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Unreal City, Under the brown fog of a winter dawn, A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many I had not thought death had undone, so many. Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled, And each man fixed his eyes before his feet Flowed up the hill and down King William Street, To where St Mary Woolnoth kept the hours With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.

-- T S Eliot 1922



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London's PeopleVictorian Etiquette III: Dinners
Posted on May 10, 2005 - 09:25 AM by Bill McCann

The London Journal, launched in 1845, was one of the most widely read publications of nineteenth-century Britain. Its weekly appearance ushered in the period when mass-market reading, in a modern sense, was born. Between April 12 and August 30 1845, the Journal carried seventeen articles under the heading "Etiquette for the Millions," written by G.W.M Reynolds. They were clearly aimed at educating the mass readership (mostly the newly emerging middle-classes) in the behaviour expected of them in public. At times trenchant, the views expressed in the articles describe a view of society that is very, very different from that which we experience today. But, perhaps, one that many sections of modern society hanker after. The third article instructs us how we should behave when hosting a Dinner Party.



A menu for supper at 10 Belgrave Square on June 15. If there be rules of etiquette to be observed on the part of the guests at a table, there are not less certain regulations to be followed by the lady and gentleman to whom the table belongs.

Care should be taken never to invite a greater number of persons than can be accommodated with comfort; all cramming and squeezing together at table is odious. Good taste and discrimination should also be shown in the nature of the invitations, so that the may be as nearly as possible as many ladies as gentlemen present. Never invite on the same occasion two persons between whom a coolness is known to exist; nor include in your invitations any guest whose character and disposition are not likely to harmonise with the rest.

Should the gentlemen and ladies, when they meet in the drawing-room on their arrival, have been previously unacquainted with each other, or be only slightly acquainted; or should they not readily fall into pairs, as it were, the master or mistress of the house must politely indicate to each gentleman the lady whom he will conduct to the dining-room. Rank, age, and general importance constitute the standards of precedence; and married persons always take precedence of the unmarried. But good taste should be shown in throwing together those who are best calculated to be pleasing or agreeable to each other.

Whether your invitation be verbal (as in the case of a very friendly party), or written (as in a more formal case), be particular in specifying the dinner-hour; and do not allow the dinner to be more than ten minutes behind the time appointed,

Of course the dinner-table will have a clean white cloth; and a napkin for each guest is an addition to comfort as well as an element or propriety. The bread should be cut thick, and either placed beneath the upper fold of the table-napkin, or else placed on the left-hand of the fork.

Great taste should be displayed in the choice of the viands provided for the entertainment.

  • If there be two soups, let one be of a thick broth and the other a thin such as mock turtle and vermicelli.
  • If there be two sorts of fish, let one be boiled and the other fried such as cod and soles.
  • If there be two joints, let one be reoasted and the other boiled such as fillet of veal and leg of mutton.
  • The same rule applies to pouiltry; so that if you had a boiled turkey you would have roasted fowls.
  • If you have two dishes of sweets, let one be a tart and the other a pudding.
  • Care should also be taken to avoid having two white meats, or two brown meats, at the same time. Thus a fillet of veal and a leg of pork roasted, would be contrary to good taste; as would roast beef and roast mutton.
  • A ham is always a genteel side, or central dish, even if ther be no whit meat with which it can be eaten.
  • Remember that too great a number of dishes is as incorrect as a meagre provision.
  • Hashed meat should never be served up at a dinner party: it is proof tha the joint of the preceding day has been called into requisition to make up the repast. Every dish should have the appearance of being provided for the especial occasion.
The mistress of the house should never acquaint her guests with the fact she herself compounded such-and-such a pudding, or manufactured this jelly, or that blanc-mange. She should not allude to the culinary preparations in any way; nor should she press a particular dish upon the plea "that she is sure it will be found very nice."

Should a servant in attendance manifest any awkwardness, correct him or her with a look that remains unseen by the company; but never scold aloud in the presence of your guests. Even should the domestic meet with an accident and break something, utter not a word of reproach: - indeed, in this case, it is much better to appear not to notice the misadventure at all.

Do not allow your servant to wait at table in gloves; nothing is more affected. The domestic should be provided with a clean white napkin, which half envelops the hand holding the plate.

Some persons think it necessary to propose a glass of spirit after a rich dish, such as pork, goose, etc.: nothing can be in worse taste than this. Moreover that single glass of ardent liquor tends more to intoxicate than half-a-dozen extra glasses of wine.

May I be allowed the honour of taking wine with you?. Another vulgar custom is that of proposing a glass of Port wine with the cheese. The red wine should never be placed upon the table until the cloth be drawn.

Should the master of the house observe that any gentleman at this table is so reserved, modest, or timid, as not to ask a lady to take wine with him, it will be quite proper for him to say, "Mr. So-and-so, will you not offer to take wine with your fair neighbour?"

It is in good taste to have grated Parmezan cheese and Madeira served round immediately after the soup; but of course this proceeding should only take place at a dinner of a most succulent nature and on a costly scale.

There are certain dishes which it is vulgar to introduce at a select dinner party; and there are others which should not be the sole or principal ones at a small dinner party, because tastes are known to vary so much with regards to them. Of the former kind are goose, roasted leg of pork, and beef steak pudding, and all such dishes as liver and bacon, pig's fry, tripe, knuckle of veal, and cold meats of all species. Of the latter kind are roasted sucking-pig, calf's head, sheep's head, rabbits and any made dish in which sausage-meat is an ingredient.

When the dessert is introduced, finger-glasses with luke-warm water, should be placed before those seated at the table. Some persons take a portion of the water in their mouths, gurgle it, and expectorate it back into their finger-glasses after they have wiped their hands; but nothing can be more filthily vulgar than this custom. You should merely moisten a corner of the napkin and therewith wipe your mouth; and you should slightly rinse your fingers afterwards in the glass.

The master of the house should not propose toasts: the habit is exploded, as one leading to inebriety. Besides, toasts are often political; and nothing can be more inconsistent with good taste than for a gentleman to sit at the head of his table and dictate opinions or sentiments to his guests.

The custom of gentlemen sitting for a length of time at table, over their wine, after the ladies have withdrawn, is now deemed to be decidedly at variance with good taste and prudence. It is perfectly revolting to all delicate feeling, to suppose that gentlemen are justified in gorging themselves with wine, and then repairing to the society of the ladies in the drawing-room. A license of half-an-hour, to partake of an extra glass or two, after the departure of the ladies, is quite sufficient; and a servant should then enter and announce that coffee is served in the drawing-room.

G.W.M. Reynolds.
The London Journal,
For the week ending April 26, 1845.

TO BE CONTINUED.


 

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