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Seventeenth Century

Eighteenth Century


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Utopians dining; from a 1730 French translation of 'Utopia'.

Excerpt from Utopia, Book 2.


      At the hours of dinner and supper, the whole syphogranty being assembled by trumpet, they meet and eat together, excepting only those who are in the hospitals or lie sick at home. Yet after the halls are supplied, no man is hindered from carrying home provision from the marketplace, for they know that no one doth it except for some good reason. For, though any one who pleaseth may eat at home, no one doth it from inclination, it being absurd to prepare a bad dinner at home, when a much more plentiful one is ready for him so near his residence.

      The unpleasant and sordid services about these halls, are performed by their slaves. But dressing their meat and ordering their tables belong to the women, every family taking it by rotation. They sit at three or more tables according to their number, the men toward the wall, the women on the outside. Thus, if any of the women be taken suddenly ill (which is not uncommon when they are in a state of pregnancy), she may, without disturbing the rest, rise and go to the nursery, where are nurses with the unweaned infants, clean water, cradles, and a fire.

      Every child is nursed by its own mother, unless death or sickness prevent. In that case the syphogrants' wives quickly provide a nurse, which is no difficulty, as any woman who can do it, offereth herself cheerfully. And, to make her amends, the child she nurseth considereth her as its mother.

      The children under five sit among the nurses. The other young of either sex, until marriageable, serve those who sit at table, or, if unequal to that in strength, stand by them in silence and eat what is given them. Nor have they any other particular form at their dinners.

      In the middle of the first table, which standeth across the upper end of the hall, sit the syphogrant and his wife, that being the most conspicuous place. Next to him sit two of the oldest, there being throughout four in a mess. If there be a temple within that syphogranty, the priest and his wife sit with the syphogrant above the rest. Next to them come a mixture of old and young, so distributed, that though near to others of their own age, they are mingled with the elders. This, they say, was so instituted, that the gravity of the old, and the respect due to them, might restrain the young from all indecent words and gestures.

      The dishes are not served to the whole table at first, but the best are set before the old (whose seats are distinguished from the young), and after them all the rest are served alike. The elders distribute to the young any choice meats which happen to be set before them, if there be not such an abundance of them that the whole company may share them alike. Thus the aged are honoured with particular marks of respect, and yet all the rest fare as well as they do.

      Dinner, as well as supper, is begun with some moral lecture which is read to them, but which is so short that it cannot be deemed tedious. Hence, the old take occasion to entertain those about them with some useful and amusing amplifications. Yet they engross not the whole conversation, but rather engage the young in it, that they may discover their spirit and temper. They dispatch their dinners quickly, but sit long at supper, for they go to work after the one, and sleep after the other; and sleep they think promotes digestion. They never sup without music, and fruit is ever served up after their meat. While they are at table, perfumes are burned, and fragrant ointments and sweet waters sprinkled about the room. In short, they want nothing which may cheer their spirits; and allow themselves great latitude this way, indulging in every pleasure which is unattended with inconvenient consequences.

      Thus live the inhabitants of the towns. In the country, where they live at considerable distances asunder, every one eats at home, and no family is without necessary provision; for from them are sent provisions to those living in the towns.

Cayley, Arthur, the Younger, ed. Memoirs of Sir Thomas More, &c.. Vol II.
London: Cadell and Davis, 1808. 73-75.

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