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Satiric models for Charles Lamb's "A Dissertation upon Roast Pig".

Though hitherto overlooked in social histories of cookery, Charles Lamb's essay approaches its subject through the new literary-culinary writing that appeared with European romanticism. Although Lamb's persona, Elia, never hesitates to express everywhere his idiosyncratic likes and dislikes, in "Roast Pig" he passes beyond eccentricity to become a morally transgressive figure. Lamb's implicit swipe at the vegetarians and his borrowings from modern and classical sources, such as Swift's "Modest Proposal" and the recipes or scenes in Apicius and Petronius, suggest that he undoubtedly expected his readers to recognize the false notes of excess, vanity, and even infant cannibalism revealed by Elia's appetite. The Latin satura-ae denotes a melange, either literally a dish of various ingredients or, etymologically, the Roman invention of the satiric genre itself, that loose mixing of a variety of literary types. Fittingly, the pig-platters of Trimalchio and Elia thus turn back upon both the festival of the Saturnalia and, under the aegis of Saturn's misrule, upon the zeugmatic nature of satire itself. Elia's final reference to his schooldays at St. Omer's actually ties his gluttony to Guy Fawkes' scheme of exploding king, lords, and commons. By bursting pretensions and snobbery, Lamb's essay thus self-reflexively presents itself as a figurative equivalent to the "superhuman plot" of Fawkes.


During the early 1820s Charles Lamb contributed a series of ironically self-revelatory essays to The London Magazine, hiding his personal frustrations beneath the witty facade of "Elia," his persona. Lamb was always punning, not least on his own name. If he is Elia (i.e., Elijah, whose name means "Jehovah is God"), he is also "the Lamb of God" (John 1:29, 36), the pure and innocent sacrifice. (1) Thus the declarations of the Old Testament's Elijah and the New Testament's Lamb are combined and diminished in the multi-referential ironym's all-too-human voice. Lamb's strategy is not to ridicule the vices and follies of mankind from a position of superior virtue, but to inhabit and impersonate those weaknesses in his Elia-pseudonym. Although he was breezily inconsistent in the "autobiographical' facts he allowed his persona to divulge, Lamb achieved a reasonably consistent profile for his pseudonym in terms of Elia's harmlessly eccentric appeal--with the exception of two back-to-back London essays, "Confessions of a Drunkard" and, his most famous Elia-essay, "A Dissertation upon Roast Pig." "Drunkard" (originally, 1813) became an Elia-essay only belatedly, upon its reprinting in the London in August 1822; "Roast Pig" appeared the following month, September 1822. Although Elia never hesitates to express everywhere his idiosyncratic likes and dislikes, in these two narratives the persona passes beyond eccentricity to become a morally delinquent and profligate figure, hedonistically addicted to immoderate drink and food.

In "Grace before Meat" (1821) Elia says he admires the Quakers because "I have observed their applications to the meat and drink following [grace] to be less passionate and sensual than ours. They are neither gluttons, nor wine-bibbers as a people." (2) This echo of Proverbs 23:20-21 links the topics of "Drunkard" and "Pig": "Be not among winebibbers; among riotous eaters of flesh: For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty." Moreover, both Matthew 11:19 and again Luke 7:34 record that when Christ broke bread with the joyful, he was called a winebibber and a glutton. Accordingly, by confessing to the blame of Proverbs' precept, Elia becomes a veiled emblem of Christ, the innocent "Lamb" bearing the sins of others. This irrational alimentary compulsion of the Elia persona goes back to several of Lamb's earliest personae, the legacy of Edax (Latin, edax from edere, to eat), Ebriosus (ebriare, to intoxicate) and the subject of Hospita's complaint (hospita, a hostess). In Lamb's early essay, "Edax on Appetite" (1812, preceding by a year the first appearance of "Drunkard"), Edax proclaims:
 My sufferings ... have all arisen from a most inordinate appetite--
 ... an appetite, in its coarsest and least metaphorical sense,--an
 appetite for food ...: that which appetite demands, is set down to
 the account of gluttony,--a sin which my whole soul abhors, nay,
 which Nature herself has put it out of my power to commit. I am
 constitutionally disenabled from that vice; for how can he be
 guilty of excess, who never can get enough?

In contrast to vegetarians, Edax disdains fruit, vegetables and even desserts as contrary to nature, just like the "cousin" of Hospita's husband. Hospita laments that "my husband, though out of common politeness he is obliged to set dishes of animal food before his visitors, yet himself and his whole family (myself included) feed entirely on vegetables. We have a theory, that animal food is neither wholesome nor natural to man" ("Hospita on the ... Palate" [1811]). So too Edax desires "meat, the only legitimate aliment for human creatures since the flood, as I take it to be deduced from that permission, or ordinance rather, given to Noah and his descendants." Vegetarians such as Joseph Ritson had also cited Genesis 9:3-4 with exactly the opposite conclusion, observing: "It is the less to be wonder'd at that Christians should addict themselves to animal food, as they eat blood and things strangle'd in direct opposition to their own religion, and the express prohibition of god himself." (3)

Edax quotes the would-be vegetarian Lion in Mandeville's "Fable of the Bees" (1714) who declares of his hunger for meat: "'oft have I tried with roots and herbs to allay the violence of it, but in vain; nothing but large quantities of flesh can any ways appease it.' ... The creature who thus argues was but a type of me! Miserable man! I am that Lion. 'Oft have I tried with roots and herbs to allay that violence, but in vain; nothing but--'." Mandeville had used his Fable of the Bees to attack Shaftesbury's idealistic notions in the Characteristicks (1711) on the perfection of the firmament on high and the naturalness of virtue in mankind below. Playing on the title of The Reflector in which his essay appeared, Edax concludes: "'Make them, if possible, to reflect, that an original peculiarity of constitution is no crime; that not that which goes into the mouth desecrates a man, but that which comes out of it ...'" Lamb rejected Mandeville's analogue of human social behavior to a hive of rapacious bees. But Edax's veiled biblical allusion to the "mouth" (Matthew 15:11, 17-20; Mark 7:2, 5, 15-23) suggests that Lamb draws an appearance-substance contrast, locating morality not in the social or accidental desires of the "belly"--those public defects of "constitution" that the "Drunkard" also exhibits--but in the secret springs of the "heart."

