Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Etiquette,Table Manners and Culture

The Golden Rule... to please your neighbor brings convivium to a dinner party – Table Manners Reveal a Man’s Culture – 
Many young men find themselves ill at ease at fine restaurants or banquet dinners. They are clumsy, awkward, embarrassed. Why? Because they are not sure about what to do with this line-up of silverware and that row of glasses. The uncomfortable youth butters a slice of bread and then realizes that others are breaking off a piece at a time and buttering it individually. He blows on the soup to cool it and wonders why eyebrows raise...

The adroit and prudent young man knows how to cover for any possible shortcomings in his manners. There is, however, a particular moment when these inadequacies reveal themselves more clearly – it is the hour of meals taken in the company of others. One’s posture, gestures, manner of eating and relations maintained with others at the table are visible and sure criteria to determine a person’s degree of culture. At meals one reveals whether he is accustomed to dine politely or is ignorant of general table etiquette.

Since the table is where one meets persons of the family and society, the laws of the table are important. The Golden Rule is expressed in two forms: avoid showing any discontent with what is served, and try to please one’s neighbor as much as it is fitting, without making disproportionate eulogies or lies. Superlatives, such as “This is the best roasted chicken I have ever had in my life” or other such overstatements, are cheap resources to please and shine that often produce the opposite effect. Be polite, but stay within the limits of the truth.

Catholic hospitality and the sincere desire of both host and guests to please one another constitute the principal elements that inspired table customs, and even the invention of many table utensils and items. Let us enter into some details on this topic.
Being punctual

Punctuality is a factor of order and harmony. Delay causes disorder in the daily schedule and work, causes inconvenience to others at the table, and disconcerts the cook.

At formal dinner parties, the rule is to arrive five minutes early, so as to greet the members of the house and other guests. A delay is not justified, even by the most skillfully prepared excuse. The rule is to foresee possible problems on the road in order to be able to arrive on time. If problems are anticipated, it is better to start some time earlier. Then, if no difficulties are encountered, one can find a place to sit and read, or pass a short time until the appointed hour.

Some persons wrongly imagine that to be late is a sign of one’s importance. Do not fall into this error. It is a discourtesy that only serves to disturb the dinner schedule, and will impress no one. The same rule that informs the guest to be punctual, tells the host to wait no more than 10 or 15 minutes to begin the planned meal. The host who follows good protocol will not change the sequence of courses to accommodate the late guest. It is the latecomer who must risk having his place at the table taken by another person, losing the appetizer and first course, and be the general cause of irritation to the entire party. We see that to be late does not promote anyone socially; rather it does the opposite.

At the table

At the dining table, the guest will occupy the place indicated to him, and will seat himself only after the host or head of the table is seated.

He will greet, if he has not already done so, the persons around him and will discreetly enter into conversation, guarding his words. Conversation at a formal dinner should be turned to cordial small talk, until a common subject of interest is found. When one is sure that his neighbor agrees with him on a particular topic, then a more open exchange of ideas may take place.

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The formal banquet setting can be forbidding to the guest unlearned in table manners

Are discussions allowed? This depends on the group of persons invited to the dinner, as well as the nature of the party. At the family table, in a circle of close friends, or in a social club, it is normal to have exchanges of ideas and opinions, insofar as respect and amiability are maintained. At a table with unknown persons, such as at a formal banquet, such discussions should be avoided. It is also disagreeable to have to listen to others proselytizing at a meal.

Avoid reports on one’s health, especially if prosaic details are involved. Should you dine with an older person suffering from well-known ailments, a short and courteous: “How is that bad ankle of yours?” or “Are you recovering well from your surgery?” suffices. The table is not the appropriate place to discuss medical problems and prescriptions.

Instead of trying to dominate the conversation, a young man will listen with interest to the topic of conversation chosen by the guests of honor or the head of the table.

If he has some point to raise, he should frame it as a question to the one speaking, remembering that elders like to be asked their advice or opinions. After his question is answered, he can enter easily into the conversation as an accepted party either asking another question or offering his opinion, without, however, appearing pretentious.

As he follows or joins in the conversation, he will keep an eye on what is going on with his neighbors with the aim of helping them if they need something. This should be a point of special attention if his table neighbors are elderly persons or ladies.

