The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XLIV.

The Doctor prepares an Entertainment in the Manner of the Ancients, which is attended with divers ridiculous Circumstances.

In a word, our young gentleman, by his insinuating behaviour, acquired the full confidence of the doctor, who invited him to an entertainment, which he intended to prepare in the manner of the ancients. Pickle, struck with this idea, eagerly embraced the proposal, which he honoured with many encomiums, as a plan in all respects worthy of his genius and apprehension; and the day was appointed at some distance of time, that the treater might have leisure to compose certain pickles and confections which were not to be found among the culinary preparations of these degenerate days. With a view of rendering the physician’s taste more conspicuous, and extracting from it the more diversion, Peregrine proposed that some foreigners should partake of the banquet; and the task being left to his care and discretion, he actually bespoke the company of a French marquis, an Italian count, and a German baron, whom he knew to be egregious coxcombs, and therefore more likely to enhance the joy of the entertainment.

Accordingly, the hour being arrived, he conducted them to the hotel where the physician lodged, after having regaled their expectations with an elegant meal in the genuine old Roman taste; and they were received by Mr. Pallet, who did the honours of the house, while his friend superintended the cook below. By this communicative painter, the guests understood that the doctor had met with numerous difficulties in the execution of his design; that no fewer than five cooks had been dismissed, because they could not prevail upon their own consciences to obey his directions in things that were contrary to the present practice of their art; and that although he had at last engaged a person, by an extraordinary premium, to comply with his orders, the fellow was so astonished, mortified, and incensed at the commands he had received, that his hair stood on end, and he begged on his knees to be released from the agreement he had made; but finding that his employer insisted upon the performance of his contract, and threatened to introduce him to the commissaire if he should flinch from the bargain, he had, in the discharge of his office, wept, sang, cursed, and capered for two whole hours without intermission.

While the company listened to this odd information, by which they were prepossessed with strange notions of the dinner, their ears were invaded by a voice that exclaimed in French, “For the love of God! dear sir! for the passion of Jesus Christ! spare me the mortification of the honey and oil!” Their ears still vibrated with the sound, when the doctor entering, was by Peregrine made acquainted with the strangers, to whom he, in the transports of his wrath, could not help complaining of the want of complaisance he had found in the Parisian vulgar, by which his plan had been almost entirely ruined and set aside. The French marquis, who thought the honour of his nation was concerned at this declaration, professed his sorrow for what had happened, so contrary to the established character of the people, and undertook to see the delinquents severely punished, provided he could be informed of their names or places of abode.

The mutual compliments that passed on this occasion were scarce finished, when a servant, coming into the room, announced dinner; and the entertainer led the way into another apartment, where they found a long table, or rather two boards joined together, and furnished with a variety of dishes, the steams of which had such evident effect upon the nerves of the company, that the marquis made frightful grimaces, under pretence of taking snuff; the Italian’s eyes watered; the German’s visage underwent several distortions of features; our hero found means to exclude the odour from his sense of smelling, by breathing only through his mouth; and the poor painter, running into another room, plugged his nostrils with tobacco. The doctor himself, who was the only person present, whose organs were not discomposed, pointing to a couple of couches placed on each side of the table, told his guests that he was sorry he could not procure the exact triclinia of the ancients, which were somewhat different from these conveniences, and desired they would have the goodness to repose themselves without ceremony, each in his respective couchette, while he and his friend Mr. Pallet would place themselves upright at the ends, that they might have the pleasure of serving those that lay along. This disposition, of which the strangers had no previous idea, disconcerted and perplexed them in a most ridiculous manner; the marquis and baron stood bowing to each other, on pretence of disputing the lower seat, but in reality with a view of profiting by the example of one another, for neither of them understood the manner in which they were to loll; and Peregrine, who enjoyed their confusion, handed the count to the other side, where, with the most mischievous politeness, he insisted upon his taking possession of the upper place.

