Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Dining, Politeness, Etiquette and a Touch of Ignorance from Mrs. Beeton

 "Dining is the privilege of civilization. The rank which a people occupy in the grand scale may be measured by their way of taking their meals, as well as by their way of treating their women. The nation which knows how to dine has learnt the leading lesson of progress. It implies both the will and the skill to reduce to order, and surround with idealisms and graces, the more material conditions of human existence; and wherever that will and that skill exist, life cannot be wholly ignoble."~ Isabella Beeton

Isabella Beeton

 Mrs. Beeton was certainly not the first woman of her time to feel that anyone who was not of "civilized European, breeding and cultivation" was somehow a savage.  At the time, it was fairly common to assume that if one had not been "discovered" yet by Europeans, one simply did not exist, or was somehow uncivilized.  Actually, many tribes and civilizations were so well ordered, and had manners so strict and concise, they considered Europeans to be completely ignorant rubes. Barbarians, who ate with their swords, exhibited filthy habits and displayed disgusting mannerisms,  etc...  And they hadn't shown up at Europe's doors with flags waving, declaring Europe and the United Kingdom their new property either!  So though Mrs. Beeton was truly helpful in helping housewives of the day get their homes settled, she displayed the same insensitivity and ignorance of her peers at the time.  Below is just a bit of the text on dining, from her well-known book on Household Management, along with some etiquette for women of the day.



Man, it has been said, is a dining animal. Creatures of the inferior races eat and drink; man only dines. It has also been said that he is a cooking animal; but some races eat food without cooking it. A Croat captain said to M. Brillat Savarin, "When, in campaign, we feel hungry, we knock over the first animal we find, cut off a steak, powder it with salt, put it under the saddle, gallop over it for half a mile, and then eat it." Huntsmen in Dauphiny, when out shooting, have been known to kill a bird, pluck it, salt and pepper it, and cook it by carrying it some time in their caps. It is equally true that some races of men do not dine any more than the tiger or the vulture. It is not a dinner at which sits the aboriginal Australian, who gnaws his bone half bare and then flings it behind to his squaw. And the native of Terra-del-Fuego does not dine when he gets his morsel of red clay. Dining is the privilege of civilization. The rank which a people occupy in the grand scale may be measured by their way of taking their meals, as well as by their way of treating their women. The nation which knows how to dine has learnt the leading lesson of progress. It implies both the will and the skill to reduce to order, and surround with idealisms and graces, the more material conditions of human existence; and wherever that will and that skill exist, life cannot be wholly ignoble.

It has been said, indeed, that great men, in general, are great diners. This, however, can scarcely be true of any great men but men of action; and, in that case, it would simply imply that persons of vigorous constitution, who work hard, eat heartily; for, of course, a life of action requires a vigorous constitution, even though there may be much illness, as in such cases as William III. and our brave General Napier. Of men of thought, it can scarcely be true that they eat so much, in a general way, though even they eat more than they are apt to suppose they do; for, as Mr. Lewes observes, "nerve-tissue is very expensive." Leaving great men of all kinds, however, to get their own dinners, let us, who are not great, look after ours. Dine we must, and we may as well dine elegantly as well as wholesomely.
There are plenty of elegant dinners in modern days, and they were not wanting in ancient times. It is well known that the dinner-party, or symposium, was a not unimportant, and not unpoetical, feature in the life of the sociable, talkative, tasteful Greek. Douglas Jerrold said that such is the British humour for dining and giving of dinners, that if London were to be destroyed by an earthquake, the Londoners would meet at a public dinner to consider the subject. The Greeks, too, were great diners: their social and religious polity gave them many chances of being merry and making others merry on good eating and drinking. Any public or even domestic sacrifice to one of the gods, was sure to be followed by a dinner-party, the remains of the slaughtered "offering" being served up on the occasion as a pious pièce de résistance; and as the different gods, goddesses, and demigods, worshipped by the community in general, or by individuals, were very numerous indeed, and some very religious people never let a day pass without offering up something or other, the dinner-parties were countless. A birthday, too, was an excuse for a dinner; a birthday, that is, of any person long dead and buried, as well as of a living person, being a member of the family, or otherwise esteemed. 

Dinners were, of course, eaten on all occasions of public rejoicing. Then, among the young people, subscription dinners, very much after the manner of modern times, were always being got up; only that they would be eaten not at an hotel, but probably at the house of one of the heterae. A Greek dinner-party was a handsome, well-regulated affair. The guests came in elegantly dressed and crowned with flowers. A slave, approaching each person as he entered, took off his sandals and washed his feet. During the repast, the guests reclined on couches with pillows, among and along which were set small tables. After the solid meal came the "symposium" proper, a scene of music, merriment, and dancing, the two latter being supplied chiefly by young girls. There was a chairman, or symposiarch, appointed by the company to regulate the drinking; and it was his duty to mix the wine in the "mighty bowl." From this bowl the attendants ladled the liquor into goblets, and, with the goblets, went round and round the tables, filling the cups of the

The elegance with which a dinner is served is a matter which depends, of course, partly upon the means, but still more upon the taste of the master and mistress of the house. It may be observed, in general, that there should always be flowers on the table, and as they form no item of expense, there is no reason why they should not be employed every day.

