Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 2/White-bait dinners

Once a Week, Series 1, Volume II (1859-1860)
White-bait dinners
by Alexander Andrew Knox (as Gamma)

Illustrated by John Leech

WHITE-BAIT DINNERS.


Jeddo beats Greenwich out and out under the head of fish-dinners. What marvellous results may yet be obtained from the opening up, as it is called, of Japan! The question hitherto has only been considered from a commercial or political point of view. This low ground should be abandoned at once. There is far too much buying and selling, as it is, going on in the world. As for politicians, they are really becoming a public nuisance. Let any one who doubts the assertion spend an evening in the agreeable society of a second or third-rate member of the House of Commons, or of an earnest party man, and if he does not, as the result of the experiment, admit that his evening has been painfully mis-spent, may I never assist at a white-bait dinner again! Let us attend to our fish.

We are informed upon the very highest authority—upon the authority of a mouth-witness who enjoyed ample opportunities at Jeddo itself of carrying on his philosophico-gastronomic investigations into this most important subject, that for one manner which the Western nations have of dressing fish, the Japanese have twenty or fifty methods of dealing with these marine delicacies—these succulent fruits of the ocean which we handle in so monotonous a way.

It is not a question of sauce.

That is, under the head of “Sauces” we are called upon to consider a very important part of the subject—a most interesting subdivision I grant—but this is far from being the real question at issue. I wish I could speak with more precision; but the fact is that my informant when at Jeddo neglected his duty to his country, and to the human race. He did not go further than to verify the fact that the fish dinners of Japan are a somewhat which a good man at the end of a well-spent life may dream of as possible under more beatific conditions of existence than those allotted to suffering humanity upon the surface of this planet. He is indeed a man whom to name would be to point him out to the admiration of his countrymen—but, alas! that there should be a speck in so shining and remarkable a character! When at Jeddo he did not exhaust the subject of Fish Stews!

He remarked indeed that sometimes in lusciousness—sometimes in delicate simplicity—they differed from all that he had tasted before in this kind. Some recommended themselves to the more grave and poetical faculties, as would a sonata of Beethoven to the appreciation of an accomplished musician; others fluttered delicately round the entranced palate as when the music of the Seville Barber, winnowing the air, glides like the sky-1ark’s song into the delighted brain of the judicious connoisseur. Others again were examples of grand simplicity—like the sweet conceptions of our own Purcell. Finally, others, Oh, marvel! Oh, miracle! how shall I explain about these others? Reader, have you ever watched a mad fellow careering round a Circus, who even whilst the horse is at full speed throws off covering after covering; and is now a Highlander, now a Swiss peasant, now a jockey, now a British Grenadier. You have there a faint analogy to Japan’s last word in fish-stews. With such consummate art do the illustrious Cooks of that far distant land combine the flavours of their great chef-d’œuvre—keeping them apart even in combination—that flavour after flavour shall pass over your palate—each distinct, yet each affecting the other by the halo, as it were, of its own surpassing delicacy—so that in one moment of time the perfumes of twenty, let us say, of these marine flowers have passed over your senses, yet each is perceptibly separate and distinct. Imagine a dolphin dying on your palate, and each of his changing and beauteous hues a delightful flavour. The Japanese fish-cooks could give you that sensation!

May it not be that we are upon the eve of a great revolution in this matter? Even now, we are informed that ambassadors from that ingenious Japanese people are on their way to our shores. Will they bring their cooks with them? Was that point stipulated in the treaty? It would be well if a question upon this matter were addressed at once to our Foreign Secretary; for even now, if there have been error or misapprehension it may not be too late. Let us tell them all we know about Armstrong guns, and astronomy and medicine; if we only receive in return their piscatorial secrets we shall have made a good bargain, indeed!

The utmost that I could obtain from my informant in the way of precise information—and indeed that is not very precise—was that the secret was not a secret of sauces. The Japanese have discovered some subtle methods of inter-penetrating the very substances of the marine treasures submitted to their delicate manipulations with juices unknown to us. At other times they will take the fish itself—so it be one of transcendent flavour—and heighten that flavour, without the commixture of any foreign element, in a very remarkable way. The process—I cannot repeat it too often—is not the addition of a sauce to a fish; the fish and the sauce are one.

