« AnteriorContinuar »
DINNER REAL AND REPUTED.
GREAT misconceptions have always prevailed about the Roman dinner. Dinner [cona] was the only meal which the Romans as a nation took. It was no accident, but arose out of their whole social economy. This we shall show by running through the history of a Roman day. Ridentem dicere verum quid vetat? And the course of this review will expose one or two important truths in ancient Political Economy which have been wholly overlooked.
With the lark it was that the Roman rose. Not that the earliest lark rises so early in Latium as the earliest lark in England; that is, during summer: but then, on the other hand, neither does it ever rise so late. The Roman citizen was stirring with the dawn which, allowing for the shorter longestday and longer shortest-day of Rome, you may call about four in summerabout seven in winter. Why did he do this? Because he went to bed at a very early hour. But why did he do that? By backing in this way, we shall surely back into the very well of truth: always, if it is possible, let us have the pourquoi of the pour quoi. The Roman went to bed early for two special reasons. 1st, Because in Rome, which had been built for a martial destiny, every habit of life had reference to the usages of war.Every citizen, if he were not a mere proletarian animal kept at the public cost, held himself a sort of soldierelect: the more noble he was, the more was his liability to military service in short, all Rome, and at all times, was consciously "in procinct." Now it was a principle of ancient warfare, that every hour of daylight had a triple worth, if valued against hours of darkness. That was one reason-a reason suggested by the understanding.
But there was a second reason, far more remarkable; and this was a reason dictated by a blind necessity. Is is an important fact, that this planet on which we live, this little industrious earth of ours, has developed her wealth by slow
stages of increase. She was far from being the rich little globe in Cæsar's days that she is at present. The earth in our days is incalculably richer, as a whole, than in the time of Charlemagne: at that time she was richer, by many a million of acres, than in the era of Augustus. In that Augustan era we descry a clear belt of cultivation, averaging about 600 miles in depth, running in a ring fence about the Mediterranean. This belt, and no more, was in decent cultivation. Beyond that belt, there was only a wild Indian cultivation. At present what a difference! We have that very belt, but much richer, all things considered æquatis æquandis, than in the Roman era. The reader must not look to single cases, as that of Egypt or other parts of Africa, but take the whole collectively. On that scheme of valuation, we have the old Roman belt, the Mediterranean riband not much tarnished, and we have all the rest of Europe to boot-or, speaking in scholars' language, as a lucro pona
We say nothing of remoter gains. Such being the case, our mother, the earth, being (as a whole) so incomparably poorer, could not in the Pagan era support the expense of maintaining great empires in cold latitudes. Her purse would not reach that cost. Wherever she undertook in those early ages to rear man in great abundance, it must be where nature would consent to work in partnership with herself; where warmth was to be had for nothing; where clothes were not so entirely indispensable but that a ragged fellow might still keep himself warm; where slight shelter might serve; and where the soil, if not absolutely richer in reversionary wealth, was more easily cultured. Nature must come forward liberally, and take a number of shares in every new joint-stock concern before it could move. Man, therefore, went to bed early in those ages, simply because his worthy mother earth could not afford him candles. She, good old lady, (or good young lady, for geolo
*“In procinct.”" Milton's translation (somewhere in The Paradise Regained) of the technical phrase "in procinctu."
gists know not whether she is in that stage of her progress which corresponds to grey hairs, or to infancy, orto "a certain age,"]-she, good lady, would certainly have shuddered to hear any of her nations asking for candles. "Candles!" She would have said, "Who ever heard of such a thing? and with so much excellent daylight running to waste, as I have provided gratis! What will the wretches want next?"
The daylight, furnished gratis, was certainly "neat," and "undeniable" in its quality, and quite sufficient for all purposes that were honest. Seneca, even in his own luxurious period, called those men " lucifuge," and by other ugly names, who lived chiefly by candle-light. None but rich and luxurious men, nay, even amongst these, none but idlers did live much by candle-light. An immense majority of men in Rome never lighted a candle, unless sometimes in the early dawn. And this custom of Rome was the custom also of all nations that lived round the great pond of the Mediterranean. In Athens, Egypt, Palestine, Asia Minor, every where, the ancients went to bed, like good boys, from seven to nine o'clock.* The Turks and other people, who have succeeded to the stations and the habits of the ancients, do so at this day.
