The physiology of taste, by Brillat-Savarin

Preface.

In offering to the public the work I now produce, I have undertaken no great labor. I have only put in order materials I had collected long ago. The occupation was an amusing one, which I reserved for my old age.

When I thought of the pleasures of the table, under every point of view, I saw that something better than a common cookery book could be made out of it, and that much might be said about essential and continuous things, which have a direct influence on health, happiness, and even on business.

When I had once gotten hold of the idea, all the rest came naturally. I looked around, took notes, and amidst the most sumptuous festivals looked at the guests. Thus I escaped many of the dangers of conviviality.

To do what I have undertaken, one need not be a physician, chemist, physiologist, or even a savant. All I learned, I learned without the least idea that I would ever be an author. I was impressed by a laudable curiosity, by the fear of remaining behind my century, and by an anxiety to be able to sit at table on equal terms with the savants I used to meet.

I am essentially an amateur medecin, and this to me is almost a mania. Among the happiest days of my life, when with the Professors, I went to hear the thesis of Doctor Cloquet; I was delighted when I heard the murmur of the students’ voices, each of whom asked who was the foreign professor who honored the College with his presence.

One other day is, I think, almost as dear to me. I refer to the meeting of the society for the encouragement of national industry, when I presented the irrorator, an instrument of my own invention, which is neither more nor less than a forcing pump filled with perfumes.

I had an apparatus fully charged in my pocket. I turned the cock, and thence pressed out a perfume which filled the whole room.

Then I saw, with inexpressible pleasure, the wisest heads of the capital bend beneath my irrigation, and I was glad to see that those who received most, were the happiest.

Thinking sometimes of the grave lucubrations to which I was attracted by my subject, I really as afraid that I would be troublesome. I have often read very stupid books.

I did all that I could to escape this reproach. I have merely hovered over subjects which presented themselves to me; I have filled my book with anecdotes, some of which to a degree are personal. I have omitted to mention many strange and singular things, which critical judgment induced me to reject, and I recalled popular attention to certain things which savants seemed to have reserved to themselves. If, in spite of all these efforts, I have not presented to my readers a science rarely understood, I shall sleep just as calmly, being certain that the MAJORITY will acquit me of all evil intention.

It may perhaps be said that sometimes I wrote too rapidly, and that sometimes I became garrulous. Is it my fault that I am old? Is it my fault that, like Ulysses, I have seen the manners and customs of many cities? Am I therefore blamable for writing a little bit of autobiography? Let the reader, however, remember that I do not inflict my political memoirs on him, which he would have to read, as he has many others, since during the last thirty years I have been exactly in the position to see great men and great things.

Let no one assign me a place among compilers; had I been reduced thus low, I would have laid down my pen, and would not have lived less happily.

I said, like Juvenal:

“Semper ego auditor tantum! nunquamne reponam!”

and those who know me will easily see that used to the tumult of society and to the silence of the study I had to take advantage of both one and the other of these positions.

I did too many things which pleased me particularly; I was able to mention many friends who did not expect me to do so, and recalled some pleasant memories; I seized on others which would have escaped, and, as we say familiarly, took my coffee.

It may be a single reader may in some category exclaim ——”I wished to know if ——.” “What was he thinking of,” etc., etc. I am sure, though, the others will make him be silent and receive with kindness the effusions of a praiseworthy sentiment.

I have something to say about my style, which, as Buffon says, is all the man.

Let none think I come to ask for a favor which is never granted to those who need it. I wish merely to make an explanation.

I should write well, for Voltaire, Jean Jacques, Fenelon, Buffon, and Cochin and Aguesseau were my favorite authors. I knew them by heart.

It may be though, that the gods ordered otherwise; if so, this is the cause of the will of the gods.

I know five languages which now are spoken, which gives me an immense refectory of words.

When I need a word and do not find it in French, I select it from other tongues, and the reader has either to understand or translate me. Such is my fate.

I could have acted otherwise, but was prevented by a kind of system to which I was invincibly attached.

I am satisfied that the French language which I use is comparatively poor. What could I do? Either borrow or steal.

I did neither, for such borrowings, cannot be restored, though to steal words is not punishable by the penal code.

Any one may form an idea of my audacity when I say I applied the Spanish word volante to any one I had sent on an errand, and that I had determined to GALLICISE the English word TO SIP, which means to drink in small quantities. I however dug out the French word siroter, which expresses nearly the same thing.

I am aware the purists will appeal to Bosseux, to Fenelon, Raceri, Boilleau, Pascal, and others of the reign of Louis XIV. I fancy I hear their clamor.

To all this I reply distinctly, that I do not depreciate the merit of those authors; but what follows? Nothing, except that if they played well on an inferior instrument, how much better would they have done on a superior one. Therefore, we may believe that Tartini would have played on the violin far better than he did, if his bow had been long as that of Baillot.

I do not belong to the neologues or even to the romanticists; the last are discoverers of hidden treasures, the former are like sailors who go about to search for provisions they need.

The people of the North, and especially the English, have in this respect an immense advantage over us. Genius is never restricted by the want of expression, which is either made or created. Thus it is that of all subjects which demand depth and energy, our translations make but pale and dull infusions.

Once I heard at the institute a pleasant discourse on the danger of neologism, and on the necessity of maintaining our language as it was when the authors of the great century wrote.

“Like a chemist, I sifted the argument and ascertained that it meant:

“We have done so well, that we neither need nor can do better.”

Now; I have lived long enough to know that each generation has done as much, and that each one laughs at his grandfather.

Besides, words must change, when manners and ideas undergo perpetual modifications. If we do things as the ancients did, we do not do them in the same manner. There are whole pages in many French books, which cannot be translated into Latin or Greek.

All languages had their birth, their apogee and decline. None of those which have been famous from the days of Sesostris to that of Philip Augustus, exist except as monuments. The French will have the same fate, and in the year 2825 if read, will be read with a dictionary.

I once had a terrible argument on this matter with the famous M. Andrieux, at the Academie Francaise.

I made my assault in good array, I attacked him vigorously, and would have beaten him had he not made a prompt retreat, to which I opposed no obstacle, fortunately for him, as he was making one letter of the new lexicon.

I end by one important observation, for that reason I have kept it till the last.

When I write of ME in the singular, I gossip with my reader, he may examine, discuss, doubt or laugh; but when I say WE I am a professor, and all must bow to me.

“I am, Sir Oracle,
And when I ope my lips, let no dog bark.”
— Merchant of Venice.

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