Saturday, October 27, 2012

19th C. Gent's Etiquette

On Good Breeding

Men's Fashions 1837
The formalities of refined society were at first established for the purpose of facilitating the intercourse of persons of the same standing, and increasing the happiness of all to whom they apply. They are now kept up, both to assist the convenience of intercourse and to prevent too great familiarity. If they are carried too far, and escape from the control of good sense, they become impediments to enjoyment. Among the Chinese they serve only the purpose of annoying to an incalculable degree. "The government," says De Marcy, in writing of China, "constantly applies itself to preserve, not only in the court and among the great, but among the people themselves, a constant habit of civility and courtesy.
French Essayist and Moralist, La Bruyre
The Chinese have an infinity of books upon such subjects; one of these treatises contains more than three thousand articles.-- Everything is pointed out with the most minute detail; the manner of saluting, of visiting, of making presents, of writing letters, of eating, etc.: and these customs have the force of laws--no one can dispense with them. There is a special tribunal at Peking, of which it is one of the chief duties, to ensure the observance of these civil ordinances?" One would think that one was here reading an account of the capital of France. It depends, then, upon the spirit in which these forms are observed, whether their result shall be beneficial or not. 

The French and the Chinese are the most formal of all the nations. Yet the one is the stiffest and most distant; the other, the easiest and most social. "We may define politeness," says La Bruyére, "though we cannot tell where to fix it in practice. It observes received usages and customs, is bound to times and places, and is not the same thing in the two sexes or in different conditions. Wit alone cannot obtain it: it is acquired and brought to perfection by emulation. Some dispositions alone are susceptible of politeness, as others are only capable of great talents or solid virtues. It is true politeness puts merit forward, and renders it agreeable, and a man must have eminent qualifications to support himself without it."

Perhaps even the greatest merit cannot successfully straggle against unfortunate and disagreeable manners. Lord Chesterfield says that the Duke of Marlborough owed his first promotions to the suavity of his manners, and that without it he could not have risen.  La Bruyére has elsewhere given this happy definition of politeness, the other passage being rather a description of it. "Politeness seems to be a certain care, by the manner of our words and actions, to make others pleased with us and themselves." We must here stop to point out an error which is often committed both in practice and opinion, and which consists in confounding together the gentleman and the man of fashion. No two characters can be more distinct than these. 

Lord Chesterfield
Good sense and self-respect are the foundations of the one--notoriety and influence the objects of the other. Men of fashion are to be seen everywhere: a pure and mere gentleman is the rarest thing alive. Brummel was a man of fashion; but it would be a perversion of terms to apply to him "a very expressive word in our language,--a word, denoting an assemblage of many real virtues and of many qualities approaching to virtues, and an union of manners at once pleasing and commanding respect,-- the word gentleman."* The requisites to compose this last character are natural ease of manner, and an acquaintance with the "outward habit of encounter"--dignity and self-possession--a respect for all the decencies of life, and perfect freedom from all affectation. Dr. Johnson's bearing during his interview with the king showed him to be a thorough gentleman, and demonstrates how rare and elevated that character is. When his majesty expressed in the language of compliment his high opinion of Johnson's merits, the latter bowed in silence. 

If Chesterfield could have retained sufficient presence of mind to have done the same on such an occasion, he would have applauded himself to the end of his days. So delicate is the nature of those qualities that constitute a gentleman, that there is but one exhibition of this description of persons in all the literary and dramatic fictions from Shakespeare downward. Scott has not attempted it. Bulwer, in "Pelham," has shot wide of the mark. It was reserved for the author of two very singular productions, "Sydenham" and its continuation "Alice Paulet"--works of extraordinary merits and extraordinary faults--to portray this character completely, in the person of Mr. Paulet.*  

Charles Butler's Reminiscences                   

Charles Butler, Esq.

Lord Chesterfield on Manners and Deportment

Lord Chesterfield (1694–1773) wrote Principles of Politeness, and of Knowing the World (Boston, 1794), was an adaptation of letters written to instruct his son in the ways of the world. 

"Next to good-breeding," said Chesterfield, "is genteel manners and carriage," and the best method to acquire these is through a knowledge of dance. "Now to acquire a graceful air, you must attend to your dancing; no one can either sit, stand or walk well, unless he dances well. And in learning to dance, be particularly attentive to the motion of your arms for a stiffness in the wrist will make any man look awkward. If a man walks well, presents himself well in company, wears his hat well, moves his head properly, and his arms gracefully, it is almost all that is necessary."

