Professor J. P. Mahaffy

Professor J. P. Mahaffy on ‘Conviviality, Ancient and Modern.’

From the Whitefriars Journal, vol. III, no. 15, July 1911, pp. 280-81.

‘The charm of true conversation lies in its inaccuracy,’ observed Professor J. P. Mahaffy, CVO, LLD, (future Provost of Trinity College, Dublin), at the end of the March dinner, when Prior Helm called the attention of Friars to the topic of ‘Conviviality, Ancient and Modern.’

The English language has no equivalent for the French ‘convive’ or ‘table-mate,’ continued the genial guest of the evening. It was well that we had dined, or Dr. Mathaffy might have placed his listeners in the position of the guest at another dinner who complained that ‘The Bishop told us so many stories that we had no time to eat’. According to the uncle of Plutarch, the kitchens of Antony and Cleopatra were so perfectly appointed that they could send eight wild boars to table at once, as was the custom in those generous days; and Dr. Mahaffy traced the changing order of conviviality down through the gastronomic ages with a lively but sure touch. A luncheon with James Russell Lowell lasted from two to seven o’clock; but the pyloric feasts did not rival those of the twelve Irish priests of the peasant class who sat down to a little dinner: a large joint of beef and a saddle of mutton at each end of the table; a boiled ham on one side, and on the other two turkeys and four boiled fowls; and there was practically nothing left for the next day!

‘Conviviality must be a joint-stock affair,’ said the Greek scholar from Dublin; ‘conversation must be free; one must have in stock many topics, must never be accurate, and always natural.’

Lord Killanin, Friar Shan Bullock, Mr Alfred Percival Graves, Friars A. G. Gardner, Clement Shorter, and others took part in the discussion which followed. Among the Club guests were Mr T. L. Gilmour, Mr Vernon Kendall, Mr H. C. Biron, Sir John Kirk, Sir George Riddell, Mr Francis Barrett, and Mr Thomas Marlowe.