I have shown how Mrs. Glasse might have almost failed to keep a place in the public recollection, had it not been for a remark which that lady did not make. But there is a still more singular circumstance connected with her and her book, and it is this—that in Dr. Johnson’s day, and possibly in her own lifetime, a story was current that the book was really written by Dr. Hill the physician. That gentleman’s claim to the authorship has not, of course, been established, but at a dinner at Dilly’s the publisher’s in 1778, when Johnson, Miss Seward, and others were present, a curious little discussion arose on the subject. Boswell thus relates the incident and the conversation:—“The subject of cookery having been very naturally introduced at a table, where Johnson, who boasted of the niceness of his palate, avowed that ‘he always found a good dinner,’ he said, ’I could write a better book about cookery than has ever yet been written; it should be a book upon philosophical principles. Pharmacy is now made much more simple. Cookery may be so too. A prescription, which is now compounded of five ingredients, had formerly fifty in it. So in Cookery. If the nature of the ingredients is well known, much fewer will do. Then, as you cannot make bad meat good, I would tell what is the best butcher’s meat, the best beef, the best pieces; how to choose young fowls; the proper seasons of different vegetables; and then how to roast, and boil, and compound.”
DILLY:—“Mrs. Glasse’s ‘Cookery,’ which is the best, was written by Dr. Hill. Half the trade know this.”
JOHNSON:—“Well, Sir, that shews how much better the subject of cookery may be treated by a philosopher. I doubt if the book be written by Dr Hill; for in Mrs. Glasse’s Cookery, which I have looked into, saltpetre and salt-prunella are spoken of as different substances, whereas salt-prunella is only saltpetre burnt on charcoal; and Hill could not be ignorant of this. However, as the greatest part of such a book is made by transcription, this mistake may have been carelessly adopted. But you shall see what a book of cookery I could make. I shall agree with Mr. Dilly for the copyright.”
Miss SEWARD:—“That would be Hercules with the distaff indeed!”
JOHNSON:—“No, Madam. Women can spin very well; but they cannot make a good book of cookery.”
But the Doctor’s philosophical cookery book belongs to the voluminous calendar of works which never passed beyond the stage of proposal; he did not, so far as we know, ever draw out a title-page, as Coleridge was fond of doing; and perhaps the loss is to be borne with. The Doctor would have pitched his discourse in too high a key.