It would also appear, that by a series of long and interesting investigations, they have arrived at the knowledge of certain affinities of flavours which they employ in this wise. Before they exhibit any particular preparation of fish, they make all things ready for its reception; just as when you expect an illustrious guest whom you desire to honour, you take the coverings from the furniture, and place flowers about the room. Before the casket which contains the treasure is placed before the party for whose benefit it has been conceived, they are invited to place a somewhat upon their tongue, or to ingurgitate a mouthful of some liquid. At the critical moment, when this preparatory flavour is at its highest point of development, the dish is brought in. The bridesmaids, as it were, come before scattering flowers, and then the bride appears. Nay, my illustration is a false one: I should rather say, the bride and bridegroom join hands, and the result is—felicity.

I should rather presume that a Japanese fish-dinner is a solemn and a thoughtful proceeding. How would it be possible to bind one’s attention to the jests of a professional joker, or to listen to the last thing about Pullinger, when every faculty of the mind is concentrated upon the appreciation of such nice and interesting considerations as those I have named? A few flowers, coolness, a crepuscular silence, such, methinks, should be the conditions under which fish-dinners are enjoyed at Japan.

This is not the way we manage such matters at Greenwich. I confess I long for greater variety in these entertainments—not, of course, for a greater number of dishes, or varieties of fish, at any one banquet—but I wish there were a larger area for choice, or that I could with a good conscience assert that during the last twenty years I had remarked any notable improvements in the methods of preparing fish. The water zootje, the lobster rissoles, the Spey trout, the salmon cutlets, and the white-bait prepared in the two different ways, are just what they were when I was a boy. Science, when it is not progressive, recedes.

The abominable stench from the Thames has also, of late, proved a serious drawback to Greenwich dinners. How can one sense do its work when another is suffering the last agonies? Could any one enjoy a fish dinner under the roof of a factory for the construction of steam-boilers when the work was most assiduously plied? Could any one, I say, enjoy a fish dinner if surrounded by those unfortunate creatures with goîtres whom one sees in Switzerland? The nose has its susceptibilities as well as the eye or ear, and indeed there is a far more intimate connection between the organs of smell and taste than between any two others. Rather let me have the humblest meal amidst the pleasant woods of Marlow, where the Thames is flowing past in crystal purity, and the young leaves of tenderest green are rustling over my head, and the vocal songsters of the grove—I believe that is the correct expression—are doing just what is expected of them without overdoing it, than the most accurately prepared banquet at Greenwich until the great Trunk Sewer is completed. The beauties of Nature to a thoughtful mind add zest and flavour to cookery. I know of certain dishes which never give forth their full qualities save in presence of the setting sun. There is a particular species of anchovy sandwich of my own invention which I invariably make use of when the nightingale is performing one of her rich seraphic solos amongst the hedges in my garden. I feel my mind elevated and purified at such moments; and I have no doubt that there exists a very particular affinity between the flavour of the delicate fish and the delightful gurgling of the sweet songstress of the woods. How vain are all forms of artificial enjoyment when fairly weighed in the balance against the pleasures derived from the contemplation of Nature! To return to Greenwich.

I had almost made up my mind not to visit Greenwich this year for the reason assigned—namely, my dread of the foul stenches of the Thames, although, I confess, it is not without a severe pang that any man of well-constituted mind can resolve to forego his two or three pilgrimages in the season to the Mecca of White-bait. I am well pleased that I broke through this resolution, as a little meeting there the other day was the means of securing the happiness of a very excellent young man, who before that pleasant little evening was suffering from the pangs of unrequited affection.

The tender passion had pervaded his soul. All his accustomed haunts and pursuits had grown distasteful to my young friend Septimus Cox, whose whole spirit had been drawn by one of those mysterious affinities which I suppose exist between the Anchovy and the Nightingale towards the spirit of pretty Fanny Almond. How he disdained us all! There was fat Jack Partridge—her cousin too—whose jokes were of so genial and sympathetic a kind, that they really might have elicited a broad grin from a milestone. Well, it was only about ten days ago that I was walking home to chambers, at about one o’clock a.m., with the enamoured Cox, and when we came to Covent Garden (it was on a Friday night, or rather early on a Saturday morning), he asked me if it would not be delightful to walk up and down in that celebrated locality, and see the early flowers brought to market. To humour him, I consented to take a few turns; and he then imparted to me, in strict confidence, his opinion that poor Jack was a coarse fellow; that his particular forms of pleasantry were very well in their way; but that a man who had anything better in him soon outlived all relish for them; and that the assiduous discharge of the duties of a laborious profession, coupled with the comforts of a home, and the charms of domestic life, &c., &c.

