slideshow slideshow slideshow slideshow

Sylvester Douglas

the Lord who paved the way to London from Tokay

(1743 –1823)

Sylvester Douglas, 1st Baron Glenbervie was a British lawyer, politician and diarist. He was Chief Secretary for Ireland between 1793 and 1794. As the son of John Douglas, he descended from James Douglas, minister of Glenbervie, son of Sir William Douglas, 9th Earl of Angus and half-brother of William Douglas, 9th Earl of Angus.

 

His mother was Margaret, daughter and co-heir of James Gordon, of Fechel. He was educated at the Universities of Aberdeen and Leyden. He was admitted to Lincoln's Inn in 1771, was called to the Bar in 1776, and became King's Counsel in 1793. The same year he was appointed a King's Counsel Douglas gave up his legal career on his appointment as Chief Secretary for Ireland under William Pitt the Younger. In 1794, he was admitted to both the Irish and English Privy Council and returned to the Irish House of Commons for St.Canice, a seat he held until 1796. In 1795, he was elected to the British House of Commons for Fowey. He later represented Midhurst between 1796 and 1800, Plympton Erle between 1801 and 1802 and Hastings between 1802 and 1806. In 1797 Douglas was made a Lord of the Treasury by Pitt, and in 1800 was appointed Governor of the Cape of Good Hope, though he did not take up the appointment. At the end of the year he was created Baron Glenbervie, of Kincardine, in the Irish peerage. After serving as joint Paymaster of the Forces between 1801 and 1803 and Vice-President of the Board of Trade between 1801 and 1804, he was Surveyor General of Woods, Forests, Parks, and Chases between 1803 and 1806 and 1807 and 1810. On the office of the Surveyor General of the Land Revenues of the Crown being combined with the former in 1810, he became the First Commissioner of Woods and Forests, the head of the new department. He held the office until 1814. He was also Rector of King's College, Aberdeen between 1805 and 1814. He married Lady Catherine Anne, daughter of Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guilford, in 1789. Their only son Frederick Douglas sat as Member of Parliament for Banbury between 1812 and his early death in 1819. His wife died in February 1817, aged 56. He survived her by six years and died in May 1823, aged 79. As he had no surviving male issue the barony became extinct on his death.

Furthermore, Lord Glenbervie is briefly mentioned as an English traveller in the 1963 Hungarian brochure History of the Tokay Wine Merchant Company (1733–1798) by Lajos Tardy, a historian and researcher of the National Rákóczi Museum at Sárospatak. It is still a little known fact from his life, even on Wikipedia, that in 1768, as a young man, he had explored the foothills of Tokay and described its population and economy. As a result of the voyage, in 1773, he contributed a geographical article titled On the Tokay and other wines of Hungary to the Philosophical Transactions, which, almost 240 years later, remains one of the most comprehensive studies ever done. His personal views on the local viniculture helped pave the way for the high quality Ausbruch, or Aszú, to the wine market of England in the next centuries, for which his noble name deserves to be included into all modern textbooks. Another question arises in the end: what talented strangers have set foot in Upper Hungary or, as Ferenc Kölcsey said, ‘…dripped the nectar from the vines of Tokay…’? The response is certain: the unique information they obtained passing through its small towns and tiny villages was carefully treasured in their prolific heritage left for the future generations like ours today.

On the Tokay and other Wines of Hungary. By Sylvester Douglas Esq.

