But the up-to-date dinner-table is not the wide and cumbrous article it was in the Victorian era. And in this it corresponds with the lighter, shorter menu t hat we owe to the influence of the late King Edward. The table is now much narrower, the decorations are more graceful, whether of flowers or other ornaments. The great bowls of roses or chrysanthemums that made a fence down the centre of the old-fashioned wide table are now replaced by slender vases in lovely glass, or in beautiful bronze, gun-metal, or exquisite china receptacles. The narrower table is also very convenient for those who converse across it - a difficult matter when separated by four or five feet from one's interlocutor, amid the buzz of talk that is always going on.
A drift of pale-tinted chiffon is sometimes arranged down the centre, bordered with a rail of smilax of small clusters of green-and-gold ivy with its decorative, pointed leaves. Before each person is set a large lace d usually lined with silk in the same colour as the chiffon in the centre, and hostesses who value the beauty of the table place under this lining a very thick round of pasteboard or corrugated paper, that the hot plate may not come into contact with the polished surface of the table. The articles in former parts of Every Woman's Encyclopaedia give beautiful schemes of modern table decoration.
In the old days, when joints, pies, poultry, vegetables, were all put on the table and carved thereon, there was no chance for the light and delicate decoration of to-day. Feathery foliage and choice blooms glow radiant under the shaded lights, which fall full upon them, but are carefully screened from the faces of the diners. The now universal dinner a la russe also gives opportunity for the display - always in moderation - of silver ornaments, or other quaint little objects, finely modelled and possessing artistic if but little intrinsic value.
The Dinner Service and Glass
The dinner service most admired is plain, creamy white, very highly glazed, with no ornament beyond a border in some distinctive colour and the owner's monogram. The well-covered designs that delighted our grandmothers are no longer considered in good taste, and the "sweetly pretty" roses and jasmine of our mothers' days have been replaced by a certain severity that is far from being out of place in articles from which one eats.
"I like to see what I am eating," said a well-known dowager, who refused to touch soup served on a plate adorned with butterflies and moths in many sizes. "How can I tell that these creatures are not real?"
Her daughter-in-law hostess, though feeling snubbed, was fain to confess that this view of the matter had not occurred to her before, but that she recognised its justice when it had been pointed out.
Table glass is, if possible, more beautiful than ever. The shapes used are very graceful, especially the tall wine-glasses with twisted stems in shades of green and gold. Cut glass will never go out of fashion, chiefly because it is so expensive that only the wealthy can afford to have it, and it is, therefore, exclusive.
Thistle-shaped tumblers and wine-glasses are much favoured. The shape is exactly that of the blossom, and the cut glass being massed round the part held in the hand makes the grip very secure. Glass decorated with gold is also in great favour. The tracery is usually light and graceful, not of the heavy kind that might give grounds for an imputation of ostentation.
The old rule that claret glasses should be red, hock glasses green, no longer holds good. The shape alone distinguishes them. Champagne glasses are sometimes rimmed with gold. Some tall-stemmed hock glasses have violets with gold stems twining round the bowls. The lovely Carlsbad glass is shaded from the stem upwards, and looks very well when the scheme of decoration leads up to them.
Coffee-cups grow smaller and smaller, and the coffee itself becomes stronger and also more delicious. Coffee was at one time the weak point of an English dinner, but there are now so many coffee machines for brewing it on scientific lines, and so many travellers abroad have brought home a knowledge of what it ought to be, that bad coffee is as exceptional in Britain as good tea is abroad.
Dessert is coming again into vogue after having fallen out of line with the rest of a good dinner, for some reason that no one seems to understand. Grapes are a standing dish, and California sends us magnificent peaches and apricots that make a glowing colour on the table.
Finger-glasses are still put on the table in all the best houses. They should match the rest of the table glass. Sometimes a single blossom floats upon the water. At certain restaurants a slice of lemon is placed in the glasses, perhaps with the idea of removing stains produced by the handling of nuts.
By "Madge" (Mrs. Humphry) Charm of Manner is a Gift Rare but Valuable - The Shy Girl - Little Actions and Little Ways are of Very Great Importance - The Fascinating Girl often is Misunderstood by Men, especially
Few of us estimate at its full value the extraordinary influence of manner. But Lord Lytton said of it that " it will do more for you than anything except money."
