Seth Brown: The Earl of Sandwich left legacy of lunch


NORTH ADAMS >> Nearly three centuries ago in 1718, a man named John Montagu was born, and eventually became the 4th Earl of Sandwich. He would go on to name his son John Montagu, who became the 5th Earl of Sandwich. Further descended John Montagus also became the 7th and 11th Earls of Sandwich.

Reusing names was a Montagu family tradition, as the 4th Earl's father, Edward Montagu, was the son of Edward Montagu the 3rd Earl of Sandwich, who in turn was the son of Edward Montagu the 2nd Earl of Sandwich, who himself was the son of Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich. (This unoriginal naming convention was later adopted by George Foreman, 1st Duke of Grilling.)

However, in spite of all their work to keep the names of John and Edward remembered, these names are generally forgotten. In fact, even the name Montagu is rarely known these days (about which the Capulets are no doubt pleased). But the 4th Earl of Sandwich is remembered. John Montagu held many illustrious positions over his career. He sat on the House of Lords, twice became First Lord of the Admiralty, and even served a stint as Postmaster General.

And nobody cares.

History has largely forgotten the various posts and positions that Montagu held, and instead, recalls only his habit of eating meat between slabs of bread while gambling, to avoid getting his hands greasy while holding the cards. Although he did not invent this idea, it was indeed John Montagu who popularized the food that we still refer to by the name of his Earldom:

The Sandwich.

Montagu's legacy lives on not as an aristocrat or with any reference to his personal qualities, but as a chunk of meat surrounded by two slabs of bread. No matter what you accomplish in life, you can't choose what you are remembered for. You could write a novel, serve in the military, scale mountains, hold positions in government, and do a dozen other great things, and at your funeral, your friends are still going to be saying, "Remember that time he gave the big speech and forgot to zip his fly? That was great!"

And maybe a few decades later, your literary acumen and service to your country are both forgotten, but when someone gives a speech with their fly unzipped, they still call it a "North Adams Formal." That's what remains of your life; not your grand career, not the accolades bestowed upon you, not the goals that you spent years working toward, just a random thing that happened on the side.

But that's life. Life isn't just the big career-related things we do, but mostly life is the little things in between. Probably why you see so few people whose last words are "I wish I'd spent more time at the office." (With the exception of Hugh Hefner.)(Oh wait, is he still alive? Well, then we can at least say that many other men's last words might be, "I wish I'd spent more time at Hugh Hefner's office.")

Anyway, it's something to remember next time you're having lunch. Whether you're enjoying roast beef on bread that honors Emperor Franz Josef (Kaiser roll), or whether you're just having some pastrami on bread named for the Devil's fart (Pumpernickel), know that you are enjoying the legacy of John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich.

And zip your fly.

Seth Brown is an award-winning humor columnist, author of "From God To Verse", and has a rye sense of humor. His website is


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