Love for Good Eating
At supper Johnson talked ofwith uncommon satisfaction. “Some people,” said he, “have a foolish way of not minding, or pretending not to mind, what they eat. For my part, I mind my belly very studiously, and very carefully; for I look upon it, that he who does not mind his belly will hardly mind anything else,”He was, for the moment, not only serious but vehement. Yet I have heard him, upon other occasions, talk with great contempt of people who were anxious to gratify their palates; and the 206th number of his Rambler is a masterly essay against gulosity. His practice, indeed, I must acknowledge, may be considered as casting the balance of his different opinions upon this subject; for I never knew any man who relished more than he did.
When at table, he was totally absorbed in the business of the moment; his looks seemed riveted to his plate; nor would he, unless when in very high company, say one word, or even pay the least attention to what was said by others, till he had satisfied his appetite, which was so fierce, and indulged with such intenseness，that while in the act of eating, the veins of his forehead swelled, and generally a strong perspiration was visible. To those whose sensations were delicate, this could not but be disgusting; and it was doubtless not very suitable to the character of a philosopher, who should be distinguished by self-command. But it must be owned, that Johnson, though he could be rigidly ABSTEMIOUS, was not a TEMPERATE man either in eating or drinking. He could refrain, but he could not use moderately.
He told me, that he had fasted two days without inconvenience, and that he had never been hungry. They who beheld with wonder how much he eat upon all occasions when his dinner was to his taste, could not easily conceive what he must have meant by hunger.
And not only was he remarkable for the extraordinary quantity which he eat, but he was, or affected to be, a man of very nice discernment in the science of cookery. He used to descant critically on the dishes which had been at table where he had dined or supped, and to recollect very minutely what he had liked. I remember, when he was in Scotland, his praising “Gordon’s palates，” (a dish of palates at the Honourable Alexander Gordon’s) with a warmth of expression which might have done honour to more important subjects. “As for Maclaurin’s imitation of a MADE DISH, it was a wretched attempt.” He about the same time was so much displeased with the performances of a nobleman’s French cook, that he exclaimed with vehemence, “I’d throw such a rascal into the river”，and he then proceeded to alarm a lady at whose house he was to sup, by the following manifesto of his skill: “I，Madam, who live at a variety oftables, am a much better judge of cookery, than any person who has a very tolerable cook, but lives much at home; for his palate is gradually adapted to the taste of his cook; whereas, Madam, in trying by a wider range, I can more exquisitely judge.” When invited to dine, even with an intimate friend, he was not pleased if something better than a plain dinner was not prepared for him. I have heard him say on such an occasion, “This was a good dinner enough, to be sure; but it was not a dinner to ASK a man to.” On the other hand, he was wont to express, with great glee, his satisfaction when he had been entertained quite to his mind.