The variety in the dishes which furnish forth a modern dinner- table, does not necessarily imply anything unwholesome, or anything capricious. Food that is not well relished cannot be well digested; and the appetite of the over-worked man of business, or statesman, or of any dweller in towns, whose occupations are exciting and exhausting, is jaded, and requires stimulation. Men and women who are in rude health, and who have plenty of air and exercise, eat the simplest food with relish, and consequently digest it well; but those conditions are out of the reach of many men. They must suit their mode of dining to their mode of living, if they cannot choose the latter. It is in serving up food that is at once appetizing and wholesome that the skill of the modern housewife is severely tasked; and she has scarcely a more important duty to fulfil. It is, in fact, her particular vocation, in virtue of which she may be said to hold the health of the family, and of the friends of the family, in her hands from day to day. It has been said that "the destiny of nations depends on the manner in which they are fed;" and a great gastronomist exclaims, "Tell me what kind of food you eat, and I will tell you what kind of man you are." The same writer has some sentences of the same kind, which are rather hyperbolical, but worth quoting:-- "The pleasures of the table belong to all ages, to all conditions, to all countries, and to all eras; they mingle with all other pleasures, and remain, at last, to console us for their departure. The discovery of a new dish confers more happiness upon humanity than the discovery of a new star."
The gastronomist from whom we have already quoted, has some aphorisms and short directions in relation to dinner-parties, which are well deserving of notice:-- "Let the number of your guests never exceed twelve, so that the conversation may be general.† Let the temperature of the dining-room be about 68°.  Let the dishes be few in number in the first course, but proportionally good. The order of food is from the most substantial to the lightest. The order of drinking wine is from the mildest to the most foamy and most perfumed. To invite a person to your house is to take charge of his happiness so long as he is beneath your roof. The mistress of the house should always be certain that the coffee be excellent; whilst the master should be answerable for the quality of his wines and

† Footnote: We have seen this varied by saying that the number should never exceed that of the Muses or fall below that of the Graces.

A Bit of Etiquette

WHEN A MISTRESS TAKES A HOUSE in a new locality, it will be etiquette for her to wait until the older inhabitants of the neighbourhood call upon her; thus evincing a desire, on their part, to become acquainted with the new comer. It may be, that the mistress will desire an intimate acquaintance with but few of her neighbours; but it is to be specially borne in mind that all visits, whether of ceremony, friendship, or condolence, should be punctiliously returned.
YOU MAY PERHAPS HAVE BEEN FAVOURED with letters of introduction from some of your friends, to persons living in the neighbourhood to which you have just come. In this case inclose the letter of introduction in an envelope with your card. Then, if the person, to whom it is addressed, calls in the course of a few days, the visit should be returned by you within the week, if possible.  Any breach of etiquette, in this respect, will not readily be excused.  In the event of your being invited to dinner under the above circumstances, nothing but necessity should prevent you from accepting the invitation. If, however, there is some distinct reason why you cannot accept, let it be stated frankly and plainly, for politeness and truthfulness should be ever allied. An opportunity should, also, be taken to call in the course of a day or two, in order to politely express your regret and disappointment at not having been able to avail yourself of their kindness.
IN GIVING A LETTER OF INTRODUCTION, it should always be handed to your friend, unsealed. Courtesy dictates this, as the person whom you are introducing would, perhaps, wish to know in what manner he or she was spoken of. Should you receive a letter from a friend, introducing to you any person known to and esteemed by the writer, the letter should be immediately acknowledged, and your willingness expressed to do all in your power to carry out his or her wishes.
SUCH ARE THE ONEROUS DUTIES which enter into the position of the mistress of a house, and such are, happily, with a slight but continued attention, of by no means difficult performance. She ought always to remember that she is the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega in the government of her establishment; and that it is by her conduct that its whole internal policy is regulated. She is, therefore, a person of far more importance in a community than she usually thinks she is. On her pattern her daughters model themselves; by her counsels they are directed; through her virtues all are honoured;--  "her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband, also, and he praiseth her." Therefore, let each mistress always remember her responsible position, never approving a mean action, nor speaking an unrefined word. Let her conduct be such that her inferiors may respect her, and such as an honourable and right-minded
man may look for in his wife and the mother of his children. Let her think of the many compliments and the sincere homage that have been paid to her sex by the greatest philosophers and writers, both in ancient and modern times. 