In "Grace Before Meat" Lamb had combined his biblical belly--mouth antithesis with a reference to the apostle Paul's characterization of "the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things" (Philippians 3:18-19):
 The heats of epicurism put out the gentle flame of devotion. The
 incense which rises round is pagan, and the belly-god intercepts it
 for his own. The very excess of the provision beyond the needs
 takes away all sense of proportion between the end and means. The
 giver is veiled by his gifts. You are startled at the injustice of
 returning thanks--for what?--for having too much, while so many
 starve. It is to praise the gods amiss.

When one recalls that the initial biblical mention of the "belly" would have been the curse of unsatisfied hunger upon the serpent "belly-god" Satan--"upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life" (Genesis 3:14)--the reader finds in Lamb's fused allusions (4) both an assertion of the fallen state all eaters share and an endorsement of a Miltonic "knowing good by evil," that refusal in "Areopagitica" to "praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue unexercised and unbreathed." In "Witches and other Night-fears," Lamb allowed Elia to laugh at Leigh Hunt's efforts to protect his child Thornton from superstitions--but the "archetypes" of the Fall "are in us." The vegetarian Hospita too will keep her daughters from knowledge as long as possible: "Our children are perfect little Pythagoreans.... In this happy state of innocence we have kept their minds, not allowing them to go into the kitchen, or to hear of any preparation for the dressing of animal food, or even to know that such things are practised."

Lamb once wrote a play, "Mr. H," about a character marked and ruined by the wholly fortuitous circumstance of his "curst, unfortunate name" (5:186), Hogsflesh. Lamb's play was a forgettable flop; but taken as figurative autobiography, it is a further clue to his psychology. The taint of Hogsflesh's name is also very much like the "marks of woe" upon the gibbeted Pensilis (pensilis, to hang):

"Why was innocence in my person suffered to be branded with a stain which was appointed only for the blackest guilt? What had I done, or my parents, that a disgrace of mine should involve a whole posterity in infamy? I am almost tempted to believe, that, in some pre-existent state, crimes to which this sublunary life of mine hath been as much a stranger as the babe that is newly born into it, have drawn down upon me this vengeance so disproportionate to my actions on this globe." ("On the Inconveniences Resulting from Being Hanged")

Given that for six weeks in 1795-1796 Lamb was delusional and a patient in Hoxton madhouse (letter to Coleridge of 5 May 1796; also 11 June 1796) and that Mary Lamb's bipolar illness was considered by many early biographers to have been hereditary (in a fit of madness she had stabbed her mother to death), Lamb saw himself, unlike the Wordsworthian infant, as coming from heaven trailing clouds of shame.

Occasionally Lamb's readers have expressed misgivings, in remarks otherwise laudatory, about the humor of Elia's "child-pig" innuendo: "See him in the dish, his second cradle, how meek he lieth! ... 'Ere sin could blight, or sorrow fade, / Death carne with timely care--'." Elia quotes those lines (imperfectly) from Coleridge's then-well-known "Epitaph on an Infant." Clearly something much darker than mere voracity underpins Elia's leitmotif of the "newly born" porcine "babe" for whose innocent flesh his teeth yearn--almost like Saturn devouring his children:
 There is no flavour comparable, I will contend, to that of the
 crisp, tawny, well-watched, not over-roasted, crackling, as it is
 well called--the very teeth are invited to their share of the
 pleasure at this banquet in overcoming the coy, brittle
 resistance--with the adhesive oleaginous--O call it not fat! but an
 indefinable sweetness growing up to it--the tender blossoming of
 fat--fat cropped in the bud--taken in the shoot--in the first
 innocence--the cream and quintessence of the child-pig's yet pure
 food--the lean, no lean, but a kind of animal manna--or, rather,
 fat and lean (if it must be so) so blended and running into each
 other, that both together make but one ambrosian result or common

Psychologists suggest that the root cause of overeating may be an addictive response to dealing with emotional anxiety, and this clearly applies to Lamb. Lamb, after all, never married because he had the charge of his unstable sister Mary. Tellingly, Lamb had a great fondness for an old English ballad, "The Children in the Wood" (turned into a play he much admired by Thomas Morton), in which an orphaned brother and sister of gentle birth are handed over by their greedy uncle to two ruffians who are bribed to "take these children young, / And slay them in a wood." Abandoned instead deep in the forest with a false promise of bread, they starve on blackberries and die, unburied "Till Robin Redbreast piously / Did cover them with leaves." (5) Dead by starvation at the hand of an adult guardian who devours their estate, these children resemble those in the fairy-tales of the brothers Grimm--the rapacious wolf as the grandmother in "Little Red Riding Hood" and a cannibal ogress who replaces the evil stepmother in "Hansel and Gretel." Such tales, first appearing in 1812-15, may be interpreted to suggest the residual anxiety of the child whose needs for nourishment are unmet and who fears victimization. Grimm's children escape the matriarchal evil in the forest by the rescuing hunter or repentant father. It has often been observed that Lamb warmly praises his father, the Loval of "Old Benchers," but in these Elia essays he almost never mentions his mother. Could his omission of the mother-figure be less to spare Mary's feelings than a residual association of maternity with a literal or figurative denial of nourishment?

