Here's to Toasting

In ancient Greece, it was custom: drink three cups--one to Mercury, one to the Graces and one to Zeus. In Rome, it was law: drink to the health of Augustus at every meal. The Persians, Huns, Saxons, Goths, Danes, Egyptians, Hebrews and Scots all drank heartily to one another, hoisting mugs of wine, spiced ale or mead to their gods, comrades and countrymen. The Scandinavians added their own twist: tippling from the skull of a fallen enemy. The practice so impressed Lord Byron, he had a human skull mounted as a drinking vessel and penned these lines to it:Start not, nor deem my spirit fled:In me behold the only skullFrom which, unlike a living headWhatever flows is never dull.I lived, I loved, I quaff'd like thee:I died: let earth my bones resign:Fill up--thou canst not injure meThe worm hath fouler lips than thine. Indeed, toasting is probably only a day or two younger than drinking itself. One toasting historian says a primitive form dates back thousands of years to nomadic tribes who splattered a few drops of drink on sacrificial alters to appease the hunting gods.A toast, closely followed by 15 or 20 more, has been the hallmark of a raging parties throughout history. Consider, for example, the A.D. 450 blowout at which British King Vortigern handed over the entire province of Kent to the Saxons in return for the hand of the lovely Rowena, daughter of Saxon leader Hengist. What was it about Rowena that caught the good king's eye? What provoked him to, according to historian Geoffrey of Monmouth, make passionate love to her in the midst of the festivities? Perhaps it was the toast she proposed in his honor, and the heavy drinking that followed: "Louerd King, waes hael!" (Lord King, be of health!) To which the good king replied, "Drink waes hael." (In this salutation we find the etymological beginning of the drink we know as wassail.) The word "toast," as applied to a drink, has its roots in the 1600s when it was common to throw in a piece of bread or a crouton as flavoring. According to toasting historian Paul Dickson, the first application of the word occurred in 1709 in the English city of Bath. A "celebrated beauty" was bathing in public when an admirer, taken by her loveliness, filled a cup of the bath water and drank to her. Soon after another admirer, half-potted, declared his admiration for the lady but his revulsion for the bath water. He offered, instead, to just eat the toast in her honor, and the term stuck. It's important to note, however, that almost as long as people have been toasting one another, there have been those who believed the custom was nothing more than an excuse for debauchery. Dickson notes that Charles the Great, Maximilian, Charles V and even Louis XIV all enacted laws against toasting. Temperance societies railed against toasting, and the practice was even made illegal in colonial Massachusetts (but the law was repealed 11 years after it was enacted because it was largely ignored.) Probably the greatest anti-toasting crusader, Dickson writes, was a man named William Prynne, who devoted an entire book to its evils. Dickson quotes Prynne as saying "that this drinking and quaffing of healthes had its origin and birth from Pagans, heathens, and infidels, yea, from the very Deuill himself; that it is but a worldly, carnall, prophane, nay, heathenish and deuillish custom, which sauors of nothing else but Paganisme." I propose a toast to old Bill, who probably killed many a party with his temperate outlook on life:"May his soul be forever tormented by fire and his bones be dug up by dogs and dragged through the streets of Minneapolis." -- Garrison KeillorSIDEBAR: A Few Selected Toasts Careful readers will note that not all of what follows is suitable for holiday toasting. That is because in my research, I found most holiday-themed toasts cloyingly sappy. I did manage to find a few that aren't, and threw them in with the rest of these general-occasion toasts. For more, consult Paul Dickson's Toasts. Also helpful are Toasts for All Occasions by Lewis C. Henry, and Here's to It! by John M. Koken.Fill with mingled cream and amber,I will drain that glass again.Such hilarious visions clamberThrough the chambers of my brain-- Quaintest thoughts, queerest fanciesCome to life and fade away;What care I how time advances?I am drinking ale today.-- Edgar Allan PoeOh to be 70 again!-- Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., at age 85.May the enemies of America be destitute of beef and claret.-- AnonymousLet No Man Thirst for Lack of Real Ale.-- Commonwealth Brewing Co., Boston, Mass.Eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart.-- Ecclesiastes 9:10Wine maketh glad the heart of man.-- Psalms 104:15Here's champagne to your real friends and real pain to your sham friends.-- AnonymousA Merry Christmas this December, to a lot of folks I don't remember.-- Franklin P. AdamsHere's to us all! God bless us every one!-- Tiny TimHolly and ivy hanging up, and something wet in every cup.-- Irish'Twas the month after Christmas,and Santa had flit;Came there tidings for fatherWhich read: "Please remit!"-- AnonymousMay the devil make a ladder of your backbone while he is picking apples in the garden of hell.-- IrishPieces should fall off you.-- YiddishWith small beer, good ale and wine,O ye gods! how I shall dine!-- AnonymousHere's to cold nights, warm friends, and a good drink to give them.-- AnonymousMay you have warmth in your igloo, oil in your lamp, and peace in your heart.-- InuitHere's to our guest--Don't let him rest.But keep his elbow bending.'Tis time to drink--Full time to thinkTomorrow--when you're mending.-- Anonymous

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