The town, or rather village, of Tokay, whence this celebrated wine derives its name, stands at the foot, and to the east of a high hill, close by the conflux of the river Bodrog, with the Theis or Tibiscus. In the Norimberg map of Hungary, it is erroneously placed between these rivers, for it is on the west side of both. The inhabitants are chiefly either Hungarians of the protestant religion, or Greeks, who came originally from Turkey, but have been long settled here for the purpose of carrying on the wine trade. The hills on which the wine grows, lie all to the west of the river Bodrog, and beginning close by the town of Tokay, thence extend westward and northward, occupying a space of perhaps 10 English miles square; but they are interrupted and interspersed with a great many extensive plains, and several villages. Near some of these the wine is better than what grows on the hill of Tokay, but it all goes under the same general name. The vineyards extend beyond the 48th degree of northern latitude. The soil, on all the hills where the wine grows, is a yellow clayish earth, extremely deep, and there are interspersed through it large loose stones, which it seems are limestone; but he had not an opportunity of examining them. As the hills do not run in a regular chain, but are scattered among the intervening plains, all kinds of exposures are met with upon them, and there is wine on them all, except perhaps where they are turned directly towards the south. Yet the general rule is, that the exposures most inclining to the south, the steepest declivities, and the highest part of those declivities, produce the best wine.

It is a vulgar error, that the Tokay wine is in so small quantity, as never to be found genuine, unless when given in presents by the court of Vienna. The extent of ground on which it grows is a sufficient proof to the contrary. It is a common dessert wine in all the great families at Vienna, and in Hungary, and is very generally drunk in Poland and Russia, being used at table in those countries, like Madeira in this. Another vulgar error is, that all the Tokay wine is the property of the empress queen. She is not even the most considerable proprietor, nor of the best wine; so that every year she sells off her own, and purchases from the other proprietors, to supply her own table, and the presents she makes of it. The greatest proprietor is Prince Trautzon, an old man, at whose death indeed his estate will escheat to the crown; but many others of the German and Hungarian nobility have large vineyards at Tokay; most of the gentlemen in the neighbourhood have part of their estates there; the Jesuits college at Ungwar has a considerable share of the best wine; and besides these, there are many of the peasants who have vineyards, which they hold of the queen, or other lords, by paying a tithe of the annual produce. There is never any red wine made at Tokay, and, as far as he recollects, the grapes are all white. The vintage is always as late as possible. It commonly begins at the feast of St.Simon and Jude, October 28, sometimes as late as St.Martin's, November 11. This is determined by the season, for they have the grapes on the vines as long as the weather permits; as the frosts, which from the end of August are very keen during the nights, are thought to be of great service to the wine. By this means it happens, that when the vintage begins, a great many of the grapes are shrivelled, and have in some measure the appearance of dried raisins.

There are 4 sorts of wine made from the same grapes, which they distinguish at Tokay by the names of Essence, Ausbruch, Masslasch, and the common wine. The process for making them is as follows. The half-dried and shrivelled grapes, being carefully picked out from the others, are put into a perforated vessel, where they remain as long as any juice runs off by the mere pressure of their own weight. This is put into small casks, and is called the Essence. On the grapes from which the essence has run off, is poured the expressed juice of the others from which they had been picked, and then they tread them with their feet. The liquor obtained in this manner stands to ferment during a day or two, after which it is poured into small casks, which are kept in the air for about a month, and afterwards put into the cellars. This is the Ausbruch. The same process is again repeated, by the addition of more of the common juice to the grapes which have already undergone the two former pressures, only they are now also wrung with the hands, and this gives the Masslasch. The 4th kind is made by taking all the grapes together at first, and submitting them to the greatest pressure. It is chiefly prepared by the peasants, who have not a sufficient quantity of grapes, and cannot afford the time and apparatus necessary for making the different sorts. It is entirely consumed in the country, and forms the common vin du pays. The Essence is thick, and never perfectly clear, very sweet and luscious. It is chiefly used to mix with the other kinds, and when joined to the Masslasch, forms a wine equally good with the Ausbruch, and often sold for it.

