Household Words/Volume 12/The Carver's College


As evidence of the pitiable ignorance in which a large number of the inhabitants of this intelligent country are at present languishing respecting the most essential branch of the social duties of life, the following harrowing cases have recently come to light:

A. B. is a married lady; age not given. Has been married five years. Her husband has been in the habit, during that time, of giving dinner parties, to strengthen, as he says, his professional connections. Doesn't believe, for her part, that they ever did any good, and thinks balls much more likely. (Here the witness began to wander, and was brought back with difficulty to the matter of investigation). During the whole of her married life has been compelled to carve at table in consequence of Mr. B.'s deplorable ignorance. Is in delicate health, and is advised by her medical attendant to breakfast in her own apartment; but is compelled to descend every morning, to protect the symmetry of the ham from his all-maiming hands. Mr. B. is considered a well-informed man, but cannot carve a fowl. Took what they call honours, she believes, at college, but doesn't know the difference between a mayonnaise and a marinade. Is of opinion that the government ought to do something in the matter, and is satisfied that the evil is of wide growth.

C. D. is a young gentleman, aged twenty-four. Goes to dinner-parties sometimes, but often er to balls. Can carve, of course; has done so frequently. Don't mean to say he is a good carver. (This witness gave his evidence with considerable hesitation.) Can carve fowls at supper. Of course he can; he's sure he can; has done so hundreds of times. Admits that they had been previously cut up and tied together with white satin ribbon. Well, then! carved them, in fact, by untying the ribbon. Has offered, at a dinner party, to relieve his hostess of a partridge. Hasn't done so often. On her declining, upon the plea of not wishing to trouble him, has not repeated the offer. Doesn't think he was bound to have done so. Can help potatoes, of course, but admits doubts about asparagus. Would use a spoon for both purposes. Thinks carving a bore, and ought always to be done at the sideboard. (Here the witness became so restless, that any further examination was found impracticable.)

In order to remedy the deplorable state of social ignorance evinced by these and other equally distressing cases it is proposed that a carver's college, supported by donations and annual subscriptions, be founded in a central situation, and select classes opened for the instruction of adult pupils.

The course will commence with instruction in the art of cutting bread, and will proceed, by easy stages, until the removal of the backbone of a hare shall be to him, as Butler has it,

No more difficult
Than to a blackbird 'tis to whistle.

Arrangements might be made for securing a supply of jointed wooden fowls, practicable raised pies, and other culinary dummies upon which the first essays of the uninitiated might be made, at a trifling pecuniary outlay. It might also be desirable to engage the services of some eminent comparative anatomist, to deliver a course of lectures on the structure of the lower orders of the animal world.

As soon as the students shall have become theoretically acquainted with the ordinary duties of the table, arrangements might be made for apprenticing them, for limited periods, to some dining-room keeper of eminence, with a view to afford them an opportunity of acquiring a practical knowledge of the subject by experimentalising upon real rounds of beef and genuine legs of mutton, until they should have attained that self-confidence which is so necessary in a carver, and which practice alone can insure. It would be only just to the apprentice to provide specially in the indentures that he should not be required, under any circumstances, to eat any of his own journey work. As evidence of progress, it might be desirable to deposit, in the windows of the society's offices, two sirloins of beef, the one showing the curving capabilities of the student on his first joining the society, the other exhibiting his progress after six lessons.

When, by theoretical instruction, practical experience, and emulative excitement, the undergraduates shall have become so far versed in the ordinary duties of the table as to know what gastronomy requires to be cut thick, and what thin; when they shall have learnt in which direction to obtain the best cut of venison, and how to divide the ribs from the shoulder in a forequarter of lamb; in short, when acquainted with the more ordinary and elemental branches of the art; it is proposed that select carving réunions should be held in the college hall, at which they should enjoy opportunities of displaying their adroitness. It might be well that the neophytes should be required, on these occasions, to cut up large geese and fowl of mature years, on small dishes, from very low chairs, with knives of the bluntest description. Mysterious side-dishes might also be handed round; which it should be their duty to dispense with as much coolness as if they knew what they were made of; and they should be expected to maintain an easy, unembarrassed flow of small talk, even when in the agonies of dissecting a tough old ptarmigan.

The course of study should conclude with a series of lectures on those refinements of the art, a knowledge of which is indispensable to the reputation of an accomplished carver. During the course, observations would naturally be directed to the prevalence and character of second-day dishes, with a view to place the student in a position to detect at a glance whether a dish had ever done duty in any other shape. He would thus be enabled to trace the mulligatawney soup of to day back to the curried chicken of yesterday, and again to the boiled fowl of the day before. Some hints might likewise be given on physiognomy in connection with carving, by which the carver could be enabled to discriminate between the honoured guest, to whom it would be proper to offer the wing, from the victim who might, without offence, be put off with the drumstick.

It is confidently believed that, by these means, the day may yet arrive when thousands of our benighted countrymen and countrywomen will be so well skilled in the art of carving, as to be able to define "joints innumerable in the smallest chick that ever broke the heart of a brood hen," and supply fourteen people handsomely, from a single pheasant, still retaining the leg for himself.