MANNERS AND SOCIAL USAGES
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CHAPTER XXXVI. SUPPER-PARTIES.
After a long retirement into the shades, the supper-party, the "sit-down Supper," once so dear to our ancestors, has been again revived. Leaders of society at Newport have found that, after the hearty lunch which everybody eats there at one or three o'clock the twelve or fourteen course dinner at seven o'clock, is too much; that people come home reluctantly from their ocean drive to dress; and last summer, in consequence, invitations were issued for suppers at nine or half-past nine. The suppers at private houses, which had previously fallen out of fashion by reason of the convenience and popularity of the great restaurants, were resumed. The very late dinners in large cities have, no doubt, also prevented the supper from being a favorite entertainment; but there is no reason (except the disapproval of doctors) why suppers should not be in fashion in the country, or where people dine early. In England, where digestions are better than here, and where people eat more heavily, "the supper-tray" is an institution, and suppers are generally spread in every English country house; and we may acknowledge the fact that the supper--the little supper so dear to the hearts of our friends of the last century--seems to be coming again into fashion here. Nothing can be more significant than that Harper's Bazaar receives many letters asking for directions for setting the table for supper, and for the proper service of the meats which are to gayly cover the cloth and enrich this always pleasant repast.
In a general way the same service is proper at a supper as at a dinner, with the single exception of the soup-plates. Oysters on the half-shell and bouillon served in cups are the first two courses. If a hot supper is served, the usual dishes are sweetbreads, with green peas, cotelettes ... la financiere, and some sort of game in season, such as reed-birds in autumn, canvas-back ducks, venison, or woodcock; salads of every kind are in order, and are often served with the game. Then ices and fruit follow. Cheese is rarely offered, although some _gourmets_ insist that a little is necessary with the salad.
After each course all the dishes and knives and forks that have been in use are replaced by fresh ones, and the order and neatness of the table preserved to the end of the supper. We would think it unnecessary to mention this most obvious detail of table decorum, had not several correspondents asked to be informed concerning it.
There is, of course, the informal supper, at which the dishes are all placed on a table together, as for a supper at a large ball. Meats, dressed salmon, chicken croquettes, salads, jellies, and ices are a part of the alarming melange of which a guest is expected to partake, with only such discrimination as may be dictated by prudence or inclination. But this is not the "sit down," elegant supper so worthy to be revived, with its courses and its etiquette and its brilliant conversation, which was the delight of our grandmothers.
A large centre-piece of flowers, with fruit and candies in glass compotiers, and high forms of nougat, and other sugar devices, are suitable standards for an elegant supper-table. Three sorts of wine may be placed on the table in handsome decanters--sherry, or Madeira, and Burgundy. The guests find oysters on the half-shell, with little fish forks, all ready for them. The napkin and bread are laid at the side or in front of each plate. These plates being removed, other plain plates are put in their place, and cups of bouillon are served, with gold teaspoons. This course passed, other plates are put before the guest, and some chicken _croquettes_ or lobster farci is passed. Sherry or Madeira should already have been served with the Oysters. With the third course iced champagne is offered. Then follow game, or fried oysters, salads, and a slice of pate de foie gras, with perhaps tomato salad; and subsequently ices, jellies, fruit, and coffee, and for the gentlemen a glass of brandy or cordial. Each course is taken away before the next is presented. Birds and salad are served together.
There is a much simpler supper possible, which is often offered by a hospitable hostess after the opera or theatre. It consists of a few Oysters, a pair of cold roast chickens, a dish of lobster or plain salad, with perhaps a glass of champagne, and one sort of ice-cream, and involves very little trouble or expense, and can be safely said to give as much pleasure as the more sumptuous feast. This informal refreshment is often placed on a red table-cloth, with a dish of oranges and apples in the centre of the table, and one servant is sufficient. There should be, however, the same etiquette as to the changing of plates, knives, and forks, etc., as in the more elaborate meal.
The good house-keeper who gives a supper every evening to her hungry family may learn many an appetizing device by reading English books of cookery on this subject. A hashed dish of the meat left from dinner, garnished with parsley, a potato salad, a few slices of cold corned beef or ham, some pickled tongues, bread, butter, and cheese, with ale or cider, is the supper offered at nearly every English house in the country.
The silver and glass, the china and the fruit, should be as carefully attended to as for a dinner, and everything as neat and as elegant as possible, even at an informal supper.
Oysters, that universal food of the American, are invaluable for a supper. Fried oysters diffuse a disagreeable odor through the house, therefore they are not as convenient in a private dwelling as scalloped oysters, which can be prepared in the afternoon, and which send forth no odor when cooking. Broiled oysters are very delicate, and are a favorite dish at an informal supper. Broiled birds and broiled bones are great delicacies, but they must be prepared by a very good cook. Chicken in various forms hashed, fried, cold, or in salad--is useful; veal may be utilized for all these things, if chicken is not forthcoming. The delicately treated chicken livers also make a very good dish, and mushrooms on toast are perfect in their season. Hot vegetables are never served, except green peas with some other dish.
Beef, except in the form of a fillet, is never seen at a "sit-down" supper, and even a fillet is rather too heavy. Lobster in every form is a favorite supper delicacy, and the grouse; snipe, woodcock, teal; canvasback, and squab on toast, are always in order.
In these days of Italian warehouses and imported delicacies, the pressed and jellied meats, pates, sausages, and spiced tongues furnish a variety for a cold supper. No supper is perfect without a salad.