The Ausbruch is the wine commonly exported, and what is known in foreign countries under the name of Tokay. The following are the best rules for judging of it; though in this and all similar cases, it requires experience to be able to put such rules in practice. 1. The colour should neither be reddish, which it often is, nor very pale, but a light silver. 2. In trying it, you should not swallow it immediately, but only wet your palate and the tip of the tongue. If it discovers any acrimony to the tongue, or bites it, it is not good. The taste ought to be soft and mild. 3. It should, when poured out, form globules in the glass, and have an oily appearance. 4. When genuine, the strongest is always of the best quality. 5. When swallowed, it should have an earthy astringent taste in the mouth, which they call the taste of the root. The Poles particularly are fond of this astringency and austerity in their Tokay. There is so great a difference between the Tokay used in Poland and what Mr.Douglas drank both at Tokay and Vienna, which, he was sure, was of the best and most genuine kind, that he thinks their wine is composed of the Masslasch, which, by the severe pressure it suffers, must carry with it much of the astringent quality which, in all grapes, resides in the skin, and a smaller proportion than usual of the essence. But this is mere conjecture. Besides the qualities already mentioned, all Tokay wine has an aromatic taste; so peculiar, that nobody who has ever drunk it genuine can confound it with any other species of wine. The only species that bears a resemblance to it grows, in a very small quantity, in the Venetian Friule, and is only to be met with in private families at Venice, where, in the dialect of the place, it is called vin piccolit. The Tokay wine, both the Essence and Ausbruch, keeps to any age, and improves by time. Mr.Douglas has drunk of the latter at Vienna, which had been in the same cellar since the year l686. It is never good till it is about 3 years old. All the sorts are generally kept in small casks, called antheils, which legally hold 80 Hungarian mediae, a measure containing about two-thirds of an English quart. When you buy it of the gentlemen who are proprietors, you have commonly more than the legal quantity in the antheil; if from the Greek merchants, always less. The particular year, or vintage, and the age, vary the price of this, as of all other wines. The medium price of the antheil of Essence is between 60 and 70 ducats. It is sometimes sold on the spot for more than 100. Prince Radzivil paid 300 ducats for 2 antheils about 4 years before. When the price is 60 ducats, and the antheil large measure, that is, about go mediae, it is exactly a ducat the English quart. The price of the Ausbruch is from 26 to about 30 ducats the antheil. This is at the rate of two florins, or near a crown the English quart. The variety in the prices of the Essence and Ausbruch, accounts or the opposite accounts of people, who say sometimes that it costs half a guinea, sometimes 5 shillings, on the spot.

There are people who come every year from Poland, about the time of the vintage, to choose their own wine on the ground, and see it carefully managed. But it is a false opinion of many, that they contract for the wine of several years forwards: no such thing has ever been practised. For these last 20 years the court of Petersburg has had an agent, who resides constantly at Tokay, for the purpose of buying wine. He commonly purchases every year from 40 to 60 antheils of Ausbruch, but never of any other sort. It is much the best way to transport it in casks; for when it is on the seas, it ferments 3 times every season, and refines itself by these repeated fermentations. When in bottles, there must be an empty space left between the wine and the cork, otherwise it would burst the bottle. They put a little oil on the surface, and tie a piece of bladder on the cork. The bottles are always laid on their sides in sand. Mr.Douglas is persuaded an English merchant, or company of merchants, would find their account in establishing a correspondence with one of the principal proprietors in the country, or in sending an agent to reside at Tokay, who might watch the opportunity of the good vintages, choose the best exposures, and bargain with the proprietors themselves. They should have cellars there to keep the wine to a proper age, and an agent at Warsaw, and another at Dantzic, to receive it. This is the road it must take.