Let her not forget that she has to show herself worthy of Campbell's compliment when he said,-- "The world was sad! the garden was a wild! And man the hermit sigh'd, till woman smiled." Let her prove herself, then, the happy companion of man, and able to take unto herself the praises of the pious prelate, Jeremy Taylor, who says,--  "A good wife is Heaven's last best gift to man,--  his angel and minister of graces innumerable,--  his gem of many virtues,--  his casket of jewels -- her voice is sweet music -- her smiles his brightest day;--  her kiss, the guardian of his innocence;--  her arms, the pale of his safety, the balm of his health, the balsam of his life;--  her industry, his surest wealth;-- her economy, his safest steward;--  her lips, his faithful counsellors;--  her bosom, the softest pillow of his cares; and her prayers, the ablest advocates of Heaven's blessings on his head." 

Cherishing, then, in her breast the respected utterances of the good and the great, let the mistress of every house rise to the responsibility of its management; so that, in doing her duty to all around her, she may receive the genuine reward of respect, love, and affection!
Note.--  Many mistresses have experienced the horrors of house- hunting, and it is well known that "three removes are as good (or bad, rather) as a fire." Nevertheless, it being quite evident that we must, in these days at least, live in houses, and are sometimes obliged to change our residences, it is well to consider some of the conditions which will add to, or diminish, the convenience and comfort of our homes.

To be continued...

Monday, December 3, 2012

Mrs. Beeton and Her Book on Household Management

Guest Blogger Corey Peterson of New Zealand, is back again with this newest post... Enjoy!

Anna Madeley as "Mrs. Beeton in the 200BBC drama, "The Secret Life of Mrs Beeton"
 The works of Mrs. Beeton are still today, some of the most famous and notable cookery and household care books. With instructions for the mistress of the house on a large range of subjects, it was something that someone like the character Mrs. Hughes of the period drama 'Downton Abbey' would use as almost a bible of sorts, when working for women who were mainly in the middle to upper middle class, right through to the aristocracy.  But who was Mrs. Beeton and how did she rise to such greatness in a time when writers such as Charles Dickens were in their prime?

Mrs. Beeton was born Isabella Mary Mayson to Benjamin and Elizabeth
Mayson in Cheapside London.  Sadly, Isabella's father died when she was a very young girl.  Subsequently, her mother remarried Henry Dorling who was a widower.  As he had children of his own, Isabella was a now step-sister.  She grew up in Epsom, Surrey, where Dorling was Clerk of the Epsom Racecourse. As her stepfather held a respectable standing in the social class, Isabella had many opportunities that many young women nowadays only dream of, was an accomplished pianist, and attended school in Heidelburg, Germany.

Isabella’s mother had kept in contact with the Beeton family of Cheapside after they had moved to Epsom, so it was no surprise that when Samuel Beeton was becoming well known in the publishing industry, Isabella’s mother tried hard to get the two together and married.  Isabella met Samuel on one occasion in London and her mother’s perseverance finally paid off.  On the 10th of July, 1856, they married at St. Martin’s Parish Church, Epsom.   In August of that same year, Mr. and Mrs. Beeton moved into their first home as a married couple; a large and lavish Italianate property on the Woodridings Estate in Hatch End, North West London.  Their first born was a son named Samuel in May of 1857, but he later died of croup in August of that year.  She went on to have another son in September of 1859; and he was also named Samuel.

Isabella Beeton
The Beeton's residence was a large and rather comfortable dwelling, and it was there that Isabella began to write articles on general household care, such as cooking and the management of domestics. These were then published in her husband’s publications. During the period of 1859-1861, she would write a monthly article to supplement her husband’s magazine, ‘The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine’ and on Christmas day of 1861, the articles were finally published together as a single volume, named ‘The Book of Household Management.’ The book contained a whole range of interesting and helpful information that was an assistance to the women of the upper middle class as well as the upper class.

Cover of Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine
The information was comprised mainly for the mistress of the household, the housekeeper, the cook, the butler, the valet and so forth. It contained etiquette for everything imaginable; 

"It is not advisable, at any time, to take favourite dogs into another lady's drawing-room, for many persons have an absolute dislike to such animals; and besides this, there is always a chance of a breakage of some article occurring, through their leaping and bounding here and there, sometimes very much to the fear and annoyance of the hostess. Her children, also, unless they are particularly well-trained and orderly, and she is on exceedingly friendly terms with the hostess, should not accompany a lady in making morning calls. Where a lady, however, pays her visits in a carriage, the children can be taken in the vehicle, and remain in it until the visit is over."

 It also contained a great deal of knowledge about illnesses of the period, personal hygiene, sanitary needs and even advice on the legal side of things and law in general.  Listed in the book, were the items needed to set up a home and the origins of many everyday items and even advice on the legal side of things and the law in general. 

