Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Victorian Manners, Etiquette and Deportment

"Compiled from the Latest Reliable Authorities" in 1881 
"Ingenious Art with her expressive face,
Steps forth to fashion and refine the race."— William Cowper

KNOWLEDGE of etiquette has been defined to be a knowledge of the rules of society at its best. These rules have been the outgrowth of centuries of civilization, had their foundation in friendship and love of man for his fellow man—the vital principles of Christianity—and are most powerful agents for promoting peace, harmony and good will among all people who are enjoying the blessings of more advanced civilized government. In all civilized countries the influence of the best society is of great importance to the welfare and prosperity of the nation, but in no country is the good influence of the most refined society more powerfully felt than in our own, "the land of the future, where mankind may plant, essay, and resolve all social problems." These rules make social intercourse more agreeable, and facilitate hospitalities, when all members of society hold them as binding rules and faithfully regard their observance. They are to society what our laws are to the people as a political body, and to disregard them will give rise to constant misunderstandings, engender ill-will, and beget bad morals and bad manners.

Says an eminent English writer: "On manners, was refinement, rules of good breeding, and even the forms of etiquette, we are forever talking, judging our neighbors severely by the breach of traditionary and unwritten laws, and choosing our society and even our friends by the touchstone of courtesy." The Marchioness de Lambert expressed opinions which will be endorsed by the best bred people everywhere when she wrote to her son: "Nothing is more shameful than a voluntary rudeness. Men have found it necessary as well as agreeable to unite for the common good; they have made laws to restrain the wicked; they have agreed among themselves as to the duties of society, and have annexed an honorable character to the practice of those duties. He is the honest man who observes them with the most exactness, and the instances of them multiply in proportion to the degree of nicety of a person's honor."
Good manners are only acquired by education and observation, followed up by habitual practice at home and in society, and good manners reveal to us the lady and the gentleman. 

Originally a gentleman was defined to be one who, without any title of nobility, wore a coat of arms. And the descendants of many of the early colonists preserve with much pride and care the old armorial bearings which their ancestors brought with them from their homes in the mother country. Although despising titles and ignoring the rights of kings, they still clung to the "grand old name of gentleman." But race is no longer the only requisite for a gentleman, nor will race united with learning and wealth make a man a gentleman, unless there are present the kind and gentle qualities of the heart, which find expression in the principles of the Golden Rule. Nor will race, education and wealth combined make a woman a true lady if she shows a want of refinement and consideration of the feelings of others.

Good manners are only acquired by education and observation, followed up by habitual practice at home and in society, and good manners reveal to us the lady and the gentleman. He who does not possess them, though he bear the highest title of nobility, cannot expect to be called a gentleman; nor can a woman, without good manners, aspire to be considered a lady by ladies. Manners and morals are indissolubly allied, and no society can be good where they are bad. It is the duty of American women to exercise their influence to form so high a standard of morals and manners that the tendency of society will be continually upwards, seeking to make it the best society of any nation.

As culture is the first requirement of good society, so self-improvement should be the aim of each and all of its members. Manners will improve with the cultivation of the mind, until the pleasure and harmony of social intercourse are no longer marred by the introduction of discordant elements, and they only will be excluded from the best society whose lack of education and whose rude manners will totally unfit them for its enjoyments and appreciation. Good manners are even more essential to harmony in society than a good education, and may be considered as valuable an acquisition as knowledge in any form.

The principles of the Golden Rule, "whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them," is the basis of all true politeness—principles which teach us to forget ourselves, to be kind to our neighbors, and to be civil even to our enemies. The appearance of so being and doing is what society demands as good manners, and the man or woman trained to this mode of life is regarded as well-bred. The people, thus trained, are easy to get along with, for they are as quick to make an apology when they have been at fault, as they are to accept one when it is made. "The noble-hearted only understand the noble-hearted."

In a society where the majority are rude from the thoughtfulness of ignorance, or remiss from the insolence of bad breeding, the iron rule, "Do unto others, as they do unto you," is more often put into practice than the golden one. The savages know nothing of the virtues of forgiveness, and regard those who are not revengeful as wanting in spirit; so the ill-bred do not understand undeserved civilities extended to promote the general interests of society, and to carry out the injunction of the Scriptures to strive after the things that make for peace.

