When John Smith raises his glass in the saloon bar of "The World's End," and proposes the health of his friend, John Jones, he little thinks he is perpetuating a custom which goes back in unbroken succession to the days of the Greeks and Romans. A Roman gallant would drink as many glasses as there were letters in the name of his mistress. Thus Martial:--
"Six cups to Naevia's health go quickly round,
And he with seven the fair Justina crowned."
The Tatler (vol. i. 24) ventures to account for the origin of the word toast in the following manner, stating that it had its rise from an accident at Bath in the reign of Charles the Second:--"It happened that, on a public day, a celebrated beauty of those times was in the Cross Bath, and one of the crowd of her admirers took a glass of the water in which the fair one stood, and drank her health to the company. There was in the place a gay fellow, half fuddled, who offered to jump in, and swore, though he liked not the liquor, he would have the toast. He was opposed in his resolution; yet this whim gave foundation to the present honour which is done to the lady we mention in our liquor, who has ever since been called a toast." This is not convincing, although it cannot be disproved. But in a book called Checmonopagerion, by R. Thorius (1651), the following passages occur:--
"Cast wood upon the fire, thy loyns gird round
With warmer clothes, and let the tosts abound
In close array, embattled on the hearth,"
"And tell their hard adventures by the fire,
While their friends hear, and hear, and more desire,
And all the time the crackling chesnuts roast,
And each man hath his cup, and each his toast."
From these passages it is apparent that the saying, "Who gives a toast?" is synonymous with "Whose turn is it to take up his cup and propose a health?" It was the practice to put toast into ale with nutmeg and sugar. Evidently the "toast" as we know it to-day began in this practice, and a good "toaster" was described with accuracy so far back as 1684 in The New Help to Discourse.
"A Toast is like a Sot; or, what is most
Comparative, a Sot is like a Toast;
For when their substances in liquor sink,
Both properly are said to be in drink."