Feast and Phrase

Gastronomy in the world of words.

Tag: war

Wellington and Napoleon 2

Waterloo 200: Wellingtons and Napoleons

The first half of Feast and Phrase’s Waterloo 200 special examined historical accounts of what soldiers ate during the campaign. In the second, it’s time for mains and desserts: wellingtons, napoleons, and other edible associations with two of history’s military masterminds.

The Duke of Wellington’s name has been used for many things. In 1840, the New Zealand Company bestowed it on their small North Island settlement, honouring the commander’s support of their business. That became the national capital in 1865, and has remained so ever since. Antique lovers can buy ‘Wellington chests’ – drawers with locking covers, designed for military use when travelling. Most well-known of all are ‘wellington boots’ or ‘wellies’: initially knee-length leather footwear, now synthetically produced for a rainy day. Coming from them is ‘give it some welly’, that delightful expression for ‘giving a bit more force to something’.

It might feel logical to assume that puff pastry ‘wellingtons’ – whether filled with beef, fish, beans, or even tofu – follow the same tradition, but the matter is unclear. Despite a lack of evidence, various sources have claimed that ‘beef wellington’ is so called because the Duke was fond of eating it, or because of the pastry’s supposed resemblance to a wellington boot (this second reason, as journalist Leah Hyslop rightly adds, ‘depends on the cook in question being outstandingly awful’).

Carrot WellingtonCarrot wellingtons in the Narcissa Restaurant, NYC. Photo by Flickr user T.Tseng.

An early written reference to a dish bearing this name may be found in The Los Angeles Times of 28 October, 1903: ‘Fillet of beef, a la Wellington.’ However, this seems to be something else entirely, calling for the meat to be consumed with chutney. A record of the pastry version can first be seen in a New York dining guide from 1939:

Tenderloin of Beef Wellington… Larded tenderloin of beef. Roast very rare. Allow to cool and roll into pie crust… Slice in portions and serve with sauce Madire.’

                        Diana Ashley, Where to dine in Thirty-nine (1939).

Beef wellingtons as known today appear to have come from the United States; Hyslop notes food writer Theodora FitzGibbon’s suggestion that they may have had Irish precursors which crossed the Atlantic. More certain than any guessing after origins is that their inclusion in the ground-breaking American publication Mastering the Art of French Cooking led to a surge in popularity from the 1960s onwards. The Oxford English Dictionary gives earlier examples of recipes ‘à la Wellington’ which were named after the Duke. Two ‘Wellington pudding’ desserts stand out: one from 1827, featuring plums; the other from 1881, with ‘puff paste’ and ‘some apricot jam’.

Beef WellingtonBeef wellington. Photo uploaded by Flickr user Elsie Hui.

Earlier still are written mentions of ‘Wellington Apples’large cooking apples with a pale yellow exterior. These were brought to London around 1820 by one Richard Williams, who had received them from the Leicestershire Gopsal Hall estate ‘under the name of Wellington’, which quickly became widespread. This variety is more commonly referred to by its initial name of ‘Dumelow’s Crab’ or ‘Dumelow’s Seedling’, after the 18th century farmer who bred them, Richard Dumelow. Insistence on this occurred from the very beginning. Williams sent samples to the Horticultural Society, which, viewing the whole renaming affair as most improper, expressed its displeasure:

‘This Apple affords another instance of the impropriety of giving new names to fruits already named. […] There can be no doubt as to the propriety of restoring its original name, by which it is so extensively known in the neighbourhood where it was first produced.’

           In Transactions, of the Horticultural Society of London, Volume IV (1822).

640px-Royal_Horticultural_Society_(4624387791)A commemorative plaque for the founding of what is now known as the Royal Horticultural Society. It was the Horticultural Society of London to begin with, gaining a royal charter and its present name in 1861. Image located via Wikimedia Commons.

There are several fruity links to Napoleon’s name. ‘Napoleon Bigarreau’ is a type of cherry with white flesh – a ‘magnificent cherry, of mammoth size’, as an 1864 copy of The Canada Farmer testifies. Robert Hogg’s Fruit Manual of 1860 lists a ‘Napoléon’ pear, now quite uncommon. Other titles for it include Gloire de l’Empereur (‘Glory of the Emperor’) and Captif de St. Hélène (‘Captive of Saint Helena’); a fitting reflection of Bonaparte’s rise and fall. Described in the same work is the ‘Emperor Napoléon’, a large gooseberry with smooth red skin.