Society is divided into sets, according to their breeding. One set may be said to have no breeding at all, another to have a little, another more, and another enough; and between the first and last of these, there are more shades than in the rainbow. Good manners are the same in essence everywhere—at courts, in fashionable society, in literary circles, in domestic life—they never change, but social observances, customs and points of etiquette, vary with the age and with the people.

A French writer has said: "To be truly polite, it is necessary to be, at the same time, good, just, and generous. True politeness is the outward visible sign of those inward spiritual graces called modesty, unselfishness and generosity. The manners of a gentleman are the index of his soul. His speech is innocent, because his life is pure; his thoughts are right, because his actions are upright; his bearing is gentle, because his feelings, his impulses, and his training are gentle also. A gentleman is entirely free from every kind of pretence. He avoids homage, instead of exacting it. Mere ceremonies have no attraction for him. He seeks not to say any civil things, but to do them. His hospitality, though hearty and sincere, will be strictly regulated by his means. His friends will be chosen for their good qualities and good manners; his servants for their truthfulness and honesty; his occupations for their usefulness, their gracefulness or their elevating tendencies, whether moral, mental or political."

In the same general tone does Ruskin describe a gentleman, when he says: "A gentleman's first characteristic is that fineness of structure in the body which renders it capable of the most delicate sensation, and of that structure in the mind which renders it capable of the most delicate sympathies—one may say, simply, 'fineness of nature.' This is, of course, compatible with the heroic bodily strength and mental firmness; in fact, heroic strength is not conceivable without such delicacy. Elephantine strength may drive its way through a forest and feel no touch of the boughs, but the white skin of Homer's Atrides would have felt a bent rose-leaf, yet subdue its feelings in the glow of battle and behave itself like iron. I do not mean to call an elephant a vulgar animal; but if you think about him carefully, you will find that his non-vulgarity consists in such gentleness as is possible to elephantine nature—not in his insensitive hide nor in his clumsy foot, but in the way he will lift his foot if a child lies in his way, and in his sensitive trunk and still more sensitive mind and capability of pique on points of honor. Hence it will follow that one of the probable signs of high breeding in men generally, will be their kindness and mercifulness, these always indicating more or less firmness of make in the mind."

Can any one fancy what our society might be, if all its members were perfect gentlemen and true ladies, if all the inhabitants of the earth were kind-hearted; if, instead of contending with the faults of our fellows we were each to wage war against our own faults? Every one needs to guard constantly against the evil from within as well as from without, for as has been truly said, "a man's greatest foe dwells in his own heart."

A recent English writer says: "Etiquette may be defined as the minor morality of life. No observances, however minute, that tend to spare the feelings of others, can be classed under the head of trivialities; and politeness, which is but another name for general amiability, will oil the creaking wheels of life more effectually than any of those unguents supplied by mere wealth and station." While the social observances, customs and rules which have grown up are numerous, and some perhaps considered trivial, they are all grounded upon principles of kindness to one another, and spring from the impulses of a good heart and from friendly feelings. The truly polite man acts from the highest and noblest ideas of what is right. — Our Deportment, 1881


Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Etiquette of the Gilded Age Dinner and Service


Tablecloths 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.



While preparations have been going on in the dining-room, the guests have been assembling in the drawing-room. It is proper to arrive from five to fifteen minutes before the hour mentioned in the invitation, allowing time to pay respects to the host and hostess, without haste of manner, before the dinner is announced.

A gentleman wears a dress suit at dinner. A lady wears a handsome gown, "dinner dress " being " full dress ;" differing, however, from the evening party or reception gown in the kind of fabrics used. The most filmy gauzes are suitable for a ball costume; while dinner dress—for any but very young ladies—is usually of more substantial materials—rich silk or velvet softened in effect with choice lace, or made brilliant with jet trimmings.

