Origin of the Expression to ‘Raise a Toast’
The origin of this expression is rather curious. In the 17th century, it became fashionable for gentlemen at drinking parties to allot a name – of a lady or a cause – to the wine in their glasses by associating the name with a spiced piece of toasted bread floated on the surface. The practice seems slightly reminiscent of onion soup but it was, as it were, the garnish or trim of a glass of wine to have it linked with a particular name or person. The ultimate tribute was to break the glass after drinking to the health of the person named, so that no less worthy toast should ever be drunk out of that glass. This lead to the making of toasting glasses, with very thin stems that could be snapped between the fingers after the glass was emptied. In those that survive, it is noticeable that the contents of the glass would have been small. Successive toasts were usual at gatherings of the time when the custom originated. The grinding of glasses underfoot or hurling them into the grate seems to have been a later development – and a rather theatrical or drunken excess.
After 1688 and the Glorious Revolution, Jacobites would drink a toast to ‘The King’ – ‘over the water’ – while passing their glasses over a wine fountain or bowl of water, to indicate their treasonable sympathies, while preserving the letter of the law by drinking the loyal toast (the true King – a Stuart in their eyes – was across the Channel at the time). Another Jacobite toast was to ‘the little gentleman in velvet’ because King William (Dutch Billy) died from an injury sustained when his horse stumbled in a mole hole.