dining etiquette history

MANNERS in Europe date back to the eleventh century, to the days of chivalry and knights-errant. 

In the thirteenth century, Frederick II inaugurated courtly manners, which emphasized intellect, wit, and beauty. Our word courtesy is a diminutive of "courtier's customs," while manners comes from the Latin manuaruu, meaning "of the hand".

The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries gave birth to modern table manners. With the invention of movable type around 1440, books on social deportment based on consideration of others began to circulate. William Caxton, the first printer in England, published The Book of Curtesye, around 1477, a tome that set forth the duties of knighthood and chivalrous conduct.

Renaissance women of the aristocracy played a more passive and decorative role than today, and it was gentlemen with leisure time who contemplated social deportment and wrote etiquette books. In 1528 Baldassare Castiglione, an Italian diplomat, penned It Lwro d'Oro, which was translated into English as The Courtier in 1561.

Children of the aristocracy learned table manners through menial service in noble households and from etiquette manuals. In the sixteenth century, Desiderius Erasmus, the Dutch humanist, writer, and professor of divinity at Cambridge, who believed in the education of youth, set forth the following guidelines for social deportment.

Court etiquette was so elaborate in the seventeenth century that it bordered on the ridiculous. Aristocrats were given tickets of admission to court ceremonies with a code of conduct printed on the reverse side. Gradually, etiquette came to mean a mode of behavior, not only for the French court but in social situations everywhere.

Although etiquette in Europe and England was dictated by gentlemen of leisure, in the United States men were too busy laying the foundation of a new country and providing a living for their families. It fell to the women to teach social deportment and etiquette. The exception was a young George Washington, who at age 16 wrote Rules of Civility Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation, a school exercise that included 110 rules based on a seventeenth-century book written by Francis Hawkins, Youth Behavior; or Decency liz Conoereation Amonqst bIen, itself based on a set of rules set forth by French Jesuits in the sixteenth century. The number one maxim that runs throughout Washington's book is consideration for others. This is the basis of modern table manners.

Nothing is as revealing about one's environment and social adjustment as table manners. A person with poor table manners usually has poor manners in other areas of life. Suffice it to say that manners must relate to one's lifestyle; otherwise they are mere affectations. Although every decade brings sweeping changes, the customs of the table prevail because they make sense and, once obtained, are never lost or taken from us.