When the dinner party is strictly formal, and the company evenly matched in pairs, the following order is observed:

Each gentleman finds in the hall, as he enters, a card bearing his name and the name of the lady whom he is to take out; also, a small boutoinntere, which he pins on his coat. If the lady is a stranger, he asks to be presented to her, and establishes an easy conversation before moving toward the dining-room.


The Announcement Of Dinner

When dinner is ready the fact is made known to the hostess by the butler, or maid-servant, who comes to the door and quietly says " Dinner is served." A bell is never rung for dinner, nor for any other formal meal.

The host leads the way, taking out the lady who is given the place of first consideration ; the most distinguished woman, the greatest stranger, the most elderly—whatever the basis of distinction. Other couples follow in the order assigned to them, each gentleman seating the lady on his right. The hostess comes last, with the most distinguished male guest. If there is n footman, or more than one, the chairs are deftly placed for each guest; but if only a maid is in waiting, each gentleman arranges his own and his partner's chairs as quietly as possible.

As soon as the company are seated, each one removes the bread; and the napkin, partially unfolded, is laid across the lap. It is not tucked in at the neck or the vest front, or otherwise disposed as a feeding-bib. It is a towel, for wiping the lips and fingers in emergencies, but should be used unobtrusively—not flourished like a flag of truce.


The Serving Of The Dinner

When dinner is ready the fact is made known to the hostess by the butler, or maid-servant, who comes to the door and quietly says " Dinner is served." A bell is never rung for dinner, nor for any other formal meal.

The servant is ready to hand from the sideboard any condiments desired for the oysters, which are promptly disposed of. It may be remarked at the outset, that everything at table is handed at the left, except wine, which is offered at the right. Ladies are served first.

After the oyster-plates are removed, the soup is served from the side table—a half ladleful to each plate being considered the correct quantity. The rule regarding soup is double, you must, and you must not. You must accept it (whether you eat it it or merely pretend to), but you must not ask for 'h second helping, since to do so would prolong a course that is merely an "appetizer" preparatory to the substantials.

The soup-plates are removed, and the fish immediately appears, served on plates with mashed potatoes or salad, or sometimes both, in which case a separate dish is provided for the salad. The entrees follow the fish, hot plates being provided, as required. Dishes containing the entries should have a large spoon and fork laid upon them, and should be held low, so that the guest may help himself easily.

Again the dishes are removed. Here we may pause to remark that the prompt and orderly removal of the dishes after each successive course is a salient feature of skillful waiting. The accomplished waiter never betrays haste or nervousness, but his every movement " tells," and that, too, without clatter, or the dropping of small articles, or the dripping of sauces. The plates, etc., vanish from the table—whither, we observe not. The waiter in the dining-room must have the co-operation of the servant behind the scenes, to receive and convey the relays of dishes to the kitchen. However it is managed, and it must be managed, the nearer the operation can appear to be a " magic transformation," the better.

To return; the roast is the next course. The carving is done at the side table. Guests are consulted as to their preference for "rare" or "welldone;" and the meat, in thin slices, is served on hot plates, with vegetables at discretion on the same plate, separate vegetable dishes—except for salads— not being used on private dinner tables. Certain vegetables, as sweet corn on the cob, may be regarded as a course by themselves, being too clumsy to be disposed of conveniently on a plate with other things.

The game course is next in order (if it is included, as it generally is in an elaborate dinner). Celery is an appropriate accompaniment of the game course. The salad is sometimes served with the game; otherwise it follows as a course by itself.

The salad marks the end of the heavy courses. The crumb tray is brought, and the table-cloth is cleared of all stray fragments. A rolled napkin makes a quiet brush for this purpose, especially on a finely polished damask cloth.

The dessert is now in order. Finger-bowls and doylies are brought in on the dessert-plates. Each person at once removes the bowl and doyley to make ready for whatever is to be put on the plate.

Ices, sweets (pastry and confections), cheese, follow in course; and, finally, the fruits and bon-bons. Strong coffee is served last of all, in small cups. Fashion decrees cafe noir, and few lovers of cream care to rebel on so formal an occasion as a dinner; but when the formality is not too rigid, the little cream jug may be smuggled in for those who prefer cafe au lait.

Water is the staple drink of the American dinner table. A palatable table water, like Apollinaris, well iced, is an elegant substitute for wine when habit or conscience forbids the latter.