I had seen my young friends suffering from this kind of attack before, and knew well there was nothing for it but to let the disease run its course. Had he reason to suppose that the young lady appreciated the fervour of his devotion? Had he yet communicated with her upon the subject? No! He was so overwhelmed with the sense of his own unworthiness that he had not yet ventured on anything so audacious. Once, indeed, he had gone so far as to turn over the leaf of her music-book when she was warbling a delightful melody; but as he had rendered this assistance at a wrong moment, he had rather interrupted than aided the full tide of song.

Had he any reason to suppose that his suit would be ill received by this fair being? None in the world. Why, then, was he in such low spirits? Because he knew that he was so totally and absolutely unworthy of her, that he had not the remotest chance of winning her affections. There was nothing for it but despair and a premature grave. Perhaps, then, Fanny would one day know that one who had &c., &c., loved her, &c., &c., had passed away, &c., &c., and that after life’s fitful fever, &c., &c. It was also possible under those circumstances that she might not disdain to drop a tear upon his untimely tomb. This was all very well—very much in the usual course of things—but I confess I thought Septimus was a little hard upon our poor friend Jack Partridge, who was not bound to know that he was imparting his very best jokes to a despairing lover.

Suddenly a thought struck me. Could I induce our young friend to accompany me to Greenwich? I had frequently known the very best results produced by a white-bait dinner upon young men who were very far gone indeed in the tender passion. Kindly middle-aged men must have a large experience of this class of case, and how difficult it is to make the poor foolish boys believe that Dr. Cumming’s gloomiest anticipations are not on the point of being realised because Fanny would “take a turn” with Captain McPuma the other night, in place of devoting her whole attention to the administration of comfort and solace to an individual member of that gloomy but enraptured band. The chief difficulty is to get them down to Greenwich, for when once there I have considerable confidence in a method of treatment which from my own experience of its successful action in many critical cases I would recommend for general adoption. The water-zootje with, say, two flounders, and a delicate roll of brown bread-and-butter, should first be presented in a quiet, sympathetic, “Ah-poor-fellow!” sort of way. Do not at this point take much notice of your patient. His is, of course, a case of great and exceptional sorrow. No Fanny had ever ill-used and bedevilled any Septimus before that afternoon in June. For the rest of the company there are the usual interests of human life; for poor Septimus a little water-zootje and the savage grandeur of solitary despair. Leave Prometheus on his rock, and throw him a flounder or two just to keep him going whilst the vulture is as usual making himself happy with that eternal Strasburg pie which the mournful Titan is doomed to bear for ever upon his right side. When the water-zootje and a glass of Amontillado are fairly disposed of, next exhibit a whiting pudding. It is a good, stodgy, pasty sort of mixture, cloying and anti-sentimental. Now throw in another glass of sherry, or—as you are dealing with a despairing lover who takes no notice of what he is drinking—a little Bucellas, and inquire, “If he has seen the second edition?” Of course he has not. The only telegram Mr. Reuter could possibly forward to “The Times” which would possess the slightest interest for Septimus, would be to the effect that “At 4·30 a.m. Miss Fanny Almond took her usual walking exercise on the banks of the Serpentine, in a plain straw bonnet—her eyes were suffused with tears, and she was heard in front of the Royal Humane Society’s house to say ‘Septimus, Oh, cruel, cruel!”—the cruelty referring to an ideal and somewhat voluminous letter in which Mr. S. C. had on the previous night embodied the history of his sorrows and his wrongs. No such telegram is of course forthcoming, and you have arrived at the lobster rissoles, where, in the majority of cases, a faint attempt may be made to entangle the Sep. in the meshes of a joke. With the salmon cutlets I have never known the experiment to fail; and by the time he has arrived at the white-bait and the cold punch, Romeo himself would think Mercutio a dull dog if he did not answer the whip in a sound convivial manner. Ah! when Charlotte was about it, why could she not have introduced a neat plate of white-bait by the side of that famous bread-and-butter which captivated the affections, and ultimately led to the untimely end of her despairing lover! All this, however, though learning of the most useful kind, does not help us immediately on to Greenwich.