Longwood HouseLongwood House: Napoleon’s home on the British island of St Helena during his captivity from 1815 until his death in 1821. Photo by Flickr user David Stanley.

 ‘Napoleon brandy’ is ‘brandy thought to be of great age or merit’. The Oxford English Dictionary provides a line from Cole Porter’s 1934 hit song, ‘You’re the Top’, which carries that sense of immense worth: ‘You’re the top! You’re Mahatma Gandhi. You’re the top! You’re Napoleon brandy.’ For all that, don’t be fooled – the next example is from wine writer Creighton Churchill, who states in a 1967 book that ‘‘Napoleon Brandy’ ranks high among some of the more transparent promotional myths of the industry.’ Such an opinion is seconded in the Cambridge World History of Food: cognac can get better with around 50 years of aging, but anything more is unlikely to have an effect. Brandy lasting from the Napoleonic era is apparently nothing more than a legend; were it to exist, it would not be palatable.

‘Mille-feuille’ pastries (termed so because of their many layers; mille feuilles being French for a thousand leaves) are also called ‘napoleons’ in various countries of the world, such as the United States and Romania. The early 1900s saw the creation of an Iranian ‘napoleon’, which was a mille-feuille baklava with rosewater flavouring. None have any relation to the Emperor; the word is a corruption of Napolitano, ‘pertaining to Naples’, either indicating that the delicacy originally came from the Italian city or was named out of respect for its pastry-making renown.

Mille-FeuilleA mini mille-feuille with vanilla bourbon. Image from Flickr user puce576.

Considering the previous article’s focus on what soldiers ate, it would be appropriate to explore Wellington and Napoleon’s own dietary habits. As touched on before, a lack of supplies affected commanders and troops alike, and both missed home comforts. Returning to England in 1814 after six years away, the Duke is said to have ordered ‘an unlimited supply of buttered toast’ at the Ship Inn, Dover. An acquaintance, George Robert Gleig, wrote of his routine at home as follows:

‘His general habits, to which he adhered to the last, may be thus described. […] At seven he dined. The Duke ate but twice a day, at breakfast and dinner. Though not a large feeder he ate fast, and had an excellent appetite. He was never given to much wine, and in later years found it advisable to cease from the use of it altogether. But the hospitalities of his table were generous.’

George Robert Gleig, The Life of Arthur, First Duke of Wellington (1862).

Duke of WellingtonThe Wellington Statue by Matthew Cotes Wyatt (1846). Originally on the Wellington Arch in London, it was moved to Round Hill, Aldershot, in 1885. Image from Flickr user Fotorus.

Bearing in mind that conflict situations do not exactly allow for leisurely meals, it is hardly surprising to find out that Wellington was a fast eater, and even less so to learn that Napoleon was the same:

‘Napoleon eat and slept according to the time, circumstances and situation in which he found himself; […] “Doctors,” said he to Antommarchi, “have the ordering of the table; it is but fair that I give you a description of mine; this is how it is arranged, one dish of soup, two of meat, one of vegetables, a salad when I can have it, compose the whole. I take half a bottle of claret much diluted, and a little pure at the end of dinner. For the rest I eat quickly and masticate little, for my meals do not take much of my time. You do not approve of that, but in my situation what is the advantage of mastication?”’

In The Table Talk and Opinions of Napoleon Buonaparte (1870).

Jacques-Louis_David_-_Napoleon_Crossing_the_Alps_-_Schloss_ChThe famous painting, Napoleon Crossing the Alps, by French artist Jacques-Louis David (1800). This is a noteworthy piece of propaganda – Napoleon actually crossed the Alps on the back of a mule! Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Historical author Shannon Selin points out that Bonaparte was incredibly fond of liquorice, eating it so frequently that it may have been responsible for discolouring his teeth. Such was his love of the stuff that he insisted on drinking nothing but liquorice water when dying. One can only speculate whether he might have enjoyed Napoleon cherries and pears, and it is intriguing to imagine the Duke tucking into a beef wellington were he alive today. Would Bonaparte have seen the appeal of Napoleon brandy? Quite possibly – though he may also have put it aside for another glass of liquorice drink.


