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own brougham has anxieties about the stepping of his
horse, or the squaring of the groom's elbows, or a doubt
whether Jones's turn-out is not better ; or whether
something is not wrong in the springs; or whether he
shall have the brougham out if the night is rainy. They
always look tragical behind the glasses. A cab diner-out
has commonly some cares, lest his sense of justice should
be injured by the overcharge of the driver (these fellows
are not uncommonly exorbitant in their demands upon
gentlemen whom they set down at good houses) ; lest
the smell of tobacco left by the last occupants of the
vehicle (five medical students, let us say, who have
chartered the vehicle, and smoked cheroots from the
London University to the playhouse in the Haymarket)
should infest the clothes of Tom Lavender, who is going
to Lady Rosemary's ; lest straws should stick unobserved
to the glutinous lustre of his boots his shiny ones, and
he should appear in Dives's drawing-room like a poet



A WORD ABOUT DINNERS 173

with a tenui avena^ or like Mad Tom in the play. I
hope, my dear Bob, if a straw should ever enter a
drawing-room in the wake of your boot, you will not be
much disturbed in mind. Hark ye, in confidence : I

have seen * in a hack-cab. There is no harm in

employing one. There is no harm in anything natural,
any more.

I cannot help here parenthetically relating a story
which occurred in my own youth, in the year 1815, at
the time when I first made my own entree into society
(for everything must have a beginning, Bob ; and
though we have been gentlemen long before the Con-
queror, and have always consorted with gentlemen, yet
we had not always attained that haute volte of fashion
which has distinguished some of us subsequently) ; I
recollect, I say, in 1815, when the Marquis of Sweet-
bread was good enough to ask me and the late Mr.
Ruffles to dinner, to meet Prince Schwartzenberg and
the Hetman Platoff. Ruffles was a man a good deal
about town in those days, and certainly in very good
society.

I was myself a young one, and thought Ruffles was
rather inclined to patronise me; which I did not like.
* I would have you to know, Mr. Ruffles,' thought I,
c that, after all, a gentleman can but be a gentleman ;
that though we Browns have no handles to our names,
we are quite as well-bred as some folks who possess
those ornaments' and in fine, I determined to give him
a lesson. So when he called for me in the hackney-
coach at my lodgings in Swallow Street, and we had
driven under the porte-cochere of Sweetbread House,
where two tall and powdered domestics in the uniform
of the Sweetbreads, viz., a spinach-coloured coat, with
waistcoat and the rest of delicate yellow or melted-
butter colour, opened the doors of the hall what do you

* Mr. Brown's MS. here contains a name of such prodigious dignity out
of the ' P r-ge,' that we really do not dare to print it.

M



174 SKETCHES AND TRAVELS IN LONDON

think, sir, I did ? In the presence of these gentlemen,
who were holding on at the door, I offered to toss up
with Ruffles, head or tails, who should pay for the
coach ; and then purposely had a dispute with the poor
Jarvey about the fare. Ruffles's face of agony during
this transaction I shall never forget. Sir, it was like the
Laocoon. Drops of perspiration trembled on his pallid
brow, and he flung towards me looks of imploring terror
that would have melted an ogre. A better fellow than
Ruffles never lived he is dead long since, and I don't
mind owning to this harmless little deceit.

A person of some note a favourite Snob of mine I
am told, when he goes to dinner, adopts what he considers
a happy artifice, and sends his cab away at the corner of
the street ; so that the gentleman in livery may not
behold its number, or that the lord with whom he dines,
and about whom he is always talking, may not be
supposed to know that Mr. Smith came in a hack-cab.

