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fine writing. As a rule, the literary portion is the
work of some hack who cribs his antiquarianism and criticism out of Brillat Savarin,
the fat" or,
or the Almanach des Gourmands; practical portion is mainly translated from the Royal, or even less scrupulously annexed from English friends Mrs. Rundell or Miss Acton. Louisa, these literary cookery-books, for culinary useless. You can't work by them. The ingredients they prescribe are intolerably expensive; and throughout there is a lamentable deficiency in the strong, homely, nervous directions of the practical cook; such as, "skim off stir well and serve hot; " or, chop up the liver with a handful of sweet herbs. As to M. Brillat Savarin, whose Physiologie du Goût is the text-book of the fine kitchen-stuff writers, many of his notions on cookery are fantastic, and many more repulsively coarse. A pretty gastronomic taste must the man have possessed whose formula for eating a "fat little bird" is to take him up with your fingers, cram him into your mouth, and craunch him, bones and all! Faugh! The Almanach des Gourmands— Almanac of Gluttons!-was written by clever cynical men, flippant and unbelieving, as Frenchmen generally are; and who, many of them, had to write for their dinners, rather than of the dinners they pretended to have eaten. Then came M. Charles Louis Eustache Ude, a whimsical, goodnatured, exorbitantly vain man, who-his head full of the kings, ambassadors, and plenipotentiaries, for whom he had cooked, and who petted him, and laughed at his droll sayings -imagined that he and his stewpans had had quite as much to do with the Treaty of Paris and the Congress of Vienna, as Castlereagh, Metternich, Talleyrand, or Pozzo di Borgo. The cook henceforth was to be no more an honest hardworking upper servant in a white jacket and nightcap, mixing
his sauces here, and giving an eye to his stewpans there, but an “artist,” on whom it would be expedient, at the first convenient opportunity, to bestow the ribbon of the Legion of Honour—although far worse men than cooks have enjoyed that decoration ere now, my dear—and who, away from his kitchen, was to belong to a club of cognoscenti, deliver opinions on the paintings in the Royal Academy Exhibition, drive a cabriolet with a tiger, and deliver lectures at literary and scientific institutions. These absurdities culminated in the person of the late M. Soyer, whom several of my military friends remember to have seen in the Crimea; who, according to what I have heard of him, was one of the best-natured, honestest, most generous souls that ever existed, with just enough of the Gascon in his composition to make his vanity and braggadocio amusing; who had a real faculty for invention and organisation; who would have made an excellent commissary, hotel-keeper, comedian, or dancing-master; who was the prince of good fellows, the merriest of diners-out, the staunchest and tenderest of friends; who might have been, and was, anything but a cook. It wasn't in him. He couldn't "skim off the fat,” “ chop the liver,” or
serve hot.” He called his dishes by fine names. They cost a great deal of money,
and didn't taste well when eaten. Thus, in your considerations of cookery, pray dismiss the idea of talking about its being an Art. It is a very useful, honest, pleasant calling, and nothing else. Of course it requires tuition and experience, but innate vocation and inherent aptitude have much to do with excellence in its pursuit. I do believe, in its largest sense, with the French axiom, that one may become (by practice) a cook, but that one is born a “ roaster.” Not only in roasting, but in many other departments of cookery, we see people who are, to the manner, born, and who have not acquired, but have been naturally endowed
with, a skill and dexterity quite independent of education. Some are born to boil potatoes well, and some to fry them; some have a special gift for mixing a salad ; and some for making pie-crust. There are those who couldn't make an omelette if they had passed half their lives in a culinary college; others who, I believe, were they babies in arms, could toss a pancake, brew whiskey punch, stew oysters, concoct despatch-lobster, and make the very best walnut pickles that ever were eaten with mutton chops. This is genius, my dear. All the universities, colleges, seminaries, social science congresses in the world, can't illumine that immortal lamp. Not only in cookery, but in a hundred different phases of human life, you see the light shining pure and serene through the thickest veil of ignorance and neglect. Rhyming dictionaries and repertories of bon mots won't give your choicest beau parleur, your most brilliant diner-out, the untutored wit, the unadorned epigrams that flow spontaneous from the mouth of an Irish hod-carrier, or an omnibus-conductor at the White Horse Cellars. The form is as rough as a rock; but the vein of precious metal runs through, sparkling and priceless.
