This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
Now folks begin with sweet things, and turn their dinners topsy turvy." In the familiar nursery rhyme of Froggy would a-wooing go, the same practice is clearly alluded to with regard to the little dinner, of which a menu is given in the song's refrain, - "Roly, poly" (pudding), followed by "gammon (of pork), and spinach "; quite a satisfying repast, though probably the first course of jam roll didn't digest comfortably, because immediately afterwards, "Heigho! said Roly".
The great Duke of Wellington, when journeying through France with Alava in 1814, invariably on being asked at what time of the coming day they should next start, replied, "At daybreak "; and to the question what they should have for dinner, answered, "Cold meat." "Je les ai eu en horreur, a, la fin," Alava declared; "ces deux mots la-daybreak, et cold meat".
Thackeray, as one of the last generation, dined early:-
"A plain leg of mutton, my Lucy, I prithee get ready at three! Have it smoking, and tender, and juicy, And what better meat can there be?
To "dine with Duke Humphrey" (buried at St. Alban's, 1446) was to wander dinnerless about his tomb; whereupon Quin is supposed (in an epigram by Garrick) to have soliloquized thus concerning the embalmed Duke below: -
"A plague on Egypt's arts, I say: Embalm the dead! on senseless clay,
Which I can never taste?
Let me embalm this flesh of mine With turtle-fat and Bordeaux wine,
And spoil the Egyptian trade! Than Humphrey's Duke more happy I: Embalmed alive old Quin shall die,
A mummy ready made! "
When Mr. Pickwick and Bob Sawyer reached Towcester, dripping wet from outside the coach, at the "Saracen's Head,"
"A werry good little dinner," said Sam Weller, in attendance upon them, "can be got ready in half-an-hour, - pair of fowls, Sir, and a weal cutlet, French beans, taturs, tart, and tidiness. You had better stop vere you are, Sir, if I might recommend! Take adwice, Sir, as the doctor said." Again, when Bob Sawyer and Benjamin Allen were having a nap, they were roused by the mere whispering of the talismanic word "dinner " in their ears; and to dinner they went, with "good digestion waiting on appetite, and health on both, and a waiter on all three".
At the Supper given in her lodgings by Miss Snevellicci, of the Theatre Royal, Portsmouth (see Nicholas Nickleby, 1838), to her parents after a benefit performance, and to which Mr. Johnson (Nicholas), the leading actor, was specially invited, "the cloth was laid, under the joint superintendence of all the ladies, upon two tables put together, the one being high and narrow, and the other low, and broad. There were oysters at the top,- sausages, at the bottom, a pair of snuffers in the centre, and baked potatoes wherever it was most convenient to put them.". Samuel Pepys, when at the Hague (in 1660), "gained admission late one evening to the ' Prince of Orange '; this done, we went to a place we had taken to sup in, where a sallet, and two or three bones of mutton were provided for a matter of ten of us, which was very strange".
The famous Dr. Johnson seems, according to Leslie Stephen, to have "eaten like a wolf, - savagely, silently, and with undis-criminating fury." He was not a pleasant object during the performance; he became totally absorbed in the business of the moment; a strong perspiration broke out, and the veins of his forehead swelled. He liked coarse, satisfying dishes, - boiled pork, and veal pie, stuffed with plums, and sugar; whilst in regard to wine he seems to have accepted the doctrines of the critic of a certain fluid (professedly "Port") who asked, "What more can you want? It is black, it is thick, and it makes you drunk." Moreover he would pour oyster sauce over his plum-pudding. Sydney Smith, remonstrating with Sir George Phillips by letter (1829), wrote: "And now, Sir George, let me caution you against indulgence in that enormous appetite of yours; you eat every day as much as four men in holy orders, and yourself a layman! "
There seems to be without doubt an evident relation between the increased consumption of meat as food, and the frequent occurrence of appendicitis (or obstruction of the little worm-like process attached where the small intestines terminate in the first pouch - caecum - of the large bowels), which has recently taken to prevail so commonly. Plain meals, and fasts, have become almost completely banished from amongst us; and in towns where this appendicitis has grown more frequent of late, flesh food is now the chief nutriment. "I have seen," says Dr. Keen, "lately a number of cases of appendicitis among young subjects, who had been reared on animal food, at a period when the nourishment ought to have consisted exclusively in a milk diet." Among the large cities of the United States of America, appendicitis obtains so widely that it is estimated one-third of the population is attacked by this trouble. In the majority of cases it would appear that the small tube of the appendix is invaded by a particular microbe, the Bacillus coli communis. Modern teaching says that this appendix is more than an obsolete rudimentary structure, and has its uses by pouring a secretion into the large bowel.for promoting the digestion of food therein.
Carnivorous animals do not possess a caecum, but among herbivorous animals the organ is very large. Generally when obstructive appendicitis is threatened, a thorough washing-out of the breeding bed of the offending microbe in the caecum, and appendix, by a copious injection of warm water, will overcome the trouble, and will put the matter right pretty soon. Sir William MacEwen, of the Charing Cross Hospital, now teaches that the human appendix is also "the home of a troglodyte microbe that wages the fiercest war against undigested food".