There is not, Mr.Douglas believes, in Europe any country which produces a greater variety of wines than Hungary. They count as many as 100 different sorts. The most valuable white wines, after the Tokay, are, 1. The St.George wine, which grows near a village of that name, about 2 German miles north of Presburg, and in the same latitude with Vienna. This wine approaches the nearest of any Hungarian wine to Tokay. Formerly, they used to make Ausbruch at St.George; but this was prohibited by the court about 16 years ago, it being supposed that it might hurt the traffic of the Tokay wine. 2. The Edenburg wine, resembling the St.George, but inferior in quality and value. Edenburg is a town situated about Q German miles north-west of Presburg. 3. The Carlotvitz wine, something like that of the Cote rotie on the banks of the Rhone. Carlowitz is the seat of the metropolitan of the Greek church in Hungary. It stands on the banks of the Danube, between 45 and 46 degrees of latitude. The best red wines are, 1. The Buda wine, which grows in the neighbourhood of the ancient capital of the kingdom. This wine is like, and perhaps equal to Burgundy, and is often sold for it in Germany. A German author of the last century says, that a great quantity of this wine used to be sent to England in the reign of James I., over land by Breslaw and Hamburg, and that it was the favourite wine both at court and all over England. 2. The Sexard wine, a strong deep-coloured wine, not unlike the strong wine of Languedoc, which is said to be sold at Bourdeaux for claret. The Sexard wine on the spot costs about 5 creuzers, or 2^ d. a bottle. It belongs to the Abbot of Constance, and is chiefly consumed in Germany. Sexard is on the Danube, between Buda and Esseh. 3. The Erlaw wine, which is reckoned at Vienna almost equal to that of Buda. Erlaw is in Upper Hungary, south-west of Tokay, between 47 and 48 degrees of latitude. 4. The Gros Wardein wine, a strong bodied wine and very cheap. It belongs chiefly to the Duke of Modena, whose ancestor got a large estate in this country, in grant from the Emperor Leopold, as a reward for his services in the Hungarian wars. Gros Wardein is an old fortress near the confines of Transylvania, between 46 and 47 degrees of latitude.

VOL. [LXIII.] Philosophical Transactions. [anno 1773].

Material relating to Douglas, Sylvester (24 May 1743 – 2 May 1823) Baron Glenbervie, politician listed at the UK National Register of Archives:

Parliament of Ireland

Preceded by
John Monck Mason
Marcus Beresford

Member of Parliament for St Canice
1794 – 1796
With: John Monck Mason

Succeeded by
John Monck Mason
William Elliot

Parliament of Great Britain

Preceded by
Philip Rashleigh
Richard Edgcumbe

Member of Parliament for Fowey
1795 – 1796
With: Philip Rashleigh

Succeeded by
Philip Rashleigh
Reginald Pole-Carew

Preceded by
Percy Charles Wyndham
Peter Thellusson

Member of Parliament for Midhurst
1796 – 1800
With: Charles Long

Succeeded by
Charles Long
George Smith

Parliament of the United Kingdom

Preceded by
Parliament of Great Britain

Member of Parliament for Plympton Erle
18011802
With: Richard Hankey

Succeeded by
Richard Hankey
Philip Metcalfe

Preceded by
Nicholas Vansittart
William Sturges

Member of Parliament for Hastings
18021806
With: George Gunning

Succeeded by
Sir John Nicholl
Sir William Fowle Middleton, Bt

Political offices

Preceded by
Lord Hobart

Chief Secretary for Ireland
1793 – 1794

Succeeded by
Viscount Milton

Preceded by
Thomas Steele
George Canning

Paymaster of the Forces
1801 – 1803
With: Thomas Steele

Succeeded by
John Hiley Addington
Thomas Steele

Preceded by
Hon. Dudley Ryder

Vice-President of the Board of Trade
1801 – 1804

Succeeded by
Nathaniel Bond

Preceded by
John Robinson

Surveyor General of Woods, Forests, Parks, and Chases
1803 – 1806

Succeeded by
Lord Robert Spencer

Preceded by
Lord Robert Spencer

Surveyor General of Woods, Forests, Parks, and Chases
1807 – 1810

Office abolished

New office

First Commissioner of Woods and Forests
1810 – 1814

Succeeded by
William Huskisson

Academic offices

Preceded by
Unknown

Rector of King's College, Aberdeen
1805 – 1814

Succeeded by
Unknown

Peerage of Ireland

New creation

Baron Glenbervie
1800 – 1823

Extinct

 

Vadim Vozdvizhensky

The Foothills of Tokay

23 January 2012