Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Furcifer, Forks and Coryat

Above– A “sucket” fork and spoon combination for eating gingered fruits and sticky foods. “It is true that we have instances of forks even so far back as the pagan Anglo-Saxon period, but they are often found coupled with spoons...” “The dinner was the largest and most ceremonious meal of the day. The hearty character of this meal is remarked by a foreign traveller in England, who published his “Mémoires et Observations” in French in 1698: “Les Anglois,” he tells us, “mangent beaucoup à diner; ils mangent à reprises, et remplissent le sac. Leur souper est leger. Gloutons à midi, fort sobres au soir.” – (The English, eat a lot at dinner; they eat on a regular basis, and fill the bag. Their supper is light. Wolverines at noon, very sober at night.)

In the sixteenth century, dinner still began with the same ceremonious washing of hands as formerly; and there was considerable ostentation in the ewers and basins used for this purpose. This custom was rendered more necessary by the circumstance that at table people of all ranks used their fingers for the purposes to which we now apply a fork. This article was not used in England for the purpose to which it is now applied, until the reign of James I. It is true that we have instances of forks even so far back as the pagan Anglo-Saxon period, but they are often found coupled with spoons, and on considering all the circumstances, I am led to the conviction that they were in no instance used for feeding, but merely for serving, as we still serve salad and other articles, taking them out of basin or dish with a fork and spoon. In fact, to those who have not been taught the use of it, a fork must necessarily be a very awkward and inconvenient instrument. We know that the use of forks came from Italy, the country to which England owed many of the new fashions of the beginning of the seventeenth century. It is curious to read Coryat’s account of the usage of forks at table as he first saw it in that country in the course of his travels. 

“I observed,” says he, “a custome in all those Italian cities and townes through which I passed, that is not used in any other country that I saw in my travels, neither doe I thinke that any other nation of Christendome doth use it, but only Italy. The Italian, and also most strangers that are commorant in Italy, doe alwaies at their meales use a little forke, when they cut their meate. For while with their knife which they hold in one hande they cut the meat out of the dish, they fasten their forke, which they hold in their other hande, upon the same dish, so that whatsoever he be that sitting in the company of any others at meale, should unadvisedly touch the dish of meate with his fingers, from which all at the table do cut, he will give occasion of offence unto the company, as having transgressed the lawes of good manners, insomuch that for his he shall be at the least brow-beaten, if not reprehended in wordes. 

This forme of feeding I understand is generally used in all places of Italy, their forkes being for the most part made of yron or steele, and some of silver, but those are used only by gentlemen. The reason of this their curiosity is, because the Italian cannot by any means indure to have his dish touched with fingers, seeing all men’s fingers are not alike cleane. Hereupon I myself thought good to imitate the Italian fashion by this forked cutting of meate, not only while I was in Italy, but also in Germany, and oftentimes in England since I came home; being once quipped for that frequent using of my forke by a certain learned gentleman, a familiar friend of mine, one Mr. Lawrence Whittaker, who in his merry humour doubted not to call me at table furcifer, only for using a forke at feeding, but for no other cause.” Furcifer, in Latin, it need hardly be observed, meant literally one who carries a fork, but its proper signification was, a villain who deserves the gallows.

The usage of forks thus introduced into England, appears soon to have become common. It is alluded to more than once in Beaumont and Fletcher, and in Ben Jonson, but always as a foreign fashion. In Jonson’s comedy of “The Devil is an Ass,” we have the following dialogue:
Meerc. Have I deserv’d this from you two, for all
My pains at court to get you each a patent?
Gilt. For what?
Meerc. Upon my project o’ the forks.
Sle. Forks? what be they?
Meerc. The laudable use of forks,
Brought into custom here, as they are in Italy,
To th’ sparing o’ napkins.
In fact the new invention rendered the washing of hands no longer so necessary as before, and though it was still continued as a polite form before sitting down to dinner, the practice of washing the hands after dinner appears to have been entirely discontinued.” – A History of Domestic Manners and Sentiments in England, During the Middle Ages, By Thomas Wright, Esq., MA. FSA., 1862 

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

No comments:

Post a Comment