Old persons bear a spare diet best, then adults; . whereas youths tolerate it less easily, particularly children. In persons who are ill-nourished the tubercle bacillus seems to find a specially favourable soil; so that the association between bad feeding, and such diseases as lung consumption, and scrofula, is well established, while an improvement in nutrition is not infrequently followed by their cure. This is the probable reason why diabetic patients (who are kept too often in a chronic state of partial starvation) become so liable to tubercular disease of the lungs, or of some other organ; and why tall men who take only as much food as their fellows of lower stature, fall short of full health, and develop a tendency to consumption. Again, that "a hungry man is an angry man" has grown to be a recognized truth. On the other hand, the theory has been mooted, with no small show of reason, that persons with large appetites, and good digestions, who eat more of highly organized foods than they require, or can use up, are particularly prone to cancer. There is a natural tendency for healthy persons beyond middle age to consume more food than they actually need.
Dr. Rabagliati, of Bradford, puts it among his Aphorisms that " 'taking a cold,' as it is called, far more often depends on wrong feeding than on exposure to a chill, or than on climatic changes; whereby it follows that the best way for avoiding any such catarrhal attacks (often contracted more severely in hot weather than in winter, and yet no one speaks of them as ' taking heat,' their chilly shiver being then rather the first stage of feverishness) is not merely to wrap up well, but, as a more important point, to eat properly; certainly not more often than at three daily meals, indeed only at two by preference, and then not taking more than from twelve to twenty-four ounces of ordinary food, according to age, and occupation followed. If in six months, or so, the person still finds himself catching cold too readily, or too often, he should eat only in the morning and evening, taking moderate meals; and if again after another time of six months the same trouble persists, he should reduce the quantity of food to eight ounces at one meal, and four ounces at the other.
Still once again, if the disposition to cold-taking yet declares itself, then only one daily meal should be had, consisting of twelve, or sixteen ounces of appropriate food".
According to Villa Novus, hys prescription, "the use of meat in a morning is to be disallowed as gross, hebetant, feral, altogether fitter for wild beasts than men; per contra, he com-mendeth herb diete for this meal as gentle, humane, active, conducing to contemplation; breaking the fast. on eggs, and cooling salades, mallows, winter cresses, and those herbes".
Charles Lamb, in his essay on Popular Fallacies, insists that "when advanced in years a man should not take his chief meal in solitude, for it to be properly nutritive"; this he styles "the solemn ceremony of manducation." "There are," as Health maintains, "some happily-disposed individuals who can dine alone, and not eat too fast, nor too much, nor too little; but with the majority of persons it is different. Towards due and easy nutrition the food should be masticated slowly, and the mind not be intensely exercised during the process." Our forefathers took their meals seriously at times, inculcating such mannerisms as "Cease your chatter, and mind your platter," or "None but fools and fiddlers sing at their meat." We are certainly wiser in promoting social pleasantries at table, and in believing that "the chatted meal is half digested." Everyone knows that violent bodily exercise is bad just after a meal, and mental exertion is equally so. In fact, the experience of all past generations has perpetuated the lesson that a man should not eat alone, nor think deeply at the time of a meal, but should talk, and be talked to, while he feeds.
Most persons do not ponder profoundly while they talk, and such light talking is a natural accompaniment to eating, and drinking; it needs no moralist to declare the evils of solitariness at meals. Most assuredly it is not good for man to eat and drink alone. Pleasantly, and gracefully enough, when a Russian dinner concludes, the hostess takes her stand at the table end, and the guests come up one by one to kiss her hand, while the children thank both father and mother for the good meal they have received. Milton wrote to the effect that "the interim of convenient rest before meat may both with profit, and delight be taken up in recreating, and composing the travailed spirits with the solemn, and divine Harmonies of musick, heard, or learned; the like also would not be unexpedient after meat, to assist, and cherish nature in her first concoction." As to sleep after dinner, Dr. Chambers declares it retards digestion, and allows the distended stomach to act injuriously on the circulation of the brain. "It is proper only for very aged persons, or invalids, and not always for them".
Concerning a "tea dinner," writes Ian Maclaren, "it is the most loathsome meal ever invented; and we'll never have it at the Free Manse. A certain number of tea dinners would make a man into a Plymouth Brother! it's merely a question of time".
Bouchard has shown that if food is retained in the stomach longer than for five hours, the changes which then take place therein are fermentative and putrefactive, rather than digestive. Flatulent discomfort occurs chiefly during the latter part of a slow, and over-burdened digestion, when the food mass has reached the large intestines, wherein it sluggishly ferments. When it enters the small intestines at first, certain residual bacteria preserve it from fermenting there; but further on in the larger bowels most of the liquids are absorbed, and the production of antiseptic acids ceases, so that putrefactive gases are generated therein, giving rise to distension, and to remorse for over-indulgence at table. The liver exercises a poison-destroying power by the bile, and the kidneys will eliminate intestinal microbes.
"Olim erat anxia anus, valde anxia; quid tibi visum est? Potando tantum, tantum si pavit edendo! Et quanquam potu vivebat plurima, et esu Ipsa erat aeternum fulmen, lis, jurgia, clamor".
"There was an old woman, and what do you think? She lived upon nothing but victuals and drink: And though victuals and drink were the chief of her diet, Yet this restless old woman could never keep quiet".