The legal advice consisted mainly of the risks and benefits of purchasing and letting a house as well as the relationships between the landlord and the tenants. It states that it is “most important to both parties [tenants and landlords] and each should clearly understand his [or her] position.
In Mrs. Beeton’s opinion, the mistress of the house needed the following to set up a comfortable and reliable *kitchen:

1 tea-kettle
1 toasting-fork
1 bread-grater
1 pair of brass candlesticks
1 teapot and tray
1 bottle-jack
6 spoons
2 candlesticks
1 candle-box
6 knives and forks
2 sets of skewers
1 meat-chopper
1 cinder-sifter
1 coffee-pot
[a] colander
3 block-tin saucepans
5 iron saucepans
1 ditto and steamer
1 large boiling pot
4 iron stew-pans
1 dripping-pan and stand
1 dustpan
1 fish and egg-slice
2 fish-kettles
1 flour box
3 flat-irons
2 frying-pans
1 gridiron
1 mustard-pot
1 salt-cellar
1 pepper-box
1 pair of bellows
3 jelly-moulds
1 plate-basket
1 cheese toaster
1 coal-shovel
1 wood meat-screen

*All of the items listed above were for the kitchen only. That did not include cutlery and flatware used for dinner, nor did it include plates for both above stairs and below stairs.

In 1861, Mr. Beeton founded the magazine ‘The Queen, the Ladies’ Newspaper’.  This magazine was published weekly, much like the Women’s Weekly is nowadays, but instead it was not originally fashion orientated. Its main focus was high society and detailed social events that had taken place in London. The articles covered occupations, literature and other forms of amusements for the proper women of society; the ladies. This magazine was sold in 1862 to Mr. William Cox as the Beetons had left Hatch End in autumn of 1861.
Unfortunately, Isabella lost her only son in December of that 1861 to the horrible illness, scarlet fever whilst holidaying in Brighton. He died on New Year’s Eve. Mrs. Beeton went on to give birth to two other sons, Orchart on New Year’s Eve of 1863 and Mayson Moss in January of 1865. Orchart went on to live an affluent and wealthy life in the army and Mayson initially followed his father’s footsteps as a publisher, but when that didn’t work out, he decided to become a journalist.

A page from Mrs. Beeton's book
The most common book of Mrs. Beeton, is probably ‘Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management’ and it was used as a guide for new wives who were needing advice to run a Victorian household. It contained tips on fashion, childcare, animal husbandry, poisons, and the management of domestics. It also pointed out some rather liberal views for the time, with topics such as science, religion and industrialism. In the book, Mrs. Beeton points out the importance of animal welfare and very often she would complement the use of local and seasonal produce, long before the idea became the norm.

The book had a staggering 1,112 pages with over 900 recipes. It became so popular, that it became known as, ‘Mrs. Beeton’s Cookbook’ and was an extremely successful publication. Most of the included recipes had coloured and elaborate engravings and it was the first cookbook to show recipes in the format that is still widely used today. There were allegations and rumours made, that Mrs. Beeton had copied earlier writers such as Eliza Acton, but the Beeton never claimed the recipes published in the book were originals as it was intended to be a guide for the hopeful middle classes, of reliable information that could be used as a source, rather than just relying on the basic recipes handed down from mother to daughter and so forth.  Some say that Isabella Beeton was more of an editor who compiled recipes and tips, rather than an author as many of the passages are suspected to be someone else’s work as they are not in her own words.

Though Isabella lived a full life, she died very young at the age of 28, after giving birth to her son Mayson, in January of 1865. She died of puerperal fever, which is a form of septicaemia. Some say that she died of syphilis, contracted through her husband, and this may possibly have led to her death of herself as well as her two children. Her widower lived for another twelve years before he died of tuberculosis in June of 1877 at the age of 46. Both are interred at West Norwood Cemetery in the north side of London. The original stone has long been replaced as it fell into a state of disrepair and her two surviving children replaced it with a simple headstone in the thirties.

Nowadays the Hatch End home is a successful restaurant named ‘The Hatchets’. Her books are still read by many people, not just women. The sad reality though is, that by the time Beeton's were being re-released in the nineteen-sixties, the books contained little, if any trace of Mrs. Beeton’s work. 

The Beeton’s family legacy lives own. Her nephew was Ulster Unionist Party Member of Parliament, Sir Walter Smiles and her great-niece was Patricia Ford, Lady Fisher, who was also a member of the same party. Sir Walter was Lieutenant Colonel; the title was given to him when he was part of the ‘Great War,’(WWI) when he fought for his king and country.  Later, he was MP for Blackburn between the years of 1931 and 1945 as a Conservative Member of Parliament. In 1945 he decided to stand for the Down seat in Northern Ireland, at the 1945 Westminster Election. This was when he became a Unionist. In 1950 the seat was split into North and South Down. Later that year, he won the North Down seat and remained as the MP until his death in 1953. He died aboard the MV Princess Victoria, when she sank off Larne Lough in Great Storm. His daughter, Patricia succeeded him as the MP for North Down.

