ABSTRACT

The Victorian journalist and wine writer, Henry Vizetelly, describing a dinner party of the late 1870s, observed that it started with ‘preliminary glowering … in the drawing room’ followed by ‘icy silence’ as his conversation with the ‘Gorgonesque’ dowager and the ‘young lady just out’ elicits only monosyllables. But then, he noted, you hear ‘the magic word “champagne” … and a change comes over the spirit of your vision’. The traditional ‘more Britannico’ is overcome. The young lady shows an ‘astounding aptness for repartee’ and even the Gorgon thaws. 1 Some fifteen years later, commenting on a gathering of Scottish lawyers, Sheriff Campbell Smith noted succinctly that champagne ‘is a wonderful solvent of the starch and buckram that superabound in all the professions’. 2