Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/858

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

table or held in the hands of any of the guests—except that, in a single picture in a manuscript of Herrad of Landsberg (since destroyed by fire), an instrument resembling a fork, but more like a double-edged knife split in the direction of its length, was lying on the table.

The fork is likewise not mentioned in any of the numerous descriptions of feasts by the chroniclers of the middle ages; not in Alienor de Poitiers's account of the ceremonies and table usages of the Burgundian court; nor in the account of the setting of the table given in the "MĂ©nagier de Paris"; nor in that of the great feast given by the Duke of Burgundy to the English ambassadors in 1462. But it does appear from these stories that the guests took the meat and other viands which the carver prepared for them, and carried it to their mouths in their fingers. In some distinguished houses they took the pieces out of the common dish, or cut them themselves to eat them by the aid of their fingers. The guests did not even receive separate knives, and it was the custom in England in the sixteenth century for each to bring his own knife and sharpen it upon a common steel that hung upon the wall.

The absence of forks explains the careful attention that was paid to washing the hands before and after meals. Servants were all the time going around with basins and pitchers, and a towel slung over their shoulders, and pouring water on the hands of the guests, and the napkins were frequently changed. Sometimes the water was perfumed; and every pains was taken to remedy the soiling of the fingers that inevitably took place, and make it as little unpleasant as possible.

It seems clear enough, in the light of this negative evidence, that the few forks included in the silver-ware of the middle ages were not used as forks are used to-day. Since kitchen-forks served as spits and for holding roasts, it is probable that the high-born lords and ladies of those times, who only appear to have possessed these implements, used their silver forks for toasting their bread at the breakfast-room fire. There is some direct evidence that they were employed to hold substances particularly disagreeable or inconvenient to handle, as toasted cheese, which would leave an unpleasant smell; or sticky sugared dainties; or soft fruits, the juice of which would stain the fingers.

Only one incident is related of the use of the fork in the nineteenth-century fashion. This was by a noble lady of Byzantium who had married a Doge of Venice, and continued in that city to eat after her own custom, cutting her meat very finely up and conveying it to her mouth with a two-pronged fork. The act was regarded in Venice, according to Pietrus Damianus, as a sign of excessive luxury and extreme effeminacy. It suggests a probability that the fashion of eating with forks originated at the imperial