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way of dessert, or study to become amusing. I am convinced that any person of even moderate abilities may become anything he chooses, perforce of earnestness of purpose-a stay-maker, or a Chancellor, or an opera-dancer, or a conjuror, or a quarterly reviewer-no matter what! It is only the enervation of indolence that causes one to lag in the van. Before the Woodsbury spec. was over, 1 had run over my part, and was almost perfect. I watched the conversation men of the day ; I studied their very studied mode of being unstudied in their wit. I discerned the most natural mode of lugging in im. promptus made at leisure. Mademoiselle Mars at sixty-five enacts the part of the ingénue, or simple young girl, better than all the little misses of sixteen on the Parisian stage. So the skilful professional wit throws out bait for his own puns, as Anthony sent divers into the river to attach fishes to his hook, when angling in presence of Cleopatra.
There were giants on the earth in those days. There were some capital dining-out men on the pavé. From punning Caleb Whiteford to racy Joseph Jekyll—from polished William Spenser to unrivalled Sharpe-from Colman to Canning—from Brummell to Alvanleyfrom Copley to Ward—there was talking going on in London every day, between six and nine, which it did one's heart 'harm to hear; so envious did it make one of their colloquial tactics.
To attain high eminence as a diner-out, something more is required than the mere power of conducing to the amusement of the company. A very entertaining fellow, who was nothing but an entertaining fellow, and known to be in want of a dinner, might be asked once or twice, by way of lion, but would never be tolerated as a regular dinner guest in our best houses. In the first place, the diner-out must eat like an epicure, and not like a glutton. A hungry man is not sufficiently at ease in his body, to be at ease in his mind. To be able to dispose of his own faculties, he must be in circumstances to appreciate the merits of the entrée he is tasting, while the party is tasting his bonsmots—but not to be engrossed by their excellence. His responsibility to his host must preponderate over the exquisiteness of his palate.
People do not like to throw away a first-rate menu upon a man who does not know quenelles de veau from sweetbreads, any more than on a fellow who sends his plate half-a dozen times to the joint on the side-table.
On this head, I had nothing to fear. I possessed what is called 'a genteel independence;' I was certain of my roast and boiled, fish and soup, at my own expense, all the three hundred and sixty-five days of the year. But what a prospect! Roast and boiled from the 1st of January to the 31st of December, when so many stew-pans were simmering in the aristocratic kitchens of Great Britain. I felt that I had done nothing to deserve such a sentence at the hand of destiny. I felt myself predestined to the salmi and the capilotade ; and, by dint of following up my vocation, can safely say, that for the last six seasons, not a man in this gastronomical metropolis has enjoyed a more universal acquaintance with the sauce-boats of the great world.
A vulgar.minded man, incapable of seizing the lights and shadows of social life, thinks it enough to push on straight to the mark; and, with a predetermination to be entertaining, begins to open his budget before the soup is off the table. Whereas there is scarcely more art required in dressing the dinner, than in addressing those who are invited to eat it. There are certain appointed epochs of a dinner, differ
ing in different sets and countries, appointed for the specific intro. duction of certain wines--as sherry or madeira after soup, or hock between the courses. So also there are especial moments for the introduction of divers orders of anecdotes. The man who attempts a bit of scandal while the patés or cutlets are going their rounds, will find his risk rewarded by reproving silence. People look as if they did not understand a word he was saying ; whereas if he wait till after the second round of champagne, he will set the table in a
Even the first will so far thaw the faculties or decorum of the party, that a significant smile may possibly repay his pains.
Soup admits of nothing of more stirring interest than the weather. People are not yet at their ease. They have not recovered the fuss of taking their places; they have not got accustomed to their neighbours, or to the brightness of the dinner-room. They look blinky and perplexed. The edge of appetite, too, must be appeased. A few mouthfuls of hot, clear, spring soup, or bisque d'ecrevisses, cheers up the spirits, and disposes to sociability. A sip of sherry perfects the charm. By the time turbot and its lobster sauce, or Severn salmon and its cucumber, figure on your plate, you may venture upon politics and the news of the day. If a clever man be near you, and you have important intelligence in petto, inquire of him whether he have anything new; then, with easy negligence, let fall the startling news that is to fix every eye at table upon yourself
. Choose that moment to take wine, or to whisper confidentially to the servant behind your chair a request for a second investigation of the fish
You should appear to be anxiously interested in the coaxing of your own appetite, when you announce the abdication of the Emperor of China, or that her Majesty's favourite parrot is sitting. All this, as stage effect, tends powerfully to the success of the piece.
Anything superlative in the way of wit should be reserved, like the hock, for the finale of the first course. Even in the best regulated household, there occurs a momentary pause most propitious to the explosion of a bon mot. The host is grateful to you; the maître d'hotel is grateful to you; everybody is grateful to you. A minute later, and the bustle of placing the second course on the table would be fatal to the success of your attempt. That most disagreeable in. terruption at an end, the real business of dinner conversation begins. The tide is setting in. Till the rubicon of the second course is passed, your careful talker feels that all is preamble. It is not worth while to hazard anything of real excellence. It is waste of powder and shot to lavish pearls before the rapacious animals who think more of what reaches them through their lips, than through their ears.
