Is there a more beautiful word in the language?
Let the beautiful word come as a refrain to and fro this chapter.
Just eating and drinking, nothing more, but so much!
Drinking, indeed, has had its laureates. Yet would I offer my mite of prose in its honour. And when I say "drinking," I speak not of smuggled gin or of brandy bottles held fiercely by the neck till they are empty.
Nay, but of that lonely glass in the social solitude of the tavern,--alone, but not alone, for the glass is sure to bring a dream to bear it company, and it is a poor dream that cannot raise a song. And what greater felicity than to be alone in a tavern with your last new song, just born and yet still a tingling part of you.
Drinking has indeed been sung, but why, I have heard it asked, have we no "Eating Songs?"--for eating is, surely, a fine pleasure. Many practise it already, and it is becoming more general every day.
I speak not of the finicking joy of the gourmet, but the joy of an honest appetite in ecstasy, the elemental joy of absorbing quantities of fresh simple food,--mere roast lamb, new potatoes, and peas of living green.
It is, indeed, an absorbing pleasure. It needs all our attention. You must eat as you kiss, so exacting are the joys of the mouth,--talking, for example. The quiet eye may be allowed to participate, and sometimes the ear, where the music is played upon a violin, and that a Stradivarius. A well-kept lawn, with six-hundred-years-old cedars and a twenty-feet yew hedge, will add distinction to the meal. Nor should one ever eat without a seventeenth-century poet in an old yellow-leaved edition upon the table, not to be read, of course, any more than the flowers are to be eaten, but just to make music of association very softly to our thoughts.
Some diners have wine too upon the table, and in the pauses of thinking what a divine mystery dinner is, they eat.
For dinner IS a mystery,--a mystery of which even the greatest chef knows but little, as a poet knows not,
"with all his lore, Wherefore he sang, or whence the mandate sped."
"Even our digestion is governed by angels," said Blake; and if you will resist the trivial inclination to substitute "bad angels," is there really any greater mystery than the process by which beef is turned into brains, and beer into beauty? Every beautiful woman we see has been made out of beefsteaks. It is a solemn thought,--and the finest poem that was ever written came out of a grey pulpy mass such as we make brain sauce of.
And with these grave thoughts for grace let us sit down to dinner.