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Gilded Age Requisites for the Table

Dinner Service of 1892

Table-Linen, Etc...
Table-cloths of white damask, double or single, as fine as the owner's purse admits, are used for the dinner-table, with large square white napkins to correspond.
Napkin rings are discarded by many who hold that a napkin should be used but once, and must be re-laundried before reappearing on the table. 
The table should first be covered with a mat of double-faced cotton flannel wide enough to fall six inches below the edge of the table, all around. This under mat greatly improves the appearance of the table-cloth, which can be laid much more smoothly over this soft foundation. Besides, the mat protects the table from too close contact with hot dishes. Small table mats for the purpose of protecting the cloth are not fashionable at present, though many careful housekeepers retain them rather than risk injury to fine table linen.
Carving-cloths are used when carving is done at the table, but are not needed when dinner is served à la Russe. Napkin rings are discarded by many who hold that a napkin should be used but once, and must be re-laundried before reappearing on the table.  Practically, such a fastidious use of table linen would exhaust most linen supplies, and overcrowd the laundry. The neat use of a napkin renders this extreme nicety superfluous as a rule of home dining, Care should certainly be taken to remove all soiled table linen. Nothing is more disgusting than a dirty napkin, but the snowy linen that comes spotless through one using may, with propriety, be retained in the ring to be used several times. This, of course, refers to every-day dining at home. On formal occasions no napkin rings appear on the table; the napkins are always fresh, and used for that time only. At the close of the dinner they are left carelessly on the table; not rolled or folded in any orderly shape. 

Small fringed napkins of different colors are used with a dessert of fruits. Fancy doylies of fine linen embroidered with silk are sometimes brought in with the finger-bowls; but these are not for utility, the dinner napkin doing service, while the embroidered "fancy" adds a dainty bit of effect to the table decoration.
China, Glassware, Cutlery, Silverware, etc...

Chinaware for the dinner service should be of good quality. Fashions in china decoration are not fixed; the fancy of the hour is constantly changing, but a matched set is eminently proper for the dinner table, leaving the "harlequin" china for luncheons and teas. In the latter style the aim is to have no two pieces alike in decoration, or at least, to permit an unlimited variety; a fashion that is very convenient when large quantities of dishes are liable to be needed. But for a dinner served in orderly sequence, the orderly correspondence of a handsome "set" seems more in keeping. But even with this, the harlequin idea may come in with the dessert; fruit plates, ice-cream sets, after-dinner coffees, etc., may display any number of fantasies in shape and coloring. 

Artistic glassware is a very handsome feature of table furnishing. Carafes and goblets for water are always needed at dinner; wine glasses, possibly; and the serving of fruits and bon-bons gives opportunity to display the most brilliant cut-glass, or its comparatively inexpensive substitutes, which are scarcely less pretty in effect. Fine glass is infinitely more elegant than common plated-ware, and though more liable to breakage is less trouble to keep in order.

Rare, individual "Bird Knife and Fork" in the Chantilly pattern sterling handles, with steel blade and times.
The best dinner-knife is of steel, of good quality, with handle of ivory, ebony, or silver. Silver-plated knives are much used; they do not discolor so readily as steel, and are easily kept polished. They answer the purpose for luncheon, but they rarely have edge enough to be really serviceable at dinner or breakfast. Many people who own solid silverware store it away in bank vaults and use its facsimile in quadruple plate, and thus escape the constant dread of a possible burglar. For the sense of security that it gives, one may value the finest quality of plated ware, but it should be inconspicuous in style and not too profuse in quantity, since its utility, rather than its commercial value, should be suggested. Any ostentation in the use of plated ware is vulgar. But one may take a pride and satisfaction in the possession of solid silver. Every ambitious housekeeper will devise ways of securing, little by little, if not all at once, a neat collection of solid spoons and forks. The simplest table takes on dignity when graced with these "sterling" accompaniments. 

The fancy for collecting "souvenir" spoons, one at a time, suggests a way to secure a valuable lot of spoons without feeling the burden of the expense. Yet, on the other hand, these spoons are much more expensive than equally good plain silver, the extra price being paid for the "idea;" but the expenditure is worth while to those who value historical associations. One may find in the silver-basket salient reminders of all important epochs in our national life, a sort of primer of United States history, to say nothing of the innumerable "souvenirs" of Europe. Its subtle testimony to the intelligent taste of its owner gives the souvenir collection its chief "touch of elegance." 

