Page images
PDF
EPUB

a few of them, narrated in suitable language, would add great interest to a history of this kind, and do much to further what ought to be one of the historian's chief objects encouraging his readers to pursue their study further, and have recourse, when it is in their power, to the original authorities which he consults.

And now other nations come upon the stage, and particularly the people of the Great King, whose previous conquests and military reputation served so much to heighten the renown of the gallant little bands that victoriously resisted them. This glorious struggle has continually been the theme of the poet, the orator, and the patriot, and not without good reason, for it is a triumph unmatched in the pages of any history, except our own. In almost all the cases of regular battles gained against great odds, (we put surprises and ambuscades out of the question,) there have been some counterbalancing physical advantages on the side of the minority, some superior equipment, the result of superior civilization armor, horses, firearms, or something of the sort unknown to the other party, and rendering the victory less wonderful. But in this instance, the accoutrements and military science and experience of the Persians seem to have been no way behind those of the Greeks; nay, in some departments of warfare, such as archery, it is probable that the Persians were the more skillful. The Greeks gave the fairest proof that they were, in Highland phraseology, “the prettier men.” In describing these world-renowned battles, both Thirlwall and Grote have acquitted themselves well, but neither remarkably. Their accounts suffer on comparison with those magnificent pictures of Arnold, which give to Hannibal's campaigns all the interest of a new story. But to say that they fall short of Arnold is no great censure, we feel disposed to blame them much, when we remember how often a "picturesque" historian is tempted to sacrifice accuracy to effect.

With the battle of Marathon terminates Mr. Grote's fourth volume, and here our article must terminate also. We wait with impatience for his observations on later Greek politics and philosophy, the more so because the increased interest and liveliness in the corresponding parts of Dr. Thirlwall's book, induce a hope that Mr. G. will,

nor

can

in a similar manner, continue to rise with his subject. We have accomplished our main purpose, which was to supply, to the best of our small ability, a singular omission on the part of American reviewers. Here are two works which will be, for many years at least, the standard Histories of Greece in the English language; one of them has been completed four years, the other is now about half published; and we are not aware that the least notice has been taken of them by any American periodical. To Mr. Grote's history we are almost positive that there has not been the slightest allusion. We have therefore made bold, in default of abler scholars, to take the matter in hand, deeply regretting that so interesting and important a subject has not attracted the attention of some one better qualified to do it justice.

TABLE ÆSTHETICS.

Knickerbocker, March 1848.

I AM going to write on a most important subject, one which concerns all classes and conditions of men every day of their lives, and has a direct influence on very weighty public and private affairs; which is intimately associated with ideas of joy and comfort and strength; three most pleasant things. It is the art, science and mystery of those acts which the Transcendentalists call appropriating to one's self a portion of the outer world;' in plain English, breakfasting and dining with their incidents and accessories; what for want of a better term, I call table-resthetics.

Now I am well aware at the outset, that many very worthy persons, either from defective education and want of opportunity to know better, or from inconsiderate conformity with those about them, (a common American fault.) or from want of accurate discrimination, confounding things which have some resemblance (another very common fault of our beloved countrymen) will consider

my purpose in this essay frivolous at best, if not absolutely mischievous. So, as it is always well to clear the ground for a fair start, our preliminary step will be to hear what they have to say, and then endeavor to enlighten them a little.

The art of eating and drinking ! cries one. “Animal propensities! sensuall making a beast of one's self! Digging his grave with his teeth! and much more in the same strain.

Hold hard, my friend, and do n't talk rubbish. Do you mean to insinuate that table-æstheticism and gluttony are convertible terms? If so, you might just as well say that every man who goes to see the Venus de Medicis is a profligate. The very reverse is true in most cases. It is notorious that the most barbarous nations, those among whom table-ästhetics, as well as all other arts, have made the least progress, are the most voracious feeders. The man who eats knowingly, generally eats at least one-fourth less than the average of those who eat at random. He seldom exceeds two meals a day and one of those not a hearty one. For my own part I would wager that if the readers who are tempted to turn up a frugal and virtuous nose at the title of this paper were put upon my daily diet by way of regimen, the majority would cry out for a change, and confess themselves half-starved in less than a fortnight. And on the score of health, worthy Cato, let me tell you that you are sadly mistaken. It is not the man who, after the toil and bustle of the day are over, leisurely refreshes himself with a dainty and judicious repast, irrigated with a moderate supply of the generous latex Lyæus, and then reposes over his book or in pleasant conversation to digest it; it is not he who is bilious and dyspeptic. No, it is the man who at the unnatural and barbarous hour of one P. M., pitches into himself a variety of miscellaneous provender indiscriminately for fifteen minutes, and in fifteen more is at his business again. As to the intellectual side of the question, there are doubtless extraordinary occasions when a man has to get through a certain amount of head-work in a limited time, and is obliged to live like a hermit in order to keep his brain clear. Most persons have had some such experiences. I remember a period of three weeks during which I would

