Again simplicity-No strong-scented flowers - No " greenery-yallery " stuffs-Lighting of the table and shades-No fads or frills-Electric light-Fruit-On menus, and why always French menus, even for the most simple and most thoroughly English dinners?-On wines; here again simplicity and sincerity as to quality.
When you give a modest banquet, judiciously ordered, you will let the decoration of your table be as simple as your dinner. No strong-scented flowers, I hope, and none very expensive. Why waste your substance on cut flowers? Spend all you like on excellent food and the best of wine. I am glad to know you despise " greenery-yallery" dirty-coloured stuffs disposed limply on your table, with a flower or two, artfully stuck into the folds, wherever possible. You seek all your glory in the finest white napery, bright silver, glass of the whitest, purest, and finest shaped, and flowers as nearly as possible of one pale tint, the leaves being of very light colour. You have nothing on the table so high as to hide one guest from the other, and your lights are so contrived as to light up well the charming faces gathered around your festive board. You have a lamp, suspended just above their heads, and candles on the dinner-table itself, both well screened, not obscured; but no fads or frills in the shape of umbrellas or parasols in lieu of shades over the lights. Only too often have you seen the frills ending up in a flare. Green or opalescent shades throw a ghastly hue over every face, and electric light in the ceiling infallibly casts every eye into deep shadow. Why, since the introduction of electric light, this mode of lighting a dinner-table from the ceiling has come into fashion, must ever remain a mystery. I am sure you are not as unkind as all this to your fair friends.
There has been, and there is still, much controversy as to fruit being banished from the table. I hope you will weigh that question well, and, whatever you decide finally, I trust you will have no fruit that is not intended to be eaten. Any dish of fruit or confectionery on the table solely for the purpose of decoration, is a sin against good taste. Why all this gorgeousness of dessert? Would not one or two dishes of fruit in season serve every purpose ? You have given your guests a bounteous feast, surely there is no necessity to pile a quantity of fruit and confectionery on the top of it all.
Since we are at one, so far, and since you mean to be simple, you will not, of course, elaborate your accessories, such as the menu-cards and stands, and, as for the menu itself (which you have succeeded in producing of only reasonable length), as your courage failed you in your attempt to write it in plain English, let the French list of the English dishes produced by your British goddess below stairs, be revised by some well-educated Frenchman (not by a French chef), else yon will be sure to come to grief.*
I am sorry Sir Henry Thompson condemns all attempts at English bills of fare, because, he says, the introduction of certain indispensable French words would result in a "mongrel patois," but, with all deference to Sir Henry's opinion, I hold the " mongrel "to be preferable to the schoolgirl French, frequently misspelt, of most of our French menu achievements.
As a fair sample of these I will select the familiar ceufs de pluvier (plover's eggs), known to the French only as ceufs de vanneau (lapwing's eggs). As a matter of fact, the latter are the very eggs we delight in as the plover's; they are the lapwing's or peewit's, belonging to the plover family, but they are not those of the grey or golden plover, which do not nest in this country. I fancy these Sevfs de pluvier would prove something of a conundrum to a French poulterer; but if you, my fair
reader, mean to stick to that word in spite of all, please use the singular and not the plural, also say " sauce a la diable " and not " sauce au diable."
* Pray save me from menus printed in gold type. Why add to the difficulty of reading small print ?
Why is our honest Southdown almost invariably styled pre sale by our intelligent composers of menus ? Surely this is reducing it from the first to the third rank in the mutton world. The French pre sale (salt-marsh) mutton cannot compare with our Southdown and, in point of fact, it is quite another article. Perhaps the same intelligent composer would call Severn salmon saumon du Rhin ? What I wish to ask now is this: you, with your, usual sincerity and good taste, write in your bill of fare tender-loin steaks a la Rossini, and a Frenchman, in his, roast-beef a l'Anglaise; can either be called a " mongrelpatois " ? I hold that culinary terms ought to be entitled to free passes into every language.
Supposing, too, that all our French menus, from the schoolgirl's to the confectioner's or purveyor's of ball suppers, were unobjectionable French, what is the good of them to, say, one-half of your guests, whose knowledge of French, admittedly, is of the slightest? And as for the hired Robert, do you expect him to be a French scholar and to bring you that dish with a long French name to it ? As like as not he will serve something else instead and will tell you " Hoff, sir."
I am happy to say the fashion of serving many kinds of wine is going out. Sherry, claret, and champagne served together throughout the dinner as well as champagne with the after-dinner wine, are amply sufficient for most people, and doubtless those who indulge in a greater variety will pay the penalty some day. I prefer one wine throughout and that very good, and if I have any doubts as to the quality of the tap, I ask for plain whiskey and soda.
In all things, then, be simple and sincere. Many men besides the writer have urged simplicity. Forty or more years ago one " who had seen the mahoganies of many men " said, " Great folks, if they like you, take no count of your feasts and grand preparations, and can but eat mutton like men."