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“Sayings, Wise and Otherwise,” (also in the “The Sayings of Dr. Bushwhacker and Other Wise Men”) by Frederic S. Cozzens; American Book Exchange, New York; 1880; pp. 146-164.



Was Champagne Known to the Ancients?*

NEW YORK, July 1st, 1867.

T HE author of the following two communications, written seven years ago, in now revising them, finds melancholy thoughts taking the place of the gay and festive feelings in which they were originally composed. In those seven years of civil strife which brought sorrow to the hearts of thousands, whose loved ones, whose “beautiful and brave,” fell on the battle-field, death did not spare some of the best and noblest of those who were sportively mentioned in these papers.

Dr. Francis has passed away — Dr. Francis, the jovial, the kind-hearted, the man of boundless curiosity and unerring memory, of large and sound acquirements, the genuine and enthusiastic New Yorker, who has preserved the choicest memorials of the men of the last generation in that city which he himself so long gladdened and instructed.

President Felton, of Harvard University, is no more. The great, the genial, the liberal, the wise, the accomplished scholar, one of whose Homeric criticisms is specially combated in these papers, who is there described as a person of the highest scholarship, armed with the authority, and clothed with the dignity of Jupiter, he, too, was soon suddenly snatched away from the station he adored, and the studies which he loved.


New York still mourns the death of one of her most eminent surgeons, Dr. John Watson.

The memory of all men of professional excellence, however high it may have been, is proverbially brief.

“Feeble tradition is their memory’s guard.”

Thus the fame of the distinguished skill of Watson must soon fade away, like that of Kissam, of Wright, of Post, and even within a few years, that of Mott. But the memory of Dr. Watson will be preserved by his volume on “The Medical Profession in Ancient Times,” a book equally agreeable and impressive, very learned, yet very original. That memory will also be preserved and cherished among a limited but very select class of students, in law, in medicine, and in intellectual science, by his elaborate, acute and exhaustive printed opinions as a medical expert in the great Paisk will case.

To those honored names must I add that of Thackeray. He was one well known familiarly in our American cities, and there are still hundreds who quote his criticisms on our “Big Bursts of Oysters,” as well as on our old Madeira, so plentiful and so prized but twenty years ago, while the portraits of Col. Newcome, of Becky Sharpe, and many more, remain, life-like in the minds of thousands.

But such recollections will touch and sadden only some few of my older readers. The passages relating to the lamented dead have been therefore left unaltered, in the wish to give to such of any younger generation who may casually look into this book, a passing glance at the pursuits and opinions of some of the noted literary men among us in 1860.

——————, August 7, 1866.

MY DEAR COZZENS: — I had hoped to spend my vacation in quiet idleness, with a rigorous and religious abstinence 148 from pen and ink. But I cannot refuse to comply with the request you urge so eloquently, placing your claim to my assistance not only on the ground of old friendship, but also as involving important objects, literary and scientific, as well as social and commercial; all of them (to repeat your phrase and Bacon’s), “coming home to the business and bosoms of men.”

You desire me to inform you, after careful examination of all the authorities, “whether the ancient Greeks or Romans, during the classic ages, were acquainted with champagne.”

In such an inquiry, at once scientific and classical, it is all-important that the question should be stated with logical precision. Bacon himself has taught us that the judicious statement of the question (prudens interrogatio) is one half the way to scientific discovery.

Now, I may safely presume that you do not mean to ask whether the territory of Champagne was known to the ancients. Any Freshman can tell you that the fair land on each side of the murmuring Marne, and up the vine-clad sides of the mountains, was part of ancient Gaul, known and subject to the Romans, and designated as part of different provinces at different periods of the Roman sway.

On this point and all relating to it you can get whatever information you desire from Cluverius and D’Anville, or the Fathers of Trevoux. But this, I take it, you cannot mean, though it is the literal sense of your request.