willingly have dispensed with eating altogether, and did only take just enough to support the system. But this corresponds to the training of the pedestrian or the jockey, by which he is enabled to undergo a preternatural amount of bodily exertion; and the one is no more the normal state and babitual system of diet, than the other is of exercise. All the genial and natural products of a man's intellect, the happiest spontaneous effusions of his fancy and imagination, proceed from a well- nourished frame. Satur est quum dicit Horatius, Eve!

As to the expense too, the argument in many cases makes all the other way. Economy, not a niggardly parsimony, but a sensible and prudent economy, enters into the calculations of the æsthetic. Good taste abhors excessive profusion, and good edibles are naturally less prone to be wasted: than bad ones. A clever French cook will make up nearly the difference in his wages by saving, the fuel which would have been unprofitably expended by an Irish ignoramus, or ignorama, as I once heard a learned Boston lady call it. It is well known by those versed in military affairs, that a French regiment will subsist comfortably on rations which would drive an English regiment to mutiny, not because the French do not require as much nourishment as the English, whatever their novelists and dramatists may represent to the contrary, but because their superior skill in cookery enables them to make a given amount of animal matter go further. Let it be allowed, however, that æsthetic habitudes do involve more outlay of capital than a rude and hap-hazard way of supporting nature. It remains to be asked whether the advantages procured by them do not justify the additional expense. And this will be better considered in connection with the third objection which may be supposed, viz., that the pursuit is a frivolous one and not worthy the time and trouble which it requires.

Now if man be a social animal (as we have the highest authority for asserting that he is) and if tableæstheticism promotes sociability, then in truth is it no

* In the hall of a New-England college where I pretended to cat some twelve years ago, the expense of what was was wasted would have kept a decent table. The students used to squander their supplies in very spite, they were so bad.

unimportant matter. A good dinner is the parent of good feeling, peace with one's-self and with the world, benevolence and liberality. Wherefore the charitable societies of England do wisely give dinners, knowing that the purse is more open after a sumptuous banquet. On the other hand, what mortification, discomfort and misanthropy result from a bad dinner! What an awful infliction it is to be asked to partake in suffering one! And to say that any man with the requisite means can provide the needful by merely giving orders to his cook, confectioner and wine-merchant, is absurd; for in the first place, it requires æsthetic discernment to choose the cook, the confectioner and the wine-merchant. Moreover, we have observed that one part of the science is to manage your means and make the most of your resources, so that one instructed can give an agreeable banquet at the expense which would procure but a sorry set-out in the hands of the uninitiated. The truth is that table-æstheticism is a branch of the fine arts, a subordinate one indeed, but occupying its distinct and appropriate place; and you will generally find that the man who has a good taste in poetry, painting and music, will also have a good taste in all things pertaining to the management of the table. There are some people who think all the fine arts wicked, and incentives to bad passions; and others who, having no perception of the beautiful, think them expensive follies, and take credit to themselves for their insensibility, like Mr. Chief-Engineer Jervis, who makes a merit of defacing and disfiguring the most beautiful river in the world. And there are men whose palates are naturally blunt, and to whom it makes not the slightest difference what they taste or imbibe, just as there are others again who would as lief talk to an ugly woman as to a handsome one; but

you,

reader mine, are not of that sort, I trust, nor happily are the majority of mankind, even in this utilitarian age. Still even these people may be led to see the excellency of table-æstheticism, if they will look at the power it confers on a master of it in society. What gives a man prestige and personal popularity, what softens criticism and wins partisans like being an irreproachable Amphitryon ? No observant man can doubt that the Boston literati owe a great part of their reputation and influence to the fact

« PreviousContinue »