The Romans made much of this meal, and among their delicacies were the ass, the dog, and the snail, sea-hedgehogs, oysters, asparagus, venison, wild boar, sea-nettles, fish, fowl, game, and cakes. The Germans to-day eat wild boar, head-cheese, pickles, goose's flesh dried, sausages, cheese, and salads for supper, and wash down with beer. The French, under Louis XIV., began to make the supper their most finished meal. They used gold and silver dishes, crystal cups and goblets, exquisite grapes crowned the pergne, and choicest fruits were served in golden dishes. The cooks sent up piquant sauces for the delicately cooked meats, the wines were drunk hot and spiced. The latter are taken iced now. Many old house-keepers, however, serve a rich, hot-mulled port for a winter supper. It is a delicious and not unhealthy beverage, and can be easily prepared.
The doctors, as we have said, condemn a late supper, but the pros and cons of this subject admit of discussion. Every one, indeed, must decide for himself.
Few people can undergo excitement of an evening--an opera or play or concert, or even the pleasant conversation of an evening party-- without feeling hungry. With many, if such an appetite is not appeased it will cause sleeplessness. To eat lightly and to drink lightly at supper is a natural instinct with people if they expect to go to bed at once; but excitement is a great aid to digestion, and a heavy supper sometimes gives no inconvenience.
Keats seems to have had a vision of a modern supper-table when he wrote:
"soft he set A table, and ...threw thereon A cloth of woven crimson, gold, and jet; ...from forth the closet brought a heap Of candied apple, quince, and plum, and gourd, With jellies soother than the creamy curd, And lucent syrops, tinct with cinnamon, Manna and dates: ...spiced dainties every one."
The supper being a meal purely of luxury should be very dainty. Everything should be tasteful and appetizing; the wines should be excellent, the claret not too cool, the champagne frapp, or almost so, the Madeira and the port the temperature of the room, and the sherry cool. If punch is served, it should be at the end of the supper.
Many indulgent hostesses now allow young gentlemen to smoke a cigarette at the supper-table, after the eating and drinking is at an end, rather than break up the delicious flow of conversation which at the close of a supper seems to be at its best. This, however, should not be done unless every lady at the table acquiesces, as the smell of tobacco-smoke sometimes gives women an unpleasant sensation.
Suppers at balls and parties include now all sorts of cold and hot dishes, even a haunch of venison, and a fillet of beef, with truffles; a cold salmon dressed with a green sauce; oysters in every form except raw--they are not served at balls; salads of every description; boned and truffled turkey and chicken; pate of game; cold partridges and grouse; pate de foie gras; our American specialty, hot canvas-back duck; and the Baltimore turtle, terrapin, oyster and game patties; bonbons, ices, biscuits, creams, jellies, and fruits, with champagne, and sometimes, of later years, claret and Moselle cup, and champagne-cup--beverages which were not until lately known in America, except at gentlemen's clubs and on board yachts, but which are very agreeable mixtures, and gaining in favor. Every lady should know how to mix cup, as it is convenient both for supper and lawn-tennis parties, and is preferable in its effects to the heavier article so common at parties--punch.
CHAPTER XXXVII. SIMPLE DINNERS.
To achieve a perfect little dinner with small means at command is said to be a great intellectual feat. Dinner means so much--a French cook, several accomplished servants, a very well-stocked china closet, plate chest, and linen chest, and flowers, wines, bonbons, and so on. But we have known many simple little dinners given by young couples with small means which were far more enjoyable than the gold and silver "diamond" dinners.
Given, first, a knowledge of _how to do it_; a good cook (not a _cordon bleu_); a neat maid-servant in cap and apron--if the lady can carve (which all ladies should know how to do); if the gentleman has a good bottle of claret, and another of champagne--or neither, if he disapproves of them; if the house is neatly and quietly furnished, with the late magazines on the table; if the welcome is cordial, and there is no noise, no fussy pretence--these little dinners are very enjoyable, and every one is anxious to be invited to them.
But people are frightened off from simple entertainments by the splendor of the great luxurious dinners given by the very rich. It is a foolish fear. The lady who wishes to give a simple but good dinner has first to consult what is _seasonable_. She must offer the dinner of the season, not seek for those strawberries in February which are always sour, nor peaches in June, nor peas at Christmas. Forced fruit is never good.
For an autumnal small dinner here is a very good _menu_:
Sherry./Oysters on the half-shell./Chablis, Soupe ... la Reine. Blue-fish, broiled./Hock, Filet de Boeuf aux Champignons./Champagne
Roast Beef or Mutton./Claret. Roast Partridges./ Burgundy, or Sherry Salad of Tomatoes. Cheese./Liqueurs
Of course, in these days, claret and champagne are considered quite enough for a small dinner, and one need not offer the other wines. Or, as Mrs. Henderson says in her admirable cook-book, a very good dinner maybe given with claret alone. A table claret to add to the water is almost the only wine drunk in France or Italy at an every-day dinner. Of course no wine at all is expected at the tables of those whose principles forbid alcoholic beverages, and who nevertheless give excellent dinners without them.
A perfectly fresh white damask table-cloth, napkins of equally delicate fabric, spotless glass and silver, pretty china, perhaps one high glass dish crowned with fruit and flowers--sometimes only the fruit--chairs that are comfortable, a room not too warm, the dessert served in good taste, but not overloaded--this is all one needs. The essentials of a good dinner are but few.
