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The Physiology of Taste

The Physiology of Taste

4.3 4
by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

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First published in 1825, this book is a brilliant treatise on the pleasures of eating and the rich arts of food, wine, and philosophy, written by a famed French gastronome. This edition includes recipes.


First published in 1825, this book is a brilliant treatise on the pleasures of eating and the rich arts of food, wine, and philosophy, written by a famed French gastronome. This edition includes recipes.

Editorial Reviews

Alice Joyce
In contrast to a very pricey limited edition published previously, this elegant volume is an eminently more available version of French aesthete Brillat-Savarin's classic tome of meditations on topics far more wide ranging than mere gastronomy. M. F. K. Fisher, a literary treasure herself, served as translator. But in an expanded role fitting her particular talents, she contributes generous portions of notably discerning commentary. It adds a great deal to the original text, which is embellished to perfection by artist Wayne Thiebaud's expressive line drawings and lithographs. Although Brillat-Savarin penned his treatise in the early nineteenth century, his culinary musings remain remarkably apt, while his reflections on obesity, dreams, and death are captivating.

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The Physiology of Taste

or Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy

By Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2002 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-14302-6



made by the Professor for a prologue to his work, and to be the eternal foundations of the Science which he professes.

I. The Universe is nothing without life, and all that lives takes nourishment.

II. Beasts feed : man eats : the man of intellect alone knows how to eat.

III. The fate of nations hangs upon their choice of food.

IV. Tell me what you eat : I will tell you what you are.

V. The Creator, who made man such that he must eat to live, causes him to eat by means of appetite, and for a reward gives him pleasure in eating.

VI. Gourmandism is an act of judgment, by which we give preference to things which are agreeable to our taste over those which have not that quality.

VII. The pleasures of the table are of all times and all ages, of every country and of every day ; they go hand in hand with all our other pleasures, outlast them, and in the end console us for their loss.

VIII. Of all places, only at table is the first hour never dull.

IX. The discovery of a new dish does more for the happiness of mankind than the discovery of a star.

X. Drunkards and victims of indigestion are those who know not how to eat or drink.

XI. From the most substantial dish to the lightest ; this is the right order of eating.

XII. From the mildest wine to the headiest and most perfumed ; this is the right order of drinking.

XIII. To maintain that one wine may not be drunk on the top of another is heresy; a man's palate is capable of being saturated, and after the third glass responds but dully to the very best of wines.

XIV. Dessert without cheese is like a pretty woman with only one eye.

XV. A man becomes a cook : but he is born a roaster of flesh.

XVI. The most indispensable quality in a cook is punctuality : and no less is required of a guest.

XVII. To wait too long for an unpunctual guest is an act of discourtesy towards those who have arrived in time.

XVIII. The man who invites his friends to his table, and gives no thought to the fare of which they are to partake, is unworthy to possess friends.

XIX. Let the mistress of the house see to it that the coffee is excellent, and the master that the liqueurs are of the first quality.

XX. To entertain a guest is to be answerable for his happiness so long as he is beneath your roof.



(after the usual compliments)

THE FRIEND : At breakfast this morning, my wife and I ordained, in our wisdom, that the printer should be set to work forthwith upon your Gastronomical Meditations.

THE AUTHOR : What woman wills, God wills. There, in five words, you have the whole charter of Paris. But I am no Parisian; and a bachelor....

THE FRIEND : Why, as to that, you bachelors are as much enslaved as the rest of us, and sometimes to our cost, heaven knows. But here the single state won't save you, for my wife claims the right to be obeyed, on the ground that it was at her house in the country that you wrote your first page.

THE AUTHOR : My dear doctor, you know I am ever on my knees to the sex ; more than once you have praised my submissive ways ; you were even, I remember, among those who said that I should make an excellent husband.... And yet there will be no printing.

THE FRIEND : And why not ?