In this disagreeable and ludicrous suspense, they continue acting a pantomime of gesticulations, until the doctor earnestly entreated them to waive all compliment and form, lest the dinner should be spoiled before the ceremonial could be adjusted. Thus conjured, Peregrine took the lower couch on the left-hand-side, laying himself gently down, with his face towards the table. The marquis, in imitation of this pattern (though he would have much rather fasted three days than run the risk of discomposing his dress by such an attitude), stretched himself upon the opposite place, reclining upon his elbow in a most painful and awkward situation, with his head raised above the end of the couch, that the economy of his hair might not suffer by the projection of his body. The Italian, being a thin limber creature, planted himself next to Pickle, without sustaining any misfortune but that of his stocking being torn by a ragged nail of the seat, as he raised his legs on a level with the rest of his limbs. But the baron, who was neither so wieldy nor supple in his joints as his companions, flounced himself down with such precipitation, that his feet, suddenly tilting up, came in furious contact with the head of the marquis, and demolished every curl in a twinkling, while his own skull, at the same instant, descended upon the side of his couch, with such violence, that his periwig was struck off, and the whole room filled with pulvilio.

The drollery of distress that attended this disaster entirely vanquished the affected gravity of our young gentleman, who was obliged to suppress his laughter by cramming his handkerchief in his mouth; for the bare-headed German asked pardon with such ridiculous confusion, and the marquis admitted his apology with such rueful complaisance, as were sufficient to awake the mirth of a quietist.

This misfortune being repaired as well as the circumstances of the occasion would permit, and every one settled according to the arrangement already described, the doctor graciously undertook to give some account of the dishes as they occurred, that the company might be directed in their choice: and with an air of infinite satisfaction thus began: “This here, gentlemen, is a boiled goose, served up in a sauce composed of pepper, lovage, coriander, mint, rue, anchovies; I wish for your sakes, gentlemen, it was one of the geese of Ferrara, so much celebrated among the ancients for the magnitude of their livers, one of which is said to have weighed upwards of two pounds; with this food, exquisite as it was, did the tyrant Heliogabalus regale his hounds. But I beg pardon, I had almost forgot the soup, which I hear is so necessary an article at all tables in France. At each end there are dishes of the salacacabia of the Romans; one is made of parsley, pennyroyal, cheese, pine-tops, honey, brine, eggs, cucumbers, onions, and hen livers; the other is much the same as the soup-maigre of this country. Then there is a loin of veal boiled with fennel and caraway-seed, on a pottage composed of pickle, oil, honey, and flour, and a curious hachis of the lights, liver, and blood of a hare, together with a dish of roasted pigeons. Monsieur le baron, shall I help you to a plate of this soup?” The German, who did not at all disapprove of the ingredients, assented to the proposal, and seemed to relish the composition; while the marquis being asked by the painter which of the silly-kickabys he chose, was, in consequence of his desire, accommodated with a portion of the soup-maigre; and the count, in lieu of spoon-meat, of which he said he was no great admirer, supplied himself with a pigeon, therein conforming to the choice of our young gentleman, whose example he determined to follow through the whole course of the entertainment.

The Frenchman, having swallowed the first spoonful, made a full pause, his throat swelled as if an egg had stuck in his gullet, his eyes rolled, and his mouth underwent a series of involuntary contractions and dilatations. Pallet, who looked steadfastly at this connoisseur, with a view of consulting his taste, before he himself would venture upon the soup, began to be disturbed at these motions, and observed, with some concern, that the poor gentleman seemed to be going into a fit; when Peregrine assured him, that these were symptoms of ecstasy, and, for further confirmation, asked the marquis how he found the soup. It was with infinite difficulty that his complaisance could so far master his disgust as to enable him to answer, “Altogether excellent, upon my honour!” and the painter being certified of his approbation, lifted the spoon to his mouth without scruple, but far from justifying the eulogium of his taster, when this precious composition diffused itself upon his palate, he seemed to be deprived of all sense and motion, and sat like the leaden statue of some river god, with the liquor flowing out at both sides of his mouth.