Bear Grylls visiting South Africa
His daughter, Patricia, later Lady Fisher, was the first woman to be a member of parliament for Northern Ireland. She originally married cricketer, Neville Montagu Ford, who was of a pedigree background. She produced two daughters, Mary Rose, who is married and has two daughters, and Sally who is married to Sir Michael Grylls. She also had two children, a daughter and a son. The son is the famous explorer, Bear Grylls. Patricia was passionate about equal pay between the sexes and even arrived at parliament in a horse-drawn carriage to bring awareness to the issue. She became known as ‘Lady Fisher’ when she divorce her husband in 1956 and married Sir Nigel Fisher. The title of ‘Lady’ was given to her as a manner of courtesy and in her marriage to Sir Nigel, she became step-mother to Mark Fisher, who was later an MP in the Labour Party.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Recipe for the Perfect Guest on Thanksgiving Day

 Hosts and hostesses work hard to make sure special holiday celebrations are fun for all involved.  In order not to ruin a special day like Thanksgiving, there are rules that must be followed in your own home, as well as in the home or the establishment of someone else

Here are the most important rules, along with a special recipe: 

 The Recipe Ingredients

1 large cup of common sense
2 keen eyes
5 tablespoons of willingness to help out
2 pounds of the words "please" and "thank you"
5 pounds of your best behavior
3 pounds of the best table manners you can find 
1 best foot for you to put forward when mixing and using  


Recipe Instructions

Mix all ingredients inside yourself well before getting to your destination.  If you are celebrating at home, mix before any guests arrive.  This recipe works best if you mix everything a day or night beforehand.  It helps calm holiday nerves.

The keen eyes and common sense will remind you that if there is a seating chart, or seating arrangement, you must not complain about where you are asked to sit.  You must never move or switch place cards.  The willingness to help out comes in handy with that issue. People spend a lot of time planning where they would like their guests to sit.  You may not know why someone has placed you in a particular seat.  Do not ask why you are being asked to sit there. It is possible feelings will get hurt if the host or hostess explains their reasons to you. The best behavior should kick in and keep you from complaining.

The best foot you put forward will  keep you polite to everyone, not just your own friends or family.  You must be cordial to all when you put your best foot forwardIt will also ensure that you use your napkin, chew with your mouth closed and will swallow any food in your mouth before taking another bite, or drinking.  

Do not “play” with table favors or table decorations unless they are meant to be touched or played with.  Your keen eyes will help with this if you have mixed them in at the start.  The common sense also helps you to act respectful of anyone who would like to say grace prior to starting, regardless of you religious or non-religious affiliations.

Do not grab at food, drinks or anything else that might interest you. Wait until it is offered.  Do not pick at the food on the plate before it is meant to be eaten. You put in a lot of best behavior, correct?

You should be able to feel those pleases and thank yous ready to pop out of your mouth, throughout the entire celebration.  Let them. Others should be able to hear them clearly.

Copyright 1991, Maura Graber and The RSVP Institute of Etiquette

Thursday, November 15, 2012

May Van Alen Weds and Decides She is Not an American

“I have tried my best to persuade Mr. Thompson to leave New York and live in England, but so far without success,” said May Van Alen to custom officials at a hearing on October 16, 1913

May Van Alen Weds in London

Remember May Van Alen?  Continually dumping suitors and fiances, one of who committed suicide over her breaking their engagement, she was the granddaughter of the Astors and the eldest daughter of James J. Van Alen of New York and Newport Rhode Island.  In fact, the New York Times described her this way; "Miss Van Alen, as already stated, is the eldest daughter of James Van Alen.  She is a very odd, original girl, extremely clever, and with a reputation for slight eccentricity."  It goes on to say how the lives of all three Van Alen "children has not been of the happiest, not withstanding their money and their lineage."  

The article went on to remind readers of the Van Alen's mother's death shortly after giving birth to her youngest child, Sarah, and how James Van Alen took his brood overseas for an education.  In the same article, it states about May Van Alen, "She is not pretty, but is chic and dresses in a very conspicuous and Parisian manner.  She has an excited manner in talk and a fondness for saying startling things."  Not a very flattering portrait of a young society girl in America's Gilded Age.

May Van Alen finally did marry.  She married one Griswold Thompson in a private ceremony in St. George’s, Hanover Square in London, on September 24, 1913. The ceremony was conducted with the greatest level of secrecy and included a modest ten persons as guests. Never mind the fact that the wedding was actually scheduled for that coming Sunday.  Odd?  Yes.  But May Van Alen left many people in her wake, even invited guests it seems. The strict etiquette of the day, and even the much lamented relaxed etiquette of today, would more than frown on inviting one's guests to a wedding, then marrying in secrecy just days before the date one's guests have planned to attend.  Was the newspaper article their guests only notice?  Or were they sent cards or notes of explanation?

May Van Alen was one odd duck, in a small pond of wealthy socialites in America's Gilded Age.  I doubt anyone said anything public against her, though in private circles, she was probably gossiped about profusely and regularly.  
"Costumes Parisienes" Afternoon Dress for 1913

Why the secrecy and rush?  She would give no details, nor would she even give out the address in London where she's been staying, to those who wished to send gifts.  The news account says that following the private ceremony, the couple quickly left the church and headed for a tour of England.  Many speculated into the speed of the marriage and the closed-mouth handling of details for the ceremony.  The new York Times article does state that Griswold Thompson lived in England, "at one time."  It also mentioned that May's and Griswold's engagement had been announced in the Times back in June of 1913.  It gave Grisworld's bond and investment business address as "500 Fifth Avenue" in New York, and his residence as "16 East Sixtieth Street" in New York.

