Drinking to someone's health is as old as history. When the Romans did it, they drank as many glasses to their mistress as there were letters in her name.

Six cups to Naevia's health go quickly round, And be with seven the fair Justina's crown'd, wrote Maritial of a practice that must have led those with week heads to seek out women named Ann.

The custom began to be called "drinking a toast" in the 17th century, because ale was often flavored by placing a piece of toast sprinkled with nutmeg and sugar in the bottom of the glass. There is a story, recounted in the Tatler, that in Bath during the reign of Charles II, "It happened that on a publick 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."

Pretty good for half fuddled, which is all too often what people are when they are called upon to give a toast. June brides and June graduates are almost upon us and the time of toasting is nigh. The wise will prepare themselves as there is nothing more tedious than the lengthy toast, recounting a 10-year acquaintance in 10 equally lengthy minutes.

You will never embarrass yourself by keeping it simple. "I propose a toast to a beautiful and brilliant woman, my (soon-to-be wife, daughter, cousin, friend)." Or, "Let us drink to the health of my best friend (so-and-so)."

But neither will you make a name for yourself as a wit, a person with a gift for words. For that, preparation is necessary. The toast must be thought out ahead, written on a piece of paper tucked up a sleeve or under a napkin. Cribbing ethnic toasts is all right as long as they're sufficiently obscure so that not everyone will have heard them. So is using the less well known lines of Shakespeare of other poets.

Best, if you have any talent at all, are limericks or rhymes written for the occasion, keeping in mind always that they must be as clean as the crowd.

There are books written on being a toastmaster and perhaps some of them are better than the one I found in the library, which recommended using "Ice Breakers": ("Did you take a shower last night?" "No, is there one missing?") and helped prepare for all eventualties by including a section titled "Introducing a Magician." ("Did you hear about the magician who disappeared on Halloween night?" "Of corpse I did.")

If there is any chance that when they call on her only with thine eyes.