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Dinner, Real And Reputed
by [?]

Reader! we, as well as Pliny, had an uncle, an East Indian uncle; doubtless you have such an uncle; everybody has an Indian uncle. Generally such a person is “rather yellow, rather yellow,” [to quote Canning versus Lord Durham:] that is the chief fault with his physics; but, as to his morals, he is universally a man of princely aspirations and habits. He is not always so orientally rich as he is reputed; but he is always orientally munificent. Call upon him at any hour from two to five, he insists on your taking tiffin: and such a tiffin! The English corresponding term is luncheon: but how meagre a shadow is the European meal to its glowing Asiatic cousin! Still, gloriously as tiffin shines, does anybody imagine that it is a vicarious dinner, or ever meant to be the substitute of dinner? Wait till eight, and you will have your eyes opened on that subject. So of the Roman prandium: had it been as luxurious as it was simple, still it was always viewed as something meant only to stay the stomach, as a prologue to something beyond. The prandium was far enough from giving the feeblest idea of the English luncheon; yet it stood in the same relation to the Roman day. Now to Englishmen that meal scarcely exists; and were it not for women, whose delicacy of organization does not allow them to fast so long as men, would probably be abolished. It is singular in this, as in other points, how nearly England and ancient Rome approximate. We all know how hard it is to tempt a man generally into spoiling his appetite, by eating before dinner. The same dislike of violating what they called the integrity of the appetite, [integram famem,] existed at Rome. Every man who knows anything of Latin critically, sees the connection of the word integer with in and tetigi: integer means what is intact, unviolated by touch. Cicero, when protesting against spoiling his appetite for dinner, by tasting anything beforehand, says, integram famem ad coenam afferam; I shall bring to dinner an appetite untampered with. Nay, so much stress did the Romans lay on maintaining this primitive state of the appetite undisturbed, that any prelusions with either jentaculum or prandium were said, by a very strong phrase indeed, polluere famem, to pollute the sanctity of the appetite. The appetite was regarded as a holy vestal flame, soaring upwards towards dinner throughout the day: if undebauched, it tended to its natural consummation in coena: expired like a phoenix, to rise again out of its own ashes. On this theory, to which language had accommodated itself, the two prelusive meals of nine o’clock, A.M., and of one, P.M., so far from being ratified by the public sense, and adopted into the economy of the day, were regarded gloomily as gross irregularities, enormities, debauchers of the natural instinct; and, in so far as they thwarted that instinct, lessened it, or depraved it, were universally held to be full of pollution; and, finally, to profane a motion of nature. Such was the language.

But we guess what is passing in the reader’s mind. He thinks that all this proves the prandium to have been a meal of little account; and in very many cases absolutely unknown. But still he thinks all this might happen to the English dinner–that might be neglected; supper might be generally preferred; and, nevertheless, dinner would be as truly entitled to the name of dinner as before. Many a student neglects his dinner; enthusiasm in any pursuit must often have extinguished appetite for all of us. Many a time and oft did this happen to Sir Isaac Newton. Evidence is on record, that such a deponent at eight o’clock, A.M., found Sir Isaac with one stocking on, one off; at two, said deponent called him to dinner. Being interrogated whether Sir Isaac had pulled on the minus stocking, or gartered the plus stocking, witness replied that he had not. Being asked if Sir Isaac came to dinner, replied that he did not. Being again asked, “At sunset, did you look in on Sir Isaac?” Witness replied, “I did.” “And now, upon your conscience, sir, by the virtue of your oath, in what state were the stockings?” Ans. “In statu quo ante bellum.” It seems Sir Isaac had fought through that whole battle of a long day, so trying a campaign to many people–be had traversed that whole sandy Zaarah, without calling, or needing to call at one of those fountains, stages, or mansiones,[7] by which (according to our former explanation) Providence has relieved the continuity of arid soil, which else disfigures that long dreary level. This happens to all; but was dinner not dinner, and did supper become dinner, because Sir Isaac Newton ate nothing at the first, and threw the whole day’s support upon the last? No, you will say, a rule is not defeated by one casual deviation, nor by one person’s constant deviation. Everybody else was still dining at two, though Sir Isaac might not; and Sir Isaac himself on most days no more deferred his dinner beyond two, than he sate with one stocking off. But what if everybody, Sir Isaac included, had deferred his substantial meal until night, and taken a slight refection only at two? The question put does really represent the very case which has happened with us in England. In 1700, a large part of London took a meal at two, P.M., and another at seven or eight, P.M. In 1839, a large part of London is still doing the very same thing, taking one meal at two, and another at seven or eight. But the names are entirely changed: the two o’clock meal used to be called dinner, and is now called luncheon; the eight o’clock meal used to be called supper, and is now called dinner.