The towering "castor," once the central glory of the dinner table, is out of style. The condiments are left on the sideboard and handed from there in case any dish requires them, the supposition being that, as a rule, the several dishes are properly seasoned before they are served. Individual salt-cellars are placed on the table, and may be accompanied with salt spoons; if these are omitted, it is understood that the salt-cellar is emptied and refilled each time that it is used. On the family dinner-table the condiment line is not so severely drawn; vinegar in cut-glass cruets, mustard in Satsuma pots, and individual "peppers" in silver, china, or glass, and of quaint designs--are convenient and allowable. A table covered with white damask, overlaid with sparkling china and cut-glass, and reflecting the white light of polished silver, is a pretty but lifeless sight. Add one magic touch--the centre-piece of flowers--and the crystallized beauty wakes to organic life.
In arranging the modern dinner-table, when the service is to be à la Russe, floral decorations are almost indispensable. Without something attractive for the eye to rest upon, the desert stretch of linen looks like the white ghost of famine mocking the feast.
For a square or extra wide table a large centre-piece, either round or oblong, is usually chosen, with endless varieties in its component arrangement
The shape of the table, the available space, and the nature of the occasion decide the quantity and distribution of the flowers. It is a matter in which wide latitude is given to individual taste and ingenuity, original designs and odd conceits being always in order, subject only to the law of appropriateness. For a square or extra wide table a large centre-piece, either round or oblong, is usually chosen, with endless varieties in its component arrangement. It may be low and flat, like a floral mat, in the middle of the table, or it may be a lofty epergne, or an inter-lacing of delicate  vine-wreathed arches, or a single basket of feathery maidenhair fern--in fact, anything that is pretty and which the inspiration of the moment may suggest. In early autumn, in country homes or in suburban villas, nothing is more effective than masses of golden-rod and purple asters, gathered by the hostess or her guests during their afternoon drive, and all the more satisfactory because of the pleasure taken in their impromptu arrangement. Wild flowers should be neatly trimmed and symmetrically grouped to avoid a ragged or weedy appearance.
Fortunately, even quite elaborate floral decorations need not be expensive. Nature has bestowed some of her choicest touches upon the lilies of the field, and an artistic eye discerns their possibilities. At the same time, art in floriculture has produced marvels, and those who can afford it may revel in mammoth roses and rare orchids, lilies of the valley in November, and red clovers in January, if it please them to pay the florist's bill for the same. For narrow "extension" tables, slender vases ranged at intervals may be the most convenient disposition of the flowers; or, if the ends of the table are not occupied, a broad, low basket may stand at each end, with a tall, slender vase in the middle of the table.
On choice occasions a handsome centre-piece may be, for example, a large bowl of La France roses, with small bundles of the same (groups of three are pretty), tied with ribbon of the same hue, laid by each plate. Any other single flower may be disposed similarly, or variety may rule, and no two floral "favors" be alike, in which case it is a delicate compliment to give to each guest a flower known to be a favorite, or one that seems especially appropriate--a lily to Lilian, a daisy to Marguerite, etc. 

These little marks of thoughtfulness never fail to be appreciated, and add much to the grace of entertaining. An elaborate centre-piece may stand upon a rich velvet mat, or on a flat mirror provided for the purpose. The latter is a clever idea for a centre-piece of pond-lilies or other aquatic plants, simulating a miniature lake, its edges fringed with moss or ferns.

The Formal Arrangements at the Dinner-Table

The mat is first adjusted upon the table, and the table-cloth smoothly and evenly laid over it. The cloth should fall about half-way to the floor all around.
The floral accessories are then put in place; and also the fruits and bon-bons, which may be commingled with the flowers in working out a decorative design, or they may be placed, in ornamental dishes, at the four corners of a wide table, to balance the flowers in the centre; or, they may be arranged along the middle of a long table. For fruit, silver-gilt baskets, or epergnes of glass are especially pretty. The fruit may later constitute a part of the dessert, or may be merely ornamental in its office. Carafes containing iced water are placed here and there on the table, at convenient points.
The next step is the laying of the covers; a cover signifying the place prepared for one person. For a dinner in courses a cover consists of a small plate (on which to set the oyster plate), two large knives, three large forks (for the roast, the game, and entrées), one small knife and fork (for the fish), one tablespoon (for the soup), one oyster-fork. The knives and forks are laid at the right and left of the plate, the oyster-fork and the spoon being conveniently to hand. 

A glass goblet for water is set at the right, about eight inches from the edge of the table; if wine is to be served the requisite glasses are grouped about the water goblet. The napkin is folded square, with one fold turned back to inclose a thick piece of bread; or, the napkin may be folded into a triangle that will stand upright, holding the bread within its folds. This is the only way in which bread is put on the dinner-table, though a plate of bread is on the sideboard to be handed to those who require a second piece. It is entirely proper to ask for it, when desired. 