The informal dinner invitations should be written by the lady herself in the first person. She may send for her friends only a few days before she wants them to come. She should be ready five minutes before her guests arrive, and in the parlor, serene and cool, "mistress of herself, though china fall." She should see herself that the dinner-table is properly laid, the champagne and sherry thoroughly cooled, the places marked out, and, above all, the guests properly seated.
"Ay, there's the rub." To invite the proper people to meet each other, to seat them so that they can have an agreeable conversation, that is the trying and crucial test. Little dinners are social; little dinners are informal; little dinners make people friends. And we do not mean _little_ in regard to numbers or to the amount of good food; we mean _simple_ dinners.
All the good management of a young hostess or an old one cannot prevent accident, however. The cook may get drunk; the waiter may fall and break a dozen of the best plates; the husband may be kept down town late, and be dressing in the very room where the ladies are to take off their cloaks (American houses are frightfully inconvenient in this respect). All that the hostess can do is to preserve an invincible calm, and try not to care--at least not to show that she cares. But after a few attempts the giving of a simple dinner becomes very easy, and it is the best compliment to a stranger. A gentleman traveling to see the customs of a country is much more pleased to be asked to a modest repast where he meets his hostess and her family than to a state dinner where he is ticketed off and made merely one at a banquet.
Then the limitations of a dinner can be considered. It is not kind to keep guests more than an hour, or two hours at the most, at table. French dinners rarely exceed an hour. English dinners are too long and too heavy, although the conversation is apt to be brilliant. At a simple dinner one can make it short.
It is better to serve coffee in the drawing-room, although if the host and hostess are agreed on this point, and the ladies can stand smoke, it is served at table, and the gentlemen light their cigarettes. In some houses smoking is forbidden in the dining-room.
The practice of the ladies retiring first is an English one, and the French consider it barbarous. Whether we are growing more French or not, we seem to be beginning to do away with the separation after dinner.
It is the custom at informal dinners for the lady to help the soup and for the gentleman to carve; therefore the important dishes are put on the table. But the servants who wait should be taught to have sidetables and sideboards so well placed that anything can be removed immediately after it is finished. A screen is a very useful adjunct in a dining-room.
Inefficient servants have a disagreeable habit of running in and out of the dining-room in search of something that should have been in readiness; therefore the lady of the house had better see beforehand that French rolls are placed under every napkin, and a silver basket full of them ready in reserve. Also large slices of fresh soft bread should be on the side table, as every one does not like hard bread, and should be offered a choice.
The powdered sugar, the butter, the caster, the olives, the relishes, should all be thought of and placed where each can be readily found. Servants should be taught to be noiseless, and to avoid a hurried manner. In placing anything on or taking anything off a table a servant should never reach across a person seated at table for that purpose. However hurried the servant may be, or however near at hand the article, she should be taught to walk quietly to the left hand of each guest to remove things, while she should pass everything in the same manner, giving the guest the option of using his right hand with which to help himself. Servants should have a silver or plated knife-tray to remove the gravy-spoon and carving knife and fork before removing the platter. All the silver should be thus removed; it makes a table much neater. Servants should be taught to put a plate and spoon and fork at every place before each course.
After the meats and before the pie, pudding, or ices, the table should be carefully cleared of everything but fruit and flowers--all plates, glasses, carafes, salt-cellars, knives and forks, and whatever pertains to the dinner should be removed, and the table- cloth well cleared with brush or crumb-scraper on a silver waiter, and then the plates, glasses, spoons, and forks laid at each plate for the dessert. If this is done every day, it adds to a common dinner, and trains the waitress to her work.
The dinner, the dishes, and the plates should all be hot. The ordinary plate-warmer is now superseded by something far better, in which a hot brick is introduced. The dinner is spoiled if hot mutton is put on a cold plate. The silver dishes should be heated by hot water in the kitchen, the hot dinner plates must be forthcoming from the plate-warmer, nor must the roasts or entrees be allowed to cool on their way from the kitchen to the dining-room. A servant should have a thumb napkin with which to hand the hot dishes, and a clean towel behind the screen with which to wipe the platters which have been sent up on the dumb-waiter. On these trifles depend the excellence of the simple dinner.
CHAPTER XXXVIII. THE SMALL-TALK OF SOCIETY.
One of the cleverest questions asked lately is, "What shall I talk about at a dinner-party?" Now if there is a woman in the world who does not know what to talk about, is it not a very difficult thing to tell her? One can almost as well answer such a question as, "What shall I see out of my eyes?"
Yet our young lady is not the first person who has dilated of late years upon the "decay of conversation," nor the only one who has sometimes felt the heaviness of silence descend upon her at a modern dinner. No doubt this same great and unanswerable question has been asked by many a traveler who, for the first time, has sat next an Englishman of good family (perhaps even with a handle to his name), who has answered all remarks by the proverbial but unsympathetic "Oh!" Indeed, it is to be feared that it is a fashion for young men nowadays to appear listless, to conceal what ideas they may happen to have, to try to appear stupid, if they are not so, throwing all the burden of the conversation on the lively, vivacious, good- humored girl, or the more accomplished married woman, who may be the next neighbor. Women's wits are proverbially quick, they talk readily, they read and think more than the average young man of fashion is prone to do; the result is a quick and a ready tongue. Yet the art of keeping up a flow of agreeable and incessant small- talk, not too heavy, not pretentious or egotistical, not scandalous, and not commonplace, is an art that is rare, and hardly to be prized too highly.