Waterloo 200: Battlefield Victuals

In this two-part 200th anniversary special, Feast and Phrase looks at the food and words linked to the Battle of Waterloo. First course: Written accounts of battlefield feeding.

What food did soldiers have during the Waterloo Campaign of 1815? The frequent attribution of the popular saying ‘an army marches on its stomach’ to French leader Napoleon makes it all the more appropriate to ask. A collection of accounts published in the same year as the battle gives some idea of how those in the field ate – and how they didn’t:

‘The whole of the 17th, and indeed until late the next morning, the weather continued dreadful; and we were starving with hunger, no provision having been served out since the march from Brussels. While five officers who composed our mess were looking at each other with the most deplorable faces imaginable, one of the men brought us a fowl he had plundered, and a handful of biscuits, which, though but little, added to some tea we boiled in a camp-kettle, made us rather more comfortable; and we huddled up together, covered ourselves with straw, and were soon as soundly asleep as though reposing on beds of down.’

‘Letter from an Officer to his Friend in Cumberland’, in The Battle of Waterloo, published by John Booth (1815).

/gastronomy_and_non_fiction/waterloo_200_battlefield_victuals/De_Slag_bij_Waterloo_Rijksmuseum_SK_A_1115.jpegDe Slag bij Waterloo (The Battle of Waterloo), by Dutch artist Jan Willem Pieneman (1824). Located via Wikimedia Commons. The featured image at the top of this article is Wellington at Waterloo by English painter Robert Alexander Hillingford, also found on Wikimedia Commons. Grand and impressive as both works are, they show a very different reality to that endured by the combatants.

Difficulty getting supplies to British troops and their European allies during clashes before and during 18 June meant that many were fighting on low fuel. The French were similarly afflicted, with their support wagons falling behind as they advanced into Belgium. As evidenced above, fighting was fed by foraging, which made up for direly insufficient rations. The process could drain areas of resources – one report by a French eyewitness almost seems to liken it to a Biblical plague:

‘As soon as the troops had taken even a momentary position in the vicinity of a village, they rushed like water from a broken dam over all the country beneath; corn, cattle, bread, meat, even household furniture, linen and clothes disappeared in an instant. The village became a mass of ruins; empty houses; broken doors, and the inhabitants flying into the woods and fields. The adjacent fields, hitherto covered with the promise of a rich harvest, seemed like the straw in a stable trodden under foot; and the fires of the bivouacks, leaving their blackening traces in meadows and corn fields, seemed to mark so many places which had been struck by thunder.’

From The Journal of the Three Days of the Battle of Waterloo, translated from the French (1816).

Waterloo_campaign_mapA plan of the Waterloo Campaign, located via Wikimedia Commons.

Finding enough food in a conflict situation is one problem; finding enough time to eat it is another. A British officer’s description of the lead up to the Battle of Quatre Bras (two days prior to Waterloo) shows the overriding force of urgency and orders:

‘[…] we had scarcely rested ourselves, and commenced dressing the rations, which had been served out at Enghien, when an Aide-de-Camp from the Duke of Wellington arrived, and ordered us instantly under arms, and to advance with all speed to Les Quatre Bras, where the action was going on with the greatest fury, and where the French were making rapid strides towards the object they had in view […] The order was, of course, instantly obeyed; the meat which was cooking, was thrown away; the kettles, &c. packed up, and we proceeded, as fast as our tired legs would carry us, towards a scene of slaughter, which was a prelude well calculated to usher in the bloody tragedy of the 18th.’

‘Extract of a Letter from an Officer in the Guards’ (21 June 1815), in The Battle of Waterloo, published by John Booth (1815).

Wollen,_Battle_of_Quatre_BrasThe Black Watch at Bay, by British painter William Barns Wollen (1894). The Scottish regiment is shown fighting at the Battle of Quatre Bras. Located via Wikimedia Commons.

Following victory, the trouble with provisions continued. Some British soldiers ‘slept supperless in the fields’; others hunting for sustenance found French huts full of meat which was dealt with so hurriedly that it was rendered inedible:

‘[…] scattered over their floors were numerous fragments of meat partly raw, partly half-cooked, which in the hurry of some movement had been thrown away. The British soldiers were very hungry, but they could not bring themselves to taste these viands […] raw meat of every description in abundance – beef, pork, and mutton; but it had been so beaten about in the hurry of the strife, and was so vilely dressed – the very hides being in many instances left upon the morsels, and these but indifferently bled’.

