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Anecdotes of an Epicure.
BRILLAT-SAVARIN, whose destiny was to popularise a rational theory of diet, first saw the light at Belley, on April 1, 1755. He was brought up to the profession of the law, and till the outbreak of the Revolution led the tranquil uneventful life of a provincial advocate. The only incident of his youth of which he makes mention is a visit to the abbey of St. Sulpice-to be marked with a white stone even in his Epicurean Calendar. Brillat-Savarin was very fond of music-a circumstance which afterwards went near to save his head-and was leader of an amateur troop which often serenaded the ladies of Belley. The Abbot of St. Sulpice invited him and his friends to come and assist in the performance of High Mass on the festival of St. Bernard, Patron Saint of the monastery. "The Saint," courteously observed the Abbot, "will thereby be glorified; our neighbours will be delighted, and you will have the honour of being the first Orpheus who shall have penetrated into those lofty regions" (the monastery was perched high on the mountain side).
One fine summer night, accordingly, Brillat-Savarin and his friends set out for the convent, where they arrived at an early hour on the following morning. Here we get a glimpse of the old conventual hospitality, now mere tradition of the past, then a substantial fact. The Father Cellarer received them. "Welcome, Gentlemen," he said; "our Reverend Abbot will be right pleased to hear of your arrival : he is still in bed, having fatigued himself yesterday; but come with me and you shall see whether you were expected." They followed him into the refectory, where, in the midst of a spacious table, rose a pasty as big as a church : it was flanked on the north by a quarter of cold veal, on the south by an enormous ham, on the east by a monumental pyramid of cool, fresh butter, on the west by a bushel of artichoke salad. There was fruit too, as well as white napkins, and silver plate; lay-brothers also and servants ready to help the viands. Nor should we forget to add that in a corner of the hall, a hundred bottles of unmistakable aspect reposed beneath a fountain of running water, which as it flowed seemed to murmur Evoë Bacche. The travellers were in no way staggered at the prospect of dealing with such a breakfast at four A.M. in those days coffee was not taken early in the day. The Father Cellarer excused himself for being unable to join them he had to say Massmean: while they were to make themselves at home.
After breakfast they all found nice warm beds awaiting them and were allowed to sleep till the hour of Divine Service. There they acquitted themselves remarkably well and were much complimented by their host. It was now noon, and time for dinner-naturally a
more solid meal than breakfast. Of roast meat alone there were fourteen different kinds, while the dessert comprised the most delicious fruits of the valley, brought up at considerable labour and cost to the heights from which the monastery commanded its magnificent prospect. The coffee,
adds Brillat-Savarin, was delicious: it was served not in the tiny cups of a degenerate age, but in fair deep bowls in which the good brothers plunged their thick lips with a noise which would have done honour to spermaceti whales before a storm. After dinner, Vespers; after Vespers, everyone might do as he pleased. The Abbot bade them good night. “I don't think,” said the kindly old man, "that my presence would be troublesome to the brothers; but I wish them to know they have full liberty. St. Bernard's Day comes but once a year; to-morrow we shall re-enter on the accustomed routine; cras iterabimus æquor." And in truth, though the Abbot was beloved by all, there was a good deal more noise after his departure than before. The fun soon became fast and furious; and a delicate little supper towards nine o'clock put everybody into high spirit. As the night deepened a voice was heard: "Father Cellarer, where is your dish?"""Tis too true "answered his Reverence, "I am not Cellarer for nothing." He left the hall, and presently returned, followed by three servants, of whom the first bore a mighty dish of buttered toast, the other two carried a table on which stood a veritable tub of brandy, sweetened and flaming-a substitute for punch, of which the French were then ignorant.
This was the sign the feast was o'er.
The toast was eaten and the brandy drunk; then as the stroke of midnight was heard the company parted, beds being again provided for the guests.
This was in the year 1782, when fears of change were already beginning to disquiet kings and monks. At St. Sulpice it was whispered that a reforming Abbot, of the strictest temper, would soon replace the venerable chief under whose gentle rule everyone was so happy; and for Brillat-Savarin there were days of trouble ahead. In 1789 he was returned by his fellow-citizens to the States-General; and subsequently named, firstly, President of the Civil Tribunal in the Department of the Ain, and, afterwards, Judge of the Court of Appeal. These facts deserve to be mentioned, for one of the best morals of BrillatSavarin's life is that work is absolutely necessary to enjoyment. He himself, much as he loved a good dinner, thoroughly despised a man who loved nothing else. On this subject he tells a curious story of an emigrant noble he met at Lausanne, a fine, strong, healthy-looking man, but of a laziness perfectly phenomenal. Work of any kind seemed to
him the thing most to be dreaded in this world, and he would have died of hunger with the best grace in the world if a worthy tradesman of the town had not opened a credit for him at an eating-house, by which he was enabled to dine on the Sunday and Wednesday in each week. On those days he crammed himself up to the œsophagus and pocketed a huge piece of bread; then quietly retired to sleep or lounge away the hours till next dinner-time. As often as he felt gnawing sensations in the stomach he drank water. When Brillat-Savarin saw him he had. subsisted for three months on this extraordinary diet, and was not ill in the conventional sense of the word, only oppressed with an unnatural languor. "I asked him to dinner," writes his compatriot, "at my inn, where he officiated in a way to make one tremble. But I did not renew the invitation, because I love to see men bravely fronting adversity and obeying, when they must, that judgment issued against the human race, ‘In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread.'"*
Meanwhile Brillat-Savarin continued to be held in such high esteem by his fellow-townsmen that in 1793 they had elected him to the perilous office of Mayor, when he opposed a vigorous resistance to the emissaries of Marat and Robespierre; soon, however, he was obliged to fly for his life, and it was then that he visited first Switzerland and afterwards the United States. But before quitting the soil of his beloved country, he was to meet with a little adventure which he ever afterwards loved to recall. He was bound for Dôle, hoping to obtain from the Citizen Representative Prôt that safe-conduct which had become necessary to keep him at a convenient distance from prison and the scaffold. Mounted on a serviceable nag which he had named "Joy," he rode cheerfully enough along the smiling landscape bounded by the heights of the Jura, and, about eleven o'clock one bright morning, put up at an old-fashioned snug-looking inn, the principal hostelry of the village of Mont-sous-Vandrey. Having seen to his horse, Brillat-Savarin passed into the kitchen, where a joyous spectacle presented itself to his enraptured gaze. Quails, leverets, and a fine turkey were placidly roasting before the fire, and these seemed but a tithe of the delectable things which were evidently on the point of being served. "Good," he thought; "Providence does not entirely desert me. Let us pluck this flower too in passing. There will always be time to die." Then turning to mine host, "Mon cher," he asked, "what are you going to give me for dinner that is good?" "Nothing that is not good, Monsieur: good boiled beef, good potatosoup, good shoulder of mutton, and good beans." A chill of disappointment ran through the frame of the traveller. He never ate boiled beef, which he justly observed was meat deprived of its juice; potatoes and
* Brillat-Savarin had some pleasanter recollections of Lausanne, notably of the Lion d'Argent, where (British tourists may sigh as they read) an excellent dinner of three courses, including game from the neighbouring mountains, and fresh fish from Lake Leman, and a delicious white wine ad libitum, was to be had, all for the sum of cne shilling and nine pence.
beans were too fattening, and for shoulder of mutton he had no fancy. "For whom then is this feast?" he demanded in diseonsolate tones. The host explained. Four advocates had been in those parts to settle a great case; an arrangement had happily been arrived at, and they were on the point of celebrating the happy termination of the business by a cosy little dinner. "Monsieur," quoth Brillat-Savarin, after musing a few seconds, "will you be so good as to present them my compliments and say that a gentleman of quality* requests as a particular favour to be admitted to dine with them, that he is ready to take his share of the expense, and that he will always esteem himself their debtor?" The host withdrew and a period of painful suspense followed. But in a minute or two, a fat, neat, rosy little gentleman entered the kitchen, examined a saucepan or two, looked at the roast, and retired. Another minute and mine host returned. "Monsieur," he said, "the gentlemen are extremely flattered by your proposal, and only await your presence to sit down to dinner." "What a dinner!!!" exclaims Brillat-Savarin, with three points of exclamation, recalling the happiness of that day. The barristers proved delightful companions and accorded him the heartiest welcome, while the food and wine were such as few monster hotels of modern days can furnish. It may be guessed that the newcomer was not allowed to pay a centime, and towards evening went cheered and invigorated on his lonely journey. Good fortune never comes single; and at Dôle, the ex-Mayor succeeded in winning the good graces of Madame Prôt by his vocal and musical talent. Citizen," ," she said, "when a man cultivates the fine arts as you do, he does not betray his country. I know you have some request to prefer to my husband: it shall be granted; it is I who promise you." And, truly enough, on the following morning he received his passport, signed and sealed. Ladies' logic is a fearful and wonderful thing.
From Dôle Brillat-Savarin passed into Switzerland and ultimately proceeded to America. In the Physiologie du Goût he gives but a brief account of his residence in the United States. It resembles in fact the famous chapter on Snakes, and runs as follows:
"Séjour en Amérique.
The truth is that the lively Frenchman was very much bored in the territory of the Great Republic, where, like Talleyrand, he regretted to find but one dish to thirty-two religions. And yet New York was ever memorable to him as the scene of what he justly calls a national victory -when the Briton succumbed and the Gaul remained master of the field.
Brillat-Savarin was wont to spend his evenings at Little's, a famous tavern of Old Gotham, where, with the Vicomte de la Massue and M. Fehr, he loved to enjoy a modest supper of Welsh rarebits and cider. Occasionally he was joined by Mr. Wilkinson, a Jamaica planter, a
* Gallicè, "homme de bonne compagnie."
good fellow and thorough gentleman, as his French friend takes care to inform us. Still, manners were rough in those days, and Mr. Wilkinson probably thought it would be a capital joke to see three "frogs" under the table. With this amiable intention, he asked the enemies of his native land to dinner; and they frankly accepted his invitation. Fortunately for Brillat-Savarin, as he was leaving Little's that evening, the waiter drew him aside and warned him that the invitation was in reality a challenge to a hard drinking bout. He was exceedingly annoyed, being too much of a gourmet to relish such orgies; still the instinct of combat would not allow him to withdraw, and moreover he was confident of his own strength and only uneasy for his compatriots. "I desired," he says, "the triumph of the nation and not that of the individual." Accordingly he addressed a 66 severe allocution" to Fehr and Massue, and warned them to drink slowly and to try and throw away some of their wine while he distracted the attention of Mr. Wilkinson and the other Englishman who was to be present. Also to eat gently but constantly. Finally, before setting out for Little's, on the following day, he made his friends. share with him a plateful of bitter almonds, which are said to be a prophylactic against intoxication.
The dinner, we are assured, consisted of a "rotsbeef," a turkey ́ cooked in its gravy, boiled "roots" (?), a salad of raw cabbage, and a jam tart. The wine was claret, for which, bye and.bye, was substituted port, while to port succeeded madeira. Dessert was now on the table. It consisted of biscuits, butter, and nuts, aliments which encourage the consumer to drink. It was beginning to be warm work for all concerned; but Brillat-Savarin observed, with pleasure, that his friends had followed his advice, and that Fehr, in particular, had contrived to empty a good many glasses of wine into a beer-jug which stood neglected at his end of the table. The three Frenchmen looked still fresh when Mr. Wilkinson called for spirits—an order which made Brillat-Savarin, for the first time that evening, feel nervous. He dexterously avoided the grosser forms of drinking spirits, by asking in his turn for a bowl of punch. Little brought it in himself. It would have sufficed for forty persons, but was happily accompanied by a supply of buttered After one or two glasses had been drunk, B. observed, with pleasure, that Mr. Wilkinson's face had turned to a crimson-purple, and that his eyes looked haggard, while his friend's head was steaming like a kettle. Fehr and Massue, on the other hand, were still cool. The catastrophe came much sooner than B. had expected. Mr. Wilkinson suddenly sprang to his feet, as if seized by a happy inspiration, and began, in trumpet tones, to thunder forth Rule Britannia; then, quite as suddenly, dived under the table, where he preferred to remain. His friend, laughing loudly, stooped forward to pick him up; then he, too, lay extended on the floor. The Frenchmen were victorious, and drank a final glass of punch, with Little, to the health of the vanquished. Next morning all the New York papers contained accounts of the