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Victorian Etiquette or How to Behave in the 19th Century

Discussion in 'Mid-19th Century Life' started by Eleanor Rose, Mar 12, 2018.

  1. Eleanor Rose

    Eleanor Rose 1st Lieutenant

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    [​IMG]
    I have always been interested in 19th century etiquette. I recently discovered the book entitled, “The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness: A Complete Handbook for the Use of the Lady in Polite Society” by Florence Hartley. It was written in 1860 and it’s full of little etiquette gems. The following excerpts are shared under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License.​

    “In order to appear perfectly well-bred at table when in company, or in public, as at a hotel, you must pay attention, three times a day, to the points of table etiquette. If you neglect these little details at home and in private, they will be performed awkwardly and with an air of restraint when you are in company. By making them habitual, they will become natural, and appear easily, and sit gracefully upon you.

    Even when eating entirely alone, observe these little details, thus making the most finished and elegant manners perfectly familiar, and thus avoiding the stiff, awkward air you will wear if you keep your politeness only for company, when you will be constantly apprehensive of doing wrong.

    At breakfast or tea, if your seat is at the head of the table, you must, before taking anything upon your own plate, fill a cup for each one of the family, and pass them round, being careful to suit each one in the preparation of the cup, that none may return to you for more tea, water, sugar, or milk. If you have a visitor, pass the cup with the tea or coffee alone in it, and hand with the[106] cup the sugar bowl and cream pitcher, that these may be added in the quantity preferred.

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    After all the cups have been filled and passed round, you may take the bread, butter, and other food upon your own plate. Train your children, so that they will pass these things to you as soon as they see you are ready to receive them.

    If you are yourself at the side of the table, pass the bread, butter, etc., to the lady at the head, when you see that she has sent the cups from the waiter before her, to those seated at the table.

    If you occupy the place of head of the table, you must watch the cups, offer to fill them when empty, and also see that each one of the family is well helped to the other articles upon the table.

    Avoid making any noise in eating, even if each meal is eaten in solitary state. It is a disgusting habit, and one not easily cured if once contracted, to make any noise with the lips when eating.

    Never put large pieces of food into your mouth. Eat slowly, and cut your food into small pieces before putting it into your mouth.

    Use your fork, or spoon, never your knife, to put your food into your mouth. At dinner, hold in your left hand a piece of bread, and raise your meat or vegetables with the fork, holding the bread to prevent the pieces slipping from the plate.

    If you are asked at table what part of the meat you prefer, name your favorite piece, but do not give such information unless asked to do so. To point out any especial part of a dish, and ask for it, is ill-bred. To answer, when asked to select a part, that “it is a matter of indifference,” or, “I can eat any part,” is annoying to the carver, as he cares less than yourself certainly, and would prefer to give you the piece you really like best.

    Do not pour coffee or tea from your cup into your saucer, and do not blow either these or soup. Wait until they cool.

    Use the butter-knife, salt-spoon, and sugar-tongs as scrupulously when alone, as if a room full of people were watching you. Otherwise, you may neglect to do so when the omission will mortify you.

    Never put poultry or fish bones, or the stones of fruit, upon the table-cloth, but place them on the edge of your plate.

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    Do not begin to eat until others at the table are ready to commence too.

    Sit easily in your chair, neither too near the table, nor too far from it, and avoid such tricks as putting your arms on the table, leaning back lazily in your chair, or playing with your knife, fork, or spoon.

    Never raise your voice, when speaking, any higher than is necessary. The clear articulation and distinct pronunciation of each word, will make a low tone more agreeable and more easily understood, than the loudest tone, if the speech is rapid or indistinct.

    Never pass your plate with the knife or fork upon it, and when you pass your cup, put the spoon in the saucer.

    Never pile up the food on your plate. It looks as if you feared it would all be gone before you could be helped again, and it will certainly make your attempts to cut the food awkward, if your plate is crowded.

    If there is a delicacy upon the table, partake of it sparingly, and never help yourself to it a second time.

    If you wish to cough, or use your handkerchief, rise from the table, and leave the room. If you have not time to do this, cover your mouth, and turn your head aside from the table, and perform the disagreeable necessity as rapidly and quietly as possible.

    Avoid gesticulation at the table. Indeed, a well-bred lady will never gesticulate, but converse quietly, letting the expression and animation of her features give force to her words.

    Never, when at the home table, leave it until the other members of the family are also ready to rise.”




