Yesterday we considered the word ‘aristology’ and enjoyed an extract from the book which gave us the word (The Art of Dining; and the Art of Attaining High Health: With a Few Hints on Suppers, 1835.) Naturally, I was keen to see what Thomas Walker had to say on suppers, and to share it with you. The author certainly makes a potent argument for continuing the supper tradition – and the piece even provides our recipe for the day.
I do not know how I came to dismiss the subject of the art of dining without saying a few words in favour of that agreeable, but now neglected meal, supper. The two repasts used to hold divided empire, but dinners have in later years obtained all but an exclusive monopoly, to the decay, I am afraid, of wit, and brilliancy, and ease. Supper has been in all times the meal peculiarly consecrated to mental enjoyment, and it is not possible that any other meal should be so well adapted to that object. Dinner may be considered the meal of the body, and supper that of the mind. The first has for its proper object the maintenance or restoration of the corporeal powers; the second is intended in the hours of relaxation from the cares and business of the day, to. light up and invigorate the mind. It comes after every thing else is over, and all distraction and interruption have ceased, as a pleasing prelude and preparation for the hour of rest, and has a tendency to fill the mind with agreeable images as the last impressions of the day. Compared with dinner, it is in its nature light, and free from state. Dinner is a business; supper an amusement. It is inexpensive, and free from trouble. The attempt to unite the two meals in one, in the manner now practised, is a miserable failure, unfavourable to health and to the play of the mind. Nothing places sociability on so good a footing, and so much within the reach of all, as the custom of supping. There is an objection made to suppers, that they are unwholesome. Nothing, I think, can be more unfounded; indeed, I believe them, if properly used, to be most wholesome, and quite in accordance with the dictates of nature. Undoubtedly, large suppers are unwholesome after large dinners ; but not so, light suppers after moderate dinners. I think, if I were to choose, my ordinary course of living would be a simple, well-conceived dinner, instead of the luncheon now in vogue; then tea, with that excellent adjunct, scarcely ever enjoyed in these days, buttered toast, about the present dinner hour, and a savoury little supper about half past nine or ten o’clock, with a bowl of negus, or some other grateful diluted potation after. I am of opinion there is no system so favourable to vigorous and joyous health as the moderate indulgence of a moderate appetite about a couple of hours before retiring to rest,—those hours filled up with the enjoyment of agreeable society. In the colder months I have great faith in finishing the day with a warm and nourishing potation. It is the best preparation for one’s daily end, sleep, or, as Shakespeare calls it, “ the death of each day’s life, and those with whom it does not agree, may be sure it is not the drink’s fault, but their own, in not having pursued the proper course previously. A good drink over a cheerful fire, with a cheerful friend or two, is a good finish, much better than the unsatisfactory ending of a modern dinner party. Here I must mention that, in order to have good negus, it is necessary to use good wine, and not, as some people seem to think, any sort of stuff, in any condition. Port negus is delicious, if it is made thus :— Pour boiling water upon a sufficient quantity of sugar; stir it well ; then pour some excellent port, not what has been opened two or three days, into the Water, the wine having been heated in a saucepan. Stir the wine and water well together as the wine is poured in, and add a little grated nutmeg. A slice of lemon put in with the sugar, and a little of the yellow rind scraped with it, make the negus perfect, but it is very good without, though then properly speaking, it should be called wine and water. Supper is an excellent time to enjoy game, and all meats of a delicate nature, and many other little things, which are never introduced at' dinners. I am far from wishing to explode dinners as a social meal, but I object to their enjoying a monopoly, and the adoption of the two meals on diiferent occasions would furnish opportunities for an agreeable variety. One frequently hears people object to dining early, on the ground that they feel themselves disinclined to do any thing after dinner; but this is a false mode of reasoning. After a late dinner there is a disinclination to action, especially if it is an overloaded repast; but the reason of this is, that -the powers have become exhausted, which is a solid argument against late dining with reference to health and spirits. But a moderate dinner in the middle of the day, when the digestive powers are the strongest, instead of unfitting for action, has the very contrary effect, and a person rises from table refreshed, and more actively inclined than before. No one, whose digestion is in good order, complains of the incapacitating effects of luncheon, which is in reality a dinner without its pleasures. Luncheon may be said to be a joyless dinner, and dinner a cumbrous supper, and between the two, they utterly exclude that refreshing little meal, tea. We live in a strange state of perversion, from which many emancipate themselves as much as they can, when the eye of the world is not upon them ; and if every body dared to do as every body would like,strange changes would soon appear. If the state prisons were thrown open, and the fetters of fashion cast off, what inward rejoicing there would be among rich and poor, male and female! What struggles, what pangs, what restraints would be avoided! What enjoyments, what pleasures would present themselves, and what elasticity would be given to the different bents of the human mind! If reason and virtue alone dictated the rules of life, how much more of real freedom would be enjoyed than under the present worn-out dynasty of fashion!