Cider Musings

Cider a Poem in two Books: John Philips

“with notes provincial, historical and classical” by Charles Dunster 1791

An extraordinary book. Cider, A Poem written in 1708 in the form of Virgil’s Georgics ( which is a poem in Latin published in 29 BC). As the name suggests (from the Greek word geōrgika, “agricultural things”), the subject of the poem is agricultural; but far from being an example of peaceful rural poetry, it is a work characterized by tensions in both theme and purpose.) Philip’s Cider is no different. It deals with the tensions and conflicts of the English Monarchy and Cromwell’s Commonwealth, whilst exploring cider making in Herefordshire! Even more amazing is its historical accuracy. It is much more accurate than many books at the time on the subject. This is amply demonstrated by the notes added by Charles Dunster in 1791.

John Philips

An exact account of the culture of the apple-tree and of the manufacture of cider is varied by compliments to various friends and patrons, and by many local allusions to Herefordshire, the county of Philips’s ancestors. Phillip Miller, the botanist, told Johnson that “there were many books written on the same subject in prose which did not contain so much truth as that poem”.

Title page showing the attention to detail of the cider mill

An example from line 501 recounting Lord Scudamore’s contribution

Yet let her to the Red-ftreak yeild, that once Was of fylvian kind, unciviliz’d, Of no regard, till Scudamore’s fkilful hand Improv’d her, and by courtly difcipline Taught her the favage nature to forget: Hence ftyl’d the Scudamorean plant; whofe wine Whoever taftes, let him with grateful heart Refpect that ancient loyal houfe, and wifh The noble Peer, that now tranfends our hopes In early worth, his country’s juftest pride, Uninterrupted joy, and health entire. Let every tree in every garden own The Red-fteak as fupreme, whole pulpous fruit, With gold irradiate and vermillion, fhines Tempting, as the birth of that Primaeval Fond Eve in haplefs hour to taste, and die.

and Book 2 line 298

Some Ciders have by art, or age, unlearn’d Their genuine relifh, and of fundry vines Affum’d the flavour: one fort counterfeits The Spanifh product; this to Gauls has feem’d The fparkling Nectar of Champaign ; with that A German pft has fwilled his throat, and fworn, Deluded, that imperial Rhine beftow’d The generous rummer, whilft the owner, pleas’d, Laughs inly at his guefts, thus enternain’fd With foreign vintage from is Cider-cafk.