     

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  3. AshleyMel

    AshleyMel First Sergeant

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    Amen, amen and AMEN!
    Such good and proper advise!
    I do, however; tend to have a bit of trouble with this one:
    At UDC convention last year my table was the loudest! I have the best friends!
    There is NEVER a dull moment to be had!
    :bounce:
     
  4. AshleyMel

    AshleyMel First Sergeant

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    On a more serious note, I do love etiquette books and articles as well!
    My Mother was always trying to impress the importance of such things to me while I was running around barefoot catching doodle bugs with my sisters!
     
  5. captaindrew

    captaindrew 2nd Lieutenant Trivia Game Winner

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    I think a lot of us would have trouble with a couple of these. :furious:
     
  6. AshleyMel

    AshleyMel First Sergeant

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    Like when you have to share the plate with your salad! Meat, potatoes, veggie and then salad! My lettuce always hits the floor!
     
  7. Eleanor Rose

    Eleanor Rose 1st Lieutenant

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    I struggle with this one. I talk with my hands a lot.

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  8. LoriAnn

    LoriAnn Major

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    So I'm guessing this is a "no".
     
  9. LoriAnn

    LoriAnn Major

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    How's this?
     
  10. LoriAnn

    LoriAnn Major

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    According to How Stuff Works, young unmarried women couldn't go out without an escort. And Lord, hope you don't run into any guys you know unless you both have the whole routine down (Which I broke up a little to make for easier reading...and note taking, which I hope you are ALL doing!!):

    "According to Cassell's Household Guide, a comprehensive book on Victorian life published in 1869, if the young woman did see a gentleman friend and felt she couldn't ignore him, she would have to take the initiative and offer her hand.

    The gentleman had to wait for the lady to recognize him before lifting his hat (not simply touching the brim), and he had to use the hand farthest from her.

    If she offered her hand, the gentleman had to turn to walk with the lady instead of stopping.

    And above all else, the conversation itself had to be reserved: Cassell's dictates, "Strict reticence of speech and conduct should be observed in public," without "loud talking" or "animated discussions." "


    If you were a guy and wanted the best chance of avoiding all this, it sounds like smoking was an option.

    Men weren't supposed to smoke in front of women. This meant it was considered rude for a woman to engage a man who was smoking in conversation, as it would force him to put out his cigar. I'm guessing some guys had to take advantage of this, no?

    ...

    I must say, I like the idea of the woman initiating physical contact.
     
  11. LoriAnn

    LoriAnn Major

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    I've heard people refer to "dance cards", but I've never given them much thought until now:

    "At balls, ladies generally had dance cards on which to write the names of their partners. According to Cassell's, a promise to dance, once made, was sacred and "should not on any account be broken." And a lady was never to dance more than three times with one gentleman [source: Pool]."

    Source

    A bit longer explanation:

    "A dance card is simply a card that was provided at large balls and dances with a list of the dances for the evening with a space beside it. The ladies would each have a card, sometimes with a small attached pencil, and when a gentleman asked her to dance, he would write his name in for a particular agreed upon dance. This was to help the lady remember who she agreed to dance with and to avoid the embarrassing situation of promising to dance the same dance with two different men. (Though I have always been confused about how the men were supposed to remember who they promised to dance with!)"

    Source

    I realize I'm going to sound stupid, but I honestly had no idea these were actual cards. I thought it was just a phrase.

    Wanna see some dance cards? :D

    [​IMG]

    Source

    On that second card, I think I see "Doyle" at least twice. *waggles eyebrows*
     
  12. LoriAnn

    LoriAnn Major

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    Oooh, look at this one, said to be from 1887! Pretty. Practical. And it has tassels.

    [​IMG]

    OR. You could have this one...

    [​IMG]

    *crickets chirping*
    *one woman silently panicking because she thinks this means she has to dance with Grover Cleveland*


    And finally, a dance card I couldn't leave out because I wanna know who "XXX" was!!! :D

    [​IMG]


    Source
     
  13. captaindrew

    captaindrew 2nd Lieutenant Trivia Game Winner

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    Double LIKE! that's talent
     
  14. captaindrew

    captaindrew 2nd Lieutenant Trivia Game Winner

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    I guess the caveman approach is out. :furious:
     
  15. LoriAnn

    LoriAnn Major

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    Depends on how charming the caveman is.
     
  16. jackt62

    jackt62 Sergeant Major

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    We could all use a little more etiquette nowadays.
     