I should have mentioned that Mr. John Partridge, to whose jocular propensities I have slightly alluded, was a not very distant connexion of Mrs. Pokington Almond, the maternal parent of the enchanting Fanny. Mrs. P. Almond was in point of fact one of the Norfolk Partridges, and our friend J. P. came originally from Diss in that turnipy county. Now J. P. was perfectly aware that Septimus was in a very dreary way indeed on account of the various charms of feature, character, conversation, and general fascination which distinguished his cousin Fanny from all other maidens of mortal mould. Septimus, however, did not take the tender passion kindly—few persons in that unfortunate situation ever do—but he took it worse than most others.

Of all disagreeable unsocial wretches commend me to the lover who is brooding over the charms of his mistress. It is not a pleasant thing to spend an evening with a young man who thinks of you as a coarse, mercenary brute, simply because you are pursuing the ordinary objects of interest in human life in a very legitimate way; and who, as you are perfectly aware, would scorn your most elaborate efforts to entertain him for a suggestion on the part of his sweet Sophy to the effect that “it was rather warm.” As a general rule, birds in love are pleasant—at least they tell the story of their sorrows in a pleasant way; men in the same situation are indescribable bores.

It was, however, resolved between us that, by hook or by crook, Septimus should be persuaded to accompany us to Greenwich. We contemplated nothing more than a very quiet sort of thing indeed—and at the same time that Mrs. Pokington Almond should be induced to make up a little party, as the ladies had never assisted at a fish dinner before. Our little project—subsequently modified—was, that the two parties should afterwards meet, as though by accident, in Greenwich Park to see the sun set, or the moon rise, or any kind of planetary entertainment which might be in progress at the time. The result rested, of course, with the young people themselves; still it was to be expected that under the balmy influence of the hour, and the cold punch, and what with the stars above and the coal brigs in the Pool below, Septimus might, at last, be induced to speak out like a rational being; for Jack and I, who were not under the despotism of sternest Eros, knew perfectly well that our little friend F. looked upon Septimus—bating his Jeremiads and belief in his own unworthiness, &c.—with a far from unfavourable eye. Partridge was to join our party, the ladies to be left under the guardianship of friends of whom no particular mention need be made, as they did not influence the fortunes of Mr. Septimus Cox and Miss Fanny Almond otherwise than as being umbræ to Mrs. A. on the memorable day in question.

What a pity it is that we can no longer go down to Greenwich by water. In the early summer time that fresh run through the Pool amongst the tiers of coal brigs used to form an apt and proper vestibule to the Temple of White-bait. I miss that daring mariner in the kind of South Sea canoe, who, with a double-headed paddle, used to steer his way by choice into the hubble-bubble made by the steamers, and when you felt perfectly assured that he had been sucked in by the paddle-wheels, and would be dropped out when the steamer stopped at the Thames Tunnel as flat as a pancake—lo! there he was on the other side of the gallant vessel, joyous as a river monster. I have never known how he got there—my impression is that he used to dive with his mysterious craft under the ship’s keel.

Then what nervous work it used to be going through the Pool, and how you got into No Thoroughfare places from which it seemed impossible that any mortal skill could extricate the steamer, when just at the critical moment a portion of the obstacle seemed to fade away by enchantment, and you were off again! At other times, when all seemed fair and prosperous, a great lumbering lighter would drift across the channel, and you felt morally convinced that nothing could save the stoical lighterman from a watery death, no matter how great the forbearance and skill of your own skipper. And how coolly the lighterman took it, not even deigning to quicken his pace as he performed the usual feat with that enormous pole. Surely the empire of the seas will never pass away from England while she produces a race of men who can do such work as that which our noble captain has immediately in hand, and with such perfect facility as if he thought nothing of it. With what calm majesty he sits on a camp-stool on the paddle-box, and by a mere indication of his finger, which produces from the call-boy a shrill scream of “Ease her! Stop her! Go ahead!” regulates the motion of the craft with such nicety, that he brings her up alongside of a wharf, or drives her through obstacles with only a foot or two to spare, just as a Hansom cabman would guide his vehicle through a jam in Fleet Street. How excited the foreign gentlemen become as the steamer arrives near the Tunnel, and how stout old Englishmen point out to them the vast amount of shipping in the Pool, and with the conscious pride of enlightened patriotism ask if they have anything like that to show in their own country.