The doctor, alarmed at this indecent phenomenon, earnestly inquired into the cause of it; and when Pallet recovered his recollection, and swore that he would rather swallow porridge made of burning brimstone, than such an infernal mess as that which he had tasted, the physician, in his own vindication, assured the company, that, except the usual ingredients, he had mixed nothing in the soup but some sal ammoniac instead of the ancient nitrum, which could not now be procured; and appealed to the marquis, whether such a succedaneum was not an improvement on the whole. The unfortunate petit-maitre, driven to the extremity of his condescension, acknowledged it to be a masterly refinement; and deeming himself obliged, in point of honour, to evince his sentiments by his practice, forced a few more mouthfuls of this disagreeable potion down his throat, till his stomach was so much offended, that he was compelled to start up of a sudden; and, in the hurry of his elevation, overturned his plate into the bosom of the baron. The emergency of this occasion would not permit him to stay and make apologies for his abrupt behaviour; so that he flew into another apartment, where Pickle found him puking and crossing himself with great devotion; and a chair, at his desire, being brought to the door, he slipped into it more dead than alive, conjuring his friend Pickle to make his peace with the company, and in particular excuse him to the baron, on account of the violent fit of illness with which he had been seized. It was not without reason that he employed a mediator; for when our hero returned to the dining-room, the German got up, and was under the hands of his own lacquey, who wiped the grease from a rich embroidered waistcoat, while he, almost frantic with his misfortune, stamped upon the ground, and in High Dutch cursed the unlucky banquet, and the impertinent entertainer, who all this time, with great deliberation, consoled him for the disaster, by assuring him that the damage done might be repaired with some oil of turpentine and a hot iron. Peregrine, who could scarce refrain from laughing in his face, appeased his indignation by telling him how much the whole company, and especially, the marquis, was mortified at the accident; and the unhappy salacacabia being removed, the places were filled with two pies, one of dormice liquored with syrup of white poppies, which the doctor had substituted in the room of toasted poppy-seed, formerly eaten with honey, as a dessert; and the other composed of a hock of pork baked in honey.

Pallet, hearing the first of these dishes described, lifted up his hands and eyes, and with signs of loathing and amazement, pronounced, “A pie made of dormice and syrup of poppies! Lord in heaven! what beastly fellows those Romans were!” His friend checked him for his irreverent exclamation with a severe look, and recommended the veal, of which he himself cheerfully ate, with such encomiums to the company, that the baron resolved to imitate his example, after having called for a bumper of Burgundy, which the physician, for his sake, wished to have been the true wine of Falernum. The painter, seeing nothing else upon the table which he would venture to touch, made a merit of necessity, and had recourse to the veal also; although he could not help saying that he would not give one slice of the roast beef of Old England for all the dainties of a Roman Emperor’s table. But all the doctor’s invitations and assurances could not prevail upon his guests to honour the hachis and the goose; and that course was succeeded by another, in which he told them were divers of those dishes, which among the ancients had obtained the appellation of politeles, or magnificent. “That which smokes in the middle,” said he, “is a sow’s stomach, filled with a composition of minced pork, hog’s brains, eggs, pepper, cloves, garlic, aniseed, rue, ginger, oil, wine, and pickle. On the right-hand side are the teats and belly of a sow, just farrowed, fried with sweet wine, oil, flour, lovage, and pepper. On the left is a fricassee of snails, fed, or rather purged, with milk. At that end next Mr. Pallet are fritters of pompions, lovage, origanum, and oil; and here are a couple of pullets roasted and stuffed in the manner of Apicius.”

The painter, who had by wry faces testified his abhorrence of the sow’s stomach, which he compared to a bagpipe, and the snails which had undergone purgation, he no sooner heard him mention the roasted pullets, than he eagerly solicited a wing of the fowl; upon which the doctor desired he would take the trouble of cutting them up, and accordingly sent them round, while Pallet tucked the table-cloth under his chin, and brandished his knife and fork with singular address: but scarce were they set down before him, when the tears ran down his cheeks; and he called aloud, in a manifest disorder, “Zounds! this is the essence of a whole bed of garlic!” That he might not, however, disappoint or disgrace the entertainer, he applied his instruments to one of the birds; and when he opened up the cavity, was assaulted by such an irruption of intolerable smells, that, without staying to disengage himself from the cloth, he sprang away, with an exclamation of “Lord Jesus!” and involved the whole table in havoc, ruin, and confusion.