Unfortunately, the black humor of Lamb's pre-Elian pieces needed an identifiable satiric target and a psychological believability greater than cartoon fantasy; Edax's confession even lacked concrete particulars of food and drink, except for one amusing anecdote about single-handedly consuming an old lady's snack for her guests after cards. But whereas Lamb's early confessional personae were minimally allusive and functioned merely as preposterous jokes with the undoubted psychological resonance of deficient maternity, the later Elia-ironym is far more multifariously symbolic and open to interpretation. "Roast Pig" begins with an amusing tale of cookery's origin and concludes by offering its own pig-recipe--functional enough, seemingly. But if earlier recipes had been largely utilitarian synopses by the virtuoso cook for his professional equal, with the dawn of European romanticism a new kind of literary-anecdotal culinary literature appeared, epitomized by Baron von Rumohr's Essence of Cookery (1822) or Jean Brillat-Savarin's Physiology of Taste (1825), and a new food-journalism emerged, typified not only by Baron Grimond de la Reyniere's Gourmand's Almanack (1803-13) but also by essays in the London itself, such as that by Lamb's friend J.H. Reynolds, "The Cook's Oracle" (4:432-39), and "'Cookery: English Eating" (4:246-49)--one imagines that had the terminal word in the preceding essay title been "Cuisine," the article would have been catastrophically shorter. Though hitherto overlooked in social histories of cookery, Lamb's "Roast Pig" approaches its subject afresh through the romantic imagination. "Roast Pig" is thus a watershed in the literature of English cookery; and the satiric success of Elia as glutton clearly is owing to the emerging epoch in culinary writing that ushered him in and endowed his table with its mythic dimensions. Moreover, Elia's unusual derangement contemplating roast pig is, I believe, owing to a more complex satiric strategy than Lamb employed with his earlier gluttons, not the least of which is his aligning Elia's obsession with famous scenes and controversies of eating and drinking in the past. Yet unless his inexplicit literary and historical allusions are understood, his deliberate ironic strategy, nesting ideas within imagery or incidents often antithetical to his actual meanings, makes interpretation difficult. Lamb may have been just a bit disappointed with the imperceptiveness of his enthusiastic readers--for the most part, they overwhelmed him with presents of roast pigs.

Clearly the reader first needs to recognize that Lamb, in the guise of his drunkard and glutton persona, refuses to disregard those vices--the archetypes of the fall, if you will--in himself; and thus, by artful confession, includes both himself and his readers in a therapeutic acknowledgment of them. Of course, this is not the same thing as saying the persona is to be accepted au pied de la lettre for Charles Lamb himself. In this he may be aware of Montaigne's comparison of his own and his countrymen's morality to that of flesh-eating anthropophagies in "Of the Cannibals." The bordelais seigneur had observed: "I am not sorry we note the barbarous horror of such an action, but grieved that, prying so narrowly into their faults, we are so blinded in ours ... We may then well call them barbarous in regard of reason's rules, but not in respect of us that exceed them in all kind of barbarism." Hospita likewise focuses narrowly on her daughter's "sight of a roasted chicken" to the exclusion of perhaps greater temptations "when the proper season for her debut arrives": "The first hint I gave her upon the subject, I could see her recoil from it with the same horror with which we listen to a tale of Anthropophagism." If Elia, the obtuse narrator, values only the sensual physical pleasures of gormandizing, Lamb, the more reflective autobiographer, examines in the new romantic spirit the broader ramifications of cookery--his personal affiliations and temptations, his cultural and moral anxieties, and the depravities of history itself.

Thomas Hobbes had considered gluttony to be a lust of the mind; and, indeed, gluttony and lust are often coupled, owing to the biblical precedent of Eve eating the forbidden apple, then tempting Adam. John Milton (whose rhetoric for Eve's fall Lamb burlesques in "The Last Peach," 1825) makes this connection explicit in Book Nine of Paradise Lost:
 Greedily she engorged without restraint,
 And knew not eating death. Satiate at length,

And heightened as with wine, jocund and boon (791-93), --she impulsively decides to become a tree-worshipper. Then afterwards,
 As with new wine intoxicated both
 They swim in mirth, and fancy that they feel
 Divinity within them breeding wings
 Wherewith to scorn the Earth. But that false fruit
 Far other operation first displayed,
 Carnal desire inflaming. He on Eve
 Began to cast lascivious eyes; she him

As wantonly repaid; in lust they burn (1008-15), --almost like figures in a Restoration comedy. Hospita too links gluttony and lust in her disapproval of the overeater: "His way of staring at the dishes as they are brought in, has absolutely something immodest in it: it is like the stare of an impudent man of fashion at a fine women, when she first comes into a room." Eve aside, from Dante's notorious Ciacco in the third circle of the Inferno (Canto 6) to William Langland's Piers Plowman, the Pardoner of Chaucer inveighing against gluttony, Shakespeare's Falstaff and Ben Jonson's "Hymn to the Belly," gluttony in literature since Eden (if not its sister sin of lust) has been most characteristically a male vice. Indeed, until the advent of romanticism, recipes for the cook were the exclusive province of male advice, Dr. Johnson even once insisting to Boswell that Hannah Glasse's popular cookbook had to have been written by a man.

Lamb undoubtedly expected his audience to recognize the false note of aphrodisiac or pederastic cannibalism, the submerged sexual component in Elia's voracious longing for the piglet. But, although the psychopathology of sexualized cannibalistic fantasies had been popularly appreciated since the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814), this apparently was more difficult than Lamb assumed, both then and now. Such fetishes, we now theorize, release pent up anger against the mother or suppressed erotic frustration. But rarely are they acted out as actual cannibalism; rather, they are displaced--by writing about roast pig, for example. Most certainly Lamb found his proximate model of infant cannibalism in the grotesque fantasy of Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" (1729). The connection between Swift's "projector" and Lamb's Elia has not hitherto been fully delineated, but the blindness of both personae to the basic taboo of devouring one's own kind is an essential point of affinity between these two essays. (6) Swift's recipe for cannibalizing Irish children had carried in particular a comparison to roast pigs: "I rather recommend buying the children alive, and dressing them hot from the knife, as we do roasting pigs." And: "the propagation of swine's flesh, and improvement in the art of making good bacon, so much wanted among us by the great destruction of pigs, too frequent at our tables, which are no way comparable in taste or magnificence to a well-grown, fat yearling child, which roasted whole will make a considerable figure at a Lord Mayor's feast." Both also, of course, are prose satires of nearly equal length and, perhaps not fortuitously given Lamb's sense of anniversaries, their publication occurred almost exactly a century apart. Both mock the formal terms in their titles with a violation of taboo, a "dissertation" that treats the suckling pig as if it were a child and a "proposal" that describes humans in animal-breeding terminology and soberly advances for consideration infant cannibalism itself. Swift's projector-persona personates a benevolent humanitarian who expresses pity for the mothers "sacrificing the poor innocent babes" yet suggests that their early death avoids "a perpetual scene of misfortunes"; and Lamb's eater justifies his cannibalistic gusto with the false consolation that an early death preserves the piglet's innocence. Moreover, in Swift the "tough and lean" schoolboys are rejected as food; analogously in Lamb, porcine "hobbledehoys" are spurned. Finally, Swift in his concluding peroration enumerates and repudiates rational remedies as alternatives to his final solution for beggars and Papists; Lamb also sets up a norm of legitimate pleasure in contrast to the remembered episode of his false charity to the "gray-headed old beggar."

