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Dinner, Real And Reputed
by [?]

“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 a meal by the name of [Greek: bouchismos], 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 nineteen ordinary quantities of that denomination, 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 plerumque lavabatur; deinde gustabat; dormiebat minimum; mox, quasi alio die, studebat in coenae 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[6] 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:–