MANNERS AND SOCIAL USAGES
WOMEN AS LEADERS.
Nothing strikes the foreigner so much (since the days of De Tocqueville, the first to mention it) as the prominent position of woman in the best society of America. She has almost no position in the political world. She is not a leader, an intrigante in politics, as she is in France. We have no Madame de Stael, no Princess Belgioso, here to make and unmake our Presidents; but women do all the social work, which in Europe is done not only by women, but by young bachelors and old ones, statesmen, princes, ambassadors, and attaches. Officials are connected with every court whose business it is to visit, write and answer invitations, leave cards, call, and perform all the multifarious duties of the social world.
In America, the lady of the house does all this. Her men are all in business or in pleasure, her sons are at work or off yachting. They cannot spend time to make their dinner calls--"Mamma, please leave my cards" is the legend written on their banners.
Thus to women, as the conductors of social politics, is committed the card--that pasteboard protocol, whose laws are well defined in every land but our own.
Now, in ten different books on etiquette which we have consulted we find ten different opinions upon the subject of first calls, as between two women. We cannot, therefore, presume to decide where so many doctors disagree, but give the commonly received opinions as expressed by the customs of New York society.
When should a lady call first upon a new and a desirable acquaintance? Not hastily. She should have met the new and desirable acquaintance, should have been properly introduced, should feel sure that her acquaintance is desired. The oldest resident, the one most prominent in fashion, should call first; but, if there is no such distinction, two women need not forever stand at bay each waiting for the other to call. A very admirable and polite expedient has been: substituted for a first call in the sending out of cards, for several days in the month, by a lady who wishes to begin her social life, we will say, in a new city. These may or may not be accompanied by the card of some well-known friend. If these cards bring the desired visits or the cards of the desired guests, the beginner may feel that she has started on her society career with no loss of self respect. Those who do not respond are generally in a minority. Too much haste in making new acquaintances, however--"pushing," as it is called-cannot be too much deprecated.
First calls should be returned within a week. If a lady is invited to any entertainment by a new acquaintance, whether the invitation come through a friend or not, she should immediately leave cards, and send either a regret or an acceptance. To lose time in this matter is a great rudeness. Whether she attend the entertainment or not, she should call after it within a week. Then, having done all that is polite, and having shown herself a woman of good-breeding, she can keep up the acquaintance or not as she pleases. Sometimes there are reasons why a lady does not wish to keep up the acquaintance, but she must not, for her own sake, be oblivious to the politeness extended. Some very rude people in New York have sent back invitations, or failed to recognize the first attempt at civility, saying, "We don't know the people." This is not the way to discourage unpleasant familiarity. In New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, and in the large cities of the West, and generally in the country: towns, residents call first upon new-comers; but in Washington this custom is reversed, and the new-comer calls first upon the resident. Every one--officials of the highest down to the lowest grade returns these cards. The visitor generally finds himself invited to the receptions of the President and his Cabinet, etc. This arrangement is so convenient that it is a thousand pities it does not go into operation all over the country, particularly in those large cities where the resident cannot know if her dearest friend be in town unless informed in some such way of the fact.
This does not, as might be supposed, expose society to the intrusion of unwelcome visitors. Tact, which is the only guide through the mazes of society, will enable a woman to avoid anything like an unwelcome intimacy or a doubtful acquaintance, even if such a person should "call first."
Now the question comes up, and here doctors disagree: When may a lady call by proxy, or when may she send her card, or when must she call in person?
After a dinner-party a guest must call in person and inquire if the hostess is at home. For other entertainments it is allowed, in New York, that the lady call by proxy, or that she simply send her card. In sending to inquire for a person's health, cards may be sent by a servant, with a kindly message.
No first visit should, however, be returned by card only; this would be considered a slight, unless followed by an invitation. The size of New York, the great distances, the busy life of a woman of charities, large family, and immense circle of acquaintances may render a personal visit almost impossible. She may be considered to have done her duty if she in her turn asks her new acquaintance to call on her on a specified day, if she is not herself able to call.
Bachelors should leave cards (if they ever leave any) on the master and mistress of the house, and, in America, upon the young ladies. A gentleman does not turn down the corners of his card--indeed, that fashion has become almost obsolete, except, perhaps, where a lady wishes it distinctly understood that she has called in person. The plainer the card the better. A small, thin card for a gentleman, not glazed, with his name in small script and his address well engraved in the corner, is in good taste. A lady's card should be larger, but not glazed or ornamented in any way. It is a rule with sticklers for good-breeding that after any entertainment a gentleman should leave his card in person, although, as we have said, he often commits it to some feminine agency.
No gentleman should call on a lady unless she asks him to do so, or unless he brings a letter of introduction, or unless he is taken by a lady who is sufficiently intimate to invite him to call. A lady should say to a gentleman, if she wishes him to call, "I hope that we shall see you," or, "I am at home on Monday," or something of that sort. If he receives an invitation to dinner or to a ball from a stranger, he is bound to send an immediate answer, call the very next day, leave his card, and then to call after the entertainment.
This, at least, is foreign etiquette, and we cannot do better than import it. This rule holds good for the entertainments of bachelors, who should leave their cards on each other after an entertainment, unless the intimacy is so great that no card- leaving is expected.
When a lady returns to town, after an absence in Europe or in the country, it is strict etiquette that she should leave cards on all her acquaintances and friends if she expects to entertain or to lead a gay, social winter; but as distances in our great cities are formidable, as all ladies do not keep a carriage, as most ladies have a great deal else to do besides making visits, this long and troublesome process is sometimes simplified by giving a tea or a series of teas, which enables the lady, by staying at home on one evening of a week, or two or three afternoons of a month, to send out her cards to that effect, and to thus show her friends that she at least remembers them. As society and card-leaving thus become rapidly complicated, a lady should have a visiting-book, into which her list is carefully copied, with spaces for days and future engagements.
A servant must be taught to receive the cards at the door, remember messages, and recollect for whom they are left, as it is not proper in calling upon Mrs. Brown at a private house to write her name on your card. At a crowded hotel this may be allowed, but it is not etiquette in visiting at private houses. In returning visits, observe the exact etiquette of the person who has left the first card. A call must not be returned with a card only, or a card by a call. If a person send you a card by post, return a card by post; if a personal visit is made, return it by a personal visit; if your acquaintance leave cards only, without inquiring if you are at home, return the same courtesy. If she has left the cards of the gentlemen of her family, return those of the gentlemen of your family.
A young lady's card should almost always be accompanied by that of her mother or her chaperon. It is well, on her entrance into society, that the name of the young lady be engraved on her mother's card. After she has been out a year, she may leave her own card only. Here American etiquette begins to differ from English etiquette. In London, on the other hand, no young lady leaves her card: if she is motherless, her name is engraved beneath the name of her father, and the card of her chaperon is left with both until she becomes a maiden lady of somewhat mature if uncertain age.
It is rare now to see the names of both husband and wife engraved on one card, as "Mr. and Mrs. Brown." The lady has her own card, "Mrs. Octavius Brown," or with the addition, "The Misses Brown." Her husband has his separate card; each of the sons has his own card. No titles are used on visiting-cards in America, save military, naval, or judicial ones; and, indeed, many of our most distinguished judges have had cards printed simply with the name, without prefix or affix. "Mr. Webster," "Mr. Winthrop," "Henry Clay" are well-known instances of simplicity. But a woman must always use the prefix "Mrs." or "Miss." A gentleman may or may not use the prefix "Mr.," as he pleases, but women must treat themselves with more respect. No card is less proper than one which is boldly engraved "Gertrude F. Brown;" it should be "Miss Gertrude F. Brown."
A married lady always bears her husband's name, during his life, on her card. Some discussion is now going on as to whether she should continue to call herself "Mrs. Octavius Brown" or "Mrs. Mary Brown" after his death. The burden of opinion is in favor of the latter--particularly as a son may bear his father's name, so there will be two Mrs. Octavius Browns. No lady wishes to be known as "old Mrs. Octavius Brown," and as we do not use the convenient title of Dowager, we may as well take the alternative of the Christian name. We cannot say "Mrs. Octavius Brown, Jr.," if the husband has ceased to be a junior. Many married ladies hesitate to discard the name by which they have always been known. Perhaps the simple "Mrs. Brown" is the best, after all. No lady should leave cards upon an unmarried gentleman, except in the case of his having given entertainments at which ladies were present. Then the lady of the house should drive to his door with the cards of herself and family, allowing the footman to leave them.
The young ladies' names, in such a case as this, should be engraven on their mother's card.
"We have no leisure class," as Henry James says in his brilliant "International Episode;" but still young men should try to make time to call on those who entertain them, showing by some sort of personal attention their gratitude for the politeness shown them. American young men are, as a rule, very remiss about this matter of calling on the hostess whose hospitality they accept.
A gentleman should not call on a young lady without asking for her mother or her chaperon. Nor should he leave cards for her alone, but always leave one for her mother.
Ladies can, and often do, write informal invitations on the visiting-card. To teas, readings, and small parties, may be added the day of reception. It is convenient and proper to send these cards by post. Everything can be sent by post now, except an invitation to dinner, and that must always be sent by private hand, and an answer must be immediately returned in the same formal manner.
After balls, amateur concerts, theatrical parties, garden-parties, or "at homes," cards should be left by all invited guests within a week after the invitation, particularly if the invited guest has been obliged to decline. These cards may be left without inquiring for the hostess, if time presses; but it is more polite to inquire for the hostess, even if it is not her day. If it is her reception day, it would be rude not to inquire, enter, and pay a personal visit. After a dinner, one must inquire for the hostess and pay a personal visit. It is necessary to mention this fact, because so many ladies have got into the habit (having large acquaintances) of leaving or sending cards in by a footman, without inquiring for the hostess (who is generally not at home), that there has grown up a confusion, which leads to offence being taken where none is meant.