The whole scene used to be so fresh, and cool, and pleasant after the dust and turmoil of London. Here we are at last at the bend of the river where Greenwich opens upon us with the Observatory at the top of the hill, and the green park with its old thorn trees; and there lies the Dreadnought, dear to naval veterans from the recollection of other days, and to fish revellers, because when it is sighted they are well aware that the delicate banquet of which they have come in search is not far distant. And we have arrived at the stairs, and immediately we land are plied with invitations to come and take tea at various establishments, where it appears that tea, bread and butter and shrimps are served out at incredibly low rates, and as far as locality is concerned, with peculiar advantages of view and situation. Shrimps, too, are offered to us in little paper packets—shrimps appear to occupy a very prominent place in the Greenwich dietary of the humbler classes. We are not, however, inclined to trifle away our time or appetites upon these delicate crustaceæ, for we have nobler game in view.

We take our way by the Hospital Terrace where the old Pensioners are pacing up and down, not, I fear, engaged in lofty conversation about their former victories, but rather gossiping over petty Hospital grievances, and desirous of small change for the purchase of tobacco. Another day we will investigate the grievances of these gallant men—but to-day we have other business in hand. We are now approaching a narrow passage down which we will take our way—not by any means in scorn of a lordly temple consecrated to white-bait, which we pass upon our way, but because time out of mind we have been in the habit of consuming these subtle luxuries at an older, if not a more luxurious establishment.

We have reached our destination at last, and find that most of the rooms have been pre-occupied. In one apartment a Club of Odd Fellows is dining, and in another the Royal Academy Club; in another a party of gentlemen met to celebrate a victory before some Parliamentary Committee connected with the passing of some Private Bill; in another a knot of Literary men; in another a select circle of friends who have assembled to give a valedictory dinner to one of their number about to enter into the Holy State. I scarcely think there is an event of English life which is not in due season sanctified and illustrated by a Fish Dinner. A few weeks later and one of the rooms in this very Hotel will be occupied by the Ministers of the Crown, who, when the toils of the Parliamentary campaign are over, and when they are just about to imbrue their hands in the blood of the Innocents, meet over their white-bait, and no doubt chuckle enormously over the dangers they have escaped during the last few months. I wish I could speak with the same freedom of the smaller parties who visit Greenwich, equally for white-bait purposes, but who evidently partake of it in a more secluded way. What a world of pathos there is in the inscriptions cut with diamonds on the window-panes of the smaller rooms:

Jemima Ann and I
dined here
June 5, 1837. Philip Stubbs.

That is twenty-three years ago. Let us assume that J. A. was twenty years of age at the date of the white-bait dinner in question—that would make her forty-three. Did she become Mrs. Stubbs? I hope P. S. behaved handsomely. In that case there is probably another J. A., a beautiful young olive-branch prepared to take the place of the maternal tree. It may be that P. S. was unfaithful (in which case I should like to be behind him with a big stick), and the recollection of that very Greenwich dinner partaken of on the 5th June, 1837, may be the one green spot in the waste of memory. The nose of J. A. may now be red, and her temper soured, but at least, come what may, she has been blessed. Or—on the other hand, for why should I desert my own side in so base a manner?—Jemima-Ann may have been a jilt, and have very severely mishandled poor Philip, in which case I hope he has not been fool enough to condemn a hundred good women for the sake of one bad one, but has since frequently come down to Greenwich in the pleasant society of some Sophy, or Catharine, or Mary-Jane, and indoctrinated that young lady in the not disagreeable white-bait mystery. The windows contain many records of this description, all significant of the fact that the engravers considered their presence at the fishy caravanserai in question upon a particular day in the agreeable society of some young lady, who since that period has been—as I trust—the partner of their toils, worthy of very particular record. The duty of awarding the palm, or rather the flitch of bacon, in matters connubial has not devolved upon me. Had I been the judge upon so critical a point, I should have considered that if the candidates had brought forward satisfactory evidence to the effect that, after one year of marriage, Roderick had proposed to Amelia a little white-bait dinner at Greenwich, but under the express stipulation that they were not to be burdened with the presence of strangers, and that Amelia had instantly assented without any suggestion for adding to the members of the party,—without making any difficulties about “baby,”—but with some little anxiety about the bonnet which she was to wear upon the occasion, I have no hesitation in saying that the court over which I presided would have made the rule absolute for the delivery of the flitch at their usual place of residence—carriage paid.

