Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dining-Out Snobs.

The English writer William Makepeace Thackeray did not confine his penetrating and satirical views of English social life to his novels. He wrote travelogues of Paris and Ireland, and contributed frequently to other publications. One of his most successful series was The Snob Papers, published in Punch magazine, and later as The Book of Snobs (1855).

Thackeray was without doubt a lover of good food (his ode to Bouillabaisse demonstrates this clearly, as do the other blog food stories about him which are here, and here.) What did he think of his fellow diners and hosts? Here is an extract from the book, from the chapter ‘Dining-Out Snobs’.

In England Dinner-giving Snobs occupy a very important place in society, and the task off describing them is tremendous. There was a time when the consciousness of having eaten a man’s salt and rendered me dumb regarding his demerits, and I thought it a wicked act and a breach of hospitality to speak ill of him.
But why should a saddle of mutton blind you, or a turbot and lobster sauce shut your mouth forever? With advancing age, men see their duties more clearly. I am not to be hoodwinked any longer by a slice of venison, be it ever so fat; and as for being dumb on account of turbot and lobster sauce – of course I am; good manners ordain that I should be so, until I have swallowed the compound – but not afterwards; directly the victuals are discussed, and JOHN takes away the plate, my tongue begins to wag. Does not yours, if you have a pleasant neighbour? – a lovely creature, say, of some five-and-thirty, whose daughters have not yet quite come out – they are the best talkers. As for your young misses, they are not only put about the table to look at – like the flowers in the centre-piece. Their blushing youth and natural modesty prevents them from that easy confidential conversational abandon which forms the delight of the intercourse with their dear mothers. It is to these if he would prosper in his profession that the Dining-out Snob should address himself. Suppose you sit next to one of these how pleasant it is in the intervals of the banquet actually to abuse the victuals and the giver of the entertainment! It's twice as piquant to make fun of a man under his very nose.

Thackeray’s insights are too good to leave at this point, so we will discover his thoughts on Dinner-Giving Snobs tomorrow.

Recipe for the Day.

Thackeray included a recipe for lobster, cooked at the table, in his Irish Sketchbook (1848).

Hot Lobster.
You take a lobster, about three feet long if possible, remove the shell, cut or break the flesh of the fish in pieces not too small. Some one else meanwhile makes a mixture of mustard, vinegar, catsup and lots of cayenne pepper. You then produce a machine called a despatcher which has a spirit lamp underneath it that is usually illuminated with whiskey. The lobster, the sauce, and near half-a-pound of butter are placed in the despatcher, which is immediately closed. When boiling, the mixture is stirred up, the lobster being sure to heave about the pan in a convulsive manner, while it emits a remarkably rich and agreeable odour through the apartment. A glass and a half of sherry is now thrown into the pan, and the contents served out hot, and eaten by the company. Porter [a type of stout] is commonly drunk, and whisky-punch afterwards, and the dish is fit for an emperor.
N.B You are recommended not to hurry yourself in the getting up next morning, and may take soda-water with advantage. – Probatum est [It is proved].

For another perspective on how the nineteenth century Englishman dined out, see here.

Quotation for the Day.

Despair is perfectly compatible with a good dinner, I promise you.
William Makepeace Thackeray.


Karen said...

I rather like this guy.

Katie Scarlett said...

A lobster three feet long?!? Wow.

Foose said...

In one of his Flashman books, George Macdonald Fraser notes that the word "snob" at that time had a different meaning from what it signifies now -- we think of snobs as people who look down upon those they consider their social inferiors, whereas the early and mid-Victorians thought of snobs as avid social climbers of mediocre origins.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Foose - that is very interesting, I have not heard that usage. Thackeray's comments seem to include a bit of both, dont you think? I am going to see what the OED says!
Funny, isnt it, how words can change in meaning completely? One of the menus in my Menus from History book is about "A Gay Rugby Dinner" - an adjective not often used in association with the game these days!