George Robert Gleig, Story of the Battle of Waterloo (1847).

Napoleon_French_Lancer_by_BellangeA Lancer in Napoleon’s Grande Armée, or ‘Great Army’. Illustration by Horace Vernet in Laurent de l’Ardèche’s Histoire de l’Empereur Napoléon (History of the Emperor Napoleon), published in 1843. Located via Wikimedia Commons.

According to the National Army Museum, a British soldier’s basic everyday ration during the Napoleonic Wars was a pound of meat – fresh or salted – and the equivalent weight of bread biscuits.  Other items could include oats, cheese, vegetables, rice, and alcohol. The biscuits were generally made of wheat, with added barley in times of poor harvest. Their tough, solid texture earned them the name ‘hard tack’, while normal bread was known as ‘soft tack’.

One such biscuit is featured in the museum’s online showcase of ‘200 Objects from Waterloo’; another eye-catching food-related item is a nutmeg grater made of silver. This was the possession of Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole, an Irish officer who served under Wellington but missed Waterloo as he was honeymooning at the time! Given the high cost of the spice due to Dutch monopolies on trade, to have and to use such a piece of equipment was an unmistakeable indicator of wealth. It also allowed for much more exotic meals than those on standard rations might enjoy. Wellington apparently remarked that Cole gave ‘the best dinners in the army’, while his own were ‘no great things’. Not that officers lived a life of complete luxury – if supplies were strained, they suffered with their men.

Bryan DonkinAn image of British industrialist Bryan Donkin, who revolutionized food storage by being the first person to mass-preserve goods in tin cans. Located via Wikimedia Commons.

One innovation which made an appearance at Waterloo was canned food. As Tom Standage writes in An Edible History of Humanity, this developed from a preservation technique of sealing food in bottles, thought up by Frenchman Nicolas Appert in 1749. In the 1810s, a merchant by the name of Peter Durand received the first patent to do so in England, later selling it to British industrialist Bryan Donkin. He replaced the bottles with cans, and the technology took off. Can openers were not invented until around fifty years later, so soldiers would have to prise their rations free using a trusty bayonet or chisel.

British Rations21st century British rations: A 24-hour Multi-Climate Ration (MCR) pack developed by the Ministry of Defence in 2009. Located via Wikimedia Commons.

Canned foods are common sights in modern ration packs, which can feature everything from squid to Szechuan noodles for a taste of home, depending on their country of origin. To note this and recall men in the first source ‘starving with hunger’ and ‘looking at each other with the most deplorable faces imaginable’ makes it all the more clear: whether meat and biscuits or stuffed peppers and halva, food plays an essential part in boosting morale. 

Remembering Food Slogans on VE Day

8 May, 1945 saw Victory in Europe Day festivities across the continent and overseas. While the Second World War would only end with the defeat of Japan in September, and though a steep climb to recovery faced the countries involved, the desperately-awaited occasion was marked with wild festivities.

VE Day celebrations, Trafalgar Square, LondonVE Day celebrations in Trafalgar Square, London. Note the pair of shoes I mistook for a head, because one man is upside-down. Photograph from Lieutenant Arthur L. Cole, Library and Archives Canada.

Dancing, parades, and street parties took place throughout Britain, with makeshift community feasts pulled together from rationed goods and home-grown produce. The people had become experts at making the most of little thanks to practices put in place by the government from the very outbreak of war.

Added to this was a range of posters, films, and leaflets which helped to cultivate thrifty attitudes crucial to the nation’s wartime success. Seventy years on, I thought it would be worth taking a look back at some of the slogans and artwork created to help get Britain frugal with food.

Dig for Victory and Dig for Plenty

INF3-95_Food_Production_Dig_for_Victory_Artist_Mary_Tunbridge 508pxDesigned by Mary Tunbridge. Taken from a joint public domain collection by The National Archives and Wikimedia Commons.

Before the war, Britain’s food imports numbered 22 million tonnes. If it helps with visualisation, that’s 122,222 blue whales’ worth of food (taking the weight of a large blue whale to be around 180 tonnes). N.B. Do not go around informing your friends that food imports in 1930s Britain consisted of 122,222 blue whales.

