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so much want and misery as pass under our ken daily, it is with a feeling of something like shame and humiliation that I make the avowal; but I have robbed no man of his meal that I know of, and am here speaking of very humble as well as very grand banquets, the which I maintain are, when there is a sufficiency, almost always good.
Yes, all dinners are good, from a shilling upwards. The plate of boiled beef which Mary, the neat-handed waitress, hrings or used to bring you in the Old Bailey – I say used, for, ah me! I speak of years long past, when the cheeks of Mary were as blooming as the carrots which she brought up with the beef, and she may be a grandmother by this time, or a pallid ghost, far out of the regions of beef; - from the shilling dinner of beef and carrots to the grandest banquet of the season everything is good. There are no degrees in eating. I mean that mutton is as good as venison beefsteak, if you are hungry, as good as turtle – bottled ale, if you like it, to the full as good as champagne ; there is no delicacy in the world which Monsieur Francatelli or Monsieur Soyer can produce, which I believe to be better than toasted cheese. I have seen a dozen of epicures at a grand table forsake every French and Italian delicacy for boiled leg of pork and pease-pudding. You can but be hungry, and eat and be happy.
What is the moral I would deduce from this truth, if truth it be? I would have a great deal more hospitality practised than is common among us more hospitality and less show. Properly considered, the quality of dinner is twice blest ; it blesses bim that gives, and him that takes : a dinner with friendliness is the best of all friendly meetings — a pompous entertainment where no love is, the least satisfactory.
Why, then, do we of the middle classes persist in giving entertainments so costly, and beyond our means? This will be read by many mortals, who are aware that they live on leg of mutton themselves, or worse than this, have what are called meat teas, than which I cannot conceive a more odious custom ; that ordinarily they are very sober in their way of life; that they like in reality that leg of mutton better than the condiments of that doubtful French artist who comes from the pastrycook's, and presides over the mysterious stewpans in the kitchen ; why, then, on their company dinners, should they flare up in the magnificent manner in which they universally do?
Everybody has the same dinner in London, and the same soup, saddle of mutton, boiled fowls and tongue, entrées, champagne, and so forth. I own myself to being no better nor worse than my neighbors in this respect, and rush off to the confectioners' for sweets, &c.; hire sham butlers and attendants; have a fellow going round the table with still and dry champagne, as if I knew his name, and it was my custom drink those wines every day of my life. I am as bad as my neighbors : but why are we so bad, I ask?— why are we not more reasonable?
If we receive very great men or ladies at our houses, I will lay a wager that they will select mutton and gooseberry tart for their dinner: forsaking the entrées which the men in white Berlin gloves are handing round in the Birmingham plated dishes. Asking lords and ladies, who have great establishments of their own, to French dinners and delicacies, is like inviting a grocer to a meal of figs, or a pastry-cook to a banquet of raspberry tarts. They have had enough of them. And great folks, if they like you, take no count of your feasts, and grand preparations, and can but eat mutton like men.
One cannot have sumptuary laws now-a-days, or restrict the gastronomical more than any other trade : but I wish a check could be put upon our dinner extravagances by some means, and am confident that the pleasures of life would greatly be increased by moderation. A man might give two dinners for one, according to the present pattern. Half your money is swallowed up in a dessert, which nobody wants in the least, and which I always grudge to see arriving at the end of plenty. Services of culinary kickshaws swallow up money, and give nobody pleasure, except the pastry-cook, whom they enrich. Every: body entertains as if he had three or four thousand a year.
Some one with a voice potential should cry out against this overwhelming luxury. What is mere decency in a very wealthy man is absurdity — nay, wickedness in a poor one : à frog by nature, I am an insane, silly creature, to attempt to swell myself to the size of the ox, my neighbor. Oh, that I could establish in the middle classes of London an Anti-entrée and Anti-Dessert movement! I would go down to posterity not illdeserving of my country in such a case, and might be ranked among the social benefactors. Let us have a meeting at Willis's Rooms, Ladies and Gentlemen, for the purpose, and get a few philanthropists, philosophers, and bishops, or so, to speak! As people, in former days, refused to take sugar, let us get up : society which shall decline to eat dessert and made dishes.*
* Mr Brown here enumerates three entrées, which he confesses he cannot resist, and likewise preserved cherries at dessert: but the principle is good, though the man is week.
In this way, I say, every man who now gives a dinner might give two; and take in a host of poor friends and relatives, who are now excluded from his hospitality. For dinners are given mostly in the middle classes by way of revenge; and Mr. and Mrs. Thompson ask Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, because the latter have asked them. A man at this rate who gives four dinners of twenty persons in the course of the season, each dinner costing him something very near upon thirty pounds, receives in return, we will say, forty dinners from the friends whom he bas himself invited. That is, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson pay a hundred and twenty pounds, as do all their friends, for forty-four dinners of which they partake. So that they may calculate that every time they dine with their respective friends, they pay about twenty-eight shillings per tête. What a sum this is, dear Johnson, for you and me to spend upon our waistcoats! What does poor Mrs. Johnson care for all these garish splendors, who has had her dinner at two with her dear children in the nursery? Our custom is not hospitality or pleasure, but to be able to cut off a certain number of acquaintance from the dining list.
