A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig (1822)

Happy Thanksgiving! I haven’t got a reading on roast turkey, but here are some excerpts from Charles Lamb’s “A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig” (London Magazine, September 1822):

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.

Lamb is of course referring to roast suckling pig, not “your grown porkers,” not “the maturity of rank bacon.”

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—

The blogosphere has an idea that “ham and pineapple” is a 20th-century thing. (Incidentally, the best kind of pizza is not “Hawaiian” but ham and onion and mushroom and pineapple, or “HOMP.”) The date “1925” comes up a lot, for some reason. But here’s Lamb again, in 1822, linking pig and pineapple:

Pine-apple 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 lovers’ 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.

“Roast Pig” extends a letter on the same theme sent by Lamb to Coleridge (the author of the “Epitaph on an Infant” quoted above) after someone had sent Coleridge a pig. (Apparently not Lamb, says the footnote; although the footnoter might just be taking Lamb’s essay too seriously.) Speaking of letters about sending pigs, in the January 1975 issue of The Classical Outlook J.D. Sadler translates Martial’s Epigrammata 9.48 as follows:

9.48 (To Garricus)

You swore by an oath that was sacred as Jove
That I would inherit a fourth of your trove.
I, wishfully thinking that this would come true,
Kept sending all manner of presents to you.
Among them I gave you a succulent pig;
It looked like a monster, the thing was so big.
And you gave a barbecue, everything free,
To which all were invited — all except me!
I can’t even wiggle my nose in the door
To watch all those bloated bums belching my boar.
Not even a knuckle was sent me this late.
You still think I’m getting that quarter-estate?

That’s the plot of Volpone, isn’t it?

Posted 2023-11-20