A man who is troubled with a shame like this, Bob, is
unworthy of any dinner at all. Such a man must needs
be a sneak and a humbug, anxious about the effect which
he is to produce : uneasy in his mind : a donkey in a
lion's skin : a small pretender distracted by doubts and
frantic terrors of what is to come next. Such a man can
be no more at ease in his chair at dinner than a man is
in the fauteuil at the dentist's (unless indeed he go to
the admirable Mr. Gilbert in Suffolk Street, who is
dragged into this essay for the benefit of mankind alone,
and who, I vow, removes a grinder with so little pain,
that all the world should be made aware of him) a
fellow, I say, ashamed of the original from which he
sprung, of the cab in which he drives, awkward, therefore
affected and unnatural, can never hope or deserve to
succeed in society

The great comfort of the society of great folks is, that
they do not trouble themselves about your twopenny
little person, as smaller persons do, but take you for what



CUSTOMS OF THE DINNER-TABLE 175

you are a man kindly and good-natured, or witty and
sarcastic, or learned and eloquent, or a good raconteur^ or
a very handsome man (and in '15 some of the Browns
were but I am speaking of five-and-thirty years ago),
or an excellent gourmand and judge of wines or what
not. Nobody sets you so quickly at your ease as a fine
gentleman. I have seen more noise made about a
knight's lady than about the Duchess of Fitzbattleaxe
herself: and Lady Mountararat, whose family dates from
the Deluge, enters and leaves a room, with her daughters,
the lovely Ladies Eve and Lilith D'Arc, with much less
pretension and in much simpler capotes and what-do-you-
call-'ems, than Lady de Mogyns or Mrs. Shindy, who
quit an assembly in a whirlwind as it were, with
trumpets and alarums like a stage king and queen.

But my pen can run no further, for my paper is out,
and it is time to dress for dinner.



ON SOME OLD CUSTOMS OF THE
DINNER-TABLE

OF all the sciences which have made a progress in late
years, I think, dear Bob (to return to the subject from
which I parted with so much pleasure last week), that
the art of dinner-giving has made the most delightful and
rapid advances. Sir, I maintain, even now, with a
matured age and appetite, that the dinners of this
present day are better than those we had in our youth,
and I can't but be thankful at least once in every day
for this decided improvement in our civilisation. Those
who remember the usages of five-and-twenty years
back will be ready, I am sure, to acknowledge this
progress. I was turning over at the Club yesterday a
queer little book written at that period, which, I believe,



176 SKETCHES AND TRAVELS IN LONDON

had some authority at the time, and which records some
of those customs which obtained, if not in good London
society, at least in some companies, and parts of our
islands. Sir, many of these practices seem as antiquated
now as the usages described in the accounts of Homeric
feasts, or Queen Elizabeth's banquets and breakfasts.
Let us be happy to think they are gone.

The book in question is called ' The Maxims of Sir
Morgan O'Doherty,' a queer baronet, who appears to
have lived in the first quarter of the century, and whose
opinions the antiquarian may examine, not without
profit a strange barbarian indeed it is, and one wonders
that such customs should ever have been prevalent in
our country.

Fancy such opinions as these having ever been holden
by any set of men among us. Maxim 2. * It is laid
down in fashionable life that you must drink champagne
after white cheeses, water after red. . . . Ale is to be
avoided, in case a wet night is to be expected, as should
cheese also.' Maxim 4 * A fine singer, after dinner, is
to be avoided, for he is a great bore, and stops the
wine. . . . One of the best rules (to put him down)
is to applaud him most vociferously as soon as he has
sung the first verse, as if all was over, and say to the
gentleman farthest from you at table that you admire
the conclusion of this song very much.' Maxim 25.
1 You meet people occasionally who tell you it is bad
taste to give champagne at dinner port and Teneriffe
being such superior drinking,' &c. &c. I am copying
out of a book printed three months since, describing
ways prevalent when you were born. Can it be possible,
I say, that England was ever in such a state ?

Was it ever a maxim in 'fashionable life' that you
were to drink champagne after white cheeses? What
was that maxim in fashionable life about drinking and
about cheese ? The maxim in fashionable life is to
drink what you will. It is too simple now to trouble



CUSTOMS OF THE DINNER-TABLE 177

itself about wine or about cheese. Ale again is to be
avoided, this strange Doherty says, if you expect a wet
night and in another place he says ' the English drink
a pint of porter at a draught.' What English ? gracious
powers ! Are we a nation of coalheavers ? Do we
ever have a wet night ! Do we ever meet people
occasionally who say that to give champagne at dinner
is bad taste, and that port and Teneriffe are such
superior drinking ? Fancy Teneriffe, my dear boy I
say fancy a man asking you to drink Teneriffe at
dinner ; the mind shudders at it he might as well
invite you to swallow the Peak.