Nor, in my judgment, can you mean to ask, whether the Greeks and Romans were acquainted with the wines of the growth of that part of old Gaul which, under the ancient regime of France, was called the province of Champagne. Of course the Roman colonists in Gaul knew and used the wines therein grown and made; but from the account given by the elder Pliny, of the wines there produced, they bore little resemblance to the present wines of Champagne, whether mousseaux cremant, or still. They are not named with any respect in Pliny’s statement of the one hundred and ninety five (195!) sorts of wine which in his day were counted fit for the Roman market, of which only eighty kinds were admitted to be “wines of authority for good tables” — “Quibus auctoritas fuerit mensâ,” as he says, unless I misquote him. The art of wine-making was then in its very infancy in Gaul. Indeed, it was not until the days of the great and good Ingulphus, the Seventeenth mitred Abbot of Verzeney, who was also Dean of Rheims — (I give that great man the titles by which he was known in the last forty years of his life, although his most admirable and important inventions and improvements in the making and management of wines were made whilst he was still only curé of Verzy on the mountains, and afterwards Archdeacon of Ay, in the low country along the Marne) — I say, that it was not until the days of the aforesaid Ingulphus (supradicti Reverendissimi Ingulphi as the Rheims Chronicle styles him), that the wines of Champagne attracted 150 the attention of Royalty. Soon after that they became the constant accompaniments, de rigueur, of all “good men’s feasts.” I write, as you know, out of reach of my own library, as well as of that of our university, and must trust altogether to memory. Otherwise I could not resist the temptation of expatiating further in the praise of this great benefactor of humanity. I will only add that the great Ingulphus of whom I speak, and to whom we all owe such an impayable debt of gratitude, was the one of the Rohan family, and must not be confounded with the three other very able and distinguished men of the Latinized name of Ingulphus, or Ingulphius (for the name is spelled both ways), who figure in public affairs in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

The great Ingulphus prosecuted his vinous experiments and effected his discoveries during the reign of the famous Philip Augustus; or rather, Philip Augustus reigned in France during his time, which, by a very noteworthy coincidence, was the very period when, according to the best Irish antiquaries, their Milesian forefathers discovered and perfected the manufacture of whisky, usky, or the water, as it was called in the ancient tongue of the Emerald Isle; though in the cognate dialect of the Scotch Gaelic, it was known as uisgee. These epochs also corresponded with the date when Magna Charta, the palladium of England’s liberty, was wrung by the English from their reluctant monarch. No sound 151 philosopher can suppose that coincidences like these are accidental. No, no: —

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
  Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

But, to return to your inquiry. Having, by the process of philosophical elimination, excluded much vagueness and danger of error, I proceed to reduce your inquiry to the shape of the prudent interrogation, the logically exact questioning, of the school of Bacon and Newton. Your inquiry, then, must be this. Did the ancients, in the high and palmy days of their eloquence, philosophy and poetry, either in Greece or Rome, or in both, know and use (and of course become fond of) any effervescent wine or wines having the chemical qualities, as carbonic acid gas, with the tartarous and saccharine constituents, the physiological and dietetic qualities, aroma, bouquet, etc., together with those other properties either belonging to the science of the laboratory or to that of the table, which have been so beautifully stated by my good friend Dr. Mülder, Professor of Dietetic Chemistry in the University of Utrecht, in his “Chemistry of Wines,” as being essential to the true wines of Champagne, whether mousseux or demi-mousseux?

In this statement of the question, you see, I purposely exclude the vin non-mousseaux, or what is less philosophically expressed in English by the name of “still Champagne.” This I do because in the vulgar and popular use, such wines 152 are not included under the term Champagne, although grown and made in that District, and some of them, as Sillery, of the very highest merit, gastronomic and dietetic, convivial, social, and moral, and especially in those qualities which the physiology of the table designates as Oxyporian.

Thus, I think that the preliminary question is clearly settled with an Aristotelian precision, such as the learned gentlemen who discuss questions of Contagion and Infection in academies and conventions would do well to imitate. I then proceed to the investigation itself. This I am not ashamed to affirm that I do with perfect confidence in the successful result; for I do it, not like my learned friends just mentioned.

“Cæca regens filo vestigia.”

Or, as it is translated in my new version of Virgil, (now on the press of Ticknor & Fields) —

“With stumbling steps along the dubious maze,
  Tracing with half-seen thread the darksome ways.”

But with a bold and firm step, lifting high the blazing torch of classic lore, which pours its floods of light forward in my path.

The conclusion to which I come is simply that the Greek and Roman gentlemen and scholars, in the high and palmy state of their literature and art, had used and enjoyed wines similar to the effervescent, foaming, sparkling, or creaming wines of Champagne.


I have stated the precise question, and the conclusion to which my mind has logically arrived.

It would be descending not a little from the dignity of learning to recapitulate any of the steps by which that conclusion was attained, and the various authorities on which it rests.

It is a wise general rule never to give such reasons for your opinions. Let those who ask your opinion be satisfied when they have got it. Yet, considering the great importance of the present inquiry, and the intense interest which it must excite, I will deviate from my ordinary practice.