Unless he is at a restaurant or a club with close friends, he should not call a waiter from across the room. However he can take advantage of when the waiter passes to ask for the desired items.

Table Settings

A disconcerting sight for the inexperienced dinner guest at a formal dinner is the array of glasses and silverware he faces at his place setting. It is not, however, as mysterious as it appears. The general rule to follow is simple: eating utensils are used from the outside in. Use a new utensil for each course (don't save your salad fork to use with the main course, for instance). When you don’t know what utensil to use, watch what your host does and follow suit.

Setting for a three-course meal and dessert
The silverware above is arranged for a three course meal and dessert: first, the salad course (salad fork, 4); second, the soup course (soup spoon, 7); third, the meat course (fork and knife, 5 and 6), and the dessert (dessert fork and spoon, 8). The smaller bread knife (9) is placed across the bread plate positioned to the upper left of the plate.

The water goblet (1), the largest, is placed above the knives. To its right and slightly in front of it is the red wine glass (2) or the smaller white wine glass (3).

In the next picture, one finds the formal banquet place setting, which is set European style, that is with the salad as the last course instead of the first. Therefore, the salad fork is next to the plate. There is a reason for this: it allows the diner to enjoy the fullest taste of the wines served with the fish and meat plates. Because the salad vinegar can affect the palate and change the taste of the wine, the salad comes after the main course instead of before it.

Setting for a five-course meal and dessert
This picture shows a setting for a five-course meal and dessert: the first, the shellfish plate (seafood, or oyster fork), the soup course (soup spoon), the fish course (fish fork and knife), the meat course (dinner fork and knife), the salad (salad fork), and the dessert (dessert fork and spoon).

The glasses include the water glass to the extreme left, followed by the champagne glass placed a little behind the others since the champagne is served at the dessert, and then the red wine and white wine glasses, placed according to size to allow the diner easy reach. If the dinner is served by waiters, they will remove the white wine glasses with the fish plates and the red wine glasses with the meat plates, leaving only the water and the champagne glasses for the dessert.

There are two acceptable ways to use a knife and fork: American style and European style. In the American style, one holds the knife in the right hand, and fork in the left. Cut a piece of meat, then place the knife on the edge of your plate (with the blade facing in), then switch your fork to your right hand to eat (unless, of course, you're left-handed).

In the European style, hold the knife in your right hand, the fork in the left. You do not switch hands - you eat with your fork in your left hand. [See a video of how to eat Continental-style here]

It is amazing how many youths today do not know the most elementary table etiquette: the correct way to hold the fork. The proper way is to balance the utensil between the first knuckle of the middle finger and the tip of the index finger, while using the thumb to support the handle. When you use a knife, the tip of your index finger should rest on the upper blade of the knife. Never hold the utensil in a full-fisted way.

Begin eating only after everyone at the table has been served.

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Above, this tells the waiter you have not finished the plate

Below, this signals you are finished
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The placement of flatware when not in use acts as a message to the well-educated host or waiter, allowing the diner to indicate whether he has paused in eating, will eat more, or has finished the plate. When a guest finishes his salad and soup, the salad fork and the soup spoon should be set across the plates. If you would like another serving of soup, place the top of your spoon (concave side down) on the edge of the plate, with its handle setting on the table. At formal dinners it is not advisable to ask for a second helping because such requests will delay the service schedule.

When a guest finishes eating the fish and meat courses, he signals this by setting the fork and knife parallel to each other, either across the center of the plate or diagonally with the handles pointing to the right. The cutting edge of the knife faces the diner and the fork tines are preferably up.

If the diner has not finished, he indicates this by setting the fork on the left and the knife on the right so that they cross over each other in the center of the plate. The diner preparing to pass his plate for a second helping places the fork and knife parallel to each other at the right side of the plate, so that there is room for the food.

The good waiter will know how to distinguish these codes, and never ask the stupid question: “Are you still working on this?” When the guest does not know these rules, the polite waiter will approach with the tray to ask: “Will you accept a little more?” or inquire “May I take your plate?”

