Lone Hand Western - Old West History

Victorian Table Etiquette

Here is another article from a Victorian, vintage 1890, cook book covering proper table etiquette.  This provides a good overview of how to handle the various utensils on the properly set table as well as discussing the finer points of table service.

     The source of all good manners is a nice perception of , and kind consideration for, not only the rights, but the feelings of others.  The customs of society are adopted and observed to enable us to be more agreeable.  And nowhere is the distinction between gentleman and the boor more marked than at the table.
     The best teachers of etiquette are the fathers and mothers, and their lessons should be given chiefly Through example.  The best company in the world are those of our own households; the deserve all the love and sweetness which we can bestow upon them, and the gracious manners of the home must follow them through life.  All good breeding includes kindness, courtesy, unselfishness, respect, tact, gentleness and modesty of deportment.
     If children are carefully taught to hold the knife and fork properly, to eat without the slightest sound of the lips, to drink quietly, to use the napkin rightly, to make no noise of the implements of the table, and, last but not least, to eat slowly and masticate the food properly, then they will always feel at their ease at the grandest tables in the land.
     Once sated at the table. gloves are drawn off and laid in the lap under the napkin, which is spread lightly, not tucked in.
     Soup is always served for the first course, and it should be eaten with dessert spoons, and taken from the sides, not the tips of them, without any sounds of the lips, and not sucked into the mouth audibly from the ends of the spoon.  Bread should not be broken into soup or gravy.  Never ask to be helped to soup a second time.  Fish chowder, which is served in soup plates, is said to be the exception which proves this rule, and when eating of that it is correct to take a second plateful, if desired.
     Another generally neglected obligation is that of spreading butter on one's bread as it lies in one's plate, or but slightly lifted at one end of the plate; it is very frequently buttered in the air, bitten in gouges, and still held in the face and eyes of the table with the marks of the teeth on it.  This is certainly not altogether pleasant, and it is better to cut it, a bit at the time, after buttering it, and put it into the mouth with one's finger and thumb.  Never help yourself to butter, or any other food with your own knife or fork.  It is not considered good taste to mix food on the same plate.
     Drink sparingly while eating, as it is far better for digestion, but when you do drink, do it gently and easily and do not pour the liquid down your throat.
      Do not talk loud or boisterously at the table, but aim to be cheerful and companionable and join in the conversation, but do not monopolize it.  Do not twirl your goblet, nor soil the tablecloth by placing bones or fragments on it.  Never turn tea or coffee into your saucer to cool it, nor blow your soup.  If you do not like any dish which you are served, allow it to remain untouched until the servant removes it.
     Sit upright at the table, without bending over or lowering your head to partake of your food.  Do not sit too far away or too near the table, and do not sit with one arm lying on the table with your back half-turned to your left hand neighbor.
   Then one who serves at the table should not help too abundantly, or flood the food with gravies, as many do not like them, and it is better to allow each guest to help himself.  Water should be poured to the right of a person - everything else is passed to the left.  Do not watch the dishes while being uncovered or talk with your mouth full.  If you discover anything objectionable in the food, do not attract the attention of others to it, but quietly deposit it under the edge of your plate.
     If boiled eggs are brought on in the shell, egg cups should be provided, the small end of the egg should be placed in the cup, and an opening made at the top of the egg sufficiently large to admit a teaspoon.
     Spoons are sometimes used with firm puddings, but forks are better style.  A spoon should never be turned over in the mouth.
     One's teeth are never picked at the table; but if it is impossible to hinder it, it should be done behind the napkin.
     Let us mention a few things concerning the eating of which there is sometime doubt.  A cream-cake and anything of similar nature should be eaten with a knife and fork, never bitten.  Asparagus may be taken from the finger and thumb.  Pasty should be broken and eaten with a fork, never cut with a knife.  Raw oysters should be eaten with a fork, also fish.  However, food cannot be held with a fork should be eaten with a spoon.  Potatoes, if mashed, should be mashed with a fork.  Green corn should be eaten from the cob, held with a single hand only.
     Oranges are peeled and either cut or separated, or they may be cut crosswise and eaten with a spoon.
     Celery, cresses, olives, radishes, and relishes of that kind, are, of course, to be eaten with the fingers; the salt should be laid upon the plate, not upon the cloth.  Cut with the knife, but never put it in the mouth; the fork must always convey the food.
     Let the food be taken to the mouth, and not the mouth to the food.
     Fish is to be eaten with the fork, without the assistance of the knife; a bit of bread in the left hand sometimes helps one to master a refractory morsel.  Fresh fruit should be eaten with a silver bladed knife, especially pears, apples, etc.
     At the conclusion of a course, where they have been used, a knife and fork should be laid side by side across the middle of the plate - never crossed - with handles to the right.  The servant should offer everything at the left of the guest, that the guest may be at liberty to use the right hand, except water, which is poured at the right side.
     When you rise from your chair, leave it where it stands.

"Don'ts" For The Dining Room

Don't keep other people waiting; be there in time.
Don't lie back in your chair or place your elbows on the table.
Don't sit sideways, but straight to the table.
Don't seat yourself until all the ladies at the table are seated.
Don't bend your head for each mouthful.  Sit erect.
Don't cut your bread. Break if off.
Don't use your knife to carry food to your mouth.
Don't use your fork as if it were a pitchfork.
Don't make any noise with your mouth when eating.
Don't speak with your mouth full or even half full.
Don't begin a sentence before you have finished swallowing.
Don't drink a glassful at a gulp.
Don't have your elbows away from your body when eating or drinking.
Don't ever spit a bone or seed upon your plate or the floor.
Don't wipe your face with your napkin.  It is for the lips and beard only.
Don't forget to see that all the ladies are served before you.
Don't neglect the ladies to your left or right.
Don't look worried if a small accident should happen.
Don't leave your knife and fork on your plate when sent for a second supply.
Don't pile up all the dishes upon your plate when it is to be removed.
Don't come to the table half dressed, half washed, half combed.
Don't over eat.
Don't leave the table before the others unless unavoidable and then always asked to be excused.

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