When wine is served with the different courses at dinner, the appropriate use is as follows: with soup, sherry ; with the fish, chablis, hock, or sauterne ; with the roast, claret and champagne; after the game course, Madeira and port; with the dessert, sherry, claret, or Burgundy. After dinner are served champagne and other sparkling wines, just off" the ice, and served without decanting, a napkin being wrapped around the wet bottle.

While wine may be accounted indispensable by many, the growing sentiment in favor of its total banishment from the dinner-table has this effect on the etiquette of the case, that the neglect to provide wine for even a very formal dinner is not now the breach of good form which it would have been held to be some years ago. Such neglect has been sanctioned by the example of acknowledged social leaders; and when it is the exponent of a temperance principle it has the respect of every diner-out, whatever his private choice in the matter. No gentleman will grumble at the absence of wine at his host's table. It is good form for a host to serve or not serve wine, as he chooses; it is very bad form for his guest to comment on his choice. When any one who is conscientiously opposed to wine-drinking, or for any reason abstains, is present at a dinner where wine is served, he declines it by simply laying his hand on the rim of his glass as the butler approaches. No words are necessary.  


Apollinaris will take the place of stronger waters, and no embarrassment follows to either host or guest. As to the moral involved, a silent example may be quite as influential as an aggressive exhibition of one's principles. Questions of manners and morals' are constantly elbowing one another, and it is a nice point to decide when and how far duty requires one to defy conventionality. It is safe to say that only in extreme eases is this ever necessary, or even permissible. The hostess who simply does not offer wine to any guest under any circumstances, is using her influence effectively and courteously, especially when she supplies the deficiency with delicious coffee and cocoa, fragrant tea, and, best and rarest of all, crystal clear, sparkling cold water. By pointing out a " more excellent way," she is adding to her faith virtue. –From "Etiquette: An Answer to the Riddle When? Where? How??," By Agnes H. Morton

Conformity and Etiquette

... in the Victorian Era
"La mode universelle."
You must conform, to such an extent as not to annoy and give offense, to the customs, whether in dress or other matters, of the circle in which you move. This conformity is an implied condition in the social compact. It is a practical recognition of the right of others, and shows merely a proper regard for their opinions and feelings. 

If you cannot sing in tune with the rest, or on the same key, remain silent. You may be right and the others wrong but that does not alter the case. Convince them, if you can, and bring themto your pitch, but never mar even a low accord. So if you cannot adapt your dress and manners to the company in which you find yourself, the sooner you take your leave the better. 
You may and should endeavor, in a proper way, to change such customs and fashions as you may deem wrong, or injurious in their tendency, but, in the mean time, you have no right to violate them. You may choose your company, but, having chosen it, you must conform to its rules 'til you can change them. You are not compelled to reside in Rome; but if you choose to live there, you must "do as the Romans do."

You are not compelled to reside in Rome; but if you choose to live there, you must "do as the Romans do.
The rules which should govern your conduct, as an isolated individual, were such a thing as isolation possible in the midst of society, are modified by your relations to those around you. This life of ours is a complex affair, and our greatest errors arise from our one-side views of it. We are sovereign individuals, and are born with certain "inalienable rights;" but we are also members of that larger individual society, and our rights can not conflict with the duties which grow out of that relation. If by means of our non-conformity we cause ourselves to be cut off, like an offending hand, or plucked out, like an offending eye, our usefulness is at once destroyed.
King Abdullah and Hu Jintao drink tea together.

It is related of a certain king that on a particular occasion he
turned his tea into his saucer, contrary to his custom and to the
etiquette of society, because two country ladies, whose hospitalities he was enjoying, did so. That king was a gentleman; and this anecdote serves to illustrate an important principle; namely, that true politeness and genuine good manners often not only permit, but absolutely demand, a violation of some of the arbitrary rules of etiquette.
 
From "How to Behave: A Pocket Manual of Republican Etiquette,
and Guide to Correct Personal Habits Embracing An Exposition
Of The Principles Of Good Manners"
By Samuel R. (Roberts) Wells, 1877