks towards the kitchen, the negro
quarters, the corn house and the stable. His door
is never locked from one year's end to another. It
is true, there are two double-barrel guns and a rifle
in the corner by the wardrobe, but they are never
loaded, except when a crow or a hawk comes near
the house, and as the old load has always to be drawn
lightning would hardly explode it before the new
one is put in, you may judge in what danger thieves,
feathered or unfeathered, stand at Mountain View.
The back porch, facing east, receives the first rays
of the morning sun, and is shady nearly all day;
hence it is a favorite resort of mine, though I am
generally in the way, for there is always some house-
hold business going on here some slicing of cur-
cumbers (call 'em fefcumbers? NEVER!) shelling
of peas, washing of butter or rinsing (I'd rather say
rensing, yea, even renching, if you will allow me) of
things. But I love to see people slice curcumbers-
and shell peas. Then it is so pleasant to be where
you can see dinner coming in where the dishes are
stopped on the way and fixed up more butter put
in the beets, a little more pepper in the stew, and so
on.

I have a passion for porches. To me, a porch is

A thing of beauty a joy for ever,

except in very cold weather. If I had the building
of a house, I would make it mostly of porches, upper
and lower, with a room or so hung here and there on



196

a nail driven into the pillars. Had I been unfor-
tunate enough to have lived in the days of the an-
cients, I would have kept a stoa not that I have
any mercantile talent and talked philosophy and
" High Die " against the best of them, with my heel&
on the " bannisters " and a pipe in my mouth. If
Socrates had come fooling after me, trying to trap
me, I would have told him I was a hardshell Baptist,,
given him a chew of tobacco, and requested him to
behave himself. But I wouldn't give a white bone
button to have lived in the days when the domestic
negro and fried chicken, with plenty of creamy
gravy and a few sprigs of fresh parsley, were un-
known. The Greek is a fine language, but I prefer
Yirginian. It has no aorist, no middle voice, and
other woes to the early getter-by-heart. A Virginian
can say what he has got to say without regard to
grammar that vile infraction of the Bill of Rights
and the liberties of the people. I contend that free-
dom of speech is possible only in Virginia.

Then again, I couldn't have gone the ancient cos-
tume. It is picturesque, does well for marble, and
for historical paintings in oil, but it is sadly unfit for
a citizen of Buckingham or Prince Edward. Im-
agine a man walking through a new ground, or a
ploughed field, with a great sheet flapping at his
calves. He would feel worse than a woman. Con-
sider him in a brier patch. How would a body get
over a fence, ride a horse, or chase a hare, say no-
thing of climbing for coons ? In the saddle, my
breeches have a grievous tendency upward anyway,



197

as if the washerwoman had starched them with
leaven ; what on earth would become of me in a
toga f I would show ankles higher than a circus
rider, or a White Sulphur belle dancing the German ;
I couldn't bear to go to town unless the people would
do as they did when Queen Godiva rode through the
streets of Coventry. No, you painters keep your
grand historical wardrobes ; give me a straw hat, an
oznaburg shirt, no waistcoat, tow-linen pantaloons,
with yarn "gallowses," home-made cotton socks and
a pair of low-quarter shoes, moderately thick-soled,
made by Booker Jackson.

The attic rooms, up the "little stars," in the old
house, are delightful to sleep in when the summer
rains are drumming lullabies with their soft wet
knuckles on the mossy shingles, or in winter when
the icy gusts suck up the flames from the deep little
fire-place. I know not why it is that attics, with
their sloping ceilings and little windows on either
side of the chimney,

Where the sun comes peeping in at morn,

have such attraction for me. Don't let's analyze
feelings ; vivisections are so horrid, and the weather,
to-day, is so warm. Who can trace the origin of
ideas and emotions, when the thermometer is 90 in
the shade ? Who can be a metaphysician with a fly
in the burr of his ear, and two on his forehead ?
Locke himself couldn't. Dear reader, you know
what a country not a hotel attic is. The very
nam e brings back the days of childhood, with a thou-



198

sand gentle memories, which we may hint but never
tell. And if you have ever been so happy as to
lodge in an attic tenanted by a young lady, who
makes way for you because the house is small, or the
guests are many, then memories brighter than any
of childhood are yours for ever, and thenceforth at-
tics are sacred in your eyes. My good fortune, not
very many weeks ago, led me to a little upper cham-
ber in a house on ground which has since become
historical. The dormer windows of that little cham-
ber looked out upon the Chickahominy.

A feeling of awe comes over the sinner as he ven-
tures tremblingly into the sanctuary where Sleep,
the good old nun, keeps watch over the maiden
Virtue. He puts the candle upon the spotless dress-
ing table and stands irresolute. All is so still so
tidy and orderly ; so clean and fair ; so sweet and
pure. Angels are here. He sees their robes in the
curtains of the windows, the drapery of the chaste
couch and the dressing table. What shall he do ?
How dare he get in that bed ? The pictures on the
wall are looking at him ; the mirror is a great big
glaring eye. What ! disrobe here ? Not he. He
catches sight of his pale, distressed face in the look-


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 14 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27

Online LibraryGeorge William BagbySelections from the miscellaneous writings of Dr. George W. Bagby (Volume 1) → online text (page 14 of 27)