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Sigh not though thou hast walk'd this desert ground
R. ON THE PLEASURES OF THE TABLE.
So down they sat,
MILTON, I have long sought for the reasons of the outcry which some people raise against the pleasures of the table. Hard study of men and things led at length to the discovery. The causes are, weak stomachs, unsocial tempers, affected simplicity and stinginess ; always allowing some latitude to the convenient maxim, that there is no general rule without an exception--or two. Thus there may be some who abstain from social enjoyments under such virtuous apprehension as that they might hurt their constitutions; a few who do so from sectarian superstitions, and others from cant. To stop the mouths of such cavillers is now my object.
Taking the subject in its plainest point of view, we should begin with infancy, and see what honest unsophisticated Nature says and does. The first cry of childhood is for food; and when every other appetite is dead, that most wholesome of all continues to the extremity of healthy) old age. Nature thus gives her broadest sanction to this indulgence, and we may well exclaim, with the poet
“O foolishness of men ! that lend their ears
To those budge doctors of the stoic fur,
Praising the lean and sallow abstinence." Children, in their innocence, are the greatest gluttons in the world, except old people perhaps. I have not examined the latter so closely; but neither one nor the other are slaves to that artificial refinement which throws a bar against their comforts: the first have not learned these qualms, and the latter forget them. Amidst all the joys of my early life, some of the happiest were those snatched by stealth in the
arder, the dairy, and the housekeeper's room; and I often taste in fancy the identical smack on my palate, which followed the surreptitious delights of some violated cream-bowl or pot of preserves. I appeal to all my candid readers—to all at least who had the good fortune of passing their years of youth in the country-who, with their brothers and sisters, (for there lay the great charm after all,) a joyous little knot of freebooters, have stolen into the orchard by a passage scratched through the white-thorn hedge, have lived hours entrenched in the turnip-field, or the lofty sanctuary of the bean-rows; sucked the newlaid eggs in the hen-house ; made puddings of raw peas with a paste of bread mixed up with pump-water, or river-water, or ditch-waterwhatever came first ;-lain listless under a gooseberry bush, nibbling the large, hairy green, or bursting red fruit, like young goats browsing on heath-blossoms; or stolen a march on the dairy-maid, and laughed at her from behind the hedge, when she found the cows had been milked. And then the blackberries—the crab-apples-the sloesthe
sop in the pan! But why raise in my readers these mouth-watering reminiscences? why conjure up a feast of memory and flow of recollections, scarcely less undefined and shadowy than those of reason or the soul ?
I am not a 'rery old man, but old enough to have grown garrulous and discursive-old enough to know that he who has eaten the bread of bitterness, and drunk the waters of disappointment, may be allowed the indulgence of a retrospect of whatever was of enjoyment. I therefore clain the privilege of dwelling awhile on my boyish days. Well do I remember when I thought the fate of Nebuchadnezzar by no means an unquestionable punishment ; when I calculated the delights of his liberty, ranging the pastures with the cattle, eating clover to his heart's content, rolling on the grass, splashing in the rivulets, jumping the hedges, and learning no lessons ! Thus balancing the phytivorous advantages of his degradation with the splendid miseries of his throne and greatness, I was very much tempted to consider him most worthy of pity when the term of his probation expired. But passing by the vapoury abstractions of my youthful mind, which led me into fanciful contemplations such as this, and turning to a less mighty personage than the last, I will regale my recollection with the picture of Old Edward, my father's butler. I have him this instant in my eye: his sleek hair combed nicely on his forehead, his rosy cheeks, carbuncled nose, licquorish lip-smacking smile, and true bon vivant glance, which measures the merit and tastes by anticipation every dish on the table. He had a noble protuberance of belly too, a real holiday rotundity, such as might be thought the legitimate consequence of earlier and better times, when “our ancestors ran Christmas day, New-year's day, and Twelfth-night, all into one, and kept the wassail-bowl flowing the whole time.” Such a man was Old Edward : the living epitome of good-nature and good-living, the breathing personification of enjoyment, the mortal type of merry-making, the Falstaff of real life, the very counterpart of Spenser's October,
-" Full of merrie glee,
Made him so full of frolic and of lust.” I verily believe that this old servant was the primary cause of my relishing, as I have done through life, the good things of life. He used to secrete, for me (and himself) the nicest imaginable tit-bits'; used often'and often to tip me his benevolent wink, as I passed the pantrydoor; and many were the moments that we spent there, in hail-fellowwell-met companionship, discussing the remains of tarts, pies, and puddings,
“ In many a bout
Of linked sweetness long drawn out.” His example was of one real benefit to me, however he had no selfishness in him, and he taught me to despise gluttony, for he never could eat for eating sake. He would sooner let his most delicate morsels rot in a crust of mouldiness than devour them alone.
