Monday, July 30, 2012

The Only Book In History Bound In A Dinner Napkin, Or Gentility Takes A Nosedive

By Stephen J. Gertz

 Buy it. Go to some dinner party and follow instructions. You'll be murdered on the spot or sent to some asylum for dippymaniacs, either of which is quite captivating and costs nothing above the price of the book. Costs a quarter. Worth a lot more. If your dealer hasn't it we will send one postpaid for 30¢. (Ad at rear of Trench Gas: A Bunch of Many Clever Chestnuts by Bert Milton, 1918).
"The Best Dinner Souvenir Ever Published"

"Bert Milton has written some good stuff on 'How To Behave At A Banquet.' By following directions, you will land in a padded cell, with accomodations provided free of charge by the State. The covers of the book are nothing more or less than old-fashioned fringed napkins. The thing is unique throughout, and should be served up with the soup. Makes a fine favor for banquets, spreads, 'feeds,' and all convivial occasions where the 'eats' play a leading 'roll.' Read 'How To Behave At A Banquet.' It is worth while (Publisher's advert., 1912).

A few tips from the text for social climbers in need of rope and pitons to ascend to the heights of CLASSY COMPORTMENT at the banquet table:

• As you approach the table make a RUNNING JUMP for your chair, endeavoring to BE THE FIRST SEATED. Everybody probably will remark about YOUR AGILITY. A modest blush will be your only answer.

• The meal is about to begin. Hitch RIGHT UP to the TABLE -- placing your ARMS in an ADVANTAGEOUS POSITION on either side of your plate. Keep your WEATHER eye on your COMPETITORS -- forgetting everything but the WORK that is BEFORE you. Don't let anyone GET AHEAD of you.

• When starting on a plate full of GOOD things, DISCARD YOUR FORK temporarily. You can hold a good deal more still on a knife. Use the fork to CLEAN UP with. A piece of bread serves excellently as a DISH RAG. It saves the hostess washing plates.

• Now and then a bone sticks in one's throat while eating fish. DON'T TRY TO COUGH IT WAY ACROSS THE ROOM. In a MODEST MANNER fish for it with your FORK and above all things don't make a FUSS about it.

• Sometimes they start a dinner with a MUCH PICKLED fish - oysters disguised IN CATSUP - shad's woe - ET CETERA AD INFINITUM. This is a very crucial moment. Sit back and hold tight until you see what the others do and then - GO TO IT - with a VIM.

• Managing a salad is VERY TRYING at times. It is so hard to eat one without getting MUSSED UP around the MOUTH. We suggest leaving it alone. Don't LET ON that you are crazy to GET AWAY WITH IT. People will think that you have a DELICATE APPETITE, which is considered by many to be a mark of aristocracy.

• Soon they will bring on some SOUP. Hearing a good LOUD soup is VERY enjoyable. There will be several spoons beside yur plate. We really can never remember WHICH ONE to choose but pick out a BIG ONE at any rate. While sipping the soup make a cute noise like a leaky faucet. This is RECHERCHE in the extreme.

• If, inadvertently, you get a SPOT on the table-cloth, absent-mindedly place a piece of BREAD over it, butter side down. the BUTTER will keep the bread from sliding off.

• If you SPILL your coffee in your neighbor's lap -- INSTANTLY assure him that you really didn't care for the coffee anyway. Tell him not to mind it at all.

A dinner roll of unleavened proverbs is also served:

¶ Eat, drink and be merrie;
for to-morrow the good things may be scarce.

¶ Scrape well thy first plate;
that thy second may be fuller.

¶ Eat and the world eats with you.
Fast and you fast alone.

¶ To eat is human -
To digest divine!

¶ Taste makes Waist!

¶ Don't put off 'til tomorrow
what you can chew today!

¶ One good course
deserves another!

¶ If at first you don't fill up -
Try, try again!

Clearly, Bert Milton was Miss Manners' worst nightmare, the result of an illicit adolescent l'amour fou with Clem Kadiddlehopper.

One of the prelim pages notes:

Other Books Not Yet Written By Bert Milton, A.M., M. & P.M.

"Boney Beaney, the Boston Boy"
"What To Do If A Pickle Bites You"
"A Hand To Hand Encounter With A Clam"
"Lisping Lizzie," etc.

Other books actually written by Bert Milton and published by A.M. Davis are:

How To Behave In A Ballroom (1914)
Trench Gas: A Bunch of Many Clever Chestnuts (1918)
How To Behave In a Hospital! (1930)
Bed-Time Stories For Convalescents (1932)
More Bed-Time Stories For Convalescents (1932).

"Bert Milton" was the pseudonym of publisher Albert Milton Davis.

The book is twenty-four pages long and that's around twelve pages too many. It's a one-joke concept and its delight soon dampens; there's something crucial lacking -  these are latter-day captions to early-day Cruikshank and Rowlandson  caricatures they never designed but whose theme they often satirized in their era. The text illustrations are just not strong enough to carry the joke very far.

It's a rare little thing; OCLC records only four copies in institutional holdings worldwide. Princeton felt it worthy of their shelves. So, too, the National Library of Wales (or, as we say in Yiddish, the Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru). Why?

How To Behave At A Banquet is, to the best of my knowledge, the  only intentionally published book that, when finished reading, you can wipe your mouth with. But gracefully, please. When a scribe lays out a nice spread only a primitive demonstrates postprandial satisfaction by mopping their yap like it's a bar-top.

MILTON, Bert [pseud. of Albert Milton Davis]. How to Behave at a Banquet: Being a nifty thing to have around in case of an emergency. Boston: A.M. Davis Co., [1912]. Tall narrow octavo. 24 pp. Text illustrations. Linen wrappers

Wrapper image courtesy of David Mason Rare Books, currently offering this item, with our thanks.

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