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Chapter 44

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 wh............

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