Liberty Versus Custom
Found Under "Household"
Among all the declarations of liberty which American mankind is so fond of making, it seems strange that there is no league, association, party, or other combination to defend honest man against worn-out or absurd customs. For example, will any man tell me why I am forbidden by what is called "good manners" to pour my tea into a saucer, and cool it there? Much reproach has been heaped upon "strong" tea and coffee which properly belongs to "hot" tea and coffee. Everyone knows how much the efficient action of chemical agents is intensified by heat. Scalding tea is far worse than strong tea; but to be both scalding and strong is an attack upon the human body which no man ought to venture who has any regard for health. But etiquette forbids me to cool my coffee in any other manner than by waiting.
Coffee cups, in houses where the secret of making good coffee is known, should be like the human heart, large and deep, and in such cases the beverage will, like true affection, cool very slowly. Hence, one who does not wish to wait till the meal is over before drinking coffee, must either cool it in his saucer or drink it hot, or wait and drink it after breakfast, and all because of the absurd notion that it is not a good manners to pour coffee into your saucer!
|I rejoice in pouring forth the fragrant liquid into a capacious saucer, and, before the wondering eyes, to raise the beverage to my lips. Superstition is rebuked! Health is justified of her children!|
The spirit of "Seventy-six" ought to rise with every afflicting gulp of hot coffee! The custom is wanton and cruel. It is tyranny over the inner man, carried on by force, if not by the sword. I count it, therefore a duty to humanity to set at defiance the edicts of this liquid despot— hot drink. For the welfare of mankind I refuse to burn my mouth, or scold my stomach! In behalf of mute devotees of etiquette, I raise a plea for relief! Meantime, endowed with courage, and armed with principle, I rejoice in pouring forth the fragrant liquid into a capacious saucer, and, before the wondering eyes, to raise the beverage to my lips. Superstition is rebuked! Health is justified of her children!
Even more will be shocked, when I avow myself as an advocate of the rights of the KNIFE. Now, custom has it reduced to the mere function of cutting up one's food. That done, it is laid down and a fork serves every other purpose. By practice, one gains unexpected dexterity in using a fork for purposes to which it is ill adapted. The Chinese, in like manner, make awkward chopsticks rarely serviceable, by practice little short of legerdemain; but is that a good reason for the use of chop-sticks?
|Selection of 19th C. fork designs|
A fork, as now made, is unfitted to pierce any morsel upon its times, and yet they are sharp enough to afflict the tongue if carelessly used. They are split so as to be useless for liquids, and yet they are used as if they were spoons. The fork compels the manipulator to poke and push and pile up the food material, which tends to fall back and apart; it is made to peruse the dainty tidbits, in which often the very core of flavor resides, around the plate in a hopeless chase, and at length, a bit of bread is called in as an auxiliary, and thus, while the slim-legged fork, in one hand, is chasing a slim liquid mouthful, wad of bread in the other goes mopping and sopping around to form a corner, and between the two is at length accomplished what is called genteel feeding!
Meanwhile, a broad knife is fitted for the very function which the fork refuses, and the wad of bread ill performs. The reasons for refusing that knife as an active feeding implement are worthy of the awkward practice. "It is liable to cut the mouth," no more than a fork is to stick into lip and tongue.
If men ate with razors, there would be some reason for avoidance. But table-knives are blunt-edged. It is even difficult to make them cut when one tries, and if they are properly used, the back of the blade will be turned into the mouth. We do not object to the fork; but we demand a restoration of the knife from banishment. We do not desire to enforce its use, but such a liberation as shall leave one free to use the knife for conveying food to the mouth when that is most convenient, and the fork, when that is preferred. Equal rights we demand for black and white, for home-born or emigrant, for rich and poor, for men and women, and for forks and knives.
—H.W. Beecher in The Elevator Weekly Journal ~ "Equality Before the Law"
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