In domestic arrangement the table is entitled to no small share of attention, as a well conducted system of domestic management is the foundation of every comfort; and the respectability and welfare of families depend in a great measure on the prudent conduct of the female, whose province it is to manage the domestic concerns.
However the fortunes of individuals may support a large expenditure, it will be deficient in all that can benefit or grace society, and in every thing essential to moral order and rational happiness, if not conducted on a regular system, embracing all the objects of such a situation.
In domestic management, as in education, so much must depend on the particular circumstances of every case, that it is impossible to lay down a system which can be generally applicable.
The immediate plan of every family must be adapted to its own peculiar situation, and can only result from the good sense and early good habits of the parties, acting upon general rational principles.
What one family is to do, must never be measured by what another family does. Each one knows its own resources, and should consult them alone. What might be meanness in one, might be extravagance in another, and therefore there can be no standard of reference but that of individual prudence. The most fatal of all things to private families, is to indulge an ambition to make an appearance above their fortunes, professions, or business, whatever these may be.
The next point, both for comfort and respectability, is, that all the household economy should be uniform, not displaying a parade of show in one thing, and a total want of comfort in another. Besides the contemptible appearance that this must have to every person of good sense, it is productive of consequences, not only of present, but future injury to a family, that are too often irreparable.
In great cities in particular, how common is it that for the vanity of having a showy drawing-room to receive company, the family are confined to a close back room, where they have scarcely either air or light, the want of which must materially prejudice their health.
To keep rooms for show, where the fortune is equal to having a house that will accommodate the family properly, and admit of this also, belongs to the highest sphere of life; but in private families, to shut up the only room perhaps in the house which is really wholesome for the family to live in, is inflicting a kind of lingering murder upon the inmates; and yet how frequently this consideration escapes persons who mean well by their family, but who still have a grate, a carpet, and chairs, too fine for every day's use.
Another fruit of this evil is, seeing more company, and in a more expensive manner than is compatible with the general convenience of the family, introducing with if an expense in dress, and a dissipation of time, from which it suffers in various ways.
Social intercourse is not improved by parade, but quite the contrary; real friends, and the pleasantest kind of acquaintance, those who like to be sociable, are repulsed by it. It is a failure therefore every way - the loss of what is really valuable, and an abortive attempt to be fashionable.
A fundamental error in domestic life of very serious extent, involving no less the comfort than the health of the family, arises from the ignorance or mistaken notions of the mistress of the house upon the subjects of diet and cookery.
The subject of cookery is thought by too many women to be below their attention, or, when practically engaged in, it is with no other consideration about it than, in the good housewife's phrase, to make the most of every thing, whether good, bad, or indifferent; or to contrive a thousand mischievous compositions, both savory and sweet, to recommend their own ingenuity.
If cookery is worth studying, as a sensual gratification, it is surely much more so as a means of securing one of the greatest of human blessings - good health; and we cannot quit this part of the subject of domestic management without observing, that one cause of a great deal of injurious cookery originates in the same vanity of show that is productive of so many other evils. In order to set out a table with a greater number of dishes than the situation of the family requires, more cookery is often undertaken than there are servants to do it well, or conveniences in the kitchen for the purpose. Thus some viands are done before they are wanted for serving up, and stand by spoiling, to make room for others; these are again perhaps to be succeeded by something else; and too often are things served up that had better be thrown away, than to be used for food.
The leading consideration about food ought always to be its wholesomeness. Cookery may produce savory and pretty looking dishes without their possessing any of the qualities of food. It is at the same time both a serious and ludicrous reflection that it should be thought to do honor to our friends and ourselves to set out a table where indigestion and all its train of evils, such as fever, rheumatism, gout, and the whole catalogue of human diseases lie lurking in almost every dish. Yet this is both done, and taken as a compliment. We have indeed the "unbought grace of polished society, where gluttony loses half its vice by being stripped of its grossness." When a man at a public house dies of a surfeit of beef steak and porter, who does not exclaim, what a beast!
How infinitely preferable is a dinner of far less show where nobody need be afraid of what they are eating! and such a one will be genteel and respectable. If a person can give his friend only a leg of mutton, there is nothing to be ashamed of in it, provided it is a good one, and well dressed.
A house fitted up with plain good furniture, the kitchen furnished with clean wholesome-looking cooking utensils, good fires, in grates that give no anxiety lest a good fire should spoil them, clean good table linen, the furniture of the table and sideboard good of the kind, without ostentation, and a well-dressed plain dinner, bespeak a sound judgment and correct taste in a private family, that place it on a footing of respectability with the first characters in the country. It is only the conforming to our sphere, not the vainly attempting to be above it, that can command true respect.