It is not considered necessary to leave cards after a tea. A lady leaves her cards as she enters the hall, pays her visit, and the etiquette of a visiting acquaintance is thus established for a year. She should, however, give a tea herself, asking all her entertainers.
If a lady has been invited to a tea or other entertainment through a friend without having known her hostess, she is bound to call soon; but if the invitation is not followed up by a return card or another invitation, she must understand that the acquaintance is at an end. She may, however, invite her new friend, within a reasonable time, to some entertainment at her own house, and if that is accepted, the acquaintance goes on. It is soon ascertained by a young woman who begins life in a new city whether her new friends intend to be friendly or the reverse. A resident of a town or village can call, with propriety, on any new-comer. The newcomer must return this call; but, if she does not desire a further acquaintance, this can be the end of it. The time of calling must in every town be settled by the habits of the place; after two o'clock and before six is, however, generally safe.
In England they have a pleasant fashion of calling to inquire for invalids or afflicted friends, and of penciling the words "kind inquiries." It has not obtained that popularity in America which it deserves, and it would be well to introduce it. If a lady call on a person who is a stranger to her, and if she has difficulty in impressing her name on the servant, she sends up her card, while she waits to see if the lady will receive her. But she must never on any occasion hand her own card to her hostess. If she enters the parlor and finds her hostess there, she must introduce herself by pronouncing her own name distinctly. If she is acquainted with the lady, she simply gives her name to the servant, and does not send up her card.
Wedding-cards have great prominence in America, but we ignore those elaborate funeral-cards and christening-cards, and printed cards with announcements of engagements, and many other cards fashionable abroad. With us the cards of the bride and her parents, and sometimes of the fiancé,, are sent to all friends before the wedding, and those of the invitation to the wedding to a few only, it may be, or to all, as the family desire. After the marriage, the cards of the married pair, with their address, are sent to all whose acquaintance is desired.
Husbands and wives rarely call together in America, although there is no law against their doing so. It is unusual because, as we have said, we have no "leisure class." Gentlemen are privileged to call on Sunday, after church, and on Sunday evenings. A mother and daughter should call together, or, if the mother is an invalid, the daughter can call, leaving her mother's card.
"Not at home" is a proper formula, if ladies are not receiving; nor does it involve a falsehood. It merely means that the lady is not at home to company. The servant should also add, "Mrs. Brown receives on Tuesdays," if the lady has a day. Were not ladies able to deny themselves to callers there would be no time in crowded cities for any sort of work, or repose, or leisure for self- improvement. For, with the many idle people who seek to rid themselves of the pain and penalty of their own vapid society by calling and making somebody else entertain them, with the wandering book-agents and beggars, or with even the overflow of society, a lady would find her existence muddled away by the poorest and most abject of occupations--that of receiving a number of inconsiderate, and perhaps impertinent, wasters of time.
It is well for all house-keepers to devote one day in the week to the reception of visitors--the morning to tradespeople and those who may wish to see her on business, and the afternoon to those who call socially. It saves her time and simplifies matters.
Nothing is more vulgar than that a caller should ask the servant where his mistress is, when she went out, when she will be in, how soon she will be down, etc. All that a well-bred servant should say to such questions is, "I do not know, madam." A mistress should inform her servant after breakfast what he is to say to all comers. It is very offensive to a visitor to be let in, and then be told that she cannot see the lady of the house. She feels personally insulted, and as if, had she been some other person, the lady of the house would perhaps have seen her.
If a servant, evidently ignorant and uncertain of his mistress and her wishes, says, "I will see if Mrs. Brown will see you," and ushers you into the parlor, it is only proper to go in and wait. But it is always well to say, "If Mrs. Brown is going out, is dressing, or is otherwise engaged, ask her not to trouble herself to come down." Mrs. Brown will be very much obliged to you. In calling on a friend who is staying with people with whom you are not acquainted, always leave a card for the lady of the house. The lack of this attention is severely felt by new people who may entertain a fashionable woman as their guest--one who receives many calls from those who do not know her hostess. It is never proper to call on a guest without asking for the hostess.
Again, if the hostess be a very fashionable woman, and the visitor decidedly not so, it is equally vulgar to make one's friend who may be a guest in the house a sort of entering wedge for an acquaintance; a card should be left, but unaccompanied by any request to see the lady of the house. This every lady will at once understand. A lady who has a guest staying with her who receives really calls should always try to place a parlor at her disposal where she can see her friends alone, unless she be a very young person, to whom the chaperonage of the hostess is indispensable.
If the lady of the house is in the drawing-room when the visitor arrives to call on her guest, she is, of course, introduced and says a few words; and if she is not in the room, the guest should inquire of the visitor if the lady of the house will see him or her, thus giving her a chance to accept or decline.
In calling on the sons or the daughters of the house, every visitor should leave a card for the father and mother. If ladies are at home, cards should be left for the gentlemen of the family.
In Europe a young man is not allowed to ask for the young ladies of the house in formal parlance, nor is he allowed to leave a card on them--socially in Europe the "jeune fille" has no existence. He calls on the mother or chaperon; the young lady may be sent for, but he must not inquire for her first. Even if she is a young lady at the head of a house, he is not allowed to call upon her without some preliminaries; some amiable female friend must manage to bring them together.
In America the other extreme has led to a very vicious system of etiquette, by which young ladies are recognized as altogether leaders of society, receiving the guests and pushing their mothers into the background. It would amaze a large number of ambitious young ladies to be told that it was not proper that young men should call on them and be received by them alone. But the solution would seem to be that the mother or chaperon should advance to her proper place in this country, and while taking care of her daughter, appearing with her in public, and receiving visits with her, still permit that good-natured and well-intended social intercourse between young men and women which is so seldom abused, and which has led to so many happy marriages. It is one of the points yet debatable how much liberty should be allowed young ladies. Certainly, however, we do not wish to hold our young girls up to the scorn and ridicule of the novelist or the foreign critic by ignoring what has been a recognized tenet of good manners since society was formed. The fact that the chaperon is a necessary institution, and that to married ladies and to elderly ladies should be paid all due respect, is a subject of which we shall treat later. No young lady who is visiting in a strange city or country town should ever receive the visits of gentlemen without asking her hostess and her daughters to come down and be introduced to them; nor should she ever invite such persons to call without asking her hostess if it would be agreeable. To receive an ordinary acquaintance at any hour, even that of the afternoon reception, without her hostess would be very bad manners. We fear the practice is too common, however. How much worse to receive a lover, or a gentleman who may aspire to the honor of becoming one, at unusual hours, without saying anything to the lady of the house! Too many young American girls are in the habit of doing so: making of their friend's house a convenience by which an acquaintance with a young man may be carried on--a young man too, perhaps, who has been forbidden her own home.
A bride receives her callers after she has settled down in her married home just as any lady does. There is no particular etiquette observed. She sends out cards for two or three reception days, and her friends and new acquaintances call or send cards on these days. She must not, however, call on her friends until they have called upon her.
As many of these callers--friends, perhaps, of the bridegroom--are unknown to the bride, it is well to have a servant announce the names; and they should also leave their cards in the hall that she may be able to know where to return the visits.
What has so far been said will serve to give a general idea of the card and its uses, and of the duties which it imposes upon different members of society. Farther on in this volume we will take up, in much more particular fashion, the matters only alluded to in this opening chapter.
We may say that cards have changed less in the history of etiquette and fashion than anything else. They, the shifting pasteboards, are in style about what they were fifty--nay, a hundred--years ago.
The plain, unglazed card with fine engraved script cannot be improved upon. The passing fashion for engraved autographs, for old English, for German text, all these fashions have had but a brief hour. Nothing is in worse taste than for an American to put a coat-of-arms on his card. It only serves to make him ridiculous.
A lady should send up her card by a servant, but not deliver it to the lady of the house; a card is yourself, therefore if you meet a lady, she does not want two of you. If you wish to leave your address, leave a card on the hall table. One does right in leaving a card on the hall table at a reception, and one need not call again. An invitation to one's house cancels all indebtedness. If a card is left on a lady's reception, she should make the next call, although many busy society women now never make calls, except when they receive invitations to afternoon teas or receptions.
When a gentleman calls on ladies who are at home, if he knows them well he does not send up a card; the servant announces his name. If he does not know them well, he does send up a card. One card is sufficient, but he can inquire for them all. In leaving cards it is not necessary to leave seven or eight, but it is customary to leave two--one for the lady of the house, the other for the rest of the family or the stranger who is within their gates. If a gentleman wishes particularly to call on any one member, he says so to the servant, as "Take my card up to Miss Jones," and he adds, "I should like to see all the ladies if they are at home." The trouble in answering this question is that authorities differ. We give the latest London and New York fashion, so far as we know, and also what we believe to be the common-sense view. A gentleman can ask first for the lady of the house, then for any other member of the family, but he need never leave more than two cards. He must in this, as in all etiquette, exercise common-sense. No one can define all the ten thousand little points.
There are many optional civilities in life which add very much to its charm if observed, but which cannot be called indispensable. To those which are harmless and graceful we shall give a cursory glance, and to those which are doubtful and perhaps harmful we shall also briefly allude, leaving it to the common-sense of the reader as to whether he will hereafter observe in his own manners these so-called optional civilities.
In France, when a gentleman takes off his hat in a windy street or in an exposed passage-way, and holds it in his hand while talking to a lady, she always says, "Couvrez vous" (I beg of you not to stand uncovered). A kind-hearted woman says this to a boatman, a coachman, a man of low degree, who always takes off his hat when a lady speaks to him. Now in our country, unfortunately, the cabmen have such bad manners that a lady seldom has the opportunity of this optional civility, for, unlike a similar class in Europe, those who serve you for your money in America often throw in a good deal of incivility with the service, and no book of etiquette is more needed than one which should teach shop-girls and shop-men the beauty and advantages of a respectful manner. If men who drive carriages and street cabs would learn the most advantageous way of making money, they would learn to touch their hats to a lady when she speaks to them or gives an order. It is always done in the Old World, and this respectful air adds infinitely to the pleasures of foreign travel.