But after the pheasant, green-goose, or turkey poult-after the fondu, cabinet-pudding, and Chambertin, comes the tug of war! Not only are the ears of the party opened, but its hearts. People are ready to laugh at anything; yet not too merry to distinguish between wit and humour, an old story and a new anecdote. With the orange jelly, you may whisper to a fair neighbour; with the meringues glacés, you may acquaint a dark one with some fact of foreign policy or fine-art fiddle-faddle, of which he was wholly ignorant. He will not turn sulky at finding you better informed than himself.
During a diner-out's first season or so, he takes almost as much pleasure in all that he causes others to swallow, as in all that he is swallowing. He enjoys his own stories and his own success. But after making himself a name, after being cited here, there, and every. where as the agreeable Mr. Prattles, the new Sheridan, the future Macaulay, he begins to grow nervous, He feels it necessary to talk up to his reputation ; and a duty is always irksome. One dull dinner would undo him! A party where the sound of knives and forks is audible from pauses in the conversation, reflects eternal disgrace on its component parts, should it come to be known that a regular diner-out was one of the offenders. He is a lost mutton,—that is, a lost buck.
He accordingly begins to cram, as if reading for a degree,-saps scandal, and works up his small talk as for the Seatonian prize. When first a man confronts the publicity of society, he is unable to distinguish its shades and gradations. Like a child contemplating the starry firmament, he beholds millions of stars, and rates them alike, incapable of distinguishing their gradations of magnitude. To make oneself agreeable at the dinner-table in certain circles, it suffices to read all the periodicals as they appear, to skim the daily papers, and be able familiarly to quote the jokes of the last number of the Quarterly Review. In others, it is necessary to have written one of these showy flare-ups, to obtain the ear of the company; and to hazard any direct allusion to them, above all to cite their witticisms, or any other good thing that has appeared in print, would be destruction. In such a party, a stale joke would be thought as offensive as a stale John Dory. The stories narrated must bave their bloom upon them, like the grapes ; and every anecdote boast its virgin bouquet, like every bottle of claret. Even a moderately witty thing, wholly new and inedited, obtains a higher value than the best mot of Alvanley filtered through the clubs.
As somebody was saying yesterday at White's,' observed a man at the capital table of the late Lord S- and was about to relate some thrice-told tale, when Lord interrupted him with, “If I wanted to know what any one said at White's, I would go there and hear it. I prefer something which you both think and say yourself, or, at all events, something new and original.'
Such a rebuff is too disagreeable to be wantonly provoked. For the same reason, nothing so stupid as to cram from such books as Walpole's Letters, or Crequy's Memoirs, or any other, not old enough to be forgotten. News should be of Charles the Second's time or Queen Victoria's; and nothing in the way of crib can be safely hazarded later than the times of George the First.
Time was that ten pounds' worth of French, from the usher of some preparatory school, was worth a whole season's entertain. ments; and in the early part of the present century, more than one diner-out traded exclusively upon popular books of French memoirs, still unfamiliar to the jog-trot London world.
They fished their gastronomy out of Grimod dela Reynière and Brillat Savarin ; their wit out of Grimm, Diderot and Mesdames du Deffant and D'Épinay; their philosophy from L'Hermite de la Chaussée D'Antin, and their sentiment from Madame de Souza. Even our comedies were then taken from the French,' without fear of reprisal. But now that every lawyer's clerk visits Paris at least once a-year, and that the Burlington Arcade and its libraries supply wit and information at three-and-sixpence per month, to all classes of the community, a man attempting to dine out upon the Revue de Paris, Revue des deux Mondes, La Mode, and La Presse, would be coughed
down. It is only some solemn review that dares put on its considering cap, and inflict these stale scraps upon the public. For my part, having a reputation to sustain, I would not venture on anything, even wet from the press of Dumont or Lavocat. Several of the young men ers have over early sheets to brighten their speeches.
I had once a severe lesson on that score. Everybody knows the story of Conversation B. strolling to the toilet-table of Conversation S. one afternoon, where his card of mems. for the night was laid out with his pumps and white waistcoat ; conning by rote the topics to be dragged in, and preceding him in the various opera-boxes to which they were assigned; so that every time the professed wit opened his lips, it was to recount some anecdote or bon mot which had been recited ten minutes before by his rival. Exactly such was my disaster! -I had received one morning a batch of pamphlets from Paris; and, as usual, extracted the pith for my private use. The gems thus strung together I intended to powder over my conversation that day at one of Lady Cork's choice dinner parties; and had consequently provided myself with nothing else. I entered her famous old chinagallery, on the divans and slender porcupine-chairs of which I found scattered the best and brightest of the season. 'All was prepared, the judges were met, a terrible show. Unluckily I came late, hav. ing been detained running my eye over my notes ; so that when I made my entrée, that pushing fellow, L., had already the ear of the company. Judge of my horror when I found him giving tongue to one of my most striking novelties! I longed to fly at him, and snatch it from his mouth-as one sees a sharp terrier when another dog has pilfered a bone from him!—But it was all in vain !-He had taken the first move. Bon mot after bon mot did he let fly from his pigeon-trap, and every shot told. I had nothing left. The fellow subscribed to the same library as myself; had obtained a view of the books four-and-twenty hours before me—and reduced me to bank. ruptcy. Cut up as I was, not even an incipient influenza which I pleaded, sufficed as my excuse with the old lady: and though I had the precaution to keep my chambers for a week, to give colouring to the pretext, she never invited me again the whole season, except to one of those horrible olla podridas which she sometimes gave at the end of her dinner weeks, to dispose of the fragments, and drink the bottlings-up of wine. It may be supposed that I did not allow myself to be converted into quick lime.
Ill-natured people fancy that the life of a dining-out man is a life of corn, wine, and oil; that all he has to do is to eat, drink, and be merry. I only know that, had I been aware, on the onset of life, of all I should have to go through in my vocation, I would have chosen some easier calling. I would have studied law, physic, or divinity; I would have gone the circuit; I would have even gone the whole hog, and become a parson, rather than enjoyed the Barmecide's feast of a professor of wit. Eat and drink he may, but to be really merry I defy him—viands and generous wines pass through his lips, without making the least impression on his palate. His attention is pre-engrossed. By venturing to dwell upon some dainty dish, he is sure to lose the opportunity of introducing some striking remark, or hazarding some neat little pun. His appetite is continually on thorns. His slice of veni son is, perhaps, brought him just as he has launched into some capital story; and he has only the alternative of spoiling it, or finding the fat
become of opaline opacity when enabled to pay himself proper attention. Now venison, like time and tide, waits for no man; and the stupidest ass of a country cousin may swallow it when the said fat is clear as amber, while the diner-out finds it gradually freezing upon his hapless plate !-
In the same way, one's iced pudding begins to melt while one finishes a series of repartees with some sharp opposite neighbour. I remember last season having an avalanche before me, that would have cooled the fire-king only to look at ; and before I could com. mand the use of my lips, the recent inundation at Brentford was not more fluent than my plate !
It is the custom, by the way, of quadrille dancers to be very scrupulous in engaging a vis-à-vis. Young ladies pretend that it is of as much consequence to them to be mated with an eligible opposite neighbour, as with an eligible partner. It is of fifty times as much import. ance to a dining.out man !- What he says to his two next neighbours, however interesting, does him little or no credit with the party. But a confederate opposite, is as invaluable an adjunct as the clown attending the horsemanship at Astley's. The whole audience is convulsed by the witticisms addressed to him. The whole table is in a roar when I happen to sit facing Horace or Sydney. In such a partnership, one loses nothing by a division of profits.
On the other hand, it is a horrible trial of patience to bowl to an awkward bat ; or throw the ball which there is no one to catch. I know nothing more bewildering than for a man who knows himself to have been invited for the entertainment of the company, to get placed, through one of those blunders which so often occur in mixed dinner. parties, next to some dunny dowager-dunny in mind as well as body; or opposite to a bevy of misses in muslin frocks, to whom it is not permissible to plead guilty of an idea. Conversation is out of the question. It is like singing with your face to a stone-wall. Every fresh attempt at liveliness is rewarded with a stare of stupid wonder; and it is only when you make yourself comprehensible to the meanest capacity by abusing the weather, or canting about the state of the times, that you are rewarded with more than monosyllables in reply. In vain do you chafe and fret. You have, perhaps, half a dozen capital stories fermenting in your brains. Take my advice. Postpone your triumph. Endure your total eclipse in solemn silence. It is useless attempting to make bricks without straw.
One of my best houses is the Marquis of Bexfield's. What a chef ! -what a maître d'hôtel !-what an establishment !-what a master thereof! Such a pleasant set, too !—fine people, who are not too fine, and coarse people, who are not too coarse. From the moment of crossing the threshhold, one is conscious of a certain bien-être pervading one's animal nature ; as in a warm-bath, or the sortie from a long sermon at Christmas, or in the dog.days. There are certain capital dining houses, such as that of the late Lord S., where gas. tronomy is made of too engrossing importance. One eats too critically, and grows nervous lest one should be betrayed into enjoying something which the knowing ones decide to be not of the highest quality. In such a set, the conversation.man is of secondary importance. People are invited exclusively to eat and drink. The talker is there only to fill up the pauses between the numerous courses. At Lord Bexfield's this is not the case. One stands one's ground with the bastions de volaille and château margaux.