A festin is a euphemism for a picnic. It’s used by Rousseau in Emile, his best-known novel, to describe a leisurely, affable, and convivial gathering that is a picnic by today’s standard. Rousseau writes that instead of the dining room, “The turf will be our chairs and table, the banks of the stream our side-board, and our dessert is hanging on the trees; the dishes will be served in any order, appetite needs no ceremony; each one of us, openly putting himself first, would gladly see every one else do the same; from this warm-hearted and temperate familiarity there would arise, without coarseness, pretense, or constraint, a laughing conflict a hundredfold more delightful than politeness, and more likely to cement our friendship.” (Personally, I can’t think of a better description.)

Jean-Michel Moreau’s illustration Les folâtres jeux sont les premiers cuisiners du monde or “Playful games, sportive games, frisky games are the best chefs in the world” (1778) captures the picnicky qualities of Rousseau’s’ claim that “There are no such cooks in the world as mirth, rural pursuits, and merry games; and the finest made dishes are quite ridiculous in the eyes of people who have been on foot since early dawn.” Moreau’s picnickers are sitting on the grass in the shade of a great oak. They have been eating and drinking, and now seem boozy and vaguely amorous. Rousseau suggested “a glass or two of good wine,” but Moreau ups the ante, and in addition to the empty bottle on the cloth, three more bottles are cooling in the stream.

Because Rousseau was a vegetarian (and was particularly fond of white foods!) the menu might have been milk, cheese, vegetables, fruits, bread, sweet cream, and pastries.

Featured Image: Robert Delaunay. After Jean-Michel Moreau, the Younger. Playful games, are the best chefs in the world [Les folâtres jeux sont les premiers cuisiners du monde] (1778), etching and engraving. Moreau scants Rousseau’s advice and goes (very) heavy on the wine.

See: J.J. Emile, or On Education (1762), translated by Barbara Foxley. New York: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1911; http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/5427/pg5427.html