MANNERS AND SOCIAL USAGES
It occupies a prominent place in the history of
Lord Houghton, among others, was famous for his unceremonious
lunches. As it is understood to be an informal meal, the invitations
are generally sent only a short time before the day for which the
recipient is invited, and are written in the first person. Lord
Houghton's were apt to be simply, " Come and lunch with me to-morrow."
At our prominent places of summer resort, ladies who have
houses of their own generally give their male friends a carte blanche invitation to luncheon. They are expected to avail
themselves of it without ceremony, and at Newport the table is
always laid with the " extra knife and fork," or two or three, as may
be thought necessary. Ladies, however, should be definitely asked to
this meal as to others.
CHAPERONS AND THEIR DUTIES.
It is strange that the Americans, so prone to imitate British customs, have been slow to adopt that law of English society which pronounces a chaperon an indispensable adjunct of every unmarried young woman.
The readers of "Little Dorrit" will recall the exceedingly witty sketch of Mrs. General, who taught her young ladies to form their mouths into a lady-like pattern by saying "papa, potatoes, prunes, and prism." Dickens knew very little of society, and cared very little for its laws, and his ladies and gentlemen were pronounced in England to be as great failures as his Little Nells and Dick Swivellers were successes; but he recognized the universality of chaperons. His portrait of Mrs. General (the first luxury which Mr. Dorrit allowed himself after inheriting his fortune) shows how universal is the necessity of a chaperon in English society, and on the Continent, to the proper introduction of young ladies, and how entirely their "style" depends upon their chaperon. Of course Dickens made her funny, of course he made her ridiculous, but he put her there. An American novelist would not have thought it worth mentioning, nor would an American papa with two motherless daughters have thought it necessary, if he traveled with them, to have a chaperon for his daughters.
Of course, a mother is the natural chaperon of her daughters, and if she understand her duties and the usages of society there is nothing further to be said. But the trouble is that many American mothers are exceedingly careless on this point. We need not point to the wonderful Mrs. Miller--Daisy's mother--in Henry James, Jr.'s, photograph of a large class of American matrons--a woman who loved her daughter, knew how to take care of her when she was ill, but did not know in the least how to take care of her when she was well; who allowed her to go about with young men alone, to " get engaged," if so she pleased, and who, arriving at a party after her daughter had appeared, rather apologized for coming at all. All this is notoriously true, and comes of our crude civilization. It is the transition state. Until we learn better, we must expect to be laughed at on the Pincian Hill, and we must expect English novelists to paint pictures of us which we resent, and French dramatists to write plays in which we see ourselves held up as savages.
Europeans have been in the habit of taking care of young girls, as if they were the precious porcelain of human clay. The American mamma treats her beautiful daughter as if she were a very common piece of delft indeed, and as if she could drift down the stream of life, knocking all other vessels to pieces, but escaping injury to herself.
Owing to the very remarkable and strong sense of propriety which American women innately possess--their truly healthy love of virtue, the absence of any morbid suspicion of wrong--this rule has worked better than any one would have dared hope. Owing, also, to the exceptionally respectful and chivalrous nature of American men, it has been possible for a young lady to travel unattended from Maine to Georgia, or anywhere within the new geographical limits of our social growth. Mr. Howells founded a romance upon this principle, that American women do not need a chaperon. Yet we must remember that all the black sheep are not killed yet, and we must also remember that propriety must be more attended to as we cease to be a young and primitive nation, and as we enter the lists of the rich, cultivated, luxurious people of the earth.
Little as we may care for the opinion of foreigners we do not wish our young ladies to appear in their eyes in a false attitude, and one of the first necessities of a proper attitude, one of the first demands of a polished society, is the presence of a chaperon. She should be a lady old enough to be the mother of her charge, and of unexceptionable manner. She must know society thoroughly herself, and respect its laws. She should be above the suspicion of reproach in character, and devoted to her work. In England there are hundreds of widows of half-pay officers--well-born, well-trained, well-educated women--who can be hired for money, as was Mrs. General, to play this part. There is no such class in America, but there is almost always a lady who will gladly perform the task of chaperoning motherless girls without remuneration.
It is not considered proper in England for a widowed father to place an unmarried daughter at the head of his house without the companionship of a resident chaperon, and there are grave objections to its being done here. We have all known instances where such liberty has been very bad for young girls, and where it has led to great scandals which the presence of a chaperon would have averted.
The duties of a chaperon are very hard and unremitting, and sometimes very disagreeable. She must accompany her young lady everywhere; she must sit in the parlor when she receives gentlemen; she must go with her to the skating-rink, the ball, the party, the races, the dinners, and especially to theatre parties; she must preside at the table, and act the part of a mother, so far as she can; she must watch the characters of the men who approach her charge, and endeavor to save the inexperienced girl from the dangers of a bad marriage, if possible. To perform this feat, and not to degenerate into a Spanish duenna, a dragon, or a Mrs. General--who was simply a fool--is a very difficult task.
No doubt a vivacious American girl, with all her inherited hatred of authority, is a troublesome charge. All young people are rebels. They dislike being watched and guarded. They have no idea what Hesperidean fruit they are, and they object to the dragon decidedly.
But a wise, well-tempered woman can manage the situation. If she have tact, a chaperon will add very much to the happiness of her young charge. She will see that the proper men are introduced; that her young lady is provided with a partner for the German; that she is asked to nice places; that she goes well dressed and properly accompanied; that she gives the return ball herself in handsome style.
"I owe," said a wealthy widower in New York, whose daughters all made remarkably happy marriages--"I owe all their happiness to Mrs. Constant, whom I was so fortunate as to secure as their chaperon. She knew society (which I did not), as if it were in her pocket. She knew exactly what girls ought to do, and she was so agreeable herself that they never disliked having her with them. She was very rigid, too, and would not let them stay late at balls; but they loved and respected her so much that they never rebelled, and now they love her as if she were really their mother."
A woman of elegant manners and of charming character, who will submit to the slavery--for it is little less--of being a chaperon, is hard to find; yet every motherless family should try to secure such a person. In traveling in Europe, an accomplished chaperon can do more for young girls than any amount of fortune. She has the thing they want--that is, knowledge. With her they can go everywhere--to picture-galleries, theatres, public and private balls, and into society, if they wish it. It is "etiquette" to have a chaperon, and it is the greatest violation of it not to have one.
If a woman is protected by the armor of work, she can dispense with a chaperon. The young artist goes about her copying unquestioned, but in society, with its different laws, she must be under the care of an older woman than herself.
A chaperon is indispensable to an engaged girl. The mother, or some lady friend, should always accompany a young fiancée on her journeys to the various places of amusement and to the watering-places.
Nothing is more vulgar in the eyes of our modern society than for an engaged couple to travel together or to go to the theatre unaccompanied, as was the primitive custom. This will, we know, shock many Americans, and be called a " foolish following of foreign fashions." But it is true; and, if it were only for the " looks of the thing," it is more decent, more elegant, and more correct for the young couple to be accompanied by a chaperon until married. Society allows an engaged girl to drive with her fiancé, in an open carriage, but it does not approve of his taking her in a close carriage to an evening party.
There are non-resident chaperons who are most popular and most useful. Thus, one mamma or elderly lady may chaperon a number of young ladies to a dinner, or a drive on a coach, a sail down the bay, or a ball at West Point. This lady looks after all her young charges, and attends to their propriety and their happiness. She is the guardian angel, for the moment, of their conduct. It is a care which young men always admire and respect--this of a kind, well-bred chaperon, who does not allow the youthful spirits of her charges to run away with them.
The chaperon, if an intelligent woman, and with the sort of social talent which a chaperon ought to have, is the best friend of a family of shy girls. She brings them forward, and places them in a position in which they can enjoy society; for there is a great deal of tact required in a large city to make a retiring girl enjoy herself. Society demands a certain amount of handling, which only the social expert understands. To this the chaperon should be equal. There are some women who have a social talent which is simply Napoleonic. They manage it as a great general does his corps de bataille.
Again, there are bad chaperons. A flirtatious married woman who is thinking of herself only, and who takes young girls about merely to enable herself to lead a gay life (and the world is full of such women), is worse than no chaperon at all. She is not a protection to the young lady, and she disgusts the honorable men who would like to approach her charge. A very young chaperon, bent on pleasure, who undertakes to make respectable the coaching party, but who has no dignity of character to impress upon it, is a very poor one. Many of the most flagrant violations of propriety, in what is called the fashionable set, have arisen from this choice of young chaperons, which is a mere begging of the question, and no chaperonage at all.
Too much champagne is drunk, too late hours are kept, silly stories are circulated, and appearances are disregarded by these gay girls and their young chaperons; and yet they dislike very much to see themselves afterwards held up to ridicule in the pages of a magazine by an Englishman, whose every sentiment of propriety, both educated and innate, has been shocked by their conduct.
A young Frenchman who visited America a few years ago formed the worst judgment of American women because he met one alone at an artist's studio. He misinterpreted the profoundly sacred and corrective influences of art. It had not occurred to the lady that if she went to see a picture she would be suspected of wishing to see the artist. Still, the fact that such a mistake could be made should render ladies careful of even the appearance of evil.
A chaperon should in her turn remember that she must not open a letter, she must not exercise an unwise surveillance. She must not suspect her charge. All that sort of Spanish espionage is always outwitted. The most successful chaperons are those who love their young charges, respect them, try to be in every way what the mother would have been. Of course, all relations of this sort are open to many drawbacks on both sides, but it is not impossible that it may be an agreeable relation, if both parties exercise a little tact.
In selecting a chaperon for a young charge, let parents or guardians be very particular as to the past history of the lady. If she has ever been talked about, ever suffered the bad reputation of flirt or coquette, do not think of placing her in that position. Clubs have long memories, and the fate of more than one young heiress has been imperiled by an injudicious choice of a chaperon. If any woman should have a spotless record and admirable character it should be the chaperon. It will tell against her charge if she have not. Certain needy women who have been ladies, and who precariously attach to society through their families, are always seeking for some young heiress. These women are very poor chaperons, and should be avoided.
This business of chaperonage is a point which demands attention on the part of careless American mothers. No mother should be oblivious of her duty in this respect. It does not imply that she doubts her daughter's honor or truth, or that she thinks she needs watching, but it is proper and respectable and necessary that she should appear by her daughter's side in society. The world is full of traps. It is impossible to be too careful of the reputation of a young lady, and it improves the tone of society vastly if an elegant and respectable woman of middle age accompanies every young party. It goes far to silence the ceaseless clatter of gossip; it is the antidote to scandal; it makes the air clearer; and, above all, it improves the character, the manners, and elevates the minds of the young people who are so happy as to enjoy the society and to feel the authority of a cultivated, wise, and good chaperon.
ETIQUETTE FOR ELDERLY GIRLS.
A brisk correspondent writes to us that she finds our restrictions as to the etiquette which single women should follow somewhat embarrassing. Being now thirty-five, and at the head of her father's house, with no intention of ever marrying, she asks if she requires a chaperon; if it is necessary that she should observe the severe self-denial of not entering an artist's studio without a guardian angel; if she must never allow a gentleman to pay for her theatre tickets; if she must, in short, assume a matron's place in the world, and never enjoy a matron's freedom.
From her letter we can but believe that this young lady of thirty-five is a very attractive person, and that she does "not look her age." Still, as she is at the head of her father's house, etiquette does yield a point and allows her to judge for herself as to the proprieties which must bend to her. Of course with every year of a woman's life after twenty-five she becomes less and less the subject of chaperonage. For one thing, she is better able to judge of the world and its temptations; in the second place, a certain air which may not be less winning, but which is certainly more mature, has replaced the wild grace of a giddy girlhood. She has, with the assumption of years, taken on a dignity which, in its way, is fully the compensation for some lost bloom. Many people prefer it.
But we must say here that she is not yet, in European opinion, emancipated from that guardianship which society dispenses with for the youngest widow. She must have a " companion" if she is a rich woman; and if she is a poor one she must join some party of friends when she travels. She can travel abroad with her maid, but in Paris and other Continental cities a woman still young-looking had better not do this. She is not safe from insult nor from injurious suspicion if she signs herself " Miss" Smith, and is without her mother, an elderly friend, a companion, or party.
In America a woman can go anywhere and do almost anything without fear of insult. But in Europe, where the custom of chaperonage is so universal, she must be more circumspect.
As to visiting an artist's studio alone, there is in art itself an ennobling and purifying influence which should be a protection. But we must not forget that saucy book by Maurice Sand, in which its author says that the first thing he observed in America was that women (even respectable ones) went alone to artists' studios. It would seem wiser, therefore, that a lady, though thirty-five, should be attended in her visits to studios by a friend or companion. This simple expedient " silences envious tongues," and avoids even the remotest appearance of evil.
In the matter of paying for tickets, if a lady of thirty-five wishes to allow a gentleman to pay for her admission to picture-galleries and theatres she has an indisputable right to do so. But we are not fighting for a right, only defining a law of etiquette, when we say that it is not generally allowed in the best society, abroad or here. In the case of young girls it is quite unallowable, but in the case of a lady of thirty-five it may be permitted as a sort of camaraderie, as one college friend may pay for another. The point is, however, a delicate one. Men, in the freedom of their clubs, recount to each other the clever expedients which many women of society use to extort from them boxes for the opera and suppers at Delmonico's. A woman should remember that it may sometimes be very inconvenient to young men who are invited by her to go to concerts and theatres to pay for these pleasures. Many a poor fellow who has become a defaulter has to thank for it the lady who first asked him to take her to Delmonico's to supper. He was ashamed to tell her that he was poor, and he stole that he might not seem a churl.
