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become of opaline opacity when enabled to pay himself proper attention. Now venison, like time and tide, waits for no man; and the stupidest ass of a country cousin may swallow it when the said fat is clear as amber, while the diner-out finds it gradually freezing upon his hapless plate!
In the same way, one's iced pudding begins to melt while one finishes a series of repartees with some sharp opposite neighbour. I remember last season having an avalanche before me, that would have cooled the fire-king only to look at; and before I could com. mand the use of my lips, the recent inundation at Brentford was not more fluent than my plate!
It is the custom, by the way, of quadrille dancers to be very scrupulous in engaging a vis-à-vis. Young ladies pretend that it is of as much consequence to them to be mated with an eligible opposite neighbour, as with an eligible partner. It is of fifty times as much importance to a dining-out man!-What he says to his two next neighbours, however interesting, does him little or no credit with the party. But a confederate opposite, is as invaluable an adjunct as the clown attending the horsemanship at Astley's. The whole audience is convulsed by the witticisms addressed to him. The whole table is in a roar when I happen to sit facing Horace or Sydney. In such a partnership, one loses nothing by a division of profits.
On the other hand, it is a horrible trial of patience to bowl to an awkward bat; or throw the ball which there is no one to catch. I know nothing more bewildering than for a man who knows himself to have been invited for the entertainment of the company, to get placed, through one of those blunders which so often occur in mixed dinnerparties, next to some dunny dowager-dunny in mind as well as body; or opposite to a bevy of misses in muslin frocks, to whom it is not permissible to plead guilty of an idea. Conversation is out of the question. It is like singing with your face to a stone-wall. Every fresh attempt at liveliness is rewarded with a stare of stupid wonder; and it is only when you make yourself comprehensible to the meanest capacity by abusing the weather, or canting about the state of the times, that you are rewarded with more than monosyllables in reply. In vain do you chafe and fret. You have, perhaps, half a dozen capital stories fermenting in your brains. Take my advice. Postpone your triumph. Endure your total eclipse in solemn silence. It is useless attempting to make bricks without straw.
One of my best houses is the Marquis of Bexfield's. What a chef! -what a maître d'hôtel!-what an establishment!-what a master thereof! Such a pleasant set, too!-fine people, who are not too fine, and coarse people, who are not too coarse. From the moment of crossing the threshhold, one is conscious of a certain bien-être pervading one's animal nature; as in a warm-bath, or the sortie from a long sermon at Christmas, or in the dog-days. There are certain capital dining-houses, such as that of the late Lord S., where gas. tronomy is made of too engrossing importance. One eats too critically, and grows nervous lest one should be betrayed into enjoying something which the knowing ones decide to be not of the highest quality. In such a set, the conversation-man is of secondary importance. People are invited exclusively to eat and drink. The talker is there only to fill up the pauses between the numerous courses. At Lord Bexfield's this is not the case. One stands one's ground with the bastions de volaille and château margaux,
The only fault I have to find with his lordship's arrangements, is the multitude of plums in his pudding. He has too many of us. The other day I dined there, expecting to meet the Gurnseys, the Middlesexes, and others of that class, with whom I had noticed in the Morning Post, Lord Bexfield to have been lately dining. Not a bit! Nothing but authors and diners-out, with their females!-I never met a stupider set of people. They all looked affronted at being asked to meet each other; and every time the door opened, I saw them looking out anxiously for some lordly or ladyly arrival. We were there to enjoy each other's society, to entertain each other; when every soul of us knew that not one of the party was a dinner-giver, and consequently deserving the attention of the rest. The utmost which any of them pretended to, was what is anomalously called a good plain cook!-'Oh! oh!'
I wonder whether the Mecenases of Astley's Amphitheatre or Sadler's Wells would do so stupid a thing as collect their tumblers to entertain each other with feats of agility? that is, to betray the mys teries of their calling, and allow a rival to discover how the fire was eaten, and how the eggs were balanced? For my part I was once idiot enough to let fall one of my choice stories, one of my gems for the season,' before Punham, who most nefariously made it his own; and, as he goes among a set of people ignorant enough of the etiquettes of society to feel entitled to seize on all they hear, and appropriate waifs and strays, like Cornish wreckers, I had the agony of hearing one of my best compilations torn to pieces wherever l went, served piecemeal,-and martyrized by clumsy dealing in the operation. Punham used to sit by, listening with an untortured countenance; and, like the distracted mother, brought to light by King Solomon's division of the living babe in her presence, any one of common discretion might have recognized me, by my anguish, to be the legitimate parent of the bantling.
