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Dinner, Real And Reputed
by [?]

“Prisca juvent alios: ego me nunc denique natum Gratulor. Haec aetas 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: “non, 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 in various ages, and will be again, but not at Rome. There are reasons against it. We have heard of men who consider life under the idea of a wilderness–dry as “a remainder biscuit after a voyage:” and who consider a day under the idea of a little life. Life is the macrocosm, or world at large; day is the microcosm, or world in miniature. Consequently, if life is a wilderness, then day, as a little life, is a little wilderness. And this wilderness can be safely traversed only by having relays of fountains, or stages for refreshment. Such stages, they conceive, are found in the several meals which Providence has stationed at due intervals through the day, whenever the perverseness of man does not break the chain, or derange the order of succession.

These are the anchors by which man rides in that billowy ocean between morning and night. The first anchor, viz., breakfast, having given way in Rome, the more need there is that he should pull up by the second; and that is often reputed to be dinner. And as your dictionary, good reader, translated breakfast by that vain word jentaculum, so, doubtless, it will translate dinner by that still vainer word prandium. Sincerely we hope that your own dinner on this day, and through all time coming, may have a better root in fact and substance than this most visionary of all baseless things–the Roman prandium, of which we shall presently show you that the most approved translation is moonshine.

Reader, we are not jesting here. In the very spirit of serious truth, we assure you, that the delusion about “jentaculum” is even exceeded by this other delusion about “prandium.” Salmasius himself, for whom a natural prejudice of place and time partially obscured the truth, admits, however, that prandium was a meal which the ancients rarely took; his very words are–“raro prandebant veteres.” Now, judge for yourself of the good sense which is shown in translating by the word dinner, which must of necessity mean the chief meal–a Roman word which represents a fancy meal, a meal of caprice, a meal which few people took. At this moment, what is the single point of agreement between the noon meal of the English laborer and the evening meal of the English gentleman? What is the single circumstance common to both, which causes us to denominate them by the common name of dinner? It is that in both we recognize the principal meal of the day, the meal upon which is thrown the onus of the day’s support. In everything else they are as wide asunder as the poles; but they agree in this one point of their function. Is it credible that, to represent such a meal amongst ourselves, we select a Roman word so notoriously expressing a mere shadow, a pure apology, that very few people ever tasted it–nobody sate down to it–not many washed their hands after it, and gradually the very name of it became interchangeable with another name, implying the slightest possible act of trying or sipping? “Post larationem sine mensa prandium,” says Seneca, “post quod non sunt lavandae manus;” that is, “after bathing, I take a prandium without sitting down to table, and such a prandium as brings after itself no need of washing the hands.” No; moonshine as little soils the hands as it oppresses the stomach.