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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/857

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THE HISTORY OF THE FORK.

THE HISTORY OF THE FORK.
By J. VON FALKE.

THE Duchess of Beaufort, dining once at Madame de Guise's with King Henri IV of France, extended one hand to receive his Majesty's salutation while she dipped the fingers of the other hand into a dish to pick out what was to her taste. This incident happened in the year 1598. It demonstrates that less than three hundred years ago the fingers were still used to perform the office now assigned to forks, in the highest and most refined circles of society. At about this time, in fact, was the turning-point when forks began to be used at table as they are now. When we reflect how nice were the ideas of that refined age on all matters of outer decency and behavior, and how strict was the etiquette of the courts, we may well wonder that the fork was so late in coming into use as a table-furnishing. The ladies of the middle ages and the Renaissance were not less proud of a delicate, well-kept hand than those of our own days, and yet they picked the meat from the platter with their slender white fingers, and in them bore it to their mouths. The fact is all the more remarkable, because the form of the fork was familiar enough, and its application to other uses was not uncommon. It was even used in cooking in the epic period of the middle ages, as a spitting instrument, though rarely as an aid in cutting. It appears with some regularity in the inventories or treasure-lists of kings and noble houses after the fourteenth century, but only in isolated or very few specimens as compared with the large numbers of knives and spoons. In Clement of Hungary's list in the fourteenth century thirty spoons are mentioned, but only one fork, and that of gold. The proportion is nearly the same in the Duke of Anjou's inventory of 1360. King Charles V of France in 1380 listed along with many other objects two silver forks with crystal handles; and this monarch is said to have had in all twelve forks in a million francs' worth of silverware. The Duchess of Touraine in 1389 had only two forks to nine dozen spoons. The instrument was then called by the same name it bears to-day in French—fourchette—and this was the diminutive of fourche, pitchfork, with which all the farmers at least were acquainted. Forks are not oftener mentioned, nor for a different purpose, in the fifteenth century; but Duchess Charlotte of Savoy had, in 1483, two spoons and a fork, of silver, "to eat comfits with."

These examples show that forks were known as rare and costly articles, but were not used for the purposes they now are. Among the miniature pictures on Anglo-Saxon manuscripts are representations of meals, but none in which a fork is shown lying on the