FAR be the audacity from us to review the mighty quarto,* big as a picture Bible, luxurious as a King's edition of a classic, and illustrated like a Natural History, in which Messrs. Longinans have given the ideas of M. Dubois, Cook to their Majesties of Prussia, to an admiring and, we hope, a buying world. It is a book for German Princes, London Lord Mayors, and American millionaires, not for reviewers, who, even if they understood cookery, which is very seldom the case, would certainly shrink from M. Dubois' book as timidly as they would from the kind of dinner he urges our rich men to adopt. What could they ven- ture to say to a man who declares that pain de gibier should be sent up in the form of a bastion modelled of fat and wood and glaze, and every other kind of uneatable abomination, and thinks "a triton modelled in fat" an artistic improvement to a salmon which human beings are presumably intended to eat ? Mr. Hay- ward himself, who has in print hinted defects in Brillat Savarin, would scarcely have the temerity to criticize M. Dubois and his designs for castellated cold grease, still less to say what he might perhaps think, if we understand his essays aright, that the grand Prussian chef's ideas have something barbaric about them, something which recalls the bad days when a Roman patrician thought it good taste to send up fawns whole, or when naked dwarfs jumped out of Czar Peter's pies, or when a French cook threatened to stew forty hams for a single dish. All we can venture to do is to accept M. Dubois' execution of his main idea as abso- lutely perfect, which we may do with a safe conscience, having no standard of comparison ; and to demur, and that we do timidly, overawed at once by his skill and his sententiousness, to the main idea itself. M. Dubois' postulate is that the dinner-table offers a field for artistic effect independent of cookery, and that this effect should be secured by throwing all dishes, by aid of moulds, glazes, "flowers of fat," and other mechanical contrivances into artistic forms,—that a " noix de veau," for example, should be sent up on a dish selected to improve its pictorial effect when prepared in this fashion :—" The meat is larded with bacon, the piece secured in an oval shape, with a string, cooked with little liquid, and nicely glazed ; it is dished up on a foundation of cooked meat, cooled under a press, and glazed at the entrance of the oven ; this foundation is necessary to heighten the form and aspect of the piece. It is surrounded with groups of vegetables, cooked in water, or glazed : cauliflowers, carrots, green pease, French beans. Two hiltelet-skewers of vegetables are inserted in the meat on each side." We had rather eat veal in a ham shop, or in a tenth-rate Florentine restaurant where the cooking-stove is in the salon, and we are expected to gain an appetite from the hissing of the joints. With M. Dubois' proposition, that an artistic effect for a dinner-table is worth procuring, we heartily agree, for the righteousness of luxury being granted,—quite a questionable point,—dinner may as well be luxurious, but to his mode of procuring it we as heartily demur. It is, we contend, in the furniture of the table, not in the food to be eaten at it, that beauty of form should be sought ; in the first place, because nothing hot can be put on table without its yielding more or leas of a steam disgusting to all who comprehend the true
pleasure of dining ; in the second, because every useless touch given to food increases the effect which in England is described by the word " matnmocking ;" and in the third, because a dinner made splendid by M. Dubois' artistic shapes must be a dinner served at a table inconveniently large. His idea of artistic arrangement is inconsistent with that happiest of discoveries, the Russian system of serving, which has relieved diners-out alike of carving, of steam, and of tepid dishes, and with that highest art which subordinates the gratification of the eye to the greatest of luxuries, good conversation, enjoyed while the palate is being pleased. M. Dubois admits the Russian dinner, but clearly gives the preference
to the French one, and we can scarcely imagine that in practice he would bear to have.hia wonderful structures of fat, and glaze, and willow-wood cut up by unregarding servants out of sight. That very much might be done to improve the aspect of a dinner- • Artistic Cookery. By urban Dubois, Chef de Cuisine of their Majesties the Bing and Queen of Prussia. London : Longtuans.
table is certain, but we doubt if it is in M. Dubois' direction that improvement should be sought.
