My host would invite members of his family and some friends to dinner at two o’clock, say. The dinner proper—which was a good, substantial, and even luxurious meal—being over, we adjourned to the drawing room. There the dessert would be laid out on a large round table around which we gathered. Then would mine host call for his wine book—for he had a well-stocked cellar of fine vintages. Turning over the leaves of this book he would propose to begin with a bottle of ’47 port, which was then a comparatively young and fruity wine. This would be followed probably by a bottle of 1840, and then we should come to the great 1834 wine, of which mine host had a rare stock.
Sometimes we should hark back to 1820 port, a wine which I remember to have had a rich colour and a full refined flavour, and once I tasted the famous comet wine, 1811, which, however, had lost something of its nucleus, and only retained a certain tawny, nebulous tone. On one occasion I remember my host said he had some seventeen-ninety something wine in his cellar, which he proposed we should taste, but for some reason, now forgotten, it was not produced, and I sometimes rather regret that I so narrowly missed the opportunity of tasting a last century wine. Perhaps it may be thought from the procession of ports produced on such occasions as I have described that we indulged in a sustained and severe wine-bibbing bout. But it was not so. In reality we only just tasted each vintage, so that we had the maximum of variety with the minimum of quantity.
The wine ended, we betook ourselves into another room, there to enjoy a cigar. Then would come tea and coffee, and a little music. Supper—yes, my reader, a good supper would be announced about nine o’clock; after that another little smoke, and about ten o’clock or soon after we should take our departure.
Of course all this made up the sum total of a pretty good snack—I mean a good, well-sustained feast—but whether it was owing to the excellence of the viands, or to the fact that we took our pleasures not sadly but deliberately, I for one cannot remember ever feeling the worse for my little-indulgences. Perhaps something was owing to the glorious continuity of our feasting and pleasure.
I also remember once being at an unfrugal, old-fashioned, festive dinner at a friend’s house, when one of the guests proposed our host’s health, and finished up by saying, “I shall be glad to see everyone at this table to dinner at my house this day week.” Considering there were about thirty persons sitting round the mahogany this was a fair-sized order. But it was no empty compliment. The dinner came off, and a fine good spread it was, and as for the wine I seem to sniff its “bouquet” now.