In all foreign hotels the landlords enforce such respect on the part of the waiters to the guests of the hotel that if two complaints are made of incivility, the man or woman complained of is immediately dismissed. In a livery-stable, if the hired coachman is complained of for an uncivil answer, or even a silence which is construed as incivility, he is immediately discharged. On the lake of Como, if a lady steps down to a wharf to hire a boat, every boatman takes off his cap until she has finished speaking, and remains uncovered until she asks him to put on his hat.
Now optional civilities, such as saying to one's inferior, "Do not stand without your hat," to one's equal, "Do not rise, I beg of you," "Do not come out in the rain to put me in my carriage," naturally occur to the kind-hearted, but they may be cultivated. It used to be enumerated among the uses of foreign travel that a man went away a bear and came home a gentleman. It is not natural to the Anglo-Saxon race to be over polite. They have no petits soins. A husband in France moves out an easy-chair for his wife, and sets a footstool for every lady. He hands her the morning paper, he brings a shawl if there is danger of a draught, he kisses her hand when he comes in, and he tries to make himself agreeable to her in the matter of these little optional civilities. It has the most charming effect upon all domestic life, and we find a curious allusion to the politeness observed by French sons towards their mothers and fathers in one of Moliere's comedies, where a prodigal son observes to his father, who comes to denounce him, "Pray, sir, take a chair," says Prodigal; "you could scold me so much more at your ease if you were seated."
If this was a piece of optional civility which had in it a bit of sarcasm, we can readily see that civility lends great strength to satire, and take a hint from it in our treatment of rude people. A lady once entering a crowded shop, where the women behind the counter were singularly inattentive and rude even for America, remarked to one young woman who was lounging on the counter, and who did not show any particular desire to serve her,
"My dear, you make me a convert to the Saturday-afternoon early-closing rule, and to the plan for providing seats for saleswomen, for I see that fatigue has impaired your usefulness to your employer."
The lounger started to her feet with flashing eyes. "I am as strong as you are," said she, very indignantly.
"Then save yourself a report at the desk by showing me some lace," said the lady, in a soft voice, with a smile.
She was served after this with alacrity. In America we are all workers; we have no privileged class; we are earning money in various servitudes, called variously law, medicine, divinity, literature, art, mercantile business, or as clerks, servants, seamstresses, and nurses, and we owe it to our work to do it not only honestly but pleasantly. It is absolutely necessary to success in the last-mentioned profession that a woman have a pleasant manner, and it is a part of the instruction of the training-school of nurses, that of civility. It is not every one who has a fascinating manner. What a great gift of fortune it is! But it is in every one's power to try and cultivate a civil manner.
In the matter of "keeping a hotel"--a slang expression which has become a proverb--how well the women in Europe understand their business, and how poorly the women in America understand theirs! In England and all over the Continent the newly arrived stranger is received by a woman neatly dressed, with pleasant, respectful manners, who is overflowing with optional civilities. She conducts the lady to her room, asks if she will have the blinds drawn or open, if she will have hot water or cold, if she would like a cup of tea, etc.; sends a neat chambermaid to her to take her orders, gets her pen and paper for her notes--in fact, treats her as a lady should treat a guest. Even in very rural districts the landlady comes out to her own door to meet the stranger, holds her neat hand to assist her to alight, and performs for her all the service she can while she is under her roof.
In America a lady may alight in what is called a tavern, weary, travel-stained, and with a headache. She is shown into a waiting-room where sits, perhaps, an overdressed female in a rocking-chair violently fanning herself. She learns that this is the landlady. She asks if she can have a room, some hot water, etc. The answer may be, "I don't know; I don't have to work; perhaps Jim will tell you." And it is to the man of the house that the traveler must apply. It is a favorable sign that American men are never ashamed to labor, although they may not overflow with civility. It is a very unfavorable sign for the women of America when they are afraid or ashamed of work, and when they hesitate to do that which is nearest them with civility and interest.
Another test of self-respect, and one which is sometimes lacking in those whom the world calls fashionable, those who have the possessions which the majority of us desire, fine houses, fine clothes, wealth, good position, etc., is the lack or the presence of "fine courtesy," which shall treat every one so that he or she is entirely at ease.
"Society is the intercourse of persons on a footing of apparent equality," and if so, any one in it who treats other people so as to make them uncomfortable is manifestly unfit for society. Now an optional courtesy should be the unfailing custom of such a woman, we will say, one who has the power of giving pain by a slight, who can wound amour propre in the shy, can make a debutante stammer and blush, can annoy a shy youth by a sneer. How many a girl has had her society life ruined by the cruelty of a society leader! how many a young man has had his blood frozen by a contemptuous smile at his awkwardness! How much of the native good-will of an impulsive person has been frozen into a caustic and sardonic temper by the lack of a little optional civility? The servant who comes for a place, and seats herself while the lady who speaks to her is standing, is wanting in optional civility. She sins from ignorance, and should be kindly told of her offence, and taught better manners. The rich woman who treats a guest impolitely, the landlady who sits in her rocking-chair while the traveler waits for those comforts which her house of call invites, all are guilty of the same offence. It hurts the landlady and the servant more nearly than it does the rich woman, because it renders their self-imposed task of getting a living the more difficult, but it is equally reprehensible in all three.
Good manners are said to be the result of a kind heart and careful home training; bad manners, the result of a coarse nature and unwise training. We are prone to believe that bad manners in Americans are almost purely from want of thought. There is no more generous, kindly, or better people in the world than the standard American, but he is often an untrained creature. The thousands of emigrants who land on our shores, with privileges which they never thought to have thrust upon them, how can they immediately learn good manners? In the Old World tradition of power is still so fresh that they have to learn respect for their employers there. Here there are no such traditions.
The first duty, then, it would seem, both for those to whom fortune has been kind and for those who are still courting her favors, would be to study optional civility; not only the decencies of life, but a little more. Not only be virtuous, but have the shadows of virtue. Be polite, be engaging; give a cordial bow, a gracious smile; make sunshine in a shady place. Begin at home with your optional civility. Not only avoid those serious breaches of manners which should cause a man to kick another man down-stairs, but go further than good manners--have better manners. Let men raise their hats to women, give up seats in cars, kiss the hand of an elderly lady if she confers the honor of her acquaintance upon them, protect the weak, assist the fallen, and cultivate civility; in every class of life this would oil the wheels; and especially let American women seek to mend their manners.
Optional civility does not in any way include familiarity. We doubt whether it is not the best of all armor against it. Familiarity is "bad style." It is not civility which causes one lady to say to another, "Your bonnet is very unbecoming; let me beg of you to go to another milliner." That is familiarity, which however much it may be supposed to be excess of friendship, is generally either caused by spite or by a deficiency of respect The latter is never pardonable. It is in doubtful taste to warn people of their faults, to comment upon their lack of taste, to carry them disagreeable tidings, under the name of friendship. On the Continent, where diffidence is unknown, where a man, whoever he may be, has a right to speak to his fellow-man (if he does it civilly), where a woman finds other women much more polite to her than women are to each other in this country, there is no familiarity. It is almost an insult to touch the person; for instance, no one places his hand on the arm or shoulder of another person unless there is the closest intimacy; but everywhere there is an optional civility freely given between poor and poor, rich and poor, rich and rich, superiors and inferiors, between equals. It would be pleasant to follow this out in detail, the results are so agreeable and so honorable.
GOOD AND BAD SOCIETY.
Many of our correspondents ask us to define what is meant by the terms "good society" and "bad society." They say that they read in the newspapers of the "good society" in New York and Washington and Newport, and that it is a record of drunkenness, flirtation, bad manners and gossip, backbiting, divorce, and slander. They read that the fashionable people at popular resorts commit all sorts of vulgarities, such as talking aloud at the opera, and disturbing their neighbors; that young men go to a dinner, get drunk, and break glasses; and one ingenuous young girl remarks, "We do not call that good society in Atlanta."
Such a letter might have been written to that careful chronicler of "good society" in the days of Charles II., old Pepys of courtly fame. The young maiden of Hertfordshire, far from the Court, might well have thought of Rochester and such "gay sparks," and the ladies who threw glasses of wine at them, as not altogether well-bred, nor entitled to admission into "good society." We cannot blame her.
It is the old story. Where, too, as in our land, pleasure and luxury rule a certain set who enjoy no tradition of good manners, the contradiction in terms is the more apparent. Even the external forms of respect to good manners are wanting. No such overt vulgarity, for instance, as talking aloud at the opera will ever be endured in London, because a powerful class of really well-born and well-bred people will hiss it down, and insist on the quiet which music, of all other things, demands. That is what we mean by a tradition of good manners.
In humbler society, we may say as in the household of a Scotch peasant, such as was the father of Carlyle, the breaches of manners which are often seen in fashionable society would never occur. They would appear perfectly impossible to a person who had a really good heart and a gentle nature. The manners of a young man of fashion who keeps his hat on when speaking to a lady, who would smoke in her face, and would appear indifferent to her comfort at a supper-table, who would be contradictory and neglectful--such manners would have been impossible to Thomas or John Carlyle, reared as they were in the humblest poverty. It was the "London swell" who dared to be rude in their day as now.
But this impertinence and arrogance of fashion should not prevent the son of a Scotch peasant from acquiring, or attempting to acquire, the conventional habits and manners of a gentleman. If he have already the grace of high culture, he should seek to add to it the knowledge of social laws, which will render him an agreeable person to be met in society. He must learn how to write a graceful note, and to answer his invitations promptly; he must learn the etiquette of dress and of leaving cards; he must learn how to eat his dinner gracefully, and, even if he sees in good society men of external polish guilty of a rudeness which would have shocked the man who in the Scotch Highlands fed and milked the cows, he still must not forget that society demands something which was not found in the farm-yard. Carlyle, himself the greatest radical and democrat in the world, found that life at Craigenputtock would not do all for him, that he must go to London and Edinburgh to rub off his solitary neglect of manners, and strive to be like other people. On the other band, the Queen of England has just refused to receive the Duke of Marlborough because he notoriously ill-treated the best of wives, and had been, in all his relations of life, what they call in England a "cad." She has even asked him to give back the Star and Garter, the insignia once worn by the great duke, which has never fallen on shoulders so unworthy as those of the late Marquis of Blandford, now Duke of Marlborough. For all this the world has great reason to thank the Queen, for the present duke has been always in "good society," and such is the reverence felt for rank and for hereditary name in England that he might have continued in the most fashionable circles for all his bad behavior, still being courted for name and title, had not the highest lady in the land rebuked him.
