Jabbering and Jam

WHEN the last lady had disappeared, and the Earl, taking his place at the head of the table, had issued the military order `Gentlemen! Close up the ranks, if you please!' and when, in obedience to his command, we had gathered ourselves compactly round him, the pompous man gave a deep sigh of relief, filled his glass to the brim, pushed on the wine, and began one of his favourite orations. `They are charming, no doubt! Charming, but very frivolous. They drag us down, so to speak, to a lower level. They--'

`Do not all pronouns require antecedent nouns?' the Earl gently enquired.

`Pardon me,' said the pompous man, with lofty condescension. `I had overlooked the noun. The ladies. We regret their absence. yet we console ourselves. Thought is free. With them, we are limited to trivial topics--Art, Literature, Politics, and so forth. One can bear to discuss such paltry matters with a lady. But no man, in his senses--' (he looked sternly round the table, as if defying contradiction) `--ever yet discussed WINE with a lady!' He sipped his glass of port, leaned back in his chair, and slowly raised it up to his eye, so as to look through it at the lamp. `The vintage, my Lord?' he enquired, glancing at his host.

The Earl named the date.

`So I had supposed. But one likes to be certain. The tint is, perhaps, slightly pale. But the body is unquestionable. And as for the bouquet--'

Ah, that magic Bouquet! How vividly that magic word recalled the scene! The little beggar boy turning his somersault in the road--the sweet little crippled maiden in my arms--the mysterious evanescent nursemaid-- all rushed tumultuously into my mind, like the creatures of a dream: and through this mental haze there still boomed on, like the tolling of a bell, the solemn voice of the great connoisseur of WINE!

Even his utterances had taken on themselves a strange and dream-like form. `No,' he resumed--and why is it, I pause to ask, that, in taking up the broken thread of a dialogue, one always begins with this cheerless monosyllable? After much anxious thought, I have come to the conclusion that the object in view is the same as that of the schoolboy, when the sum he is working has got into a hopeless muddle, and when in despair he takes the sponge, washes it all out, and begins again. Just in the same way the bewildered orator, by the simple process of denying everything that has been hitherto asserted, makes a clean sweep of the whole discussion, and can `start fair' with a fresh theory. `No,' he resumed: `there's nothing like cherry-jam, after all. That's what I say!'

`Not for all qualities!' an eager little man shrilly interposed. `For richness of general tone I don't say that it has a rival. But for delicacy of modulation-- for what one may call the "harmonics" of flavour--give me good old raspberry-jam!'

`Allow me one word!' The fat red-faced man, quite hoarse with excitement, broke into the dialogue. `It's too important a question to be settled by Amateurs! I can give you the views of a Professional--perhaps the most experienced jam-taster now living. Why, I've known him fix the age of strawberry-jam, to a day--and we all know what a difficult jam it is to give a date to--on a single tasting! Well, I put to him the very question you are discussing. His words were "cherry-jam is best, for mere chiaroscuro of flavour: raspberry-jam lends itself best to those resolved discords that linger so lovingly on the tongue: but, for rapturous utterness of saccharine perfection, it's apricot-jam first and the rest nowhere!" That was well put, wasn't it?'

`Consummately put!' shrieked the eager little man.

`I know your friend well,' said the pompous man. `As a jam-taster, he has no rival! Yet I scarcely think--'

But here the discussion became general: and his words were lost in a confused medley of names, every guest sounding the praises of his own favourite jam. At length, through the din, our host's voice made

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