Percy, I thought you were a theatrical critic. Now I find you are only a soup critic.
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"From Nuts to Soup"
(by Will Rogers, American humorist. Published by permission of the Will Rogers Memorial Museums. This essay, originally published in newspapers in August 31, 1924, has also been published under the title "Defending my Soup Plate Position")
A couple of weeks ago I wrote the following: "If Mrs. John William Davis, wife of the Democratic presidential candidate, ever gets into the White House, we will have a mistress whom no titled European visitor can embarrass by doing the right thing first. She will never tip her soup plate, even if she can't get it all."
Now comes along an old friend of mine, Percy Hammond, a theatrical critic on the Chicago Tribune and the New York Tribune (pardon me, Percy, for having to tell them who you are, but my readers are mostly provincial). He takes up a couple of columns, part of which follows:
For years I have been tipping my soup plate, but never until Mr. Rogers instructed me, did I know that I was performing a social error. Consultation with the polished and urbane head waiters of the Middle West, where I spent my boyhood, taught me, I believed, to eat soup. One wonders if Mr. Rogers has given as much thought to soup as he has to the lariat. Perhaps he does not know, being recently from Oklahoma, that in many prominent Eastern dining rooms one may tip one's soup plate, without losing his social standing. I regard Mr. Rogers' interference as prairie, impudent and unofficial. The stewards of the Dutch Treat Club assure me that it is proper to tip one's plate, provided (and here is the subtlety that escapes Mr. Rogers), provided that one tips one's plate from, and not toward.
Mr. Rogers might well observe the modesty in such matters that adorns Mr. Tom Mix, his fellow ex-cowman. Mr. Mix, telling of a dinner given in his honor at the Hotel Astor, said: I et for two hours and didn't recognize a thing I et, except an olive.
Them are Percy's words (you notice I call you Percy, because if I keep saying "Mr. Hammond, Mr. Hammond," all through my article, it might possibly appear too formal). Percy, I thought you were a theatrical critic. Now I find you are only a soup critic. Instead of going, as is customary, from soup to nuts, you have gone from nuts to soup. Now, Percy, I have just read your article on "My Ignorance of Etiquette" (I don't know if that etiquette thing is spelled right, or not; if it is not, it will give you a chance for another article on my bad spelling). Now you do not have to write articles on my lack of etiquette, my ignorance, my bad English, or a thousand and one other defects. All the people that I ever met, or any one who ever read one of my articles, know that. It's too well known to comment on. Besides, I admit it.
Percy, I am just an old country boy in a big town trying to get along. I have been eating pretty regular, and the reason I have been, is because I have stayed an old country boy. Now I wrote that article, and technically I admit I may have been wrong, but the newspapers paid me a lot of money for it, and I never had a complaint. And, by the way, I will get the same this week for writing about you as I got for writing about soup. Now both articles may be wrong. But if you can show me how I can get anymore money by writing them right, why, I will split with you.
Now you took my soup article apart to see what made it float. I will see if we can't find some small technicalities in your literary masterpiece. You say I came recently from Oklahoma, while you come from the Middle West and "by consultation with the head waiters have learned the proper way to eat soup." I thought Oklahoma was in the Middle West. Your knowledge of geography is worse than my etiquette. You say you learned to eat soup from a head waiter in the Middle West. Well, I admit my ignorance again: I never saw a head waiter eat soup.
Down in Oklahoma, where I come from, we won't let a head waiter eat at our table, even if we had a head waiter, which we haven't. If I remember right, I think it was my mother who taught me what little she knew of how I should eat, because if we had had to wait until we sent and got a head waiter to show us, we would have all starved to death. If a head waiter taught you to eat soup, Percy, I suppose you were sent to Borden's to learn how to drink milk.
Then you state: "The stewards of the Dutch Treat Club assured me that it is proper to tip one's plate." Now if you had learned properly from the great social head waiters of the urbane Middle West, why did you have to consult the stewards of the Dutch Treat Club? Could it be that after arriving in N.Y. you couldn't rely on the information of the polished head waiters of your phantom Middle West? Now I was in the Dutch Treat Club once, but just as a guest of honor at a luncheon, and of course had no chance to get into any intimate conversation with the stewards. At the same time, the place did not impress me as being one where you might learn the last word in etiquette.
And as for your saying that "anything of subtlety would escape me," that I also admit. I attribute it to my dumbness. But as for me being too dumb to get the idea of "the soup plate being tipped away and not toward one," that's not etiquette; that's just self-protection. As bad as you plate tippers want all you can get, you don't want it in your lap. Custom makes manners, and while I know that it is permissible to tip plates, I still say that it is not a universal custom.
Manners are nothing more than common sense, and a person has no more rights to try and get every drop of soup out of his plate than he has to take a piece of bread and try and harvest all the gravy in his plate. If you are that hungry, they ought to feed you out of a nose bag. So, "prairie impudence," or no "prairie impudence," I claim there are lots of them that don't do it, even if it is permissible, head waiters and Dutch stewards to the contrary. It's permissible to get drunk, but we still have a few that don't.
Now, Percy, suppose they all did as permitted. Picture a big dinner with everybody with their soup plates all balanced up on edge, rounding up what little soup was left. If that was the universal custom, I would invent a triangle that could be pushed under the plate, so it would permit you to have one hand free, if by chance you might want to use a napkin.
So don't ask head waiters and stewards what to do, Percy, look around yourself. You will find hundreds of them that are satisfied with just what soup they can get on the level. Why, I bet you are a fellow, Percy, if you took castor oil, you would want to lick the spoon.
You know, Percy, I might know more about etiquette than you think I do. I wrote a review on Emily Post's Book of Etiquette, and it was recopied in the Literary Digest. Now have you or any of your Mid-Western head waiters or retinue of stewards, ever been asked to write a criticism on such an authoritative work as that? So you see, I am somewhat of a critic myself. I am the Hammond of the Etiquette book business.
Another thing, Percy, I spoke of a particular case; I mentioned Mrs. Davis. Well, I happened to see the lady in question eat soup, and she did not try and corral the whole output. She perhaps knew it was permissible, still she did not seem eager to take advantage of it.
Now you speak of my friend Tom Mix, where he says, "He et two hours and did not recognize anything he et but an olive." Now that is bad grammar, even I will admit, but it's mighty good eating. Don't you kinder envy him that he can eat two hours? I bet you that you would trade your knowledge of the English language, for his constitution. Tipping that soup plate at all your meals for years, is what put that front on you, Percy. Leave some! And the fact that Tom has done something to be given a dinner for, should make him immune from attacks from the press table.
Personally, I don't think his word "et" on Mix's part will seriously affect the drawing power of his films. You see, Percy, Tom said, "et" but you know better than him what to say. Still, if a western picture was to be made to amuse the entire world, I would trust Tom's judgement to yours. Percy, everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.
So Percy, you string with the high brows, I am going to stick to the low brows, because I know I am at home with them. For remember, if it was not for us low brows, you high brows would have no one to discuss. But God love you, Percy, and if you ever want to leave them and come back to us where you started, we will all be glad to welcome you, even if you do feel like you are slumming. You must remember, Percy, that the question of the world today is not how to eat soup, but how to get soup to eat.