Another phase of the subject is that a lady in permitting a gentleman to expend money for her pleasures assumes an obligation to him which time and chance may render oppressive.
With an old friend, however, one whose claim to friendship is well established, the conditions are changed. In his case there can be no question of obligation, and a woman may accept unhesitatingly any of those small attentions and kindnesses which friendly feeling may prompt him to offer to her.
Traveling alone with a gentleman escort was at one time allowed in the West. A Kentucky woman of that historic period, " before the war," would not have questioned the propriety of it, and a Western man of to-day still has the desire to pay everything, everywhere, " for a lady."
The increase in the population of the Western States and the growth of a wealthy and fashionable society in the large towns have greatly modified this spirit of unwise chivalry, and such customs are passing away even on the frontier. Mr. Howells's novel, "The Lady of the Aroostook," has acquainted American readers with the unkind criticism to which a young lady who travels in Europe without a chaperon is subjected, and we believe that there are few mammas who would desire to see their daughters in the position of Miss Lydia Blood.
"An old maid," as our correspondent playfully calls herself, may do almost anything without violating etiquette, if she consents to become a chaperon, and takes with her a younger person. Thus an aunt and niece can travel far and wide; the position of an elder sister is always dignified; the youthful head of a house has a right to assert herself--she must do it--therefore etiquette bows to her (as "nice customs courtesy to great kings" ).
There is very much in the appearance of a woman. It is a part of the injustice of nature that some people look coquettish who are not so. Bad taste in dress, a high color, a natural flow of spirits, or a loud laugh have often caused a very good woman to be misinterpreted. Such a woman should be able to sit in judgment upon herself; and remembering that in a great city, at a crowded theatre, or at a watering-place, judgments must be hasty and superficial, she should tone down her natural exuberance, and take with her a female companion who is of a different type from herself. Calm and cold Puritanical people may not be more respectable than the fresh-colored and laughing " old maids" of thirty-five, but they look more so, and in this world women must consult appearances. An elderly girl must ever think how she looks. A woman who at a watering-place dresses conspicuously, wears a peignoir to breakfast, dyes her hair, or looks as if she did, ties a white blond veil over her locks and sits on a hotel piazza, showing her feet, may be the best, the most cultivated woman in the house, but a superficial observer will not think so. In the mind of every passer-by will lurk the feeling that she lacks the first grace of womanhood, modesty--and in the criticism of a crowd there is strength. A man passing such a person, and contrasting her with modestly dressed and unobtrusive ladies, would naturally form an unfavorable opinion of her; and were she alone, and her name entered on the books of the house as "Miss" Smith, he would not be too severe if he thought her decidedly eccentric, and certainly "bad style." If, however, "Miss" Smith were very plain and quiet, and dressed simply and in good taste, or if she sat on the sands looking at the sea, or attended an invalid or a younger friend, then Miss Smith might be as independent as she pleased: she would suffer from no injurious comments. Even the foreigner, who does not believe in the eccentricities of the English _mees_, would have no word to say against her. A good-looking elderly girl might say, "There is, then, a premium on ugliness;" but that we do not mean. Handsome women can conduct themselves so well that the breath of reproach need not and does not touch them, and ugly women may and do sometimes gain an undeserved reproach.
There are some people who are born with what we call, for want of a better name, a pinchbeck air. Their jewelry never looks like real gold; their manner is always bad; they have the faux air of fashion, not the real one. Such people, especially if single, receive many a snub which they do not deserve, and to a woman of this style a companion is almost necessary. Fortunately there are almost always two women who can join forces in traveling or in living together, and the independence of such a couple is delightful. We have repeated testimony in English literature of the pleasant lives of the Ladies of Llangollen, of the lives of Miss Jewsbury and Lady Morgan, and of the model sisters Berry. In our own country we have almost abolished the idea that a companion is necessary for women of talent who are physicians or artists or musicians; but to those who are still in the trammels of private life we can say that the presence of a companion need not destroy their liberty, and it may add very much to their respectability and happiness. There is, no doubt, a great pleasure in the added freedom of life which comes to an elderly girl. "I can wear a velvet dress now," said an exceedingly handsome woman on her thirtieth birthday. In England an unmarried woman of fifty is called "Mrs.," if she prefers that title. So many delightful women are late in loving, so many are true to some buried love, so many are " elderly girls" from choice, and from no neglect of the stronger sex, that to them should be accorded all the respect which is supposed to accrue naturally to the married. "It takes a very superior woman to be an old maid," said Miss Sedgwick.
"Le jour de l'an," as the French call the first day of January, is indeed the principal day of the year to those who still keep up the custom of calling and receiving calls. But in New York it is a custom which is in danger of falling into desuetude, owing to the size of the city and the growth of its population. There are, however, other towns and "much country" (as the Indians say) outside of New York, and there are still hospitable boards at which the happy and the light-hearted, the gay and the thoughtful, may meet and exchange wishes for a happy New-Year.
To those who receive calls we would say that it is well, if possible, to have every arrangement made two or three days before New-Year's, as the visiting begins early--sometimes at eleven o'clock--if the caller means to make a goodly day. A lady should have her hair dressed for the day when she rises, and if her dress be not too elaborate she should put it on then, so that she may be in the drawing-room when the first visitor arrives. In regard to the question of dress, we should say that for elderly ladies black satin or velvet, or any of the combination dresses so fashionable now, with handsome lace, and Swedish gloves of pearl or tan color (not white kids; these are decidedly rococo, and not in fashion), would be appropriate. A black satin, well made, and trimmed with beaded passementerie, is perhaps the handsomest dress that could be worn by any one. Brocaded silk, plain gros grain, anything that a lady would wear at the wedding reception of her daughter is suitable, although a plain dress is in better taste.
For young ladies nothing is so pretty as a dress of light cashmere and silk, cut high at the throat. These dresses, in the very pretty tints worn now, are extremely becoming, warm-looking, and appropriate for a reception, when the door is being often opened. White dresses of thick silk or cashmere, trimmed around the neck with lace, are also very elegant. In all countries young married women are allowed to be as magnificent as a picture of Marie de Medici, and can wear on New-Year's day rose-colored and white brocaded silks, with pearl trimmings, or plain ciel blue, or prawn-colored silk over white, or embossed velvet, or what they please, so that the dress is cut high, and has sleeves to the elbow. Each lady should have near her an ermine cloak, or a small camel's-hair shawl in case of draughts. It is not good taste to wear low-necked or sleeveless dresses during the day-time. They are worn by brides on their wedding-day sometimes, but at receptions or on New-Year's day scarcely ever.
While much magnificence is permissible, still a plain black or dark silk dress, if well made, with fresh ruffles at neck and wrists, is quite as proper as anything else, and men generally admire it more. But where a lady has several daughters to receive with her, she should study the effect of her rooms, and dress the young ladies in prettily contrasting colors. This may be cheaply done by using the soft, fine merinos, which are to be had in all the delicate and fashionable shades. Short dresses of this material are much used; but now that imported dresses are so easily obtained, a mother with many daughters to dress cannot do better than buy costumes similar to those worn by economical French ladies on their jour de l'an. One article of dress is de rigueur. With whatever style of costume, gloves must be worn.
A lady who expects to have many calls, and who wishes to offer refreshments, should have hot tea and coffee and a bowl of punch on a convenient table; or, better still, a silver kettle filled with bouillon standing in the hall, so that a gentleman coming in or going out can take a cup of it unsolicited. If she lives in an English basement house, this table can be in the lower dining-room. In a house three rooms deep the table and all the refreshments can be in the usual dining-room or in the upper back-parlor. Of course, her "grand spread" can be as gorgeous as she pleases. Hot oysters, salads, boned turkey, quail, and hot terrapin, with wines ad libitum, are offered by the wealthy; but this is a difficult table to keep in order when ten men call at one o'clock, and forty at four, and none between. The best table is one which is furnished with boned turkey, jellied tongues, and sandwiches, and similar dishes, with cake and fruit as decorative additions. The modern and admirable adjunct of a spirit-lamp under a teakettle keeps the bouillon, tea, and coffee always hot, and these, with the teacups necessary to serve them, should be on a small table at one side. A maid-servant, neatly dressed, should be in constant attendance on this table, and a man-servant or two will be needed to attend the door and to wait at table.
The man at the door should have a silver tray or card-basket in which to receive the cards of visitors. If a gentleman is not known to the lady of the house, he sends in his card; otherwise he leaves it with the waiter, who deposits it in some receptacle where it should be kept until the lady has leisure to examine the cards of all her guests. If a gentleman is calling on a young lady, and is not known to the hostess, he sends in his card to the former, who presents him to the hostess and to all the ladies present. If the room is full, an introduction to the hostess only is necessary. If the room is comparatively empty, it is much kinder to present a gentleman to each lady, as it tends to make conversation general. As a guest is about to depart, he should be invited to take some refreshment, and be conducted towards the dining-room for that purpose. This hospitality should never be urged, as man is a creature who dines, and is seldom willing to allow a luncheon to spoil a dinner. In a country neighborhood, however, or after a long walk, a visitor is almost always glad to break his fast and enjoy a pickled oyster, a sandwich, or a cup of bouillon.
The etiquette of New-Year's day commands, peremptorily, that a gentleman shall not be asked to take off his overcoat nor to be relieved of his hat. He will probably prefer to wear his overcoat, and to carry his hat in his hand during his brief visit. If he wishes to dispose of either, he will do so in the hall; but on that point he is a free moral agent, and it is not a part of the duty of a hostess to suggest what he shall do with his clothes.
Many letters come to us asking "What subjects should be talked about during a New-Year's call." Alas! we can only suggest the weather and the good wishes appropriate to the season. The conversation is apt to be fragmentary. One good mot was evolved a few years ago, when roads were snowy and ways were foul. A gentleman complained of the mud and the dirty streets. "Yes," said the lady, " but it is very bright overhead." "I am not going that way," replied the gentleman.
A gentleman should not be urged to stay when he calls. He has generally but five minutes in which to express a desire that old and pleasant memories shall be continued, that new and cordial friendships shall be formed, and after that compliment, which every wall-bred man pays a lady, "How remarkably well you are looking to-day!" he wishes to be off.
In France it is the custom for a gentleman to wear a dress-coat when calling on a great public functionary on New-Year's day, but it is not so in America. Here he should, wear the dress in which he would make an ordinary morning visit. When he enters a room he should not remove his gloves, nor should he say, as he greets his hostess, "Excuse my glove." He should take her gloved hand in his and give it a cordial pressure, according to our pleasant American fashion. When leaving, the ceremony is very brief--simply, " Good-morning," or "Good-evening," as the case may be.
It is proper for gentlemen to call late in the evening of New-Year's day, and calls are made during the ensuing evenings by people who are otherwise occupied in the daytime. If the family are at dinner, or the lady is fatigued with the day's duties, the servant must say at the door that Mrs._____ desires to be excused. He must not present the card to her, and thus oblige her to send to her visitor a message which might be taken as a personal affront. But she must have the servant instructed to refuse all at certain hours; then none can be offended.
Many ladies in New York are no longer "at home" on New-Year's day; and when this is the case a basket is tied at the door to receive cards. They do this because so many gentlemen have given up the custom of calling that it seems to be dying out, and all their preparations for a reception become a hollow mockery. How many weary women have sat with novel in hand and luncheon-table spread, waiting for the callers who did not come! The practice of sending cards to gentlemen, stating that a lady would be at home on New-Year's day, has also very much gone out of fashion, owing to the fact that gentlemen frequently did not respond to them.
It is, however, proper that a married lady returning to her home after a long absence in Europe, or one who has changed her residence, or who is living at a hotel or boarding-house (or who is visiting friends), should send her card to those gentlemen whom she wishes to receive. It must be remembered that many gentlemen, generally those no longer young, still like very much the fashion of visiting on New-Year's day, and go to see as many people as they can in a brief winter's sunshine. These gentlemen deplore the basket at the door, and the decadence of the old custom in New York. Family friends and old friends, those whom they never see at any other time, are to be seen--or they should be seen, so these old friends think--on New-Year's day.
A personal call is more agreeable than a card. Let a gentleman call, and in person, or take no notice of the day. So say the most trustworthy authorities, and their opinion has an excellent foundation of common-sense.
Could we only go back to the old Dutch town where the custom started, where all animosities were healed, all offences forgotten, on New-Year's day, when the good Dutch housewives made their own cakes and spiced the loving-cup, when all the women stayed at home to receive and all the men called, what a different New-Year's day we should enjoy in New York. Nowadays, two or three visitors arrive before the hostess is ready to receive them; then one comes after she has appeared, vanishes, and she remains alone for two hours; then forty come. She remembers none of their names, and has no rational or profitable conversation with any of them.
But for the abusers of New-Year's day, the pretenders who, with no right to call, come in under cover of the general hospitality of the season--the bores, who on this day, as on all days, are only tiresome--we have no salve, no patent cure. A hostess must receive them with the utmost suavity, and be as amiable and agreeable as possible.
New-Year's day is a very brilliant one at Washington. All the world calls on the President at twelve o'clock; the diplomats in full dress, officers of the army and navy in full uniform, and the other people grandly attired. Later, the heads of departments, cabinet ministers, judges, etc., receive the lesser lights of society.
In Paris the same etiquette is observed, and every clerk calls on his chief.
In a small city or village etiquette manages itself, and ladies have only to let it be known that they will be at home, with hot coffee and oysters, to receive the most agreeable kind of callers--those who come because they really wish to pay a visit, to express goodwill, and to ask for that expression of friendship which our reserved Anglo-Saxon natures are so prone to withhold.