The general rule for serving, easily memorized, is: serve left and remove from the right. That is with food. As far as beverages, you serve them from the right. At a dinner with several courses, the used plate and corresponding silverware and wine glass are removed from the right. If a guest is still enjoying the wine served with that course, the glass should be left on the table. At a formal dinner or banquet, food should be presented to guests in the following order: guest of honor, female guests, male guests, hostess, host. At restaurants, the meals are generally served first to the women, then to the men, with the older served before the younger. During the meal, it is standard practice to pass to the right. The salt and pepper should be passed together. When the meal is finished, fold your napkin neatly and set it to the right of the plate.

The meal table is no place for a purse or briefcase or other personal belongings – no matter how small. Personal effects should be placed on the floor, your lap, or hung on the chair. An exception to this rule is when the lady has a very small banquet purse, which she may set on the table at her right side, next to the silverware. If you have a cell phone with you, be sure it is turned off and placed out of sight. It is a breach of consideration for others to answer your cell phone during a meal. In the event of an emergency, apologize beforehand for having to answer your phone, then leave the table and talk outside of the room.
By Marian T. Horvat, Ph.D.
From Tradition In Action 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Victorian and Edwardian Etiquette for Romance, Chaperons and Engagements

Young girls should never go about the streets of a city or large town unaccompanied by an older person or a maid.
Manners and Modes: A young girl has the temerity to bring a chaperone to a danceFrom "Punch" or the "London Charivari" Vol. 158, February 25th, 1920 ~ Chaperons were seen less often in society after World War I

Duties of the Chaperon

The need of the chaperon is recognized in communities where there are large populations, and people are necessarily of many classes and unknown to one another. For this reason the system of chaperonage of the small communities of rural America has not been as elaborate or as strictly adhered to as that of the cities.

The chaperon is the accepted guardian of very young girls, taking oversight of them in their social life as soon as the governess gives up her charge. The chaperon is only a poor substitute for the rightful care of a mother, or takes the place of a mother when the latter cannot be present, or performs in the person of one the duties of several mothers. Young girls should never go about the streets of a city or large town unaccompanied by an older person or a maid. This rule is not so much for physical protection as for the example of teaching her that fine conduct and discretion which will forestall the possibility of unpleasant experiences.

When a group of young people go to some public place of amusement or instruction, an older person should always accompany them. Such an attendant, who should be one of the fathers or mothers of the young people, if possible, would be in so great sympathy with the spirit of the group that his presence would impose no restraint and spoil no fun, yet it would be a curb on undue or undignified gaiety, and a protection against

The day is not very far distant when it was expected that if a daughter entertained a young man in the drawing-room, her father or mother would be present during the whole of the call. For débutante daughters the custom still holds good.  For a daughter who has been out in society for one or more seasons, it seems somewhat rigorous and unnecessary, as the presence of the father or mother for a part of the call serves all the purposes of cordiality, and gives, as well, the young people a chance to talk without constraint of interests which seem perhaps foolish and trivial to any but young people. The wise father and mother or chaperon know when to trust young people, and when it is best to throw them quite upon their honor. It is only by having responsibility for their actions thrust thus upon them, that they ever attain to natural dignity and self-reliance.

Romance blooms ~ At the Fancy Dress Ball of 1893 ~ It is sometimes permitted to a young woman to be escorted to a party or entertainment alone by a young man, but only by one who is well-known to the family...

It is sometimes permitted to a young woman to be escorted to a party or entertainment alone by a young man, but only by one who is well-known to the family as quite to be trusted, and only to such parties as are presided over by responsible patronesses. This should be exceptional for any but the young woman who has been left without immediate family and who has been already in society more than one season. The duenna young woman carefully guarded in her home. It yet remains true that the independent girl must needs provide for herself a chaperon upon certain occasions, or lose that consideration which she would keep at all costs. A strong character welcomes the aid of a careful observance of conventions.

Even the spinster of recognized professional standing finds herself somewhat restricted in social pleasures. She cannot go out socially with one man more than occasionally; she has little pleasure in going unattended; she can entertain but infrequently and in a small way, if at all, and never without an older married woman to assist her. She may, however, have her regular afternoon or evening "At Home," provided she has with her this friend; and with that friend present, she may entertain a gentleman caller until ten o'clock in the evening, but she may not offer him cigarettes, nor any beverage but tea, coffee, chocolate, or lemonade.

In fashionable life in the cities, the chaperon is an important and ever-present personage. Wherever the young débutante goes in society, to every place of amusement, when walking or driving in the park, when shopping or calling and during her calling hours at home, the chaperon is her faithful and interested attendant. The common usage of smaller towns, seashore places, and country villages differs in degree of attendance.

