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dating from the ineffable regions of Berkeley Square. I spoke of the dinner to several of my acquaintances here before I showed them your letter, and received all sorts of explanations and conjectures concerning a Russian dinner. Lampkin, in his meek way, surmised that it consisted mainly of caviare, and quoted some lines from Shakspeare, either about the "Rugged Russian bear," or something being “caviar to the general "-I don't remember which. Old General Gargall rudely expressed it as his opinion that you had nothing to eat but tallow candles and train oil; and told horrible, and I hope mendacious stories, about the way the Cossacks emptied the street-lamps and plundered the tallow-chandlers' shops during the foreign occupation of Paris, in 1815. Several old ladies maintained that at Russian dinners the gentlemen all got tipsy with “quass,
and knouted their wives all round when the dessert came. Another party stated the bill of fare to consist of bears' hams, bear’s-cub steaks, stewed bears' feet, bear’s-tail soup, dried reindeers' tongues, potted wolf, fir-cones and oil, raw turnips sliced in brandy, with plenty of ice between the courses. Fortunately we have had, on a visit to the head-master of the Grammar School here, a very well-informed, gentlemanly person of a certain age, a Mr. Nedwards. He has a long, tawny moustache, which he twists constantly, and is very fond of humming airs from the operas. He has endeavoured to make me like Signor Verdi ; he plays selections from his works very prettily on the piano; and has almost succeeded. He resided a long time in Russia, whither, I believe, he was sent on a diplomatic mission. Mr. Nedwards is very fond of the Russians, and of dîners à la Russe. Doctor Gradus, of the Grammar School, says that he is one of the most estimable of persons, and that he has every chance of being made a Commissioner some day.
His political views are strictly
conservative; and I believe he writes articles for nothing in the Saturday Review. But he is not a professional literary man: O dear, no!—and, in fact, my Louisa, if you were not already—but I digress. The only fault I have to find with Mr. Nedwards, who is otherwise charmant, is that he has a habit of coming very late when he is asked to dinner.
According to Mr. N., a dîner à la Russe is the acmé and perfection of the European cuisine. There is, perhaps, just a sufficient suspicion of orientalism about it to give it a picturesque character; otherwise, it is a scientific combination of all the best characteristics of French and Russian cookery. The first, you know, my darling, from experience and from report. The second comprises those elaborate, ingenious, and highly civilised dishes, called Stchi-you should only try to pronounce the word when you are labouring under a severe attack of influenza-which Stchi is a reeking cabbage soup with the yolks of eggs and square blocks of fresh boiled beef floating in it. Then there is Batwinia, a soup made of fish, ice, oil, and half-fermented beer, or quas.
There are pirogues, too, or hot meat pies, which you eat with your fingers. There are certain exquisite Russian fish, such as sterlet and sassina, which can't be obtained in England—not even through the instrumentality of Morell, or Fortnum and Mason; and when all these good things of the old Muscovite kitchen are mingled with the elegancies of Verrey's, and the Trois Frères Provençaux, aş is invariably the case at the genteel tables of St. Petersburg and Moscow; when, added to your cabbage soup, and fish, and ice, you have the salmis and soufflés of dear Paris ; the compotes, and suprêmes, and mayonnaises, moistened by the exquisite wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy, and the best Cliquot or Ruinart's champagne; when you are served in comfort, cleanliness, and eloquence, by silent and attentive
servants, and are saved the trouble of carving or helping
never find locks of red hair in your soup, or fleas baked in your bread, in Russia. The people who report these things are wicked and libellous calumniators. I can't say that his graphic and genteel description of a Russian dinner tallies with any great exactitude with your tableau of Mr. de Fytchett's dîner à la Russe. I miss the buffet set out with condiments and hors d'auvres, such as dried tongue, codfish, sardines, pickled and kippered salmon, gherkins and cranberries en marinade, or conserved, with flasks of Cognac or liqueurs, of which the guests partake as a species of whet or relish, or spur to their appetites before dinner, and which, in some houses, are handed round between the potage and the first course. The chief peculiarities at your Russian dinner in Pagoda Square appear to me to have been, in the fact that you didn't see anything of what you had to eat beyond the tiny portion on your plates; that the table was profusely decorated with fruits and flowers, and very little else; that no lordly joint, no stately turkey or capon, graced the board—the carving being all performed at a side table; that the wines were whisked round, and poked underneath your ears instead of sociably circulating-champagne, to my mind, is the only wine that ought to be handed round, because so few gentlemen know how to pour it out properly; and that, during the whole time of dinner, a cloud of servants hung and buzzed round the table like gadflies, perching on your plate, and tinkling your wine-glasses together, and generally per
vading and annoying you.
