Victorian Picnic Etiquettes

Picnics were popular with the Victorians, perhaps because it supplied them the opportunity to escape from formal dining rituals. But as etiquette manuals pronounced that, the picnic has its etiquette as well as the dinner party and society demands that one should be loyal to these rules whether dining under the tree or under the chandelier.

For the Victorians, picnics were the happy occasions when they would try to forget how highly civilized they were on a day-to-day basis. Often the food for the picnic would be delivered by servants in a separate carriage ahead of the guests. Picnics were to be of a more casual affair and not to be crowded with more than two or three servants.

According to etiquette manuals gentlemen were instructed to forgo their own needs and consent to become the waiters, guides and servants to the ladies and must perform any feats to suit a ladies fancy even if she desired a lovely flower at an impossible to get at place.

Etiquette manuals reminded a gentleman that women have more tender nerves and more rapid imaginations and that consideration should be taken when chosing a picnic site, and so a site set above a cliff selected for its splendor view may alarm the female diners. Care must also be taken to see that the guests are not seated upon an ant hill. There should also be certainty of shade as it is quite impossible for a lady to hold her parasol during lunch and nothing is more uncomfortable for a lady than to be exposed to a merciless sun.

Each gentleman should endeavor to do his utmost to be amusing and entertaining. Once the last bite of pie or cake was eaten should a gentleman have musical talent and have with him an instrument, such as a cornet, which is barely tolerated in the enclosed walls of the drawing room, should be perfect to perform out-of-doors.

Usually games were played such as; croquet, blind man's bluff, or even tag and afterward the guests would break into separate groups, and, perhaps, into pairs. Some would explore the general area collecting flowers to hang and dry, or into the woods to search for wild mushrooms or moss. Others may wander off to sketch, or explore a nearby castle or ruins.

If a woman chooses to seat herself upon the ground, a gentleman is not at liberty to follow her example unless he has been invited to do so. The lady must not have occasion to think of the possibility of any improprity on a gentleman's part. As much as a couple may enjoy their explorations they must not loiter too long away from the crowd. A young lady who strolls away for a couple of hours with a young man among the ruins or in the wood, should scarcely be asked to join a second picnic. And before the end of a fine day, one etiquette manual suggests, that it is pleasant to have a five o'clock tea before starting home."