In New York a few years ago the temperance people made a great onslaught on ladies who invited young men to drink on New-Year's day. It was said to lead to much disorder and intemperance; and so, from fear of causing one's brother to sin, many have banished the familiar punch-bowl. In a number of well-known houses in New York no luncheon is offered, and a cup of bouillon or coffee and a sandwich is the usual refreshment in the richest and most stylish houses. It will be seen, therefore, that it is a day of largest liberty. There are no longer any sumptuary laws; but it is impossible to say why ladies of the highest fashion in New York do not still make it a gala-day. The multiplicity of other entertainments, the unseen yet all-powerful influence of fashion, these things mould the world insensibly. Yet in a thousand homes, thousands of cordial hands will be extended on the great First of January, and to all of them we wish a Happy New Year.
MATINEES AND SOIRÉES.
A matinee in America means an afternoon performance at the theatre of a play or opera. In Europe it has a wider significance, any social gathering before dinner in France being called a matinee, as any party after dinner is called a soirée.
The improper application of another foreign word was strikingly manifested in the old fashion of calling the President's evening receptions levees. The term "levee," as originally used, meant literally a king's getting up. When he arose, and while he was dressing, such of his courtiers as were privileged to approach him at this hour gathered in an anteroom-waiting to assist at his toilet, to wish him good morning, or perhaps prefer a request. In time this morning gathering grew to be an important court ceremonial, and some one ignorant of the meaning of the word named President Jackson's evening receptions " the President's levees." So with the word matinee. First used to indicate a day reception at court, it has now grown to mean a day performance at a theatre. Sometimes a lady, bolder than her neighbors, issues an invitation for " a matinee dansante," or " a matinee musicale," but this descriptive style is not common.
There are many advantages in a morning party. It affords to ladies who do not go to evening receptions the pleasure of meeting informally, and is also a well-chosen occasion for introducing a new pianist or singer.
For a busy woman of fashion nothing can be more conveniently timed than a matinee, which begins at two and ends at four or half past. It does not interfere with a five-o'clock tea or a drive in the park, nor unfit her for a dinner or an evening entertainment. Two o'clock is also a very good hour for a large and informal general lunch, if a lady wishes to avoid the expense, formality, and trouble of a "sit-down" lunch.
While the busy ladies can go to a matinee, the busy gentleman cannot; and as men of leisure in America are few, a morning entertainment at a theatre or in society is almost always an assemblage of women. To avoid this inequality of sex, many ladies have their matinees on some one of the national holidays--Washington's Birthday, Thanksgiving, or Decoration-day. On these occasions a matinee, even in busy New York, is well attended by gentlemen.
When, as sometimes happens, a prince, a duke, an archbishop, an author of celebrity, a Tom Hughes, a Lord Houghton, a Dean Stanley, or some descendant of our French allies at Yorktown, comes on a visit to our country, one of the most satisfactory forms of entertainment that we can offer to him is a morning reception. At an informal matinee we may bring to meet him such authors, artists, clergymen, lawyers, editors, statesmen, rich and public-spirited citizens, and beautiful and cultivated women of society, as we may be fortunate enough to know.
The primary business of society is to bring together the various elements of which it is made up--its strongest motive should be to lighten up the momentous business of life by an easy and friendly intercourse and interchange of ideas.
But if we hope to bring about us men of mind and distinction, our object must be not only to be amused but to amuse.
To persuade those elderly men who are maintaining the great American name at its present high place in the Pantheon of nations to spend a couple of hours at a matinee, we must offer some tempting bait as an equivalent. A lady who entertained Dean Stanley said that she particularly enjoyed her own matinee given for him, because through his name she for the first time induced the distinguished clergy of New York to come to her house.
Such men are not tempted by the frivolities of a fashionable social life that lives by its vanity, its excitement, its rivalry and flirtation. Not that all fashionable society is open to such reproach, but its tendency is to lightness and emptiness; and we rarely find really valuable men who seek it. Therefore a lady who would make her house attractive to the best society must offer it something higher than that to which we may give the generic title fashion. Dress, music, dancing, supper, are delightful accessories-they are ornaments and stimulants, not requisites. For a good society we need men and women who are "good company," as they say in England--men and women who can talk. Nor is the advantage all on one side. The free play of brain, taste, and feeling is a most important refreshment to a man who works hard, whether in the pulpit or in Wall Street, in the editorial chair or at the dull grind of authorship. The painter should wash his brushes and strive for some intercourse of abiding value with those whose lives differ from his own. The woman who works should also look upon the divertissements of society as needed recreation, fruitful, may be, of the best culture.
On the other hand, no society is perfect without the elements of beauty, grace, taste, refinement, and luxury. We must bring all these varied potentialities together if we would have a real and living social life. For that brilliant thing that we call society is a finely-woven fabric of threads of different sizes and colors of contrasting shades. It is not intrigue, or the display of wealth, or morbid excitement that must bind together this social fabric, but sympathy, that pleasant thing which refines and refreshes, and "knits up the raveled sleeve of care," and leaves us strong for the battle of life.
And in no modern form of entertainment can we better produce this finer atmosphere, this desirable sympathy between the world of fashion and that of thought, than by matinees, when given under favorable circumstances. To be sure, if we gave one every day it would be necessary, as we have said, to dispense with a large number of gentlemen; but the occasional matinee is apt to catch some very good specimens of the genus homo, and sometimes the best specimens. It is proper to offer a very substantial buffet, as people rarely lunch before two o'clock, and will be glad of a bit of bird, a cup of bouillon, or a leaf of salad. It is much better to offer such an entertainment earlier than the five-o'clock tea; at which hour people are saving their appetites for dinner.
A soirée is a far more difficult affair, and calls for more subtle treatment. It should be, not a ball, but what was formerly called an "evening party." It need not exclude dancing, but dancing is not its excuse for being. It means a very bright conversazione, or a reading, or a musicale, with pretty evening dress (not necessarily ball dress), a supper, and early hours. Such, at least, was its early significance abroad.
It has this advantage in New York, that it does attract gentlemen. They like very much the easy-going, early-houred soirée. We mean, of course, those gentlemen who no longer care for balls, and if aristocracy is to be desired, "the rule of the best," at American entertainments, all aspirants for social distinction should try to propitiate those men who are being driven from the ballroom by the insolence and pretension of the lower elements of fashionable society. In Europe, the very qualities which make a man great in the senate, the field, or the chamber of commerce, give him a corresponding eminence in the social world. Many a gray-mustached veteran in Paris leads the German. A senator of France aspires to appear well in the boudoir. With these men social dexterity is a requisite to success, and is cultivated as a duty. It is not so here, for the two great factors of success in America, wealth and learning, do not always fit a man for society, and still less does society adapt itself to them.
The soirée, if properly conducted, is an entertainment to which can be brought the best elements of our society: elderly, thoughtful, and educated men. A lady should not, however, in the matter of dress, confound a soirée with a concert or reception. It is the height of impropriety to wear a bonnet to the former, as has been done in New York, to the everlasting disgust of the hostess.
When a hostess takes the pains to issue an invitation to a soirée a week or a fortnight before it is to occur, she should be repaid by the careful dressing and early arrival of her guests. It may be proper to go to an evening reception in a bonnet, but never to a soirée or an evening party.
There is no doubt that wealth has become a power in American society, and that we are in danger of feeling that, if we have not wealth, we can give neither matinees nor soirées; but this is a mistake. Of course the possession of wealth is most desirable. Money is power, and when it is well earned it is a noble power; but it does not command all those advantages which are the very essence of social intercourse. It may pamper the appetite, but it does not always feed the mind. There is still a corner left for those that have but little money. A lady can give a matinee or a soiree in a small house with very little expenditure of money; and if she has the inspiration of the model entertainer, every one whom she honors with an invitation will flock to her small and unpretending ménage. There are numbers of people in our large cities who can give great balls, dazzle the eye, confuse and delight the senses, drown us in a sensuous luxury; but how few there are who, in a back street and in a humble house, light that lamp by which the Misses Berry summoned to their little parlor the cleverest and best people!
The elegant, the unpretentious, the quiet soirée to which the woman of fashion shall welcome the littérateur and the artist, the aristocrat who is at the top of the social tree and the millionaire who reached his culmination yesterday, would seem to be that Ultima Thule for which all people have been sighing ever since society was first thought of. There are some Americans who are so foolish as to affect the pride of the hereditary aristocracies, and who have some fancied traditional standard by which they think to keep their blue blood pure. A good old grandfather who had talent, or patriotism, or broad views of statesmanship, "who did the state some service," is a relation to be proud of, but his descendants should take care to show, by some more personal excellence than that of a social exclusiveness, their appreciation of his honesty and ability. What our grandfathers were, a thousand new-comers now are. They made their way--the early American men--untrammeled by class restraints; they arrived at wealth and distinction and social eminence by their own merits; they toiled for the money which buys for their grandsons purple and fine linen. And could they see the pure and perfect snob who now sometimes bears the name which they left so unsullied, they would be exasperated and ashamed, Of course, a certain exclusiveness must mark all our matinees and soirées; they would fail of the chief element of diversion if we invited everybody. Let us, therefore, make sure of the aesthetic and intellectual, the sympathetic and the genial, and sift out the pretentious and the impure. The rogues, the pretenders, the adventurers who push into the penetralia of our social circles are many, and it is to the exclusion of such that a hostess should devote herself.
It is said that all women are born aristocrats, and it is sometimes said in the same tone with which the speaker afterwards adds that all women are born fools. A woman, from her finer sense, enjoys luxury, fine clothing, gorgeous houses, and all the refinements that money can buy; but even the most idle and luxurious and foolish woman desires that higher luxury which art and intelligence and delicate appreciation can alone bring; the two are necessary to each other. To a hostess the difficulty of entertaining in such a manner as to unite in a perfect whole the financiers, the philosophers, the cultivated foreigners, the people of fashion, the sympathetic and the artistic is very great; but a hostess may bring about the most genial democracy at the modern matinee or soirée if she manages properly.
The five-o'clock tea began in England, and is continued there, as a needed refreshment after a day's hunting, driving, or out-of-door exercise, before dressing for dinner--that very late dinner of English fashion. It is believed that the Princess of Wales set the fashion by receiving in her boudoir at some countryhouse in a very becoming "tea gown," which every lady knows to be the most luxurious change from the tight riding-habit or carriage-dress. Her friends came in, by her gracious invitation, to her sanctum, between five and seven, to take a cup of tea with her. The London belles were glad to have an excuse for a new entertainment, and gradually it grew to be a fashion, at which people talked so fast and so loud as to suggest the noise of a drum--a kettledrum, the most rattling of all drums. Then it was remembered that an old-fashioned entertainment was called a drum, and the tea suggested kettle, and the name fitted the circumstances. In England, where economy is so much the fashion, it was finally pronounced an excellent excuse for the suppression of expense, and it came over to New York during a calamitous period, just after "Black Friday." Ladies were glad to assemble their friends at an hour convenient for their servants, and with an entertainment inexpensive to their husbands. So a kettledrum became the most fashionable of entertainments. People after a while forgot its origin, and gave a splendid ball by daylight, with every luxury of the season, and called it tea at five o'clock, or else paid off all their social obligations by one sweeping "tea," which cost them nothing but the lighting of the gas and the hiring of an additional waiter. They became so popular that they defeated themselves, and ladies had to encompass five, six, sometimes nine teas of an afternoon, and the whole of a cold Saturday--the favorite day for teas--was spent in a carriage trying to accomplish the impossible.
The only "afternoon tea" that should prevail in a large city like New York is that given by one or two ladies who are usually "at home" at five o'clock every afternoon. If there is a well-known house where the hostess has the firmness and the hospitality to be always seated in front of her blazing urn at that hour, she is sure of a crowd of gentlemen visitors, who come from down-town glad of a cup of tea and a chat and rest between work and dinner. The sight of a pretty girl making tea is always dear to the masculine heart. Many of our young lawyers, brokers, and gay men of the hunt like a cup of hot tea at five o'clock. The mistake was in the perversion of the idea, the making it the occasion for the official presentation of a daughter, or the excuse for other and more elaborate entertainments. So, although many a house is opened this winter at the same convenient hour, and with perhaps only the bouillon and tea-kettle and bit of cake or sandwich (for really no one wants more refreshment than this before dinner and after luncheon), the name of these afternoon entertainments has been by mutual consent dropped, and we no longer see the word "kettledrum" or "afternoon tea" on a card, but simply the date and the hour.
There is a great deal to be said in this matter on both sides. The primal idea was a good one. To have a gathering of people without the universal oyster was at first a great relief. The people who had not money for grand "spreads" were enabled to show to their more opulent neighbors that they too had the spirit of hospitality. All who have spent a winter in Rome remember the frugal entertainment offered, so that an artist with no plentiful purse could still ask a prince to visit him. It became the reproach of Americans that they alone were ashamed to be poor, and that, unless they could offer an expensive supper, dinner, or luncheon, they could not ask their friends to come to see them. Then, again, the doctors, it was urged, had discovered that tea was the best stimulant for the athlete and for the brain-worker. English "breakfast tea" kept nobody awake, and was the most delightful of appetizers. The cup of tea and a sandwich taken at five o'clock spoiled no one's dinner. The ladies of the house began these entertainments, modestly receiving in plain but pretty dresses; their guests were asked to come in walking-dress. But soon the other side of the story began to tell. A lady going in velvet and furs into a heated room, where gas added its discomfort to the subterranean fires of a furnace, drank her hot cup of tea, and came out to take a dreadful cold. Her walking dress was manifestly a dress inappropriate to a kettledrum. Then the hostess and the guests both became more dressy, the afternoon tea lost its primitive character and became a gay reception. Then, again, the nerves! The doctors condemn even the afternoon cup of tea, and declare that it is the foundation of much of the nervous prostration, the sleeplessness, and the nameless misery of our overexcited and careworn oxygen driven people. We are overworked, no doubt. We are an over civilized set, particularly in the large cities, and every one must decide for himself or herself if "tea" is not an insidious enemy. That the introduction of an informal and healthful and inexpensive way of entertaining is a grand desideratum no one can fail to observe and allow. But with the growth of an idea the tea blossomed into a supper, and the little knot into a crowd, and of course the name became a misnomer.
