Friday, February 24, 2012


This is a word I've only ever seen in books, usually talking about a long ago time period. It seems to have something to do with festive punch, but I really don't know what it adds. Here's the sentence in Death Comes to Pemberly by P.D. James, which I've only just started. A ball is being arranged:

"Wine had already been brought up from the cellars and almonds had been grated to provide the popular white soup in sufficient quantities. The negus, which would greatly improve its flavour and potency and contribute considerably to the gaiety of the occasion, would be added at the last moment."

It's got to be an inebriant of some kind. I'm thinking mulled wine?


Yes, it is simply that--mulled wine. The tradition is that the British colonel Francis Negus invented this version of the drink. He was a courtier in the early 1700s, so you can imagine fashionability had something to do with his name being attached.

Negus is indeed a very bookish sort of drink, and if you aren't a fan of older British lierature, you may not have heard of it. It apparently features in Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Mansfield Park (but not Pride and Prejudice?), and at least five books of Dickens, A Christmas Carol only being the rather obvious one. As to books I haven't read but should have, you'll find it in The Forsyte Saga, and in Patrick O'Brian's seafaring novels, and quite a bit in James Boswell.

Here is at least one version of the recipe .

As is the way of these Google searches, I also found a lot of mention of one Negus Webster-Chan, a rising young basketball star. I can't say for certain, but I'm pretty sure the Webster-Chans didn't name their son after their favorite holiday brew.

Negus was also the title used for a king in the region now known as Ethiopia.


  1. I remember old Arthur Negus, presenter of the Antiques Roadshow for almost my entire childhood and young adulthood. Not a face or a person you'd ever get on American or Australian TV.

  2. My daughter is reading Jane Eyre, so I will ask if she's come to the negus yet.

  3. Adrian, they used to show the British road show before the American one got so popular here, and maybe they still do somewhere. I might recognize him.

  4. Kathleen, I thought it would be pronounced Nay-gus, but it is nee-gus, which is a bit unfortunate in terms of American associations.

    It's funny that it shows up in these classic works and then seems to pretty much die off completely.

  5. And here I thought negus was nothing but ab old king of Ethiopia. Thanks.

  6. I'm impressed that you knew the Ehiopian king bit, Peter.

    On a side note, I've been noticing all weekend that other blogs have changed format slightly in comments, but now I see that I have changed format myself. Was it really necessary?

  7. One can learn much from The Cartoon History of the Universe.

    I see some inconvenience and zero advantage to Blogger's latest "enhancements."

  8. That seems to be par for the course with them, these days, Peter.

    For example, they are always wanting me to try out the newish blogger dashboard, but when I have tried it, it turns out to be incompatible with my fairly new version of windows and I'd have to deal with a hundred error messages to use it.

  9. I've learned not to try the new options Blogger offers as options. The changes it (and Twitter) make without notifying me are bad enough.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  10. Hello,

    I'm translating Death Comes to Pemberley into Finnish and I'd like to ask your opinion as native English speakers. Does the P.D. James passage you quoted mean that they're actually planning to add the negus to the white soup, to mix them together? From sources dealing with Jane Austen and the Regency era I've gathered that white soup was served "along with" negus, but there's no mention that these two would be mixed together. However, also later in James' novel the characters talk about white soup in a way that makes it clear that the soup itself contains alcohol. The author might have made a mistake here, but for the time being I'd just like to make sure if this is what she meant.

    Thank you so much for your help:)

    1. Maija, how cool that you have stopped in here! As a native speaker, yes, I'd assume that they added negus to the soup, but I could be wrong. I will see if I can get Peter Rozovsky to pop back here as he is not only a copyeditor, but also has thought about crime novels in translation a bit more than I have.

      In any case, best of luck with the translation!

  11. Seana, I'd seen this interesting question but, although I am a copy editor and have thought about crime fiction and translation (and because, as it happens, the next crime fiction review of mine to appear in my newspaper is of a Finnish novel), I knoew nothing about negus and whether one would add it to soup. I could look, but Maija's research would likely yield as much as anything I could come up with.

  12. Oh, okay. I think whether or not they did add it, it looks like James intended to say they did. Is that how you would read the quoted passage?

    From this bit of research at the Jane Austen Centre, I get the idea that they make the soup and then add the negus as is it served to the guests.

  13. Thank you so much! I must have thought I'd get a message when someone answers me, so I didn't even visit this page earlier... sorry! I think I'll live on the edge and just stick with the adding of the negus to the soup. Seana, thanks for the link, that was by far the most explicit explanation I've seen. The book's coming out in Finnish in October, btw. Here you can see what it's going to look like.

  14. That's got a great look, Maija. I put it in a Finnish to English translator and it came out Autumn Balls. Is that more or less the idea?

    Anyway, congratulations on your work, and though it's still pretty far from Finland, I hear from Peter Rozovsky, above, that P.D. James will be the guest of honor at Crimefest in Bristol this year from May 24th-27th. Just in case you or any friends can make their way there...Someone should at least lift a glass of negus to her.

  15. The Finnish name means The Autumn Ball. That's the party they make the negus for:) Thanks for the tip, unfortunately I'm busy with the translation, as it happens!