In Re Port Versus Claret
— Has not my fellow-Contributor quoted his epigram from a failing memory ? Old mutton! Here is the way my recollection, of from thirty to forty years, makes the epigram read : —
Prime was his mutton, and his claret good.
‘Let him drink port! ’ the English statesman cried.
He took the poison, and his spirit died.”
How the distinction between Scottish and English wines came about I take to have been as follows : Even in England the wines of France were the only wines (except, say, the “ sack ” or sherry sec of Falstaff) in use before the eighteenth century ; so that it has been said that not so much as a pipe of port had been brought into England before the Revolution. Still truer was this of Scotland before the union, since its relations, political, dynastic, social, as well as commercial, with France were very intimate. The Methuen Treaty with Portugal, so named from its negotiator, was concluded in December, 1703. By this, Portuguese wines were to be received (and were received until 1831 or 1833) at duties one third less than French wines ; which amounted practically to the exclusion of French wines from the country. In England as well as in Scotland, therefore, it came about that port in the place of claret became the universal wine of the last century ; with what effect upon the British constitution might be an interesting inquiry.
To be sure, the union of England and Scotland was not consummated until 1707 ; but having a common monarch, who was the treaty-making power, their relations with other powers were naturally identical.
But whose the epigram is, and where to find it, I shall be glad to learn when the “ pestilent specialist ” shall make it known through the Contributors’ Club.