It has been well said that there is a great difference between a brilliant conversationalist and a ready small-talker. The former is apt to be feared, and to produce a silence around him. We all remember Macaulay and "his brilliant flashes of silence." We all know that there are talkers so distinguished that you must not ask both of them to dinner on the same day lest they silence each other, while we know others who bring to us just an average amount of tact, facility of expression, geniality, and a pleasant gift at a quotation, a bit of repartee; such a person we call a ready small- talker, a "most agreeable person," one who frightens nobody and who has a great popularity. Such a one has plenty of small change, very useful, and more easy to handle than the very large cheek of the conversationalist, who is a millionaire as to his memory, learning, and power of rhetoric, but who cannot and will not indulge in small- talk. We respect the one; we like the other. The first point to be considered, if one has no inspiration in regard to small-talk, would seem to be this; try to consider what subject would most interest the person next to you. There are people who have no other talent, whom we never call clever, but who do possess this instinct, and who can talk most sympathetically, while knowing scarcely anything about the individual addressed. There are others who are deficient in this gift, who can only say "Really" and "Indeed." These "Really" and "Indeed" and "Oh" people are the despair of the dinner-giver. The gay, chatty, light-hearted people who can glide into a conversation easily, are the best of dinner-table companions, even if they do sometimes talk too much about the weather and such commonplaces.
It is a good plan for a shy young person, who has no confidence in her own powers of conversation, to fortify herself with several topics of general interest, such as the last new novel, the last opera, the best and newest gallery of pictures, or the flower in fashion; and to invent a formula, if words are wanting in her organization, as to how these subjects should be introduced and handled. Many ideas will occur to her, and she can silently arrange them. Then she may keep these as a reserve force, using them only when the conversation drops, or she is unexpectedly brought to the necessity of keeping up the ball alone. Some people use this power rather unfairly, leading the conversation up to the point where they wish to enter; but these are not the people who need help--they can take care of themselves. After talking awhile in a perfunctory manner, many a shy young person has been astonished by a sudden rush of brilliant ideas, and finds herself talking naturally and well without effort. It is like the launching of a ship; certain blocks of shyness and habits of mental reserve are knocked away, and the brave frigate _Small-Talk_ takes the water like a thing of life.
It demands much tact and cleverness to touch upon the ordinary events of the day at a mixed dinner, because, in the first place, nothing should be said which can hurt any one's feelings, politics, religion, and the stock market being generally ruled out; nor should one talk about that which everybody knows, for such small-talk is impertinent and irritating. No one wishes to be told that which he already understands better, perhaps, than we do. Nor are matters of too private a nature, such as one's health, or one's servants, or one's disappointments, still less one's good deeds, to be talked about.
Commonplace people also sometimes try society very much by their own inane and wholly useless criticisms. Supposing we take up music, it is far more agreeable to hear a person say, "How do you like Nilsson?" than to hear him say, "I like Nilsson, and I have these reasons for liking her." Let that come afterwards. When a person really qualified to discuss artists, or literary people, or artistic points, talks sensibly and in a chatty, easy way about them, it is the perfection of conversation; but when one wholly and utterly incompetent to do so lays down the law on such subjects he or she becomes a bore. But if the young person who does not know how to talk treats these questions interrogatively, ten chances to one, unless she is seated next an imbecile, she will get some very good and light small-talk out of her next neighbor. She may give a modest personal opinion, or narrate her own sensations at the opera, if she can do so without egotism, and she should always show a desire to be answered. If music and literature fail, let her try the subjects of dancing, polo-playing, and lawn-tennis. A very good story was told of a bright New York girl and a very haw-haw-stupid Englishman at a Newport dinner. The Englishman had said "Oh," and "Really," and "Quite so," to everything which this bright girl had asked him, when finally, very tired and very angry, she said, "Were you ever thrown in the hunting-field, and was your head hurt?" The man turned and gazed admiringly. "Now you've got me," was the reply. And he talked all the rest of the dinner of his croppers. Perhaps it may not be necessary or useful often to unlock so rich a repertoire as this; but it was a very welcome relief to this young lady not to do all the talking during three hours.
After a first introduction there is, no doubt, some difficulty in starting a conversation. The weather, the newspaper, the last accident, the little dog, the bric-a-brac, the love of horses, etc., are good and unfailing resources, except that very few people have the readiness to remember this wealth of subjects at once. To recollect a thing apropos of the moment is the gift of ready-witted people alone, and how many remember, hours after, a circumstance which would have told at that particular moment of embarrassment when one stood twiddling his hat, and another twisted her handkerchief. The French call "l'esprit d'escalier"--the "wit of the staircase"--the gift of remembering the good thing you might have said in the drawing-room, just too late, as you go up-stairs. However, two new people generally overcome this moment of embarrassment, and then some simple offer of service, such as, "Can I get you a chair?" "Is that window too cold?" "Can I bring you some tea?" occurs, and then the small-talk follows.
The only curious part of this subject is that so little skill is shown by the average talker in weaving facts and incidents into his treatment of subjects of everyday character, and that he brings so little intelligence to bear on his discussion of them. It is not given to every one to be brilliant and amusing, but, with a little thought, passing events may always give rise to pleasant conversation. We have lately been visited by a succession of brilliant sunsets, concerning which there have been various theories. This has been a charming subject for conversation, yet at the average dinner we have heard but few persons mention this interesting topic. Perhaps one is afraid to start a conversation upon celestial scenery at a modern dinner. The things may seem too remote, yet it would not be a bad idea.