The tide was nearly up as our little party entered the room destined for the celebration of the mysteries. As the season was not yet far advanced, and as certainly we have had no sun as yet of sufficient power to draw out the latent virtues of the Thames mud, the somewhat peculiar odour which Father Thames now habitually emits had not yet arrived at that more advanced stage when we characterise it by a phrase of greater intensity. Two little Jacks-in-the-water were plying their trade as usual with great perseverance, obviously under the impression, that by tucking up their rags above their little dirty knees, and groping about in the Thames mud, they were rendering back commercial value for the halfpence which they received. It is pleasant enough from the windows and balconies of these white-bait establishments to watch the little river steamers flashing by; and, as the western horizon reddens as the day draws to a close, and the great smoke of London ascends between the white-bait and the setting sun, what strange Turner-like atmospheric effects succeed each other with marvellous rapidity! Whilst waiting for the attendants to bring in the water-zootje, I have seen the river off Greenwich red as though coloured with some red pigment, and the smoky vapour over London now red, now black, as it was moved about by the currents of air; and the great dome of St. Paul’s, and the tops of the other monuments, looking as though they belonged to some city of the Genii. These Greenwich dinners have their poetry and sentimental attractions independently of the white-bait.

On that memorable day when Mr. Partridge and I had contrived our little project in promotion of the happiness of Mr. Septimus Cox and Miss Fanny Almond, and just before we sat down to our own dinner, I was advised by a slight wink from my fellow conspirator that the ladies were safely housed in a room up-stairs, in which they were to be indoctrinated in the rudiments of white-bait. So far, so good. We were but three in party—friends of the Almonds, and fast allies of Septimus Cox. We had a duty before us, and we resolved to do it. At first our patient’s melancholy was allowed to have its way: he was left, according to my old and well-tried plan, to the flounders and whiting-puddings in comparative peace. Still, it was but right to show him the courtesy of taking wine with him, for this old-fashioned custom still prevails to a certain extent amongst men at these fish dinners. From pure abstraction Septimus emptied his glass upon each of these occasions, so that I really began to fear that matters might progress rather too quickly for the objects in view. Four courses of fish, each containing four varieties of these fluviatile and marine dainties, succeeded each other as usual upon such occasions, and the spirits of the melancholy man rose as the banquet advanced. The exhilarating effects of a fish diet are remarkable in the extreme. With the white-bait and the cold punch it was a fait accompli—our long-lost Septimus was restored to the affections of his loving friends.

Oh, flesh, how art thou fishified!” was the old reproach directed against the tribe of lovers—I say, henceforth let it stand, “Oh, fish, how art thou fleshified!” Who would have recognised the despairing lover of 2.30 p.m.—I will be bound to say he had had a chop—in the light, buoyant, airy creature of 7.49 p.m.? Could F. A. see him now, I have no hesitation in saying that that young lady would surrender at discretion. It was just the white-bait had made the difference.

I cannot within the slender limits assigned me enter at length into the subject of the spring chicken and the ducklings. Ours was not a noisy party—although I will not venture to deny that occasionally at these Greenwich dinners the fun does run somewhat fast and furious. I have seen instances at the conclusion of these fishy festivals when elderly gentlemen who, in their own houses, are as grave and discreet in their cups as church-wardens, have stood out in the balcony in front of the room which had been the scene of their revelry, and vowed eternal friendship with their pocket-handkerchiefs over their heads, and the fag-ends of cigars in their aged lips, in a manner which, if not sublime, was certainly next door to it. I have seen omnibuses depart from the precincts of the sanctuary, at a somewhat late hour, freighted with “personages” occupying very prominent posts in public estimation, and not a little elevated by the exhilarating influences of the place; but such was not the case with us. We had dined comfortably, and were in a condition of bland serene happiness befitting the dignity of human nature. Under these circumstances we ventured to rally our friend Septimus a little upon the melancholy turn which his passion had taken, and entreated him for our sakes to entertain a little higher estimation of his own merits and qualifications. Septimus was good enough to say that he would never be able to repay the debt of gratitude which he owed to J. P. and myself for putting the case before him in its proper bearings. Yes, he was sure at that moment, could he obtain the privilege of an interview with Miss Almond, he felt that, unworthy as he was, he would endeavour to get over that unworthiness, and to convince her of the purity and fervour of his passion; or as it used to be termed in old works, treating of this subject,—his “flame.” J. P. quitted the room, and returned after a momentary absence. We pursued the glowing theme, and to the best of our poor ability tried to impress upon our young friend’s mind the idea that the day was gone by when a Sir Charles Grandison, who, after a year or two of courtship and devotion, had got no further than to kiss Miss Byron’s hand “with tender awe,” was likely to prove successful in the object of his pursuit. Septimus, in a very emphatic manner indeed, expressed his contempt for that tedious Baronet, and stated it on his own conviction, after the maturest deliberation, that—

Happy’s the wooing
That’s not long a-doing.

