Thursday, 17 December 2015

Gastronomic Antipathies and the Art of Conversation

The Industrious Prentice grown rich and Sheriff of London. Hogarth

A discussion of Gastronomic Antipathies and the Art of Conversation, discovered among Addison's . Spectator papers.

(No. 538. 17 November 1712)

Surprize is so much the Life of Stories, that every one aims at it, who endeavours to please by telling them. Smooth Delivery, an elegant Choice of Words, and a sweet Arrangement, are all beautifying Graces, but not the particulars in this Point of Conversation which either long command the Attention, or strike with the Violence of a sudden Passion, or occasion the burst of Laughter which accompanies Humour. I have sometimes fancied that the Mind is in this case like a Traveller who sees a fine Seat in Haste; he acknowledges the Delightfulness of a Walk set with Regularity, but would be uneasy if he were obliged to pass it over, when the first View had let him into all its Beauties from one End to the other.

However, a knowledge of the Success which Stories will have when they are attended with a Turn of Surprize, as it has happily made the Characters of some, so has it also been the Ruin of the Characters of others. There is a Set of Men who outrage Truth, instead of affecting us with a Manner in telling it; who over-leap the Line of Probability, that they may be seen to move out of the common Road; and endeavour only to make their Hearers stare, by imposing upon them with a kind of Nonsense against the Philosophy of Nature, or such a Heap of Wonders told upon their own Knowledge, as it is not likely one Man should ever have met with.

I have been led to this Observation by a Company into which I fell accidentally. The Subject of Antipathies was a proper Field wherein such false Surprizes might expatiate, and there were those present who appeared very fond to shew it in its full Extent of traditional History. Some of them, in a learned manner, offered to our Consideration the miraculous Powers which the Effluviums of Cheese have over Bodies whose Pores are dispos'd to receive them in a noxious manner; others gave an account of such who could indeed bear the sight of Cheese, but not the Taste; for which they brought a Reason from the Milk of their Nurses. Others again discours'd, without endeavouring at Reasons, concerning an unconquerable Aversion which some Stomachs have against a Joint of Meat when it is whole, and the eager Inclination they have for it, when, by its being cut up, the Shape which had affected them is altered. From hence they passed to Eels, then to Parsnips, and so from one Aversion to another, till we had work'd up our selves to such a pitch of Complaisance, that when the Dinner was to come in, we enquired the name of every Dish, and hop'd it would be no Offence to any in Company, before it was admitted. When we had sat down, this Civility amongst us turned the Discourse from Eatables to other sorts of Aversions; and the eternal Cat, which plagues every Conversation of this nature, began then to engross the Subject. One had sweated at the Sight of it, another had smelled it out as it lay concealed in a very distant Cupboard; and he who crowned the whole set of these Stories, reckon'd up the Number of Times in which it had occasion'd him to swoon away. At last, says he, that you may all be satisfy'd of my invincible Aversion to a Cat, I shall give an unanswerable Instance: As I was going through a Street of London, where I had never been till then, I felt a general Damp and Faintness all over me, which I could not tell how to account for, till I chanced to cast my Eyes upwards, and found that I was passing under a Sign-Post on which the Picture of a Cat was hung.

The Extravagance of this Turn in the way of Surprize, gave a stop to the Talk we had been carrying on: Some were silent because they doubted, and others because they were conquered in their own Way; so that the Gentleman had Opportunity to press the Belief of it upon us, and let us see that he was rather exposing himself than ridiculing others.