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In the the novel 'Gulliver's Travels', there is a passage in Part II Chapter 3 where the narrator "quarrels with the Queen's Dwarf". In that passage, Gulliver makes the aside that princes 'seldom get their meat hot'. Note that throughout the novel, Swift uses 'prince' to mean male nobles in general (applying it several times to the emperor of Lilliput etc.)

Was this a well-known irony of upper-class dining of the era?

My reading of the statement is that the elaborate rituals of formal dinners result in the meat being cold by the time the 'prince' gets a taste. Is this correct, or does Swift have something else in mind here?

Swift is making an extended satire of 'high society' in the novel. I'm wondering how this detail fits in to the whole.

Quoted from Gulliver’s Travels on Project Gutenberg:

He had before served me a scurvy trick, which set the queen a-laughing, although at the same time she was heartily vexed, and would have immediately cashiered him, if I had not been so generous as to intercede. Her majesty had taken a marrow-bone upon her plate, and, after knocking out the marrow, placed the bone again in the dish erect, as it stood before; the dwarf, watching his opportunity, while Glumdalclitch was gone to the side-board, mounted the stool that she stood on to take care of me at meals, took me up in both hands, and squeezing my legs together, wedged them into the marrow bone above my waist, where I stuck for some time, and made a very ridiculous figure. I believe it was near a minute before any one knew what was become of me; for I thought it below me to cry out. But, as princes seldom get their meat hot, my legs were not scalded, only my stockings and breeches in a sad condition. The dwarf, at my entreaty, had no other punishment than a sound whipping.

Bolding my own.

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1 Answer 1

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Elaborate banquets were fashionable among the European aristocracy in the eighteenth century when Swift was writing Gulliver’s Travels:

In comparison with today’s food preparation, however, the courtly eighteenth-century aristocratic cuisine was heavy, excessive, and complicated. Original flavors were altered, even overwhelmed, with excessive seasoning and the mixing of different kinds of foods. The aristocratic love of splendor demanded as many dishes as possible on the table, and flavor and taste were subordinated to food decoration. Until the nineteenth century, it was common to serve food à la française, which signified that many different kinds of dishes were offered at the same time. There were no strict rules concerning the number of dishes, but often, depending on the number of guests, there might be as many different dishes per course as there were guests, and there was a minimum of three courses. Thus, this could mean that a meal with 25 persons in attendance required 25 different dishes per course, meaning that 75 dishes were served altogether. It is true that the guests had a much greater choice than today, but inevitably many of the dishes were cold by the time they were finally served and people had the opportunity to eat them.

Eva Barlösius (2000). ‘V.C.3. France’. In Kenneth F. Kiple & Kriemhild Coneè Ornelas, eds. (2000). The Cambridge World History of Food, p. 1212. Cambridge University Press.

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  • (also it's often a long walk between the kitchens and the dining halls of grand palaces, so the food would cool as it was brought out)
    – NiceOrc
    Jan 16 at 23:10

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