Edward Abbott and Aristology
Marshall, Tony, The Australian Library Journal
The following is the opening address to the 11th Symposium of Australian Gastronomy, Hobart, 6 September 1999. The Symposium is held biennially and is attended by assorted foodies, chefs, winemakers, and even, occasionally, librarians.
Manuscript received November 1999
I AM HERE THIS EVENING TO TALK TO YOU ABOUT EDWARD ABBOTT, the `Australian Aristologist', and the cookbook which he published in 1864. But I want to begin nearly thirty years earlier, with the man who coined the term (if not the philosophy) of `Aristology'. Thomas Walker, who was born in 1784 and died in 1836, was a police magistrate and barrister of London. In 1835 he published (indeed, he entirely wrote) twenty-nine issues of a weekly journal called The Original. It was a forum in which he could write about the many and wide-ranging subjects which interested him: the art of listening, the twopenny post, labourers, dunning, health, pauperism; as he put it:
It is my purpose to treat, as forcibly, perspicuously, and concisely as each subject and my own ability will allow, of whatever is most interesting and important in Religion and Politics, in Morals and Manners, and in our Habits and Customs. Besides my graver discussions, I shall present you with original anecdotes, narratives, and miscellaneous matters, and with occasional extracts from other authors, just as I think I can most contribute to your instruction or amusement; and even in my lightest articles I shall, as often as I am able, make subservient to the illustration of some sound principle, or the enforcement of some useful precept -- at the same time rejecting nothing as too trifling, provided it can excite in you an antibilious sensation, however slight.(1)
What is most likely to excite in us an `antibilious sensation' is what Thomas Walker called `aristology', or the art of dining (from the Greek `ariston' -- to dine). It was a subject on which he had firm and carefully-considered opinions. In his own words:
I endeavour to exhibit the true philosophy of dining, leaving the practice to be modified according to tastes and circumstances ... As ... the true philosophy of dining would have great influence upon our well-being, bodily and mental, and upon the good ordering of our social habits, I think it well worth serious consideration.(2)
His consideration extended well beyond food and its accompaniments, to embrace the size and nature of the company at dinner, the mode of service, the environment (decoration, lighting, the proportions of the dining room and its temperature) and the kitchen in which the dinner is prepared. In brief, he was an advocate of simplicity and excellence in all things; of the use of ingredients in their proper seasons, selected to suit the prevailing climate; and of entertaining according to one's station in life.
One more passage perhaps epitomises his philosophy:
I think it would be a vast improvement in society if the practice of familiar dining were introduced -- parties not exceeding eight, without the trouble of dressing beyond being neat and clean, with simple repasts, costly or otherwise, according to the means or inclinations of the givers, and calculated to please the palate, and to promote sociability and health).(3)
Thomas Walker died in 1836, but his journal, The Original, lived on. After its first printing, it was republished in another three editions between 1836 and 1839, and was later rediscovered and reissued in a further five editions -- both English and American -- between 1874 and 1887. The articles on `aristology' were first published separately in 1881 and have been re-issued several times since then. My own copy was published as a Christmas gift book by the University Press at Cambridge in 1965.
I now want to move from Thomas Walker, writing in London in 1835, to Edward Abbott writing in Hobart nearly thirty years later. …