Before stating this evidence, it must be observed, once for all, that though I hold that a sparkling wine similar to our best Champagne was known to the ancients, it is quite as clear that such was not a common characteristic of their wines. The resemblance was only of some of their choice vintages to those of our Champagnes. Otherwise, their wines were commonly still, strong, and often thick, like our “Essence Tokay.” I do not care to trouble you with any learning on this head. It would be too large a dose for the present.

On all similar questions as to Grecian habits and Greek learning, the best and most universal authority is Athenæus. He is the most delightful and instructive author on matters of the table in any language, being to Greek literature a Dr. Kitchener of a higher order, or rather his work is what Brillat-Savarin’s “Physiologie du Goût” is in French; 154 but it is of far more value than Savarin’s, because, with equal sprightliness and familiar knowledge of the subject that he handles, his book is filled, crammed, stuffed, spiced, larded with choice extracts from numerous Greek poets and dramatists, whose other writings are all lost.

I always make Athenæus my summer travelling companion — in the original, of course; and I prefer reading him in Schweighauser’s last edition, partly because it is the best, but chiefly because old Schweighauser was exceedingly kind to me at Strasbourg, more years ago than I care to tell. But as I know that your Greek is exceedingly rusty, you may consult Athenæus with profit and pleasure in Bohn’s edition of Yonge’s literal translation. I looked into it not long ago, and found that I could understand it nearly or quite as well as the original, which is more than I can say for most of the translations which our college lads used for “ponies.”

Amongst an infinite number of delicious excerpts from Greek poets as popular in their day as Béranger is in our own, but of whom nothing remains to posterity but exquisite fragments, he quotes a long passage from Critias, who thus begins a poem which, by the way, is palpably the model of the well-known lines of Goethe, and of Byron who is thought to have borrowed from him. Yet as Byron knew much more Greek than he did German, I have no doubt that both he and Goethe copied directly from the old Greek. Byron has it thus:

“Know you the land of the cypress and myrtle?”


Critias, addressing his native land of Sicily, says: —

“Hail to the land of the dim Proserpine!
  There sparkles and foams the mirth-boding wine,
        With its froth, its fun and noise,
        Its folly, its wisdom, its joys —
        The folly of sages, the wisdom of boys.”

Does not the “sparkling and foaming,” etc., clearly refer to some effervescent, frothing wine?

Again, Athenæus quotes various passages from Alexis, who seems to have been a Lesbian Tom Moore, for he luxuriates over “the rich and rosy wine” of the island of Lesbos, and thus addresses Bacchus on this wine: —

“Hail vine-crowned Bacchus, chief divine,
  Who from his sea-girt Lesbian lair
  Erst floated out the demon Care
  With sparkling, ruby wine.”

Can there be any reasonable doubt that the “sparkling ruby wine,” with its proper concomitant, “the floating out of old Care” from the place where he had long nestled in gloomy security, all allude to a choice effervescing, red wine, precisely of the quality of an excellent vin rosé mousseux de Champagne?

Then gushes forth a torrent of quotations out of the inexhaustible memory of this philosopher of good suppers, from the poet Hermippus, who seems a cosmopolitan sort of a bard, and writes as if he were at home over all the known world. Complimenting other wines, for which he had unquestionably a right liberal and Catholic faith, 156 the poet after praising the “Thasian’s mild perfume,” bursts into admiration of

——“The bloom that mantles high
O’er Homer’s Chian cup.”

In every one of these beautiful fragments you perceive the mantling, pettilant character of our best Champagne mousseux or demi-mousseux, and there are clear indications (in the original, at least) of the golden color of some of these sparkling vintages, and the roseate tinge of others.

By the way, there is another ancient usage of which Athenæus has preserved the memory together with that of dozens of authors whose very names would have been swept into oblivion with their poems, their songs, their ballads, and their comedies, which were once the charm of the civilized world, had it not been for the inexhaustible memory of this most catholic of quoters. The fact may not be conclusive, but it is at least corroborative of the opinion I maintain.

It is that the Greeks were accustomed to cool their wines even by snow, as they were not blessed with our ice-houses. What is this but an anticipation of the Vin de Champagne Frappe of our modern tables?

I must content myself with only one more authority from this source. Athenæus himself, in his sober, prose speculations, says (Lib. 1, § 59) of certain wine, “This kind is a wine which has a tendency to mount upward.”

Now, with all deference to my old friend Schweighauser (who quite overlooks the point), how can any of the above 157 passages be explained without understanding them to refer to wines resembling our sparkling Champagne?

