Rules on Carving by James Matthew Barrie

From A Holiday in Bed and Other Sketches by J. M. Barrie

Sir James Barrie

Rules on Carving

Rule I.—It is not good form to climb onto the table. There is no doubt a great temptation to this. When you are struggling with a duck, and he wobbles over just as you think you have him, you forget yourself. The common plan is not to leap upon the table all at once. This is the more usual process: The carver begins to carve sitting. By-and-by he is on his feet, and his brow is contracted. His face approaches the fowl, as if he wanted to inquire within about everything except that the duck is reluctant to yield any of its portions. One of his feet climbs onto his chair, then the other. His knees are now resting against the table, and, in his excitement, he, so to speak, flings himself upon the fowl. This brings us to

Rule II.—Carving should not be made a matter of brute force. It ought from the outset to be kept in mind that you and the duck are not pitted against each other in mortal combat. Never wrestle with any dish whatever; in other words, keep your head, and if you find yourself becoming excited, stop and count a hundred. This will calm you, when you can begin again.

Rule III.—It will not assist you to call the fowl names. This rule is most frequently broken by a gentleman carving for his own family circle. If there are other persons present, he generally manages to preserve a comparatively calm exterior, just as the felon on the scaffold does; but in privacy he breaks out in a storm of invective. If of a sarcastic turn of mind, he says that he has seen many a duck in his day, but never a duck like this. It is double-jointed. It is so tough that it might have come over to England with the Conqueror.

Rule IV.—Don’t boast when it is all over. You must not call the attention of the company to the fact that you have succeeded. Don’t exclaim exultingly, “I knew I would manage it,” or “I never yet knew a duck that I couldn’t conquer somehow.” Don’t exclaim in a loud gratified voice how you did it, nor demonstrate your way of doing it by pointing to the débris with the carving knife. Don’t even be mock-modest, and tell everybody that carving is the simplest thing in the world. Don’t wipe your face repeatedly with your napkin, as if you were in a state of perspiration, nor talk excitedly, as if your success had gone to your head. Don’t ask your neighbors what they think of your carving. Your great object is to convince them that you look upon carving as the merest bagatelle, as something that you do every day and rather enjoy.

A Holiday in Bed and Other Sketches