Happy St. Patrick's Day! While the act of drinking to one's health has been practiced since the days of the Greeks and Romans, the "toast" as we know it today didn't become fashionable until the 17th century. One of the first toasts that were usually drunk among the ancient Greeks was to the "gods." Most would agree however, that the tradition of drinking to one's health, was a token expression of safety, to insure that whatever the drink may have been composed of it was indeed not one of poison. As the practice progressed, it came to indicate a gesture of friendship and good will.
All communities in the world have drinking toasts. The Irish have been believed to start the trend of proposing toasts in gatherings, however the practice can be traced back to the earliest times when The Moguls in India and the Vikings in Scandinavia drank to the honor of fellow warriors or of women they wooed and loved. (source)
There are many theories and controversial discussions on the history of toasting. The one that follows from a German website is the one I am most familiar with from past research.
And just incase you are wondering where the english phrase "toast" comes from, it comes from the practice of floating a piece of burnt toast on top of the wine of the loving cup. The reason for this was that the toast took away some of the acidity of the wine. Back years ago wine wasn't as good as it is today, so this floating piece of burnt toast worked well to tone down the sharpness of the wine. It was an ancient custom that was popular during the roman and Greek times dating as far back as the 6th Century B.C. After the bowl was passed around and shared by all the people, the host would be the last one to drink what was left and this included eating the wine saturated piece of toast. This was always done in honor of the guests. (source)
Throughout history, the custom of men drinking through the ages as a pledge of friendship and fraternity has been banned. Louis XIV of France forbid a toast to be given in the royal residence. Thomas Jefferson found the harmful affects of toast-drinking so unappetizing that he banned them from his dinner tables.
There was, however, one practice abolished by Jefferson that was restored by neither Madison nor Monroe - the ancient and universal custom of drinking healths at the dinner table. The tradition of capping a meal with a session of toast-drinking was firmly entrenched in the early American republic. Increase Mather and other seventeenth-century Puritans had fulminated against the practice. Post-war patriots had recommended throwing out offensive English customs, including health-drinking, to complete the revolution. Yet the habit of raising a glass to drink the health of fellow guests, absent friends, and political figures and principles seems to have been almost universal at the tables of upper-class Americans. (source)
Nor in later years.
The custom of drinking toasts, and of forcing people to drink bumper after bumper of wine, until drunkenness results, is quite banished from gentlemanly society to its proper place — the tavern. It arises from a mistaken idea of making visitors welcome; the Amphitryon of the feast overlooking the fact of its being much more hospitable to allow his guests to do as they please, and to take only as much wine as they may feel convenient or agreeable. It is but a miserable boast, that a man has sufficient . strength of stomach to sit his companions "under the table." (Hints on Etiquette 1844)
The Book of Toasts
The pictured die-cut book is simple entitled Toasts. Compiled by W. M. Roads with whimsical illustrations by one of America's greatest comic strip illustrators Clare Victor Dwiggins. (Dwiggens) The original patent date is March 15, 1904. This appears to be a 1905 edition published by The Penn Publishing Company. I would say it has about fifty pages within its cover which appears to be made out of some kind of hide. It is very delicate so I haven't actually counted the pages. I have picked out some toasts to share with you today in honor of St. Patrick's Day. This was no easy task as some of them are IMHO not in good taste for these times. However, some of them are a hoot! I've tried to include those with humorous illustrations and those which you will be able to see. Some of the pages have darkened through the ages:)
Dwiggins was born in 1874 in Wilmington, Ohio; in 1890, began work as a cartoonist, drawing for the St. Louis post dispatch, New York Journal, Philadelphia inquirer, North American and telegraph, and international syndicate; became art editor for publisher M. Walter Dunne; illustrator for Lisle De Vaux Matthewman's Crankisms (1901), Brevities (1903), and Completed Proverbs (1904), also for Samuel I. Stinson's Whimlets (1903); author of Rubáiyát of an Egg (1905) and The Skull Toast Book (1904); He composed a number of nationally syndicated comic strips including, “Ophelia,” “Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer; for Mark Twain;” The Christman Carol by Dickens, and other classics. Peter Tumbledown, and the first half-page Sunday cartoon feature School Days. He also illustrated “Footprints on the Sands of Time,” and Zeke Carsie Says; he died in October 1958. (source)
revised March, 2013