And then consider the maxim about the fine singer
who is to be avoided. What ! was there a time in most
people's memory, when folks at dessert began to sing ?
I have heard such a thing at a tenants' dinner in the
country ; but the idea of a fellow beginning to perform
a song at a dinner-party in London fills my mind with
terror and amazement ; and I picture to myself any
table which I frequent, in Mayfair, in Bloomsbury, in
Belgravia, or where you will, and the pain which would
seize upon the host and the company if some wretch
were to commence a song.

We have passed that savage period of life. We do
not want to hear songs from guests, we have the songs
done for us ; as we don't want our ladies to go down
into the kitchen and cook the dinner any more. The
cook can do it better and cheaper. We do not desire
feats of musical or culinary skill but simple, quiet, easy,
unpretending conversation.

In like manner, there was a practice once usual, and
which still lingers here and there, of making com-
plimentary speeches after dinner : that custom is happily
almost entirely discontinued. Gentlemen do not meet
to compliment each other profusely, or to make fine
phrases. Simplicity gains upon us daily. Let us be
thankful that the florid style is disappearing.



178 SKETCHES AND TRAVELS IN LONDON

I once shared a bottle of sherry with a commercial
traveller at Margate, who gave a toast or a sentiment as
he filled every glass. He would not take his wine
without this queer ceremony before it. I recollect one
of his sentiments, which was as follows : * Year is to 'cr
that doubles our joys, and divides our sorrows I give
you woman, sir,' and we both emptied our glasses.
These lumbering ceremonials are passing out of our
manners, and were found only to obstruct our free
intercourse. People can like each other just as much
without orations, and be just as merry without being
forced to drink against their will.

And yet there are certain customs to which one clings
still ; for instance, the practice of drinking wine with
your neighbour, though wisely not so frequently
indulged in as of old, yet still obtains, and I trust will
never be abolished. For though, in the old time, when
Mr. and Mrs. Fogy had sixteen friends to dinner, it
became an unsupportable coruie for Mr. F. to ask sixteen
persons to drink wine, and a painful task for Mrs. Fogy
to be called upon to bow to ten gentlemen, who desired
to have the honour to drink her health, yet, employed
in moderation, that ancient custom of challenging your
friends to drink is a kindly and hearty old usage, and
productive of many most beneficial results.

I have known a man of a modest and reserved turn
(just like your old uncle, dear Bob, as no doubt you
were going to remark), when asked to drink by the
host, suddenly lighten up, toss off his glass, get confidence,
and begin to talk right and left. He wanted but the
spur to set him going. It is supplied by the butler at
the back of his chair.

It sometimes happens, again, that a host's conversa-
tional powers are not brilliant. I own that I could
point out a few such whom I have the honour to name
among my friends gentlemen, in fact, who wisely hold
their tongues, because they have nothing to say which is



CUSTOMS OF THE DINNER-TABLE 179

worth the hearing or the telling, and properly confine
themselves to the carving of the mutton and the order-
ing of the wines. Such men, manifestly, should always
be allowed, nay encouraged, to ask their guests to take
wine. In putting that question, they show their good
will, and cannot possibly betray their mental deficiency.
For example, let us suppose Jones, who has been perfectly
silent all dinner-time, oppressed, doubtless, by that awful
Lady Tiara, who sits swelling on his right hand,
suddenly rallies, singles me out, and with a loud cheer-
ing voice cries, ' Brown my boy, a glass of wine.' I
reply, * With pleasure, my dear Jones.' He responds as
quick as thought, * Shall it be hock or champagne,
Brown ? ' I mention the wine which I prefer. He
calls to the butler, and says, c Some champagne or hock '
(as the case may be, for I don't choose to commit
myself), 'some champagne or hock to Mr. Brown ;'
and finally he says, ' Good health ! ' in a pleasant tone.
Thus you see, Jones, though not a conversationist, has
had the opportunity of making no less than four observa-
tions, which, if not brilliant or witty, are yet manly,
sensible, and agreeable. And I defy any man in the
metropolis, be he the most accomplished, the most
learned, the wisest, or the most eloquent, to say more
than Jones upon a similar occasion.