She has refused to receive the friends of the Prince of Wales, particularly some of his American favorites, this good Queen, because she esteems good manners and a virtuous life as a part of good society.
Now, those who are not "in society" are apt to mistake all that is excessive, all that is boorish, all that is snobbish, all that is aggressive, as being a part of that society. In this they are wrong. No one estimates the grandeur of the ocean by the rubbish thrown up on the shore. Fashionable society, good society, the best society, is composed of the very best people, the most polished and accomplished, religious, moral, and charitable.
The higher the civilization, therefore, the better the society, it being always borne in mind that there will be found, here and there, the objectionable outgrowths of a false luxury and of an insincere culture. No doubt, among the circles of the highest nobility, while the king and queen may be people of simple and unpretending manners, there may be some arrogant and self-sufficient master of ceremonies, some Malvolio whose pomposity is in strange contrast to the good-breeding of Olivia. It is the lesser star which twinkles most. The "School for Scandal" is a lasting picture of the folly and frivolity of a certain phase of London society in the past, and it repeats itself in every decade. There is always a Mrs. Candour, a Sir Benjamin Backbite, and a scandalous college at Newport, in New York, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, Chicago, Saratoga, Long Branch, wherever society congregates. It is the necessary imperfection, the seamy side. Such is the reverse of the pattern. Unfortunately, the right side is not so easily described. The colors of a beautiful bit of brocade are, when seen as a whole, so judiciously blended that they can hardly be pronounced upon individually: one only admires the tout ensemble, and that uncritically, perhaps.
That society is bad whose members, however tenacious they be of forms of etiquette and elaborate ceremonials, have one code of manners for those whom they deem their equals, and another for those whom they esteem to be of less importance to them by reason of age, pecuniary condition, or relative social influence. Bad manners are apt to prove the concomitant of a mind and disposition that are none too good, and the fashionable woman who slights and wounds people because they cannot minister to her ambition, challenges a merciless criticism of her own moral shortcomings. A young girl who is impertinent or careless in her demeanor to her mother or her mother's friends; who goes about without a chaperon and talks slang; who is careless in her bearing towards young men, permitting them to treat her as if she were one of themselves; who accepts the attention of a young man of bad character or dissipated habits because he happens to be rich; who is loud in dress and rough in manner--such a young girl is "bad society," be she the daughter of an earl or a butcher. There are many such instances of audacity in the so-called "good society" of America, but such people do not spoil it; they simply isolate themselves.
A young man is "bad society" who is indifferent to those older than himself, who neglects to acknowledge invitations, who sits while a lady stands, who goes to a ball and does not speak to his host, who is selfish, who is notoriously immoral and careless of his good name, and who throws discredit on his father and mother by showing his ill-breeding. No matter how rich, how externally agreeable to those whom he may wish to court, no matter how much varnish of outward manner such a man may possess, he is "bad society."
A parvenue who assumes to keep other people out of the society which she has just conquered, whose thoughts are wholly upon social success (which means, with her, knowing somebody who has heretofore refused to know her), who is climbing, and throwing backward looks of disdain upon those who also climb--such a woman, unfortunately too common in America, is, when she happens to have achieved a fashionable position, one of the worst instances of bad society. She may be very prominent, powerful, and influential. She may have money and "entertain," and people desirous of being amused may court her, and her bad manners will be accepted by the careless observer as one of the concomitants of fashion. The reverse is true. She is an interloper in the circles of good society, and the old fable of the ass in the lion's skin fits her precisely. Many a duchess in England is such an interloper; her supercilious airs betray the falsity of her politeness, but she is obliged by the rules of the Court at which she has been educated to "behave like a lady;" she has to counterfeit good-breeding; she cannot, she dare not, behave as a woman who has suddenly become rich may sometimes, nay does, behave in American society, and still be received.
It will thus be seen, as has been happily expressed, that "fashion has many classes, and many rules of probation and admission." A young person ignorant of its laws should not be deluded, however, by false appearances. If a young girl comes from the most secluded circles to Saratoga, and sees some handsome, well-dressed, conspicuous woman much courted, lionized, as it were, and observes in her what seems to be insolent pretence, unkindness, frivolity, and superciliousness, let her inquire and wait before she accepts this bit of brass for pure gold. Emerson defines "sterling fashion as funded talent." Its objects may be frivolous or objectless; but, in the long-run, its purposes are neither frivolous nor accidental. It is an effort for good society; it is the bringing together of admirable men and women in a pleasant way. Good-breeding, personal superiority, beauty, genius, culture, are all very good things. Every one delights in a person of charming manners. Some people will forgive very great derelictions in a person who has charming manners, but the truly good society is the society of those who have virtue and good manners both.
Some Englishman asked an American, "What sort of a country is America?" "It is a country where everybody can tread on everybody's toes," was the answer.
It is very bad society where any one wishes to tread on his neighbor's toes, and worse yet where there is a disposition to feel aggrieved, or to show that one feels aggrieved. There are certain people new in society who are always having their toes trodden upon. They say: "Mrs. Brown snubbed me; Mrs. Smith does not wish to know me; Mrs. Thompson ought to have invited me. I am as good as any of them." This is very bad society. No woman with self-respect will ever say such things. If one meets with rudeness, take no revenge, cast no aspersions. Wit and tact, accomplishments and social talents, may have elevated some woman to a higher popularity than another, but no woman will gain that height by complaining. Command of temper, delicacy of feeling, and elegance of manner--all these are demanded of the persons who become leaders of society, and would remain so. They alone are "good society." Their imitators may masquerade for a time, and tread on toes, and fling scorn and insult about them while in a false and insecure supremacy; but such pretenders to the throne are soon unseated. There is a dreadful Sedan and Strasburg awaiting them. They distrust their own flatterers; their "appanage" is not a solid one.
People who are looking on at society from a distance must remember that women of the world are not always worldly women. They forget that brilliancy in society may be accompanied by the best heart and the sternest principle. The best people of the world are those who know the world best. They recognize the fact that this world should be known and served and treated with as much respect and sincerity as that other world, which is to be our reward for having conquered the one in which we live now.
ON INTRODUCING PEOPLE.
A lady in her own house can in these United States do pretty much as she pleases, but there is one thing in which our cultivated and exclusive city fashionable society seems agreed, and that is, that she must not introduce two ladies who reside in the same town. It is an awkward and an embarrassing restriction, particularly as the other rule, which renders it easy enough--the English rule--that the "roof is an introduction," and that visitors can converse without further notice, is not understood. So awkward, however, are Americans about this, that even in very good houses one lady has spoken to another, perhaps to a young girl, and has received no answer, "because she had not been introduced;" but this state of ignorance is, fortunately, not very common. It should be met by the surprised rejoinder of the Hoosier school-mistress: "Don't yer know enough to speak when yer spoken to?" Let every woman remember, whether she is from the backwoods, or from the most fashionable city house, that no such casual conversation can hurt her. It does not involve the further acquaintance of these two persons. They may cease to know each other when they go down the front steps; and it would be kinder if they would both relieve the lady of the house of their joint entertainment by joining in the conversation, or even speaking to each other.
A hostess in this land is sometimes young, embarrassed, and not fluent. The presence of two ladies with whom she is not very well acquainted herself, and both of whom she must entertain, presents a fearful dilemma. It is a kindness to her, which should outweigh the dangers of making an acquaintance in "another set," if those ladies converse a little with each other.
If one lady desires to be introduced to another, the hostess should ask if she may do so, of course unobtrusively. Sometimes this places one lady in an unlucky position towards another. She does not know exactly what to do. Mrs. So-and-so may have the gift of exclusiveness, and may desire that Mrs. That-and-that shall not have the privilege of bowing to her. Gurowski says, in his very clever book on America, that snobbishness is a peculiarity of the fashionable set in America, because they do not know where they stand. It is the peculiarity of vulgar people everywhere, whether they sit on thrones or keep liquor-shops; snobs are born--not made. If, ever, a lady has this gift or this drawback of exclusiveness, it is wrong to invade her privacy by introducing people to her.
Introducing should not be indiscriminately done either at home or in society by any lady, however kind-hearted. Her own position must be maintained, and that may demand a certain loyalty to her own set. She must be careful how she lets loose on society an undesirable or aggressive man, for instance, or a great bore, or a vulgar, irritating woman. These will all be social obstacles to the young ladies of her family, whom she must first consider. She must not add to the embarrassments of a lady who has already too large a visiting list. Unsolicited introductions are bad for both parties. Some large-hearted women of society are too generous by half in this way. A lady should by adroit questions find out how a new acquaintance would be received, whether or not it is the desire of both parties to know each other; for, if there is the slightest doubt existing on this point, she will be blamed by both. It is often the good-natured desire of a sympathetic person that the people whom she knows well should know each other. She therefore strives to bring them together at lunch or dinner, but perhaps finds out afterwards that one of the ladies has particular objections to knowing the other, and she is not thanked. The disaffected lady shows her displeasure by being impolite to the pushing lady, as she may consider her. Had no introduction taken place, she argues, she might have Still enjoyed a reputation for politeness. Wary women of the world are therefore very shy of introducing two women to each other.
This is the awkward side. The more agreeable and, we may say, humane side has its thousands and thousands of supporters, who believe that a friendly introduction hurts no one; but we are now not talking of kindness, but of etiquette, which is decidedly opposed to indiscriminate introductions.