If statistics could be compiled, we should probably find that only about one in every hundred English girls enjoy the advantages of an easy, pleasant manner. Some of the rest look actually forbidding, others are awkward and ill at ease. At heart they may be - probably are - full of loving kindness and a keen desire to please, but they have not acquired the charm of manner, and envy intensely the fortunate girls who possess it.
A knowledge of all the rules of good breeding, useful as it is, even necessary, is as nothing when compared with that gay impulsiveness which makes every action graceful and renders a solecism easily forgivable. But the sensitive, shy, easily snubbed girl feels smitten to the heart if she is self-convicted of having done something awkward or unintentionally ill-mannered. In sheer sclf-defence she has to arm herself with a perfect knowledge at all points of the customs of the society in which her lot is cast, knowing well that she has nothing to hope from herself or her manner in extricating her from any difficulty.
She may be sweet and true and warm of heart, but she often goes scowling through the world simply because of shyness and self-distrust. She would love to smile and be pleasant. She longs to be liked, but her manner is against her, and she knows it, and is doubly handicapped by the knowledge.
A gaudy manner is to be avoided. "Nods and becks and wreathed smiles" and the terribly arch look in which some girls indulge are all mistakes. So is bridling. So is "drawing oneself up to one's full height," whether the stature be five foot one or five foot eleven. All these things belong to a past age of manners, and, like many other characteristics of a previous generation, have sunk to, and found a place in, the lower strata of society.
In one of his novels, Mr. E. F. Benson makes someone say": "I knew she was not a lady by the way she set down her feet." Very slight indications suffice for a judgment. The way a girl shakes hands is sometimes quite enough. The quiet ease with which the well-bred comport themselves, the simple way they say what they have to say, and the calm repose of features, hands, arms and attitude all speak for themselves.
In other cases the desire to be in evidence, and attract attention, is only too clear.
"She's Always Like That!"
The "Autocrat of the Breakfast-table" said that when he heard a girl say "Haouw?" he knew more about her than a whole biography could tell him. In the same way the mode of greeting a young man is an eloquent indication to the observer of a young woman's character. Ornate gesture, unnecessary movements of the head and swayings of the body are what is called "bad form," sometimes affectation. This flamboyant, efflorescent restlessness is contrary to all the canons of good breeding.
On the other hand, a cold voice and chilling manner belong to an extreme to be avoided. "I've clone or said something to offend your friend 1 a girl one day, speaking of another girl to whom she had been introduced." Oh, no; she's always like that. It's her way. She's one of the people who need knowing."
There may be a warm and sympathetic nature beneath all this coldness, and though it does sleeve, it is greatly to a girl's disadvantage that she should misrepresent herself so completely to new acquaintances, The world moves with such rapidity that there tot always time for breaking down the barrier of a cold reserve.
A young woman, secretary of a woman's club, actually lost the appointment - an excellent one, for which she was well raited in other respects - because her manner was found so disagreeable by most of the members, and had even deterred some intending members from joining.
In subordinate positions such as hers, the rule of conduct should be a nice mean between over-effusiveness and cold indifference, resulting at least in that appearance of personal interest in others which is the perfection of good manners. It usually distinguishes the girl shop-assistant. However tired she may be, however troublesome the customer, this type of hard worker is admirable in her self-control and patient endurance. Young women of slightly superior station are apt to neglect this very important part of their duty.
A very charming manner is often misunderstood by men, particularly young men. A girl smiles when talking, and turns the conversation upon the man himself, his likes and dislikes, his doings in the world, as every woman of tact invariably does, not from curiosity, but from pure politeness. Finding her attention absorbed in him, he draws a false conclusion, flattering to his vanity, and retains it until he discovers that she is just the same to other men. He then sets her down as a flirt, and quite unjustly. Irish girls are addicted to this genial, cordial manner. They are usually popular in society on that account.
The code of manners for girls is so much altered since Victorian times as to be almost revolutionary. A young woman is no longer a negligible quantity. She is a person to reckon with, and with the consciousness of her new position, she is rapidly making herself fit for it. The ebullition of transition stage is passing, and the tranquil settling down to her work in the is taking its place. Etiquette is changing with the new order of things, but a law that never alters is that of noblesse oblige, the obligation of sweet womanhood to make the world a pleasant place for those about her, whether they be engaged in work or play.