The ideal entertainment would seem to be a gathering between four and seven, which is thoroughly understood to be a large gas-lighted party, which a lady enters properly dressed for a hot room, having a cloak which she can throw off in the hall, and where she can make her call long or short, as she pleases, and can find a cup of hot bouillon if she is cold, or tea if she prefers it, or a more elaborate lunch if her hostess pleases; and this ideal entertainment is not afternoon tea; it is a reception. It is well enough indicated by the date on the card, and does not need a name.
The abuse of the "afternoon tea" was that it took the place of other entertainments. It has almost ruined the early evening party, which was so pleasant a feature of the past. People who could well afford to give breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and balls, where men and women could meet each other, and talk, and know each other well, did not give them; they gave an afternoon tea.
It may be because we have no "leisure class" that we do not give breakfasts. In all our Anglomania it is strange that we have not copied that plain, informal thing, an English breakfast, such as Sydney Smith was wont to give. Mr. Webster writes home in 1839: "In England the rule of politeness is to be quiet, act naturally, take no airs, and make no bustle. This perfect politeness has cost a great deal of drill." He delighted in the English breakfasts, where he met "Boz," Tom Moore, Wordsworth, Rogers (who never gave any entertainment but breakfasts). We are all workers in America, yet we might have an occasional breakfast-party. Dinners and ladies' lunches we know very well how to give, and there are plenty of them. Perhaps the only objection to them is their oversumptuousness. The ideal dinners of the past at Washington, with the old Virginia hospitality, the oysters, terrapin, wild turkeys, venison, served by Negro cooks and waiters, the hostess keeping the idea of agreeability before her, instead of caring principally for her china, her glass, and her table-cloth. These gave way long ago in New York to the greater luxury of the prosperous city, and if there was any loss, it was in the conversation. New York women have been forced into a life of overdressing, dancing, visiting, shopping, gaining the accomplishments, and showing them off, and leading the life of society at its height; the men have been overwhelmingly engaged in commerce, and later in Wall Street. No wonder that four o'clock was an hour at which both paused, and called for a "cup of tea."
Nor because the name has passed away-temporarily, perhaps--will the fashion pass. People will still gather around the steaming urn. Young ladies find it a very pretty recreation to make the tea-table attractive with the floral arrangements, the basket of cake, the sandwiches, the silver tea-caddy, the alcohol lamp burning under the silver or copper kettle, the padded "cozy" to keep the tea warm, the long table around which young gentlemen and young ladies can sit, while mamma, patient American mamma--receives the elder people in the parlor.
It is no longer the elderly lady who presides at the tea-kettle; the tabbies do not make or drink the teas; the younger pussies are the queens of four-o'clock tea. It is whispered that it is a convenient alias for flirtation, or something even sweeter--that many engagements have been made at "four-o'clock teas."
Certainly it is a very good opportunity for showing one's tea-cups. The handsome china can be displayed at a four-o'clock tea, if it is not too large, to the best advantage. The very early assumption of a grand social entertainment under the name of "four-o'clock tea" rather blotted out one of the prettiest features of the English tea, that of the graceful garment the tea gown.
Tea gowns in France, under the regime of Worth, have become most luxurious garments. They are made of silk, satin, velvet, and lined with delicate surah. They are trimmed with real and imitation lace, and are of the most delicate shades of pink, blue, lavender, and pearl-color; cascades of lace extend down the front. In these, made loose to the figure, but still very elegant and most becoming, do the English princess, the duchess, and the Continental coroneted or royal dame, or the queen of fashion, receive their guests at afternoon tea. No wonder that in each bridal trousseau do we read of the wonderful "tea gowns." In America ladies have been in the habit of always receiving in the tight-fitting and elegant combinations of silk, surah, brocade, velvet, and cashmere which fill the wardrobe of modern fashion. The dresses of delicate cashmere, so becoming to young girls, are always very much patronized for afternoon tea. Indeed, the young lady dressed for afternoon tea was dressed for dinner. In this, as our American afternoon teas have been managed, the American young lady was right, for it is not convenable, according to European ideas, to wear a loose flowing robe of the tea-gown pattern out of one's bedroom or boudoir. It has been done by ignorant people at a watering-place, but it never looks well. It is really an undress, although lace and satin may be used in its composition. A plain, high, and tight-fitting garment is much the more elegant dress for the afternoon teas as we give them.
Call it what you will--reception, kettledrum, afternoon tea, or something without a name--we have unconsciously, imitating a very different sort of informal gathering, gained an easy and a sensible entertainment in society, from four to seven; which seems to address itself to all kinds of needs. We are prone in America (so foreigners say) to overdo a thing--perhaps, also, to underdo it. Be that as it may, all agree with Lord Houghton, who laughed at the phrase, that we know how "to have a good time."
CAUDLE AND CHRISTENING CUPS AND CEREMONIES.
We are asked by many young mammas as to the meaning of the phrase "caudle parties."
Formerly the persons who called to congratulate the happy possessor of a new boy or girl were offered mulled wine and plum-cake. Some early chronicler thinks that the two got mixed, and that caudle was the result.
Certain it is that a most delicious beverage, a kind of oatmeal gruel, boiled " two days," with raisins and spices, and fine old Madeira (some say rum) added, makes a dish fit to set before a king, and is offered now to the callers on a young mamma. The old English custom was to have this beverage served three days after the arrival of the little stranger. The caudle-cups, preserved in many an old family, are now eagerly sought after as curiosities; they have two handles, so they could be passed from one to another. They were handed down as heirlooms when these candle parties were more fashionable than they have been, until a recent date. Now there is a decided idea of reintroducing them. In those days the newly-made papa also entertained his friends with a stag party, when bachelors and also Benedicts were invited to eat buttered toast, which was sugared and spread in a mighty punch-bowl, over which boiling-hot beer was poured. After the punch-bowl was emptied, each guest placed a piece of money in the bowl for the nurse. Strong ale was brewed, and a pipe of wine laid by to be drunk on the majority of the child.
This greasy mess is fortunately now extinct, but the caudle, a really delicious dish or drink, is the fashion again. It is generally offered when master or miss is about six weeks old, and mamma receives her friends in a tea gown or some pretty convalescent wrap, very often made of velvet or plush cut in the form of a belted-in jacket and skirt, or in one long princess robe, elaborately trimmed with cascades of lace down the front. The baby is, of course, shown, but not much handled. Some parents have the christening and the caudle party together, but of this, it is said, the Church does not approve.
The selection of god-parents is always a delicate task. It is a very great compliment, of course, to ask any one to stand in this relation, highly regarded in England, but not so much thought of here. Formerly there were always two godfathers and two godmothers, generally chosen from friends and relations, who were expected to watch over the religious education of the young child, and to see that he was, in due time, confirmed. In all old countries this relationship lasts through life; kindly help and counsel being given to the child by the godfather--even to adoption in many instances--should the parents die. But in our new country, with the absence of an established Church, and with our belief in the power of every man to take care of himself, this beautiful relationship has been neglected. We are glad to see by our letters that it is being renewed, and that people are thinking more of these time-honored connections.
After a birth, friends and acquaintances should call and send in their cards, or send them by their servants, with kind inquiries. When the mother is ready to see her friends, she should, if she wishes, signify that time by sending out cards for a "caudle party." But let her be rather deliberate about this unless she has a mother, or aunt, or sister to take all the trouble for her.
The godfather and godmother generally give some little present; a silver cup or porringer, knife, fork, and spoon, silver basin, coral tooth-cutter, or coral and bells, were the former gifts; but, nowadays, we hear of one wealthy godfather who left a check for $100,000 in the baby's cradle; and it is not unusual for those who can do so to make some very valuable investment for the child, particularly if he bears the name of the godfather.
Some people--indeed, most people--take their children to church to be baptized, and then give a luncheon at home afterwards to which all are invited, especially the officiating clergyman and his wife, as well as the sponsors. The presents should be given at this time. Old-fashioned people give the baby some salt and an egg for good luck, and are particular that he should be carried up-stairs before he is carried down, and that when he goes out first he shall be carried to the house of some near and dear relative.
Confirmation is in the Episcopal Church the sequel to baptism; and in France this is a beautiful and very important ceremony. In the month of May the streets are filled with white doves--young girls, all in muslin and lace veils, going with their mothers or chaperons to be confirmed. Here the duty of the godfather or the godmother comes in; and if a child is an orphan, or has careless or irreligious parents, the Church holds the godparent responsible that these children be brought to the bishop to be confirmed.
Notices of confirmation to be held are always given out in the various churches some weeks prior to the event; and persons desirous of being admitted to the rite are requested to make known their wish and to give their names to their clergyman. Classes are formed, and instruction and preparation given during the weeks preceding the day which the bishop has appointed. In England a noble English lady is as much concerned for her goddaughter through all this important period as she is for her daughter. In France the obligation is also considered sacred. We have known of a lady who made the journey from Montpellier to Paris--although she could scarcely afford the expense--to attend the confirmation of her goddaughter, although the young girl had a father and mother.
It is a ceremony well worth seeing, either in England or France. The girls walk in long processions through the streets; the dress uniformly of white with long veils. Youths follow in black suits, black ties, and gloves; they enter one aisle of the church, the girls the other. When the time arrives for the laying on of hands, the girls go first, two and two; they give their card or certificate into the hands of the bishop's chaplain, who stands near to receive them. The candidates kneel before the bishop, who lays his hands severally on their heads.
Of course persons not belonging to the Episcopal Church do not observe this rite. But as a belief in baptism is almost universal, there is no reason why the godfather and godmother should not be chosen and adhered to. We always name our children, or we are apt to, for some dear friend; and we would all gladly believe that such a friendship, begun at the altar when he is being consecrated to a Christian life, may go with him and be a help to the dear little man. In our belligerent independence and our freedom from creeds and cant we have thrown away too much, and can afford to reassert our belief in and respect for a few old customs.
Royalty has always been a respecter of these powers. King Edward VI. and his sisters were each baptized when only three days old, and the ceremony, which lasted between two and three days, took place at night, by torch-light. The child was carried under a canopy, preceded by gentlemen bearing in state the sponsors' gifts, and attended by a flourish of trumpets.
At a modern caudle party the invitations are sent out a week in advance, and read thus:
"Mr. and Mrs. Brown request the pleasure of your company on Tuesday afternoon, at three o'clock. 18 West Kent Street. Caudle. 'No presents are expected.'"
For the honor of being a godfather one receives a note in the first person, asking the friend to assume that kindly office, and also mentioning the fact that the name will be so and so. If the baby is named for the godfather, a very handsome present is usually made; if not, the godfather or godmother still sends some little token of regard. This, however, is entirely a matter of fancy. No one is obliged to give a present, of course.
The baby at his christening is shown off in a splendid robe, very much belaced and embroidered, and it is to be feared that it is a day of disturbance for him. Babies should not be too much excited; a quiet and humdrum existence, a not too showy nurse, and regular hours are conducive to a good constitution for these delicate visitors. The gay dresses and jingling ornaments of the Roman nurses are now denounced by the foreign doctors as being too exciting to the little eyes that are looking out on a new world. They are very pretty and picturesque, and many a traveling mamma goes into a large outlay for these bright colors and for the peasant jewelry. The practice of making a child ride backward in a push-wagon is also sternly denounced by modern physicians.
Fashionable mammas who give caudle parties should remember that in our harsh climate maternity is beset by much feebleness as to nerves in both mother and child; therefore a long seclusion in the nursery is advised before the dangerous period of entertaining one's friends begins. Let the caudle party wait, and the christening be done quietly in one's own bedroom, if the infant is feeble. Show off the young stranger at a later date: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
THE MODERN DINNER-TABLE.
The appointments of the modern dinner-table strikingly indicate that growth of luxury of which the immediate past has been so fruitful. Up to twenty years ago a dinner, even in the house of a merchant prince, was a plain affair. There was a white tablecloth of double damask; there were large, handsome napkins; there was a rich service of solid silver, and perhaps some good china. Flowers, if used at all, were not in profusion; and as for glasses, only a few of plain white, or perhaps a green or a red one for claret or hock, were placed at the side of the plate.
Of course there were variations and exceptions to this rule, but they were few and far between. One man, or often one maid-servant, waited at the table; and, as a protection for the table-cloth, mats were used, implying the fear that the dish brought from the top of the kitchen-range, if set down, would leave a spot or stain. All was on a simple or economical plan. The grand dinners were served by caterers, who sent their men to wait at them, which led to the remark, often laughed at as showing English stupidity, made by the Marquis of Hartington when he visited New York at the time of our war. As he looked at old Peter Van Dyck and his colored assistants, whom he had seen at every house at which he had dined, he remarked, " How much all your servants resemble each other in America!" It was really an unintentional sarcasm, but it might well have suggested to our nouveaux riches the propriety of having their own trained servants to do the work of their houses instead of these outside men. A degree of elegance which we have not as a nation even yet attained is that of having a well-trained corps of domestic servants.