The Arabic was torpedoed and sunk by German u-boat U 24, on August 16, 1915

Eleven months later, Van Alen-Thompson was testifying at a hearing with custom authorities in Boston, regarding taxes due on items brought back with her to the United States on The Arabic.  According to Van Alen, she was a foreign resident and for many years had made her permanent home with her father in Northhamptonshire, England. As a result, the 25 trunks containing jewelry, furs and other fine articles, (as well as the magnificent fur and jewels worn by her maid, underneath her clothing and hidden in a belt, no less) should enter America duty free. At the conclusion of the hearing, May Van Alen begrudgingly paid the duties, although she was able to prove that some of the jewelry and wearing apparel were purchased in the United States prior to her departure from the country. Surprisingly, this was all eventually overturned on appeal! If she was a citizen of England, why all the theatrics to hide her gems, fur, etc... ? Even more surprising to me? No one has written a book or done a movie on this family. At least not a book or movie that I can find!
Surprisingly, this was all eventually overturned on appeal! If she was a citizen of England, why all the theatrics to hide her gems, fur, etc... ? Even more surprising to me? No one has written a book or done a movie on this family.  At least not one that I can find!

Remember, this series of recent blog posts on the Gilded Age in America, originally started with an article on "Miss Leary's Dinner Party" and I was curious about the guests the party was honoring.  First finding an odd article about the curious super fast marriage of Sarah Van Alen, I then stumbled onto the even more curious and baffling May Van Alen. (Above) Part of an article "Some Summer Gowns" featuring Sara Van Alen-Collier, the full column is at the bottom of this post.

On Gilded Aged Fashion and Style:

The hobble skirt below, touted as the "Latest Freak in Woman's Fashion,"caught on quickly. This style remained the height of fashion until around 1915. 

 SURE SIGN OF WOMAN’S EMANCIPATION IN THE INCREASED SIZE OF HER SHOES: Because She Swims, Walks, Plays Golf and Tennis and Works for a Living, She Can No Longer Pose as Wasp-Waisted and Tiny-Footed. So...  Larger feet caught on too, evidently!

All of these fashion articles can be found online and downloaded as PDFs from the New York Times' Archives

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Teaching Children Etiquette in the 19th and 20th Centuries

Teaching children etiquette is an art, as well as, a science.  These patented items below, are for teaching children how to eat properly and designed to instill good table manners. The patents show a historical standpoint of attempting to not only design but teach. And the rules still do matter today. Enjoy!
Oh... and for all those who have emailed me; Next post will be a continuation of the fabulously fickle, Miss May Van Alen, and her wild, Gilded Age romance saga.
These 2 forks were specifically designed to teach a child how to eat properly.  You nay be thinking, "Those are simply 'youth-sized' forks." And they are youth sized forks, but looking on the back sides of them, tells another story...

I have lightened the photo up a bit, so that you can see top one reads, "For the Left Hand".  The lower fork has a "finger guide" for a child to place his or her finger into, though the artist at the time, drew the illustration with the wrong hand using the fork.

A "child training fork" in the left hand

Eliza showing correct hands for the knife and fork, while still practicing technique.  The plate below was designed with a variety of children added to the plate as it was made.  All have marked where a child's fork and spoon would go, however the patent itself is vague.

"Etiquette spoons," a training fork and other youth utensils.

Though these spoons were not new, being marketed as "Etiquette Spoons" was new in the late 1800s.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Sumptuous 1897 Astor Dinner Ball

The Astors Sure Knew Their Food and Their Swag!

Below is the menu for a ball hosted by the Astors in January of 1897....
"One of the Greatest Social Events of the Season" headlines the story featured in The New York Times. 
Miss May Van Alen - I realize I am going back in time a bit, with regard to the heart-breaking, fiancé dumping, May Van Alen, but this dinner serves a purpose. It shows the family background, the lifestyle and charming, gilded world in which May Van Alen lived. Remember, May's mother, was "Emily Astor-Van Alen," who died giving birth to May's younger sister, Sarah. Around the same time of this dinner ball, society pages were abuzz with May's probable marriage to the Duke of Manchester. 

Consommé à la Princesse
Filet de boeuf aux champignons frais et truffes
Canard canvasback rôti
Salade de céleri et laitue
Sandwiches assortis
Glaces de fantaisies
Biscuit glacé biscuit Tortoni
Gâteaux assortis
Gelée macédoine Charlotte Parisienne 
Fruits Bonbons
Champagne Claret cup
Lemonade Poland water

This ball at the Astors' 5th Avenue residence, a "double mansion" according to the news account, hosted nearly 300 guests. All of whom were "prominent representatives of New York society." The midnight supper (above) required the entirety of Mrs. Astor's "solid silver table service" as any menu of that size and amount would require, in the Gilded Age.