THE AUTHOR : Because, after all my hours of toil and research, I am afraid of being taken, by people who only know my book by its title, for a mere frivolous trifler.

THE FRIEND : You have no reason whatever to be afraid of that. Are not your thirty-six years of public service enough to give you a very different reputation ? And besides, my wife and I are convinced that everyone will want to read you.

THE AUTHOR : Really ?

THE FRIEND : Men of learning will read you to discover the truths which you have only hinted at till now.

THE AUTHOR : It is possible, I confess.

THE FRIEND : Women will read you, of course, because they will see that . . .

THE AUTHOR : Dear friend, I am old, I am deep in wisdom : miserere mei.

THE FRIEND : Gourmands will read you, because you will do them justice at last, and give them the position in society which is their due.

THE AUTHOR : Ah, how true it is ! It is inconceivable that they should have been slighted and ignored so long ! Dear gourmands, my bowels yearn towards them as a father's towards his children. They are so good-natured ! They have such sparkling eyes !

THE FRIEND : Besides, haven't you often said your work is the very thing the bookshops are in need of ?

THE AUTHOR : I have said so, and it is a fact, and I 'll choke before I take my words back.

THE FRIEND : Then I need say no more, and you will come along at once with me to ...

THE AUTHOR : No, no ! An author's path is sometimes smooth and pleasant, but it has its thorny places, and them I leave my heirs to deal with.

THE FRIEND : But if you do that you will be disinheriting your friends, your acquaintances, your contemporaries. Would you dare do such a thing ?

THE AUTHOR : My heirs ! My heirs ! The spirits of the dead, so I have heard, are accustomed to be soothed by the praises of the living ; and that is a kind of bliss I wish to save up for the other world.

THE FRIEND : But are you so sure those praises will reach you there? Are those heirs of yours quite worthy of such confidence?

THE AUTHOR : Why, I have no reason to think them capable of neglecting a duty in virtue of which I should excuse them many others.

THE FRIEND : But will they, can they feel a father's love for the child of your brain, or give it an author's fond attention, without which no work can make its first bow before the public gracefully ?

THE AUTHOR : But my manuscript will be corrected and neatly written, it will be fully armed for the fray : there will be nothing left to do but to print it.

THE FRIEND : And what of the chapter of accidents ? Alas, how many precious works have been lost in this way, like that of the celebrated Lecat, on the State of the Soul during Sleep, his whole life's work !

THE AUTHOR : Doubtless that was a grievous loss, and I am far from aspiring to be the cause of such regrets.

THE FRIEND : Be sure that heirs have quite enough of other duties to attend to, what with the Church, and the Law, and the Faculty ; and that with the best will in the world they may have no time for the different things which must needs be done before, and during, and after the publication of even the smallest book.

THE AUTHOR : But the title ! And the subject I And the fun that will be made of it !

THE FRIEND : The single word Gastronomy makes everyone prick up his ears : the subject is in the fashion, and the wits have as much of the gourmand in them as anyone. So you can make yourself easy on that score. Besides, can you have forgotten that the gravest personages have given us light reading sometimes ? M. de Montesquieu, for example.

THE AUTHOR : Why, so he has ! He wrote the Temple of Cnidos ; and it can fairly be maintained that a more useful purpose is served by meditating upon what is the most pressing need, the chief joy and principal occupation of all our days, than by recording the sayings and doings of a pair of brats two thousand years ago in the Groves of Greece, and how one pursued and the other scarcely even pretended to run away.

THE FRIEND : So at last you give in ?

THE AUTHOR : Give in ? Not a bit of it. It was only the author showing the tips of his ears for a moment ; and that reminds me of an amusing scene in an English comedy, The Natural Daughter unless I am mistaken. I will tell it you.

The play is about the Quakers, and, as you know, members of that sect call everyone thee and thou, wear the plainest of clothes, never go to war, never swear, make a habit of restraint, and above all bind themselves not to lose their temper.