Indeed, since we had shown so kind, so generous an interest in his fortunes, he would venture to introduce a toast to our notice. Unaccustomed as he was to address public assemblies (only J. P. and I were present), he certainly did feel himself imperatively called upon on the present occasion to propose to our acceptance a toast which he was well convinced required no great effort of oratory on his part to be instantly adopted by the illustrious assemblage which he had the honour of addressing on that occasion. “The Ladies,” with three times three; and he begged to couple that toast with the name of one who, as he hoped, and as he was sure, we should all be rejoiced to hear, would soon be united to him by the most enduring and the most sacred, &c., &c.—in point of fact, with the name of one, of whom he would venture to say, in the words of the Poet—

She’s a jolly good fellow,
Which nobody can deny.
She’s a jolly good——

At this moment Mrs. Almond and Aunt Sophy, and Miss Fanny Almond, emerged from behind the screen. Mrs. A. had casually heard that her nephew, with two intimate friends, was in the house: and as they were passing the door of the room in which we were sitting, the ladies had been good enough to look in upon our party to see if we would escort them for a little turn upon the terrace at the edge of the river—perhaps we would first like a cup of tea?

Whitebait at Greenwich.png

Whitebait at Greenwich.

I could not help suspecting, from a malicious twinkle in Miss Fanny’s eye, that she was not altogether unaware of the oratorical efforts recently made by our friend Septimus. She so earnestly hoped they were not intruding upon us—she should be so truly vexed if she could suppose for a moment that they had interrupted the interesting conversation in which we were engaged. She was sure Mr. Cox was speaking when they came in—would he not be good enough to proceed just as if they were not present? Mr. C. would not be so ungallant as to refuse a lady’s request.

The young people must be left to settle their affairs in their own way. I have ventured to bring their names in incidentally to give a little interest and connection to a few remarks upon the subject of White-bait Dinners at Greenwich. All I can say is, that if in the course of that very evening when we were taking our stroll by the riverside, Septimus did not contrive to inspire some other expression than malice into Miss Fanny Almond’s exceedingly fascinating eyes, he was neither worthy of her nor of a white-bait dinner. I will also add, as the result of my own long experience in such matters, that if the far brighter half of the human race were but aware of the full power of the white-bait dinner as a matrimonial weapon, they would never, even in thought, malign this most valuable institution. A ball-room is the very worst arena for action in such matters; the breakfast-table in a country-house, when the fair combatants step down from their robing-rooms fairer and fresher than Venus from the sea-foam, among the best. A Roman pic-nic, with a ride home by moonlight with a too-fascinating being by your side, is also a terrible trial to the manly heart; but then Rome is a good way off, and not every English mother can give her daughter the advantage of such a canter over an empire’s dust, and the heart of a mil1ionnaire’s eldest son. For practical purposes try a Greenwich dinner!

But, all such transcendant purposes apart, the white-bait dinner is a satisfactory reason for one of the pleasantest little “outings” known to Londoners. Some way or another, I never see dull faces round me on these occasions; and happy human faces are to me the pleasantest spectacle in the world. I would at any time rather look on these than gaze upon a Swiss mountain or the Pyramid of that conceited old ape, Cheops. Far am I indeed from supposing that I have a monopoly of such feelings; and therefore I would say to our readers,—now that, after eight months of winter, the sun is shining down upon us again, try a white-bait dinner! Finally,—young ladies, and ladies not quite so young, never suffer yourselves to be deluded into the belief that a white-bait dinner is purely a man’s affair. It only requires your fair presence to make it perfect! Whenever such heretical doctrines are propounded in your presence, run up-stairs, put on your “things,” and say you are ready. Such is the advice of your devoted friend and admirer,

Gamma.