The only wise rule is to follow the custom of the place in which one may happen to be, remembering always that the principle at the basis of the custom is wise and valuable, and that there should be good and sufficient reason for failing to follow it in its entirety. It is, however, not the letter of the law but the spirit of it which saves. Experience shows that not always the completely chaperoned girl is safe and the quite-free girl in real danger. Everything depends upon the girl, and the spirit of the chaperonage she receives. The relations with one's chaperon should be the most intimate and reliable and trustworthy of one's whole life; or they may be a mere farce and evasion. As a rule, however, too strict observance of the dictates of society in this connection is better than too lax.

The careless way in which many parents allow their sons and daughters to go off with a group of boys and girls of their own age, unattended by any adult, is to be deplored. Among the parents of several young people there certainly is some parent, who cares enough about his children and their associates to become a chum, and be at once a magnet to draw them to more mature and valuable ways of thinking, and a safeguard against that group folly towards which the irresponsibility of youth tends. Until a girl makes her début in society, she is not seen at a party of adults except in her own home, and not there at a formal entertainment unless it be a birthday party, a marriage, or a christening. Even after an engagement is announced, the chaperon is still the attendant of the young couple in fashionable circles, when they go to any place of public amusement.

No woman should permit a friendship to culminate in a proposal of marriage unless she is free to entertain such a proposal and has not decided in her own mind upon a negative answer. 

It is a wise and courteous action on the part of a lover to consult with the parents of the young woman and win their consent to his proposals before he presents them to her. (Though I imagine some parents never gave permission)

The Etiquette of the Marriage Engagement

It is a wise and courteous action on the part of a lover to consult with the parents of the young woman and win their consent to his proposals before he presents them to her. This is largely a form in America, for the reason that in a well-ordered home the young man has not had much opportunity to pay attention to the daughter, unless the father and mother have considered him eligible for their daughter's friendship; also, the daughter, rather than the parents, does the choosing, and few parents would have the temerity to refuse a young man, whom they had permitted to enter their home, a chance to try his fate. Should they have good cause for such refusal, they should have used their influence and authority to counteract any favorable impression the young man may have made, before matters came to a crisis, who acts as her natural guardian and chaperon, ordinarily accompanies her.  It may be objected that there are large numbers of young women who are of necessity unprotected by adequate chaperonage,through loss of relatives, financial limitations, or the following of some business calling or profession and that they are not, in general, treated with less respect than the "The Proposal."

In matters of great moment, where the emotions are deeply stirred, the trivialities of etiquette are at once superfluous and important.  One may be so greatly overwrought as to do the unintentionally cruel and inconsiderate thing, unless habitual good breeding comes to the rescue, and steadies one by showing what is the conventional thing to do.  No woman should permit a friendship to culminate in a proposal of marriage unless she is free to entertain such a proposal and has not decided in her own mind upon a negative answer. Of course, there are times when she receives, without power to check it, an unwelcome proposal. Her refusal then should be very decisive but very considerate. She should express regret at the situation, and her appreciation of the honor which has been done her, at the same time leaving no opportunity for future hope. In case she is already engaged, she should tell him so. If the proposal be written, it requires an immediate answer. Urgency of response is determined by the importance to the sender.

The return of a letter unopened, even if the woman have good reason to think that it contains a proposal which she must refuse, is extremely rude, and should be done under no circumstances but flagrant breach of confidence. If a letter is received by a woman from a man whom she has refused and whose persistency she has sought to end, she may place the letter in the hands of her parents, or guardians, or legal representatives, to be acted on as they think best. The manner of a proposal is the touchstone of character. No man and woman, having passed through this experience together, can fail to have obtained at least a glimpse of the depths or the shallows of each other's character.

In a great majority of cases in America, at least, where access to the young woman is gained through a thousand social channels, the real declaration of love comes spontaneously, and is accepted or rejected before there is opportunity even for the formal proposal. For by a thousand half-unconscious signs does that state of mind reveal itself. So it happens that when the opportunity offers to settle the matter, there is little doubt in the mind of the lover and little hesitation on the part of the woman. This is true in that society where really well-bred and noble-minded women hold sway, for no woman of character permits the man to be long in doubt of her withdrawal of herself, when she sees he is attracted and yet knows that she cannot respond to his advances. The method of proposing is not a matter for a book on etiquette. It concerns, along with all major matters of morals, those deeper things of life, for which there is no instruction beyond the inculcation of high ideals.