If I thought that you could read Greek with any sort of facility, I should not have troubled you with the above imperfect but not unfaithful versions of these precious fragments. They are more faithful than those of Bohn’s translation, if not more poetical; yet, like his, they are far from expressing the force and truth of the original. In reading aloud these exquisite fragments in their native Greek, I hear the whizzing burst of the exploded cork, I see the foaming froth of the goblet, I scent the flowery perfume of its delicate bouquet.

These and other authorities in Athenæus and the bright dramatist and poets whose gems the philosopher has preserved in his sober prose, like pearls in amber, are quite sufficient for my argument as to the Greek. When I get home among my books, I am sure that I can fortify these authorities by many passages to the same effect, from Plato, Aristotle, Ptolemæus, Hippocrates, and St. Chrysostom.

Yet there is one other authority not to be omitted in such a discussion. It is even that of old Homer himself. In some thirty or more passages he paints his gods or heroes gazing upon the angry sea, to which he gives the epithet οἴνοψ, literally “wine-faced.” The translators and commentators tell us that the compound word means “dark,” or “ruddy,” like the wine of that age. What stupidity! Is it not clear that it refers to the foam-covered 158 deep — that it paints the angry main with its whole surface instinct with life, and mantling and foaming like the best foaming wine of the times — probably like that “Chian wine,” that the poetic fragments in Athenæus tell us was Homer’s favorite brand. In brief, the only translation which can convey the force of the epithet to a modern is the “Champagne-like deep.” It is impossible to describe more happily the “foam-faced sea,” the οἰνοπα ποντον on which Achilles gazes, and calls forth his sea-born mother, in the beginning of the Epic story. How admirably does this harmonize with the wild spirit of the hero, and the stormy tale of his wrath and his glory. It becomes nearly as flat as the leavings of yesterday’s uncorked Champagne, if this glowing epithet is reduced to “dark,” or “ruddy,” or even to “claret-coloured,” — which last would be at least more poetical, though not more accurate.

Next, then, for the Romans. That a delicate vin mousseux petillant, a foaming and sparkling wine, was familiar to the tastes of the refined gentlemen of Rome in the time of Mæcenas and his little senate of poets, and soldiers, and philosophers, we need no better proof than the testimony of Virgil himself, who graphically represents the drinking of just such a wine as that with which you oblige your friends at various prices, and under sundry brands, but all choice and dear. I take first the literal meaning of Virgil’s melodious verses, though I have long thought that those contained a deeper secondary and 159 recondite sense, referring to the recherché repasts of Virgil’s great friend and patron, Mæcenas. It is in the close of the first book of the Æneid, in the recital of Dido’s royal banquet to the Trojan chief. Toward the end of the feast, Dido is described as ordering, and receiving, and filling with wine, the hereditary massive goblet of gold and gems, used by her progenitor Belus, and the long line of her ancestors, —

“ ‘Hic Regina gravem gemmis auroque poposcit,
    Implevitque mero, pateram, quam Belus et omnes
    A Belo soliti” —

Then, after a pause of silence she invokes Jove, the God of hospitable laws, to make that day auspicious alike to the wanderers of Troy and her own subjects, exiles from Tyre. After inviting the favorable presence of Bacchus, the giver of mirth, and of the gracious Juno, next she pours on the table the liquid honors of Libation (laticum libavit honorem); and after touching the bowl with her lip, passes it on, with gay chiding at his slowness, to her next neighbor Bitias. Whereupon,

         —— ”Ille impiger hausit
Spumantem pateram, et pleno se proluit auro.”

For the sake of being very accurate, I have given you an exact prose version of the preceding lines, instead of my own resounding translation; still, as I have already informed you, in the press of Ticknor & Fields. I proceed in the same way as to those last quoted. “He 160 (Bitias), no slouch at his glass — (none of the translators in any tongue, have given the sense of impiger with such precision), drained off the foaming cup, and bathed himself in the overflowing gold.” Here, again, so far as I can remember, no one of the translators or commentators — I have examined all of them in my time, though not very lately — has given the full force of the “pleno se proluit auro,” for though it implies that this inexpert drinker drenched himself with the choice liquor contained in the golden goblet, it also unquestionably means that he bathed his face in that vinous spray with which frothing Champagne often moistens or even bathes the face of the hasty and ill-mannered drinker. Good Abbé De Lille, better accustomed to the pleasures of Champagne than the port-drinking English translators and the beer-loving German commentators, comes much nearer in his

“S’abreuvant à longs traits du nectar écumant.”

But you will see how much better even than this I shall do it in my translation, which, as I have announced at least twice before, is now in press.