Enemy threats to trading routes at sea and occupation of partner countries, as well as British prioritisation of ships for military use, began to put Fall a strain on supplies. Nationwide rationing of imported goods came into effect from January 1940 with initial limits on sugar, butter, and bacon (not surprisingly, that last decision was considerably unpopular).

INF3-96_Food_Production_Dig_for_Victory_Artist_Peter_Fraser 527pxDesigned by Peter Fraser. The National Archives / Wikimedia Commons.

Following the failed Grow More Food campaign of October 1939 was Dig for Victory. Fronted by Minister of Food, Lord Woolton, it was guided and organised by John Raeburn, Head of Agricultural Plans. The slogan was apparently a coinage of Evening Standard journalist Michael Foot, later leader of the Labour Party in 1980.

Appearing on some 10 million leaflets sent out during the period (take a look at this example from the British Library), it was most famously seen with iStopMotion the well-known ‘boot-on-spade’ photograph, which went on to become a symbol of the campaign and featured in miniature on other posters.

Dig for VictoryThe famous ‘boot-on-spade’ image, courtesy of the World Carrot Museum.

It also found its way into a stirring motivational song:

Dig! Dig! Dig!
And your muscles will grow big
Keep on pushing the spade
Don’t mind the worms
Just ignore their squirms
And when your back aches laugh for glee
Just keep on digging
Till we give our foes a wigging
Dig! Dig Dig! for Victory!

The ultimate result was a staggering display of individual and collective drive. More and more people took to producing their own fruits and vegetables, with the number of allotments soaring from 815,000 to 1,400,000Many open areas were New transformed into plots, including the Tower of London moat. According to the calculations of writer Daniel Smith in The Spade as Mighty as the Sword, this meant that the annual production of vegetables by 1943 was above one million tonnes (or 5,556 blue whales’ worth, according to mine).

With the end of war becoming a likely possibility by 1944, it grew clear that this drive could not be allowed to come to a halt. From victory onwards, that realisation was confirmed: Britain faced the challenge of providing food aid to recovering European nations and had no time to rest. In a newspaper column of 24 May, 1945, writer and BBC gardening broadcaster C. H. Middleton wrote:

‘We shall have to find a new slogan, and call it digging for peace and security, or “digging for dinner”; but whatever we call it, we must not slack our efforts: the need for intense food production is more urgent than cheap jerseys from China ever.’

That new slogan was Dig for Plenty, which had already been circulating in 1944.

INF3-98_Food_Production_Dig_for_Plenty_Artist_Le_Bon 510px-Artist unknown, possibly ‘Le Bon’. The National Archives / Wikimedia Commons.

Gloriously bright colours and images of plenty were signs of a fruitful future that lay in the public’s hardworking hands.

INF3-97_Food_Production_Dig_for_Plenty_Artist_BAN 544pxArtist unknown, possibly ‘Ban’. Note the ‘boot-on-spade’ symbol both on this poster and the one before. The National Archives / Wikimedia Commons.

This Dig for Plenty leaflet from 1947 depicts government gardening advice in a pleasant and down-to-earth manner, with a cartoon version of the ‘boot-on-spade’ symbol:

Leigh on Sea Horticultural Soc Flyer Nov 1947 001
Image and text from the Local Studies collection, The Forum, Southend-on-Sea. With thanks to Carole Shorney and the South East Essex Organic Gardeners.

Lend a Hand on the Land

Similar to Dig for Victory was Lend a Hand on the Land, which specifically targeted city dwellers to help with farm-based food production efforts during their holidays.

INF3-104_Food_Production_Lend_a_hand_on_the_land_Whatever_your_front_line_job_Artist_Showell 619 pxArtist unknown, possibly ‘Showell’. The National Archives / Wikimedia Commons.

While the slogan wholesale MLB jerseys is very much an instruction to the public, ‘lend’ gives the poster something of an appealing, voluntary feel. Woven into this is an emphasis on wartime duty through focus on one’s job; an effect echoed by the clenched fist imagery of the artwork below:

696px-INF3-105_Food_Production_Lend_a_hand_on_the_land_at_a_Volunteer_Agricultural_Camp_Artist_NunneyArtist unknown, possibly ‘Nunney’. The National Archives / Wikimedia Commons.

