Another point in reference to the early economy of the table, which should not be overlooked, is the character of the ancient buttery, and the quick transition which its functionary, the butler, experienced from the performance of special to that of general duties.
He at a very remote period acted not merely as the curator of the wine-cellar, but as the domestic steward and storekeeper; and it was his business to provide for the requirements of the kitchen and the pantry, and to see that no opportunity was neglected of supplying, from the nearest port, or market town, or fair, if his employer resided in the country, all the necessaries for the departments under his control. We are apt to regard the modern bearer of the same title as more catholic in his employments than the appellation suggests; but he in fact wields, on the contrary, a very circumscribed authority compared to that of his feudal prototype.
One of the menial offices in the kitchen, when the spit came into use, was the broach-turner, lately referred to. He was by no means invariably maintained on the staff, but was hired for the occasion, which may augur the general preference for boiled and fried meats. Sometimes it appears that any lad passing by, or in want of temporary employment, was admitted for this purpose, and had a trifling gratuity, or perhaps only his dinner and the privilege of dipping his fingers in the dripping, for his pains.
Warner cites an entry in some accounts of the Hospital of St. Bartholomew at Sandwich, under 1569:—“For tournynge the spytte, iiijd.” and this was when the mayor of the borough dined with the prior. A royal personage gave, of course, more. The play of “Gammer Gurton’s Needle,” written about 1560, opens with a speech of Diccon the Bedlam, or poor Tom, where he says:—
“Many a gossip’s cup in my
time have I tasted,
And many a broach and spit have I both turned and basted.”
The spit, again, was supplanted by the jack.
The “History of Friar Rush,” 1620, opens with a scene in which the hero introduces himself to a monastery, and is sent by the unsuspecting prior to the master-cook, who finds him subordinate employment.
It has been noted that for a great length of time two meals were made to suffice the requirements of all classes. Our own experience shows how immaterial the names are which people from age to age choose to bestow on their feeding intervals. Some call supper dinner, and others call dinner luncheon. First comes the prevailing mode instituted by fashionable society, and then a foolish subscription to it by a section of the community who are too poor to follow it, and too proud not to seem to do so. Formerly it was usual for the Great to dine and sup earlier than the Little; but now the rule is reversed, and the later a man dines the more distinguished he argues himself. We have multiplied our daily seasons of refreshment, and eat and drink far oftener than our ancestors; but the truly genteel Briton never sups; the word is scarcely in his vocabulary,—like Beau Brummel and the farthing—“Fellow, I do not know the coin!”