The Roman, therefore, who saw no joke in sitting round a table in the
dark, went off to bed as the darkness
Being up then, and stirring not long after the lark, what mischief did the Roman go about first? Now-a-days, he would have taken a pipe or a cigar. But, alas for the ignorance of the poor heathen creatures! they had nei ther one nor the other. In this point, we must tax our mother earth with being really too stingy. In the case of the candles, we approve of her parsimony. Much mischief is brewed by candle-light. But, it was coming it too strong to allow no tobacco. Many a wild fellow in Rome, your Gracchi, Syllas, Catilines, would not have played "h- and Tommy" in the way they did, if they could have soothed their angry stomachs with a cigar -a pipe has intercepted many an evil scheme. But the thing is past helping now. At Rome, you must do as they does" at Rome. So, after shaving, (supposing the age of the Barbati to be passed)-what is the first business that our Roman will undertake? Forty to one he
"Geologists know not."-Observe, reader, we are not at all questioning the Scriptural Chronology of the earth as a habitation for man, for on the pre-human earth Scripture is silent: not upon the six thousand years does our doubt revolve, but upon a very different thing, viz. to what age in man these six thousand years correspond by analogy in a planet. In man the sixtieth part is a very venerable age. But as to a planet, as to our little earth, instead of arguing dotage, six thousand years may have scarcely carried her beyond babyhood. Some people think she is cutting her first teeth; some think her in her teens. But seriously it is a very interesting problem. Do the sixty centuries of our earth imply youth, maturity, or dotage?
Every where the ancients went to bed, like good boys, from seven to nine o'clock.— As we are perfectly serious, we must beg the reader, who fancies any joke in all this, to consider what an immense difference it must have made to the earth, considered as a steward of her own resources-whether great nations, in a period when their resources were so feebly developed, did, or did not, for many centuries, require candles; and, we may add, fire. The five heads of human expenditure are,-1, food; 2, Shelter; 3, Clothing; 4, Fuel; 5, Light. All were pitched on a lower scale in the Pagan era: and the two last were almost banished from ancient housekeeping. What a great relief this must have been to our good mother the earth! who, at first, was obliged to request of her children that they would settle round the Mediterranean. She could not even afford them water, unless they would come and fetch it themselves out of a common tank, or cistern,
is a poor man, born to look upwards to his fellow-men and not to look down upon any body but slaves. He goes, therefore, to the palace of some grandee, some top-sawyer of the Senatorian order. This great man, for all his greatness, has turned out even sooner than himself. For he also has had no candles and no cigars; and he well knows, that before the sun looks into his portals, all his halls will be overflowing and buzzing with the matin susurrus of courtiers - the 66 mane salutantes.' "It is as much as his popularity is worth to absent himself, or to keep people waiting. But surely, the reader may think, this poor man he might keep waiting. No, he might not; for, though poor, being a citizen, he is a gentleman. That was the consequence of keeping slaves. Wherever there is a class of slaves, he that enjoys the jus suffragii (no matter how poor) is a gentleman. The true Latin word for a gentleman is ingenuus—a freeman and the son of a freeman.
Yet even here there were distinctions. Under the Emperors, the courtiers were divided into two classes; with respect to the superior class, it was said of the sovereign-that he saw them, (videbat :) with respect to the other that he was seen, (" videbatur.") Even Plutarch mentions it as a common boast in his times, has dev Bariλsus-Cæsar is in the habit of seeing me; or, as a common plea for evading a suit, έτερες δρᾳ μαλλον—Iam sorry to say he is more inclined to look upon others. And this usage derived itself (mark that well!) from the republican era. The aulic spirit was propagated by the Empire, but from a republican root.
Having paid his court, you will suppose that our friend comes home to breakfast. Not at all: no such discovery as "breakfast" had then been made breakfast was not invented for many centuries after that.
have always admired, and always shall admire, as the very best of all human stories, Charles Lamb's account of the origin of roast pig in China. Ching
Ping, it seems, had suffered his father's house to be burned down: the outhouses were burned along with the house and in one of these the pigs by accident were roasted to a turn. Memorable were the results for all future China and future civilisation. Ping, who (like all China beside) had hitherto eaten his pig raw, now for the first time tasted it in a state of torrefaction. Of course he made his peace with his father by a part (tradition says a leg) of the new dish. The father was so astounded with the discovery, that he burned his house down once a-year for the sake of coming at an annual banquet of roast pig. A curious prying sort of fellow, one Chang Pang, got to know of this. He also burned down a house with a pig in it, and had his eyes opened. secret was ill kept. The discovery spread. Many great conversions were made. Houses were blazing in every part of the Celestial Empire. The insurance offices took the matter up. One Chong Pong, detected in the very act of shutting up a pig in his drawingroom, and then firing a train, was indicted on a charge of arson. The chief-justice of Pekin, on that occasion, requested an officer of the court to hand him a piece of the roast pig, the corpus delicti; for pure curiosity led him to taste: but within two days after it was observed that his lordship's town-house was burned down. short, all China apostatized to the new faith; and it was not until some centuries had passed, that a great genius arose, who established the second era in the history of roast pig, by showing that it could be had without burning down a house.
