As Tom Musgrave was seen no more, we may suppose his plan to have succeeded, and imagine him mortifying with his barrel of oysters in dreary solitude, or gladly assisting the landlady in her bar to make fresh negus for the happy dancers above.
FYI, negus is a hot wine drink invented in England by Colonel Francis Negus in the 18th century. He died in 1737, but his namesake beverage lived on, remaining a popular fortifier on cold evenings throughout the Regency era – as expected at a ball as white soup. Though Jane Austen only mentioned it once by name as far as I could discover (above, in her unfinished manuscript, The Watsons), it would undoubtedly have been served at the ball at Netherfield and the Christmas party at the Westons, among other events she described in her six novels.
So, in the name of academic research, I set out to discover what the fuss was about. I was not content to simply read about this mysterious drink. No, I decided I really should go the extra mile and taste it for myself, so that I could write about it with more authority. I gathered the ingredients and determined tonight was the night.
Recipe: To one pint port wine, add the grated zest and strained juice of one lemon, 1/4 lb. sugar, one quart boiling water, and grated nutmeg to taste. Cool to a comfortable a temperature and serve.
Here’s my review: Although a hot toddy might be appealing on a cold winter night, especially in a drafty old stone house with no central heating, I didn’t really care for it at first – at least not served hot and in July. Two sips and I was ready to dump the rest. But, to give it a fair test, I pressed on and was surprised to find that, as the mixture cooled, I warmed up to it. I’m not much for red wine, so in some ways negus is a big improvement: it’s diluted, sweet, and easy to drink (no bite to trigger that spontaneous little shudder dry wines give me). That’s probably why in later years it was considered only suitable for children. Yup, that’s about my speed.