The difficulties of the season, from eating steamed crabs and corn on the cob while preserving a respectable appearance to enduring the formal dinner that takes place the night the air conditioning gives out, are nothing compared to the necessity of giving a toast.
True, this is a practice that is not seasonal; one can toast in December as one can in May, but the events of early summer are such that the need to raise the glass and raise the voice is more pressing than it is the rest of the year. Weddings and graduations will force the most reluctant public speaker to rise and say a few words about the guest of honor. It is a time when one desperately hopes to be called a wit but knows that, once again, the word will more likely be twit.
How often we have all listened to the speaker ramble on, read poems that do not scan or rhyme, tell "I knew him when" stories that have no point or end, and then collapse into a chair while the guests raise their glasses not in respect but in relief.
Others have said it better. And said it shorter. Therefore, for the events that call for you to say a word or two, choose from the following, remembering the caution contained in Benjamin Franklin's announcement: "Here comes the orator, with his flood of words and his drop of reason." As one rises, one might issue the command of Aristophanes -- "Quickly and bring me a beaker of wine, so that I may wet my mind and say something clever."
For dinners given for one or the other of the bridal couple -- but never in the presence of both -- one could offer the (often cynical) advice that has been inspired by the holy state of matrimony:
Benjamin Franklin suggests, "Keep your eyes wide open before marriage; half shut afterwards."
That old rogue Oscar Wilde proposes, "One should always be in love. That is the reason one should never marry."
Equally cynical is Lord Byron, whose pursuit of the opposite sex was the delight and scandal of his day: "All tragedies are finish'd by death. All comedies are ended by a marriage."
Byron also had another offering, fitting for a summer night: "What men call gallantry and gods adultery/Is much more common where the climate's sultry."
William Congreve thought that, "Though marriage makes man and wife one flesh, it leaves 'em still two fools."
More serious advice, suitable to be aired in front of the bridal pair, comes from that prolific and witty clergyman, Sydney Smith: "Marriage resembles a pair of shears, so joined that they can not be separated; often moving in opposite directions, yet always punishing anyone who comes between them."
Henry Fielding wrote: "There is perhaps no surer mark of folly, than to attempt to correct infirmities of those we love."
Balzac's advice to the bridal couples was that, "Marriage should war incessantly with that monster that is the ruin of everything. That is the monster of habit."
Euripides wrote that, "Man's best possession is a sympathetic wife," while Rainer Maria Rilke believed that, "A good marriage is that in which each appoints the other guardian of his solitude."
And for a happy end to quarreling, Alexander Pope held that, "A man should never be ashamed to own he has been in the wrong, which is but saying, in other words, that he is wiser today than he was yesterday."
For the graduate about to make his way in the world, there is Robert Louis Stevenson's call: "Give me the young man who has brains enough to make a fool of himself."
To confuse the young person starting out, you could offer both the words of the 17th-century Japanese, Saikaku, "To think twice in every matter and follow the lead of others is no way to make money," and that of Herodotus, "Haste in every business brings failure."
Charles Dickens' contribution is more amusing: "Oh let us love our occupations/Bless the squire and his relations/Live upon our daily rations/And always know our proper stations."
Simpler advice was offered by Spencer Tracy: "Just know your lines and don't bump into the furniture."
The toaster who cannot manage to memorize even the above short toasts should tuck a scrap of paper up his sleeve so that when he stands there silent, unable to offer even the simplest words of praise or advice, he can pull it out and quote Aeschylus: "A great ox stands on my tongue."
And if the toasts go on too long, well there are words for that as well. Interrupt the merriment by quoting Joseph Addison, who was himself passing along the rules of drinking held by a Sir William Temple: "The first glass for myself, the second for my friends, the third for good humor, and the fourth for mine enemies."