22 February 2013

"Drunk, by Jove!"

Fordyce, George (1736-1802), physician. Fordyce was a popular doctor, but his bedside manner was unorthodox. According to James Caulfield's Portraits of Remarkable Persons (1794), he was once called to the sick bed of a titled lady when he had too much to drink. His condition made it impossible for him to take her pulse since his own was so unsteady. Frustrated, he admonished himself, muttering, 'Drunk, by Jove!' and left. The next day he was again summoned to her bedside and, fearing that he would be reprimanded for his condition on the previous occasion, he went in some trepidation. He was greatly relieved when she begged him to forgive her, confessed that his diagnosis had been correct, gave him £100 and promised that she would never touch alcohol again.
Fordyce's study of the eating habits of lions convinced him that one meal a day was enough for anyone. Accordingly, for 20 years he followed a routine that never changed. A 4 o'clock every afternoon he went to Dolly's Chop House in Paternoster Row where he ordered a one-and-a-half-pound rump steak. While this was being prepared he enjoyed an appetizer of half a chicken and a plate of boned fish. With his meal, he drank a tankard of ale, a quarter pint of brandy and a bottle of port. After leaving Dolly's he went to three coffee houses, one after another, drinking a large brandy at each, before setting out on his medical rounds. He died of gout at the age of 66.
- William Donaldson, Brewer's Dictionary of Rogues, Villains & Eccentrics, London, 2002, p.266
George Fordyce
By way of evening up the score, it's worth noting that George Fordyce was also a distinguished practitioner of his age, a Fellow of both the Royal Society and the Royal College of Physicians. He delivered the prestigious annual Harveian Oration for the latter in 1791, a lecture delivered in Latin and originally instituted in 1656. According to the Royal Society 'his work was highly regarded in his lifetime, but an eccentric lifestyle and a lack of concern for the social graces tended to reduce his standing among medical colleagues. He made no significant discoveries and although his contributions to medical education were important, he has been largely neglected'.

However, Fordyce certainly fitted the bill of an odd fellow. In the Carl P. Pforzheimer Library edition of Shelley and His Circle 1773-1822, a footnote records that he:

...had some fame as an eccentric in an age of eccentrics. From his concentration on his lectures, his carelessness in manners and dress, "and from spending no more time with his patients than was barely sufficient for forming a just opinion of their ailments, he had for many years but little private employment in his profession" (Monk's Roll of the Royal College of Physicians).


Dolly's Chop House emerged during the reign of Queen Anne (1702-14), and according to John Timbs' Club Life of London (1866) was at the time of publication 'still a well-appointed chop house and tavern, and the coffee-room, with its projecting fireplaces, has an olden air... The entrance to the Chop-house is in Queen's Head passage; and at Dolly's is a window-pane painted with the head of Queen Anne, which may explain the name of the court'. By the time Henry Shelley published Inns and Taverns of Old London in 1909 Dolly's, which he notes once had an illustrious clientele, was no more -

Almost adjacent to St Paul's, that is, in Queen's Head Passage, which leads from Paternoster Row into Newgate Street, once stood the famous Dolly's Chop House, the resort of Fielding, and Defoe, and Swift, and Dryden, and Pope and many other sons of genius. It was built on the site of an ordinary owned by Richard Tarleton, the Elizabethan actor whose playing was so humorous that it even won the praise of Jonson. He was indeed such a merry soul, and so great a favourite in clown's parts, that innkeepers frequently had his portrait painted as a sign. The chief feature of the establishment which succeeded Tarleton's tavern [i.e. Dolly's] appears to have been the excellence of its beef-steaks. It should also be added that they were served fresh from the grill, a fact which is accentuated by the allusion which Smollett places in one of Melford's letters to Sir Walkin Phillips in Humphrey Clinker: 'I send you the history of this day, which has been remarkably full of adventures; and you will own I give you them like a beef-steak at Dolly's, hot and hot, without ceremony and parade'.      
In 1846 the Literary Garland and Canadian Magazine, published in Montreal, expounded in a more florid and clearly impassioned style on the literary and culinary adornments of Dolly's:

Turn from the bustle and tough beef of New-gate street down a quiet court, silent as a cloister, and on the right hand side you will see Dolly's Chop-House - than which a more celebrated tavern does not exist within the precincts of London. Talk of pilgrimages to the Holy Sepulchre, or Mahomet's sacred house of Mecca, or even to a-Becket's shrine of old, at Canterbury! How shall we number the great and celebrated men who have many a time and oft visited the venerable gridiron at Dolly's Chop-House. And a rare gridiron it is! For upwards of a century that gridiron has never cooled; by night and day, from luncheon-bearing morn, through dinner-inviting mid-day, till suppery eve, perpetually are its bars simmering and simpering forth their greaseful admiration of the tender steaks which lie upon them. 

Paternoster Row was devastated during the Blitz in December 1940, and eventually redeveloped into Paternoster Square in 2003. The renovated and transplanted Temple Bar, designed by Wren and removed from the spot where Fleet Street becomes the Strand in 1878, now separates Paternoster Square from St Paul's.

But never mind that. Is it just me, or after all that talk of Dolly's does a barbecue sound good right now?
Dolly's Chop House, 1856
(c) British Museum

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