A mistress of a house should be capable of teaching her servants the method of laying a table and attending it, if she has to take, as we commonly must, the uneducated Irishman from his native bogs as a house-servant. If she employs the accomplished and well-recommended foreign servant, he is too apt to disarrange her establishment by disparaging the scale on which it is conducted, and to engender a spirit of discontent in her household. Servants of a very high class, who can assume the entire management of affairs, are only possible to people of great wealth, and they become tyrants, and wholly detestable to the master and mistress after a short slavery. One New York butler lately refused to wash dishes, telling his mistress that it would ruin his finger-nails. But this man was a consummate servant, who laid the table and attended it, with an ease and grace that gave his mistress that pleasant feeling of certainty that all would go well, which is the most comfortable of all feelings to a hostess, and without which dinner-giving is annoyance beyond all words.
The arrangement of a dinner-table and the waiting upon it are the most important of all the duties of a servant or servants, and any betrayal of ignorance, any nervousness or noise, any accident, are to be deplored, showing as they do want of experience and lack of training.
No one wishes to invite his friends to be uncomfortable. Those dreadful dinners which Thackeray describes, at which people with small incomes tried to rival those of large means, will forever remain in the minds of his readers as among the most painful of all revelations of sham. We should be real first, and ornamental afterwards.
In a wealthy family a butler and two footmen are employed, and it is their duty to work together in harmony, the butler having control. The two footmen lay the table, the butler looking on to see that it is properly done. The butler takes care of the wine, and stands behind his mistress's chair. Where only one man is employed, the whole duty devolves upon him, and he has generally the assistance of the parlor-maid. Where there is only a maid-servant, the mistress of the house must see that all necessary arrangements are made.
The introduction of the extension-table into our long, narrow dining-rooms has led to the expulsion of the pretty round-table, which is of all others the most cheerful. The extension-table, however, is almost inevitable, and one of the ordinary size, with two leaves added, will seat twelve people. The public caterers say that every additional leaf gives room for four more people, but the hostess, in order to avoid crowding, would be wise if she tested this with her dining-room chairs. New York dinner-parties are often crowded, sixteen being sometimes asked when the table will only accommodate fourteen. This is a mistake, as heat and crowding should be avoided. In country houses, or in Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, and other cities where the dining-rooms are ordinarily larger than those in a New York house, the danger of crowding, of heat, and want of ventilation, is more easily avoided; but in a gas-lighted, furnace-heated room in New York the sufferings of the diners-out are sometimes terrible.
The arrangements for the dinner, whether the party be ten or twenty, should be the same. Much has been said about the number to be invited, and there is an old saw that one should not invite "fewer than the Graces nor more than the Muses." This partiality to uneven numbers refers to the difficulty of seating a party of eight, in which case, if the host and hostess take the head and foot of the table, two gentlemen and two ladies will come together. But the number of the Graces being three, no worse number than that could be selected for a dinner-party; and nine would be equally uncomfortable at an extension-table, as it would be necessary to seat three on one side and four on the other. Ten is a good number for a small dinner, and easy to manage. One servant can wait on ten people, and do it well, if well-trained. Twenty-four people often sit down at a modern dinner-table, and are well served by a butler and two men, though some luxurious dinner-givers have a man behind each chair. This, however, is ostentation.
A lady, if she issue invitations for a dinner of ten or twenty, should do so a fortnight in advance, and should have her cards engraved thus:
Mr. and Mrs. James Norman
request the pleasure of
Mr. and Mrs. John Brown's company at dinner
on Thursday, February eighth,
at seven o'clock.
These engraved forms, on note-paper, filled up with the necessary time and date, are very convenient and elegant, and should be answered by the fortunate recipient immediately, in the most formal manner, and the engagement should be scrupulously kept if accepted. If the subsequent illness or death of relatives, or any other cause, renders this impossible, the hostess should be immediately notified.
A gentleman is never invited without his wife, nor a lady without her husband, unless great intimacy exists between the parties, and the sudden need of another guest makes the request imperative.
The usual hour for dinner-parties in America is seven o'clock; but whatever the hour, the guests should take care to be punctual to the minute. In the hall the gentleman should find a card with his name, and that of the lady whom he is to take in, written on it, and also a small boutonniere, which he places in his button-hole. On entering the drawing-room the lady goes first, not taking her husband's arm. If the gentleman is not acquainted with the lady whom he is to take in to dinner, he asks his hostess to present him to her, and he endeavors to place himself on an agreeable footing with her before they enter the dining-room.
When the last guest has arrived, dinner is ready, and the butler makes his announcement. The host leads the way, with the lady to whom the dinner is given, and the hostess follows last, with the gentleman whom she wishes to honor.
The people who enter a modern dining-room find a picture before them, which is the result of painstaking thought, taste, and experience, and, like all works of art, worthy of study.
The first thought of the observer is, "What a splendid bit of color!" The open-work, white tablecloth lies on a red ground, and above it rests a mat of red velvet, embroidered with peacock's feathers and gold lace. Above this stands a large silver salver or oblong tray, lined with reflecting glass, on which Dresden swan and silver lilies seem floating in a veritable lake. In the middle of this long tray stands a lofty vase of silver or crystal, with flowers and fruit cunningly disposed in it, and around it are placed tropical vines. At each of the four corners of the table stand four ruby glass flagons set in gold, standards of beautiful and rare designs. Cups or silver-gilt vases, with centers of cut glass, hold the bonbons and smaller fruits. Four candelabra hold up red wax-candles with red shades, and flat, glass troughs, filled with flowers, stand opposite each place, grouped in a floral pattern.
At each place, as the servant draws back the chair, the guest sees a bewildering number of glass goblets, wine and champagne glasses, several forks, knives, and spoons, and a majolica plate holding oysters on the half shell, with a bit of lemon in the center of the plate. The napkin, deftly folded, holds a dinner-roll, which the guest immediately removes. The servants then, seeing all the guests seated, pass red and black pepper, in silver pepper-pots, on a silver tray. A small, peculiarly-shaped fork is laid by each plate, at the right hand, for the oysters. Although some ladies now have all their forks laid on the left hand of the plate, this, however, is not usual. After the oysters are eaten, the plates are removed, and two kinds of soup are passed--a white and a brown soup.
During this part of the dinner the guest has time to look at the beautiful Queen Anne silver, the handsome lamps, if lamps are used (we may mention the fact that about twenty-six candles will well light a dinner of sixteen persons), and the various colors of lamp and candle shades. Then the beauty of the flowers, and, as the dinner goes on, the variety of the modern Dresden china, the Sevres, the Royal Worcester, and the old blue can be discussed and admired.
The service is ... la Russe; that is, everything is handed by the servants. Nothing is seen on the table except the wines (and only a few of these), the bonbons, and the fruit. No greasy dishes are allowed. Each lady has a bouquet, possibly a painted reticule of silk filled with sugar-plums, and sometimes a pretty fan or ribbon with her name or monogram painted on it.
At his right hand each guest finds a goblet of elegantly-engraved glass for water, two of the broad, flat, flaring shape of the modern champagne glass (although some people are using the long vase-like glass of the past for champagne), a beautiful Bohemian green glass, apparently set with gems, for the hock, a ruby-red glass for the claret, two other large white claret or Burgundy glasses, and three wine-glasses of cut or engraved glass. Harlequin glasses, which give to the table the effect of a bed of tulips, are in fashion for those who delight in color and variety.
The hostess may prefer the modern napery, so exquisitely embroidered in gold thread, which affords an opportunity to show the family coat of arms, or the heraldic animals--the lion and the two-headed eagle and the griffin--intertwined in graceful shapes around the whole edge of the table and on the napkins.
As the dinner goes on the guest revels in unexpected surprises in the beauty of the plates, some of which look as if made of solid gold; and when the Roman punch is served it comes in the heart of a red, red rose, or in the bosom of a swan, or the cup of a lily, or the " right little, tight little" life-saying boat. Faience, china, glass, and ice are all pressed into the service of the Roman punch, and sometimes the prettiest dish of all is hewn out of ice.
We will try to see how all this picture is made, beginning at the laying of the table, the process of which we will explain in detail in the next chapter.
CHAPTER XXXI. LAYING THE DINNER-TABLE.
The table, after being drawn out to its proper length, should be covered with a cotton-flannel tablecloth--white, if the table-cover is the ordinary damask; red, if the open work table-cover is to be used. This broad cotton flannel can be bought for eighty cents a yard. The table-cloth, if of white damask, should be perfectly ironed, with one long fold down the middle, which must serve the butler for his mathematical center. No one can be astray in using fine white damask. If a lady wishes to have the more rare Russian embroidery, the gold embroidered on the open-work table-cloth, she can do so, but let her not put any cloth on her table that will not wash. The mixed-up things trimmed with velvet or satin or ribbon, which are occasionally seen on vulgar tables, are detestable.
The butler then lays the red velvet carpet, or mat, or ornamental cover--whatever it may be called--down the center of the table, to afford a relief of color to the table.
This is a mere fanciful adjunct, and may be used or not; but it has a very pretty effect over an openwork, white table-cloth, with the silver tray of the ?????? resting upon it. In many families there are silver ?????? which are heirlooms. These are now valued for old association's sake; as are the silver candlesticks and silver compotiers. But where a family does not possess these table ornaments, a center piece of glass is used. The flat basket of flowers, over which the guests could talk, has been discarded, and the ornaments of a dinner-table are apt to be high, including the lamps and candelabra which at present replace gas.
The table-cloth being laid, the center and side ornaments placed, the butler sees that each footman has a clean towel on his arm, and then proceeds to unlock the plate chest and the glass closet. Measuring with his hand, from the edge of the table to the end of his middle finger, he places the first glass. This measurement is continued around the table, and secures a uniform line for the water goblet, and the claret, wine, hock, and champagne glasses, which are grouped about it. He then causes a plate to be put at each place, large enough to hold the majolica plate with the oysters, which will come later. One footman is detailed to fold the napkins, which should be large, thick, fine, and serviceable for this stage of the dinner. The napkins are not folded in any hotel device, but simply in a three-cornered pyramid that will stand holding the roll or bread. The knives, forks, and spoons, each of which is wiped by the footman with his clean towel, so that no dampness of his own hand shall mar their sparkling cleanliness, are then distributed. These should be all of silver; two knives, three forks, and a soup-spoon being the usual number laid at each plate.
Before each plate is placed a little salt-cellar, either of silver or china, in some fanciful shape. Tiny wheelbarrows are much used. A carafe holding water should be put on very late, and be fresh from the ice-chest.
Very thin glasses are now used for choice sherry and Madeira, and are not put on until the latter part of the dinner, as they may be broken.
Menu-holders or card-holders of china or silver are often placed before each plate, to hold the card on which the name of the guest is printed and the bill of fare from which he is to choose. These may be dispensed with, however, and the menu and name laid on each plate.
The butler now turns his attention to his sideboards and tables, from whence he is to draw his supplies. Many people make a most ostentatious display of plate and china on their sideboards, and if one has pretty things why not show them? The poorer and more modest have, on their sideboards, simply the things which will be needed. But there should be a row of large forks, a row of large knives, a row of small ones, a row of table-spoons, sauce-ladles, dessert- spoons, fish-slice and fork, a few tumblers, rows of claret, sherry, and Madeira glasses, and the reserve of dinner-plates.
On another table or sideboard should be placed the finger-bowls and glass dessert-plates, the smaller spoons and coffee cups and saucers. On the table nearest the door should be the carving-knives and the first dinner-plates to be used. Here the head footman or the butler divides the fish and carves the piece de resistance, the fillet of beef, the haunch of venison, the turkey, or the saddle of mutton. It is from this side-table that all the dinner should be served; if the dining-room is small, the table can be placed in the hall or adjacent pantry. As the fish is being served, the first footman should offer Chablis, or some kind of white wine; with the soup, sherry; with the roast, claret and champagne, each guest being asked if he will have dry or sweet champagne.
As the plates are removed they should not be kept in the dining- room, but sent to the kitchen immediately, a maid standing outside to receive them, so that no disorder of the dinner may reach the senses of the guests, nor even an unpleasant odor. As each plate is removed a fresh plate must be put in its place--generally a very beautiful piece of Sevres, decorated with a landscape, flowers, or faces.
Sparkling wines, hock and champagne, are not decanted, but are kept in ice-pails, and opened as required. On the sideboard is placed the wine decanted for Use, and poured out as needed; after the game has been handed, decanters of choice Madeira and port are placed before the host, who sends them round to his guests.
In England a very useful little piece of furniture, called a dinner- wagon, is in order. This is a series of open shelves, on which are placed the extra napkins or serviettes to be used; for in England the first heavy napkin is taken away, and a more delicate one brought with the Roman punch, with the game another, and with the ices still another. On this dinner-wagon are placed all the dessert- plates and the finger-glasses. On the plate which is to serve for the ice is a gold ice-spoon, and a silver dessert-knife and fork accompany the finger-bowl and glass plate. This dinner-wagon also holds the salad-bowl and spoon, of silver, the salad-plates, and the silver bread-basket, in which should be thin slices of brown bread- and-butter. A china dish in three compartments, with cheese and butter and biscuits to be passed with the salad, the extra sauces, the jellies for the meats, the relishes, the radishes and celery, the olives and the sifted sugar-all things needed as accessories of the dinner-table-can be put on this dinner-wagon, or étagère, as it is called in France.
No table-spoons should be laid on the table, except those to be used for soup, as the style of serving ... la Russe precludes their being needed; and the extra spoons, cruets, and casters are put on the sideboard.
To wait on a large dinner-party the attendants average one to every three people, and when only a butler and one footman are kept, it is necessary to hire additional servants.
