The old fashion of placing a whole array of knives and forks for each person at the beginning of dinner is dropping out, particularly when there are two or more servants to wait on half a dozen diners. As the plates are changed, the necessary implements are brought for the dish to be handed next. But when the older fashion is followed, should any doubt exist as to which knife or fork to take up first, it will be safe to select that put furthest from the plate. On the outside is the tablespoon for soup, then the fish-knife, and then steel knives, while on the left the fish-fork is the most distant.
A finger-glass is placed on the dessert-plate laid before each diner. A d'oyley covers the centre of the plate. The original purpose of this was to protect the table, always uncovered for dessert in the olden time, from stains of wine. Nowadays the finger-glass is placed on the d'oyley when both are removed from the plate. The use of the water should not be too obtrusive. Grapes make the fingers sticky, and it is pleasant to immerse the tips for a few seconds to rid them of the stickiness. At restaurants one sometimes sees men washing their grapes in the finger - bowl before eating them. To do this in a private house would be a reflection upon the hostess. The idea in washing the fruit is that it may have been handled, but grapes should be served with the bloom on. If they have been handled they lose their bloom. A careful hostess sees to it that they are sent to table with the bloom on them.
It may be as well to suggest to the inexperienced that the art of conversation does not consist of a series of questions, as so many seem to imagine. ' What do you think the best picture in this year's Academy?" "Don't you adore Wagner?" "What are your favourite plays?" A series of this kind, when the soup and fish are being dispensed, are apt to make a hungry man feel discouraged. Better keep quiet for a bit, with just a little murmur of talk, not interrogatory, till the edge has been taken off his appetite. After the first entree one's reward will come in finding one's dinner partner brisk and ready for talk.
One must not expect the exclusive attention of one's escort during the meal. He may speak with the lady on his left, and in this case the girl guest may address herself to the man on her right, should he be disengaged in the matter of conversation. That they may not have been introduced to each other matters nothing. Light topics should be chosen. Small-talk is suitable to the occasion. There are many good, worthy persons who have none, some of the very worthiest in the world probably.
To talk nothings in a pleasant way is a social gift. These nothings are like the bubbles on a stream that make it sparkle and glitter.
A pretty laugh comes next to a pretty voice in lending charm to small - talk, but the laugh must not be overdone. It becomes wearisome, particularly if it always starts and ends on exactly the same notes.
Loudness of voice or laugh cannot, much as one could wish it, be regarded as in bad form, as so many of our high-bred women and girls laugh and talk at the top of their voices. But there is a great charm in a sweet, low voice, provided it be not indistinct. It is a part of politeness to articulate clearly. To be slovenly in pronunciation is rude, since it shows a lack of consideration for those to whom one speaks.
There are still left in the world some old-fashioned persons who ask for " the pleasure of a glass of wine with you." The response to this is to bow and smile, and sip a little from one's glass. But more usual-though far from being an established custom in our islands-is the foreign fashion of merely raising the glass before drinking, and conveying good wishes to some particular individual by bow or smile. It is a friendly act.
When rising from table the diner should not put her napkin on the table, but merely let it drop anywhere. A French critic has observed that " to fold your napkin carefully and put it beside your plate is involuntarily to intimate your intention of partaking your next meal at the same table." Such a suggestion should be avoided carefully.
When taking leave, it is usual and graceful to say a few words of thanks to one's hostess for the pleasant evening one has spent. If the evening should have been the reverse of pleasant, this duty becomes perfunctory, but it has to be fulfilled.