In the first place, we have not yet by any means hit upon a perfect form of dinner-table. The old square or oval affair demanded by M. Dubois' theory is abominable from every point of view. It requires decoration on the pyramidal system, to prevent it from looking "flat," in a way suggestive of a restaurant, wants in silversmiths' language the " epergne " in the centre with which M. Dubois, in his very artistic plate, has very judi- ciously adorned it. Now an epergne, or a lamp, or a tall vase of flowers, or anything above a foot high put upon a dinner-table may increase the pictorial effect as one enters, but is a decided nuisance after one has sat down, perpetually crossing the line of sight, and turning conversation at any distance into a series of grotesque contortions. It helps the broad table to limit one's power of talk to the next sitter, who may perhaps be talking to some one still farther down, and thus to make silent loneliness in the midst of a dinner a possibility. That is surely, even in the estimation of a chef, to turn Paradise into Purgatory. With a round table the effect of a raised centre-piece is oven worse, for there it is constantly quenching a hope as con- stantly reviving. With a square table one knows one's fate, and submits to be bored or amused at the discretion of one's partner, but with a round table there is always hope ; if only the service does not interrupt the view, and compel every guest to look as if he were peeping round a corner. A large round table, with nothing tall upon it, a " sunlight " flashing down, a good dinner in course of serving, and a pleasant group around it, presents, we admit, all the materials of pleasure ; but even this might, we conceive, be improved upon by art. The guests are too far off from each other to feel that each is the other's neighbour in the social, if not the Scriptural sense, too apt to realize the truth that the modern world, with all its attention to dinner and all its marvellous mechanical skill, has not yet discovered the secret of a dining-table ; that there is, in fact, no such thing, but only a table upon which a dinner may be put. Gillow himself does not make tables for dining and nothing else. A series of little tables would be good, but that arrange- ment leaves the groups too isolated, too dependent upon the host's skill in parcelling his guests—a matter in which etiquette constantly interferes with judgment—and it absolutely precludes anything like broad pictorial effect. There is no oppor- tunity either for grouping or for colour, while it is difficult, if not impossible, to remove an impression of the restaurant. The true idea, we conceive, is one which would be inconvenient in all but the very greatest English houses, a tableof any length, but so narrow that every guest would look into the eyes of his opposite neigh- bour, and be able to talk at ease to at least five persons, three opposite and one upon each side. To give such a table, which is by nature ugly, a fine pictorial effect, it ought to present to the in-corner a sort of ribbon, a long strip of well-arranged and exceed- ingly bright colours ; but that effect is surely not beyond the reach of the human intellect. Range flowers—not flower-pots, but cut flowers embedded in moss—in open order down the centre as carefully as they would be arranged in a bed in a grandly- designed garden, and heap on each side glass, silver, and fine china, and there would be produced an effect which no eye sensitive to colour could behold without that sense of content which is the highest of the calmer gratifications. There is no good reason, if expense is once forgotten, why the ground-colour of the picture should be white, though white is very effective ; and still less why the china should be of the subdued tint modern taste affects, why the glass should all be like water solidified into shapes, and why the napkins should be made of starched white
linen. There is no earthly reason except expense why the carafes should not be of the proper substance to hold water,
porous clay susceptible of any colour and any pattern ; the finger glasses of red Bohemian glass, or far better, of that wonderful amber which glows so in false light ; the wine-glasses of three colours, so arranged as to form with the finger-glasses a bouquet ; and the napkins of the intense scarlet or purple which best throws up all other shades ; or why half the silver should not be frosted. To a dinner-table so arranged the only objection would be a certain absence of special purpose, of separateness from other tables, and that could be
obviated if between every chair stretched out from the table a
kind of arm intended to hold the condiments which no one cares to do without, which no one wishes to wait for, and which no ser- vant ever brings without a special order. The arm, too, besides breaking the hard lines of the table, would prevent crowding and admit of an improvement at dinner cruelly required, a really luxurious chair to sit in. We English have, we believe, invented a drawing-room and library chair upon which improvement is not possible, a chair for which Nero would have given a prize, but our dining-room chair, though better than our fathers', is still deficient, wearies the neck, and obliges us to submit to the weariness of carrying our own arms. Seated in the chairs of our dream, with pleasant guests opposite, and therefore visible, and yet near enough to talk to, with brilliant colour on every side, and with no scent save that of the flowers, dinner should arrive imperceptibly, each dish in the simplest form in which it can be enjoyed and most easily transferred to its proper place, the plates before the guests. Perish M. Dubois, his marvellous shapes, and incomparable but superfluous katelets ! They are but worries and distractions at the best, gross interferences with the idea of a good dinner, worthy only of millionaires who do not want to entertain you, but only to make you feel how vast must be the fortune to which waste like theirs is imperceptible. They have their func- tion, as well as royalties ; but neither of them, if guided by M. Dubois, will in any wise advance the true art of banqueting, that gratification of the feeding animal which is so scientific, so con- nected with intellectual excitement, that wise men cease to reckon it among the truly sensual enjoyments.