Gossip may promote small-talk among those who are very intimate and who live in a narrow circle. But how profoundly uninteresting is it to an outsider!--how useless to the real man or woman of the world! That is, unless it is literary, musical, artistic gossip. Scandal ruins conversation, and should never be included even in a definition of small-talk. Polite, humorous, vivacious, speculative, dry, sarcastic, epigrammatic, intellectual, and practical people all meet around a dinner-table, and much agreeable small-talk should be the result. It is unfortunately true that there is sometimes a failure in this respect. Let a hostess remember one thing: there is no chance for vivacity of intellect if her room is too warm; her flowers and her guests will wilt together. There are those also who prefer her good dishes to talking, and the old gentleman in _Punch_ who rebuked his lively neighbor for talking while there were "such entrees coming in" has his counterparts among ourselves.
Some shy talkers have a sort of empirical way of starting a subject with a question like this: "Do you know the meaning and derivation of the term 'bric-a-brac?'" "Do you believe in ghosts?" "What do you think of a ladies' club?" "Do you believe in chance?" "Is there more talent displayed in learning the violin than in playing a first-rate game of chess?" etc.
These are intellectual conundrums, and may be repeated indefinitely where the person questioned is disposed to answer. With a flow of good spirits and the feeling of case which comes from a knowledge of society, such questions often bring out what Margaret Fuller called "good talk."
But if your neighbor says "Oh," "Really," "Indeed," "I don't know," then the best way is to be purely practical, and talk of the chairs and tables, and the existing order of things, the length of trains, or the shortness of the dresses of the young ladies at the last ball, the prevailing idea that "ice-water is unhealthy," and other such extremely easy ideas. The sound of one's own voice is generally very sweet in one's own ears; let every lady try to cultivate a pleasant voice for those of other people, and also an agreeable and accurate pronunciation. The veriest nothings sound well when thus spoken. The best way to learn how to talk is, of course, to learn how to think: from full wells one brings up buckets full of clear water, but there can be small-talk without much thought. The fact remains that brilliant thinkers and scholars are not always good talkers, and there is no harm in the cultivation of the art of conversation, no harm in a little "cramming," if a person is afraid that language is not his strong point. The merest trifle generally suffices to start the flow of small-talk, and the person who can use this agreeable weapon of society is always popular and very much courted.
CHAPTER XXXIX. GARDEN-PARTIES.
Many of our correspondents ask us, "What shall we order for a garden-party?" We must answer that the first thing to order is a fine day. In these fortunate days the morning revelations of Old Probabilities give us an almost exact knowledge of what of rain or sunshine the future has in store.
A rain or tornado which starts from Alaska, where the weather is made nowadays, will almost certainly be here on the third day; so the hostess who is willing to send a hasty bidding can perhaps avoid rain. It is the custom, however, to send invitations for these garden-parties a fortnight before they are to occur. At Newport they are arranged weeks beforehand, and if the weather is bad the entertainment takes place in-doors.
When invitations are given to a suburban place to which people are expected to go by rail or any public means of conveyance, a card should also be sent stating the hours at which trains leave, which train or boat to take, and any other information that may add to the comfort of the guest. These invitations are engraved, and printed on note-paper, which should be perfectly plain, or bear the family crest in water-mark only, and read somewhat as follows:
Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Smith request the pleasure of Mr. and Mrs.
Conway Brown's company on Tuesday, the thirtieth of July, at four
Garden Party. Yonkers, New York.
Then, on the card enclosed, might be printed,
Carriages will meet the 3.30 train from Grand Central Depot.
The garden-party proper is always held entirely in the open air. In England the refreshments are served under a _marquee_ in the grounds, and in that inclement clime no one seems to think it a hardship if a shower of rain comes down, and ruins fine silks and beautiful bonnets. But in our fine sunshiny land we are very much afraid of rain, and our malarious soil is not considered always safe, so that the thoughtful hostess often has her table in-doors, piazzas filled with chairs, Turkey rugs laid down on the grass, and every preparation made that the elderly and timid and rheumatic may enjoy the garden-party without endangering their health.
A hostess should see that her lawn-tennis ground is in order, the croquet laid out, and the archery tools all in place, so that her guests may amuse themselves with these different games. Sometimes balls and races are added to these amusements, and often a platform is laid for dancing, if the turf be not sufficiently dry. A band of musicians is essential to a very elegant and successful garden- party, and a varied selection of music, grave and gay, should be rendered. Although at a dinner-party there is reason to fear that an orchestra may be a nuisance, at a garden-party the open air and space are sufficient guarantees against this danger.
If the hostess wishes her entertainment to be served out-of-doors, of course all the dishes must be cold. Salads, cold birds, and ham, tongue, and pate de foie gras, cold pates, and salmon dressed with a green sauce, jellies, Charlottes, ices, cakes, punch, and champagne, are the proper things to offer. A cup of hot tea should be always ready in the house for those who desire it.
At a garden-party proper the hostess receives out on the lawn, wearing her hat or bonnet, and takes it for granted that the party will be entirely out-of-doors. The carriages, however, drive up to the door, and the ladies can go up-stairs and deposit their wraps and brush off the dust, if they wish. A servant should be in attendance to show the guests to that part of the grounds in which the lady is receiving.