That supper was immediately followed by the cotillion. The party favors were "novel and artistic" and were pulled in "by ribbon bands, on an old French Sleigh, mounted on castors, a copy of one formerly used by Louis Quatorze." The goodies were quite a haul!

"Louis Quatorze" or Louis XIV of France

The swag for the guests included; "Wands of roses with little bells attached, tartan plaid silk sashes, with the monogram of Mrs. Astor in gold, with the date of the ball; Beardsley poster blotters, and sachets with large bouquets attached." Aubrey Beardsley was one of the most controversial artists of the Art Nouveau Era, and he died a year after this ball was held. For the men, favors included; "Handsome leather tobacco pouches, with silver tops, gold and silver trimmed golf sticks and golf balls, and jeweled orders with gold chains."

The following is a list of just some of the notable female guests, and notes on what they wore. Miss May Van Alen is among them.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Gilded Age Etiquette

  The Gilded Age unofficially is believed to be the period between 1870-1900. "Gilding" is to cover, or coat, with gold, as many silver items were at the time. The period also got its name from the title of a book. "The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today" was an 1873 novel by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner

Macaroni Server with Gilded Bowl & Tines, c 1880 
The Breakers Dining Room, Newport R.I.
A young man or a young woman, unaccustomed to the settled observances of such occasions, can hardly pass through a severer ordeal than a formal dinner.  Its terrors, however, are often greatly magnified.  Such a knowledge of the principal points of table etiquette as you may acquire from this book, complete self-possession, habits of observation, and a fair share of practical good sense, will carry one safely if not pleasantly through it.  You may entertain the opinion that such dinners, and formal parties in general, are tiresome affairs, and that there might be quite as much real courtesy and a great deal more enjoyment with less ceremony, and we may entirely agree with you; but what is, and not what might be, is the point to be elucidated. We are to take society as we find it. 

You may, as a general rule, decline invitations to dinner parties without any breach of good manners, and without giving offense, if you think that neither your enjoyment nor your interests will be promoted by accepting; or you may not go into what is technically called "society" at all, and yet you are liable, at a hotel, on board a steamer, or on some extraordinary occasion, to be placed in a position in which ignorance of dinner etiquette will be very mortifying and the information contained in this section be worth a hundred times the cost of the book.

We now proceed to note the common routine of a fashionable dinner, as laid down in books and practiced in polite society. On some points usage is not uniform, but varies in different

countries, and even in different cities in the same country, as well as in different circles in the same place. For this reason you must not rely wholly upon this or any other manners book, but, keeping your eyes open and your wits about you, wait and see what others do, and follow the prevailing mode.

Dinner Etiquette

1. Invitations.

Invitations to a dinner are usually issued several days before the appointed time—the length of time being proportioned to the grandeur of the occasion. On receiving one, you should answer at once, addressing the lady of the house. You should either accept or decline unconditionally, as they will wish to know whom to expect, and make their preparations accordingly.

2. Dress.

You must go to a dinner party in "full dress." Just what this is, is a question of time and place. Strictly interpreted, it allows gentlemen but little choice.  A black dress coat and trowsers (sic), a black or white vest and cravat, white gloves, and pumps and silk stockings were formerly rigorously insisted upon. But the freedom-loving "spirit of the age" has already made its influence felt even in the realms of fashion, and a little more latitude is now allowed in most circles. 

The "American Gentleman's Guide" enumerates the essentials of a gentleman's dress for occasions of ceremony in general, as follows: 
"A stylish, well-fitting cloth coat, of some dark color and of unexceptionable quality, nether garments to correspond, or in warm weather, or under other suitable circumstances, white pants of a fashionable material and make, the finest and purest linen, embroidered in white, if at all; a cravat and vest of some dark or neutral tint, according to the physiognomical peculiarities of the wearer and the prevailing mode; an entirely fresh-looking, fashionable black hat, and carefully-fitted modish boots, white gloves, and a soft, thin, white handkerchief."

A lady's "full dress" is not easily defined, and fashion allows her greater scope for the exercise of her taste in the selection of materials, the choice of colors, and the style of making. Still, she must "be in the fashion."

3. Punctuality.

Never allow yourself to be a minute behind the time. The dinner can not be served till all the guests have arrived. If it is spoiled through your tardiness, you are responsible not only to your inviter (sic), but to his outraged guests. Better be too late for the steamer or the railway train than for a dinner!

4. Going to the Table.

When dinner is announced, the host rises and requests all to walk to the dining-room, to which he leads the way, having given his arm to the lady who, from age or any other consideration, is entitled to precedence. Each gentleman offers his arm to a lady, and all follow in order.  If you are not the principal guest, you must be careful not to offer your arm to the handsomest or most distinguished lady.