Previous to the announcement of the dinner, the footman places the soup-tureens and the soup-plates on the side-table. As soon as the oysters are eaten, and the plates removed, the butler begins with the soup, and sends it round by two footmen, one on each side, each carrying two plates. Each footman should approach the guests on the left, so that the right hand may be used for taking the plate. Half a ladleful of soup is quite enough to serve.
Some ladies never allow their butler to do anything but hand the wine, which he does at the right hand (not the left), asking each person if he will have Sauterne, dry or sweet champagne, claret, Burgundy, and so on. But really clever butlers serve the soup, carve, and pour out the wine as well. An inexperienced servant should never serve the wine; it must be done briskly and neatly, not explosively or carelessly. The overfilling of the glass should be avoided, and servants should be watched, to see that they give champagne only to those who wish it, and that they do not overfill glasses for ladies, who rarely drink anything.
A large plate-basket or two, for removing dishes and silver that have been used, are necessary, and should not be forgotten. The butler rings a bell which communicates with the kitchen when he requires anything, and after each entree or course he thus gives the signal to the cook to send up another.
Hot dinner-plates are prepared when the fish is removed, and on these hot plates the butler serves all the meats; the guests are also served with hot plates before the entrees, except pate de foie gras, for which a cold plate is necessary.
Some discretion should be shown by the servant who passes the entrees. A large table-spoon and fork should be placed on the dish, and the dish then held low, so that the guest may help himself easily, the servant standing at his left hand. He should always have a small napkin over his hand as he passes a dish. A napkin should also be wrapped around the champagne bottle, as it is often dripping with moisture from the ice-chest. It is the butler's duty to make the salad, which he should do about half an hour before dinner. There are now so many provocatives of appetite that it would seem as if we were all, after the manner of Heliogabalus, determined to eat and die. The best of these is the Roman punch, which, coming after the heavy roasts, prepares the palate and stomach for the canvas- back ducks or other game. Then comes the salad and cheese, then the ices and sweets, and then cheese savory or cheese fondue. This is only toasted cheese, in a very elegant form, and is served in little silver shells, sometimes as early in the dinner as just after the oysters, but the favorite time is after the sweets.
The dessert is followed by the liqueurs, which should be poured into very small glasses, and handed by the butler on a small silver waiter. When the ices are removed, a dessert-plate of glass, with a finger-bowl, is placed before each person, with two glasses, one for sherry, the other for claret or Burgundy, and the grapes, peaches, pears, and other fruits are then passed. After the fruits go round, the sugar-plums and a little dried ginger--a very pleasant conserve --are passed before the coffee.
The hostess makes the sign for retiring, and the dinner breaks up. The gentlemen are left to wine and cigars, liqueurs and cognac, and the ladies retire to the drawing-room to chat and take their coffee.
In the selection of the floral decoration for the table the lady of the house has the final voice. Flowers which have a very heavy fragrance should not be used. That roses and pinks, violets and lilacs, are suitable, goes without saying, for they are always delightful; but the heavy tropical odors of jasmine, orange-blossom, hyacinth, and tuberose should be avoided. A very pretty decoration is obtained by using flowers of one color, such as Jacqueminot roses, or scarlet carnations, which, if placed in the gleaming crystal glass, produce a very brilliant and beautiful effect.
Flowers should not be put on the table until just before dinner is served, as they are apt to be wilted by the heat and the lights.
We have used the English term footman to indicate what is usually called a waiter in this country. A waiter in England is a hired hotel-hand, not a private servant.
Much taste and ingenuity are expended on the selection of favors for ladies, and these pretty fancies--bonbonnieres, painted ribbons and reticules, and fans covered with flowers--add greatly to the elegance and luxury of our modern dinner-table.
A less reasonable conceit is that of having toys--such as imitation musical instruments, crackers which make an unpleasant detonation, imitations of Negro minstrels, balloons, flags, and pasteboard lobsters, toads, and insects--presented to each lady. These articles are neither tasteful nor amusing, and have " no excuse for being" except that they afford an opportunity for the expenditure of more money.
CHAPTER XXXII. FAVORS AND BONBONNIERES.
Truly "the world is very young for its age." We are never too old to admire a pretty favor or a tasteful bonbonniere; and, looking back over the season, we remember, as among the most charming of the favors, those with flowers painted upon silken banners, with the owner's name intertwined. The technical difficulties of painting upon silk are somewhat conquered, one would think, in looking at the endless devices composed of satin and painted flowers on the lunch- tables. Little boxes covered with silk, in eight and six sided forms, with panels let in, on which are painted acorns and oak leaves, rosebuds or lilies, and always the name or the cipher of the recipient, are very pretty. The Easter-egg has long been a favorite offering in silk, satin, plush, and velvet, in covered, egg-shaped boxes containing bonbons; these, laid in a nest of gold and silver threads in a cloisonné, basket, afford a very pretty souvenir to carry home from a luncheon.
Menu-holders of delicate gilt-work are also added to the other favors. These pretty little things sometimes uphold a photograph, or a porcelain plate on which is painted the lady's name, and also a few flowers. The little porcelain cards are not larger than a visiting-card, and are often very artistic. The famous and familiar horseshoe, in silver or silver-gilt, holding up the menu-card, is another pretty favor, and a very nice one to carry home, as it becomes a penholder when it is put on the writing-table. Wire rests, shaped like those used for muskets in barracks yards, are also used for the name and menu-cards. Plateaus, shells, baskets, figurettes, vases holding flowers, dolphins, Tritons, swan, sea animals (in crockery), roses which open and disclose the sugarplums, sprays of coral, and gilt conch-shells, are all pretty, especially when filled with flowers.
Baskets in various styles are often seen. One tied with a broad ribbon at the side is very useful as a work-basket afterwards. Open-work baskets, lined with crimson or scarlet or pink or blue plush, with another lining of silver paper to protect the plums, are very tasteful. A very pretty basket is one hung between three gilt handles or poles, and filled with flowers or candies. Silvered and gilded beetles, or butterflies, fastened on the outside, have a fanciful effect.
Moss-covered trays holding dried grasses and straw, and piles of chocolates that suggest ammunition, are decorative and effective.
Wheelbarrows of tiny size for flowers are a favorite conceit. They are made of straw-work, entirely gilded, or painted black or brown, and picked out with gold; or perhaps pale green, with a bordering of brown. A very pretty one may be made of old cigar box wood; on one side a monogram painted in red and gold, on the other a spray of autumn leaves. Carved-wood barrows fitted with tin inside may hold a growing plant--stephanotis, hyacinths, ferns, ivy, or any other hardy plant--and are very pleasing souvenirs.
The designs for reticules and chatelaines are endless. At a very expensive luncheon, to which twenty-four ladies sat down, a silk reticule a foot square, filled with Maillard's confections and decorated with an exquisitely painted landscape effect, was presented to each guest. These lovely reticules may be any shape, and composed of almost any material. A very handsome style is an eight-sided, melon-shaped bag of black satin, with a decoration of bunches of scarlet flowers painted or embroidered. Silk braided with gold, brocade, and plush combined, and Turkish toweling with an appliqué, of brilliant color, are all suitable and effective.
In the winter a shaded satin muff, in which was hidden a bonbonniere, was the present that made glad the hearts of twenty- eight ladies. These are easily made in the house, and a plush muff with a bird's head is a favorite " favor."
A pair of bellows is a pretty and inexpensive bonbonniere. They can be bought at the confectioner's, and are more satisfactory than when made at home; but if one is ingenious, it is possible, with a little pasteboard, gilt paper, silk, and glue, to turn out a very pretty little knickknack of this kind. However, the French do these things so much better than we do that a lady giving a lunch-party had better buy all her favors at some wholesale place. There is a real economy in buying such articles at the wholesale stores, for the retail dealers double the price.
Bronze, iron, and glass are all pressed into the service, and occasionally we have at a lunch a whole military armament of cannon, muskets, swords, bronze helmets, whole suits of armor, tazza for jewelry, miniature cases, inkstands, and powder-boxes, all to hold a few sugar-plums.
At a christening party all the favors savor of the nursery--splendid cradles of flowers, a bassinet of brilliant trimmed with ribbons for a bonbonniere, powder-boxes, puffs, little socks filled with sugar instead of little feet, an infant's cloak standing on end (really over pasteboard), an infant's hood, and even the flannel shirt has been copied. Of course the baptismal dish and silver cup are easily imitated.
Perfumery is introduced in little cut-glass bottles, in leaden tubes like paint tubes, in perfumed artificial flowers, in sachets of powder, and in the handles of fans.
Boxes of satinwood, small wood covers for music and blotting cases, painted by hand, are rather pretty favors. The plain boxes and book covers can be bought and ornamented by the young artists of the family. Nothing is prettier than an owl sitting on an ivy vine for one of these. The owl, indeed, plays a very conspicuous part at the modern dinner-table and luncheon. His power of looking wise and being foolish at the same time fits him for modern society. He enters it as a pepper-caster, a feathered bonbonniere, a pickle- holder (in china), and is drawn, painted, and photographed in every style. A pun is made on his name: "Should owled acquaintance be forgot?" etc. He is a favorite in jewelry, and is often carved in jade. Indeed, the owl is having his day, having had the night always to himself.
The squirrel, the dog, "the frog that would a-wooing go," the white duck, the pig, and the mouse, are all represented in china, and in the various silks and gauzes of French taste, or in their native skins, or in any of the disguises that people may fancy. Bears with ragged staffs stand guard over a plate of modern faience, as they do over the gates of Warwick Castle. Cats mewing, catching mice, playing on the Jews-harp, elephants full of choicest confectionery, lions and tigers with chocolate insides, and even the marked face and long hair of Oscar Wilde, the last holding within its ample cranium caraway-seeds instead of brains, played their part as favors.
The green enameled dragon-fly, grasshoppers and beetles, flies and wasps, moths and butterflies, bright-tinted mandarin ducks, peacocks, and ostriches, tortoises cut in pebbles or made of pasteboard, shrimps and crabs, do all coldly furnish forth the lunch-table as favors and bonbonnieres. Then come plaster or pasteboard gondolas, skiffs, wherries, steamships, and ferry-boats, all made with wondrous skill and freighted with caramels. Imitation rackets, battledoor and shuttlecock, hoops and sticks, castanets, cup and ball, tambourines, guitars, violins, hand-organs, banjos, and drums, all have their little day as fashionable favors.
Little statuettes of Kate Greenaway's quaint children now appear as favors, and are very charming. Nor is that "flexible curtain," the fan, left out. Those of paper, pretty but not expensive, are very common favors. But the opulent offer pretty satin fans painted with the recipient's monogram, or else a fan which will match flowers and dress. Fans of lace, and of tortoise-shell and carved ivory and sandal-wood, are sometimes presented, but they are too ostentatious. Let us say to the givers of feasts, be not too magnificent, but if you give a fan, give one that is good for something, not a thing which breaks with the "first fall."
A very pretty set of favors, called "fairies," are little groups of children painted on muslin, with a background of ribbon. The muslin is so thin that the children seem floating on air. The lady's name is also painted on the ribbon.
We find that favors for gentlemen, such as sunflowers, pin-cushions, small purses, scarf-pins, and sleeve-buttons, are more useful than those bestowed upon ladies, but not so ornamental.
Very pretty baskets, called _huits_ (the baskets used by the vine- growers to carry earth for the roots of the vines), are made of straw ornamented with artificial flowers and grasses, and filled with bonbons.
Little Leghorn hats trimmed with pompons of muslin, blue, pink, or white, are filled with natural flowers and hung on the arm. These are a lovely variation.
Fruits--the apple, pear, orange, and plum, delightfully realistic-- are made of composition, and open to disclose most unexpected seeds.
At trowel, a knife, fork, and spoon, of artistically painted wood, and a pair of oars, all claim a passing notice as artistic novelties.
Bags of plush, and silk embroidered with daisies, are very handsome and expensive favors; heavily trimmed with lace, they cost four dollars apiece, but are sold a little cheaper by the dozen. Blue sashes, with flowers painted on paper (and attached to the sash a paper on which may be written the menu), cost eighteen dollars a dozen. A dish of snails, fearfully realistic, can be bought for one dollar a plate, fruits for eighteen dollars a dozen, and fans anywhere from twelve up to a hundred dollars a dozen.
A thousand dollars is not an unusual price for a luncheon, including flowers and favors, for eighteen to twenty-four guests. Indeed, a luncheon was given last winter for which the hostess offered a prize for copies in miniature of the musical instruments used in " Patience." They were furnished to her for three hundred dollars. The names of these now almost obsolete instruments were rappaka, tibia, arch lute, tambour, kiffar, quinteme, rebel, tuckin, archviola, lyre, serpentine, chluy, viola da gamba, balalaika, gong, ravanastron, monochord, shopkar. The " archlute" is the mandolin. They represented all countries, and were delicate specimens of toy handiwork.
We have not entered into the vast field of glass, china, porcelain, cloisonne, Dresden, faience jugs, boxes, plates, bottles, and vases, which are all used as favors. Indeed, it would be impossible to describe half of the fancies which minister to modern extravagance. The bonbonniere can cost anything, from five to five hundred dollars; fifty dollars for a satin box filled with candy is not an uncommon price. Sometimes, when the box is of oxidized silver--a quaint copy of the antique from Benvenuto Cellini--this price is not too much; but when it is a thing which tarnishes in a month, it seems ridiculously extravagant.
We have seen very pretty and artistic cheap favors. Reticules made of bright cotton, or silk handkerchiefs with borders; cards painted by the artists of the family; palm-leaf fans covered with real flowers, or painted with imitation ones; sunflowers made of pasteboard, with portfolios behind them; pretty little parasols of flowers; Little Red Riding-hood, officiating as a receptacle for stray pennies; Japanese teapots, with the " cozy" made at home; little doilies wrought with delightful designs from "Pretty Peggy," and numberless other graceful and charming trifles.
