Saturday, March 08, 2014

Book quotes: The Pleasures of the Table by Brillat Savarin (1825) - (2/2)

A continuation of quotes from the wonderful "The Physiology of Taste" (1825):


On the Effects of Coffee

I am one of those who have been obliged to give up coffee, and I will conclude this article by telling how rigorously I was subjected to its power. The Duke of Mossa, then minister of justice, called on me for an opinion about which I wished to be careful, and for which he had allowed me but a very short time.
I determined then to sit up all night, and to enable me to do so took two large cups of strong and highly flavored coffee. I went home at seven o’clock to get the papers which had been promised me, but found a note telling me I would not get them until the next day.

Thus in every respect disappointed, I returned to the house where I had dined, and played a game of piquet, without any of the moody fits to which I was ordinarily subject. I did justice to the coffee, but I was not at ease as to how I would pass the night.

I went to bed at my usual hour, thinking that if I did not get my usual allowance, I would at least get four or five hours, sufficient to carry me through the day. I was mistaken. I had been two hours in bed and was wider awake than ever; I was in intense mental agitation, and fancied my brain a mill, the wheels of which revolved, grinding nothing.

The idea came to me to turn this fancy to account, and I did so, amusing myself by putting into verse a story I had previously read in an English paper. I did so without difficulty, and as I did not sleep I undertook another, but in vain. A dozen verses had exhausted my poetic faculty, and I gave it up. I passed the night without sleep, and without even being stupefied for a moment, I arose and passed the day in the same manner. When on the next night I went to bed at my usual hour I made a calculation, and found out that I had not slept for forty hours.


On the Eating and the Pleasures of the Table and its Effects

At the first course every one eats and pays no attention to conversation; all ranks and grades are forgotten together in the great manufacture of life. When, however, hunger begins to be satisfied, reflection begins, and conversation commences. The person who, hitherto, had been a mere consumer, becomes an amiable guest...

 After a good dinner body and soul enjoy a peculiar happiness. Physically, as the brain becomes refreshed, the face lightens up, the colors become heightened, and a glow spreads over the whole system.
Morally, the mind becomes sharpened, witticisms circulate.


Meditation XXI. - Obesity.

To have exactly fat enough, not a bit too much, or too little, is the great study of women of every rank and grade.

One kind of obesity is restricted to the stomach, and I have never observed it in women. Their fibres are generally softer, and when attacked with obesity nothing is spared. I call this variety of obesity GASTROPHORIA. Those attacked by it, I call GASTROPHOROUS. I belong to this category, yet, though my stomach is rather prominent, I have a round and well turned leg. My sinews are like those of an Arab horse.

I will begin my treatise by an extract from a collection of more than five hundred dialogues, which at various times I have had with persons menaced with obesity.

AN OBESE. — What delicious bread! where do you get it?

...OBESE. — It is a bad regimen. I am fond of rice pates and all such things. Nothing is more nourishing.
AN IMMENSE OBESE. — Do me the favor to pass me the potatoes before you. They go so fast that I fear I shall not be in time.
I. — There they are, sir.
OBESE. — But you will take some? There are enough for two, and after us the deluge.
I. — Not I. I look on the potatoe as a great preservative against famine; nothing, however, seems to me so pre-eminently fade.
OBESE. — That is a gastronomical heresy. Nothing is better than the potatoe; I eat them in every way.
...OBESE. — No, sir. I have two things which I prefer. This gateau of rice and that Savoy biscuit — I am very fond of sweet things.
I. — While they talk politics, madame, at the other end of the table, will you take a piece of this tourte a la frangipane?
OBESE. — Yes; I like nothing better than pastry. We have a pastry– cook in our house as a lodger, and I think my daughter and I eat up all his rent.
I. —(Looking at the daughter.) You both are benefited by the diet. Your daughter is a fine looking young woman.
OBESE LADY. — Yes; but there are persons who say she is too fat.
I. — Ah! those who do so are envious, etc., etc. By this and similar conversations I elucidate a theory I have formed about the human race, viz: Greasy corpulence always has, as its first cause, a diet with too much farinacious or feculent substance. I am sure the same regime will always have the same effect. Carniverous animals never become fat. One has only to look at the wolf, jackal, lion, eagle, etc.
Herbiverous animals do not either become fat until age has made repose a necessity. They, however, fatten quickly when fed on potatoes, farinacious grain, etc.
Obesity is rarely met with among savage nations, or in that class of persons who eat to live, instead of living to eat.

Nothing is so common as to see faces, once very interesting, made common-place by obesity.

Obesity has a lamentable influence on the two sexes, inasmuch as it is most injurious to strength and beauty.
It lessens strength because it increases the weight to be moved, while the motive power is unchanged.
Obesity destroys beauty by annihilating the harmony of primitive proportions, for all the limbs do not proportionately fatten.
Obesity produces a distaste for dancing, walking, riding, and an ineptitude for those amusements which require skill or agility.

It also creates a disposition to certain diseases, such as apoplexy, dropsy, ulcers in the legs, and makes all diseases difficult to cure.

...if obesity be not a disease, it is at least a very troublesome predisposition, into which we fall from our own fault. The result is, that we should all seek to preserve ourselves from it before we are attacked, and to cure ourselves when it befalls us. 

The cure of obesity should begin with three precepts of absolute theory, discretion in eating, moderation in sleep, and exercise on foot or horseback.

"What is that?” said I, putting on my stern look which I call up but once a year. “Well, eat and grow fat, become ugly, asthmatic and die of melted fat. I will make a note of your case and you shall figure in my second edition. Ah! I see, one phrase has overcome you, and you beg me to suspend the thunderbolt. Be easy, I will prescribe your diet and prove how much pleasure is in the grasp of one who lives to eat.”


On the Effects of Thinness

Thinness is a matter of no great trouble to men. They have no less strength, and are far more active. The father of the young woman I spoke of, though, very thin, could seize a chair by his teeth and throw it over his head. It is, however, a terrible misfortune to women, to whom beauty is more important than life, and the beauty of whom consists in the roundness and graceful contour of their forms.

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