Society is such a complicated organization, and its laws are so lamentably unwritten, yet so deeply engraved on certain minds, that these things become important to those who are always winding and unwinding the chains of fashion.
It is therefore well to state it as a received rule that no gentleman should ever be introduced to a lady unless her permission has been asked, and she be given an opportunity to refuse; and that no woman should be introduced formally to another woman unless the introducer has consulted the wishes of both women. No delicate-minded person would ever intrude herself upon the notice of a person to whom she had been casually introduced in a friend's drawing-room; but all the world, unfortunately, is not made up of delicate-minded persons.
In making an introduction, the gentleman is presented to the lady with some such informal speech as this: "Mrs. A, allow me to present Mr. B;" or, "Mrs. A, Mr. B desires the honor of knowing you." In introducing two women, present the younger to the older woman, the question of rank not holding good in our society where the position of the husband, be he judge, general, senator, or president even, does not give his wife fashionable position. She may be of far less importance in the great world of society than some Mrs. Smith, who, having nothing else, is set down as of the highest rank in that unpublished but well-known book of heraldry which is so thoroughly understood in America as a tradition. It is the proper thing for a gentleman to ask a mutual friend or an acquaintance to introduce him to a lady, and there are few occasions when this request is refused. In our crowded ballrooms, chaperons often ask young men if they will be introduced to their charges. It is better before asking the young men of this present luxurious age, if they will not only be introduced, but if they propose to dance, with the young lady, else that young person may be mortified by a snub. It is painful to record, as we must, that the age of chivalry is past, and that at a gay ball young men appear as supremely selfish, and desire generally only introductions to the reigning belle, or to an heiress, not deigning to look at the humble wall-flower, who is neither, but whose womanhood should command respect. Ballroom introductions are supposed to mean, on the part of the gentleman, either an intention to dance with the young lady, to walk with her, or to talk to her through one dance, or to show her some attention.
Men scarcely ever ask to be introduced to each other, but if a lady, through some desire of her own, wishes to present them, she should never be met by indifference on their part. Men have a right to be exclusive as to their acquaintances, of course; but at a lady's table, or in her parlor, they should never openly show distaste for each other's society before her.
In America it is the fashion to shake hands, and most women, if desirous of being cordial, extend their hands even on a first introduction; but it is, perhaps, more elegant to make a bow only, at a first introduction.
In her own house a hostess should always extend her hand to a person brought to her by a mutual friend, and introduced for the first time. At a dinner-party, a few minutes before dinner, the hostess introduces to a lady the gentleman who is to take her down to the dining-room, but makes no further introductions, except in the case of a distinguished stranger, to whom all the company are introduced. Here people, as we have said, are shy of speaking, but they should not be, for the room where they meet is a sufficient guarantee that they can converse without any loss of dignity.
At large gatherings in the country it is proper for the lady to introduce her guests to each other, and it is perfectly proper to do this without asking permission of either party. A mother always introduces her son or daughter, a husband his wife, or a wife her husband, without asking permission.
A gentleman, after being introduced to a lady, must wait for her to bow first before he ventures to claim her as an acquaintance.
This is Anglo-Saxon etiquette. On the Continent, however, the gentleman bows first. There the matter of the raising the hat is also important. An American gentleman takes his hat quite off to a lady; a foreigner raises it but slightly, and bows with a deferential air. Between ladies but slightly acquainted, and just introduced, a very formal bow is all that is proper; acquaintances and friends bow and smile; intimate male friends simply nod, but all gentlemen with ladies raise the hat and bow if the lady recognizes a friend.
Introductions which take place out-of-doors, as on the lawn-tennis ground, in the hunting field, in the street, or in any casual way, are not to be taken as necessarily formal, unless the lady chooses so to consider them. The same may be said of introductions at a watering-place, where a group of ladies walking together may meet other ladies or gentlemen, and join forces for a walk or drive. Introductions are needful, and should be made by the oldest lady of the party, but are not to be considered as making an acquaintance necessary between the parties if neither should afterwards wish it. It is universally conceded now that this sort of casual introduction does not involve either lady in the net-work of a future acquaintance; nor need a lady recognize a gentleman, if she does not choose to do so, after a watering-place introduction. It is always, however, more polite to bow; that civility hurts no one.
There are in our new country many women who consider themselves fashionable leaders--members of an exclusive set--and who fear if they should know some other women out of that set that they would imperil their social standing. These people have no titles by which they can be known, so they preserve their exclusiveness by disagreeable manners, as one would hedge a garden by a border of prickly-pear. The result is that much ill-feeling is engendered in society, and people whom these old aristocrats call the "nouveaux riches," "parvenus," etc., are always having their feelings hurt.
The fact remains that the best-bred and most truly aristocratic people do not find it necessary to hurt any one's feelings. An introduction never harms anybody, and a woman with the slightest tact can keep off a vulgar and a pushing person without being rude. It is to be feared that there are vulgar natures among those who aspire to be considered exclusive, and that they are gratified if they can presumably increase their own importance by seeming exclusive; but it is not necessary to dwell on such people.
The place given here to the ill-bred is only conceded to them that one may realize the great demands made upon the tact and the good feeling of a hostess. She must have a quick apprehension; she may and will remember, however, that it is very easily forgiven, this kind-heartedness--that it is better to sin against etiquette than to do an unkind thing.
Great pains should be taken by a hostess to introduce shy people. Young people are those whose pleasure must depend on introductions.
It is well for a lady in presenting two strangers to say something which may break the ice, and make the conversation easy and agreeable; as, for instance, "Mrs. Smith, allow me to present Mr. Brown, who has just arrived from New Zealand;" or, "Mrs. Jones, allow me to present Mrs. Walsingham, of Washington--or San Francisco," so that the two may naturally have a question and answer ready with which to step over the threshold of conversation without tripping.
At a five-o'clock tea or a large reception there are reasons why a lady cannot introduce any one but the daughter or sister whom she has in charge. A lady who comes and knows no one sometimes goes away feeling that her hostess has been inattentive, because no one has spoken to her. She remembers Europe, where the roof-tree has been an introduction, and where people spoke kindly to her and did not pass her by. Dinner-parties in stiff and formal London have this great attraction: a gentleman steps up and speaks to a lady, although they have never met before, and often takes her down to dinner without an introduction. The women chat after dinner like old friends; every one knows that the roof is a sufficient guarantee. This is as it should be; but great awkwardness results in the United States if one lady speaks to another and receives no answer. "Pray, can you tell me who the pianist is?" said a leader of society to a young girl near her at a private concert. The young lady looked distressed and blushed, and did not answer. Having seen a deaf-mute in the room whom she knew, the speaker concluded that this young lady belonged to that class of persons, and was very much surprised when later the hostess brought up this silent personage and introduced her.
"I could not speak to you before because I had not been introduced--but the pianist is Mr. Mills," remarked this punctilious person. "I, however, could speak to you, although we had not been formally presented. The roof was a sufficient guarantee of your respectability, and I thought from your not answering that you were deaf and dumb," said the lady.
The rebuke was deserved. Common-sense must interpret etiquette; "nice customs curtsy to great kings." Society depends upon its social soothsayers for all that is good in it. A disagreeable woman can always find precedents for being formal and chilling; a fine-tempered woman can always find reasons enough for being agreeable. A woman would rather be a benediction than a curse, one would think. We hold it proper, all things considered, that at dinner-parties and receptions a hostess may introduce her friends to each other. So long as there is embarrassment, or the mistake made by the young lady above mentioned who would not answer a civil question; so long as these mistakes and others are made, and the result be stupidity and gloom, and a party silent and thumb-twisting, instead of gayly conversing, as it should be; so long as people do not come together easily--it is manifestly proper that the hostess should put her finger on the social pendulum, and give it a swing to start the conversational clock. All well-bred people recognize the propriety of speaking to even an enemy at a dinner-party, although they would suffer no recognition an hour later. The same principle holds good, of course, if, in the true exercise of her hospitality, the hostess should introduce some person whom she would like to commend. These are the exceptions which form the rule.
Care should be taken in presenting foreigners to young ladies; sometimes titles are dubious. Here, a hostess is to be forgiven if she positively declines. She may say, politely, "I hardly think I know you well enough to dare to present you to that young lady. You must wait until her parents (or guardians, or chaperon) will present you."
But the numbers of agreeable people who are ready and waiting to be introduced are many. The woman of literary distinction and the possessor of an honored name may be invincibly shy and afraid to speak; while her next neighbor, knowing her fame perhaps, and anxious to make her acquaintance, misconstrues shyness for pride--a masquerade which bashfulness sometimes plays; so two people, with volumes to say to each other, remain silent as fishes, until the kindly magician comes along, and, by the open sesame of an introduction, unlocks the treasure which has been so deftly hidden. A woman of fashion may enter an assembly of thinkers and find herself dreaded and shunned, until some kind word creates the entente cordiale. In the social entertainments of New York, the majority prefer those where the hostess introduces her guests--under, of course, these wise and proper limitations.
As for forms of introduction, the simplest are best. A lady should introduce her husband as "Mr. Brown," "General Brown," "Judge Brown." If he has a title she is always to give it to him. Our simple forms of titular respect have been condemned abroad, and we are accused of being all "colonels" and "generals;" but a wife should still give her husband his title. In addressing the President we say "Mr. President," but his wife should say, "Allow me to introduce the President to you." The modesty of Mrs. Grant, however, never allowed her to call her many-titled husband anything but "Mr. Grant," which had, in her case, a sweetness above all etiquette.
Introductions in the homely German fatherland are universal, everybody pronouncing to everybody else the name of the lady to whom he is talking; and among our German fellow-citizens we often see a gentleman convoying a lady through a crowded assemblage, introducing her to everybody. It is a simple, cordial, and pleasant thing enough, as with them the acquaintance stops there; and a bow and smile hurt nobody.
