Monday, August 18, 2014

Dates, Coffee, and Mnemonics.

Do you have a good head for figures? Can you recite long lists of dates of important historical dates? If you cannot remember and recite dates, but for some reason want to be able to, I think I may have a solution for you.

I came across a fascinating book the other day. The full title is:

The Mnemonic Chronologyof British History from the Roman Invasion to the Present Time: containing the dates of remarkable events, institutions, inventions, and improvements, classified under their respective heads, and recorded in initial consonants in metrical lines. For the use of Schools and Families (London, 1849)

The author states her mission, complete with apologetic justification, in the Preface:

… for increased convenience of recollection, instead of a successive series of detached sentences, events of a kindred nature have been strung together in consecutive rhymes.

…. The rhymes, as such, she is fully aware have not the slightest merit, being in many instances far-fetched and awkward; but the great difficulty often found, in torturing the initials into anything at all like a characteristic description of the institution or event, must be her apology; and so long as they are considered sufficiently intelligible, to convey the corresponding facts, to the minds of those for whose instruction they are especially intended, her sole object in their construction will be attained.

She then goes on to explain ‘the system’:


The initial consonants are made to stand for the figures, and the lines are then formed by the assistance of words commencing with vowels.

1 …….. t.
The letter t has been chosen to represent the figure one, on account of its being formed like 1, of a single stroke.

2 ……… n.
n has been chosen to represent two, because this letter is formed of two strokes.

3 …….. m.
m, from being written with three strokes, has been chosen to represent the figure 3.

4 ……… r.
Four is represented by r, from its concluding the word four.

5 ……… 1.
Five is represented by l, because it is the Roman numeral for five tens. 

6 …….. d.
Six is represented by d, from its resembling the figure 6 reversed.

7 ………. c,g,k,q.
Seven is represented by either of the guttural letters c,g,k,q.

8 ……… b,h,v,w.
The consonants in the word beehive, and w from its similarity to v, have been chosen to represent the figure 8.

9 ………. f,p.
The two letters, which in writing are carried both above and below the lines, represent the figure 9.

0 ……… s,x,z.

The hissing and buzzing letters, s, x, and z, represent the cipher.
N. B. j and y are considered as vowels.

The above selection of Consonants to represent figures, was originally made by Professor Feinagle, and has since been frequently adopted; for convenience of reference, the symbols are placed at the head of every page.


[Janet’s note: the formatting here is difficult to reproduce, so I have highlighted the key letters in red]

                  1         0                       0                         6
1066. The Saxon is doomed, a duke England obtains,

                              1           0                 0                                                     0              
1087. And then second William ascendency gains.

In the chapter entitled Miscellanies, there is a sub-heading of Articles of Consumption, under which we find the following mini-history [as understood in 1849] of coffee:

1511. Tea's liquid adjunct, annals tell, as of Turks early used; m
1641. And then its draught refreshing, is to Oxford introduced. n
1650. There a distinct establishment, a loyal Jew supports ;°
1652. And the designing of a London one, a note asserts.p
1657. The adjoining dwellers, loud a coffee institute abuse,q
1675. And all through declaration, government approval lose. r

The footnotes further explain the historical points:-

m The use of coffee as a beverage has been traced to the Persians. It was introduced into Europe at Constantinople, in 1511 ;—
n And brought to England by Mr. Nathaniel Canopus, a Cretan, who made it his common beverage at Baliol College, Oxford, in 1641.
° The first coffee house in England was kept by a Jew, named Jacobs, at Oxford, in 1650.
p  The first coffee house in London was opened in George-yard, Lombard Street, in 1652, by a Greek named Pasquet, who had been brought to England as a servant, by an English Turkey merchant.
q The Rainbow Coffee-house, near Temple Bar, was represented as a nuisance to the neighbourhood, - 1657;
r  And coffee-houses were suppressed by proclamation in the reign of Charles II, 1675; although the proclamation was afterwards suspended, on the petition of traders in tea and coffee.

An interesting way of learning dates, is it not? Rather than learning a single date associated with a memorable story, one must learn a nonsensical rhyme which is clumsily indicative of the said story, and deduce the date of the event from the rhyme by using a letter-number code which one has also memorized. I guess that before the days of Google, at a time when learning lists of dates was a key educational aim, the system may have been useful. What do you think?

And since we are talking about dates and coffee …..

Coffee Date Muffin.
Sift three cupsful of pastry flour, four teaspoonfuls of baking powder, one-half teaspoonful of salt. Add one-fourth cupful of light brown sugar, one beaten egg, one and one-fourth cupful strong coffee, two tablespoonfuls of melted shortening, one-half cupful of diced dates folded into mixture. Bake in oiled muffin tins in hot ove, 400 degrees F, for 20 to 25 minutes.

El Paso Herald Post (Texas) November 26, 1937

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