La Physiologie du Goût.

17 april 2014

La Physiologie du Goût” (“The Physiology of Taste”) by French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826) with a portrait of the author. 1848 edition.

Physiologie du goût (The Physiology of Taste), was published in December 1825, two months before his death. The full title is Physiologie du Goût, ou Méditations de Gastronomie Transcendante; ouvrage théorique, historique et à l’ordre du jour, dédié aux Gastronomes parisiens, par un Professeur, membre de plusieurs sociétés littéraires et savantes. The book has not been out of print since it first appeared, shortly before Brillat-Savarin’s death. Its most notable English translation was done by food writer and critic M. F. K. Fisher, who remarked “I hold myself blessed among translators.” Her translation was first published in 1949.

The body of his work, though often wordy or excessively – and sometimes dubiously – aphoristic and axiomatic, has remained extremely important and has repeatedly been re-analyzed through the years since his death. In a series of meditations that owe something to Montaigne’s Essays, and have the discursive rhythm of an age of leisured reading and a confident pursuit of educated pleasures, Brillat-Savarin discourses on the pleasures of the table, which he considers a science. His French models were the stylists of the Ancien Régime: Voltaire, Rousseau, Fénelon, Buffon, Cochin and d’Aguesseau. Aside from Latin, he knew five modern languages well, and when the occasion suited, wasn’t shy of parading them: he never hesitated to borrow a word, like the English sip when French seemed to him to fail, until he rediscovered the then-obsolete verb siroter.

The philosophy of Epicurus lies at the back of every page; the simplest meal satisfied Brillat-Savarin, as long as it was executed with artistry:

Those persons who suffer from indigestion, or who become drunk, are utterly ignorant of the true principles of eating and drinking.