My dear, I am an old-fashioned woman, and think that the best dinner is one where the solid, succulent viands
of our English kitchen-viands which our climate and our habits demand—are mingled in moderation with the light, savoury, and elegant dishes of France. So, too, with wines. Some gentlemen will have, and ought to have, port. One of the best and wisest men I ever knew said to me- -I am old, and can bear plain-spoken language—“Why should I be compelled to drink light Claret that is like red ink? My dear Madam, it gives me the stomach ache. I like Port Wine, and when I have it, I like it stiff. My grandfather drank Port Wine, and he sailed round the world with Captain Cook. My great-grandfather drank Port Wine, and he fought at the battle of Blenheim. Let me drink Port Wine, and thank God for it, as my ancestors have done before me.” Respecting the
that dinner tables are set out, I must confess that I like to see my dinner. Flowers are beautiful things in the drawing-room and in the conservatory. Fruit is capital at dessert. A silver épergne, or plateau, a group in sham alabaster, are excellent in their way, and in their place; but I prefer, at dinner, the view of a cruet-stand or a dish of nicely-browned macaroni. I think a well-cooked joint of meat a grand and noble object; and if the host can carve, it is mean and pusillanimous for him to have it hacked and hewed to pieces by menials at a sideboard. With ladies the case is different. Their little hands were never made to hold the carving knife and fork, and although some of the very best carvers in my acquaintance have belonged to our sex, I can't, on the other hand, forget a poor young relative of mine, who was governess in a noble family, and when the children dined at one o'clock was obliged to carve. tacitly, considered as a part of her engagement. The poor timid little creature had scarcely strength or nerve enough to
å lark's wing from its body. Dinner time was to her a season of unutterable tribulation and despair; and she has
told me, often, that she always used to say her prayers before she carved.
Again, a well-furnished, plentifully-covered English dinner table is an admirable incentive to joyous conversation, to genial wit and graceful hospitality. The commendation, the discussion of the good things before you, add a hundred harmless pleasures to the meal.
You meet clever men at dinner, who can discourse pleasantly and learnedly about the dishes before them, and make more epigrams out of a boiled tongue than the cook can concoct from lamb cutlets. Helping and being helped will give rise to numberless little acts of courtesy and kindliness, which may culminate between young people in harmless endearment. More marriages have owed their foundation to the wing of a fowl adroitly severed, than to sentimental conversations or flirtations in the conservatory. Meantime, I suppose we must all follow Dame Fashion; so I wish you joy of your fruits and flowers and entourage of servants. Today it is the dîner à la Russe that is à la mode. To-morrow it may be the diner à la Turque or à la Chinoise. How would you like to have to sit cross-legged round a brass tray, to eat with your fingers, or be fed by a Pasha, who, when he wishes to pay you an especial compliment, rolls a handful of rice into a greasy ball, and pops it into your mouth? How would you like to ply your chopsticks at a dinner with some nasty Mandarins, and have bird's nest soup, dried ducks, pickled eggs, preserved caterpillars, stewed snails, unsugared tea, and hot wines in thimblefuls for dinner? Tell me in your next, and believe me ever your