No such genius had yet arisen in Rome. Breakfast was not suspected. No prophecy, no type of breakfast had been published. In fact, it took as much time and research to arrive at that great discovery as at the Copernican system. True it is, reader, that you have heard of such a word as jentaculum; and your dictionary translates that old heathen word by the Chris
"The mane salutantes:"-There can be no doubt that the levees of modern princes and ministers have been inherited from this ancient usage of Rome; one which belonged to Rome republican, as well as Rome imperial. The fiction in our modern practice is that we wait upon the levé, or rising of the prince. In France, at one era, this fiction was realized: the courtiers did really attend the king's dressing And, as to the queen even up to the Revolution, Marie Antoinette, almost from ne cessity, gave audience at her toilette.
tian word breakfast. But dictionaries, one and all, are dull deceivers. Between jentaculum and breakfast the differences are as wide as between a horse-chestnut and chestnut horse; differences in the time when, in the place where, in the manner how, but pre-eminently in the thing which.
Galen is a good authority upon such a subject, since if (like other Pagans) he ate no breakfast himself, in some sense he may be called the cause of breakfast to other men, by treating of those things which could safely be taken upon an empty stomach. As to the time, he (like many other authors) says, wigi Teitny, п (To μangorsgov) WE TETASTAY, about the third, or at farthest about the fourth hour and so exact is he, that he assumes the day to lie exactly between six and six o'clock, and to be divided into thirteen equal portions. So the time will be a few minutes before nine, or a few minutes before ten, in the forenoon. That seems fair enough. But it is not time in respect to its location that we are so much concerned with, as time in respect to its duration. Now, heaps of authorities take it for granted, that you are not to sit down: you are to stand: and as to the place, that any place will do: "any corner of the forum," says Galen, "any corner that you fancy" which is like referring a man for his salle à manger to Westminster Hall or Fleet Street. Augustus, in a letter still surviving, tells us that he jentabat, or took his jentaculum in his carriage; now in a wheel car. riage, (in essedo,) now in a litter or palanquin (in lecticâ.) This careless and disorderly way as to time and place, and other circumstances of haste, sufficiently indicate the quality of the meal you are to expect. Already you are "sagacious of your quarry from so far." Not that we would presume, excellent reader, to liken you to Death, or to insinuate that you are "a grim feature." But would it not make a saint "grim" to hear of such preparations for the morning meal? And then to hear of such consummations as panis siccus, dry bread; or, (if the learned reader thinks it will taste better in Greek,) agros Engos! And what
may this word dry happen to mean? "Does it mean stale bread?" says Salmasius." Shall we suppose," says he, in querulous words, "molli et recenti opponi," and from that antithesis conclude it to be, "durum et non recens coctum, eoque sicciorem ? Hard and stale, and for that reason the more arid! Not quite so bad as that, we hope. Or again" siccum pro biscocto, ut hodie vocamus, sumemus ?” * By hodie Salmasius means, amongst his countrymen of France, where biscoctus is verbatim reproduced in the word bis (twice) cuit, (baked ;) whence our own biscuit. Biscuit might do very well, could we be sure that it was cabin biscuit: but Salmasius argues that in this case he takes it to mean "buccellatum, qui est panis nauticus;" that is, the ship company's biscuit, broken with a sledge hammer. In Greek, for the benefit again of the learned reader, it is termed diugos, indicating that it has passed twice under the action of fire.