If you have had a difference with a man, and are
desirous to make it up, how pleasant it is to take wine
with him. Nothing is said but that simple phrase
which has just been uttered by my friend Jones ; and
yet it means a great deal. The cup is a symbol of
reconciliation. The other party drinks up your good
will as you accept his token of returning friendship and
thus the liquor is hallowed which Jones has paid for : and
I like to think that the grape which grew by Rhine or
Rhone was born and ripened under the sun there, so as
to be the means of bringing two good fellows together.
I once heard the head physician of a Hydropathic



i8o SKETCHES AND TRAVELS IN LONDON

establishment on the sunny banks of the first-named
river, give the health of His Majesty the King of Prussia,
and, calling upon the company to receive that august
toast with a * donnerndes Lebehoch,' toss off a bumper
of sparkling water. It did not seem to me a genuine
enthusiasm. No, no, let us have toast and wine, not
toast and water. It was not in vain that grapes grew on
the hills of Father Rhine.

One seldom asks ladies now to take wine, except
when, in a confidential whisper to the charming creature
whom you have brought down to dinner, you humbly
ask permission to pledge her, and she delicately touches
her glass, with a fascinating smile, in reply to your
glance, a smile, you rogue, which goes to your heart.
I say, one does not ask ladies any more to take wine :
and I think, this custom being abolished, the contrary
practice should be introduced, and that the ladies should
ask the gentlemen. I know one who did, une grande
dame de par le monde, as honest Brantome phrases it, and
from whom I deserved no such kindness ; but, sir, the
effect of that graceful act of hospitality was such, that
she made a grateful slave for ever of one who was an
admiring rebel previously, who would do anything to
show his gratitude, and who now knows no greater
delight than when he receives a card which bears her
respected name.*

A dinner of men is well now and again, but few well-
regulated minds relish a dinner without women. There
are some wretches who, I believe, still meet together for
the sake of what is called c the spread,' who dine each
other round and round, and have horrid delights in turtle,
early peas, and 'other culinary luxuries but I pity the
condition as I avoid the banquets of those men. The
only substitute for ladies at dinners, or consolation for
want of them, is smoking. Cigars, introduced with

* Upon my word, Mr. Brown, this ii too broad a hint. Punch.



GREAT AND LITTLE DINNERS 181

the coffee, do, if anything can, make us forget the
absence of the other sex. But what a substitute is that
for her who doubles our joys, and divides our griefs for
woman ! as my friend the Traveller said.



GREAT AND LITTLE DINNERS

IT has been said, dear Bob, that I have seen the
mahoganies of many men, and it is with no small feel-
ing of pride and gratitude that I am enabled to declare
also, that I hardly remember in my life to have had a bad
dinner. Would to Heaven that all mortal men could
say likewise ! Indeed, and in the presence of 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, brings 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 every-
thing 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



182 SKETCHES AND TRAVELS IN LONDON

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 him 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,
entrees, champagne, and so forth. I own myself to being
no better nor worse than my neighbours 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 to drink those wines every
day of my life. 1 am as bad as my neighbours : but
why are we so bad, I ask ? why are we not more
reasonable ?



GREAT AND LITTLE DINNERS 183

If we receive very great men or ladies at our houses,
I will lay a wager that they will select mutton and goose-
berry tart for their dinner : forsaking the entries 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 pastrycook 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 nowadays, 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 pastrycook, whom they enrich. Everybody enter-
tains 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 ; a frog by nature, I am an
insane silly creature to attempt to swell myself to the
size of the ox, my neighbour. Oh that I could establish
in the middle classes of London an Anti-entree and Anti-
Dessert movement ! I would go down to posterity not
ill deserving 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,



184 SKETCHES AND TRAVELS IN LONDON

refused to take sugar, let us get up a society which shall
decline to eat dessert and made dishes.*

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 has 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 tite. 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 splendours, 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 neighbour and neighbouress, 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 honour) to the lady at the opposite
corner at the right of the host. If you have a joke or a

* Mr Brown here enumeratet three entrees, which he confesses he can-not
resist, and likewise preserved cherries at dessert : but the principle is good,
though the man is weak.



GREAT AND LITTLE DINNERS 185

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



Online LibraryWilliam Makepeace ThackerayComplete works (Volume 22) → online text (page 14 of 31)