Chapter IX: As to Cookery and Sculpture
Robert Burns and Homer were seated at a small table in
the dining-room of the house-boat, discussing everything
in general and the shade of a very excellent luncheon
"We are in great luck to-day," said Burns, as he cut
a ruddy duck in twain. "This bird is done just right."
"I agree with you," returned Homer, drawing his chair
a trifle closer to the table. "Compared to the one we
had here last Thursday, this is a feast for the gods.
I wonder who it was that cooked this fowl originally?"
"I give it up; but I suspect it was done by some man
who knew his business," said Burns, with a smack of his
lips. "It's a pity, I think, my dear Homer, that there
is no means by which a cook may become immortal. Cooking
is as much of an art as is the writing of poetry, and
just as there are immortal poets so there should be immortal
cooks. See what an advantage the poet has — he writes something,
it goes out and reaches the inmost soul of the man who
reads it, and it is signed. His work is known because
he puts his name to it; but this poor devil of a cook — where
is he? He has done his work as well as the poet ever did
his, it has reached the inmost soul of the mortal who
originally ate it, but he cannot get the glory of it because
he cannot put his name to it. If the cook could sign his
work it would be different."
"You have hit upon a great truth," said Homer, nodding,
as he sometimes was wont to do. "And yet I fear that,
ingenious as we are, we cannot devise a plan to remedy
the matter. I do not know about you, but I should myself
much object if my birds and my flapjacks, and other things,
digestible and otherwise, that I eat here were served
with the cook's name written upon them. An omelette is
sometimes a picture — "
"I've seen omelettes that looked like one of Turner's
sunsets," acquiesced Burns.
"Precisely; and when Turner puts down in one corner of
his canvas, 'Turner, fecit,' you do not object, but if
the cook did that with the omelette you wouldn't like
"No," said Burns; "but he might fasten a tag to it, with
his name written upon that."
"That is so," said Homer; "but the result in the end
would be the same. The tags would get lost, or perhaps
a careless waiter, dropping a tray full of dainties, would
get the tags of a good and bad cook mixed in trying to
restore the contents of the tray to their previous condition.
The tag system would fail."
"There is but one other way that I can think of," said
Burns, "and that would do no good now unless we can convey
our ideas into the other world; that is, for a great poet
to lend his genius to the great cook, and make the latter's
name immortal by putting it into a poem. Say, for instance,
that you had eaten a fine bit of terrapin, done to the
most exquisite point — you could have asked the cook's
name, and written an apostrophe to her. Something like
this, for instance:
Oh, Dinah Rudd! oh, Dinah Rudd!
Thou art a cook of bluest blood!
This world of sin
Have I e'er tasted better terrapin.
Do you see?"
"I do; but even then, my dear fellow, the cook would
fall short of true fame. Her excellence would be a mere
matter of hearsay evidence," said Homer.
"Not if you went on to describe, in a keenly analytical
manner, the virtues of that particular bit of terrapin,"
said Burns. "Draw so vivid a picture of the dish that
the reader himself would taste that terrapin even as you
"You have hit it!" cried Homer, enthusiastically. "It
is a grand plan; but how to introduce it — that is the
"We can haunt some modern poet, and give him the idea
in that way," suggested Burns. "He will see the novelty
of it, and will possibly disseminate the idea as we wish
it to be disseminated."
"Done!" said Homer. "I'll begin right away. I feel like
haunting to-night. I'm getting to be a pretty old ghost,
but I'll never lose my love of haunting."
At this point, as Homer spoke, a fine-looking spirit
entered the room, and took a seat at the head of the long
table at which the regular club dinner was nightly served.
"Why, bless me!" said Homer, his face lighting up with
pleasure. "Why, Phidias, is that you?"
"I think so," said the new-comer, wearily; "at any rate,
it's all that's left of me."
"Come over here and lunch with us," said Homer. "You
know Burns, don't you?"
"Haven't the pleasure," said Phidias.
The poet and the sculptor were introduced, after which
Phidias seated himself at Homer's side.
"Are you any relation to Burns the poet?" the former
asked, addressing the Scotchman.
"I AM Burns the poet," replied the other.
"You don't look much like your statues," said Phidias,
scanning his face critically.
"No, thank the Fates!" said Burns, warmly. "If I did,
I'd commit suicide."