5. Arrangement of Guests.

Where rank or social position are regarded (and where are they not to some extent?), the two most distinguished gentlemen are placed next the mistress of the house, and the two most distinguished ladies next the master of the house. The right hand is especially the place of honor. If it is offered to you, you should not refuse it. It is one of the first and most difficult things properly to arrange the guests, and to place them in such a manner that the conversation may always be general during the entertainment. If the number of gentlemen is nearly equal to that of the ladies, we should take care to intermingle them. We should separate husbands from their wives, and remove near relations as far from one another as possible, because being always together they ought not to converse among themselves in a general party.

6. Duties of the Host.

To perform faultlessly the honors of the table is one of the most difficult things in society; it might indeed be asserted, without much fear of contradiction, that no man has as yet ever reached exact propriety in his office as host. When he receives others, he must be content to forget himself; he must relinquish all desire to shine, and even all attempts to please his guests by conversation, and rather do all in his power to let them please one another.  Help ladies with a due appreciation of their delicacy, moderation, and fastidiousness of their appetites; and do not overload the plate of any person you serve.  Never pour gravy on a plate without permission.  It spoils the meat for some persons. Do not insist upon your guests partaking of particular dishes; never ask persons more than once, and never put anything by force upon their plates. It is extremely ill-bred, though extremely common, to press one to eat of anything. The host should never recommend or eulogize any particular dish; his guests will take it for granted that anything found at his table is excellent. The most important maxim in hospitality is to leave every one to his own choice and enjoyment, and to free him from an ever-present sense of being entertained.  You should never send away your own plate until all your guests have finished.

7. Duties of the Guests.

Gentlemen must be assiduous but not officious in their attentions to the ladies. See that they lack nothing, but do not seem to watch them.  If a "grace" is to be asked, treat the observance with respect.  Good manners require this, even if veneration fails to suggest it.  Soup will come first.  You must not decline it; because nothing else can be served till the first course is finished, and to sit with nothing before you would be awkward.  But you may eat as little of it as you choose.  The host serves his left-hand neighbor first, then his right hand, and so on till all are served. Take whatever is given you, and do not offer it to your neighbor; and begin at once to eat. You must not suck soup into your month, blow it, or send for a second plate.  

The second course is fish, which is to be eaten with a fork, and without vegetables.  The last part of this injunction does not, of course, apply to informal dinners, where fish is the principal dish.  Fish, like soup, is served but once. When you have eaten what you wish, you lay your fork on your plate, and the waiter removes it.  

The third course brings the principal dishes—roast and boiled meats, fowl, etc., which are followed by game.  There are also side dishes of various kinds.  At dessert, help the ladies near you to whatever they may require. Serve strawberries with a spoon, but pass cherries, grapes, or peaches for each to help himself with his fingers. You need not volunteer to pare an apple or a peach for a lady, but should do so, of course, at her request, using her fork or some other than your own to hold it.  We have said in our remarks on table manners in general, in a previous chapter, that in sending your plate for anything, you should leave your knife and fork upon it.  

For this injunction we have the authority of most of the books on etiquette, as well as of general usage. There seems also to be a reason for the custom in the fact, that to hold them in your hand would be awkward, and to lay them on the table-cloth might soil it; but the author of the "American Gentleman's Guide," whose acquaintance with the best usage is not to be questioned, says that they should be retained, and either kept together in the hand, or rested upon your bread, to avoid soiling the cloth. Eat deliberately and decorously (there can be no harm in repeating this precept), masticate your food thoroughly, and beware of drinking too much ice-water.  If your host is not a "temperance man," that is, one pledged to total abstinence, wine will probably be drunk.  You can of course decline, but you must do so courteously, and without any reflection upon those who drink.  You are not invited to deliver a temperance lecture. 

Where finger-glasses are used, dip the tips of your fingers in the water and wipe them on your napkin; and wet a corner of the napkin and wipe your mouth.  Snobs sometimes wear gloves at table.  It is not necessary that you should imitate them. The French fashion of having the principal dishes carved on a side-table, and served by attendants, is now very generally adopted at ceremonious dinners in this country, but few gentlemen who go into company at all can safely count upon never being called upon to carve, and the art is well worth acquiring. Ignorance of it sometimes places one in an awkward position. You will find directions on this subject in almost any cook-book; you will learn more, however, by watching an accomplished carver than in any other way. 

Do not allow yourself to be too much engrossed in attending to the wants of the stomach, to join in the cheerful interchange of civilities and thoughts with those near you. We must leave a hundred little things connected with a dinner party unmentioned; but what we have said here, together with the general canons of eating laid down in Chapter VI, (Section 7, "Table Manners"), and a little observation, will soon make you a proficient in the etiquette of these occasions, in which, if you will take our advice, you will not participate very frequently. An informal dinner, at which you meet two or three friends, and find more cheer and less ceremony, is much to be preferred. – From 1887,  Samuel Well's,"How to Behave"