It may not be amiss to give a page or two to the observances of formal dinners in "society," lest some reader - who may hope, if she becomes the rare housekeeper we expect, to be called to give such dinners as the wife of a Congressman, Governor, or even as mistress of the White House itself - should be taken unawares. In every house, great or small, the Dining Room should be as bright, cheerful and cosey as possible, and at the table the mistress should wear her brightest smile. If there are trials and troubles, do not bring them to the table. They impair digestion, and send husband and children out to business or school, glum and gloomy, instead of refreshed and strengthened. The plainest room may be made beautiful by taste, and the homeliest fare appetizing by neatness and skill. Little attentions to the decoration or pretty arrangement of the table charm the eye and whet the appetite, and make the home table powerfully attractive. The every-day observance of sensible and simple table manners ought always to be encouraged, because, in the long run, it promotes the comfort and the cultivation of the family, and takes the pain of embarrassment out of state occasions. Above all, the room, the table, and its furniture should be scrupulously neat and orderly. For formal dinners, a round table, five to seven feet in diameter, is the best fitted to display the dinner and its fine wares; but the extension table, about four feet wide and of any length desired, is generally used. At the round table, conversation is, of course, easily made general, the party being small. The table-cloth must be spotless, and an under-cover of white cloth or baize gives the linen a heavier and finer appearance. A center-piece of flowers is a pretty ornament (some even place upon the table a handsome vase filled with growing plants in bloom), but the flowers must be few and rare, and of delicate odors. Fruit in variety and tastefully arranged with green leaves, and surrounded with choice dessert-dishes, is always attractive and elegant. It is also a pretty custom to place a little bouquet by the side of each lady's plate, and to fold a bunch of three or four flowers in the napkin of each gentleman, to be attached to the left lapel of the coat as soon as seats are taken at the table. Napkins, which should never be starched, are folded and laid upon the plates, with a small piece of bread or a cold roll placed on the top, or half concealed by the last fold. Beside each plate are placed as many knives, forks and spoons as will be needed in all the courses (unless the lady prefers to have them brought with each new plate, which makes more work and confusion), and a glass, to be filled with fresh water just before dinner is announced. The plates which will be needed are counted out. Such as are to be filled with ready-prepared dessert-dishes are filled and set in a convenient place. Dishes that need to be warm, not hot, are left on the top shelf of the range or elsewhere where they will be kept warm until needed. When the soup-tureen (with the soup at the boiling point) and the soup-plates are placed before the seat of the hostess, dinner may be quietly announced. The host or hostess has, of course, previously, indicated to each gentleman the lady with whose escort he is charged, the guest of honor, if a gentleman, escorting the hostess, and taking a seat at her right; if a lady, being escorted by the host to a seat at his right. Each gentleman offers the lady assigned to him his right arm, and escorts her to a seat at his left, passing her in front of him to her chair which he has gracefully drawn back. The distribution of seats will tax the tact of the hostess, as the moment of waiting to be assigned to place is extremely awkward. Of course, all should have been decided on beforehand, and the places should be designated with as little confusion as possible. The success of the dinner will depend largely upon the grouping of agreeable persons. The host leads the way to the dining-room, the hostess follows last,'and all guests stand until she is seated. (In France, and at large dinner parties in this country, a card with the name of each guest is placed on the plate which is intended for him.) Once seated the rest is simple routine. Ease of manner of the host and hostess, and quiet and systematic movements in attendants, who should be well trained, alert and noiseless, but never in a hurry, are indispensable. Any betrayal of anxiety or embarrassment on the part of the former, or blundering by the latter, is a wet blanket to all enjoyment.
The attendant places each dish in succession before the host or hostess (the soup, salad and dessert only being served by the hostess) with the pile of plates. Each plate is supplied, taken by the attendant on a small salver, and set before the guest from the left. Any second dish which belongs to the course is presented at the left of the guest, who helps himself. As a rule the lady at the right of the host, or the oldest lady, should be served first. As soon as any one has finished, his plate is promptly removed, and when all are done, the next course is served in the same way. Before the dessert is brought on, ail crumbs should be brushed from the cloth. The finger-bowls, which are brought in on the napkin on the dessert-plate and set off to the left of the plate, are used by dipping the fingers in lightly and drying them on the napkin. They should be half full of warm water with a bit of lemon floating in it. "When all have finished dessert, the hostess gives the signal that dinner is ended by pushing back her chair, and the ladies repair to the drawing-room, the oldest leading and the youngest following last, and the gentlemen repairing to the library or smoking-room. In about half an hour, tea is served in the drawing-room with a cake-basket of crackers or little cakes, the gentlemen join the ladies, and after a little chat over their cups, all are at liberty to take leave.
It is, of course, presupposed:that the host carves, and carves well. If he does not he should forego the pleasure of inviting his friends to dinner, or the dinner should be from chops, ribs, or birds which do not require carving.
In making up a dinner party, it is all important to know who will accept; and invitations, which may be written or printed, and should be sent by messenger and never mailed to persons in the same town, should receive a prompt reply, a day's delay being the extreme limit. The simplest form of invitation and reply is best, but both must be formal, this being one of the occasions on Which the wings of genius must be promptly clipped. Ten minutes beyond the appointed time, is the utmost limit of tardiness admissible in a guest, and ten minutes early are quite enough.