A Quarrel at the Dinner Table



Here‘s proof that feelings about the correct ordering of meals could run high, even amongst genteel Georgian ladies. The piece comes from a Norwich newspaper of 1772.

“I went a few days ago to dine in the country with a lady who was lately initiated into the mysteries of the carving knife[1], which she handles to admiration; and nobody cuts up the wings of a chicken, or parts off the legs of a pigeon, woodcock-fashion, with greater elegance and grace than she does: In short, she helps her guests to fish, flesh, fowl, vegetables, puddings and pies with that politeness, neatness and propriety, that none come to her table, but go away satisfied and charmed.

“We had a genteel repast, the most exquisite wines, and what rendered the whole more agreeable, mirth and good-humour, till there remained only to fill up the chinks, a delicious plumb tart and some maccaroni, with toasted parmesan cheese – there the good lady, beginning to cut the tart, was interrupted by another lady, who observed the maccaroni and parmesan should be eaten first – “Dear Madam, I never saw such a thing in my life – give me leave,” – “O Madam, you surprise me,” – “Nay, Madam, only Ax [ask] the company” – “Pshaw, Madam!” – Words went very high.

“The company was unwilling to decide on either side for fear of offending either party. Mr. Joseph the butler was called who gave it in favour of his lady. This only exasperated the other lady. Her brilliant eyes, which used only to dart the fires of love, now flashed revenge. Six times in a second the knife and fork were tossed about. Her fingers began to aim at something her antagonist seemed to be aware of, by settling the pins in her cap, and drawing her chair a little further off: And here it would have ended, had not a contemptuous smile from the mistress of the table, been insupportable; for now the plumb tart, the maccaroni and parmesan all went souse into the lady‘s face, which from the most delicate white became yellow, brown, blue and of divers hues. The company all rose; prayers and entreaties for peace were urged in vain: hands were held, the Lady‘s Women called, hartshorn[2], lavender water, towels, and the ladies were both conducted into separate apartments, in order to cool. I sent next day to know how they did, and find the mighty point of contest remains yet “alta mente repostum”, as Virgil calls it[3]. But I have some hope hands may be shaken, if this dubious affair were determined by better authority than Mr Joseph. I therefore beg leave to subjoin the following card:

“To all Ladies, mistresses of a polite table, this question is humbly proposed and submitted, Whether fruit pies and puddings should be eaten after or before maccaroni and parmesan?”


  1. We tend to assume men always did the carving. Here is proof that was not so. Of course, the lady in question might have been unmarried or a widow.  ↩
  2. Salt of hartshorn (ammonium carbonate) was used as smelling salts. ↩
  3. Aeneid, Book 1. “Stored deep in the mind.”  ↩

About William Savage

Author of mystery stories set in Georgian Norfolk.
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2 Responses to A Quarrel at the Dinner Table

  1. noelleg44 says:

    Hilarious! I would always eat my mac and cheese before the ‘plumb’ tart! The tart seems to be the woman who started it all, however.


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