Well, the hero of the piece is a handsome young Quaker, who appears on the scene wearing a brown coat and a plain broad-brimmed hat, and with his hair uncurled : which doesn't prevent him from falling in love.

He has a rival in the person of a fop, who, encouraged by his appearance, and taking it for a true indication of his character, makes fun of him, abuses him, and insults him : with such success that the young man, gradually warming up, at last flares out and thrashes his impudent tormentor in the most masterly fashion.

When the execution is complete, he suddenly resumes his former bearing, draws a long face, and exclaims in mournful accents, 'Alas, I fear the flesh was too strong for the spirit !'

So it was with me, and after a very venial lapse I come back to my original determination.

THE FRIEND : It is too late now ; by your own confession you have shown the tips of your ears ; no, the game 's up, and you are coming with me to a publisher's. More than one of them have got wind of your secret already.

THE AUTHOR : You had best be careful ; you will be in my book yourself, and who knows what I might say of you ?

THE FRIEND : What could you say ? Don't imagine you can put me off with threats.

THE AUTHOR : I shall not say that your native place, which is also mine, is proud of having given birth to you, nor that at twenty-four years old you had already brought out a work on the elements which has been acknowledged a classic ever since ; that your reputation, which is well deserved, gives your patients confidence in you ; that your appearance calms their fears, your skill astounds them, your tactful, sympathetic manner soothes them—everyone knows all that. But I shall reveal to all Paris (drawing myself up), to all France (dramatically), to the whole world, the one fault which I know you to possess !

THE FRIEND (earnestly) : And what is that, may I ask ?

THE AUTHOR : An habitual fault, which all my reproaches have not availed to cure you of.

THE FRIEND (aghast) : Tell me ! It is too cruel to prolong the agony !

THE AUTHOR : You eat too fast.

(Upon which the friend picks up his hat and goes out smiling, certain that he has made a convert.)


THE decision to lay the present work before the public, for their rejection or approval, left me with the simplest of tasks to perform, no more, indeed, than the setting in order of a quantity of material long since gathered together : I had saved it up for an amusing pastime in my old age.

When I came to consider the pleasures of the table, and all that relates to them, I early perceived that something better than a mere cookery-book might be made of such a theme ; it became clear that so important a business, bearing so closely upon the health, happiness, and everyday affairs of men, was deserving of broader treatment.

Once this principle had been established, the rest was plain sailing ; I looked about me and took note of what I saw, and often at the most sumptuous banquet I have been saved from boredom by the pleasure I derived from my observations.

It is not to be denied that I was forced, by the very nature of my studies, to play the chemist, the physician, the physiologist, and even the scholar in a small way. But I have always refrained from the least pretence of authority ; a praiseworthy spirit of curiosity spurred me on, together with a fear of being behind the times, and a desire to be able to hold my own in conversation with men of science, whose company has ever been dear to me.

Medicine, indeed, has been my great hobby, almost to the point of mania ; and one of my happiest memories is of how I one day went in by the door reserved for the profession, in the company of several members thereof, to attend an address by Doctor Cloquet, and had the pleasure of hearing a murmur of curiosity run round the amphitheatre, as each student asked his neighbour who the redoubtable unknown could be who had honoured the assembly with his presence.

And yet I think there is another day which I recall no less fondly, when I exhibited my irrorator before the Administrative Council of the Society for the Encouragement of National Industries : it was practically my own invention, being neither more nor less than the ordinary compression-fountain adapted for spraying scent indoors. I had brought my apparatus in my pocket, fully charged ; I turned on the tap, and a fragrant cloud escaped with a hiss, rose to the ceiling, and fell in tiny drops over the spectators and their papers. Then with delight too deep for words I saw the wisest heads in the capital bow down beneath my irroration ; and I was near swooning with joy when I observed that the wettest were also the best pleased.

Sometimes, when I think of the solemn lucubrations into which I have been drawn by the wide range of my subject, I am seriously afraid of having been wearisome; for I too have sometimes yawned, over the works of other people.