No one of heart or mind need feel afraid to talk and be agreeable, whether introduced or not, at a friend's house; even if she meets with the rebuff of a deaf-and-dumb neighbor, she need not feel heart-broken: she is right, and her stiff acquaintance is wrong.
If a gentleman asks to be presented to a lady, she should signify her assent in a pleasant way, and pay her hostess, through whom the request comes, the compliment of at least seeming to be gratified at the introduction. Our American ladies are sometimes a little lacking in cordiality of manner, often receiving a new acquaintance with that part of their conformation which is known as the "cold shoulder." A brusque discourtesy is bad, a very effusive courtesy and a too low bow are worse, and an overwhelming and patronizing manner is atrocious. The proper salutation lies just between the two extremes: the juste milieu is the proper thing always. In seeking introductions for ourselves, while we need not be shy of making a first visit or asking for an introduction, we must still beware of "push." There are instincts in the humblest understanding which will tell us where to draw the line. If a person is socially more prominent than ourselves, or more distinguished in any way, we should not be violently anxious to take the first step; we should wait until some happy chance brought us together, for we must be as firm in our self-respect as our neighbor is secure in her exalted position. Wealth has heretofore had very little power to give a person an exclusively fashionable position. Character, breeding, culture, good connections--all must help. An aristocrat who is such by virtue of an old and honored name which has never been tarnished is a power in the newest society as in the oldest; but it is a shadowy power, felt rather than described. Education is always a power.
To be sure, there is a tyranny in large cities of what is known as the "fashionable set," formed of people willing to spend money; who make a sort of alliance, offensive and defensive; who can give balls and parties and keep certain people out; who have the place which many covet; who are too much feared and dreaded. If those who desire an introduction to this set strive for it too much, they will be sure to be snubbed; for this circle lives by snubbing. If such an aspirant will wait patiently, either the whole autocratic set of ladies will disband--for such sets disentangle easily--or else they in their turn will come knocking at the door and ask to be received. L'art de tenir salon is not acquired in an hour. It takes many years for a new and an uninstructed set to surmount all the little awkwardnesses, the dubious points of etiquette, that come up in every new shuffle of the social cards; but a modest and serene courtesy, a civility which is not servile, will be a good introduction into any society.
And it is well to have that philosophical spirit which puts the best possible interpretation upon the conduct of others. Be not in haste to consider yourself neglected. Self-respect does not easily receive an insult. A lady who is fully aware of her own respectability, who has always lived in the best society, is never afraid to bow or call first, or to introduce the people whom she may desire should know each other. She perhaps presumes on her position, but it is very rare that such a person offends; for tact is almost always the concomitant of social success.
There has been a movement lately towards the stately bows and courtesies of the past in our recent importation of Old-World fashions. A lady silently courtesies when introduced, a gentleman makes a deep bow without speaking. We have had the custom of hand-shaking--and a very good custom it is--but perhaps the latest fashion in ceremonious introduction forbids it. If a gentleman carries his crush hat, and a lady her fan and a bouquet, hand-shaking may not be perfectly convenient. However, if a lady or gentleman extends a hand, it should be taken cordially. Always respond to the greeting in the key-note of the giver.
No term admits of a wider interpretation than this; no subject is capable of a greater number of subdivisions. The matter of formal visiting has led to the writing of innumerable books. The decay of social visiting is a cause of regret to all the old-fashioned people who remember how agreeable it was; but our cities have grown too large for it, and in our villages the population changes too quickly. The constant effort to make the two systems shake hands, to add cordiality to formality, and to provide for all the forced conditions of a rapidly growing and constantly changing society, these are but a few of the difficulties attending this subject.
The original plan of an acquaintance in a formal city circle was to call once or twice a year on all one's friends personally, with the hope and the remote expectation of finding two or three at home. When society was smaller in New York, this was possible, but it soon grew to be impossible, as in all large cities. This finally led to the establishment of a reception day which held good all winter. That became impossible and tiresome, and was narrowed down to four Tuesdays, perhaps, in one month; that resolved itself into one or two five-o'clock teas; and then again, if a lady got lame or lazy or luxurious, even the last easy method of receiving her friends became too onerous, and cards were left or sent in an envelope.
Now, according to the strict rules of etiquette, one card a year left at the door, or one sent in an envelope, continues the acquaintance. We can never know what sudden pressure of calamity, what stringent need of economy, what exigencies of work, may prompt a lady to give up her visiting for a season. Even when there is no apparent cause, society must ask no questions, but must acquiesce in the most good-natured view of the subject.
Still, there must be uniformity. We are not pleased to receive Mrs. Brown's card by post, and then to meet her making a personal visit to our next neighbor. We all wish to receive our personal visits, and if a lady cannot call on all her formal acquaintances once, she had better call on none.
If she gives one reception a year and invites all her "list," she is then at liberty to refrain from either calling or sending a card, unless she is asked to a wedding or dinner, a ladies' lunch or a christening, or receives some very particular invitation which she must return by an early personal call--the very formal and the punctilious say within a week, but that is often impossible.
And if a lady have a day, the call should be made on that day; it is rude to ignore the intimation. One should try to call on a reception day. But here in a crowded city another complication comes in. If a lady have four Thursdays in January and several other ladies have Thursdays, it may be impossible to reach all those ladies on their reception day. There is nothing for it, then, but to good-naturedly apologize, and to regret that calling hours are now reduced to between four and six in large cities.
Some people have too many acquaintances. If they hope to do anything in the world but drive about and leave cards, they must exonerate themselves from blame by giving a reception, having a day or an evening for receiving, and then trust to the good-nature of society, or its forgetfulness, which is about the same thing, to excuse them.
Happy those ladies who can give up an evening a week to their friends; that rubs out the score on the social slate, besides giving a number of people a chance to spend a very agreeable hour in that society which gathers around a hospitable lamp.
The danger of this kind of hospitality is that it is abused by bores, who are too apt to congregate in numbers, and to wear out the lady of the house by using her parlor as a spot where they are safe from the rain and cold and free to bestow their tediousness on anybody, herself included. Then a lady after committing herself to a reception evening often wishes to go out herself. It requires unselfishness to give up an evening to that large circle, some of whom forget it, some go elsewhere, some come too often, and sometimes, alas! no on e calls. These are the drawbacks of an "evening at home." However, it is a laudable custom; one could wish it were more common.
No one can forget the eloquent thanks of such men as Horace Walpole, and other persons of distinction, to the Misses Berry, in London, who kept up their evening receptions for sixty years. But, from the trials of those who have too much visiting, we turn to the people who have all the means and appliances of visiting and no one to visit.
The young married woman who comes to New York, or any other large city, often passes years of loneliness before she has made her acquaintances. She is properly introduced, we will say by her mother-in-law or some other friend, and then, after a round of visits in which she has but, perhaps, imperfectly apprehended the positions and names of her new acquaintances, she has a long illness, or she is called into mourning, or the cares of the nursery surround her, and she is shut out from society until it has forgotten her; and when she is ready to emerge, it is difficult for her to find her place again in the visiting-book. If she is energetic and clever, she surmounts this difficulty by giving a series of receptions, or engaging in charities, or working on some committee, making herself of use to society in some way; and thus picks up her dropped stitches. But some young women are without the courage and tact to do this thing; they wait, expecting that society will find them out, and, taking them up, will do all the work and leave them to accept or refuse civilities as they please. Society never does this; it has too much on its hands; a few conspicuously beautiful and gifted people may occasionally receive such an ovation, but it is not for the rank and file.
Every young woman should try to make at least one personal visit to those who are older than herself, and she should show charity towards those who do not return this visit immediately. Of course, she has a right to be piqued if her visit be persistently ignored; and she should not press herself upon a cold or indifferent acquaintance, but she should be slow to wrath; and if she is once invited to the older lady's house, it is worth a dozen calls so far as the intention of civility is concerned.
It is proper to call in person, or to leave a card, after an acquaintance has lost a relative, after an engagement is announced, after a marriage has taken place, after a return from Europe, and of course after an invitation has been extended; but, as society grows larger and larger, the first four visits may be omitted, and cards sent if it is impossible to pay the visits personally. Most ladies in large cities are invisible except on their days; in this way alone can they hope to have any time for their own individual tastes, be these what they may--china painting, authorship, embroidery, or music. So the formal visiting gets to be a mere matter of card-leaving; and the witty author who suggested that there should be a "clearing-house for cards," and who hailed the Casino at Newport as a good institution for the same, was not without genius. One hates to lose time in this world while greasing the machinery, and the formal, perfunctory card-leaving is little else.
Could we all have abundant leisure and be sure to find our friends at home, what more agreeable business than visiting? To wander from one pleasant interior to another, to talk a little harmless gossip, to hear the last mot, the best piece of news, to see one's friends, their children, and the stranger within their gates--all this is charming; it is the Utopia of society; it would be the apotheosis of visiting--if there were such a thing!
Unfortunately, it is impossible. There may be here and there a person of such exalted leisure that he can keep his accounts to society marked in one of those purple satin manuals stamped "Visites," and make the proper marks every day under the heads of "address," "received," "returned visits," and "reception days," but he is a rara avis.
Certain rules are, however, immutable. A first call from a new acquaintance should be speedily returned. These are formal calls, and should be made in person between the hours of four and six in New York and other large cities. Every town has its own hours for receiving, however. When calling for the first time on several ladies not mother and daughters in one family, a card should be left on each. In the first call of the season, a lady leaves her own card and those of her husband, sons, and daughters.
A lady has a right to leave her card without asking for the lady of the house if it is not her day, or if there is any reason--such as bad weather, pressure of engagements, or the like--which renders time an important matter.
If ladies are receiving, and she is admitted, the visitor should leave her husband's cards for the gentlemen of the family on the hall table. Strangers staying in town who wish to be called upon should send their cards by post, with address attached, to those whom they would like to see. There is no necessity of calling after a tea or general reception if one has attended the festivity, or has left or sent a card on that day.
