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Title: A Dissertation upon Roast Pig
Author: Lamb, Charles, 1775-1834
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Dissertation upon Roast Pig" ***

produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive)

[Illustration: CHARLES LAMB.]



_Illustrated by L. J. Bridgman_




[Illustration: YE DELIGHTFUL PIG.]

[Illustration: BO-BO PLAYETH WITH FIRE.]


Mankind, says a Chinese manuscript, which my friend M. was obliging enough
to read and explain to me, for the first seventy thousand ages ate their
meat raw, clawing or biting it from the living animal, just as they do in
Abyssinia to this day. This period is not obscurely hinted at by their
great Confucius in the second chapter of his Mundane Mutations, where
he designates a kind of golden age by the term Cho-fang, literally the
Cooks' holiday. The manuscript goes on to say, that the art of roasting,
or rather broiling (which I take to be the elder brother) was accidentally
discovered in the manner following: The swineherd, Ho-ti, having gone
out in the woods one morning, as his manner was, to collect masts for
his hogs, left his cottage in the care of his eldest son Bo-bo, a great
lubberly boy, who being fond of playing with fire, as younkers of his
age commonly are, let some sparks escape into a bundle of straw, which
kindling quickly, spread the conflagration over every part of their
poor mansion, till it was reduced to ashes. Together with the cottage,
(a sorry antediluvian makeshift of a building, you may think it),
what was of much more importance, a fine litter of new-farrowed pigs,
no less than nine in number, perished. China pigs had been esteemed a
luxury all over the East, from the remotest periods that we read of.
Bo-bo was in the utmost consternation, as you may think, not so much for
the sake of the tenement, which his father and he could easily build
up again with a few dry branches, and the labour of an hour or two,
at any time, as for the loss of the pigs. While he was thinking what
he should say to his father, and wringing his hands over the smoking
remnants of one of those untimely sufferers, an odour assailed his
nostrils, unlike any scent which he had before experienced. What could
it proceed from?--not from the burnt cottage--he had smelt that smell
before--indeed this was by no means the first accident of the kind which
had occured through the negligence of this unlucky young firebrand.
Much less did it resemble that of any known herb, weed, or flower.
A premonitory moistening at the same time overflowed his nether lip.
He knew not what to think. He next stooped down to feel the pig, if there
were any signs of life in it. He burnt his fingers, and to cool them
he applied them in his booby fashion to his mouth. Some of the crumbs
of the scorched skin had come away with his fingers, and for the first
time in his life (in the world's life indeed, for before him no man
had known it) he tasted--_crackling_! Again he felt and fumbled at the
pig. It did not burn him so much now, still he licked his finger from a
sort of habit. The truth at length broke into his slow understanding,
that it was the pig that smelt so, and the pig that tasted so delicious;
and surrendering himself up to the newborn pleasure, he fell to tearing
up whole handfuls of the scorched skin with the flesh next it, and
was cramming it down his throat in his beastly fashion, when his sire
entered amid the smoking rafters, armed with retributory cudgel, and
finding how affairs stood, began to rain blows upon the young rogue's
shoulders, as thick as hailstones, which Bo-bo heeded not any more than
if they had been flies. The tickling pleasure which he experienced in
his lower regions, had rendered him quite callous to any inconveniences
he might feel in those remote quarters. His father might lay on, but he
could not beat him from his pig, till he had fairly made an end of it,
when, becoming a little more sensible of his situation, something like
the following dialogue ensued:

[Illustration: YE FIRST TASTE.]

"You graceless whelp, what have you got there devouring? Is it not enough
that you have burnt me down three houses with your dog's tricks, and
be hanged to you, but you must be eating fire, and I know not what--what
have you got there, I say?"

"O father, the pig, the pig! do come and taste how nice the burnt pig

The ears of Ho-ti tingled with horror. He cursed his son, and he cursed
himself that ever he should beget a son that should eat burnt pig.

Bo-bo, whose scent was wonderfully sharpened since morning, soon raked
out another pig, and fairly rending it asunder, thrust the lesser half
by main force into the fists of Ho-ti, still shouting out, "Eat, eat,
eat the burnt pig, father, only taste--O Lord,"--with such-like barbarous
ejaculations, cramming all the while as if he would choke.

[Illustration: HO-TI BEATETH HIS SON.]

Ho-ti trembled every joint while he grasped the abominable things
wavering whether he should not put his son to death for an unnatural
young monster, when the crackling scorching his fingers, as it had
done his son's, and applying the same remedy to them, he in his turn
tasted some of its flavour, which, make what sour mouths he would for
a pretence, proved not altogether displeasing to him. In conclusion
(for the manuscript here is a little tedious) both father and son fairly
sat down to the mess, and never left off till they had despatched all
that remained of the litter.

