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General Robertson and the Cook

From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol II.  Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

Colonel Delancey told a good story last night at Panton’s, of General Robertson and the commander-in-chief’s cook. It is well known that the general is almost too fond of the table, and he especially feels his failing at this time, when it is almost impossible to obtain any fresh provisions.

One morning the general, in a fit of despair at seeing nothing but salt codfish for breakfast, offered a premium to any one who would vary the style of serving it; and a fresh premium for every new style. This reached the ears of General Clinton’s cook, who produced for dinner, as the first variation, cod au codling. With this the general was delighted, and he ordered a brimming premium to the cook. At supper the cod appeared in another style equally palatable, and the cook was rewarded with a still higher premium. This was succeeded by another, and still another style, until the old general, in another kind of despair, ordered a servant to tell the cuisinier that if he made another variation with codfish he should be hanged, as a few more styles would render him bankrupt.1


1 Elliot Manuscript. This anecdote is very similar to the following:—The Earl of Southampton, in Queen Elizabeth’s reign, was the pattern of learning. Spenser, who, like other poets, was very poor, carried his Faerie Queene to his lordship’s house and sent it up stairs by the steward. When the Earl had read two stanzas, he said, “Give that man twenty pounds.” Having read it a little farther he said, “Give him twenty pounds more;” then proceeding he said, “Give him another ten pounds;” and at length, “Turn that fellow out of the house, for if I give as he writes, I shall give away all my patrimony.”–Rivington’s Gazette, December 26, 1778.