In 1766, the Strasbourg printer, Armand Konig, edits some Elements de politesse by a certain Prevost, in which we can see what is considered to be good manners in the time of Mme Dubarry. It contains a dual list of advice on how to behave at meals, and it is difficult to know which are the more astonishing: the things that are recommended, or the things that are prohibited.
“Do not dig your elbows into those next to you; do not put your hand into the serving dish before the highest ranking person has begun; do not show by any gesture that you are hungry and do not look at the meats with a sort of avidity, as if you want to devour everything; do not rush to hold out your plate to whomever distributes the cut meat, to be served first; however hungry you may be, do not gulp down your food for fear of choking; do not put a morsel into your mouth before having swallowed the other one, and do not take such a big one that it fills it indecently; do not make noises while you are serving yourself, do not make any either while chewing the meats, and do not break the bones or the kernels with your teeth; do not eat soup from the serving dish, but put it cleanly on your plate; do not bite into your bread; do not suck the bones to draw out their marrow; it is very indecent to touch something greasy, some sauce, syrup, etc., with the fingers, otherwise this obliges you to commit two or three indecencies, one of frequently wiping your hands on your serviette, and soiling it like a kitchen towel, the other to wipe them on your bread, which is even dirtier, and the third of licking your fingers, which is of the worst impropriety; be careful not to dip your bread or your meat into the serving dish, or to dip your morsels in the salt cellar; do not offer to others that which you have tasted; have for a general rule that everything which has been at any time on your plate should not be put back into the serving dish, and that there is nothing more revolting than to clean and wipe your plate or the bottom of some serving dish with your fingers; during the meal, do not criticise the meats and sauces; do not be the first to ask for a drink, for it is greatly impolite; carefully avoid speaking with a full mouth; it is impolite to clean your teeth with a knife or a fork during the meal.”
So, that’s what not to do. Now let’s have a look at what you should do.
“When taking your place at the table, remove your hat; always wipe your spoon when, after having used it, you want to take something in another serving dish, as there are people so delicate that they will not want to eat soup in which you have put it, after having had it in your mouth; close your lips while eating so as not to lap like the animals; if you unfortunately burn yourself, suffer it patiently if you can; but if you are unable to stand it, take your plate cleanly in one hand, and put it against your mouth, cover yourself with the other hand and put what you have in your mouth back on the plate, which you will give to a lackey behind you, for good manners mean that you must be polite, but it is not expected that you should kill yourself; good manners demand that you carry meat to your mouth with one hand only, usually the right, with the fork; when your hands are greasy, you must wipe them on the serviette and never on the tablecloth, nor on your bread. Take care never to throw anything on the floor, unless it is something liquid, although it is better to put it on your plate; do not taste the wine, and do not drink your glass in two or three goes, for that is much too familiar, but drink it in one breath and slowly, looking inside it while you drink; I say slowly for fear of choking, which would be a very impolite and very annoying accident; otherwise, drinking all in one go, as if you are filling a barrel, is a piggish action, which is not honest; you must also be careful in drinking not to make any noise with your throat allowing every swallow to be heard, so that another is able to count them.”
Tenth and last part tomorrow.