Bo-bo was strictly enjoined not to let the secret escape, for the
neighbors would certainly have stoned them for a couple of abominable
wretches, who could think of improving upon the good meat which God had
sent them. Nevertheless, strange stories got about. It was observed that
Ho-ti's cottage was burnt down now more frequently than ever. Nothing
but fires from this time forward. Some would break out in broad day,
others in the night-time. As often as the sow farrowed, so sure was
the house of Ho-ti to be in a blaze; and Ho-ti himself, which was the
more remarkable, instead of chastising his son, seemed to grow more
indulgent to him than ever. At length they were watched, the terrible
mystery discovered, and father and son summoned to take their trial
at Pekin, than an inconsiderable assize town. Evidence was given,
the obnoxious food itself produced in court, and verdict about to be
pronounced, when the foreman of the jury begged that some of the burnt
pig, of which the culprits stood accused, might be handed into the box.
He handled it, and they all handled it, and burning their fingers,
as Bo-bo and his father had done before them, and nature prompting to
each of them the same remedy, against the face of all the facts, and
the clearest charge which judge had ever given,--to the surprise of the
whole court, townsfolk, strangers, reporters, and all present--without
leaving the box, or any manner of consultation whatever, they brought
in a simultaneous verdict of Not Guilty.

[Illustration: YE FAMILY REJOICETH.]

The judge, who was a shrewd fellow, winked at the manifest iniquity
of the decision; and, when the court was dismissed, went privily, and
bought up all the pigs that could be had for love or money. In a few days
his Lordship's town house was observed to be on fire. The thing took
wing, and now there was nothing to be seen but fires in every direction.
Fuel and pigs grew enormously dear all over the district. The insurance
offices one and all shut up shop. People built slighter and slighter
every day, until it was feared that the very science of architecture would
in no long time be lost to the world. Thus this custom of firing houses
continued, till in process of time, says my manuscript, a sage arose,
like our Locke, who made a discovery, that the flesh of swine, or indeed
of any other animal, might be cooked (_burnt_, as they call it) without
the necessity of consuming a whole house to dress it. Then first began
the rude form of a gridiron. Roasting by the string, or spit, came in a
century or two later, I forget in whose dynasty. By such slow degrees,
concludes the manuscript, do the most useful, and seemingly the most
obvious arts, make their way among mankind.

[Illustration: YE MYSTERY IS SOLVED.]

Without placing too implicit faith in the account above given, it must
be agreed, that if a worthy pretext for so dangerous an experiment as
setting houses on fire (especially in these days) could be assigned in
favour of any culinary object, that pretext and excuse might be found
in roast pig.

Of all the delicacies in the whole _mundus edibilis_, I will maintain
it to be the most delicate--_princeps obsoniorum_.

I speak not of your grown porkers--things between pig and pork--those
hobbydehoys--but a young and tender suckling--under a moon old--guiltless
as yet of the sty--with no original speck of the _amor immunditiæ_, the
hereditary failing of the first parent, yet manifest--his voice as yet
not broken, but something between a childish treble, and a grumble--the
mild forerunner, or _præludium_, of a grunt.

_He must be roasted._ I am not ignorant that our ancestors ate them
seethed, or boiled--but what a sacrifice of the exterior tegument!


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 indefiable 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 substance.

Behold him, while he is doing--it seemeth rather a refreshing warmth,
then a scorching heat, that he is so passive to. How equably he twirleth
round the string!--Now he is just done. To see the extreme sensibility
of that tender age, he hath wept out his pretty eyes--radiant
jellies--shooting stars--

See him in the dish, his second cradle, how meek he lieth!--wouldst
thou have had this innocent grow up to the grossness and indocility
which too often accompany maturer swinehood? Ten to one he would have
proved a glutton, a sloven, an obstinate, disagreeable animal--wallowing
in all manner of filthy conversation--from these sins he is happily
snatched away--

  Ere sin could blight, or sorrow fade,
    Death came with timely care--

his memory is odoriferous--no clown curseth, while his stomach half
rejecteth, the rank bacon--no coalheaver bolteth him in reeking
sausages--he hath a fair sepulchre in the grateful stomach of the
judicious epicure--and for such a tomb might be content to die.


