May 052013

“Bachelor’s Fare – or Bread and Cheese with kisses”  – a quotation from Jonathan Swift.

The quotation gave rise to a number of Eighteenth Century illustrations, and here are three:

The first one, by John Collet, appears on the Port Cities site and was first published in November 1773. The original is with the National Martime Museum.

It shows an apparently innocent scene of a couple sitting at a table eating bread and cheese. Things start to get amorous, and the sailor is slipping coins into the lady’s pocket – buying her favours. In the background on the wall a picture of two ships side by side has the caption “The Free Briton closely engaged with the charming Sally”.

Version Number Two appears on the Library of Congress site:

The site gives the explanation:

“Print shows a man, seated at a table, embracing and kissing a woman; around the table are seated three women; a fourth, carrying a tankard of beer, enters through a door on the right; on the table are bread and cheese, a visual reference to a quote by Jonathan Swift, ‘Bachelors fare; bread and cheese, and kisses.’ Two illustrations are on the wall in the background, one of a church, and the other of a swarm of bees around a hive”.

My favourite, with a fascinating amount of detail of the interior of an Eighteenth Century tavern, is the final one, a cartoon by Rowlandson. It appears on the Lewis Walpole site and was first published in 1813, but is an almost mirror-image of his earlier version entitled “A kiss in the kitchen”.

The site describes the scene as  “A young man with a grotesquely long chin sits in a high back chair, kissing a pretty young woman who stands between his legs. Behind him a dog has his paws on the cloth-covered table on which is laid cheese and bread; a cat drinks from a pitcher on the ground. Through the door on the right, a fat older man sits on a stool, smoking his pipe as he looks up at another pretty girl. On the wall hangs his gun and game; above them hangs a bird in a cage”.

The young man with the grotesquely long chin reminds me of a younger Bruce Forsyth (surely he wasnt around THAT long ago!).

  6 Responses to “Bachelor’s Fare – or Bread and Cheese with kisses”


    There is a real case of “bread and cheese with kisses” in James Boswell’s London Journal:

    “Tue 21st Dec 1762. By my letting Louisa have two guineas, I had only thirteen shillings left; and my term of payment, as I have £25 every six weeks, was not till the 7 of January. I therefore could not afford a shilling, nor near as much, for dinner. So I was put to my shifts, as I would not be indebted for dinner nor go and ask my allowance before it was due. I sat in till between four and five. I then went to Holborn, to a cheesemonger’s, and bought a piece of 3 lb. 10 oz., which cost me 14½d. I eat part of it in the shop, with a halfpenny roll, two of which I bought at a baker’s. I then carried home my provision, and eat some more cheese with the other roll, and a halfpennyworth of apples by way of relish, and took a drink of water.”

    For the next several days, Boswell continues to live on bread and cheese and be very short of money. Which doesn’t stop him giving sixpence to a little boy who was crying in the street after being cheated out of sixpence by a young girl.

    Boswell’s London Journal covering Nov 1762 to Aug 1763 – during which he meets Johnson, Garrick and Goldsmith, and catches an STD from Louisa, amongst other escapades – is a highly enjoyable read.


    In the last cartoon, there is also a print on the wall of another scene of “Bread , Cheese, and Kisses.”
    Very enjoyable.


      Well spotted, Rowlandson and other caricaturists often had pictures in the background which echoed the main subject matter, often mimicking the scene with animals. Also, the Rowlandson is a more or less exact mirror ie turned right to left, of one he did called Love below Stairs, which I used one week ago….


    Who knew that bread, cheese and kisses being the bachelor’s fare should be credited to Swift. Many thanks 🙂

    But was the original suggestion that bread and cheese was a makeshift and nasty little meal because bachelors didn’t have anyone at home cooking for them? Or that it was a quick and convenient meal because bachelors had more important tasks than simply eating?


      Hope you dont mind but I changed “impotent” tasks to “important” tasks, although if the former was correct I don’t think bread and cheese would offer him much consolation!
      I had assumed that a bachelor would have had no-one to run his household for him and hence no regular meal times, no-one to supervise the servants to get in food for preparation, and that bread and cheese was a cheap and cheerful way of avoiding the pangs of hunger while suffering instead the pangs of love!

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