We’re going back into the archives to revisit these classic posts by James Norwood Pratt. This post includes two different multi-part sequences: “The Lexicographer” and “Porcelain Ballast”. We have added a link to the end of each one to take you to the next if you would like to read them as a sequence, or you can choose which you want to peruse below. Enjoy!

The Lexicographer

The old philosopher is still among us in the brown coat with the metal buttons and the shirt which ought to be at the wash, blinking, puffing,
rolling his head, drumming with his fingers, tearing his meat like a tiger, and swallowing his tea in oceans.

Thomas Babington Macauley (1800-59), The Life of Johnson

Part One

Even so brief a history as this one, however, must linger a little over the story of the age’s greatest devotee of tea and coffeehouse talk, Dr. Samuel Johnson. Although revered for his Dictionary, he…(Read more)

Part Two

Johnson was a man of kind heart and great common sense but he never allowed these to get in the way of his outspoken prejudices. He affected to hate…(Read more)

Porcelain Ballast

…if he took it into his head…he without the least ceremony overset the table. The first time he practiced this, I was very angry at such a quantity of handsome China being thus mischievously demolished, and expressed my displeasure thereat. ‘Why, zounds!’ said he, ‘You surely forget where you are. I never suffer the servants to have the trouble of removing a tea equipage, always throwing the whole out the window or downstairs. They easily procure another batch….

An Englishman’s recollections of Canton in 1770, “Memoirs of William Hickey

Part One

Second only to tea, perhaps the most important contribution China made to European life was “china” itself – the hard translucent glazed pottery the Chinese had invented under the Tang dynasty and which we also know as porcelain. China had long since…(Read more)

Part Two

To keep up with this demand, Jingdezhen, China’s main porcelain-making center since the Song dynasty, as early as 1712 needed to keep three thousand kilns fired day and night. The prices fell to…(Read more)

Part Three

When he was nineteen, Böttger met the mysterious alchemist Lascaris in Berlin and received a present of some two ounces of transmutation powder from him. If you refuse to believe in alchemists and transmutation, you may as well assume…(Read more)

Part Four

Completely restored to favor, the young man admitted he had never possessed the secret of transmutation; he was…(Read more)

Photo “Vintage teacups…” is copyright under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License to the photographer Jenni Douglas and is being posted unaltered (source)