Not long after Ritson's book on vegetarianism, Hospita's comic squib on immoderate appetite appeared in the Reflector. Whereas Swift, who owned a copy of Sir William Petty's Political Arithmetick (1699), may well have intended to lampoon Sir William, Lamb in "Roast Pig" caricatures Ritson's most famous adherent--the just-drowned Percy Shelley and his theory of living solely upon water, grains, vegetables and fruits as a cure-all for physical and psychological defects. With his sister in the summer of 1822 trying to recover her sanity, Lamb considered Shelley's fashionable vegetarianism, that trivialized suffering as curable by a vegetarian diet, to be a glib panacea that ignores original sin and slights those underlying, deep-seated "constitutional tendencies." Lamb knew and admired Quakers and Quaker moderation; (7) if Elia's immoderate love of drink and meat needs must be measured against their sense of "proportion," so also must the vegetarians' rash professions of health, happiness, and longevity. In the pig, Lamb parodies both an excess of what may be healthy in moderation and, what amounts to the same thing, those pretentious notions of perfectibility through vegetables that implicitly belittled his and Mary's tragedies. His satire seeks moral reform through reason and moderation, satirically correlating Elia's excessive love of roast pig with the not-so-antithetical-after-all utopian ambitions of the vegetarians he intends to ridicule. Accordingly, if Swift uses the taboo of child-cannibalism in "A Modest Proposal" to deride the Irish policy-makers, those "political arithmeticians" blind to the misery caused by the economic "cannibalism" of British landlords, Lamb in his century attacks a similar obliviousness to human distress.

But Lamb does not rail directly at Shelley and vegetarians as Swift did at Sir William and political arithmeticians; rather, he employed the deadly sin of gluttony in its most suggestively shocking form to recuperate a version of religious grace at variance with Shelleyan utopianism rooted in the recrudescent herbivorous ideology of Porphyry of Tyre (AD 233-304). By invoking "the first Christians" in support of his ideal, Shelley overlooked their early emphasis on atonement through blood sacrifice, effected through the death of Christ upon the cross. (8)

So central was this eucharistic echo of the expiatory blood sacrifice that early Christians were accused of the murder of infants and ritual cannibalism, as in M. Minucius Felix's Octavius. Such a misperception originated with the injunction by Christ to eat and drink the bread and wine as his body and blood: "Take, eat; this is my body and blood. This do in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24). (9) As the promises of Ritson's vegetarian diet supplant the mystical efficacy of the communion wafer, so Elia's cannibalism of the still innocent child-pig, about to become the unclean swine "wallowing in all manner of filthy conversation," burlesques Ritson's offered salvation. Elia played off the comic sense of hog grunts as porcine "conversation" against the archaic and biblical meaning of sexual intercourse, as found in the Second Epistle of Peter that describes the pure as "vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked" who, even if they at one time escaped "pollution," will return to it like "the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire." Peter's chapter and verse even links gluttony with lust, describing the "damnable heresies" of the ungodly who "walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness ... sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you" (Peter I: 1-22, emphases added).

Coeval with Porphyry's strictures against the sacraments of emergent Christianity were the Roman Saturnalias, and Elia's appetitive gusto reaches back to several famous eaters associated with dining in imperial Rome. Lamb, whose reading as a child included a cookbook, (10) does not specifically cite ancient authorities in "Roast Pig" but rather draws on the topoi of ancient gluttons and gourmands, especially on the commonplace tradition of esoteric food debates in Roman gastronomical writing. Thus Ella's disputation on the tenderizing whipping of pigs with which "Roast Pig" concludes resembles Pliny the Elder's casuistic defense of the sow's choicest sexual tidbits, teats and vulva, from first-litter aborted, rather than virginal, shoats. In "Grace before Meat" Elia's references to "gluttony," to "appetites run riot," to "old Roman luxury," and to the emperor "Heliogabalus" make it amply clear how central the excesses of classical Rome were in his perceptions of cooking and eating. Gibbon's account of Heliogabalus' gluttonous excesses epitomized the eighteenth--and nineteenth-century's views of decadent Roman luxury:
 The inflammatory powers of art were summoned to his aid: the
 confused multitude of women, of wines, and of dishes, and the
 studied variety of attitudes and sauces, served to revive his
 languid appetites. New terms and new inventions in these sciences,
 the only ones cultivated and patronised by the monarch, signalised
 his reign, and transmitted his infamy to succeeding times. (11)

Gibbon adds in a footnote: "The invention of a new sauce was liberally rewarded; but if it was not relished, the inventor was confined to eat of nothing else, till he had discovered another more agreeable to the Imperial palate." Lamb has Edax cry out: "I am no gourmand: I require no dainties: I should despise the board of Heliogabalus, except for its long sitting. Those vivacious, long-continued meals of the latter Romans, indeed, I justly envy; but the kind of fare which the Curii and Dentati put up with, I could be content with...."

