Sometimes Humorous, Yet Very Real, Victorian Manners of American Society, Circa 1869

Back in June, I posted a portion of an etiquette book by Sarah Annie Frost.  As I am under the weather, so to speak, I am posting more from her 1869 book. Oftentimes funny, but supposedly strictly followed, these are rules of etiquette for "Society" in 1869...  


Frost's Laws and By-Laws of American Society 

by Sarah Annie Frost 1869

On dining in 1869-

If you make any general remark, do not look up at the waiters to see what effect it has upon them. If they are well-trained they will not move a muscle at hearing the most laughable story, nor will they give any sign whatever that they have not closed their ears like deaf adders to all that has been going on. In any case, however, you must refrain from noticing them.

If you want anything, take the occasion of a waiter being near to you, to ask for it in an undertone. To shout out "Waiter!" or
order one about, as if you were in a restaurant, is a certain mark of ill-breeding.

Unless the party is a very small one, general conversation is
impossible. In such a case, you must converse with those on either side of you, not confining your remarks exclusively to one.

Talk in a low, quiet tone, but never in a whisper.  To affect an air of mystery or secrecy at a dinner-table, is an insult to your companion and company assembled.

It is in bad taste to force the attention of the company upon
yourself by loud talking or loud laughing.

Too many jokes or anecdotes are in bad taste, but the subjects for conversation should not be too serious.

Any gentleman propounding a conundrum at the dinner-table deserves to be taken away by the police.

To use one's own knife, spoon or fingers, instead of the
butter knife, sugar-tongs or salt-spoons, is to persuade the
company that you have never seen the latter articles before, and are unacquainted with their use.

Never eat all that is on your plate, and above all never be guilty of the gaucherie of scraping your plate, or passing your bread over it as if to clean it.

Never fill your mouth so full that you cannot converse; at the
same time avoid the appearance of merely playing with your food.

Eat in small mouthfuls, and rather slowly than rapidly.

Peel fruit with a silver knife in your right. Eat it in small slices cut from the whole fruit, but never bite it, or anything else at
table. Need I say no fruit should ever be sucked at the table.

 If upon opening fruit you find it is not perfect, or there is a
worm in it, pass your plate quietly and without remark to the
waiter, who will bring you a clean one.

None but a low-bred clown will ever carry fruit or bon bons
away from the table.

Drinking wine with people is an old custom, but it will nowadays be found to exist only among the past or passing generation. 

When the hostess thinks her lady friends have taken as much
dessert as they wish, she catches the eye of the principal among them; an interchange of ocular telegraphing takes place, the hostess rises, and with her all the company rise; the gentlemen make a passage for the ladies to pass; the one who is nearest to the door opens it, and holds it open until all the ladies have passed out of the room.

As soon as the ladies have retired the gentlemen may resume their seats for more wine and conversation, but it is a very poor compliment to the lady guests to linger long in the dining-room.

The ladies upon leaving the dining-room, retire to the drawing-room, and occupy themselves until the gentlemen again join them.

It is well for the hostess to have a reserve force for this
interval, of photographic albums, stereoscopes, annuals, new
music, in fact, all the ammunition she can provide to make this often tedious interval pass pleasantly.

If you dine in the French fashion, the gentlemen rise with the
ladies, each offering his arm to the lady he escorted to dinner,
and all proceed to the drawing-room together.

If the gentlemen remain to have coffee served in the dining-room, tea may be served in the drawing-room to the ladies.

Upon returning to the drawing-room the gentlemen should never cluster round the door, but join the ladies at once, striving to repay the hospitality of the hostess by making themselves as agreeable as possible to the guests.

From two to three hours after dinner is the proper time to leave the house. 


  1. This is very amusing! I am especially surprised to read that wine was only a drink that "past" or "passing generation". Passing on to the great beyond? Most books from that time mention wine, champagne, sherry... I don't follow. Maybe you can address this in another post?

  2. Maura I love your blog.. From my experience leaving the room after dinner in country houses in England has become kind of a"not necesary experience" mostly because my generation does not care much abour the tradition, they prefer to hang out with couples... sad but true not withstandintg I´m a lover of ettiquete hello from Mexico, Juan Pablo


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