CHAPTER XXXIII. DINNER-TABLE NOVELTIES.
One would think that modern luxury had reached its ultimatum in the delicate refinements of dinner-giving, but each dinner-table reveals the fact that this is an inexhaustible subject. The floral world is capable of an infinity of surprises, and the last one is a cameo of flowers on a door, shaped like a four-leaved clover. The guests are thus assured of good-luck. The horseshoe having been so much used that it is now almost obsolete, except in jewelry, the clover-leaf has come in. A very beautiful dinner far up Fifth Avenue had this winter an entirely new idea, inasmuch as the flowers were put overhead. The delicate vine, resembling green asparagus in its fragility, was suspended from the chandelier to the four corners of the room, and on it were hung delicate roses, lilies-of-the-valley, pinks, and fragrant jasmine, which sent down their odors, and occasionally dropped themselves into a lady's lap. This is an exquisite bit of luxury.
Then the arrival, two months before Easter, of the fragrant, beautiful Easter lilies has added a magnificent and stately effect to the central bouquets. It has been found that the island of Bermuda is a great reservoir of these bulbs, which are sent up, like their unfragrant rivals the onions, by the barrelful. Even a piece of a bulb will produce from three to five lilies, so that these fine flowers are more cheap and plenty in January than usually in April. A dining-room, square in shape, hung with richly-embroidered, old- gold tapestry, with a round table set for twenty, with silver and glass and a great bunch of lilies and green ferns in the middle, and a "crazy quilt" of flowers over one's head, may well reproduce the sense of dreamland which modern luxury is trying to follow.
Truly we live in the days of Aladdin. Six weeks after the ground was broken in Secretary Whitney's garden in Washington for his ballroom, the company assembled in a magnificent apartment with fluted gold- ceiling and crimson brocade hangings, bronzes, statues, and Dresden candlesticks, and a large wood fire at one end, in which logs six feet long were burning--all looking as if it were part of an old baronial castle of the Middle Ages.
The florists will furnish you red clovers in January if you give your order in October. Great bunches of flowers, of a pure scarlet unmixed with any other color, are very fashionable, and the effect in a softly-lighted room is most startling and beautiful.
The lighting of rooms by means of lamps and candles is giving hostesses great annoyance. There is scarcely a dinner-party but the candles set fire to their fringed shades, and a conflagration ensues. Then the new lamps, which give such a resplendent light, have been known to melt the metal about the wick, and the consequences have been disastrous. The next move will probably be the dipping of the paper in some asbestos or other anti-inflammable substance, so that there will be no danger of fire at the dinner- table. The screens put over the candles should not have this paper- fringe; it is very dangerous. But if a candle screen takes fire, have the coolness to let it burn itself up without touching it, as thus it will be entirely innocuous, although rather appalling to look at. Move a plate under it to catch the flying fragments, and no harm will be done; but a well-intentioned effort to blow it out or to remove it generally results in a very much more wide-spread conflagration.
China and glass go on improving; and there are jeweled goblets and center-pieces of yellow glass covered with gold and what looks like jewels. Knives and forks are now to be had with crystal handles set in silver, very ornamental and clean-looking; these come from Bohemia. The endless succession of beautiful plates are more and more Japanese in tone.
Satsuma vases and jugs are often sent to a lady, full of beautiful roses, thus making a lasting souvenir of what would be a perishable gift. These Satsuma jugs are excellent things in which to plant hyacinths, and they look well in the center of the dinner-table with these flowers growing in them.
Faded flowers can be entirely restored to freshness by clipping the stems and putting them in very hot water; then set them away from the gas and furnace heat, and they come on the dinner-table fresh for several days after their disappearance in disgrace as faded or jaded bouquets. Flowers thus restored have been put in a cold library, where the water, once hot, has frozen stiff, and yet have borne these two extremes of temperature without loss of beauty--in fact, have lasted presentably from Monday morning to Saturday night. What flowers cannot stand is the air we all live in--at what cost to our freshness we find out in the spring--the overheated furnace and gas-laden air of the modern dining-room. The secret of the hot-water treatment is said to be this: the sap is sent up into the flower instead of lingering in the stems. Roses respond to this treatment wonderfully.
The fashion of wearing low-necked dresses at dinner has become so pronounced that the moralists begin to issue weekly essays against this revival as if it had never been done before. Our virtuous grandmothers would be astonished to hear that their ball-dresses (never cut high) were so immoral and indecent. The fact remains that a sleeveless gown, cut in a Pompadour form, is far more of a revelation of figure than a low-necked dinner-dress properly made. There is no line of the figure so dear to the artist as that one revealed from the nape of the neck to the shoulder. A beautiful back is the delight of the sculptor. No lady who understands the fine-art of dress would ever have her gown cut too low: it is ugly, besides being immodest. The persons who bring discredit on fashion are those who misinterpret it. The truly artistic modiste cuts a low-necked dress to reveal the fine lines of the back, but it is never in France cut too low in front. The excessive heat of an American dining-room makes this dress very much more comfortable than the high dresses which were brought in several years ago, because a princess had a goiter which she wished to disguise.
No fulminations against fashion have ever effected reforms. We must take fashion as we find it, and strive to mould dress to our own style, not slavishly adhering to, but respectfully following, the reigning mode, remembering that all writings and edicts against this sub-ruler of the world are like sunbeams falling on a stone wall. The sunbeams vanish, but the stone wall remains.
The modern married belle at a dinner is apt to be dressed in white, with much crystal trimming, with feathers in her hair, and with diamonds on her neck and arms, and a pair of long, brown Swedish gloves drawn up to her shoulders; a feather fan of ostrich feathers hangs at her side by a ribbon or a chain of diamonds and pearls. The long, brown Swedish gloves are an anomaly; they do not suit the rest of this exquisite dress, but fashion decrees that they shall be worn, and therefore they are worn.
The fine, stately fashion of wearing feathers in the hair has returned, and it is becoming to middle-aged women. It gives them a queenly air. Young girls look better for the simplest head-gear; they wear their hair high or low as they consider becoming.
Monstrous and inconvenient bouquets are again the fashion, and a very ugly fashion it is. A lady does not know what to do with her two or three bouquets at a musicale or a dinner, so they are laid away on a table. The only thing that can be done is to sit after dinner with them in her lap, and the prima donna at a musicale lays hers on the grand piano.
More and more is it becoming the fashion to have music at the end of a dinner in the drawing-room, instead of having it played during dinner. Elocutionists are asked in to amuse the guests, who, having been fed on terrapin and canvas-back ducks, are not supposed to be in a talking mood. This may be overdone. Many people like to talk after dinner with the people who are thus accidentally brought together; for in our large cities the company assembled about a dinner-table are very often fresh acquaintances who like to improve that opportunity to know each other better.
We have spoken of the dress of ladies, which, if we were to pursue, would lead us into all the details of velvet, satin, and brocade, and would be a departure from our subject; let us therefore glance at the gentlemen at a modern, most modern, dinner. The vests are cut very low, and exhibit a pique, embroidered shirt front held by one stud, generally a cat's-eye; however, three studs are permissible. White plain-pleated linen, with enamel studs resembling linen, is also very fashionable. A few young men, sometimes called dudes--no one knows why--wear pink coral studs or pearls, generally black pearls. Elderly gentlemen content themselves with plain-pleated shirt-fronts and white ties, indulging even in wearing their watches in the old way, as fashion has reintroduced the short vest-chain so long banished.
It is pleasant to see the old-fashioned gold chain for the neck reappearing. It always had a pretty effect, and is now much worn to support the locket, cross, or medallion portrait which ladies wear after the Louis Quinze fashion. Gold is more becoming to dark complexions than pearls, and many ladies hail this return to gold necklaces with much delight.
Gentlemen now wear pearl-colored gloves embroidered in black to dinners, and do not remove them until they sit down to table. Seal rings for the third finger are replacing the sunken jewels in dead gold which have been so fashionable for several years for gentlemen.
All the ornamentation of the dinner-table is high this winter--high candlesticks, high vases, high glasses for the flowers, and tall glass compotiers. Salt-cellars are looking up; and a favorite device is a silver vase, about two inches high, with a shell for salt.
Silver and silver-gilt dishes, having been banished for five years, are now reasserting their pre-eminent fitness for the modern dinner- table. People grew tired of silver, and banished it to the plate- chest. Now all the old pieces are being burnished up and reappearing; and happy the hostess who has some real old Queen Anne. As the silver dollar loses caste, the silver soup tureen, or, as the French say, the soupiere (and it is a good word), rises in fashion, and the teapot of our grandmothers resumes its honored place.
CHAPTER XXXIV. SUMMER DINNERS.
There is a season when the lingerers in town accept with pleasure an invitation to the neighboring country house, where the lucky suburban cit likes to entertain his friends. It is to be doubted, however, whether hospitality is an unmixed pleasure to those who extend it. With each blessing of prosperity comes an attendant evil, and a lady who has a country house has always to face the fact that her servants are apt to decamp in a body on Saturday night, and leave her to take care of her guests as best she may. The nearer to town the greater the necessity for running a servant's omnibus, which shall take the departing offender to the train, and speed the arrival of her successor.
No lady should attempt to entertain in the country who has not a good cook and a very competent waiter or waitress. The latter, if well trained, is in every respect as good as a man, and in some respects more desirable; women-servants are usually quiet, neater than men-servants, as a rule, and require less waiting upon. Both men and women should be required to wear shoes that do not creak, and to be immaculately neat in their attire. Maid-servants should always wear caps and white aprons, and men dress-coats, white cravats, and perfectly fresh linen.
As the dinners of the opulent, who have butler, waiters, French cook, etc., are quite able to take care of themselves, we prefer to answer the inquiries of those of our correspondents who live in a simple manner, with two or three servants, and who wish to entertain with hospitality and without great expense.
The dining-room of many country houses is small, and not cheerfully furnished. The houses built recently are improved in this respect, however, and now we will imagine a large room that has a pretty outlook on the Hudson, carpeted with fragrant matting, or with a hard-wood floor, on which lie India rugs. The table should be oval, as that shape brings guests near to each other. The table-cloth should be of white damask, and as fresh as sweet clover, for dinner: colored cloths are permissible only for breakfast and tea. The chairs should be easy, with high, slanting backs. For summer, cane chairs are much the most comfortable, although those covered with leather are very nice. Some people prefer arm-chairs at dinner, but the arms are inconvenient to many, and, besides, take a great deal of room. The armless dinner-chairs are the best.
Now, as a dinner in the country generally occurs after the gentlemen come from town, the matter of light has to be considered. If our late brilliant sunsets do not supply enough, how shall we light our summer dinners? Few country houses have gas. Even if they have, it would be very hot, and attract mosquitoes.
Candles are very pretty, but exceedingly troublesome. The wind blows the flame to and fro; the insects flutter into the light; an unhappy moth seats himself on the wick, and burning into an unsightly cadaver makes a gutter down one side; the little red-paper shades take fire, and there is a general conflagration. Yet light is positively necessary to digestion, and no party can be cheerful without it. Therefore, try carcel or moderator lamps with pretty transparent shades, or a hanging lamp with ground-glass shade. These lamps, filled with kerosene--and it must be done neatly, so that it will not smell--are the best lamps for the country dinner. If possible, however, have a country dinner by the light of day; it is much more cheerful.
Now for the ornamentation of the dinner. Let it be of flowers--wild ones, if possible, grasses, clovers, buttercups, and a few fragrant roses or garden flowers. There is no end to the cheap decorative china articles that are sold now for the use of flowers. A contemporary mentions orchids placed in baskets on the shoulders of Arcadian peasants; lilies-of-the-valley, with leaves as pale as their flowers, wheeled in barrows by Cupids or set in china slippers; crocuses grown in a china pot shaped like a thumbed copy of Victor Hugo's " Notre Dame de Paris;" or white tulips in a cluster of three gilt sabots, large enough to form a capital flower-stand, mounted on gilt, rustic branches. Stout pitchers, glass bowls, china bowls, and even old teapots, make pretty bouquet-holders. The Greek vase, the classic-shaped, old-fashioned champagne glass, are, however, unrivalled for the light grasses, field daisies, and fresh garden flowers.
Pretty, modern English china, the cheap "old blue," the white and gold, or the French, with a colored border, are all good enough for a country dinner; for if people have two houses, they do not like to take their fragile, expensive china to the country. Prettily-shaped tureens and vegetable dishes add very much to the comfort and happiness of the diners, and fortunately they are cheap and easily obtained. Glass should always be thin and fine, and tea and coffee cups delicate to the lip: avoid the thick crockery of a hotel.
For a country dinner the table should be set near a window, or windows, if possible; in fine weather, in the hall or on the wide veranda. If the veranda have long windows, the servant can pass in and out easily. There should be a side-board and a side, table, relays of knives, forks and spoons, dishes and glasses not in use, and a table from which the servant can help the soup and carve the joint, as on a hot day no one wishes to see these two dishes on the table. A maid-servant should be taught by her mistress how to carve, in order to save time and trouble. Soup for a country dinner should be clear bouillon, with macaroni and cheese, _creme d'asparagas, or Julienne, which has in it all the vegetables of the season. Heavy mock-turtle, bean soup, or ox-tail are not in order for a country dinner. If the lady of the house have a talent for cookery, she should have her soups made the day before, all the grease removed when the stock is cold, and season them herself.
It is better in a country house to have some cold dish that will serve as a resource if the cook should leave. Melton veal, which can be prepared on Monday and which will last until Saturday, is an excellent stand-by; and a cold boiled or roast ham should always be on the side-board. A hungry man can make a comfortable dinner of cold ham and a baked potato.