“ The merest fool, the dullest clod,
Can turn a verse by labour wrought;
Can plant, within the verse, a Thought.”
Which accounts, my dear, for the infinity of “Minor Minstrels,” whom the Athenæum notices every year, and the prosperous trade driven by the trunkmakers and cheesemongers. Poetry will be taught in “six lessons” one day, I presume, like elegant penmanship and park-riding. Meanwhile, I will believe in genius and the fortunate ones who have the gift of doing so well the things which they have never been taught. Some can cook, and some drive a tandem by inspiration. Some children's fingers fall naturally on the keys of a pianoforte, and form chords untutored. Others will begin to dance as gracefully as Madame Louise Michau, Madame Adelaïde, or Madame Bizet Michau, those three graces of the mazy dance, before they have left off toddling. But hark, in your ear, my Louisa. In cookery, and in everything else, a special gift, a genius, for one section of knowledge, by no means exempts us from the duty and necessity of applying ourselves strenuously to the study of the other sections. It isn't because you may have a gift for reading with eloquence and emphasis, that you are not to learn writing. We can't keep one cook to boil potatoes, another to roast partridges, and another to make bread sauce. Watchmaking is the only branch of human knowledge in which such a division of skill and labour is permissible or practicable. We should always strive to know our business thoroughly. A man has no right to dub himself a scholar because he can talk Latin ; many Hungarian refugees and poor Catholic curates can do that. Or because he can talk Greek; there are many clerks to merchants of Old Broad Street and Finsbury Circus who could put The Times newspaper, supplement and all, into Greek—not spurious Romaic, but in the tongue once talked by Plato and Socrates. An Oxford Don—with not, perhaps, one hundredth part of their real knowledge of a dead language-receives, perhaps, his fifteen hundred per annum; —they are contented with some thirty shillings a week. Or because he knows Hebrew. Out of the Judengasse at Frankfort, or Bevis Marks in London, you might pick dozens of oleaginous Rabbins who speak Hebrew fluently, and know it thoroughly. Only if a man be deeply learned in mathematics has he a right to call himself a sc and an erudite one; for I have heard men say that the mathematics comprise all human knowledge, and that proficiency in these mysteries trenches on the Divine—at an immense and impassable distance; but the great mathematician is still at the very frontier of the unspeakable land, at the very brink of the gulf that divides the utmost thing that man can know from the infinite things which he can never know on this side the gulf. And the gulf is called Eternity.
I don't want to be a Countess Algarotti, or to worry you with a course of “ Newtonismo per le dame," so I will come back at once to Cookery. It is true that Mrs. Somerville and Miss Martineau have done much in late years to make science and philosophy fashionable among ladies ; but you know my opinions concerning two and two making four with our sex. I once knew a girl of eighteen who professed to have read Hobbes's “ Leviathan ” through. I don't believe that she had; but I dare say she might have looked into the immense dreary folio. I'd have Hobbes'd her, if I had been her mamma, the pert thing. I always predicted that she-her name was Kittlum—would come to no good. And she didn't. At twenty-two she ran away with a red-headed usher from a young gentleman's boardingschool at Turnham Green, and the last I heard of her was, that he was delivering lectures on Electro Biology in the north of England; that he drank fearfully, and beat her shamefully; and that she had sunk to the unspeakable degradation of being a Medium.
With considerable curiosity, mingled with amusement, I have perused your account of Mr. de Fytchett's state banquet. So it was a dîner à la Russe, was it?
The Pagodians have become inoculated with the idea promulgated some months since in the columns of the Times, by a mysterious epicurean, concealing himself beneath three initials, and