Butter is not usually placed on the dinner-table, but is handed from the sideboard if the menu includes dishes that require it; as, sweet corn, sweet potatoes, etc. Small butter-plates are included in the "cover" in such cases. The oysters, which form the initial course, are usually on the table before the guests take their  places. A majolica plate, containing four or six of the bivalves with a bit of lemon in the midst, is placed at each cover; or, oyster cocktails may be served. The soup tureen and plates are brought in to the side table. All is now in readiness. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Rewards of Etiquette

The Rewards of Etiquette 

        Society is a game which all men play. "Etiquette" is the name given the rules of the game.  If you play it well, you win.  If you play it ill, you lose.  The prize is a certain sort of happiness without which no human being is ever quite satisfied.

Because the demand for social happiness is thus fundamental in human nature, the game has to be played quite seriously. If played seriously, it is perforce successful, even when the outward signs of triumph are lacking. Played seriously, it becomes a worthy part of the great enterprise of noble living, the science of which is called "Ethics." Therefore the best etiquette is that which is based upon the fundamental principles of ethics.

The etiquette, as well as the ethics, of to-day may well be summed up in the one maxim known as the "Golden Rule": "Do unto others as you would that others should do unto you." Or in the philosophic statement of it, given by Kant: "Act so that the maxim of thy conduct shall be fit to be universal law." A certain social sense is, therefore, the foundation upon which all concerted action rests; and this, permeating the character and winning conformity in the life, produces a social order which is at once the criterion of civilization and the source of its power.
Every social code presupposes the trained personality, that is, the individual who is intelligent enough and controlled enough to conform to the rules prescribed for the good of all. It is only in the common good that true individual good can be found. Therefore is it so essential that every man regard his brother's welfare as anxiously as his own, and permit himself to be curbed in his extravagances, limited in the indulgence of even legitimate desires, in order that he may not defraud another, or menace the general well-being. Not only in social life, but in business, politics, and international relations, this principle of the common good as the ultimate goal, the supreme authority for conduct, holds good. To it society approaches, now by direct progress and now by seeming reaction, but ever with a higher evaluation of justice. 

This is shown in the fulfillment of both small and large obligations. Following the rules of courtesy, men give to each other that deference which each believes is his own due, and each receives in return twofold the deference that he sincerely gives. Men show, at home and abroad, the courtesy to women in general that they would wish shown to those of their family, and thereby the standard of respect for woman is so lifted that even the city street at night is a safe place for a woman to pass unaccosted, if it is necessary for her to go unattended.

Rigidly do we hold ourselves to the established rules of good breeding, endeavoring to make of ourselves all that Nature will permit; and we are surprised to find that Nature's own gentlemen and gentlewomen gather about us, and rare souls look to us for companionship, as finding in us kindred spirits. No field so surely bears a like harvest as the one sown with the seeds of good-will and consideration for others.

Etiquette tells us how to accomplish what we desire,—to make clear the path to the goal of high companionship with many worthy minds,—and enables us to get out of social intercourse the honey that is hidden there. Without it, as social beings, we should be as workmen without tools, architects without material, musicians without instruments. After all, however, etiquette is only a tool, and should never be mistaken for the finished work itself. 

How you carry yourself at a reception is not a matter of so great moment, as is the fact that you went, and there exchanged certain worth-while thoughts with certain people. It is the people, the thoughts they gave you and you gave them, and the practical influence on your life of those people and those thoughts, which are of moment. Just as, from a musicale, you must carry the music away in your soul, either in definite memories or in a refreshed and more joyous frame of mind, or it is of no avail that you attended, so from social intercourse it is absolutely necessary that you carry away the inspiration of meeting others and the thoughts that they have given you, and garner from those help and guidance in your life, or the most elaborate of toilets, the most perfect of manners, and the most ceremonious of customs are of little worth. The tool, however, becomes invaluable when the master desires to create.

Therefore, if we wish to gain from social life the enjoyment and happiness and help which it should yield, we should become familiar with the practice of the best forms of etiquette, so that we shall have skill and aptitude in their application. The rewards of etiquette are, therefore, both spiritual and material. That fine poise of soul which restrains all selfish and unlovely tendencies, that clear insight which sees the individual as but a single unit in the composite of the human race, that high aspiration which culls only the best from the mingled elements of life,—all these come from a true and sincere adherence to the spirit of courteous observances, and each of these is its own reward.
On the other hand, human hearts open only to gentle influences, and all that it is in the power of human beings to bestow upon one another comes most readily and most lavishly to those who outrage no social instinct. To be highly and sincerely honored socially means to be well loved, and that must mean to be lovable. Wealth and family position are matters of chance as far as the individual is concerned, but good breeding is a matter of personal desire and effort. It makes for power and influence, and often literally commands the wealth and position which the accident of birth has refused. It is the necessary colleague of intellectual ability in winning the farthest heights of success, and makes the plains of mediocre attainment habitable and pleasant.~ From Edith B. Ordway's "The Etiquette of To-Day," 1918