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I evidently come from a long line of Shakers. Well, considering their disdain for reproduction that's probably not the case but my mother and late grandmother would have whole-heartedly approved of this wonderful little text, which very neatly sums up everything that they tried (and failed) to teach me and that the Shakers believed about table manners. The nice people running the Shaker Museum at South Union in Logan County, Kentucky, it seems, recognised a best-seller and sell printed copies of this text, which is also posted on the school room's wall for the edification, if not compliance, of the youngest generations.

The text is most likely the work of Elder Daniel Offord (1843-1911) of the Mount Lebanon Shaker Village in New Lebanon, New York and was probably written around 1880. It is therefore, beyond reasonable doubt, in the public domain. Surprisingly, for such a gem of propriety, there appears to be no copy of this text on-line so it has been painstakingly typed up from the hard copy in front of me. The original formatting, including the author's distaste for paragraphs, has been preserved. The title is correct (STET, sic, and all that). I'm not just looking for an excuse to post a title with proper English spelling--that is how it appears in the original, despite its American provenance.


First, in the morning, when you rise,
Give thanks to GOD, who well supplies
Our various wants, and gives us food,
Wholesome, nutritious, sweet, and good;
Then to some proper place repair,
And wash your hands and face with care;
And ne'er the table once disgrace
With dirty hands or dirty face.
When to your meals you have the call,
Promptly attend, both great and small;
Then kneel and pray, with closed eyes,
That GOD will bless these rich supplies.
When at the table you sit down,
Sit straight and trim, nor laugh nor frown;
Then let the elder first begin,
And all unite, and follow him.
Of bread, then take a decent piece,
Nor splash about the fat and grease;
But cut your meat both neat and square,
And take of both an equal share.
Also, of bones you'll take your due,
For bones and meat together grew.
If, from some incapacity,
With fat your stomach don't agree,
Or if you cannot pick a bone,
You'll please to let them both alone,
Potatoes, cabbage, turnip, beet,
And every kind of thing you eat,
Must neatly on your plate be laid,
Before you eat with pliant blade;
Nor ever--'tis an awkward matter,
To eat or sip out of the platter.
If bread and butter be your fare,
Or biscuit, and you find there are
Pieces enough, then take your slice,
And spread it over, thin and nice,
On one side only; then you may
Eat in a decent, comely way.
Yet butter you must never spread
On nut-cake, pie, or dier-bread1;
Or bread with milk, or bread with meat,
Butter with these things you may not eat.
These things are all the best of food,
and need not butter to be good.
When bread or pie you cut or break,
Touch only what you mean to take;
And have no prints of fingers seen
On that that's left--nay, if they're clean.
Be careful, when you take a sip
Of liquid, don't extend your lip
So far that one may fairly think
That cup and all you mean to drink.
Then clean your knife--don't lick it, pray;
It is a nasty, shameful way--
But wipe it on a piece of bread,
Which snugly by your plate is laid.
Thus clean your knife, before you pass
It into plum or apple-sauce,
Or butter, which you must cut nice,
Both square and true as polish'd dice.
Cut not a pickle with a blade
Whose side with grease is overlaid;
And always take your equal share
Of coarse as well as luscious fare.
Don't pick your teeth, or ears, or nose,
Nor scratch your head, nor tonk2 your toes;
Nor belch nor sniff, nor jest nor pun
Nor have the least of play or fun.
If you're oblig'd to cough or sneeze,
Your handkerchief you'll quickly seize,
And timely shun the foul disgrace
Of splattering either food or face.
Drink neither water, cider, beer,
With greasy lip or mucous tear;
Nor fill your mouth with food, and then
Drink, lest you blow it out again.
And when you've finish'd your repast,
Clean plate, knife, fork--then, at the last,
Upon your plate lay knife and fork,
And pile your bones of beef or pork:
But if no plate, you may as well
Lay knife and fork both parallel.
Pick up your crumbs, and, where you eat,
Keep all things decent, clean and neat;
Then rise, and kneel in thankfulness
To HIM who does your portion bless;
Then straightly from the table walk,
Nor stop to handle things, nor talk.
If we mean ever to offend,
To every gift we must attend,
Respecting meetings, work, or food,
And doing all things as we should.
Thus joy and comfort we shall find,
Love, quietness, and peace of mind;
Pure heavenly Union will increase.
And every evil work will cease.

Wonderful poetry from the same Anglo-Saxon culture that brought you
"If you don't eat your meat, you can't have any pudding
How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat?"

Now post it on the kitchen wall for the kids to ignore and for the teenagers to scoff at. I know I would have.

1Sponge cake. Obsolete term peculiar to the north-eastern US, as far as I can tell.
2Genius word lady Chras4 says that this means tapping, knocking, or something in that line.

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