"There is scarcely any person who does not often feel the need of advice as to the best manner of performing the various duties of life." So wrote Dr. James McCabe in the 1881 preface to his National Encyclopaedia of Business and Social Forms.

"There is scarcely any person who does not often feel the need of advice as to the best manner of performing the various duties of life." So wrote Dr. James McCabe in the 1881 preface to his National Encyclopaedia of Business and Social Forms.

The 858-page volume includes laws of etiquette, statistical tables for reference, parliamentary law, the art of writing poetry, elementary gymnastics, household receipts (recipes,) letter writing and much more. There are hours of interesting reading in this eclectic work. The author's purpose was "to make it a treasury of information upon the subjects that are constantly arising in the daily life of all classes."

I hope it's not too late to help you act appropriately at dinner parties. That is, if you wish to follow the guidelines of the late 19th century. McCabe writes that knowledge of dinner-table etiquette is "regarded as one of the strong tests of good breeding." He emphatically points out the importance of studying the various rules because there are so many. In fact, he writes that "none of them can be violated without exposing the offender to instant detection."

Consider some of these:

Don't be late. McCabe would refer to you as "that dreadful personage whose vulgar disregard of punctuality has perhaps endangered the success of the repast."

Be alert to the possibility of a seating plan. McCabe warned the hosts, "A little care should, however, be taken that a judicious distribution of the guests, according to their tastes, accomplishments, terms of intimacy, etc., is secured."

How to partake of soup. "Eat it from the side of your spoon. Do not take it too hot; and do not ask twice for it, or dip up the last spoonfuls, or tilt your plate to get at it."

Gentlemen offering ladies wine. McCabe said the lady "can neither ask for it nor help herself; she can only exercise her discretion in the number of times she will empty the glass."

Using a knife and fork. "under no possible circumstance is the knife to be put in or near the mouth."

Eating fish. "Never spit the bones out into the plate, or touch them with your fingers: use a corner of your napkin to convey them to the side of your plate."

End of the dinner. McCabe indicated that only the gentlemen ate the cheese course; the ladies declined it. That would make me most unhappy!

Coffee and tea. "One cup of tea or coffee only should be taken; and we need hardly say that it must not be poured into the saucer to cool."

I did enjoy reading that the men would "devote themselves to the ladies" once the servants had presented the desserts. He wrote that when a lady took a piece of fruit, the gentleman next to her prepared it, "using a silver knife and fork, and never touching it with the fingers." Likewise, he wrote, if she took nuts of any kind, the man would crack them for her.

By the way, you would be in the drawing-room for this and served by the lady of the house because this was "her special province."

A final suggestion. "In the drawing room there should be a little music to give relief to the conversation." Interesting that McCabe gave no recommendation for the kind of music to be offered.

Allow me another quote because it is so sensible and stands the test of time. "Always act simply and easily, as if you were accustomed to doing things properly."

Carole Wilhelm is a member of the Powell-Liberty Township Historical Society.