He is the best of sapors. Pineapple is great. She is indeed almost too
transcendent--a delight, if not sinful, yet so like to sinning, that
really a tender-conscienced person would do well to pause--too ravishing
for mortal taste, she woundeth and excoriateth the lips that approach
her--like lover's kisses, she biteth--she is a pleasure bordering on
pain from the fierceness and insanity of her relish--but she stoppeth
at the palate--she meddleth not with the appetite--and the coarsest
hunger might barter her consistently for a mutton chop.

Pig--let me speak his praise--is no less provocative of the appetite,
than he is satisfactory to the criticalness of the censorious palate.
The strong man may batten on him, and the weakling refuseth not his
mild juices.

Unlike to mankind's mixed characters, a bundle of virtues and vices,
inexplicably intertwisted, and not to be unravelled without hazard, he
is--good throughout. No part of him is better or worse than another. He
helpeth, as far as his little means extend, all around. He is the least
envious of banquets. He is all neighbors' fare.


I am one of those, who freely and ungrudgingly impart a share of the
good things of this life which fall to their lot (few as mine are in
this kind) to a friend. I protest I take as great an interest in my
friend's pleasures, his relishes, and proper satisfactions, as in mine
own. "Presents," I often say, "endear Absents." Hares, pheasants,
partridges, snipes, barn-door chickens (those "tame villatic fowl"),
capons, plovers, brawn, barrels of oysters, I dispense as freely as I
receive them. I love to taste them, as it were, upon the tongue of my
friend. But a stop must be put somewhere. One would not, like Lear, "give
everything." I make my stand upon pig. Methinks it is an ingratitude to
the Giver of all good flavours, to extra-domiciliate, or send out of the
house, slightingly (under pretext of friendship, or I know not what),
a blessing so particularly adapted, predestined, I may say, to my
individual palate--It argues an insensibility.

[Illustration: YE PIG TWIRLETH.]

I remember a touch of conscience in this kind at school. My good old
aunt, who never parted from me at the end of a holiday without stuffing
a sweetmeat, or some nice thing, into my pocket, had dismissed me one
evening with a smoking plum-cake, fresh from the oven. In my way to
school (it was over London Bridge) a gray-headed old beggar saluted me
(I have no doubt at this time of day that he was a counterfeit). I had
no pence to console him with, and in the vanity of self-denial, and the
very coxcombry of charity, schoolboy-like, I made him a present of--the
whole cake! I walked on a little, buoyed up, as one is on such occasions,
with a sweet soothing of self-satisfaction; but before I had got to the
end of the bridge, my better feelings returned, and I burst into tears,
thinking how ungrateful I had been to my good aunt, to go and give her
good gift away to a stranger, that I had never seen before, and who might
be a bad man for aught I knew; and then I thought of the pleasure my aunt
would be taking in thinking that I--I myself, and not another--would eat
her nice cake--and what should I say to her the next time I saw her--how
naughty I was to part with her pretty present--and the odour of that
spicy cake came back upon my recollection, and the pleasure and the
curiosity I had taken in seeing her make it, and her joy when she sent
it to the oven, and how disappointed she would feel that I had never had
a bit of it in my mouth at last--and I blamed my impertinent spirit of
almsgiving, and out-of-place hypocrisy of goodness, and above all I
wished never to see the face again of that insiduous, good-for-nothing,
old gray impostor.

Our ancestors were nice in their method of sacrificing these tender
victims. We read of pigs whipt to death with something of a shock, as
we hear of any other obsolete custom. The age of discipline is gone by,
or it would be curious to inquire (in a philosophical light merely)
what effect this process might have towards intenerating and dulcifying
a substance, naturally so mild and dulcet as the flesh of young pigs. It
looks like refining a violet. Yet we should be cautious, while we condemn
the inhumanity, how we censure the wisdom of the practice. It might
impart a gusto--

[Illustration: YE AROMATIC PIG.]

I remember an hypothesis, argued upon by the young students, when I was
at St. Omer's, and maintained with much learning and pleasantry on both
sides, "Whether, supposing that the flavor of a pig who obtained his
death by whipping (_per flagellationem extremam_) superadded a pleasure
upon the palate of a man more intense than any possible suffering we
can conceive in the animal, is man justified in using that method of
putting the animal to death?" I forget the decision.

His sauce should be considered. Decidedly, a few bread crumbs, done up
with his liver and brains, and a dash of mild sage. But, banish, dear
Mrs. Cook, I beseech you, the whole onion tribe. Barbecue your whole hogs
to your palate, steep them in shalots, stuff them out with plantations
of the rank and guilty garlic; you cannot poison them, or make them
stronger than they are--but consider, he is a weakling--a flower.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Dissertation upon Roast Pig" ***

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