The Young Man's Guide to the Harmonious
Development of Christian Character

by Harvey Newcomb, 1847


Did it ever occur to you to inquire why all civilized people have their food prepared at particular hours, and all the family sit at table together? Why not have the food prepared, and placed where everyone can go and eat, whenever he pleases, by himself? One great advantage of having a whole family sit together, and partake of their meals at the same time, is, that it brings them together in a social way, every day. But for this, and the assembling of the family at prayers, they might not all meet at once for a long time. But eating together is a mark of friendship; and it tends to promote social feeling. In a well-regulated family, also, it is a means of great improvement, both of mind and manners. It is, in fact, a school of good manners. You will perceive, then, how very important it is, that your behavior at table should always be regulated by the rules of propriety. If you acquire vulgar habits here, or practice rudeness, you will find it difficult to overcome them; and they will make you appear to great disadvantage.

I shall mention a few things to be observed, at the table, by one who would maintain a character for good breeding. And, first of all, be not tardy in taking your place at the table. In a well-regulated family, the master of the family waits until all are seated before he asks a blessing. Suppose there are five people at the table, and you hinder them all by your tardiness three minutes, you waste fifteen minutes of precious time. To those who set a proper value upon time, this is a great evil. There is no need of it; you may as easily be at your seat in time as too late. When called to a meal, never wait to finish what you are doing, but promptly leave it, and proceed to your place. Above all, do not delay until after the blessing, and so sit down to your food like a heathen.

The table is a place for easy, cheerful, social fellowship; but some children make it a place of noisy clamor. The younger members of the family should leave it for the parents (and guests, if there are any,) to take the lead in conversation. It does not appear well for a very young person to be forward and talkative at table. You should generally wait until you are spoken to; or, if you wish to make an inquiry or a remark, do it in a modest, unassuming way, not raising your voice, nor spinning out a story. And be especially careful not to interrupt any other person. Sensible people will get a very unfavorable impression concerning you, if they see you bold and talkative at table. Yet you should never appear inattentive to what others are saying. Be not so intent on discussing the contents of your plate, as not to observe the movements of others, or to hear their conversation. Show your interest in what is said by occasional glances at the speaker, and by the expression of your countenance; but be not too anxious to put a word in yourself. Some children make themselves ridiculous, by always joining in, and making their remarks, when older people are speaking, often giving a grave opinion of some matter about which they know nothing.

Be helpful to others, without staring at them, or neglecting your own plate. You may keep your eye on the movements around you, to pass a cup and saucer, to notice if any one near you needs helping, and to help any dish that is within your reach. By so doing, you may greatly relieve your father and mother, who must be very busy, if they help all the family. By cultivating a close observation, and studying to know and anticipate the needs of others, you will be able to do these things in a genteel and graceful manner, without appearing obtrusive or forward.

Study propriety. If asked what you will be helped to, do not answer in an indefinite manner, saying, you "have no choice;" for this will put the master of the house to the inconvenience of choosing for you. Do not wait, after you are asked, to determine what you will have, but answer promptly; and do not be particular in your choice. To be very particular in the choice of food is not agreeable to good breeding. Never ask for what is not on the table. Do not make remarks respecting the food; and avoid expressing your likes and dislikes of particular articles. One of your age should not appear to be an epicure. Show your praise of the food set before you, by the good nature and relish with which you partake of it; but do not eat so fast as to appear voracious. Never put on sour looks, nor turn up your nose at your food. This is unmannerly, and a serious affront to the mistress of the table. Be careful to use your knife and fork as other people do, and to know when to lay them down, and when to hold them in your hands. Be careful not to drop your food, nor to spill liquids on the cloth. Do not leave the table before the family withdraw from it, unless it is necessary; and then, ask to be excused. Neither linger to finish your meal, after you perceive the rest have finished.

Besides what I have mentioned, there are a great many nameless little things, that go to make up good manners at table, which you must learn by studying the rules of propriety, and observing the behavior of others.