E.V. Knox on oysters


Cornelis de Heem (via Ocean’s Bridge with thanks)

Found – a typed manuscript with inked corrections in the hand of its author ‘Evoe’ i.e .E.V. Knox. Probably a contribution by him to Punch, or possibly read out by him at a feast or function. He attended many and was often called upon to entertain. No date, but posssibly late 1940s, the annotations being in biro. In format and sound it has echoes of the British Grenadiers song (‘..some talk of Alexander and some of Hercules..’) or Lear’s The walrus and the Carpenter. Take it away Evoe–


Of Fishes and Food


The oysters of Great Britain

Were bought to Julius Caesar;

He bolted them in unbitten

And smiled like Mona Lisa.

The Emperor Augustus

Preferred them put in patties.

His cook, whose name was Justus,

Could never serve him satis.

The Emperor Tiberius,

A man debased and selfish,

Was never wholly serious

Except about these shellfish.

And Claudius and Caligula

Make quite a ceremoniium

Of eating this particular

Subaqueous obsonium.



Why should I dwell on Nero,

Who  gave the earliest charters

To oystermen – the hero

Of all save Christian martyrs?

I will not speak of Otho,

Nor Galba the rebellious,

Nor tell the tales I know (though

Superb) about Vitellius



I will not say how Titus

Once murmured to Vespaian,

‘Shall oysters not delight us

On this unique occasion?’

Enough to point out clearly

How  Romans, blonde or dusky,

Admired and cherished dearly

These delicate molluscae.

‘They seemed to suit my carcass,

Hic Cibus est Divinusi’

Said Hadrian; so did Marcus

Aurelius Antoninus.



And once the great Honorius

Broke down through sheer repletion,

Striving to burst the glorious

Record of Diocletian.



Rome fell. There came a silence;

I cannot disentangle

How oysters in these islands

Fared underneath the Angle.

Who knows how much the oyster

Suffered amongst the rages

Of throne and serf and cloister

That marred the middle ages?



I merely guess the Normans,

To prove they where no caitiffs,

Put up a stout performance

In dealing with our natives.



And oysters, nicely nourished

And baffling all intruders,

Still held their own and flourished

Right down into the Tudors.

The Tudors and their cousins,

With appetite and unction

Kept wolfing them by dozens

At many a stately function.



And later kings who followed

With tears of deep devotion

Ecstatically swallowed

This tit-bit of the ocean;



Till the early Georges

Made it an act of schism

Not to indulge in orgies

Of ostreophilism.

And still with each September

When oysters shine so pleasantly,

All loyal hearts remember

To feed on them incessantly.



Which may have waned and faltered;

The oyster, our palladium,

Abides with us unaltered

And costs far less than radium.



The price? The price is hateful.

But what is that to me, sir?

Fetch me another plateful

Like those you gave to Caesar!

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