Before Pickle could accomplish his escape, he was sauced with the syrup of the dormouse pie, which went to pieces in the general wreck; and as for the Italian count, he was overwhelmed by the sow’s stomach, which, bursting in the fall, discharged its contents upon his leg and thigh, and scalded him so miserably, that he shrieked with anguish, and grinned with a most ghastly and horrible aspect.

The baron, who sat secure without the vortex of this tumult, was not at all displeased at seeing his companions involved in such a calamity as that which he had already shared; but the doctor was confounded with shame and vexation. After having prescribed an application of oil to the count’s leg, he expressed his sorrow for the misadventure, which he openly ascribed to want of taste and prudence in the painter, who did not think proper to return, and make an apology in person; and protested that there was nothing in the fowls which could give offence to a sensible nose, the stuffing being a mixture of pepper, lovage, and assafoetida, and the sauce consisting of wine and herring-pickle, which he had used instead of the celebrated garum of the Romans; that famous pickle having been prepared sometimes of the scombri, which were a sort of tunny-fish, and sometimes of the silurus, or shad-fish: nay, he observed that there was a third kind, called garum haemation, made of the guts, gills, and blood of the thynnus.

The physician, finding it would be impracticable to re-establish the order of the banquet, by presenting again the dishes which had been discomposed, ordered everything to be removed, a clean cloth to be laid, and the dessert to be brought in. Meanwhile, he regretted his incapacity to give them a specimen of the aliens, or fish meals of the ancients, such as the jus diabaton, the conger-eel, which, in Galen’s opinion, is hard of digestion; the cornuta, or gurnard, described by Pliny in his Natural History, who says, the horns of many of them were a foot and a half in length, the mullet and lamprey, that were in the highest estimation of old, of which last Julius Caesar borrowed six thousand for one triumphal supper. He observed that the manner of dressing them was described by Horace, in the account he gives of the entertainment to which Maecenas was invited by the epicure Nasidienus:—

Affertur squillas inter muraena natantes, etc.

and told them that they were commonly eaten with the thus Syriacum, a certain anodyne and astringent seed, which qualified the purgative nature of the fish. This learned physician gave them to understand, that though this was reckoned a luxurious fish in the zenith of the Roman taste, it was by no means comparable, in point of expense, to some preparations in vogue about the time of that absurd voluptuary Heliogabalus, who ordered the brains of six hundred ostriches to be compounded in one illness.

By this time the dessert appeared, and the company were not a little rejoiced to see plain olives in salt and water: butt what the master of the feast valued himself upon, was a sort of jelly, which he affirmed to be preferable to the hypotrimma of Hesychius, being a mixture of vinegar, pickle, and honey, boiled to proper consistence, and candied assafoetida, which he asserted, in contradiction to Aumelbergius and Lister, was no other than the laser Syriacum, so precious, as to be sold among the ancients to the weight of a silver penny. The gentlemen took his word for the excellency of this gum, but contented themselves with the olives, which gave such an agreeable relish to the wine, that they seemed very well disposed to console themselves for the disgraces they had endured; and Pickle, unwilling to lose the least circumstance of entertainment that could be enjoyed in their company, went in quest of the painter, who remained in his penitentials in another apartment, and could not be persuaded to re-enter the banqueting room, until Peregrine undertook to procure his pardon from those whom he had injured. Having assured him of this indulgence, our young gentleman led him in like a criminal, bowing on all hands with all air of humility and contrition; and particularly addressing himself to the count, to whom he swore in English, as God was his Saviour, he had no intent to affront man, woman, or child: but was fain to make the best of his way, that he might not give the honourable company cause of offence, by obeying the dictates of nature in their presence.

When Pickle interpreted this apology to the Italian, Pallet was forgiven in very polite terms, and even received into favour by his friend the doctor, in consequence of our hero’s intercession: so that all the guests forgot their chagrin, and paid their respects so piously to the bottle, that in a short time the Champagne produced very evident effects in the behaviour of all present.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30