At Newport these parties are generally conducted on the principle of an afternoon tea, and after the mistress of the house has received her guests, they wander through the grounds, and, when weary, return to the house for refreshment. Pate de foie gras, sandwiches, cold birds, plates of delicious jellied tongue, lobster salad, and sometimes hot cakes and hot broiled chicken, are served at these high teas. Coffee and tea and wine are also offered, but these are at mixed entertainments which have grown out of the somewhat unusual hours observed at Newport in the season.
There is a sort of public garden-party in this country which prevails on semi-official occasions, such as the laying of a foundation-stone for a public building, the birthday of a prominent individual, a Sunday-school festival, or an entertainment given to a public functionary. These are banquets, and for them the invitations are somewhat general, and should be officially issued. For the private garden-party it is proper for a lady to ask for an invitation for a friend, as there is always plenty of room; but it should also be observed that where this request is not answered affirmatively, offence should not be taken. It is sometimes very difficult for a lady to understand why her request for an invitation to her friend is refused; but she should never take the refusal as a discourtesy to herself. There may be reasons which cannot be explained.
Ladies always wear bonnets at a garden-party, and the sensible fashion of short dresses has hitherto prevailed; but it is rumored that a recent edict of the Princess of Wales against short dresses at her garden-parties will find followers on this side of the water, notably at Newport, which out-Herods Herod in its respect to English fashions.
Indeed, a long dress is very pretty on the grass and under the trees. At Buckingham Palace a garden-party given to the Viceroy of Egypt several years ago presented a very Watteau-like picture. Worth's handsomest dresses were freely displayed, and the lovely grounds and old trees at the back of the palace were in fine full dress for the occasion.
In fact, England is the land for garden-parties, with its turf of velvet softness, its flowing lime-trees, its splendid old oaks, and its finished landscape gardening. There are but few places as yet in America which afford the clipped-box avenues, the arcades of blossoming rose-vines, the pleached alleys, the finely kept and perfect gravel-walks, or, Better than all, the quiet, old-fashioned gardens, down which the ladies may walk, rivals of the flowers.
But there are some such places; and a green lawn, a few trees, a good prospect, a fine day, and something to eat, are really all the absolute requirements for a garden-party. In the neighborhood of New York very charming garden-parties have been given: at the Brooklyn Navy-yard and the camp of the soldier, at the head-quarters of the officers of marines, and at the ever-lovely Governor's Island.
Up the Hudson, out at Orange (with its multitudinous pretty settlements), all along the coast of Long Island, the garden-party is almost imperatively necessary. The owner of a fine place is expected to allow the unfortunates who must stay in town at least one sniff of his roses and new-mown hay.
Lawn-tennis has had a great share in making the garden-party popular; and in remote country places ladies should learn how to give these parties, and, with very little trouble, make the most of our fine climate. There is no doubt that a little awkwardness is to be overcome in the beginning, for no one knows exactly what to do. Deprived of the friendly shelter of a house, guests wander forlornly about; but a graceful and ready hostess will soon suggest that a croquet or lawn-tennis party be formed, or that a contest at archery be entered upon, or that even a card-party is in order, or that a game of checkers can be played under the trees.
Servants should be taught to preserve the proprieties of the feast, if the meal be served under the trees. There should be no piles of dishes, knives, forks, or spoons, visible on the green grass; baskets should be in readiness to carry off everything as soon as used. There should be a sufficient quantity of glass and china in use, and plenty of napkins, so that there need be no delay. The lemonade and punch bowls should be replenished from the dining-room as soon as they show signs of depletion, and a set of neat maid- servants can be advantageously employed in watching the table, and seeing that the cups, spoons, plates, wine-glasses, and forks are in sufficient quantity and clean. If tea is served, maid-servants are better than men, as they are careful that the tea is hot, and the spoons, cream, and sugar forthcoming. Fruit is an agreeable addition to a garden-party entertainment, and pines, melons, peaches, grapes, strawberries, are all served in their season. Pains should be taken to have these fruits of the very best that can be obtained.
Claret-cup, champagne-cup, and soda-water, brandy and shandy-gaff, are provided on a separate table for the gentlemen; Apollinaris water, and the various aerated waters so fashionable now, are also provided. Although gentlemen help themselves, it is necessary to have a servant in attendance to remove the wine-glasses, tumblers, and goblets as they are used, and to replenish the decanters and pitchers as they are emptied, and to supply fresh glasses. Many hospitable hosts offer their guests old Madeira, sherry, and port.
The decanters are placed on the regular luncheon-table, and glasses of wine are carried by servants, on silver trays, to the ladies who are sitting on the piazzas and under the trees. Small thin tumblers are used for the claret and champagne cup, which should be held in silver or glass pitchers.
If strawberries and cream are served, a small napkin should be put between the saucer and plate, and a dessert spoon and fork handed with each plate.
The servants who carry about refreshments from the tent or the table where they are served should be warned to be very careful in this part of the service, as many a fine gown has been spoiled, by a dish of strawberries and cream or a glass of punch or lemonade being overturned, through a servant's want of care.
Ices are now served at garden-parties in small paper cups placed on ice-plates--a fashion which is very neat, and which saves much of the mussiness which has heretofore been a feature of these entertainments. Numbers of small tables should be brought with the camp-stools, and placed at convenient intervals, where the guests can deposit their plates.
