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with his back to the fire, protected by a screen. If I could have wheeled him round,“ the winter of my
discontent would have been made “ glorious summer," and I should have dined with complete satisfaction.
The conservancy of fires ought principally to fall within the superintendence of the female part of a family, because they are least seldom out of the way, and it is a subject of very great importance in the maintenance of domestic comfort, especially where the males, either from pleasure or business, are exposed to the vicissitudes of weather. Let any one call to mind the difference between two houses where good and bad fires are kept. To the labouring classes a good fire at meals is the greatest source of health and enjoyment; and at public-houses a cheerful blaze seen through the windows, is a bait well understood to catch the labourer returning from his work to a comfortless home. If he once gets
-“ planted unco right,
Fast by an ingle, bleezing finely,” there is no chance of his quitting, till, like Tam O'Shanter, he is compelled by necessity. The essential quality of a fire is to be bright without being too hot, and the best and quickest mode of restoring a neglected fire is to stir out the ashes, and with the tongs to fill up the spaces between the bars with cinders. If carefully done, it is surprising how soon this process will produce an effective and glowing fire.
Whilst I was writing the above, a friend of mine called to propose that we should dine together at the Athenæum, and he would send a brace of grouse he had just received. We dined very satisfactorily, but agreed that a perfect edition of our dinner would have been as follows:- First, a dozen and a half of small oysters, not pampered, but fresh from their native bed, eaten simply, after the French fashion, with lemon juice, to give an edge to the appetite. In about twenty minutes, the time necessary for dressing them, three fine flounders water-zoutchied, with brown bread-and-butter-a dish which is better served at the Athenæum than anywhere I know. At a short interval after the flounders, the grouse, not sent up together, but one after the other, hot and hot, like mutton chops, each accompanied by a plate of French beans. With the flounders half-a-pint of sherry, and with the grouse a bottle of genuine claret, which we get for three-and-sixpence a bottle; after which, a cup each of strong hot coffee. This is a style of dining, which made us think of the gorgeous, encumbered style with pity and contempt, and I give these particulars by way of study, and as a step towards emancipation. After my desultory manner I must here mention an
instance of barbaric ornament I witnessed a short time since at a dinner which, substantially, was excellent. I had to carve a tongue, and found my operations somewbat impeded by a couple of ranunculuses stuck into it, sculptured, one in turnips, and the other in carrot. It was surrounded by a thin layer of spinach, studded with small stars, also cut in carrot. What have ranunculuses and stars to do with tongue and spinach? To my mind, if they had been on separate and neighbouring dishes, and unadorned, it would have been much more to the purpose.
At length I am come to the consideration of that important accompaniment to dinner-wine, in the management of which there is ordinarily a lamentable want of judgment, or rather a total absence of it. Besides an actual want of judgment, there is frequently a parsimonious calculation on the one hand, or an ostentatious profusion and mixture on the other, both destructive, in their different ways, of true enjoyment. The art in using wine is to produce the greatest possible quantity of present gladness, without any future depression. To this end, a certain degree of simplicity is essential, with due attention to seasons and kinds of food, and particularly to the rate of filling the glass. Too many sorts of wines confuse the palate and derange digestion. The stronger wines, unless very sparingly used, are apt to heat in hot weather, and the smaller kinds are unsatisfactory when it is cold. The rate at which to take wine is a matter of great nicety and importance, and depends upon different circumstances at different times. Care and observation can alone enable any one to succeed in this point. The same quantity of wine, drunk judiciously or injudiciously, will produce the best or the worst effects. Drinking too quick is much more to be avoided than drinking too slow. The former is positively, the latter negatively, evil. Drinking too quick confuses both the stomach and the brain; drinking too slow disappoints them. After long fasting, begin slowly and after a solid foundation, and quicken by degrees. After exhaustion from other causes than fasting, reverse this order. Small wines may be drunk with less caution as to rate than the fuller bodied. As soon as the spirits are a little raised, slacken the pace, contrary to the usual practice, which is to quicken it. When the proper point of elevation is attained, so use the glass as just to keep there, whereby enjoyment is prolonged without alloy. The moment the palate begins to pall
, leave off. Continuation after that will often produce a renewed desire, the gratification of which is pernicious. This state is rather an unfitness for leaving off than a fitness for going on. In respect to simplicity, I think
four kinds of wine the very utmost ever to be taken at one time, and with observance of what wines go well together; as sherry, champagne, port, and claret; but they should be drunk in uniform order, and not first one and then another, and then back again, which is a senseless and pernicious confusion. For my own part, I rather like one kind of wine at a time, or at most two; and I think more is lost than gained by variety. I should lay down the same rules as to wines, as I have already done as to meats ; that is, simplicity on the same day, and variety on different days. Port only, taken with or without a little water, at dinner, is excellent; and the same of claret. I think, on ordinary occasions, such a system is by far the most agreeable. Claret, I mean genuine, undoctored claret, which, in my opinion, is the true taste, is particularly good as a dinner wine, and is now to be had at a very reasonable price. I would not wish better than that given at the Athenæum at three-andsixpence a bottle. Rhenish wines are very wholesome and agreeable, drunk simply without other wines : I do not think they harmonize well with champagne. As to seasons, the distinction is obvious that light wines are the best in summer : but then care should be taken, for the sake of health, that they are sound ; and with much fruit, perhaps, a little of stronger wine is advisable. In winter, generous wine is to be preferred, and it is a pleasant variety to have it occasionally spiced or mulled, especially in very dreary weather, or after severe exposure. In hot weather, beverages of various kinds, having wine for their foundation, and well iced, are very grateful. There is scarcely any luxury greater in summer than wine and water, cooled with a lump of ice put into it, though it is seldom practised in this country. In Italy, a plate of pure ice is regularly served during the hot season.