By the way, Punham has one terrible advantage over me. His seat in the house places him in the current of a thousand rumours, which I only receive by a side-wind. Punham knows on Monday, the scandal I am glad to repeat on the Tuesday. I have been sometimes ready to expire when, after firing great guns to draw the attention of the table to some little bit of news I had picked up in the afternoon at the Athenæum, or some visit, my narration has been met with, Yes; I fancy it is true. Punham mentioned it at Riddlesworth's yesterday at dinner.' Parliament, too, keeps him out of the routine of nauseous humdrum dowager-visits, to which I am harnessed. I have heard old Lady Clairville say to him, 'Oh! I always make excuses for you. I know how much you are taken up at the house;' and while I wear my wits to the stump in fetching and carrying tittle-tattle for her, she invites Punham to all her pleasantest dinners, he who never does more than leave a card at her door!-I have half a mind to renounce her set altogether; for I look upon Punham as a sort of extinguisher chained to my flambeau. Would I could hope that her set would regret me, as I deserve to be regretted. But they pretend to call me a tale-bearer. One day, when I was sitting there, that saucy fellow, Sir Henry, began talking about the legislative wisdom of putting to death all stray animals in the time of the Plague, protesting that more mischief was conveyed from house to house by idle in-and-out puppies, than by responsible persons. I knew what he meant. I was almost
inclined to call him out. But I was to dine the next day with the Marquis, and did not want to injure my digestion.
Those dinners at the Marquis's are my sheet-anchor!-I dine at twenty other places, on the strength of them. It is not alone the excellence of my friend Casserole, or the splendid liberality with which the whole thing is conducted, but next day,-nay, for three days afterwards,-one is able to drop in at a hundred different houses, letting fall incidentally something one heard or saw there as an excuse for a careless allusion to the dinner. Then comes the inevitable inquiry, 'Did you dine there yesterday? Yesterday, or Wednesday, was it? Yes, yesterday.'And who had you?'-Not a very large party-the Duke of Wellington (or whoever may be the lion of the day) and a few others of one's own set.'
I hardly ever knew the bait fail of a nibble. Slow people are fond of being able to say to the next equally humdrum morning visitor,- Prattles has just been here. He heard yesterday at Lord So-and-so's and next day one gets an invitation. The Marquis's dinner kittens half a hundred other dinners.
I must own, however, that I had fewer on my list last season, than any preceding one. Did this arise from a diminution in the aggregate of dinners given, or of my own popularity -The latter, I fear! People get fanciful in the matter of their conversation men. Though certain dishes must recur and recur again in their menu every spring,-salmon, turbot, lamb, or turkey-poult, they seem to think it necessary to have a change in their talkers. It is only Rogers who blooms afresh every season, with the lilacs. There is always some new man,-something that has taken an honour, or returned from the North Pole or Timbuctoo,—or written a book that has been exalted in the Edinburgh, or cut to mincemeat in the Quarterly, or blown up a fort in Syria,-or inherited half a million a year, or run away with somebody's daughter, or from somebody's wife, or something wonderful or other, that entitles him to the veneration and dinners of an indulgent public. With such a card in hand, our friends grow ungrateful; forget how many a stupid party of theirs one's efforts had redeemed from the yawns ;-and invite one to a family dinner! I must do as poor Lady Cork used, when her popularity was flagging; viz. send an account to the newspapers of my own death, and next day, the contradiction. Something to this effect:
'We learn, with the liveliest regret, the death of that amiable man, and charming companion, ALFRED PRATTLES, ESQ. Few persons could be so ill spared from the symposia of social life! Mr. Prattles has been for many years past recognized as one of the most distinguished members of the literary and fashionable world; and no party was considered perfect without the addition of his brilliant and highly piquant conversation. He was, perhaps, on the whole, the liveliest talker of the day.'
Followed by, 'It is with the most unfeigned satisfaction we learn that there is not the slightest foundation for the rumour of the premature decease of that highly-popular individual, Mr. Prattles. We had ourselves the satisfaction of seeing him yesterday in St. James's Street, walking arm-in-arm with the Duke of Wellington; nor can we sufficiently despise the callous and wanton levity with which certain persons, for the furtherance of private pique, presume to harrow up the feelings of anxious friends by the circulation of reports of this cruel nature. We cannot
sufficiently apologize to our subscribers for our insertion of so ill-advised a fabrication.'
I foresee from hence the compunctious visitings brightening up the damped affections of my friends and acquaintance, on perusing such an announcement! Poor Prattles!' they will exclaim, 'I don't know how it was, I had not seen so much of him lately, yet he is one whose company is always an acquisition,—a most amusing little fellow,—a man who knows everything,-a man whom everybody knows.-Heartily glad to find he is still extant !-By Jove! I'll call on him to-morrow and ask him to dinner.'
Even those less-affectionately disposed towards me, even those who perhaps think me a bore, will be moved to ejaculate, 'Poor little Prattles! -after all, there was more twaddling than mischief in his gossip. His tittle-tattle was only the labour of his vocation. He never did any harm, —that is, he never meant to do any harm.-If he sometimes administered arsenic instead of magnesia, it was only through a mistake of the labels. He never poisoned people with malice prepense. And he was really very good fun in rainy weather in the country, or when trying to sit his horse in the Park.--I fancy we could better spare a better man than Prattles.'
