Friday, December 5, 2014

The Pre-Eminent Etiquette Book of the 19th C. and Dining Don'ts

Professor Thomas E. Hill, author of "Hill’s Manual of Social and Business Forms," (regarded as the pre-eminent etiquette book of the late Victorian Era in America) had been a teacher, newspaper publisher and served two terms as mayor of Aurora, Illinois.


Many Americans in the 19th Century were concerned with how to establish order and authority in a society which was becoming increasingly industrialized and urban. Etiquette, in the broad sense of correctness in many facets of both business and personal life, was one way to address this problem. "Hill’s Manual," first published in 1873, presented proper letter-writing, penmanship, legal forms, family records, and “speaking and acting in various relations of life.” 

The section of this popular, comprehensive volume entitled, “The Laws of Etiquette: What to Say and How to Do,” included helpful advice on improving one's manners, the proper use of calling cards, conduct when shopping, how to engage in conversation, traveling, proper behavior in church and school, rules of parties and dances, courtship, marriage, etc...
“Never allow butter, soup or other food to remain on your whiskers. Use the napkin frequently.” Thomas E. Hill
Dining was a popular social pastime, and a meal could be twelve courses or more. "Etiquette of the Table” was prominently featured in "Hill's Manual." Politeness at the table was to be cultivated; ways to achieve it were outlined on one page and illustrated with properly dressed and well-behaved diners.
“Errors to be Avoided” were presented, along with a comical, numbered depiction of “Bad Manners at the Table,” including:
  1. Tips back his chair.
  2. Eats with his mouth to full.
  3. Feeds a dog at the table.
  4. Holds his knife improperly.
  5. Engages in violent argument at the meal-time.
  6. Lounges upon the table.
  7. Brings a cross child to the table.
  8. Drinks from the saucer, and laps with his tongue the last drop from the plate.
  9. Comes to the table in his shirt-sleeves, and puts his feet beside his chair.
  10. Picks his teeth with his fingers.
  11. Scratches her head and is frequently unnecessarily getting up from the table.

Some of Thomas Hill’s advice may seem overly fussy or ridiculous to the modern reader. However, one must consider that many people in the Victorian Era, both in the U.S. and abroad, were seriously concerned with promoting civility in all aspects of their lives. In an updated "Hill’s Manual," one writer suggests that "Perhaps we would add: Do not talk on your cell phone or text at the table."

From a variety of sources and Thomas E. Hill's, "The New Revised Hill’s Manual of Social and Business Forms: A Guide to Correct Writing," 1893