When Lamb writes of feasting, he is aware not merely of Gibbon's general indictment of antiquity, but specifically of Trimalchio's banquet (the cena Trimalchionis) in Petronius' Satyricon and of recipes from Apicius: The Art of Cooking (Apicius: De Re Coquinaria), the only collection of recipes (in ten "books" or chapters) to come down from antiquity. In the original printing of "The Illustrious Defunct" in the New Monthly Magazine (1825), Lamb had quoted Mammon's reference in Ben Jonson's Alchemist (Act 2:2) to "Apicius' diet 'gainst the epilepsy," and in his Specimens of English Dramatic Poets (1808), Lamb quoted from the anonymous "Tragedy of Nero" (1624) a twenty-line speech of Petronius (Act 3:3). Like Trimalchio's feast, Apicius' concoctions seem to have been closely tied to the sin of gluttony in the nineteenth-century mind: "The glutton studies Latin to be able to read the beastly messes of Apicius in the original." (12) Lamb could have read Apicius in the original, but the English edition of Dr. Martin Lister (1705) was available, as well as William King's The Art of Cookery: In Imitation of Horace's Art of Poetry (n.p., 1708) that included an amusing twenty-four page "Letter" describing Lister's edition of Apicius. King's epistolary facetiousness anticipates what will become Lamb's treatment of ancient cookery in the emerging romantic spirit of "gusto." (13)

Marcus Gabius Apicius was a gourmand in the era of Augustus (27 BC-AD 14) and Tiberius (AD 14-37) who spent so heavily on food that when his income was reduced to "only" ten million sesterces he committed suicide rather than face the misery of eating on a reduced scale. William King notes that the lavish dining of the first century reflected in Apicius' manual fell out of fashion after Nero: "Caelius Apicius, it seems, passes for the Author of this Treatise, whose Science, Learning and Discipline were extremely contemn'd, and almost abhorr'd by Seneca and the Stoicks, as introducing Luxury, and infecting the Manners of the Romans, and so lay neglected till the inferior Ages, but then were introduc'd as being a help to Physick." Well aware of the Roman origins of gastronomical writing, King and his contemporaries realized that the extant text of Apicius is actually a compilation of recipes in his honor (though many undoubtedly are originally his) that in fact belong to the third century AD. King continues:
 It seems ... there were two Persons that bore the Name of Apicius,
 one under the Republick, the other in the time of Tiberius, who is
 recorded by Pliny, to have had a great deal of Wit and Judgment in
 all Affairs that related to Eating, and consequently has his Name
 affix'd to many sorts of Amulets and Pancakes. Nor were Emperors
 less Contributors to so great an Undertaking, as Vitellius,
 Commodus, Didius Julianus, and Varius Heliogabalus, whose Imperial
 Names are prefix'd to manifold Receipts. The last of which Emperors
 had the peculiar Glory of first making Sausages of Shrimps, Crabs,
 Oysters, Sprawns [sic], and Lobsters. And these Sausages being
 mention'd by the Author which the Editor publishes, from that and
 many other Arguments the Learned Doctor irrefrangably maintains,
 that the Book, as now printed, could not be transcrib'd till after
 the time of Heliogabalus, who gloried in the Titles of Apicius and
 Vitellius, more than Antoninus, who had gain'd his Reputation by a
 temperate, austere, and solid Virtue. (14)

In describing Apicius' cooking of pigs, King ironically transforms the indulgence of decadent Rome into the decadence of an English austerity:
 The seventh Book treats of things sumptuous and costly, and
 therefore chiefly concerning Hog-meat, in which the Romans came to
 that Excess, that the Laws forbad the Usage of Hogs Harslet,
 Sweetbreads, Cheeks, etc. at their publick Suppers. And Cato, when
 Censor fought to restrain the extravagant Use of Brawn by several
 of his Orations; so much Regard was had then to the Art of Cookery,
 that we see it took place in the Thoughts of the wisest Men, and
 bore a part in their most important Councils. But alas! the
 Degeneracy of our present Age is such, that I believe few besides
 the Annotator know the Excellency of a Virgin Sow, especially of
 the black Kind brought from China; and how to make the most of her
 Liver, Lights, Brains, and Pettitoes; and to vary her into those
 fifty Dishes which Pliny says were usually made of that delicious
 Creature. (15)

Apicius is everywhere concerned with the pig's "sauce"; and Lamb-Elia, employing this recipe-framework, notes that "his sauce should be considered," addressing the cook directly in his final paragraph. Perhaps Apicius' "Pig Garden Style" (i.e., with young vegetables) is the recipe that Lamb recalls when Elia banishes onions. On the other hand, Apicius' "Sucking-pig a la Vitellius" (the emperor Vitellius was called "the Glutton") is "roast in the oven" and alludes to "crackling." Whether it was Apicius's fewer recipes for roast pig than for boiled pig, or whether it was Swift's suggestion that the cannibalized infant remains "very good boiled, on the fourth day," or even whether it was Montaigne's remark on cannibals that "They have great abundance of fish and flesh that have no resemblance at all with ours, and eat them without any sauces or skill of Cookery, but plain boiled or broiled," but Lamb insisted that his pig "must be roasted. I am not ignorant that our ancestors ate them seethed, or boiled; but what a sacrifice of the exterior tegument!" (16)

Lamb's glutton, owing much to the ancient Roman feeling for the rich thicket of everyday life, is a more multifaceted character, more modern in his awareness of the contemporary world's confusion and history's chaos, than any allegorical embodiment from medieval or Renaissance Europe of the deadly sin of voracious eating and drinking. A Roman's sense of sin and moral worth was tied more to social codes and the hearth as altar. Paganism was "a religion of usages and sentiments rather than of facts and beliefs," attached more to "very definite things and places" than to a theological understanding of the soul's salvation or damnation. (17) The spirit of Rome expressed in satire was a vivid social realism in tension with things bizarre, fantastic, or legendary. When Alexander Pope in the Dunciad wrote of "Saturnian days of lead and gold" (4.13)--lead for misrule, gold for luxury--he was invoking the Roman's festival at the winter solstice, with feasting and the social disarray of masters waiting on slaves. Because of internal hints in Petronius' Satyricon, such as a reference to another dinner in late December, Lamb may very well have supposed Trimalchio's banquet with its social inversions to be the Saturnalia. These feasts belonged to Saturn or Kronos, the all-devouring god of time who cannibalized even his own progeny.

