Strawberries and Cream

[Memoirs of a Bon Vivant.]

Hail to thee, loveliest June! Thy smile awaited me at my birth; may it rest upon me at the hour of death—may it cast its sunshine into my grave as my coffin descends into the earth, and the few who loved me look upon it for the last time!

The fruits—the luscious ruby fruits—are swelling into ripeness. I know nothing of the fruits of the south—I talk of those of my own country. I have a thorough contempt for Italy with its grapes!—I detest Spain with its oranges!—I should be happy to annihilate Turkey and Asia with their olives and citrons!—I am writing and thinking only of England. I was a child once;—Reader! so were you. Do you recollect the day and the hour when the blessed influence of strawberries and cream first flashed on your awakened mind, and you felt that life had not been given you in vain? I was just seven years old—my previous existence is a blank in memory—when I spent a June in the country.

I may have picked before in the blind ignorance of infancy, some little red pulpy balls, which may have been presented to me on a little blue plate by my aunt or grandmother—but never—never till my seventh year was I aware that in the melting luxuriance of one mouthful, so large a share of human happiness might be comprised. Sugar, cream, and strawberries! Epicurean compound of unimaginable ecstasy! trinity of excellence! producing the only harmonious whole known to me in all the annals of taste! The fresh vigour of my youthful palate may have yielded somewhat to the deadening effect of time, but the glorious recollections of those profound emotions, excited by my first intoxicating feast on strawberries and cream, is worth every other thought that memory can conjure up. Breathes there the man who presumes to smile at my enthusiasm? Believe me, he is destined to pass away and be forgotten, as the insect upon which you tread. He is a measurer of broad-cloth or a scribbler of juridical technicalities.

Such is not the destiny awaiting yonder rosy group of smiling prattlers. I love the rogues for the enlarged and animated countenances with which they gaze upon the red spoils before them. Never speak to me of gluttony. It is a natural and a noble appetite, redolent of health and happiness, and I honour it. There is genius in the breathing expression of those parted lips which, now that the good dame is about to commence her impartial division, seem to anticipate, in a delightful agony of expectation, the fulness of coming joy. Observe with how much vigour that youthful Homer grasps his silver spoon! Would you have thought those rose-bud lips could have admitted so vast a mouthful of strawberries?—Yet, down they go that juvenile oesophagus, and, as Shakspeare well expresses it, "leave not a wreck behind!" Turn your gaze to this infantine Sappho. What unknown quantities of cream and sugar the little cherub consumes!—Cold on the stomach! Pho! the idea is worthy of a female Septuagenarian, doomed to the horrors of perpetual celibacy. If she speak from experience, in heaven's name, give her a glass of brandy, and let her work out her miserable existence in fear and trembling.

If there be a merrier party of bon-vivants at this moment in Christendom, may I never enter a garden again! Yet, at this very moment, there are prime ministers sitting down to cabinet dinners, and seeing in every guest another step in the ladder of ambition; at this very moment, the table of the professional epicure is covered with all that is recherché in the annals of gastronomy; at this very moment, the bride of yesternight takes her place of honour, for the first time, at the table of her rich and titled husband. Alas! there are traitors at the statesman's board; there is poison and disease within the silver dishes of the epicure; and there are silent but sad memories of days past away for ever, strewed like withered flowers round the heart of the young bride! But before you is a living garland, still blooming, unconscious of the thousand cankers of earth and air.

On the whole, I am not sure that strawberries ought to be eaten when any one is with you. There is always under such circumstances, even though your companion be the dearest friend you have on earth, a feeling of restraint, a consciousness that your attention is divided, a diffidence about betraying the unfathomable depth of your love for the fruit before you, a lurking uneasiness lest he should eat faster than yourself, or appropriate an undue share of the delicious cream; in short there is always, on such occasions, a secret desire that the best friend you have in the world were at any distant part of the globe he might happen to have a liking for. But, oh! the bliss of solitary fruition, when there is none to interrupt you—none to compete with you—none to express stupid amazement at the extent of your godlike appetite, or to bring back your thoughts, by some obtrusive remark, to the vulgar affairs of an unsubstantial world!—Behold! the milky nectar is crimsoned by the roseate fruit! Heavens! what a flavour! and there is not another human being near to intrude upon the sacred intensity of your joy! Painter—poet—philosopher—where is your beau-ideal—happiness? It is concentrated there—and, divided into equal portions by that silver spoon, glides gloriously down the throat! Eat, child of mortality! for June cometh but once in the year! eat, for there is yet misery in store for thee! eat, for thy days are numbered! eat, as if thou wert eating immortal life!—eat, eat, though thy next mouthful terminate in apoplexy!

My dream of strawberries hath passed away! the little red rotundities have been gathered from the surface of the globe, and man's insatiate maw has devoured them all! New hopes may arise, and new sources of pleasure may perhaps be discovered;—the yellow gooseberry may glitter like amber beads upon the bending branches—the ruby cherry may be plucked from the living bough, and its sunny sides bruised into nectar by the willing teeth—the apple, tinted with the vermillion bloom of maiden beauty, may woo the eye, and tempt the silver knife—the golden pear melting into lusciousness, soft as the lip, and sweet as the breath of her thou lovest most, may win, for a time, thy heart's idolatry—the velvet peach, or downy apricot, may lull thee into brief forgetfulness of all terrestrial woe—the dark-blue plum, or sunbeam coloured magnum bonum, may waft thy soul to heaven—or, last of all, thy hot-house grapes, purple on their bursting richness, may carry thee back to the world's prime, to the fawn and dryad-haunted groves of Arcady, or lap thee in an elysium of poetry and music—but still the remembrance of thy first love will be strong in thy heart, and, pamper thy noble nature as thou wilt, with all the luxuries that summer yields, never, never, will the innermost recesses of thy soul cease to be inhabited by an immortal reminiscence of "Strawberries and Cream!"