When the engagement is a fact and so acknowledged in the home, it is not a wise or courteous thing for the engaged couple to monopolize each other. Consideration on the part of the family would see to it that they have some time to be alone together. Yet the lovers should be as careful to keep their place in the social life of the home as if there were no special attachment. For social exclusiveness shows an absorption in each other which, if selfishly indulged, will bring its own penalty. That a couple are engaged denotes expectation of a future when they will be thrown largely upon each other's society; and, because it is essential for those who are to marry to become thoroughly acquainted, they should together mingle with other people, for so are the actual traits of character best brought out. This does not mean that they should avoid or neglect being alone together at times, but they should not obviously and selfishly absent themselves.
She should maintain her dignity so carefully as an affianced wife, that her betrothed shall not have the slightest reason to be jealous of the attention she gives to the men whom she meets in society.

The young woman should be formally courteous to her affianced husband, and should never slight him because he is pledged to her, nor unduly exalt him for the same reason. She should now remember that the broad world of her social interests is narrowing as they intensify, and she should not attempt in any way to break the bounds set for the engaged girl. She should not go alone with other young men to places of amusement or entertainment. She should maintain her dignity so carefully as an affianced wife, that her betrothed shall not have the slightest reason to be jealous of the attention she gives to the men whom she meets in society. On the other hand she must not cater to the man she is to marry, to the extent of failing to do her social duty, or of making others feel that she has no interest in them.

As members of the same social set, the engaged couple will naturally meet much in society. They should not meet with effusion, or sufficiently marked discrimination to make others about them embarrassed. They should not spend too much time with each other. Their hostess will send them out to dinner together, which is in marked contrast to the custom later when they are married, for then they will always be separated when in society. The young woman should be careful not to permit her fiancé to take her away in a corner from other guests for a long time, and he should remember to do his social duty by other young ladies present, even if he wishes to devote himself to one.

The task of meeting each other's friends, after the engagement is announced, is one which should be most interesting and enjoyable, and should have nothing of that embarrassment which comes from the sense of critical scrutiny. The great ordeal of winning each other is decided, and the die cast. The smaller matter of establishing friendships on a mutual basis should be a pleasure and not an object of dread. Real affection and deep sincerity will make all prominent roughnesses smooth. An engaged couple are apt to be in the foreground of any social event which they may both grace with their presence. The common human interest of the unengaged, and the reminiscent interest of the married, tend to focus all eyes upon them. For this reason they will try and be as little conspicuous as may be. 

Announcement of Engagement

The announcement of an engagement may be made in several ways, but always first by the family of the young woman. If a public newspaper announcement is desired, a notice similar to the following, signed with a name and address, must be sent to the society editor of the local paper or papers:

Mr. and Mrs. Howard Abbott announce the engagement of their daughter Ethel to Mr. Hayden B. Bradley, of Cleveland. The date of the wedding has not been fixed, but it will probably take place soon after Easter."

Or it may read: "Miss Ethel Abbott announces her engagement to Mr. Hayden B. Bradley" etc... 

If a less public announcement is desired, the young couple may each write personal notes to their friends. In these notes one or two afternoons are mentioned when the young woman with her mother will be "At Home." This gives an opportunity for the relatives and friends of the young man to meet his fiancée. The entertainment will be an informal afternoon tea, in which she and her mother receive, the former wearing a pretty but not too rich-looking gown with long or elbow sleeves. Sandwiches, cakes, and tea should be served.

If an engagement is to be for long, it would be well to have the announcement of it as quiet as possible, or not to announce it until the time for the wedding draws near, and, also, for the young people not to be seen very much together until its final stages. Immediately upon the announcement of an engagement, the mother of the man should at once call upon the young woman and her mother, and invite them, or the entire family, to dinner.

The family of the young man should be the first to make advances. The other members of the young man's family should call upon the young woman promptly, even if they have never met her before, or, if calling is impossible, they should write and express their approval and good wishes. According to the position of the family, should the elaborateness of entertainment be. It is a nice custom, when the young lady lives in another city and has never met the family of her fiancé, for them to invite her to come and visit them. The calls of his family upon her, and their letters to her, should be very promptly returned or answered. If the young woman live in the country, her father will invite the young man for a visit.