For Lamb and his contemporaries, the true name and era of the first-century Roman author of Trimalchio's banquet was in doubt--Tacitus identified him as Gaius Petronius but Pliny called him Titus. Actually Lamb could choose from three celebrated Roman epicures; but the one who lived under Tiberius (AD 14-37) was apparently the most famous; Seneca says he invented cakes and sauces and wrote on cookery. According to Tacitus, however, Petronius was "a refined voluptuary," the regnant authority on issues of taste and "arbiter elegantiae,'" who, falling out of favor with Nero (AD 54-68) and cutting his wrists, then "dined and after dozed so that his death, even though compulsory, might still look natural." (18) The historical data are less relevant than the mix of provocative legends and multitudinous incongruous stylistic registers of The Satyricon--poetic, colloquial, oratorical, bombastic, narrative, parodic, epic, and pun-filled. As Trimalchio's characternym suggests, he is "triply rich." Petronius ridicules in him the ostentatious extravagance of the nouveau fiche, their vivid vulgarity and pretensions. The practical joke of Trimalchio's stuffed pig has been famous for centuries: out of the seemingly ungutted pig erupted a cornucopia of stuffing. (19) King noted: "It seems the Antients were very fantastical in making one thing pass for another; so at Petronius's Supper the Cook sent up a fat Goose, Fish, and Wild-fowl of all sorts to appearance, but still all were made out of the several Parts of one single Porker." (20) Petronius has Encolpius describe "a dish so fantastically disgusting that we would have died of starvation rather than touch it," of which, says Trimalchio: "'the various things you see before you have nevertheless all come from the same body.... the cook had made the whole thing out of a pig's odds and ends. The man's a flawless jewel of a cook. Tip him the wink and he'll make you a fish out of a sow's womb, a wood pigeon out of the fat, a turtle dove out of the ham, and a chicken out of the leg."' (21)

In "Roast Pig" the epicure's stomach-as-tomb is a shrine for the child-pig's early death--an echo in the first instance of Milton's sonnet on Shakespeare but clearly also an echo of the monument Trimalchio decrees at his dinner party. (22) The sleazy ostentation of commemoration so typical of the Neronian age is reinforced in Martin Lister's edition of Apicius' recipe for "Sucking-pig a la Celsinus," where Lister appends "The Porker's Last Will and Testament" by Peter Lambeck (1628-1680): M. Grunter Corocotta Porker, having been chosen for dinner by the cook, has requested a moment to dictate a last will and testament. Mr. Porker bequeaths every part of his body to suitable beneficiaries--his male organ, lastly, to the cook "for him to tie around his neck and to hang himself with." But he also wishes to "erect a monument to myself, inscribed with golden letters" so that his name will "remain to be eulogized in all eternity," a clear reference to Petronius' scene of the piggy Trimalchio visualizing his monument and epitaph. (23) But if Petronius pokes fun at Roman society in Trimalchio's excesses, his first-person "satyrist" or ironym, Encolpius ("The Crotch") who mocks Trimalchio, is in turn mocked by his own sophisticated inability to sympathize with or to recognize the causes of Trimalchio's all-too-human imperfections. Thus during the debauchery when class status is set aside, Encolpius complains: "I found the cook, who had made a goose out of a pig's offal and who stank of pickles and rank sauces, seated above me." (24) Hence the sophisticate, blind to his own vanity, is himself ridiculed. As with Petronius' Encolpius, the blindness to self-delusions of pleasure and perspicacity in both glutton and vegetarian is also mocked by Charles Lamb.

In his "Modest Proposal" Swift had employed the aggressive ridicule of Juvenalian satire, more savage and bitter than the gentle, chiding, corrective Horatian satire. Lamb's essay, however, displays neither Juvenalian anger at vices nor Horatian mockery of foibles but rather a deranged playfulness in its incongruous genres and styles, its factualities and fantasies, its myths and absurdities. Like the satire of Petronius, who is too comedic and decadent for the savage indignation that lacerated Swift's heart, Lamb's ridicule is modeled after the satirist Menippus of Gadara (third century BC), burlesquing opinions by means of mock erudition and exaggerated scenes. For Lamb, at least, the heart of Menippean exuberance--its native soil and folk origins--lay in the ancient pleasures of Apicius and Petronius, in the "luxury" (L. luxuria excess, rankness) of those recipes and feasts that mix vignettes from real life with mock-heroic comedy and poetic flights of fancy. The Latin satura-ae denotes a melange, either literally a dish of various ingredients or, etymologically, the Roman invention of the satiric genre itself, that loose mixing of a variety of literary types. Fittingly, the pig-platters of Trimalchio and Elia thus turn back upon both the festival of the Saturnalia and, under the aegis of Saturn's misrule, the zeugmatic nature of satire itself. In the Elia-persona this sensuous exuberance (more romantic in fanciful extravagance than classic in restraint) purged the sadness, shame, and craving for absolution of Lamb's earlier sobriquets, Ebriosus and Edax.

The hitherto unnoted play on the function of satire in "Roast Pig" derives from Lamb's likely route through St. Omer on his return from Paris, only days before he composed the essay. The college of St. Omer, opened when the town was part of Spanish Flanders by English Jesuits in response to Catholic restrictions imposed by Elizabeth I (but by the 1820's many decades defunct), had become notorious as a Jesuit training center to which upper-class English Catholic gentlemen's sons came secretly. Back in England its graduates were suspected of spying for Spain; indeed, as a young man even Edmund Burke almost became a victim of St. Omer's paranoia; he was alleged to be an Irish papist, a Jesuit and a spy from Saint Omer's whose real name was O'Burke! At the conclusion of "Roast Pig" Elia harks back to a fantastic scholastic disputation from his putative schooldays at St. Omer's college, a hedonistic calculus as to whether the suffering that a pig endures by a tenderizing whipping is offset by the epicure's pleasure in eating so delicate a dish. Lamb was perfectly aware that some vegetarians avoided all food obtained by infliction of pain; so from Swift's "Proposal" he echoed another demented fantasy, that of flaying the carcasses of Irish children. And doubtless he recalled also the Dean's biting line in A Tale of a Tub: "Last Week I saw a Woman flay'd, and you will hardly believe, how much it altered her Person for the worse." (25)