I believe it is from regard for this poor fellow's memory that I am so fond of corpulence. I cry out continually with Cæsar, “ Give me the man that is fat!" I love the look of an alderman—a stage-coachman—the king's butler, and the king himself; because the very paunch of each and every of them seems to tell a round unvarnished tale of good fellowship. Yet I think poor Edward had more of the thing itself stamped on his countenance than any of them. He had not a wrinkle or careworn line on his cheeks or forehead.But enough of him! My heart and my eyes are full. Enough of myself too! I will quit my egotism, and speak generally.
What then, let me ask you, candid reader, what was the happiest hour of the day at school ? Not the dinner-hour, most assuredly-for we remember well what rough, tough stuff we had, all of us; little meat, and plenty of pudding—and such pudding! No, the happiest hour of the four and twenty was invariably that in which we skulked in the barn, or hay-loft, or a corner of the shrubbery, (two or three sworn friends,) and fell upon the purchase of our joint quotas of pocketmoney-some savoury sausages bought at the porkshop hard by-or a hot loaf (slipped in, for the fee of a penny, by our trusty and well'beloved cousin, the baker's boy) with a huge lump of butter, bursting in liquified luxuriousness through the yawning rents which we made in the smoking quartern. And if a pot of porter or bottle-ale washed down the feast !
Next to the butter and the baker's boy aforesaid, I believe I have (ego once more, but I cannot get on in the third person or second person, singular or plural)— I have to thank the poets for my real relish for the pleasures of the table. I have remarked that all of that tribe, whatever their language or their subject, have contrived some how or other to bring in, some where or other, the praise and recommendation of feasting. It was not till my after-years that I began to marvel, how the deuce these rhyming epicureans had that particular branch of imagination, so common and so forcible.
But now for the simple and self-evident delights of feasting. I will speak of it in its more elevated associations, as a raiser of the spirits and a warmer of the heart. I shall not press the well-known fact, that feasting has been in most ages and countries a sine quá non in all arrangements, religious, political, or amatory--whether sacrifices to the gods, coronation feasts, ministerial dinners, or wedding fites champêtres. I forbear to quote heathen authorities, and shall simply let the minds of my readers repose on the contemplation of the installation feast of an English archbishop, in the reign of one of our Edwards, when there was a consumption of 104 oxen, 1000 sheep, 2000 pigs, 104 peacocks, and 400 swans ! Neither shall I cite the poetry, even of scripture, for I shrin from the possibility of connecting it with a trivial subject; but I shall draw on the sublimest of profane writers, Milton—and hastily recal to my readers the reception which our first parents gave to the angel Raphael, in Paradise. They will remember that Eve was busied, on her angel's approach, preparing
For dinner savoury fruits, of taste to please
Of nectarous draughts between. I need not recapitulate the abundant bill of fare, containing all the delicious fruits “in coat rough or smooth rin'd,”
Whatever Earth, all-bearing mother, yields
In Pontus or the Punic coast;
Paradise Lost, for the rest of this truly pastoral scene :-the benevolence of the angel—the blended humility and dignity of Adam—the innocence of Eve, who at the table
Minister'd naked, and their flowing cups
With pleasant liquors crown'd. My motto for this article will be recognised as taken from the description of this exquisite repast. From that it will be seen how the greatest and most pious of bards looked upon the affected niceties of abstinence, and what a lesson of hospitality and enjoyment he wished to teach mankind; while it is certain that he himself practised the kindly humanities of social life ; for in his epistle to his friend Laurence, he jovially says,
What neat repast shall feast us light and choice,
Of attic taste, with wine, &c. The pleasures of the table adapt themselves to all situations and seasons, but may perhaps be best enjoyed in winter, when a good fire, a good dinner, good wine, and good company, form an assemblage of most surpassing delights. In the country, too, all this is better felt than in town, We have not so many distractions to interfere with our appetite or destroy it: small business, little politics, and no pastrycooks' shops—those glutton-fostering, dinner-spoiling receptacles, where the consumers of pies and patties remind one of the bevy of jolly, gossiping wenches" reproached by the fox in Sir Roger L'Estrange's fable, who “lay stuffing their guts with hens and capons, and not a word of the pudding !"
No, no, give me the real charms of country fare and a hearty welcome at holiday times, and let me see as much as possible the revival of old English hospitality,--full plates, bumper-toasts, hob-nobbing, and the great hall thrown wide open, when, as Ben Jonson wrote to Sir Robert Wroth,
“ The rout of rural folk come thronging in
(Their rudeness then is thought no sin),
their cares are drown'd.” It will be perceived that I despise all illustration drawn from turtlefeasts, Lord Mayor's days, and the like, loving more to dwell on the repasts of the country people. The pleasures of these most unsophisticated members of the community have been ever deeply involved in feasts and carousings; not in their excesses, but in their simple and moderate participation. I do not include in that class the wood-ranging party in the seventh book of Virgil, whose sharp-set appetites did not spare even the adorea liba, if we can believe the authority of Iülus, who exclaims Heus! etiam mensas cons
onsumimus," but which of us has not wished to have been placed alongside of the Shepherd's King, in Drayton's " Polyolbion ?"
“ In his gay baldric at his low grassy board,
With Hawns, curds, clouted cream, and country dainties stored ,
Quaffs syllabubs in cans."