Obscurest night involv’d the sky, Th’ Atlantic billows roar’d, When such a destin’d wretch as I, Wash’d headlong from on board, Of friends, of hope, of all bereft, His floating home for ever left. –William Cowper, “The Castaway”
Of all the ways French physician Alain Bombard could’ve spent his 28th birthday, he chose to do so adrift some 1,500 miles at sea. In the wide blue immensity, the only thing between Bombard and Davy Jones’s locker was the deck of a dinghy he had christened, with cheek that belied the gravity of his situation, the Heretic.
To the distinction between dining and merely feeding no one was more alive than Charles Dickens. For him, any refreshment to be gotten from a meal was merely incidental. The true importance of dinner lay not in the dishes that laden the table but in the fellowship to be had around it.
In believing that conviviality trumped digestion, Dickens showed himself quintessentially a Victorian gentleman. Dining in company became cherished entertainment in the nineteenth century, Victorian appetites grown keener for the wit and charm of friends and family than for any cutlet or custard. You can imagine, then, Dickens’s horror upon visiting the United States in 1842 for a comprehensive tour and discovering that Americans reduced mealtime to a barren silence punctuated only by the moist mechanics of ingestion.