In the 1920s, Arthur Machen and his wife, Purefoy, were renowned for the garden parties that they hosted at their home in St John’s Wood, in north London. At these gatherings Machen served a libation of his own concoction, called Dog and Duck punch. The Fleet Street journalist D.B. Wyndham Lewis recalled it in his memoirs years later as a “golden, harmless, seductive, suave, crystalline compound, drunk in beakers,” that “crept up quietly and sandbagged you from behind, without warning.” To illustrate this last point Lewis offered the cautionary tale of “an eminent American critic” who had been discussing New England philosophy with other guests when suddenly he began to gnash his teeth and wail, “She was a tigress but my God I tamed her!” Lewis concluded that “the Dog and Duck punch had got to him.”
Machen named the potion after a lawn game, also of his own invention, played around a D-shaped green in his garden. He explained the game in an essay for The Lyons Mail, subsequently collected in the 1924 volume, Dog and Duck. The rules are so convoluted that one can easily imagine hilarity ensuing after a few too many cups of the eponymous punch. In a collection of letters between Machen and his friend Montgomery Evans, which they edited, Sue Strong Hassler and Donald M. Hassler offer the gist of the game: “one rolled a battered tennis ball from the gate entrance” of the garden “toward the duck which was at the top of the D. Success was measured by the progress of the dog-ball.” Lewis described it as “subtle and maddening,” like the punch.
So what exactly was in the drink that Machen served to his guests? The recipe was, apparently, a closely guarded secret. Biographer Wesley D. Sweetser identified it as a dry martini, but that is not quite correct. Lewis speculated, with tongue in cheek, that:
But for the impinging of the war on Arthur Machen’s 80th birthday, the distinguished strewer of pearls before the public should have been compelled to reveal to the world at last the secret of Dog and Duck punch, which made the stars to reel so often round his guests on summer evenings in St John’s Wood some years ago…The secret formula pronounced while brewing the punch would probably be familiar to those who know the Code of Hammurabi. It was noted that its victims invariably came back next week for more.
Machen revealed the recipe to Montgomery Evans in a list of cocktails that he included with a letter dated January 16, 1925. Machen wrote:
Dog and Duck Punch, No. 1
3 bottles of Sauternes, Graves, or Barsac
½ bottle of Gin
Be careful NOT to use Chablis or any of the white Burgundies in place of the Bordeaux wine
If this resembled a martini it would have been an exceptionally “wet” one. The wine—”the sweeter the better,” he told Colin Summerford—would have been the dominant flavor. By December of 1925, Machen wrote, in another letter to Evans, that “people come around on Saturday night and drink Dog and Duck Punch (No. 2).” This variation, he later explained to Summerford, was the same as the first “but with the addition of any small Burgundy or Bordeaux. The quantities have never been measured; they are ascertained in mixing and follow the taste of the mixer. Or, as one has said: ‘Dog and Duck Punch is an essentially fluid conception.'”
This essay was published in the Spring 2018 issue of Faunus: The Journal of the Friends of Arthur Machen. Subscribe here.