Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Etiquette and Tea Tables

Mrs. Beeton's Lovely Tea Table

To return to the tea-table ...

Unless you are positively sure, when you have a visiter, that she drinks the same tea that is used in your own family, you should have both black and green on the table. Either sort is often extremely disagreeable to persons who take the other.

Drinkers of green tea, for instance, have generally an unconquerable aversion to black, as tasting like hay, herbs, etc., and they find in it no refreshing or exhilarating property. In some, it produces nausea. Few, on the other hand, dislike the taste of good green tea, but they assign as a reason for not drinking it, that it is supposed from its enlivening qualities to affect the nerves.

Judge Bushrod Washington, who always drank green, and avoided black, said that, “he took tea as a beverage, not as a medicine.” And there are a vast number of sensible people in the same category. If your guest is a votary of green tea, have it made for her, in time for the essence of the leaves to be well drawn forth. It is no compliment to give her green tea that is weak and washy. 

And do not, at your own table, be so rude as to lecture her upon the superior wholesomeness of black tea. For more than a century, green tea was universally drunk in every house, and there was then less talk of nervous diseases than during the reign of Souchong,—which, by-the-bye, is nearly exploded in the best European society.

In pouring out, do not fill the cups to the brim. Always send the cream and sugar round, that each person may use those articles according to their own taste. Also, send round a small pot of hot water, that those who like their tea weak may conveniently dilute it. If tea is handed, a servant should, at the last, carry round a water-pitcher and glasses.

Whether at dinner or tea, if yourself and family are in the habit of eating fast, (which, by the way, is a very bad and unwholesome one, and justly cited against us by our English cousins,) and you see that your visiter takes her food deliberately, endeavour (for that time at least) to check the rapidity of your own mastication, so as not to finish before she has done, and thus compel her to hurry herself uncomfortably, or be left alone while every one round her is sitting unoccupied and impatient. Or rather, let the family eat a little more than usual, or seem to do so, out of politeness to their guest.

When refreshments are brought in after tea, let them be placed on the centre-table, and handed round from thence by the gentlemen to the ladies. If there are only four or five persons present, it may be more convenient for all to sit round the table—which should not be cleared till after all the visiters have gone, that the things may again be offered before the departure of the guests.

If a friend makes an afternoon call, and you wish her to stay and take tea, invite her to do so at once, as soon as she has sat down; and do not wait till she has risen to depart. If she consents to stay, there will then be ample time to make any additional preparation for tea that may be expedient; and she will also know, at once, that you have no engagement for the evening, and that she is not intruding on your time, or preventing you from going out. If you are intimate friends, and your guest is disposed to have a long chat, she will do well to ask you, at the beginning, if you are disengaged, or design going out that afternoon.

We knew a very sensible and agreeable lady in Philadelphia, who liking better to have company at home than to go out herself, made a rule of inviting every day, half a dozen friends (not more) to take tea with her—just as many as could sit round the table, "with ample room and verge enough." These friends she assorted judiciously. And therefore she never asked a whole family at once; those who were left out understanding that they would be invited another time.
In pouring out, do not fill the cups to the brim. Always send the cream and sugar round, that each person may use those articles according to their own taste. Also, send round a small pot of hot water, that those who like their tea weak may conveniently dilute it. 
For instance, she would send a note for the father and mother only—to meet another father and mother or two. A few weeks after, a billet would come for the young people only. But if there were several young people, some were delayed—thus—"I wish James and Eliza to take tea with me this evening, to meet so-and-so. Another time I promise myself the pleasure of Edward's company, and Mary's."

This distribution of invitations never gave offence. Those who were honoured with the acquaintance of such a lady were not likely to be displeased at so sensible a mode of receiving them. These little tea-drinkings were always pleasant, and often delightful. The hostess was well qualified to make them so.

Though the refreshments were of the best kind, and in sufficient abundance, and the fires, lights, etc. all as they should be, there was no ostentatious display, and the ladies were dressed no more than if they were spending a quiet evening at home—party-finery being interdicted—also, such needle-work as required constant attention to every stitch.

If you have a friend who is in somewhat precarious health, and who is afraid of being out in the night air, or who lives in a distant part of the town, invite her to dinner, or to pass the day, rather than to tea. She will then be able to get home before twilight.

There is in Boston a very fashionable and very distinguished lady, who, since her return from Europe, has relinquished the custom of giving large parties; and now entertains her friends by, almost every day, having two or three to dine with her,—by invitation. These dinners are charming. The hour is according to the season—earlier in winter, later in summer—the guests departing before dark, and the lady always having the evening to herself.

We know a gentleman in Philadelphia, who every Monday has a family-dinner at his house, for all his children and grandchildren, who there meet and enjoy themselves before the eyes of the father and mother—a friend or two being also invited. Nothing can be more pleasant than to see them all there together, none staying away,—for parents, children, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law, sisters-in-law, brothers-in-law, are all at peace, and all meeting in friendship—unhappily, a rare case, where there is a large connection, and considerable wealth.

We wish that social intercourse was more frequently conducted on the plan of the few examples above cited.

Should chance-visiters come in before the family have gone to tea, let them at once be invited to partake of that repast; which they will of course decline, if they have had tea already. In a well-provided house, there can be no difficulty in adding something to the family tea-table, which, in genteel life, should never be discreditably parsimonious.

It is a very mean practice, for the members of the family to slip out of the parlour, one by one at a time, and steal away into the eating-room, to avoid inviting their visiter to accompany them. The truth is always suspected by these separate exits, and the length of absence from the parlour—and is frequently betrayed by the rattle of china, and the pervading fumes of hot cakes. How much better to meet the inconvenience (and it cannot be a great one) by decently conducting your accidental guest to the table, unless he says he has already taken tea, and will amuse himself with a book while the family are at theirs.

Casual evening visiters should avoid staying too late. Ten o'clock, in our country, is the usual time to depart, or at least to begin departing. If the visit is unduly prolonged, there may be evident signs of irrepressible drowsiness in the heads of the family, which, when perceived, will annoy the guest, who must then feel that he has stayed too long—and without being able to excuse himself with any approach to the elegance of William Spencer's apology to the charming Lady Anne Hamilton.

Too late I stay'd—forgive the crime; Unheeded flew the hours,For noiseless falls the foot of Time That only treads on flowers. Ah! who with clear account remarksThe ebbing of the glass,When all its sands are diamond sparks,That dazzle as they pass!– From The Ladies Guide to True Politeness and Perfect Manners, by Miss Leslie, 1864

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

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