"Well," you say, "no matter if it had passed fifty times—and through the fires of Moloch; only let us have this biscuit such as it is." In good faith, then, fasting reader, you are not likely to see much more than you have seen. It is a very Barmecide feast, we do assure you-this same "jentaculum; at which abstinence and patience are much more exercised than the teeth; faith and hope are the chief graces cultivated; together with that species of the magnificum which is founded on the ignotum. Even this biscuit was allowed in the most limited quantities: for which reason it is that the Greeks called this apology for a meal by the name of Benziouos, a word formed (as many words were in the Post-Augustan ages) from a Latin word-viz., buccea, a mouthful; not literally such, but so much as a polished man could allow himself to put into his mouth at once. "We took a mouthful," says Sir William Waller, the Parliamentary general, "took a mouthful; paid our reckoning; mounted; and were off." But there Sir William means, by his plausible" mouthful," something very much beyond either nine or nine
* "Or again, siccum pro biscocto sumemus?'"-It is odd enough that a scholar so complete as Salinasius, whom nothing ever escapes, should have overlooked so obvious an alternative as that of siccus meaning without opsonium-Scoticè, without "kitchen."
teen ordinary quantities of that deno. mination, whereas the Roman "jentaculum" was literally such; and, accordingly, one of the varieties under which the ancient vocabularies express this model of evanescent quantities is gustatio, a mere tasting; and again it is called by another variety, gustus, a mere taste: [whence by the usual suppression of the s, comes the French word for a collation or luncheon, viz. gouter.] Speaking of his uncle, Pliny the Younger says " Post solem ple. rumque lavabatur: deinde gustabat; dormiebat minimum; mox, quasi alio die, studebat in cœnæ tempus.' ""After taking the air he bathed ; after that he broke his fast on a bit of biscuit, and took a very slight siesta: which done, as if awaking to a new day, he set in regularly to his studies, and pursued them to dinner-time." Gustabat here meant that nondescript meal which arose at Rome when jentaculum and prandium were fused into one, and that only a taste or mouthful of biscuit, as we shall show farther on.
Possibly, however, most excellent reader, like some epicurean traveller, who, in crossing the Alps, finds himself weather-bound at St Bernard's on Ash-Wednesday, you surmise a remedy: you descry some opening from "the loopholes of retreat," through which a few delicacies might be insinuated to spread verdure on this arid desert of biscuit. Casuistry can do much. A dead hand at casuistry has often proved more than a match for Lent with all his quarantines. But sorry we are to say that, in this case, no relief is hinted at in any ancient author. A grape or two, (not a bunch of grapes,) a raisin or two, a date, an olive-these are the whole amount of relief* which the chancery of the Roman kitchen granted in such cases. All things here hang together, and prove each other; the time, the place, the mode, the thing. Well might man eat standing, or eat in public, such a trifle as this. Go home to such a breakfast as this! You would as soon think of ordering a cloth to be laid in order to eat a peach, or of asking a
friend to join you in an orange. No man makes "two bites of a cherry." So let us pass on to the other stages of the day. Only in taking leave of this morning stage, throw your eyes back with us, Christian reader, upon this truly heathen meal, fit for idolatrous dogs like your Greeks and your Romans; survey through the vista of ages, that thrice-cursed biscuit, with half a fig, perhaps, by way of garnish, and a huge hammer by its side, to secure the certainty of mastication, by previous comminution. Then turn
your eyes to a Christian breakfast hot rolls, eggs, coffee, beef; but down, down, rebellious visions: we need say no more! You, reader, like ourselves, will breathe a malediction on the classical era, and thank your stars for making you a Romanticist. Every morning we thank ours for keeping us back, and reserving us to an age in which breakfast had been already invented. In the words of Ovid
we say :
"Prisca juvent alios: ego me nunc denique
Gratulor. Hæc ætas moribus apta meis."
Our friend, the Roman cit, has therefore thus far, in his progress through life, obtained no breakfast, if he ever contemplated an idea so frantic. But it occurs to you, our faithful reader, that perhaps he will not always be thus unhappy. We could bring waggon-loads of sentiments, Greek as well as Roman, which prove, more clearly than the most eminent pikestaff, that, as the wheel of fortune revolves, simply out of the fact that it has carried a man downwards, it must subsequently carry him upwards, no matter what dislike that wheel, or any of its spokes, may bear to that man: si male nunc sit, et olim sic erit:" and that if a man, through the madness of his nation, misses coffee and hot rolls at nine, he may easily run into a leg of mutton at twelve. True it is he may do so: truth is commendable: and we will not deny that a man may sometimes, by losing a breakfast, gain a dinner. Such things have been
"The whole amount of relief;" from which it appears how grossly Locke (see his Education) was deceived in fancying that Augustus practised any remarkable abstinence in taking only a bit of bread and a raisin or two, by way of luncheon. Augustus did no more than most people did; secondly, he abstained only with a view to dinner; and thirdly, for this dinner he never waited longer than up to four o'clock.