For reception days a lady wears a plain, dark, rich dress, taking care, however, never to be overdressed at home. She rises when her visitors enter, and is careful to seat her friends so that she can have a word with each. If this is impossible, she keeps her eye on the recent arrivals to be sure to speak to every one. She is to be forgiven if she pays more attention to the aged, to some distinguished stranger, or to some one who has the still higher claim of misfortune, or to one of a modest and shrinking temperament, than to one young, gay, fashionable, and rich. If she neglects these fortunate visitors they will not feel it; if she bows low to them and neglects the others, she betrays that she is a snob. If a lady is not sure that she is known by name to her hostess, she should not fail to pronounce her own name. Many ladies send their cards to the young brides who have come into a friend's family, and yet who are without personal acquaintance. Many, alas! forget faces, so that a name quickly pronounced is a help. In the event of an exchange of calls between two ladies who have never met (and this has gone on for years in New York, sometimes until death has removed one forever), they should take an early opportunity of speaking to each other at some friend's house; the younger should approach the elder and introduce herself; it is always regarded as a kindness; or the one who has received the first attention should be the first to speak.
It is well always to leave a card in the hall even if one is received, as it assists the lady's memory in her attempts to return these civilities. Cards of condolence must be returned by a mourning-card sent in an envelope at such reasonable time after the death of a relative as one can determine again to take up the business of society. When the separate card of a lady is left, with her reception day printed in one corner, two cards of her husband should be left, one for the lady, the other for the master, of the house; but after the first call of the season, it is not necessary to leave the husband's card, except after a dinner invitation. It is a convenience, although not a universal custom, to have the joint names of husband and wife, as "Dr. and Mrs. J. B. Watson," printed on one card, to use as a card of condolence or congratulation, but not as a visiting-card. These cards are used as "P. P. C." cards, and can be sent in an envelope by post. Society is rapidly getting over its prejudice against sending cards by post. In Europe it is always done, and it is much safer. Etiquette and hospitality have been reduced to a system in the Old World. It would be much more convenient could we do that here. Ceremonious visiting is the machinery by which an acquaintance is kept up in a circle too large for social visiting; but every lady should try to make one or two informal calls each winter on intimate friends. These calls can be made in the morning in the plainest walking-dress, and are certainly the most agreeable and flattering of all visits.
INVITATIONS, ACCEPTANCES, AND REGRETS.
The engraving of invitation-cards has become the important function of more than one enterprising firm in every city, so that it seems unnecessary to say more than that the most plain and simple style of engraving the necessary words is all that is
The English ambassador at Rome has a plain, stiff, unglazed card of a large size, on which is engraved,
Sir Augustus and Lady Paget
request the pleasure of ______ company
on Thursday evening, November fifteenth, at ten o'clock.
The favor of an answer is requested.
The lady of the house writes the name of the invited guest in the blank space left before the word "company." Many entertainers in America keep these blanks, or half-engraved invitations, always on hand, and thus save themselves the trouble of writing the whole card.
Sometimes, however, ladies prefer to write their own dinner invitations. The formula should always be,
Mr. and Mrs. Henry Brown
request the pleasure of
Mr. and Mrs. Jones's company at dinner.
November fifteenth, at seven o'clock,
132 Blank St. West.
These invitations should be immediately answered, and with a peremptory acceptance or a regret. Never enter into any discussion or prevision with a dinner invitation. Never write, saying "you will come if you do not have to leave town," or that you will "try to come," or, if you are a married pair, that you will "one of you come." Your hostess wants to know exactly who is coming and who isn't, that she may arrange her table accordingly. Simply say,
Mr. and Mrs. James Jones
accept with pleasure the polite invitation of
Mr. and Mrs. Henry Brown for dinner
on November fifteenth,
at seven o'clock.
Or if it is written in the first person, accept in the same informal manner, but quickly and decisively.
After having accepted a dinner invitation, if illness or any other cause interfere with your going to the dinner, send all immediate note to your hostess, that she may fill your place. Never selfishly keep the place open for yourself if there is a doubt about your going. It has often made or marred the pleasure of a dinner-party, this hesitancy on the part of a guest to send in time to her hostess her regrets, caused by the illness of her child, or the coming on of a cold, or a death in the family, or any other calamity. Remember always that a dinner is a most formal affair, that it is the highest social compliment, that its happy fulfillment is of the greatest importance to the hostess, and that it must be met in the same formal spirit. It precludes, on her part, the necessity of having to make a first call if she be the older resident, although she generally calls first. Some young neophytes in society, having been asked to a dinner where the elderly lady who gave it had forgotten to enclose her card, asked if they should call afterwards. Of course they were bound to do so, although their hostess should have called or enclosed her card. However, one invitation to dinner is better than many cards as a social compliment.
We have been asked by many, "To whom should the answer to an invitation be addressed?" If Mr. and Mrs. Brown invite you, answer Mr. and Mrs. Brown. If Mrs. John Jones asks you to a wedding, answer Mrs. John Jones. Another of our correspondents asks, "Shall I respond to the lady of the house or to the bride if asked to a wedding?" This seems so impossible a confusion that we should not think of mentioning so self-evident a fact had not the doubt arisen. One has nothing to say to the bride in answering such an invitation; the answer is to be sent to the hostess, who writes.
Always carefully observe the formula of your invitation, and answer it exactly. As to the card of the English ambassador, a gentleman should write: "Mr. Algernon Gracie will do himself the honor to accept the invitation of Sir Augustus and Lady Paget." In America he would be a trifle less formal, saying, "Mr. Algernon Gracie will have much pleasure in accepting the polite invitation of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Brown." We notice that on all English cards the "R.S.V.P." is omitted, and that a plain line of English script is engraved, saying, "The favor of an answer is requested."
In this country the invitations to a dinner are always in the name of both host and hostess, but invitations to a ball, "at home," a tea, or garden-party, are in the name of the hostess alone. At a wedding the names of both host and hostess are given. And if a father entertains for his daughters, he being a widower, his name appears alone for her wedding; but if his eldest daughter presides over his household, his and her name appear together for dinners, receptions, and "at homes." Many widowed fathers, however, omit the names of their daughters on the invitation. A young lady at the head of her father's house may, if she is no longer very young, issue her own cards for a tea. It is never proper for very young ladies to invite gentlemen in their own name to visit at the house, call on them, or to come to dinner. The invitation must come from the father, mother, or chaperon.
At the Assembly, Patriarchs', Charity ball, or any public affair, the word "ball" is used, but no lady invites you to a "ball" at her own house. The words "At Home," with "Cotillion" or "Dancing" in one corner, and the hour and date, alone are necessary. If it is to be a small, informal dance, the word "Informal" should be engraved in one corner. Officers of the army and navy giving a ball, members of the hunt, bachelors, members of a club, heads of committees, always "request the pleasure," or, "the honor of your company." It is not proper for a gentleman to describe himself as "at home;" he must "request the pleasure." A rich bachelor of Utopia who gave many entertainments made this mistake, and sent a card--"Mr. Horatio Brown. At Home. Tuesday, November fourteenth. Tea at four"--to a lady who had been an ambassadress. She immediately replied: "Mrs. Rousby is very glad to hear that Mr. Horatio Brown is at home--she hopes that he will stay there; but of what possible consequence is that to Mrs. Rousby?" This was a piece of rough wit, but it told the young man of his mistake. Another card, issued with the singular formula, "Mrs. Ferguson hopes to see Mrs. Rousby at the church," on the occasion of the wedding of a daughter, brought forth the rebuke, "Nothing is so deceitful as human hope," The phrase is an improper one. Mrs. Ferguson should have "requested the pleasure."
In asking for an invitation to a ball for friends, ladies must be cautious not to intrude too far, or to feel offended if refused. Often a hostess has a larger list than she can fill, and she is not able to ask all whom she would wish to invite. Therefore a very great discretion is to be observed on the part of those who ask a favor. A lady may always request an invitation for distinguished strangers, or for a young dancing man if she can answer for him in every way, but rarely for a married couple, and almost never for a couple living in the same city, unless newly arrived.
Invitations to evening or day receptions are generally "at home" cards. A lady may use her own visiting cards for five-o'clock tea. For other entertainments, "Music," "Lawn-tennis," "Garden-party," "Readings and Recitals," may be engraved in one corner, or written in by the lady herself.
As for wedding invitations, they are almost invariably sent out by the parents of the bride, engraved in small script on note-paper. The style can always be obtained of a fashionable engraver. They should be sent out a fortnight before the wedding-day, and are not to be answered unless the guests are requested to attend a "sit-down" breakfast, when the answer must be as explicit as to a dinner. Those who cannot attend the wedding send or leave their visiting-cards either on the day of the wedding or soon after. Invitations to a luncheon are generally written by the hostess on note-paper, and should be rather informal, as luncheon is an informal meal. However, nowadays ladies' luncheons have become such grand, consequential, and expensive affairs, that invitations are engraved and sent out a fortnight in advance, and answered immediately. There is the same etiquette as at dinner observed at these formal luncheons. There is such a thing, however, as a "stand-up" luncheon--a sort of reception with banquet, from which one could absent one's self without being missed.
Punctuality in keeping all engagements is a feature of a well-bred character, in society as well as in business, and it cannot be too thoroughly insisted upon.
In sending a "regret" be particular to word your note most respectfully. Never write the word "regrets" on your card unless you wish to insult your hostess. Send a card without any penciling upon it, or write a note, thus: "Mrs. Brown regrets that a previous engagement will deprive her of the pleasure of accepting the polite invitation of Mrs. Jones."
No one should, in the matter of accepting or refusing an invitation, economize his politeness. It is better to err on the other side. Your friend has done his best in inviting you.
