Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Collection Snapshot: Late for Dinner?

November 29th, 2017

It’s that time of year when dinner parties and invitations of all sorts abound, so we thought it might be interesting to turn to a nineteenth-century etiquette book to explore its advice on the age-old question of when to arrive for dinner.

Stamped cloth binding of Etiquette for Gentlemen (1841 edition)  Title page of Etiquette for Gentlemen

Stamped cloth binding and title page of  and title page of Etiquette for Gentlemen: With Hints on the Art of Conversation. London: Tilt and Bogue, 1841. Call #: A445. Click images to enlarge.

Of the numerous etiquette books in Spencer Research Library’s collections, Etiquette for Gentlemen: With Hints on the Art of Conversation offers particularly unyielding guidance.  Its anonymous author advises:

If you accept [a dinner invitation], you arrive at the house rigourously at the hour specified. It is equally inconvenient to be too late and to be too early.  If you fall into the latter error, you find every thing in disorder; the master of the house is in his dressing-room; the lady is still in the pantry; the fire not yet lighted in the parlour.  If by accident or thoughtlessness you arrive too soon, you may pretend that you called to inquire the exact hour at which they dine, having mislaid the note, and then retire to walk for an appetite. If you are too late, the evil is still greater, and indeed almost without remedy.  Your delay spoils the dinner and destroys the appetite and temper of the guests; and you yourself are so much embarrassed at the inconvenience you have occasioned, that you commit a thousand errors at table.  If you do not reach the house until dinner is served, you had better retire to a restaurateur’s, and thence send an apology, and not interrupt the harmony of the courses by awkward excuses and cold acceptances.

Passage on arriving at the appointed time for dinner in Etiquette for Gentlemen

Arrival etiquette in Etiquette for Gentlemen: With Hints on the Art of Conversation. London: Tilt and Bogue, 1841. Call #: A445. Click image to enlarge.

Etiquette for Gentlemen appears to have been first published in 1838, and the library holds the 1841 edition. The book’s advice, however, is hardly new as its preface confesses:  “It is […] scarcely possible that anything original should be found in a brochure like the present: almost all that it contains must have fallen under the notice of every gentleman who has been in the habit of frequenting good society.”  As with many etiquette books, the volume’s directives will strike modern readers as by turns sensible, humorous, odd, ill-conceived, and offensive. The volume itself is small enough to fit in the palm of one’s hand (and certainly one’s pocket) for ready consultation whenever the need might arise. Although, isn’t it perhaps impolite to pause a social interaction in order to consult one’s etiquette book?!

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

Collection Snapshot: Diet and Digestion Advice from the Late 1600s

January 5th, 2015

It’s that time of year when you may hear your friends and family vowing to eat better for 2015.  But who needs trendy “paleo” diets or post-indulgence rounds of pepto-bismol when you can consult a seventeenth-century manuscript instead?  Among the Spencer Research Library’s collections is a volume labelled “Elizabeth Dyke her Booke of Recaits 1668,” which contains approximately 725 medicinal and culinary recipes (or “receipts”).  There you’ll find these two succinct lists of things “good” and “ille” for the stomach:

List of "Things good" and "ille" for "the stomack" from a seventeenth century book of receipts.

Parsley and sage advice?: Dyke, Elizabeth. “Things good for the Stomack” and “Things Ille for the Stomack.”
Booke of Recaits [Receipts]. Great Britain, circa 1668. Call Number: MS D157. Click image to enlarge.

According to the manuscript, calamint, sage, and standing after eating meat are all beneficial, while “all sweet things,” “fryed meats,” eating “meat upon meat” (pace Dr. Atkins), and eating “to[o] many dishes at one time” can lead to digestive disorder.

Of course, some of the volume’s recipes are acquired tastes (see the instructions for black sheep’s pudding below), so you may want to take its advice with a grain of salt!

Opening in the Booke of Recaits featuring a recipe for Black Sheep's Pudding

“To make black sheeps pudings.” Book of Recaits [Receipts]. Great Britain, circa 1668. MS D157. Click image to enlarge.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian