[From High Bailiff Laughton's Recollections, 1911]
My first dinner with the Bar is indelibly imprinted on: my memory. Those Bar dinners were wonderful experiences! They have altogether ceased to exist in modern times. I do not mean that there are no Bar dinners now, but certainly none like unto the Saturnalias of the merry past.
The fashion of the age has changed. Now-a-days we are much too sedate and business-like, or possibly we may not be made of the same stuff as of yore. At any rate those scenes of semi-Irish jollity and fun are no longer repeated.
We work at our daybooks and ledgers, and make out prosaic but comforting bills of costs; and we may, to outward appearance, be more steady-going in our manners and habits, but the wit, the brightness, the sparkle, the dare-devil jollity seem to have quite departed.
The wine we dunk certainly bears the same name as in the old days, but in these modern times there must have been a failure in the vintage or the corkage, causing it to run flat; or can it be that the ancient vineyards; do not now produce the same material, that, in place of the champagne of the past there has been substituted some of " Mrs. Dickens's Gooseberry Wine? "
The Bar dinner to which I refer took place at the old George Hotel, at Castletown, in the winter of IS . . We all looked forward to the enjoyment of the coming evening as though once more we were merry schoolboys. F. Lamothe, H. B. Watts, Tellett (High-Bailiff of Ramsey), Robert J. Kelly, Alfred W. Adams, Sam. Harris, Robert J. Moore were amongst those present.
The dinner was excellent, the champagne superb. and the spirits of the guests in harmony therewith. Jokes and tales, speeches, and songs quickly tripped each other up; notably a song by Robert Kelly, called " Bendemeer's Stream," sung with a sentimental pathos and tenderness of voice that denoted that the evening was far spent, and provoking a universal of laughter from an exceedingly irreverent audience.
Sparkling after-dinner tales and speeches sound flat when repeated in cold typographical form, unaccompanied by the inspiration of music and champagne, and altogether lacking the expression of face and the tones of voice of those who told them, and so I shall not attempt any reproduction of them.
The dinner, like all mundane things, joyful or sad. came to an end. The last joke was told, the last song sung and the last toast drunk.
Carriages and cars were ordered, and putting on our hats and great-coats we assembled in front of the hotel. I recollect one of our number, serenely reposing in top hat, against a pillar of the entrance hall, his mind evidently not in harmony with the lively frolics going on around him; possibly he was setting an example of dignified decorum to his more mercurial brethren. However this may have been, his meditations were rudely interrupted by a fellow advocate, who, rushing towards him, snatched his hat off his head, dropped it on the; ground, and incontinently sat upon it with a vengeful crunch ! And the parting scenes; the hurry-skurry and confusion of some twenty carriages all starting at the same time, some for Ramsey, some for Douglas. Well I could fill a chapter with the fun of it all; fun, that only ended with our arrival at our respective destinations.
In those days, immediately prior to a Bar dinner, it was usual to select two or three of the advocates to choose the wines to be drunk upon the occasion, and for several years Craigie, Adams, and I always acted as the " Tasting Committee " as it was called. We discharged our onerous duties as follows:Having fixed upon a suitable evening before the day of the Bar dinner, we requested Mine Hostess of Castle Mona, where we always held our annual revel, to have a private room. prepared for us, together with a light repast, and samples of her best wines. We then invited a friend to make our number up to the magic four, so that we could combine the pleasure of a modest rubber of threepenny whist with a critical disquisition upon the merits or demerits of the various wines. The vintages which we finally selected always met with general approval at the dinner, but whether this was the result of the discrimination displayed by us in their choice, or of the vitiated taste of those for whom we had catered, this deponent sayeth not. I must, however, relate a little incident which possibly may throw some light upon this delicate question.
Miss Stagg, hostess of the Imperial Hotel, on the Pier, had recently died, and the contents of her extensive cellars were brought to the hammer. All kinds and descriptions of wines, as well as spirits, were being disposed of, and the wineglasses, containing the samples, after each lot was sold, were emptied into a large bowl in the centre of the table. After we had tested some ten or twelve different lots, a discussion arose as to whether our palates were, or were not, further to be depended upon for continued accuracy in sampling. Some said " yes " and others " no "I being of the latter opinion., I asked whom they considered the best judge of wine, etc., in the room ? They unanimously named Craigie, who certainly had acquired the reputation of being thoroughly experienced in such matters. We agreed, therefore, to abide by his decision upon this knotty point. I thereupon, took a wineglass, and, dipping it into the central bowl, filled it with the compound which it contained. The prevailing bouquet was a faint smell of rum; the colour that of pale sherry. Having first bound them over not to betray me to Craigie, I approached him in a deferential manner, and told him that this sample was said to be the finest and oldest rum that Miss Stagg's cellars contained, of which there was but a hogshead remaining, and I asked him if he thought I should be wise in purchasing it. He took the glass in his hand, smelt it, threw back the lappets of his coat, as was his habit when considering weighty questions, sipped it, spat it out, in true orthodox styles sniffed it again, and then coming nearer to me, put his hand upon my shoulder, and in an intense whisper said, "Laughton, buy the whole lot ! buy the whole lot !"
But I must tell the sequel. One of those present evidently broke faith with me, and told Craigie of the trick I had played upon him, for on meeting hint a day or two afterwards, in Athol Street, he came up to me and, laughing very heartily, asked me if I recollected that really fine old rum he had sampled ?to which I replied, " Certainly." " Well," he said, " one of the fellows, 'trying to poke fun at me, pretended that the sample was taken from the mixture in the Bowl," at which I laughed quite as heartily as he, it being too ridiculous to suppose that he (Craigie) a perfect connoisseur in such matters, could mistake' a wretched hodge-podge of wines and liquors in the Bowl for that fine delicate recherche old rum ! Ha ! Ha ! I Ha ! "
He ever treated the matter as a huge joke, and fortunately never found me out. But so much for supposing the palate can continue reliable after it has been exercised upon twelve or fifteen different descriptions of wines and spirits !