The question is often asked us, "Should invitations be sent to people in mourning?" Of course they should. No one would knowingly intrude on a house in which there is or has been death within a month; but after that, although it is an idle compliment, it is one which must be paid; it is a part of the machinery of society. As invitations are now directed by the hundreds by hired amanuenses, a lady should carefully revise her list, in order that no names of persons deceased may be written on her cards; but the members of the family who remain, and who have suffered a loss, should be carefully remembered, and should not be pained by seeing the name of one who has departed included in the invitations or wedding-cards. People in deep mourning are not invited to dinners or luncheons, but for weddings and large entertainments cards are sent as a token of remembrance and compliment. After a year of mourning the bereaved family should send out cards with a narrow black edge to all who have remembered them.
Let it be understood that in all countries a card sent by a private hand in an envelope is equivalent to a visit. In England one sent by post is equivalent to a visit, excepting after a dinner. Nothing is penciled on a card sent by post, except the three letters "P.P.C." No such words as "accepts," "declines," "regrets" should be written on a card. As much ill-will is engendered in New York by the loss of cards for large receptions and the like, some of which the messenger-boys fling into the gutter, it is a thousand pities that we cannot agree to send all invitations by mail. People always get letters that are sent by post, particularly those which they could do without. Why should they not get their more interesting letters that contain invitations? It is considered thoroughly respectful in England, and as our people are fond of copying that stately etiquette, why should they not follow this sensible part of it?
It is in every sense as complimentary to send a letter by the post as by the dirty fingers of a hired messenger. Very few people in this country can afford to send by their own servants, who, again, rarely find the right address.
CARDS OF COMPLIMENT, COURTESY, CONDOLENCE, AND CONGRATULATION.
A distinguished lady of New York, on recovering from a severe illness, issued a card which is a new departure. In admiring its fitness and the need which has existed for just such a card, we wonder that none of us have before invented something so compact and stately, pleasing and proper--that her thought had not been our thought. It reads thus, engraved in elegant script, plain and modest: "Mrs. ____ presents her compliments and thanks for recent kind inquiries." This card, sent in an envelope which bears the family crest as a seal, reached all those who had left cards and inquiries for a useful and eminent member of society, who lay for weeks trembling between life and death.
This card is an attention to her large circle of anxious friends which only a kind-hearted woman would have thought of, and yet the thought was all; for after that the engraver and the secretary could do the rest, showing what a labor-saving invention it is to a busy woman who is not yet sufficiently strong to write notes to all who had felt for her severe suffering. The first joy of convalescence is of gratitude, and the second that we have created an interest and compassion among our friends, and that we were not alone as we struggled with disease. Therefore we may well recommend that this card should become a fashion. It meets a universal want.
This may be called one of the "cards of compliment"--a phase of card-leaving to which we have hardly reached in this country. It is even more, it is a heartfelt and friendly blossom of etiquette, "just out," as we say of the apple-blossoms.
Now as to the use of it by the afflicted: why would it not be well for persons who have lost a friend also to have such a card engraved? "Mr. R____ begs to express his thanks for your kind sympathy in his recent bereavement," etc. It would save a world of letter-writing to a person who does not care to write letters, and it would be a very pleasant token to receive when all other such tokens are impossible. For people leave their cards on a mourner, and never know whether they have been received or not. Particularly is this true of apartment-houses; and when people live in hotels, who knows whether the card ever reaches its destination? We generally find that it has not done so, if we have the courage to make the inquiry.
Those cards which we send by a servant to make the necessary inquiries for a sick friend, for the happy mother and the new-born baby, are essentially "cards of compliment." In excessively ceremonious circles the visits of ceremony on these occasions are very elaborate--as at the Court of Spain, for instance; and a lady of New York was once much amused at receiving the card of a superb Spanish official, who called on her newly arrived daughter when the latter was three days old, leaving a card for the "new daughter." He of course left a card for the happy mamma, and did not ask to go farther than the door, but he came in state.
In England the "family" were wont to send christening cards after a birth, but this has never been the fashion in this country, and it is disappearing in England. The complimentary card issued for such events is now generally an invitation to partake of caudle--a very delicious porridge made of oatmeal and raisins, brandy, spices, and sugar, and formally served in the lady's chamber before the month's seclusion is broken. It will be remembered that Tom Thumb was dropped into a bowl of fermity, which many antiquarians suppose to have been caudle. Nowadays a caudle party is a very gay, dressy affair, and given about six weeks after young master or mistress is ready to be congratulated or condoled with on his or her entrance upon this mundane sphere. We find in English books of etiquette very formal directions as to these cards of compliment. "Cards to inquire after friends during illness must be left in person, and not sent by post. On a lady's visiting-card must be written above the printed name, 'To inquire,' and nothing else should be added to these words."
For the purpose of returning thanks, printed cards are sold, with the owner's name written above the printed words. These printed cards are generally sent by post, as they are dispatched while the person inquired after is still an invalid. These cards are also used to convey the intelligence of the sender's recovery. Therefore they would not be sent while the person was in danger or seriously ill. But this has always seemed to us a very poor and. business-like way of returning "kind inquiries." The printed card looks cheap. Far better the engraved and carefully prepared card of Mrs. ____, which has the effect of a personal compliment.
We do not in this country send those hideous funeral or memorial cards which are sold in England at every stationer's to apprise one's friends of a death in the family. There is no need of this, as the newspapers spread the sad intelligence.
There is, however, a very elaborate paper called a "faire part," issued in both England and France after a death, in which the mourner announces to you the lamented decease of some person connected with him. Also on the occasion of a marriage, these elaborate papers, engraved on a large sheet of letter-paper, are sent to all one's acquaintances in England and on the Continent.
Visits of condolence can begin the week after the event which occasions them. Personal visits are only made by relatives or very intimate friends, who will of course be their own judges of the propriety of speaking fully of the grief which has desolated the house. The cards are left at the door by the person inquiring for the afflicted persons, and one card is as good as half a dozen. It is not necessary to deluge a mourning family with cards. These cards need not be returned for a year, unless our suggestion be followed, and the card engraved as we have indicated, and then sent by post. It is not yet a fashion, but it is in the air, and deserves to be one.
Cards of congratulation are left in person, and if the ladies are at home the visitor should go in, and be hearty in his or her good wishes. For such visits a card sent by post would, among intimate friends, be considered cold-blooded. It must at least be left in person.
Now as to cards of ceremony. These are to be forwarded to those who have sent invitations to weddings, carefully addressed to the person who invites you; also after an entertainment to which you have been asked, within a week after a dinner (this must be a personal visit), and on the lady's "day," if she has one; and we may add here that if on making a call a lady sees that she is not recognized, she should hasten to give her name. (This in answer to many inquiries.) Only calls of pure ceremony are made by handing in cards, as at a tea or general reception, etc. When cards have been left once in the season they need not be left again.
Under the mixed heads of courtesy and compliment should be those calls made to formally announce a betrothal. The parents leave the cards of the betrothed pair, with their own, on all the connections and friends of the two families. This is a formal announcement, and all who receive this intimation should make a congratulatory visit if possible.
As young people are often asked without their parents, the question arises, What should the parents do to show their sense of this attention? They should leave or send their cards with those of their children who have received the invitation. These are cards of courtesy. Cards ought not to be left on the daughters of a family without also including the parents in courteous formality. Gentlemen, when calling on any number of ladies, send in only one card, and cards left on a reception day where a person is visiting are not binding on the visitor to return. No separate card is left on a guest on reception days.
When returning visits of ceremony, as the first visit after a letter of introduction, or as announcing your arrival in town or your intended departure, one may leave a card at the door without inquiring for the lady.
Attention to these little things is a proof at once of self-respect and of respect for one's friends. They soon become easy matters of habit, and of memory. To the well-bred they are second nature. No one who is desirous of pleasing in society should neglect them.
A lady should never call on a gentleman unless professionally or officially. She should knock at his door, send in her card, and be as ceremonious as possible, if lawyer, doctor, or clergyman. On entering a crowded drawing-room it may be impossible to find the hostess at once, so that in many fine houses in New York the custom of announcing the name has become a necessary fashion. It is impossible to attempt to be polite without cultivating a good memory. The absent or self-absorbed person who forgets names and faces, who recalls unlucky topics, confuses relationships, speaks of the dead as if they were living, or talks about an unlucky adventure in the family, who plunges into personalities, who metaphorically treads on a person's toes, will never succeed in society. He must consider his "cards of courtesy."
The French talk of "la politesse du foyer." They are full of it. Small sacrifices, little courtesies, a kindly spirit, insignificant attentions, self-control, an allowance for the failings of others--these go to make up the elegance of life. True politeness has its roots very deep. We should not cultivate politeness merely from a wish to please, but because we would consider the feelings and spare the time of others. Cards of compliment and courtesy, therefore, save time as well as express a kindly remembrance. Everything in our busy world--or "whirl," as some people call it--that does these two things is a valuable discovery.
A card of courtesy is always sent with flowers, books, bonbonnieres, game, sweetmeats, fruits--any of the small gifts which are freely offered among intimate friends. But in acknowledging these gifts or attentions a card is not a sufficient return. Nor is it proper to write "regrets" or "accepts" on a card. A note should be written in either case.
A card of any sort must be scrupulously plain. Wedding cards should be as simple and unostentatious as possible.
The ceremony of paying visits and of leaving cards has been decided by the satirist as meaningless, stupid, and useless; but it underlies the very structure of society. Visits of form, visits of ceremony, are absolutely necessary. You can hardly invite people to your house until you have called and have left a card. And thus one has a safeguard against intrusive and undesirable acquaintances. To stop an acquaintance, one has but to stop leaving cards. It is thus done quietly but securely.
Gentlemen who have no time to call should be represented by their cards. These may well be trusted to the hands of wife, mother, daughter, sister, but should be punctiliously left.
The card may well be noted as belonging only to a high order of development. No monkey, no "missing link," no Zulu, no savage, carries a card. It is the tool of civilization, its "field-mark and device." It may be improved; it may be, and has been, abused; but it cannot be dispensed with under our present environment.
Page Last Updated February 11, 2008