Highlighting the personal benefits of farm work was another tactic. In this Ministry of Information short film from 1944 – 1945, lending a hand is shown to make for a productive holiday away from the stress of office work, all while keeping an individual in shape. Note also the sneaky use of alcohol to advertise happiness (from 00:43 9?????????????????????????? onwards). Shown being handed a drink, the man recalls, ‘Yes, life was very satisfying.’ Lending a Hand = Holiday + Free Beer? Winning.

INF3-101_Food_Production_Lend_a_hand_with_the_potato_harvest_(workers_in_basket) 511pxDesigned by Eileen Evans. The National Archives / Wikimedia Commons.

As with Dig for Victory, the Lend a Hand campaign continued after the war, as in this entertaining wholesale NFL jerseys potato digging film from 1946, played on rewind. Potato production in particular soared from 208,447 hectares in 1940 to 329,540 hectares in 1950. Going by FIFA’s current dimensions, that’s a rise from 252,663 to 399,442 full-sized international football pitches, one being 0.825 hectares. Overall, there was a 50% increase in the area of British arable farmland during the World War Two period.

All those vegetables had to be put to good use, which gave rise to Orange. two noteworthy characters…

Potato Pete and Doctor Carrot

Potato Pete and Doctor CarrotImage courtesy of Flickr user jocki84

These were created as part of the Dig for Victory campaign. Potato Pete came first, complete with recipe books – those devilled potatoes on page ten caught my stomach’s attention! Of course, there were also songs. Have a listen to this toe-tapper by Betty Driver (starting at 01:52). With more wheat being put aside for the armed forces, potatoes provided a high-energy alternative which was also a source of Vitamin C.

Doctor Carrot followed in November 1941, encouraging the public to eat more of the orange vegetables. Disney also appears to have helped Lord Woolton achieve this task, with cartoonist Hank Porter creating a carrot family that featured on published material. By 1942, Britain had a surplus.

Disney Carrot FamilyThe Disney Carrot Family. ‘Dr. Carrot’ was later changed to ‘Pops Carrot’ to avoid clashing with the British Doctor Carrot. Image courtesy of the World Carrot Museum.

Carrots were recognized as excellent sources of Vitamin A, derived from their colour-giving compound beta-carotene. (Appropriately, ‘carotene’ comes from carota, the Latin for ‘carrot’.)

Contributing towards general eye health, they were also believed to give consumers powers of night vision. According to the World Carrot Museum, such a belief was spread by the British Government telling the public that RAF pilots succeeded in night-time battles due to their heightened vision from carrot consumption. This inspired people to eat surplus produce and also provided cover for the real source of night vision: a secretly developed radar system built into fighter planes.

Carrots were slipped into meals throughout the day and sometimes took the place of sweets, which were on ration. They were also combined with potatoes and other vegetables to make the meat-free Savoy Hotel invention Woolton Pie, which was named after the Ministry of Food chief. The World Carrot Museum has a full list of recipes, including one for an intriguing Carrot Fudge.

Avoiding Waste

Food waste was punishable by law from as early as 1940 onwards and every effort was made to recycle as much as possible. One notable use of kitchen waste was feeding pigs, which were reared in the hundreds of ‘pig clubs’ set up by people around the country, wholesale MLB jerseys as well as on farms.

INF3-224_Salvage_We_want_your_kitchen_waste_(pig_with_dustbin)_Artist_Gilroy 516pxDesigned by John Gilroy. The National Archives / Wikimedia Commons.

Leftover bones were especially useful, providing grease Promotion for planes and a source of glue.

INF3-201_Salvage_Bones_help_to_make_planes_Artist_Fougasse 544px-Designed by Cyril Kenneth Bird (also known as Fougasse). The National Archives / Wikimedia Commons.

Second World War recycling know-how could certainly be applied today. 7.2 million tonnes of food and drink is wasted per year in the United Kingdom, according to a 2013 report. I see 40,000 blue whales, all shaking their heads at us in disappointment.

Wartime diets were also healthier than those of today due to a reduction of fatty and sugary foods. Having come across a variety of interesting Second World War recipes, I will definitely be trying them out in the kitchen! Please excuse me while I get some devilled potatoes…

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