But beyond this absurdly debatable pursuit of succulence, Saint-Omer's college becomes an allusion in Lamb's satire to the function of satire itself In historic fact, Guy Fawkes and other ring-leaders of the 1606 "Gunpowder Plot" conspired at St. Omer's to blow up the Houses of Parliament--a scheme Lamb had always found irresistibly fascinating, comparing "the puny face of modern conspiracy" in the first of his Elia essays, "The South Sea House," to Fawkes' "superhuman plot." Later (1823), in the London Lamb reprinted an expanded version of his earlier (1811) essay on "Guy Fawkes" that had ended with the fantastic vision of a corrupt Parliament exploding and vanishing in air. Lamb observed that:
 the story of Guido Vaux [aka Guy Fawkes] sounds rather like a tale,
 a fable, and an invention, than true history. It supposes such
 gigantic audacity of daring, combined with such more than infantile
 stupidity in the motive,--such a combination of the fiend and the
 monkey, that credulity is almost swallowed up in contemplating the
 singularity of the attempt. It has accordingly, in some degree,
 shared the fate of fiction. (388)

Satire, as Lamb practices it in the guise of Elia in "Roast Pig," is very much the figurative equivalent to Guy Fawkes' literal scheme, bursting not only the bubble's thin borders between the genres of biography, history and fiction but also blasting to smithereens the hypocritical facades of naivete or culpability by exposing illusions and folly. Lamb's concluding images of holding the lantern or applying the match are precisely descriptive of his satiric mission. He concludes his vision of "king, lords, commons ... fairly exploded" by exhorting
 every honest Englishman to endeavour, by means less wholesale than
 Guido's, to ameliorate, without extinguishing parliaments; to hold
 the lantern to the dark places of corruption; to apply the match to
 the rotten parts of the system only; and to wrap himself up, not in
 the muffling mantle of conspiracy, but in warm honest cloak of
 integrity and patriotic intention (391-94).

St. Omer's, then, by way of Guy Fawkes, is a self-reflexive gesture in "Roast Pig" to the essay's satiric function as a literal description of a demented craving but a figurative presentation of a rational cure.

Swift had created an equivalence between literal and figurative cannibalism that differed from his actual, frequently-voiced solution to poverty only by the satiric intemperance of his projector's dehumanizing logic and deranged imagination. But Elia takes Swift's irony further by impersonating the fanaticism of the vegetarian in the vegetarian's nemesis, the eater of meat, whose cannibalistic gusto embodies what Lamb knows to be his fallen self. Shocked readers had imputed the inebriation in "Drunkard" to Lamb himself; but although they considered "Roast Pig" no less a portrait of the author, its boisterous tone perhaps stifled reservations about lapses in decorum or propriety. The Elia-persona in "Roast Pig" may be as blind to personal failings as Encolpius, who mocks Trimalchio's shortcomings from the perspective of an arrogant blindness to his own pretensions and snobbery; but Lamb's readers, in spite of Elia's Neronian affinities, delightedly absolved him precisely because of his "gusto." Yet Lamb persistently had signaled that his preposterous figure of appetite both was and was not an image of himself. By turning Elia back upon vegetarians and other abstemious sorts who self-righteously abhorred Rome's notorious indulgence in food, Lamb brought into question both his own innocence and theirs. By setting up carnivorous gluttony as the nominal butt of his burlesque, by nesting the herbivorous within the carnivorous as a differentiated but analogous excess, Lamb paraded vegetarian extremism in the costume of its bitterest foe. The "single irony" of Swift's projector personifies a political arithmetician, like Sir William Petty, gone mad--Swift's actual concerns with poverty taken to their deranged extreme. But Lamb's irony of functional shift employs the vegetarian's visionary fantasies, cockeyed fervor, and the phobias of their protests, all in the guise of a carnivore whose vice he both shares and at which he laughs. If satire is a device by which irony is realized and if Aristotle's well-known definition of irony as "a dissembling toward the inner core of truth" is authoritative, then in light of Lamb's vertiginously arch "dissemblings," Swift's "Modest Proposal" may have to yield its traditional standing as the most cleverly ironic essay in British literature to Lamb's "Dissertation upon Roast Pig."

University of Arizona


(1) Lamb claimed his persona was derived from an Italian co-worker in the South Sea House. In concert with its pronounced sound of Lamb's initial "L" and its anagrammatic significance, "a lie," the name also is the Italian form of Elijah. See Letters, 1:19; 2:89-90, 181.

(2) Elia's essays are cited by title only since they are brief, repeatedly reprinted, and not dependably accessible in the standard edition, The Works of Charles and Mary Lamb, ed. E.V. Lucas (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1903). Likewise, parenthetical citations to Lamb's letters are by date; Edwin Mart's most-recent edition of the correspondence is incomplete; the earlier standard edition is The Letters of Charles and Mary Lamb, ed. E.V. Lucas (Yale UP, 1935). Likewise, because the short essays of Montaigne (Essays, tr. John Florio, London, 1603), Swift (Herbert Davis, Prose Works [Oxford: Blackwell, 1957]) and Milton (F.A. Patterson, Works, [Columbia UP, 1938]) here quoted are available in scores of popular texts, I resist multiplying page references to library-only editions. In the month before "'Grace Before Meat," Lamb's good friend and fellow London contributor, J.H. Reynolds, used the phrase "graces before meat" in "The Cook's Oracle" (London Magazine, 4:433), a comic essay on cookery that Lamb clearly relished (nominally a review of Apicius Redivius: the Cook's Oracle by William Lister).

(3) Joseph Ritson, An Essay on Abstinence from Animal Food, as a Moral Duty (London, R. Phillips, 1802), 202.

(4) This remodeling of biblical sources to create new romantic meanings might almost be seen as an inverse form of Palestria's technique in the Renaissance, using fragments from secular chansons as part of his sacred melodic masses. Lamb's much remarked-upon antiquarian style is, then, no antiquarianism at all; rather, it is a strategy for infusing old forms with new life--as Ezra Pound would say, to "make it new." Lamb's compound allusions subvert or amplify the original meanings; thus "belly" as literal viscera and social symbol in scripture is made to play a new, expanded role in the psychology and metaphysics of romanticism. In the satiric Gargantua and Pantagruel (4:58-59), Francois Rabelais fuses with Greek allusions precisely this same passage from Philippians 3 in order to describe the Gastrolators "whose God is their belly" and Manduce, their idol of Gluttony: "a monstrous, ridiculous, hideous figure, fit to fright little children; its eyes were bigger than its belly, and its head larger than all the rest of its body...." Rabelais also echoes the same belly-mouth allusion as Lamb when he says the Engastrimythes "seemed not to speak and give answers from the mouth, but from the belly." In this tradition of learned satire--from Erasmus and Rabelais through Burton, Swift, and Sterne to Lamb--pedantry and pretention are exploded (in that root sense of "driven off the stage with clapping") by their own absurdity.