Here, then, I may triumphantly rest my argument. Yet I cannot refrain from adding what is probably known to very few scholars out of Italy. It is this; Cardinal Mai, whose services to learning have entitled him to the lasting gratitude of all scholars, discovered, eighteen months ago, among the hitherto unexplored treasures of the Vatican library, a manuscript, as yet 161 unprinted, containing the Æneid with the notes of an anonymous old commentator or scholiast, evidently nearly contemporary with the poet, or at least of the very next generation to him, full of curious criticism and still more curious facts. This old scholiast, in his note on the very passage just under consideration, confirms a conjecture of my own, which I communicated in a paper of mine to the “London Classical Journal” some twelve years ago or more. He expressly says that this passage was meant to be understood in its literal sense by ordinary readers and by posterity, but that it also referred, in its interior or esoteric sense, to the habits of Mæcenas at his festive board, where Horace, Pollio, Varus, and Virgil were in the habit of dining with him twice every week, not including his birthday parties and other high festivities. On these occasions those favorite guests were always treated with a certain foaming wine of the “Dido brand” — “vino effervescente, spumanteque, amphoris notâ Didonis signatis.

He adds, also, that this wine was always supplied for the table of Mæcenas from the wine-vaults of Sulpicius, “Sulpicianis horreis,” the same eminent wine-merchant whose stock is mentioned with great reverence by Horace in one of his odes.

As far as I can make out the topography of old Rome, Sulpicius had his chief commercial establishment in Curtius street, nearly opposite to the first city station of the great Appian Way, the Hudson River Railroad of 162 old Rome, a locality not very unlike yours in your own city.

I trust that you are now quite satisfied that the gentlemen of Greece and Rome were accustomed to quaff a generous and pure vin mousseux, quite like, and in no way inferior to the best Champagne of our times. I trust, also, that you will have ambition and patriotism enough to make the resemblance between old imperial Rome and your commercial Rome still more perfect by arranging with your correspondents at Rheims or at Cincinnati to supply you with a DIDO brand of the very choicest quality. Recollect that it must not be non mousseux or still, or even merely crémant, but resembling as near as may be the Dido wine of antiquity, spumans, petillant, mousseux, sparkling, foaming, fragrant, and with the mnore important qualities of a delicate aroma and unimpeachable bouquet.

Yours, very truly, — —.

P.S. — Remember me to our friend Dr. Francis, and congratulate him for me, on the honor of the legal doctorate so worthily added last month to his medical dignity by his venerable and distinguished Alma Mater. She has anticipated our university in this grateful duty. Yet I trust that our governing powers will not neglect to add his name to the list of those eminent persons educated elsewhere, but crowned with our academic laurel, who figure in our triennial catalogue.


By the way, why does not the doctor, in his capacity of the Herodotus of your local history, amongst the fossil remains of the last century which he has dishumed, make out to dig up some choice reminiscences (there must have been much material for such) of the long residence of Brillat Savarin in New York between sixty and seventy years ago. I was exceedingly interested with the account of him related by Mr. ——, in my visit to the Century Club with you the last time I was in your city. That the immortal author of the great work on Transcendental Gastronomy should have lived for some years in New York, by scraping the violin in the humble and unscientific orchestra of the John street and Park Theatres, under the rule of Dunlap or Price, and then emerged in Paris the most successful of authors, the gayest and wisest of table philosophers, and, moreover, a Judge of the Court of Cassation, the highest tribunal of France, promoted to that high station by the discriminating Napoleon, and continued by the Bourbons, is as whimsical and as surprising a vicissitude of fortune as any of the incidents in the life of Louis Philippe or of Louis Napoleon. I must unquestionably have seen him more than once in former days, at the Court of Cassation, seated by the side of his venerable chief, the Legitimist Premier President De Seze, and there affirming or reversing the decisions of the courts below, involving millions of francs and the most thorny points of the Code. But I never could dream that amongst these dignified 164 sages of the law, in their grave customary robes and judicial caps à mortier, I saw the sprightly author of the “Physiology of Taste,” who had erst for two or more years been first violin of the only theatre in village-like New York during the play-going days of your grandfather.


*  See Preface.

Elf.Ed — Although this footnote is in the text of Sayings, Wise and Otherwise, it has no preface and was clearly copied from The Sayings of Dr. Bushwhacker and Other Learned Men. In that Preface, Cozzens states who the author of this piece is, which was originally published in his magazine The Wine Press. Since there was a fair amount of reaction to this essay, including a great deal of curiosity as to the name of the author, a second article by the same person was submitted later and printed in this magazine. This article comes later in both books and further details can be found in the footnote there: Oxyporian Wines. No mention of the author is made on this page now, thus preserving the mystery as was intended originally.


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