This section is from the book "Hill's Manual Of Social And Business Forms: A Guide To Correct Writing", by Thos. E. Hill. Also available from Amazon: Hill's Manual Of Social And Business Forms: The How-To-Do-Everything Book Of Victorian America.
PROPERLY conducted, the dinner-party should be a pleasant affair; and if rightly managed, from the beginning to the end, it may prove a very enjoyable occasion to all in attendance, the dinner being from 5 to 8 p. m., the guests continuing at the table from one to two hours.
For a very pleasant social affair the rule is not to have the company when seated exceed twelve in number. With a party of that size the conversation can be general, and all are likely to feel more at ease than if the number be larger, provided a selection of guests is made that are congenial to each other. None of them should be conspicuously superior to the others, and all should be from the same circle of society.
Having determined upon the number of guests to be invited, the next thing in order will be the issuing of notes of invitation, by special messenger, which should be sent out ten or twelve days before the dinner is given. Their form will be -
Mr. and Mrs. L-----request the pleasure of the company of Mr. and Mrs. T----at dinner on Wednesday, the 10th of March, at six o'clock P. M.
R. S. V. P.
The answer accepting the invitation may read -
Mr. and Mrs. T-------- accept with much pleasure Mr.
and Mrs. L--------'s invitation for dinner on the 10th of March.
If declined, the form may be as follows:
Mr. and Mrs. T------- regret that a previous engagement (or for other reasons which may be given) will prevent their accepting Mr. and
Mrs. L--------'s kind invitation for dinner on the 10th of March.
Should the invitation be declined, the declination, which should state the reason for non-acceptance of the invitation, should be sent immediately by a messenger, that the hostess may have an opportunity for inviting other guests in the place of those who decline.
Should the invitation be accepted, nothing but serious difficulty should prevent the appointment being fulfilled. Should anything happen to prevent attendance, notification should be given the hostess immediately.
It is of the utmost importance that all of the company be punctual, arriving from ten to fifteen minutes before the appointed time. To be ten minutes late, keeping the dinner waiting, is a serious offense which no one should be guilty of.
The host, hostess and other members of the family should be early in
Fig. 12. GENTILITY IN THE DINING-ROOM.
The evidences of good breeding with a party of ladies and gentlemen seated about a table, who are accustomed to the usages of polite society, are many. Among these will be the fact that the table is very beautifully and artistically spread. This need not require much wealth, but good taste is necessary to set it handsomely.
Again, the company evince gentility by each assuming a genteel position while eating. It is not necessary that an elaborate toilet be worn at the table, but careful attention should always be given to neatness of personal appearance, however plain may be the dress which is worn.
Another evidence of good manners is the self-possession with which the company deport themselves throughout the meal. ' the drawing-room to receive guests as they arrive, each of whom should be welcomed with a warm greeting.
The hostess having determined who shall accompany each other to the table, each gentleman should be informed what lady he is expected to escort. The hour having arrived, the host offers his right arm to the most honored or possibly the eldest lady guest, and the gentleman most distinguished will escort the lady of the house.
Proceeding to the dining-room when all is in readiness, the host will take his seat at the foot of the table, and the hostess at the head, the lady escorted by the host taking her seat at his right, and the escort of the hostess sitting also at her right. The next most honored seat is at the left of the hostess. The illustration (Fig. 12) upon this page shows a company thus seated.
It is fashionable to have cards laid upon the table, bearing the name, sometimes printed very beautifully upon silk, indicating where each guest shall sit, which saves confusion in being seated. The ladies having taken their places, the gentlemen will be seated, and all is in readiness for the dinner to be served, unless grace be said by a clergyman present or by the host.
Let us hope if there is any carving, it will be done before the meat is brought to the table, and the time of the company saved from this sometimes slow and tedious work. Should soup be passed, it is well for each one to take it, and also the various courses as they are served, making no special comment on the food. The gentleman will, when a dish is brought, having seen the lady he escorted provided for, help himself and pass it on; he will pay no attention to the other lady near him, but will leave that to her escort. In all cases he will be careful and attentive to the wants of the lady in his charge, ascertaining her wishes and issuing her orders to the waiters.
No polite guest will ever fastidiously smell or examine any article of food before tasting it Such conduct would be an insult to those who have invited him; neither will the host or hostess apologize for the cooking or find fault with each other, the cook or the waiters; all having done the best they could, there is nothing left to do but to make the best of everything that is provided.
Especial pains should be taken by the host and hostess, as well as all the company, to introduce topics of conversation that shall be agreeable and pleasing, that the dinner hour may be in the highest degree entertaining. When all the guests have finished their eating, the hostess, with a slight nod to one of the leading members of the party, will rise, as will all the company, and repair to the drawing-room, where, in social converse, the time should be spent for the next two or three hours. Etiquette demands that each member of the company remain at least an hour after the dinner is finished, it being impolite to hurry away immediately after rising from the table. Should he do so, however, he will ask to be excused.
Fig. 13. Incorrect Position for Holding Knife and Fork.
HEREWITH is shown a fault common with many people of holding knife and fork above the hand (Fig. 13) when mashing potatoes, cutting meat, etc. The position is not only unfavorable for obtaining a good command of knife and fork, but it is likewise ungraceful. The contrasting illustration (Fig. 14) represents an easy, graceful posture for hands, when eating. The habit of holding the hands thus in correct positions can be acquired as easily as any other.
It is well to become accustomed to eating with the left hand, so as to avoid the necessity of changing the fork from the left to the right hand frequently when eating meat. When no knife is required for spreading, mashing or cutting, lay it aside entirely and eat only with the fork, holding it with the right hand.