(5) Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed., The Oxford Book of Ballads (Oxford: Clarendon P, 1927).

(6) I originally suggested this borrowing in Confessions of a Prosaic Dreamer (Duke UP, 1984), 82; thereafter, Lamb's indebtedness to Swift's essay has been endorsed by J.R. Watson, "Lamb and Food" Charles Lamb Bulletin 54 (1986), 171.

(7) See his letter to Coleridge of 13 February 1797 as well as his Elia essay "A Quakers' Meeting" (1821).

(8) In Monsman, Charles Lamb as the London Magazine's "Elia,'" (Lewiston, Queenston, Lampeter: Mellen P, 2003), 128, I noted that Porphyry, "author of Against the Christians (now lost) and On the Abstinence from Animal Food, ... in the early years of Christianity, had set up against the redemptive significance of the crucifixion's blood sacrifice the competing pagan morality of an ideal golden age when 'men sacrificed to the Gods fruits and not animals' (Porphyry 2:29.61). Shelley, contra St. Peter's vision in Acts 10:10-15 ... claimed 'the first Christians practised abstinence from animal flesh, on a principle of self-mortification' ('Vindication' 90:456-58); and ... he had zealously rationalized the Adam and Eve legend of the Fall as an 'allegory' of 'disease and crime' created by an 'unnatural diet' of eating meat ('Vindication' 77:12-16)."

(9) M. Minucius Felix, Octavius (Chapter 9), Vol. 4 of The Ante-Nicene Fathers, tr. Robert Wallis (Buffalo, 1887). Indeed, later both Saint Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, in his Catecheses and Saint Augustine in his Book of Heresies accused Montanists of drunken orgies and eucharistic atrocities that reportedly mixed the blood of suckling infants with flour to make bread for their "polluted sacraments."

(10) Watson 160.

(11) Edward Gibbon, The Turn of the Tide, Vol. 1 of History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (London: Dent, 1910) 147 & n.

(12) G.A. Sala, Gaslight and Daylight (London: Chapman and Hall, 1859) Chapter 9 ("Powder Dick and his Train"). In the gormandizing style of Elia, King's synopsis of the cookbook catches precisely the sort of culinary lavishness Lamb used in "Roast Pig." Of Heliogabalus, King writes: "And, it seems, under his Administration a Person that found out a new Soup might have as great a Reward as Drake or Dampier might expect for finding a new Continent. My Friend says the Editor tells us of unheard of Dainties; how Aesopus had a Supper of the Tongues of Birds that could speak; and that his Daughter regal'd on Pearls, tho' he does not tell us how she drest 'era.... But the most exquisite Animal was reserv'd for the last Chapter, and that was the Dormouse, a harmless Creature, whose Innocence might at least have defended it both from Cooks and Physitians. But Apicius found out an odd sort of Fate for those poor Creatures, some to be boned, and others to be put whole, with odd Ingredients, into Hogs Guts, and so boil'd for Sausages.... Tho' very costly they became a common Dish at great Entertainments; Petronius delivers us an odd Receipt for dressing 'em, and serving 'em up with Poppies and Honey" (139-40; 152-53).

(13) Literally "taste"; William King had used the word (157), but recently William Hazlitt had popularized it as a sort of impassioned romantic synaesthesia: "On Gusto," The Examiner (26 May 1816) and The Round Table, No. 29 (1817).

(14) King 138-39.

(15) King 150-51. King's "China" sows and Swift's and Lamb's roast pig references bracket a century of pig-breeding, during which the crossing of the Old English hog with such exotic breeds as the "Chinese"--a type so successful that "Chinese" became an all-purpose designation for any foreign breed--developed from novel experimentation into a familiar practice. This partially explains why in his introductory fantasy Lamb changes the country of cooking's origin from Porphery's Syria/Phoenicia to China; but for both Swift and Lamb it also supplies a class distinction: the diet of servants and laborers was supported by the aged, fat-rich, larger-framed Old English hog; however, gentry preferred a more delicate roasting pork or sucking pig derived from the smaller "Chinese" animal. Thus Swift's reference to the "art of making good bacon" implies an equivalence between the up-scale China pig and Irish infants. Elia's insistence on roasting is because although these animals on the gentleman's table contained by modern standards immoderate amounts of "oleaginous fat," when boiled they left even smaller amounts of pork and greater pools of blubber-grease.

(16) A possible echo of Swift's recipe in "Proposal" surfaces in Barry Cornwall's anecdote of a matron who, "after expressing her love for her young children, added tenderly, 'And how do you like babies, Mr. Lamb?' His answer, immediate, almost precipitate, was 'Boi-boi-boiled, ma'am'" ([Bryan Procter], Charles Lamb: A Memoir (London: Moxon, 1866) 198.

(17) Walter Pater, Marius the Epicurean (London: Macmillan, 1910) 1:2.

(18) Cornelius Tacitus, The Annals of Imperial Rome, tr. Michael Grant (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973) 16:18.

(19) Petronius Arbiter, The Satyricon, tr. P.G. Walsh (Oxford: Clarendon, 1996) 33-35.

(20) King 156.

(21) Petronius 52-53.

(22) Ibid. 54-55.

(23) Quoted in Joseph Vehling, Apicius: Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome (New York: Dover, 1988), Recipe #376; from Martin Lister, Apicii Coelii de Opsoniis et Condimentis (London: G. Bowyer, 1705) 196.

(24) Petronius 54.

(25) Swift, Tale of a Tub, Vol. 1 of Prose Works, ed. Davis 109.
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Date:Mar 22, 2006
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