And then one's works!-The moment a literary man dies, and the newspapers take to getting up his memoirs, every little anonymous thing of merit that has been floating about for the last ten years, is laid to his charge. The real author has always the power of establishing his right to his unclaimed dividends;-a letter to the editor from the 'constant reader of his invaluable journal,' informing him in roundabout phrase that his facts are fictions, and his fictions rubbish, only serves to increase the interest of the paper. On the strength of my decease, I shall probably be charged with Violet the Danseuse;' or the 'Adventures of a Coxcomb.' I have a great mind to charge myself with 'Fashionable Friends,' and The Nun of Arrouca.' It might be a considerable relief to the shoulders of the administration, and at all events produce a newspaper controversy, certain to bring all parties into notice. 'Pon honour! the idea may be worth working out!--What neat little articles in the Examiner, Spectator, Athenæum, Atlas, and Literary Gazette, will endeavour to fix the cap upon the rightful head!--What fudgerations in the magazines, what solemn sneers in the Quarterlies.-I foresee a vista of dinners prolonged from the Easter feast to the July banquets of Lovegrove's (when the white-bait, like hobbledehoys, have outgrown their melted butter,) issuing from this lucky suggestion.
How I hate all those weekly papers, with their Library Tables,' and 'Weekly Gossip,' and 'Foreign Correspondence,' taking the very roll out of one's mouth!-The digestive doctors swear that the human constitution has never got on half so well since the elaborate processes of modern gastronomy in the form of soups, gravies, and jellies, took half its labours out of its hands. They protest that the epigastric functions, not having enough to do, prey upon themselves, and consequently do mischief. The processes of the human mind are vastly analogous to those of the human stomach. When people used to work hard in the pursuit of knowledge, a healthy appetite was engendered; and it is only since the hashes of literature came to be constantly served at our tables,--scraps of poetry, romance, or history, enhanced by the peppery sauce of the reviewers,--that we lost all taste for the
wholesome learning, the solid sirloin of the historian, the homely batterpudding of Mrs. Trimmer and Mrs. Chapone. Above all, the impertinent celerity with which these placarders of literature send flying all abroad news of the birth of every chef-d'œuvre, and the suicides of rash authorship, is enough to distract one.-Five-and-twenty years ago, people took a couple of months to decide whether it were worth while to send to Hookham's for the new novel; and six weeks after the publication of Southey's last epic, used to be asking each other whether that strange man, who wrote Espriella's Letters, had not been attempting something new?-Now, while Bulwer's youngest is still damp from the press, not a linen-draper's apprentice in Regent Street but is competent to inform the errand-boy that 'it ben't by no manner of means hequal to Huge and Harem.'--The march of intellect makes its way into every hole and corner, in more than doublequick time.
I have long perceived that my little trips of discovery to Paris, for the importation of novelties of the season,' are of no more use than if I marched up Highgate Hill and down again. Nothing nearer than Constantinople is in the slightest degree available. Between steam-navigation and yachting, the Mediterranean is grown as vulgar as the Nore. Could the ghost of Captain Cook arise to inquire why it has never been laid in Westminster Abbey, how immensely astonished it would be to find people steaming it over the Red Sea, as easily as they used to row, in his time, over Chelsea Reach; and the name of Polynesia as familiar in their mouths as that of Polly Peachum!-For my part, I am thinking of a tour for next autumn (if the untimely decease scheme do not fructify as I anticipate,) and cannot for the soul of me hit upon anything sufficiently exclusive to give a fillip to public curiosity, or pretend to being written up by the Quarterly.
The only spot of earth concerning which St. James's Street and Belgrave Square know nothing, is the City of London. I have a vast mind to try, TRAVELS TO THE EAST; WITH SKETCHES OF SMITHFIELD AND THE BARBICAN; by one of the opera-tive class,' or some such taking title. One might furbish up famous antiquarianisms out of the Gentleman's Magazine, about Crosby Hall and Winchester House, and bring in a host of savoury little compliments to the various companies, and different aldermen, certain to bring down coveys of dinners!-I smell turtle and venison in the very promise!--The Albion-Bleaden-Birch!-august names!Cornhill, promiseth corn in Egypt;-Smithfield, marrow and fatness ;— Warwick Lane, manna.-The city must necessarily abound in byres and cellars,-fat beeves, and strong beer. Fish ought never to be eaten westward of Temple Bar; and albeit the Bank and Stock-Exchange make their turtle soup, like their twenty per cent, out of calves' heads, there are capital little fricots tossed up in the Poultry.-Yes,-decidedly, if a supposititious demise do not mend my fare, I will try the Eastern circuit.
I wonder whether anybody will start anything new this season?-The town is wretchedly in want of a startle to make it open its eyes. Society is miserably drowsy. The great deficiency of the English mind is invention. The country is full of originals; yet collectively, we are the most jog-trot nation in Europe. I must not quarrel with the fault, but for which, the vocation of diner-out would be extinguished. The Pique assiette of the French was a fellow who arrived with couplets in his pocket, to enliven the dessert, and administer to their love of gaiety. The diner