A Brief History of Raised Glasses

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An early-if not the earliest-book entirely devoted to toasts and toasting is J. Roach's The Royal Toastmaster, published in London in 1791. Roach was clearly intent on cleaning up the image of the custom. "Its use," he says of the toast, "is well known to all ranks, as a stimulative to hilarity, and an incentive to innocent mirth, to loyal truth, to pure morality and to mutual affection." At one point he ascribes great power to it:

A Toast or Sentiment very frequently excites good humor, and revives languid conversation; often does it, when properly applied, cool the heat of resentment, and blunt the edge of animosity. A well-applied Toast is acknowledged, universally, to sooth the flame of acrimony, when season and reason oft used their efforts to no purpose.

Roach laments "former times" and to some extent the "contemporary custom" of banning women from toasting sessions. In introducing his book of "decent toasts" he points out that the reason women were often excluded is the indecency of many toasts and the general climate of "boisterous and illiberal mirth."

If nothing else, Roach did help set a new tone. His toasts were predictably proper ("Confusion to the minions of vice!" and "May reason be the pilot when passion blows the gale!") and politically liberal in the modern sense ("To the abolition of the slave trade," "The rights of man!" and, incredibly for 1791 England, "The liberty of North America!").

Another early collection of toasts was The Toastmaster's Guide by T. Hughes, which was published in London in 1806. Like Roach, Hughes favored the quick one-liner of the time; but unlike Roach, he was not above a little early-nineteenth-century spice with his toasts. A sampling from Hughes's collection:

The two that makes a third.
The rose of pleasure without the thorn.
The modest maid, who covered herself with her lover.
The commodity most thought of and least talk'd of.
Mirth, wine and love.
May the works of our nights never fear the day-light.
Old wine and young women.
Prudence and temperance with claret and champagne.
Love without fear, and life without care.
May we never want a friend to cheer us, or a bottle to cheer him.
A generous heart and a miser's fortune.
Short shoes and long corns to the enemies of Great Britain.
May we do as we would be done by.
May we live in pleasure and die out of debt.
A blush of detection to the lovers of deceit.
May British cuckolds never want horns.

Many short toasts that are still heard today-"Good luck until we are tired of it!" "May poverty be a day's march behind us!" "Champagne to our real friends and real pain to our sham friends!"-appear in Hughes's book.

Toasting transferred easily to the United States, where the Revolution and the newness of the nation were great inspira­tions. During the war the toasts tended in the direction of curses:

To the enemies of our country!
May they have cobweb breeches, a porcupine saddle, a hard-trotting horse, and an eternal journey.

After the war no official dinner or celebration was complete without thirteen toasts, one for each state. For many years, the thirteen toasts were obligatory at local Fourth of July celebrations. At such times each toast was followed by an artillery salute, three cheers from the crowd, and a song.

Although the exact toasts differed somewhat from locale to locale, they were generally always patriotic, proud, and nonpartisan. They were dedicated to things ranging from the holiday itself ("May it ever be held in grateful remembrance by the American people") to the nation's former presidents ("In the evenings of well-spent lives pleased with the fruits of their labors, they cheerfully await the summons that shall waft them to brighter abodes.") Invariably, there was a toast to the signers of the Declaration of Independence:

From this act of treason against the British Crown sprang a chart of Liberty and Emancipation broad as the universe and filled with glad tiding and a good will towards men. They who perilled their lives by this noble act will live and be cherished in the hearts of free men.

The origin of the thirteen toasts appears to date from the series of banquets held in honor of George Washington on his retirement. At one such banquet in Annapolis, Washington added a fourteenth of his own: "Sufficient Powers to Congress for general purposes!" The custom of the thirteen toasts has been all but forgotten, but was recently revived at the Genesse Country Museum in Mumford, New York, as part of the local Fourth of July observation.

Toasting not only transferred easily to North America but was enhanced by the skill of various practitioners including some of America's early leaders. If not the best, Benjamin Franklin certainly ranked with them. A number of his toasts have been recalled but none more often than one he delivered at Versailles while American emissary to France. On this occasion the toasting was led off by the British ambassador, who said, "George the Third, who, like the sun in its meridian, spreads a luster throughout and enlightens the world." The next toast came from the French minister, who said, "The illustrious Louis the Sixteenth, who, like the moon, sheds his mild and benevolent rays on and influences the globe." Franklin finished the round: "George Washington, commander of the American armies, who, like Joshua of old, commanded the sun and the moon to stand still, and both obeyed."

Other influences were at work in the transfer of the custom to America. Around 1800 there was a high-spirited drinking club in London known as the Anacreontic Society, which met at the Crown and Anchor tavern. It was named for the Greek poet Anacreon, who was known for poems that praised love and wine. Each meeting opened with a singing toast "To Anacreon in Heaven," which ended with these joyous lines:

While thus we agree,
Our toast let it be.
May our club flourish happy, united and free!
And long may the sons of Anacreon entwine,
The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus's vine!

The composition became popular enough that a number of Americans learned it. On several occasions the tune was used to accommodate lyrics written in America. One of these writers was Francis Scott Key, who found it the perfect vehicle for his "Star-Spangled Banner."

If there was a Golden Age for toasting it came during the period from approximately 1880 to 1920. Scores of toast books and pamphlets came on the market, prominent authors wrote and contributed their own for anthologies, newspapers ran columns of them, and one periodical, The National Magazine, actually had its own Toast Editor, whose duties included judging the winners of its monthly toasting contest. Several writers of the period, such as Fred Emerson Brooks and Minna Thomas Antrim, built considerable reputations as toast writers, and the great comic poets of the time, like Oliver Herford and Wallace Irvin, created dozens of marvelous invitations to drink. One of Herford's many champagne toasts: "The bubble winked at me and said, 'You'll miss me, brother, when you're dead.' "