  17. Eleanor Rose

    Eleanor Rose 1st Lieutenant

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    The Victorians have a reputation for being prim and proper, but social niceties constituted basic manners and politeness. However, even then — social critics of the time poked fun at the more ridiculous elements of Victorian society.
     
  18. LoriAnn

    LoriAnn Major

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    All kidding aside, I like the idea of formal dances with dance cards. It seems very sweet, not to mention rather organized. I could see it being a lot of fun.
     
  19. Eleanor Rose

    Eleanor Rose 1st Lieutenant

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    According to Cassell's Household Guide, a comprehensive book on Victorian life published in 1869, if a young woman saw a gentleman friend and felt she couldn't ignore him, she would have to take the initiative and offer her hand. The gentleman had to wait for the lady to recognize him before lifting his hat (not simply touching the brim), and he had to use the hand farthest from her. If she offered her hand, the gentleman had to turn to walk with the lady instead of stopping. And above all else, the conversation itself had to be reserved: Cassell's dictates, "Strict reticence of speech and conduct should be observed in public," without "loud talking" or "animated discussions."

    A gentleman never smoked in the presence of a lady and it was considered impolite for ladies to "detain gentlemen in conversation" while they were smoking because it would "force him to put out a good cigar."

    Only under extreme circumstances could one perform the practice of "cutting," in which you stared directly at someone you knew with no sign of recognition. Cassell's called this "the most ill-mannered act possible to commit in society."

    In a carriage ride, a gentleman never sat next to a lady who was not a relative; he always sat with his back to the horses, allowing the opposite seat to the lady. A gentleman also had to take care not to step on a lady's dress, and he was to alight first to help a lady down.
     
  20. Eleanor Rose

    Eleanor Rose 1st Lieutenant

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    Published in 1875, Thomas E. Hill compiled a list of dos and don’ts in his Manual of Social and Business Forms. Be prepared to chuckle!

    Hygiene Etiquette:
    · Bathing: “Upon arising, take a complete bath. A simple washing out of the eyes is not sufficient. The complete bathing of the body once each day is of the utmost importance. Not more than a quart of water is necessary, preferably rainwater.”

    · Hair: “The head should be washed occasionally with soap and water. When the hair is inclined to be harsh and dry, a moderate application of bear’s grease or other dressing should be used.”

    · Skin: “Beware of exterior applications of cosmetics. Instead, once every two or three months, take a teaspoonful of powdered charcoal mixed with sweetened water or milk. This will prove efficacious in making the complexion clear and transparent.”

    · Kissing: “Upon the meeting of intimate friends, among ladies, at the private house, the kiss as a mode of salutation is yet common; but this is a custom which ought to be abolished for physiological and other reasons.”

    Social Etiquette and Manners
    · Bowing: “A gentleman should not bow from a window to a lady on the street, though he may bow slightly from the street upon being recognized by a lady in a window. Such recognition should, however, generally be avoided, as gossip is likely to attach undue importance to it when seen by others.”

    · Dignity: “To greet someone by saying ‘Hello, old fellow’ indicates ill-breeding. If you are approached in this vulgar manner, it is better to give a civil reply and address the person respectfully, in which case he is quite likely to be ashamed of his own conduct.”

    · Small talk: “No topic of absorbing interest may be admitted to polite conversation. It might lead to discussion.”

    · Conduct to avoid at the ball: “No gentleman should enter the ladies’ dressing room at a ball.”

    · Card-playing: “If possible, do not violate the rules of the game and do not cheat. Should you observe anyone cheating, quietly and very politely call it to his attention, and be careful that you do not get excited. People who experience ill-feeling at the game should avoid playing.”

    · Marriage: “Anyone with bright red hair and a florid complexion should marry someone with jet-black hair. The very corpulent should marry the thin and spare, and the body, wiry, cold-blooded should marry the round-featured, warmhearted, emotional type.”

    · Husbands: “Always leave home with a tender goodbye and loving words. They may be the last.”

    · Train travel: “People with weak eyes should avoid reading on trains, and those with weak lungs should avoid talking.”

    · Street etiquette: “When crossing the pavement, a lady should raise her dress with the right hand, a little about the ankle. To raise the dress with both hands is vulgar and can only be excused when mud is very deep.”

    Source: The 1973 Old Farmer's Almanac, “Victorian Era Etiquette and Manners: Old-fashioned Rules for Good Behavior” by Irwin Ross.
     
  21. John Winn

    John Winn Captain

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    Sorry, a weak moment made me attempt humor here again (which I've vowed to eschew).
     
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2018

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