One of these dinners of twenty, again, is scarcely ever pleasant as far as regards society. You may chance to get near a pleasant neighbor and neighboress, when your corner of the table is possibly comfortable. But there can be no general conversation. Twenty people cannot engage together in talk. You would want a speaking-trumpet to communicate from your place by the lady of the house (for I wish to give my respected reader the place of honor) to the lady at the opposite corner at the right of the host. If you have a joke or a mot to make, you cannot utter it before such a crowd. A joke is nothing which can only get a laugh out of a third part of the company. The most eminent wags of my acquaintance are dumb in these great parties; and your raconteur or story-teller, if he is prudent, will invariably hold his tongue. For what can be more odious than to be compelled to tell a story at the top of your voice, to be called on to repeat it for the benefit of a distant person who has only heard a part of the anecdote? There are stories of mine which would fail utterly, were they narrated in any but an undertone; others in which I laugh, am overcome by emotion, and so forth what I call my intimes stories. Now it is impossible to do justice to these except in the midst of a general hush, and in a small circle; so that I am commonly silent. And as no anecdote is positively new in a party of twenty, the chances are so much against you that somebody should have heard the story before, in which case you are done.
In these large assemblies, a wit, then, is of no use, and does not have a chance: a raconteur does not get a fair hearing, and both of these real ornaments of a dinner-table are thus utterly thrown away:
I have seen Jack Jolliffe, who can keep a table of eight or ten persons in a roar of laughter for four hours, remain utterly mute in a great entertainment, smothered by the numbers and the dowager on each side of him : and Tom Yarnold, the most eminent of conversationists, sit through a dinner as dumb as the footman behind him. They do not care to joke, unless there is a sympathizing society, and prefer to be silent rather than throw their good things away.
What I would recommend, then, with all my power, is, that dinners should be more simple, more frequent, and should contain fewer persons. Ten is the utmost number that a man of moderate means should ever invite to his table; although in a great house, managed by a great establishment, the case may be different. A man and woman may look as if they were glad to see ten people : but in a great dinner they abdicate their position as host and hostess, are mere creatures in the hands of the sham butlers, sham footmen, and tall confectioners' emissaries who crowd the room, and are guests at their own table, where they are helped last, and of which they occupy the top and bottom. I have marked many a lady watching with timid glances the large artificial major-domo, who officiates for that night only, and thought to myself, “ Ah, my dear madam, how much happier might we all be if there were but half the splendor, half the made dishes, and half the company assembled."
If any dinner-giving person who reads this shall be induced by my representations to pause in his present career, to cut of some of the luxuries of his table, and instead of giving one enormous feast to twenty persons to have three simple dinners for ten, my dear Nephew will not have been addressed in vain. Everybody will be bettered ; and while the guests will be better pleased, and more numerous, the host will actually be left with money in his pocket.
ON LOVE, MARRIAGE, MEN, AND WOMEN.
I. BOB Brown is in love, then, and undergoing the common lot! And so, my dear lad, you are this moment enduring the delights and tortures, the jealousy and wakefulness, the longing and raptures, the frantic despair and elation, attendant upon the passion of love. In the year 1812 (it was, before I contracted my alliance with your poor dear Aunt, who never caused me any of the disquietudes above enumerated,) I myself went through some of those miseries and pleasures which you now, O my Nephew, are enduring. I pity and sympathize with you. I am an old cock now, with a feeble strut and a faltering crow. But I was young once : and remember the time very well. Since that time, amavi amantes : if I see two young people happy, I like it, as I like to see children enjoying a pantomime. I have been the confidant of numbers of honest fellows, and the secret watcher of scores of little pretty intrigues in life. Miss Y., I know why you go so eagerly to balls now, and Mr. Z., what has set you off dancing at your mature age. Do you fancy, Mrs. Alpha, that I believe you walk every day at half-past eleven by the Serpentine for nothing, and that I don't see young O'Mega in Rotten Row?.. And so, my poor Bob, you are shot.
If you lose the object of your desires, the loss won't kill you; you may set that down as a certainty. If you win, it is possible that you will be disappointed ; that point also is to be considered. But hit or miss, good luck or bad — I should be sorry, my honest Bob, that thou didst not undergo the malady. Every man ought to be in love a few times in his life, and to have a smart attack of the fever. You are the better for it when it is over: the better for your misfortune if you endure it with a manly heart; how much the better for success if you win it and a good wife into the bargain! Ah! Bob — there is a stone in the burying-ground at Funchal which I often and often think of
- many hopes and passions lie beneath it, along with the fairest and gentlest creature in the world— it's not Mrs. Brown that lies there. After life's fitful fever, she sleeps in Marylebone burying-ground, poor dear soul! Emily Blenkinsop might have been Mrs. Brown, but but let us change the subject.
Of course you will take advice, my dear Bob, about your