I have done all in my power to avoid this reproach ; I have only touched the fringe of subjects which seemed to lay themselves open to it; I have scattered anecdotes throughout my work, many of them taken from my own experience ; I have left out many singular and extraordinary facts which a cool critic might not be disposed to accept ; I have called attention to certain established truths which the learned seem hitherto to have kept to themselves, and made them plain to the popular understanding. If, despite all my efforts, I have not presented my readers with a dish of science that can easily be digested, I shall none the less sleep quite soundly, because I know the majority will acquit me on the score of my intentions.

There is another possible source of complaint, namely, that I sometimes let my pen run away with me, and tend to turn garrulous when I have a tale to tell. Is it my own fault if I am old ? Is it my fault if I am like Ulysses, who had seen many cities of men, and their ways ? Am I to be blamed for including a little of my own biography ? And finally, I would have the reader remember that I am letting him off my Political Reminiscences, which he would certainly have had to read with all the rest of them, seeing that for the last thirty-six years I have occupied a front seat at the passing show of men and events.

But above all, let no one dare to put me in the ranks of the compilers : if I had been reduced to that pass, my pen would have stopped writing, and I should have lived no less happily in consequence. I have said with Juvenal :

Semper ego auditor tantum ! numquamne reponam ?

and those who know will readily perceive that, accustomed as I am both to the strife of society and the silence of the student's cell, I have only taken the best of what each of the two extremes has to offer.

Finally, I have given myself much private satisfaction ; I have mentioned several of my friends, who will be surprised, I think, to read their names in my book ; I have recalled a number of pleasant memories, and made permanent some which seemed likely to fade ; and as the homely phrase goes, I have drunk my coffee.

Perhaps there will be a single one among my readers, with a longer face than any of them, who will cry : ' What concern is it of mine if ... What can he be thinking of, to say . . . etc., etc. ? ' But I am sure the rest will call him to order, and that an imposing majority will take my effusions in good part, and make allowance for the sentiment that inspires them.

Something remains to be said about my style : for the style 's the man, says Buffon. But let no one think I am about to claim an indulgence which is never granted to those who most need it ; I merely wish to offer a few words in explanation.

I ought to write marvellously well, for Voltaire, Jean-Jacques, Fénelon, Buffon, and later Cochin and d'Aguesseau have been in turn my favourite authors ; I know them by heart.

But it may be the gods have otherwise ordained : and if it is so, this is the cause of the will of the gods.

I am more or less acquainted with five living languages, and thus have at my command a large and motley stock of words. When I am in need of an expression, and cannot find it in the French repository, I take it from the next to hand, and leave it to the reader to translate me or guess my meaning : such is his fate. Doubtless I could manage otherwise ; but I am prevented from doing so by a theory of my own, which I am ready to defend against the world.

I am deeply persuaded that French, the language which I employ, is comparatively poor in resources : What is to be done in such a case ? I must borrow, or steal. I do both, since my borrowings are not subject to a decree of restitution, and a theft of words is no offence according to the penal code.

My reader will have some idea of my audacity when he learns that I call a man whom I send to execute a commission for me volante (from the Spanish), and that I was determined to Frenchify the English verb to sip, which is equivalent to our own boire à petites reprises, if I had not disinterred the old French siroter, which used to have much the same meaning.

Naturally, I shall expect the purists to call upon the names of Bossuet, Fénelon, Racine, Boileau, Pascal, and others of the time of Louis XIV : I seem to hear them already, making a terrible to-do about it.


Excerpted from The Physiology of Taste by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. Copyright © 2002 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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Meet the Author

Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826) was a French lawyer and politician, whose book, The Physiology of Taste, published in 1825, is still inspiring chefs and food enthusiasts alike, particularly through his essay 'On Gourmandism'. It contains some of the most famous dinner table witticisms and aphorisms in history, including 'Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.'

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