Manners and social usages,

CHAPTER XXXIII.DINNER-TABLE NOVELTIES.


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One would think that modern luxury had reached its ultimatum in the delicate refinements of dinner-giving, but each dinner-table reveals the fact that this is an inexhaustible subject. The floral world is capable of an infinity of surprises, and the last one is a cameo of flowers on a door, shaped like a four-leaved clover. The guests are thus assured of good-luck. The horseshoe having been so much used that it is now almost obsolete, except in jewelry, the clover-leaf has come in. A very beautiful dinner far up Fifth Avenue had this winter an entirely new idea, inasmuch as the flowers were put overhead. The delicate vine, resembling green asparagus in its fragility, was suspended from the chandelier to the four corners of the room, and on it were hung delicate roses, lilies-of-the-valley, pinks, and fragrant jasmine, which sent down their odors, and occasionally dropped themselves into a lady’s lap. This is an exquisite bit of luxury.

Then the arrival, two months before Easter, of the fragrant, beautiful Easter lilies has added a magnificent and stately effect to the central bouquets. It has been found that the island of Bermuda is a great reservoir of these bulbs, which are sent up, like their unfragrant rivals the onions, by the barrelful. Even

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a piece of a bulb will produce from three to five lilies, so that these fine flowers are more cheap and plenty in January than usually in April. A dining-room, square in shape, hung with richly-embroidered, old-gold tapestry, with a round table set for twenty, with silver and glass and a great bunch of lilies and green ferns in the middle, and a “crazy quilt” of flowers over one’s head, may well reproduce the sense of dreamland which modern luxury is trying to follow.

Truly we live in the days of Aladdin. Six weeks after the ground was broken in Secretary Whitney’s garden in Washington for his ballroom, the company assembled in a magnificent apartment with fluted gold-ceiling and crimson brocade hangings, bronzes, statues, and Dresden candlesticks, and a large wood fire at one end, in which logs six feet long were burning–all looking as if it were part of an old baronial castle of the Middle Ages.

The florists will furnish you red clovers in January if you give your order in October. Great bunches of flowers, of a pure scarlet unmixed with any other color, are very fashionable, and the effect in a softly-lighted room is most startling and beautiful.

The lighting of rooms by means of lamps and candles is giving hostesses great annoyance. There is scarcely a dinner-party but the candles set fire to their fringed shades, and a conflagration ensues. Then the new lamps, which give such a resplendent light, have been known to melt the metal about the wick, and the consequences have been disastrous. The next move will probably be the dipping of the paper in some asbestos or other anti-inflammable substance, so that

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there will be no danger of fire at the dinner-table. The screens put over the candles should not have this paper-fringe; it is very dangerous. But if a candle screen takes fire, have the coolness to let it burn itself up without touching it, as thus it will be entirely innocuous, although rather appalling to look at. Move a plate under it to catch the flying fragments, and no harm will be done; but a well-intentioned effort to blow it out or to remove it generally results in a very much more wide-spread conflagration.

China and glass go on improving; and there are jewelled goblets and centre-pieces of yellow glass covered with gold and what looks like jewels. Knives and forks are now to be had with crystal handles set in silver, very ornamental and clean-looking; these come from Bohemia. The endless succession of beautiful plates are more and more Japanese in tone.

Satsuma vases and jugs are often sent to a lady, full of beautiful roses, thus making a lasting souvenir of what would be a perishable gift. These Satsuma jugs are excellent things in which to plant hyacinths, and they look well in the centre of the dinner-table with these flowers growing in them.

Faded flowers can be entirely restored to freshness by clipping the stems and putting them in very hot water; then set them away from the gas and furnace heat, and they come on the dinner-table fresh for several days after their disappearance in disgrace as faded or jaded bouquets. Flowers thus restored have been put in a cold library, where the water, once hot, has frozen stiff, and yet have borne these two extremes of temperature without loss of beauty–in fact, have

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lasted presentably from Monday morning to Saturday night. What flowers cannot stand is the air we all live in–at what cost to our freshness we find out in the spring–the overheated furnace and gas-laden air of the modern dining-room. The secret of the hot-water treatment is said to be this: the sap is sent up into the flower instead of lingering in the stems. Roses respond to this treatment wonderfully.

