When I was growing up, some of the best times
were spent sitting with my dad and listening to him
read “The Goops” from The Children’s Book of Literature.
It’s a poem, written by Gelette Burgess (1866-1951),
that told of the naughty habits of some mischievous,
bald-headed, child-like beings. I think the poem,
although quite humorous, was possibly a serious
attempt to teach children proper table manners. Of course,
my dad’s rendition made it seem like play. And though
I knew the poem by heart even before I could read
the words myself, I never tired of the time spent
together with my father and hearing his often
animated (and sometimes “mis-read”) version.
So, why do I mention this? Well, because poems,
stories, and even entire books about proper manners
have been written literally throughout the centuries.
There are many that survive from the medieval and
Tudor periods. Though seemingly meant for children,
these various books were also often really instructions
for parents on how to best prepare their offspring for
their eventual entrance into “polite” society.
In fact, in 1534 the Dutch writer Desiderius Erasmus
wrote his version of an etiquette manual, entitled
De Civitate. Below are a few of his tips.* They
reminded me of my dad’s countless recitations
of “The Goops.”
+ Sit not down until you have washed.
+ Undo your belt a little if it will make
you more comfortable; because doing
this during the meal is bad manners.
+ When you wipe your hand clean,
put good toughts forward in your mind,
for it doesn’t do to come to dinner sad,
and thus make others sad.
+ Once you sit place your hands neatly
on the table; not on your trencher, and
not around your belly.
+ Don’t shift your buttocks left and
right as if to let off some blast. Sit
neatly and still.
+ Some allow children to stand,
bare-headed at their betters table
to take their meete. They should
not stay for the whole meal,
but once they have eaten
enough, pick up their trencher,
salute them that is at the table
+ Any gobbit that cannot be
taken easily with the hand,
take it on your trencher.
+ Don’t wipe your fingers on
your clothes; use the napkin
or the ‘board clothe’.
+ If someone is ill mannered
by ignorance, let it pass,
rather than point it out.*
Oh, yes, and here’s “The Goops,” by Gelette Burgess:
The Goops they lick their fingers
And the Goops they lick their knives:
They spill their broth on the tablecloth
Oh, they lead disgusting lives!
The Goops they talk while eating,
And loud and fast they chew;
And that is why I’m glad
that I am not a Goop,
Incidentally, there were numerous books about “The Goops,”
all written and illustrated by Burgess. He went further and
created a comic strip about them that ran from 1924-25.
* Source: The Taste of the Fire, The Story of the Tudor
Kitchens at Hampton Court Palace