Toasts      By Paul Dickson
                Over 1500 of the Best Toasts, Sentiments, Blessings, and Graces
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Next to the originator of a good sentence is the first quoter of it."
                                                                 -Ralph Waldo Emerson

There are a number of old things which we are well rid of-child labor, the Berlin Wall, scurvy, glass shampoo bottles, and too many others to mention-but there are still others that we are foolish to let slip away. Toasting is one of them.

A toast is a basic form of human expression that can be used for virtually any emotion from love to rage (although raging toasts tend to cross the line into the realm of curses). They can be sentimental, cynical, lyric, comic, defiant, long, short, or even just a single word.

The names and traditions associated with the custom are many and date back to the ancient world. They are also very much a part of our literary heritage and, with the exception of the last few decades, there has not been a writer of note from Milton to Mencken who has not left us at least one good toast. What's more, some of our favorite fictional characters have ut-tered classics-among them, Tiny Tim's "God bless us every one!" from A Christmas Carol and Rick's "Here's lookin' at you, kid!" to Isle from the 1942 Warner Brothers classic Casablanca.

Most important, however, is that they are so useful. They are a medium through which such deep feelings as love, hope, high spirits, and admiration can be quickly, conveniently, and sincerely expressed.

There was a time, not that long ago, when one could not go to a luncheon-let alone a banquet or wedding-without hearing a series of carefully proposed and executed toasts. Toasts were the test of one's ability to come up with an appropriate inspiration to sip to the honor of some person, sentiment, or institution. It really didn't matter if it was an original written for the occasion or a time-tested classic passed down from Elizabethan times. What was important was whether or not the toast worked to keep the proceedings moving at a jolly pace.

About a third of the way into this century, however, the custom of creative, thoughtful toasting began to erode. It seemed as if people had less time and inclination to work them up or memorize them. Nor was this decline limited to the United States. British author John Pudney wrote in 1963 of "decline in the eloquence and variety of the toast in the English language. The last two generations at least seem to find themselves em-barrassed by the formality of toasting."

In recent years, the decline has continued to the point at which a set of wedding toasts may have no more style, grace, or imagination than a clearing of the throat and a hastily yelped, "Here's to the bride and groom! Here's to Fred and Maxine!" Moreover, most of our workaday toasts still in use are of the quick, down-the-hatch variety in which the custom has been re-duced to a mumbled word (Cheers!; Prosit!) or phrase (Happy days!; Down the hatch!; Hair on your chest!) uttered from habit rather than any real sentiment.

Ironically, some of the better old toasts have devolved to the level where they are virtually meaningless either because they have been shortened or lost their original context. The ubiquitous "Here's mud in your eye!" is a good case in point. A fuller, much older version ends the line with ". . . while I look over your lovely sweetheart!" "Mud in your eye" had an entirely different context in the days when the American West was opening up. A pioneering farmer about to leave the East would stop in the local tavern to say good-bye to friends, who would toast mud in his eyes. In this situation those proposing the toast were hoping the farmer would find soft, rich, and damp soil that would be thrown up as specks of mud as the farmer ploughed it.

Toasting is still an important custom on such high and formal occasions as state dinners and diplomatic receptions. Yet in this realm, a different kind of erosion has taken place. Official toasts- which have always tended to be light, friendly, and anecdotal-have become political vehicles in recent years. Increasingly, they are long, windy, political addresses.

Things really began to sour in 1975 when Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda startled the guests at a White House dinner when he responded to a traditional toast from President Gerald Ford with a twenty-minute "toast," which in reality was a statement of his nation's foreign policy.

For his part, Ford tried during his White House term but was not beyond the occasional gaff. This was his toast to Anwar Sadat in December 1975: "[To] the great people and the government of Israel-Egypt, excuse me." Ford should not be singled out because in December 1982 President Ronald Reagan rose at a dinner hosted in his honor by the president of Brazil and proposed a toast to "the people of Bolivia."

In 1978, a low point of sorts was achieved when the late Marshal Josip Broz Tito bested Kuanda with a rambling forty-minute dissertation on his views of the international political scene. Shortly thereafter, the forty-five-minute barrier fell, and the distinct possibility arose that the one-hour toast would become a reality. The U.S. State Department's Office of Protocol began in the early 1980s to suggest routinely that all White House toasts not last more than three minutes, but soon the times were starting to creep up again. The morning after a June 1986 toast at the White House by Uruguayan President Julio Maria Sanguinetti, the Washington Post diplomatically noted: "Sanguinetti's toast was notable for its length and historical detail."

Not only is conviviality missing from such "toasts," but some are downright hostile. In early 1979, when President Jimmy Carter and Mexican President Jose Lopez Portillo traded a well-publicized set of diplomatic insults in Mexico City, they called their attacks toasts. That exchange began as Portillo ingraciously led with a wide-ranging indictment of the United States, and a dazed Carter jabbed back with a tasteless recollection of a bout of Montezuma's revenge. Later in his administration Carter actually included a question and answer session as part of a toast.

Enough. The point is made that we have come close to abandoning a useful medium and form of communication in an age of media and communication. Simply stated, the purpose of this book-and a smaller version published in 1981-is to help as a vehicle for a revival. In truth, there have been some bright omens and developments in recent years that signal a new interest in the toast.

The most notable has been the use of the toast as a signal for warming relationships between nations rather than as an excuse for a diatribe. In early 1984, a seven-hundred-word toast to Chinese-American friendship by Premier Zhao Ziyang became the basis for a nuclear-cooperation treaty between the two nations. The message from the Chinese was so important that critics of the resulting treaty accused President Reagan of conducting "diplomacy by dinner toast." Later in the decade the progress in U.S.-Soviet relations has been marked with jovial toasting between leaders, and in the fall of 1990 the visible proof of the official reunification of Germany which we could all see were the leaders of the two Germanys posed with raised glasses.

So, here's to it! And to fuel and give this revival an extra Boost, the following pages contain more than fifteen hundred of the best, most useful and most literate toasts that could be found. With the help of dozens of people-reference librarians, museum curators, brewers, distillers, vintners, and old friends-I have been able to collect something on the order of six thousand different toasts from which the examples in this book were culled.

 

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