The fashion of wearing low-necked dresses at dinner has become so pronounced that the moralists begin to issue weekly essays against this revival as if it had never been done before. Our virtuous grandmothers would be astonished to hear that their ball-dresses (never cut high) were so immoral and indecent. The fact remains that a sleeveless gown, cut in a Pompadour form, is far more of a revelation of figure than a low-necked dinner-dress properly made. There is no line of the figure so dear to the artist as that one revealed from the nape of the neck to the shoulder. A beautiful back is the delight of the sculptor. No lady who understands the fine-art of dress would ever have her gown cut too low: it is ugly, besides being immodest. The persons who bring discredit on fashion are those who misinterpret it. The truly artistic modiste cuts a low-necked dress to reveal the fine lines of the back, but it is never in France cut too low in front. The excessive heat of an American dining-room makes this dress very much more comfortable than the high dresses which were brought in several years ago, because a princess had a goitre which she wished to disguise:

No fulminations against fashion have ever effected

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reforms. We must take fashion as We find it, and strive to mould dress to our own style, not slavishly adhering to, but respectfully following, the reigning mode, remembering that all writings and edicts against this sub-ruler of the world are like sunbeams falling on a stone wall. The sunbeams vanish, but the stone wall remains.

The modern married belle at a dinner is apt to be dressed in white, with much crystal trimming, with feathers in her hair, and with diamonds on her neck and arms, and a pair of long, brown Swedish gloves drawn up to her shoulders; a feather fan of ostrich feathers hangs at her side by a ribbon or a chain of diamonds and pearls. The long, brown Swedish gloves are an anomaly; they do not suit the rest of this exquisite dress, but fashion decrees that they shall be worn, and therefore they are worn.

The fine, stately fashion of wearing feathers in the hair has returned, and it is becoming to middle-aged women. It gives them a queenly air. Young girls look better for the simplest head-gear; they wear their hair high or low as they consider becoming.

Monstrous and inconvenient bouquets are again the fashion, and a very ugly fashion it is. A lady does not know what to do with her two or three bouquets at a musicale or a dinner, so they are laid away on a table. The only thing that can be done is to sit after dinner with them in her lap, and the prima donna at a musicale lays hers on the grand piano.

More and more is it becoming the fashion to have music at the end of a dinner in the drawing-room, instead of having it played during dinner. Elocutionists
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are asked in to amuse the guests, who, having been fed on terrapin and canvas-back ducks, are not supposed to be in a talking mood. This may be overdone. Many people like to talk after dinner with the people who are thus accidentally brought together; for in our large cities the company assembled about a dinner-table are very often fresh acquaintances who like to improve that opportunity to know each other better.

We have spoken of the dress of ladies, which, if we were to pursue, would lead us into all the details of velvet, satin, and brocade, and would be a departure from our subject; let us therefore glance at the gentlemen at a modern, most modern, dinner. The vests are cut very low, and exhibit a piqué embroidered shirt front held by one stud, generally a cat’s-eye; however, three studs are permissible. White plain-pleated linen, with enamel studs resembling linen, is also very fashionable. A few young men, sometimes called dudes–no one knows why–wear pink coral studs or pearls, generally black pearls. Elderly gentlemen content themselves with plain-pleated shirt-fronts and white ties, indulging even in wearing their watches in the old way, as fashion has reintroduced the short vest-chain so long banished.

It is pleasant to see the old-fashioned gold chain for the neck reappearing. It always had a pretty effect, and is now much worn to support the locket, cross, or medallion portrait which ladies wear after the Louis Quinze fashion. Gold is more becoming to dark complexions than pearls, and many ladies hail this return to gold necklaces with much delight.

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Gentlemen now wear pearl-colored gloves embroidered in black to dinners, and do not remove them until they sit down to table. Seal rings for the third finger are replacing the sunken jewels in dead gold which have been so fashionable for several years for gentlemen.

All the ornamentation of the dinner-table is high this winter–high candlesticks, high vases, high glasses for the flowers, and tall glass compotiers. Salt-cellars are looking up; and a favorite device is a silver vase, about two inches high, with a shell for salt.

Silver and silver-gilt dishes, having been banished for five years, are now reasserting their pre-eminent fitness for the modern dinner-table. People grew tired of silver, and banished it to the plate-chest. Now all the old pieces are being burnished up and reappearing; and happy the hostess who has some real old Queen Anne. As the silver dollar loses caste, the silver soup tureen, or, as the French say, the soupière (and it is a good word), rises in fashion, and the teapot of our grandmothers resumes its honored place.

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