A lady should not use her handsome glass or china at these al fresco entertainments. It is sure to be broken. It is better to hire all the necessary glass, silver, and china from the caterer, as it saves a world of counting and trouble.
No doubt the garden-party is a troublesome affair, particularly if the refreshments are out-of-doors, but it is very beautiful and very amusing, and worth all the trouble. It is just as pleasant, however, if the table is in-doors.
CHAPTER XL. SILVER WEDDINGS AND OTHER WEDDING ANNIVERSARIES.
A very sensible reform is now being attempted in the matter of silver weddings. It was once a demand on the purse of at least fifty dollars to receive an invitation to a silver wedding, because every one was expected to send a piece of silver. Some very rich houses in New York are stocked with silver with the elaborate inscription, "Silver Wedding." To the cards of to-day is appended, "No presents received," which is a relief to the impecunious.
These cards are on plain white or silver-gray paper, engraved in silver letters, with the name of the lady as she was known before marriage appended below that of her husband; the date of the marriage is also added below the names.
The entertainment for a silver wedding, to be perfect, should occur at exactly the hour at which the marriage took place; but as that has been found to be inconvenient, the marriage hour is ignored, and the party takes place in the evening generally, and with all the characteristics of a modern party. The "bridal pair" stand together, of course, to receive, and as many of the original party of the groomsmen and bridesmaids as can be got together should be induced to form a part of the group. There can be no objection to the sending of flowers, and particular friends who wish can, of course, send other gifts, but there should be no _obligation_. We may say here that the custom of giving bridal gifts has become an outrageous abuse of a good idea. From being a pretty custom which had its basis in the excellent system of our Dutch ancestors, who combined to help the young couple by presents of bed and table linen and necessary table furniture and silver, it has now sometimes degenerated into a form of ostentation, and is a great tax on the friends of the bride. People in certain relations to the family are even expected to send certain gifts. It has been known to be the case that the bride allowed some officious friend to suggest that she should have silver, or pearls, or diamonds; and a rich old bachelor uncle is sure to be told what is expected from him. But when a couple have reached their silver wedding, and are able and willing to celebrate it, it may be supposed that they are beyond the necessity of appealing to the generosity of their friends; therefore it is a good custom to have this phrase added to the silver-wedding invitation, "No presents received."
The question has been asked if the ceremony should be performed over again. We should say decidedly not, for great danger has accrued to thoughtless persons in thus tampering with the wedding ceremony. Any one who has read Mrs. Oliphant's beautiful story of "Madonna Mary" will be struck at once with this danger. It is not safe, even in the most playful manner, to imitate that legal form on which all society, property, legitimacy, and the safety of home hang.
Now as to the dress of the bride of twenty-five years, we should say, "Any color but black." There is an old superstition against connecting black with weddings. A silver gray, trimmed with steel and lace, has lately been used with much success as a second bridal dress. Still less should the dress be white; that has become so canonized as the wedding dress of a virgin bride that it is not even proper for a widow to wear it on her second marriage. The shades of rose-color, crimson, or those beautiful modern combinations of velvet and brocade which suit so many matronly women, are all appropriate silver-wedding dresses.
Ladies should not wear jewelry in the morning, particularly at their own houses; so if the wedding is celebrated in the morning, the hostess should take care not to be too splendid.
Evening weddings are, in these anniversaries, far more agreeable, and can be celebrated with more elaborate dressing. It is now so much the fashion to wear low-necked dresses (sleeveless dresses were worn by bridesmaids at an evening wedding recently) that the bride of twenty-five years can appear, if she chooses, in a low-cut short- sleeved dinner dress and diamonds in the evening. As for the groom, he should be in full evening dress, immaculate white tie, and pearl- colored kid gloves. He plays, as he does at the wedding, but a secondary part. Indeed, it has been jocosely said that he sometimes poses as a victim. In savage communities and among the birds it is the male who wears the fine clothes; in Christian society it is the male who dresses in black, putting the fine feathers on his wife. It is to her that all the honors are paid, he playing for the time but a secondary part. In savage communities she would dig the earth, wait upon her lord, and stand behind him while he eats; in the modern silver wedding he helps her to fried oysters and champagne, and stands while she sits.
Now as to who shall be invited. A correspondent writes asking if a silver wedding celebrated in a new home would not be a good opportunity for making the "first onset of hospitality," inviting those neighbors who were not known before, or at least who were not visiting acquaintances. We should think it a very happy idea. It is a compliment to ask one's friends and neighbors to any ceremony or anniversary in which our own deep feelings are concerned, such as a christening, a child's wedding, and the celebration of a birthday. Why not still more when a married pair have weathered the storms of twenty-five years? People fully aware of their own respectability should never be afraid to bow first, speak first, or call first. Courtesy is the most cosmopolitan of good qualities, and politeness is one of the seven capital virtues. No people giving such an invitation need be hurt if it is received coldly. They only thus find out which of their new neighbors are the most worth cultivating. This sort of courtesy is as far as possible from the dreadful word "pushing." As dress was made to dignify the human body, so a generous courtesy clothes the mind. Let no one be afraid of draping the spirit with this purple and gold.
And in all fresh neighborhoods the new-comers should try to cultivate society. There is something in its attrition which stimulates the mind. Society brightens up the wits, and causes the dullest mind to bring its treasures to the surface.