Bridal Showers

The bestowal of engagement presents has of late years taken on a wholesale aspect. Instead of the occasional receipt of a present from one or another of her friends and relatives, the bride-elect is often now the guest of honor at one or more parties called "showers," and the recipient of numerous gifts which are literally showered upon her. There are many kinds of "showers," as many as the ingenuity and financial resources of friends may admit of. When, however, any one bride is to be made the object of a series of such attentions, it is well for the girl's friends who have the matter in hand to see to it that no one person is invited to more than one shower, or, if so invited, that it be at her own request and because she wishes to make several gifts to her friend.  These affairs should be purely spontaneous and informal, and occasions of much fun and jollity. Nevertheless, there is danger of overdoing the idea, and making the recipient feel burdened rather than gratified by the zeal of her friends in her behalf.

Effort should be made not to have the articles given at a "shower" duplicate each other. They should be some simple, useful gifts, which will be of immediate service, and need not be either expensive or especially durable, unless the giver so desires. A "shower" is usually given when a wedding is in prospect, and the necessity of stocking up the new home confronts the young home-makers. The aim is to take a kindly interest in the new home and help to fit it out, more in the way of suggestion than in any extravagant way, which would make the recipients feel embarrassed or indebted, or overload them with semi-desirable gifts.

The "shower" is usually in the afternoon, and is joined in almost exclusively by the girl friends of the bride-elect, with perhaps a few of her older women friends and relatives. If, however, it comes in the evening, the men of the bridal party are usually also invited. The refreshments are simple and the style of entertainment informal. The invitations to a "shower" are usually given by the hostess verbally, or she sends her cards by post with the words "Linen shower for Miss Hanley on Wednesday at four."

There is a wide range of possible kinds of "showers," but the only rational way is to choose for a donation party of this sort only such objects as will be needed in quantity and variety, and in the choice of which one has not too strong and distinctive taste, as, for instance, the following: Linen, towels, glass, books, fancy china, silver, spoons, aprons, etc. Of course, the furnishings of some one room, as the bath-room, laundry, or kitchen, might be the subject of a "shower," but usually a housewife would prefer to have what she wanted and nothing else for use in these places.

It is customary for the privilege to be granted the woman of terminating an engagement without offering any explanation other than her will. Nevertheless, she will not use this privilege arbitrarily, without casting a shadow upon her reputation and character for faithfulness and integrity.

The Broken Engagement

When an engagement is broken the young woman should return to the young man all letters and presents, and may ask, by a brief, courteous, but dignified, note, for the return of her letters to him. It would not be necessary, ordinarily, to write such a note, as the man would take the sending back of his gifts as final, and to mean the return of hers also.

In case the wedding is near, so that wedding presents have been received from friends, the no longer "bride-elect" should return them to the givers with an explanatory note. The note should mention nothing beyond the fact that the engagement has been broken. The mother of the young woman is the one to announce the breaking of the engagement. She quietly does so, by word of mouth or notes to friends.  In case of a broken engagement, it is not delicate to allude to it, unless one is a very intimate friend, and then it is better to leave the first broaching of the subject to the one most concerned.

It is customary for the privilege to be granted the woman of terminating an engagement without offering any explanation other than her will. Nevertheless, she will not use this privilege arbitrarily, without casting a shadow upon her reputation and character for faithfulness and integrity. A man is expected to make no explanation, even privately, as to the reason for the breaking of the engagement, as the release must at least appear to come from the woman. Whatever she chooses to say, or however unjust the remarks of friends seem, he is in honor bound to show great reserve, and not to cast any shadow upon her reputation, even if his own suffers instead.

However, in many circles to-day it is enough to say that an engagement has been broken mutually, even though no reason is obvious. This should be so, for if too much comment attaches to the breaking of a marriage engagement, marriages will be entered into the almost certain outcome of which is the divorce court. A lady should never accept any but trivial gifts, such as flowers, a book, a piece of music, or a box of confectionery, from a gentleman who is not related to her. Even a marriage engagement does not make the acceptance of costly gifts wise.

When costliness rather than beauty, is the effect of flowers, the display is vulgar.