The physiology of taste, by Brillat-Savarin

Biographical Sketch

The excellent man to whom we are indebted for this book has described himself, with so much charm, nature and truth; the principal events of his life have been recorded in such an agreeable and faithful manner that very few words will suffice to finish the story.

Brillat Savarin (Anthelme) Counsel of the Court of Cassation, member of the Legion of Honor, member of the Society for the Encouragement of National Industry, of the Antiquarian Society of France, of the Philoselic Society of Bourg, &c., &c., was born, 1st of April, 1755, at Belley, a little Alpine city, not far from the banks of the Rhine, which at this place separates France from Savoy. Like his forefathers, who had been for several generations devoted to the bar, the profession which pleased him, in consequence of his possession of great eloquence, he practised with great success.

In, 1789, the unanimous vote of his fellow citizens deputed him to the Constituent assembly, composed of all that was most brilliant in the youth of France at that day. Less attached in practice to the philosophy of Zeno than that of Epicurus, his name does not figure very conspicuously, but always appears at epochs, which show that he acted with the good and moderate.

His legislative functions being determined by the expiration of the Constituent Assembly, he was first appointed President of the Superior Civil court of the Department of Ain, and subsequently a Justice of the Court of Cassation, newly instituted; a man of talent, perfectly incorruptible and unhesitating in the discharge of his duty, he would have been precisely calculated for the place to which he had been appointed, had the warmth of political discussion made practicable the advice either of moderation or of prudence. In 1793, he was Mayor of Belley, and passed in anxiety there, the season of the reign of Terror; whence he was forced to fly to Switzerland for an asylum against the revolutionary movement. Nothing can better man, without a personal enemy, should be forced to pass in a foreign land the days he purposed to devote to the improvement of his country.

This is the point when the character of Brillat Savarin assumes its grandest proportions; proscribed, a fugitive, and often without pecuniary resources, frequently unable to provide for his personal safety, he was always able to console his companions in exile and set them an example of honest industry. As time rolled on, and his situation became more painful, he sought to find in the new world a repose which Europe denied him; he came from Europe, and in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Hartford passed two years teaching the French language, and for a time playing the first violin in the orchestra of the Park Theatre. Like many other emigres, Brillat Savarin ever sought to make the pleasant and the useful coincide. He always preserved very pleasant recollection of this period of his life, in which he enjoyed, with moderate labor, all that is necessary for happiness, liberty sweetened by honest toil. He might say all is well, and to be able to enjoy the breath of my native land would alone increase my happiness; he fancied that he saw brighter days with the commencement of Vendemiaire year 5, corresponding to September, of 1796. Appointed by the Directory, as Secretary of the General in Chief of the Republican armies in Germany, then Commisary of the government in the department of the Seine and Oise, (this appointment he held at the epoch of the 18th Brumaire, in which France fancied she exchanged liberty for repose,) sustained by the Senate and the Court, Brillat Savarin passed the remaining twenty-five years of his life respected by his inferiors, loved by his equals, and honored by all. A man of mind, a pleasant guest, with a deep fund of humor, he delighted every body. His judicial labors did not at all interfere with the composition of this book, which he esteemed the great one of his life.

To the very facility of its composition, the “Physiology of the Taste,” owes its success; one would form a very erroneous opinion of it, were he to estimate it at all as we do Montaigue’s writings on the Gueule. Savarin was naturally a thoughtful man, the simplest meal satisfied him, all he required was that it should be prepared artistically; and he maintained that the art of cookery consisted in exciting the taste. He used to say, “to excite a stomach of Papier Mache, and enliven vital powers almost ready to depart, a cook needs more talent than he who has solved the INFINITESIMAL CALCULUS.”

The world was much surprised by finding in a book by Brillat Savarin, a man it had always looked upon as simply a very pleasant person, such a vast collection of general information; after his laborious profession he had always seemed to expend the rest of his time with the muses and graces, and none could divine where he obtained so much information, as almost to recall the story of some gray-haired sage of Greece. He had however already composed more than one work unrecognised, if we except the two opuscula “Critical and Historical Essay on Duel, with Relation to our Legislation and Morals,” and a work on judicial practice. They were successful, but he was just then attacked by a violent cold, contracted by being present at the annual ceremony,* the 21st of January at the Church of St. Dennis. In spite of every care and attention, on the 2d of February, 1826, he died. For many years gifted with robust health and athletic constitution, made the more remarkable by his tall stature, Brillat Savarin had a presentiment of the approach of death; this feeling, however, did not influence the tenor of his life, for his habitual gaity was maintained unimpaired. When the fatal point was reached, he died tanquam convivia satur, not without regret, certainly, for he left many kind friends to whom his memory could not but be dear.

[* Not only Brillat Savarin, but Robert De St. Vincent, and Attorney General Marchangy, contracted their death in consequence of the same ceremonial.]

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31