In England, unfortunately, a great deal of money is wasted on excess, whilst simple luxuries are almost altogether neglected. The adaptation of wines to different kinds of food is a matter not to be neglected. The general rule is, to drink white wine with white meats, and red with brown, to which may be added, that light wines are most suitable to light dishes, or to the French style, and the stronger to substantial dishes, or the English style; but this latter rule has many exceptions. I must not here pass over altogether the excellencies of malt liquor, though it is rather difficult to unite the use of it judiciously with that of wine. When taken together, it should be in great moderation, but I rather prefer a malt-liquor day exclusively now and then, by way of variety, or to take it at luncheon. There is something extremely grateful in the very best tablebeer, and it is to be lamented it is so rarely to be met with in the perfection of which it is capable. That beverage at dinner, and two or three glasses of first-rate ale after, constitute real
luxury, and I believe are a most wholesome variety. Good porter needs no praise, and bottled porter iced, is, in hot weather, most refreshing. Cider cup, lemonade, and iced punch in summer, and hot in winter, are all worthy of their turns; but I do not think their turns come as often as they ought to do. We go on in the beaten track, without profiting by the varieties which are to be found on every side.
What I have hitherto said has been with a view principally to individual guidance in the use of wine, though much of it may be applied to the management of parties. In the management of parties, so far as relates to wine, judgment, liberality, attention, and courage, are necessary; and calculation, inattention, ostentation, profusion, and excess, are the vices to be guarded against. I always take for granted, that whatever wine is produced, it is to be good of its kind. Judgment is necessary in knowing what wines are suitable to the season, the food, and the description of guests; in what order to serve them, at what rate to drink, and when to stop. Liberality is necessary to furnish promptly and cheerfully the requisite supply; attention is necessary to execute what the judgment suggests; and courage is necessary to keep the erring, either from ignorance or refractoriness, in the right path, and to stop at the right point. The master of a feast should be master in deed as well as in name, and on his judicious and confident control depends for the most part real convivial enjoyment; but he should govern rather by imperceptible influence than by any outward demonstration, or appearance of interference. He should set the wine in circulation at the earliest fitting moment, for want of attention to which there is often a flagging at the outset. He should go on rather briskly at first, and should then contrive to regulate its pace according to the spirits of the party. He should cause the wines to be served in their proper order, and should preserve that order as much as in him lies, both by his own example, and by good-humoured recommendation. He should let his guests know what he intends, so that they may have an opportunity of regulating themselves accordingly; as, if he thinks proper to produce only a certain quantity ! of any particular wine, he should say so. Uncertainty is fatal to convivial ease, and the re-introduction of any kind of wine, after other wines have intervened, is specially to be avoided. This error arises either from want of courage in allowing a violation of propriety, or from a calculation that there would be enough, when there turns out not to be enough, and then hesitating to supply the deficiency at the proper moment. He should be liberal as long as liberality is beneficial, and as soon as he perceives that the proper point to stop at is arrived, he should
fearlessly act upon his perception. There is a liberal, hearty manner, which prevents suspicion, and enables the possessor to exercise his judgment not only without offence, but with approbation. Calculation, however studiously concealed, sheds a baneful influence over conviviality, which nothing can counteract. Inattention causes things either to go on wrong, or not to go on at all. Ostentation excites disgust or contempt, and destroys enjoyment for the sake of display, by introducing variety without reference to reason. Profusion produces the same effect from ignorance or mistaken liberality. There may be excess without variety, though it is not so probable. It is much more often the result of want of courage in the master of the feast, than of inclination on the part of the guests, and good government in the beginning is the surest guarantee of a temperate termination. In what I have said, I have supposed the giver of an entertainment to have means at his command; but where it is not so, the plainest wines, provided they are sound, and are heartily and judiciously given according to the rules I have laid down, cannot fail to give satisfaction to the reasonable, and more satisfaction too than the most costly, with the many drawbacks which usually accompany them. They are for the most part exposed to the same fate that I have already described to await delicacies in food; that is, they are so mixed up and encumbered with other things as to be deprived of their relish, and reduced to the level of their inferiors, or even below. It is to be wished that those who are not in the way of giving costly wines would never attempt it; because they are only putting themselves to inconvenience, and their guests to greater. It is a very serious tax upon one's palate and veracity to be obliged to drink and pronounce upon compounds with names to which they have not the most remote pretension. What I have said heretofore about dinners applies equally to wines. Let people keep to their own proper style, and endeavour to excel in what is within their ordinary reach. A little extra attention and a little extra expense are then productive of satisfactory results, and they are sure to please others without any sacrifice of what is due to themselves. I have yet to make some particular observations on the use of champagne, which I must defer, with two or three other topics, to my next number.
PRAISE OF WINE. After my observations on the use of wine in the preceding article, I think I may appropriately introduce Falstaff's humorous, but in many respects just and eloquent, paneygyric upon sack,