Balder Helwyse was a man full of natural and healthy instincts: he was not afraid to laugh uproariously when so inclined; nor apt to counterfeit so much as a smile, only because a smile would look well. What showed a rarer audacity,—he had more than once dared to weep! To crush down real emotions formed, in short, no part of his ideal of a man. Not belonging to the Little-pot-soon-hot family, he had, perhaps, never found occasion to go beyond the control of his temper, and blind rage he would in no wise allow himself; but he delighted in antagonisms, and though it came not within his rules to hate any man, he was inclined to cultivate an enemy, as more likely to be instructive than some friends. His love of actual battle was intense: he had punched heads with many a hard-fisted school-boy in England; he bore the scar of a German schlaeger high up on his forehead; and later, in Paris, he had deliberately invaded the susceptibilities of a French journalist, had followed him to the field of honor, and been there run through the body with a small-sword, to the satisfaction of both parties. He was confined to his bed for a while; but his overflowing spirits healed the wound to the admiration of his doctors.
These examples of self-indulgence have been touched upon only by way of preparing the gentle reader for a shock yet more serious. Helwyse was a disciple of Brillat-Savarin,—in one word, a gourmand! His appetite never failed him, and, he knew how wisely to direct it. He never ate a careless or thoughtless meal, be its elements simple as they might. He knew and was loved by the foremost cooks all over Europe. Never did he allow coarseness or intemperance to mar the refinement of his palate.
“Man,” he was accustomed to say, “is but a stomach, and the cook is the pope of stomachs, in whose church are no respectable heretics. Our happiness lies in his saucepan,—at the mercy of his spit. Eating is the appropriation to our needs of the good and truth of life, as existing in material manifestation: the cook is the high-priest of that symbolic ceremony! I, and kings with me, bow before him! But his is a responsibility beneath which Atlas might stagger; he, of all men, must be honest, warm-hearted, quick of sympathy, full of compassion towards his race. Let him rejoice, for the world extols him for its well-being;—yet tremble! lest upon his head fall the curse of its misery!”
This speech was always received with applause; the peroration being delivered with a vast controlled emphasis of eye and voice; and it was followed by the drinking of the cook’s health. “The generous virtues,” Mr. Helwyse would then go on to say, “arise from the cultivation of the stomach. From man’s very earthliness springs the flower of his spiritual virtue. We affect to despise the flesh, as vile and unworthy. What, then, is flesh made of? of nothing?—let who can, prove that! No, it is made of spirit,—of the divine, everlasting substance; it is the wall which holds Heaven in place! If there be anything vile in it, it is of the Devil’s infusion, and enters not into the argument.”