Every country householder should try to have a vegetable garden, for peas, beans, young turnips, and salads fresh gathered are very superior to those which even the best grocer furnishes. And of all the luxuries of a country dinner the fresh vegetables are the greatest. Especially does the tired citizen, fed on the esculents of the corner grocery, delight in the green peas, the crisp lettuce, the undefiled strawberries. One old epicure of New York asks of his country friends only a piece of boiled salt pork with vegetables, a potato salad, some cheese, five large strawberries, and a cup of coffee. The large family of salads help to make the country dinner delightful. Given a clear beef soup, a slice of fresh-boiled salmon, a bit of spring lamb with mint sauce, some green peas and fresh potatoes, a salad of lettuce, or sliced tomatoes, or potatoes with a bit of onion, and you have a dinner fit for a Brillat-Savarin; or vary it with a pair of boiled chickens, and a jardinière made of all the peas, beans, potatoes, cauliflower, fresh beets, of the day before, simply treated to a bath of vinegar and oil and pepper and salt. The lady who has conquered the salad question may laugh at the caprices of cooks, and defy the hour at which the train leaves.
What so good as an egg salad for a hungry company? Boil the eggs hard and slice them, cover with a mayonnaise dressing, and put a few lettuce leaves about the plate, and you have a sustaining meal.
Many families have cold meats and warm vegetables for their midday dinner during the summer. This is not healthy. Let all the dinner be cold if the meats are; and a dinner of cold roast beef, of salad, and cold asparagus, dressed with pepper, oil, and vinegar, is not a bad meal.
It is better for almost everybody, however, to eat a hot dinner, even in hot weather, as the digestion is aided by the friendly power of the caloric. Indeed dyspepsia, almost universal with Americans, is attributed to the habit which prevails in this country above all others of drinking ice-water.
Carafes of ice-water, a silver dish for ice, and a pair of ice- tongs, should be put on the table for a summer dinner. For desserts there is an almost endless succession, and with cream in her dairy, and a patent ice-cream freezer in her cuisine, the house-keeper need not lack delicate and delicious dishes of berries and fruits. No hot puddings should be served, or heavy pies; but the fruit tart is an excellent sweet, and should be made ... ravir; the pastry should melt in the mouth, and the fruit be stewed with a great deal of sugar. Cream should be put on the table in large glass pitchers, for it is a great luxury of the country and of the summer season.
The cold custards, Charlotte-Russe, and creams stiffened with gelatine and delicately flavored, are very nice for a summer dinner. So is home-made cake, when well made: this, indeed, is always its only " excuse for being."
Stewed fruit is a favorite dessert in England, and the gooseberry, which here is but little used, is much liked there. Americans prefer to eat fruit fresh, and therefore have not learned to stew it. Stewing is, however, a branch of cookery well worth the attention of a first-class house-keeper. It makes even the canned abominations better, and the California canned apricot stewed with sugar is one of the most delightful of sweets, and very wholesome; canned peaches stewed with sugar lose the taste of tin, which sets the teeth on edge, and stewed currants are delicious.
Every house-keeper should learn to cook macaroni well. It is worth while to spend an hour at Martinelli's, for this Italian staple is economical, and extremely palatable if properly prepared. Rice, too, should have a place in a summer bill of fare, as an occasional substitute for potatoes, which some people cannot eat.
For summer dinners there should never be anything on the table when the guests sit down but the flowers and the dessert, the ice- pitchers or carafes, and bowls of ice, the glass, china, and silver: the last three should all be simple, and not profuse.
Many families now, fearing burglars, use only plated spoons, knives, forks, and dishes at their country houses. Modern plate is so very good that there is less objection to this than formerly; but the genuine house-keeper loves the real silver spoons and forks, and prefers to use them.
The ostentatious display of silver, however, is bad taste at a country dinner. Glass dishes are much more elegant and appropriate, and quite expensive enough to bear the title of luxuries.
Avoid all greasy and heavy dishes. Good roast beef, mutton, lamb, veal, chickens, and fresh fish are always in order, for the system craves the support of these solids in summer as well as in winter; but do not offer pork, unless in the most delicate form, and then in small quantities. Fried salt pork, if not too fat, is always a pleasant addition to the broiled bird.
Broiled fish, broiled chicken, broiled ham, broiled steaks and chops, are always satisfactory. The grid-iron made St. Lawrence fit for Heaven, and its qualities have been elevating and refining ever since. Nothing can be less healthy or less agreeable to the taste at a summer dinner than fried food. The frying-pan should have been thrown into the fire long ago, and burned up.
The house-keeper living near the sea has an ample store to choose from in the toothsome crab, clam, lobster, and other crustacea. The fresh fish, the roast clams, etc., take the place of the devilled kidneys and broiled bones of the winter. But every housewife should study the markets of her neighborhood. In many rural districts the butchers give away, or throw to the dogs, sweetbreads and other morsels which are the very essence of luxury. Calf's head is rejected by the rural buyer, and a Frenchman who had the _physiology du go-t_ at his finger-ends, declared that in a country place, not five miles from New York, he gave luxurious dinners on what the butcher threw away.
CHAPTER XXXV. LUNCHEONS, INFORMAL AND SOCIAL.
The informal lunch is perhaps less understood in this country than in any other, because it is rarely necessary. In the country it is called early dinner, children's dinner, or ladies' dinner; in the city, when the gentlemen are all down town, then blossoms out the elaborate ladies' lunch.
But in England, at a country house, and indeed in London, luncheon is a recognized and very delightful meal, at which the most distinguished men and women meet over a joint and a cherry tart, and talk and laugh for an hour without the restraint of the late and formal dinner.
It is a very convenient meal, as it permits of an irregular number, of a superfluity of ladies or gentlemen; it is chatty and easy, and is neither troublesome nor expensive.
The hour of luncheon is stated, but severe punctuality is not insisted upon. A guest who is told that he may drop in at half-past one o'clock every day will be forgiven if he comes as late as two.
Ladies may come in their hats or bonnets; gentlemen in lawn-tennis suits, if they wish. It is incumbent upon the hostess but not upon the host to be present. It is quite immaterial where the guests sit, and they go in separately, not arm-in-arm.
Either white or colored table-cloths are equally proper, and some people use the bare mahogany, but this is unusual.
The most convenient and easy-going luncheons are served from the buffet or side-table, and the guests help themselves to cold ham, tongue, roast beef, etc. The fruit and wine and bread should stand on the table.
Each chair has in front of it two plates, a napkin with bread, two knives, two forks and spoons, a small salt-cellar, and three glasses--a tumbler for water, a claret glass, and a sherry glass.
Bouillon is sometimes offered in summer, but not often. If served well, it should be in cups. Dishes of dressed salad, a cold fowl, game, or hot chops, can be put before the hostess or passed by the servant. Soup and fish are never offered at these luncheons. Some people prefer a hot lunch, and chops, birds on toast, or a beefsteak, with mashed potatoes, asparagus, or green peas, are suitable dishes.
It is proper at a country place to offer a full luncheon, or to have a cold joint on the sideboard; and after the more serious part of the luncheon has been removed, the hostess can dismiss the servants, and serve the ice-cream or tart herself, with the assistance of her guests. Clean plates, knives, and forks should be in readiness.
In England a " hot joint" is always served from the sideboard. In fact, an English luncheon is exactly what a plain American dinner was formerly--a roast of mutton or beef, a few vegetables, a tart, some fruit, and a glass of sherry. But we have changed the practice considerably, and now our luxurious country offers nothing plain.
In this country one waiter generally remains during the whole meal, and serves the table as he would at dinner--only with less ceremony. It is perfectly proper at luncheon for any one to rise and help himself to what he wishes.
Tea and coffee are never served after luncheon in the drawing-room or dining-room. People are not expected to remain long after luncheon, as the lady of the house may have engagements for the afternoon.
In many houses the butler arranges the luncheon, table with flowers or fruit, plates of thin bread-and butter, jellies, creams, cakes, and preserves, a dish of cold salmon mayonnaise, and decanters of sherry and claret. He places a cold ham or chicken on the sideboard, and a pitcher of ice-water on a side-table, and then leaves the dining-room, and takes no heed of the baser wants of humanity until dinner-time. An underman or footman takes the place of this lofty being, and waits at table.
In more modest houses, where there is only a maid-servant or one man, all arrangements for the luncheon and for expected guests should be made immediately after breakfast.
If the children dine with the family at luncheon, it, of course, becomes an important meal, and should include one hot dish and a simple dessert.
It is well for people living in the country, and with a certain degree of style, to study up the methods of making salads and cold dishes, for these come in so admirably for luncheon that they often save a hostess great mortification. By attention to small details a very humble repast may be most elegant. A silver bread-basket for the thin slices of bread, a pretty cheese-dish, a napkin around the cheese, pats of butter in a pretty dish, flowers in vases, fruits neatly served--these things cost little, but they add a zest to the pleasures of the table.
If a hot luncheon is served, it is not etiquette to put the vegetables on the table as at dinner; they should be handed by the waiter. The luncheon-table is already full of the articles for dessert, and there is no place for the vegetables. The hot entrees or cold entrees are placed before the master or mistress, and each guest is asked what he prefers. The whole aspect of luncheon is thus made perfectly informal.
If a lady gives a more formal lunch, and has it served ... la Russe, the first entree--let us say chops and green peas--is handed by the waiter, commencing with the lady who sits on the right hand of the master of the house. This is followed by vegetables. Plates having been renewed, a salad and some cold ham can be offered. The waiter fills the glasses with sherry, or offers claret. When champagne is served at lunch, it is immediately after the first dish has been served, and claret and sherry are not then given unless asked for.
After the salad a fresh plate, with a dessert-spoon and small fork upon it, is placed before each person. The ice-cream, pie, or pudding is then placed in front of the hostess, who cuts it, and puts a portion on each plate. After these dainties have been discussed, a glass plate, serviette, and finger-bowl are placed before each guest for fruit. The servant takes the plate from his mistress after she has filled it, and hands it to the lady of first consideration, and so on. When only members of the family are present at luncheon, the mistress of the house is helped first.
Fruit tarts, pudding, sweet omelette, jellies, blancmange, and ice- cream are all proper dessert for luncheon; also luncheon cake, or the plainer sorts of loaf-cake.
It is well in all households, if possible, for the children to breakfast and lunch with their parents. The teaching of table manners cannot be begun too soon. But children should never be allowed to trouble guests. If not old enough to behave well at table, guests should not be invited to the meals at which they are present. It is very trying to parents, guests, and servants.
When luncheon is to be an agreeable social repast, which guests are expected to share, then the children should dine elsewhere. No mother succeeds better in the rearing of her children than she who has a nursery dining-room, where, under her own eye, her bantlings are properly fed. It is not so much trouble, either, as one would think.
Table mats are no longer used in stylish houses, either at luncheon or at dinner. The waiter should have a coarse towel in the butler's pantry, and wipe each dish before he puts it on the table.
Menu-cards are never used at luncheon. Salt-cellars and small water carafes may be placed up and down the luncheon-table.
In our country, where servants run away and leave their mistress when she is expecting guests, it is well to be able to improvise a dish from such materials as may be at hand. Nothing is better than a cod mayonnaise. A cod boiled in the morning is a friend in the afternoon. When it is cold remove the skin and bones. For sauce put some thick cream in a porcelain saucepan, and thicken it with corn- flour which has been mixed with cold water. When it begins to boil, stir in the beaten yolks of two eggs. As it cools, beat it well to prevent it from becoming lumpy, and when nearly cold, stir in the juice of two lemons, a little tarragon vinegar, a pinch of salt, and a soupcon of Cayenne pepper. Peel and slice some very ripe tomatoes or cold potatoes; steep them in vinegar, with Cayenne, powdered ginger, and plenty of salt; lay these around the fish, and cover with the cream sauce. This makes a very elegant cold dish for luncheon. The tomatoes or potatoes should be taken out of the vinegar and carefully drained before they are placed around the fish.
Some giblets carefully saved from the ducks, geese, or chickens of yesterday's dinner should be stewed in good beef stock, and then set away to cool. Put them in a stewpan with dried split peas, and boil them until they are reduced to pulp; serve this mixture hot on toast, and, if properly flavored with salt and pepper, you have a good luncheon dish.
Vegetable salads of beet-root, potatoes, and lettuce are always delicious, and the careful housewife who rises early in the morning and provides a round of cold corned beef, plenty of bread, and a luncheon cake, need not regret the ephemeral cook, or fear the coming city guest.
Every country housewife should learn to garnish dishes with capers, a border of water-cresses, plain parsley, or vegetables cut into fancy forms.
Potatoes, eggs, and cold hashed meats, in their unadorned simplicity, do not come under the head of luxuries. But if the hashed meat is carefully warmed and well flavored, and put on toast, if the potatoes are chopped and browned and put around the meat, if the eggs are boiled, sliced, and laid around as a garnish, and a few capers and a border of parsley added, you have a Delmonico ragout that Brillat-Savarin would have enjoyed.
It occupies a prominent place in the history of
Lord Houghton, among others, was famous for his unceremonious
lunches. As it is understood to be an informal meal, the invitations
are generally sent only a short time before the day for which the
recipient is invited, and are written in the first person. Lord
Houghton's were apt to be simply, " Come and lunch with me to-morrow."
At our prominent places of summer resort, ladies who have
houses of their own generally give their male friends a carte blanche invitation to luncheon. They are expected to avail
themselves of it without ceremony, and at Newport the table is
always laid with the " extra knife and fork," or two or three, as may
be thought necessary. Ladies, however, should be definitely asked to
this meal as to others.