The wedding anniversaries seem to begin with the fifth one--the wooden wedding. Here unique and appropriate presents seem to be very cheap. Cedar tubs and bowls and pails, wooden baskets filled with flowers, Shaker rocking-chairs and seats for the veranda, carved tables, cabinets of oak, wall brackets, paintings on wood, water- colors framed in wood-carvings in bog oak, and even a load of kindling wood, have been acceptably offered. The bride can dress as gayly as she pleases at this early anniversary. Then comes the tin wedding, which now is very much welcomed for the pretty tin candlesticks that it brings, fresh from London furnishers.
We hear of gorgeous silver weddings in California, that land of gold and silver, where the display of toilettes each represented a large fortune. But, after all, _the sentiment_ is the thing,
"As when, amid the rites divine, I took thy troth, and plighted mine To thee, sweet wife, my second ring A token and a pledge I bring. This ring shall wed, till death us part, Thy riper virtues to my heart--Those virtues which, before untried, The wife has added to the bride."
The golden wedding is a rare festivity--the great marriage bell made of wheat fully ripe; sheaves of corn; roses of the pure gold-color (the Marshal Niel is the golden-wedding flower _par excellence_). We can well imagine the parlors beautifully decorated with autumn leaves and evergreens, the children grouped about the aged pair, perhaps even a great-grandchild as a child bridesmaid, a bridal bouquet in the aged white hand. We can fancy nothing more poetical and pathetic than this festivity.
Whether or not a ring should be given by the husband to the wife on this occasion we must leave to the individual taste of the parties. No doubt it is a pleasant occasion for the gift, "If she, by merit since disclosed, Proved twice the woman I supposed,"
there is no doubt that she deserves another ring. We have read somewhere of a crown-diamond wedding; it is the sixty-fifth anniversary. Iron weddings are, we believe, the fifteenth anniversary. With silver, golden, and diamond weddings we are tolerably familiar, but, so far as we know, a crown-diamond wedding such as was celebrated a short time ago at Maebuell, in the island of Alsen, is a ceremony altogether without precedent in matrimonial annals. Having completed their sixty-fifth year of conjugal bliss, Claus Jacobsen and his venerable spouse were solemnly blessed by the parson of their parish, and went, for the fifth time in their long wedded life, through the form of mutual troth-plighting before the altar at which they had for the first time been united before the battle of Waterloo was fought. The united age of this crown- diamantine couple amount to _one hundred and seventy-eight years_!
We doubt if this constant pair needed any ring to remind them of their wedded duty. It is strange that the origin of the wedding ring is lost in obscurity. The "fyancel," or wedding ring, is doubtless of Roman origin, and was originally given at the betrothal as a pledge of the engagement. Juvenal says that at the commencement of the Christian era a man placed a ring on the finger of the lady whom he betrothed. In olden times the delivery of a signet-ring was a sign of confidence. The ring is a symbol of eternity and constancy. That it was placed on the woman's left hand denotes her subjection, and on the ring finger because it pressed a vein which communicates directly with the heart. So universal is the custom of wearing the wedding ring among Jews and Christians that no married woman is ever seen without her plain gold circlet, and she regards the loss of it as a sinister omen; and many women never remove it. This is, however, foolish, and it should be taken off and put on several times at first, so that any subsequent removal or loss need not jar painfully on the feelings.
The bride-cake cut by the bride, with the wedding ring for some fortunate future spouse, seems to be still potent. The twenty-five- year-old bride should cut a few pieces, then leave others to pass it; it is a day on which she should be waited upon.
Some persons, in celebrating their twenty-fifth wedding day, also repeat their wedding journey, and we know a very pleasant little route in England called the "silver-wedding journey," but this is, of course, a matter so entirely personal that it cannot be universally recommended.
The most graceful silver-wedding custom is for the bride and bridegroom to receive the greetings of their friends at first formally, then to leave the marriage bell or canopy of flowers and to go about among the company, becoming again host and hostess. They should spare their children, friends, and themselves tears and sad recollections. Some opulent brides and bridegrooms make it a silver wedding indeed by sending substantial presents to those who started in life with them but have been less fortunate than themselves.
CHAPTER XLI. SPRING AND SUMMER ENTERTAINMENTS.
As the season advances and the country bursts into glorious sudden spring, the garden party, the country dinner, the horseback excursions, and the asparagus parties, the hunts and the yacht voyages, the lawn-tennis and archery, the visits to the polo ground, and the delights of a visit to the friends who live within an hour of the city, at Orange and at Morristown, on the seagirt shore of Long Island or up the Hudson, begin to loom up before the city-bound worthy, and to throw a "rose hue o'er his russet cares."
Now the first question with the neophyte who would go to the hunts (for they "break the ice" in more senses than one), as the first of the spring out-of-door entertainments, is, What does a young girl require who would "ride to hounds"? for "pale Diana," chaste and fair, no longer hunts on foot, as she did in the days of Acteon.
She must have two thorough-bred hunters. She must have a groom, an English habit, a carefully-considered outfit, and she must be a perfect and a fearless horsewoman, and not mind a "cropper." One of the young riders at the Meadow Brook Hunt was thrown over her horse's head into a ditch last spring, and got up declaring she was not even bruised. Yes, she must learn even how to fall off her horse without breaking her ribs or her nose. It is an expensive amusement to be Diana nowadays. The result, however, of long practice on horseback seems to be that a woman becomes almost a centaur, and more fearless than a man. Then the hunt includes as its adjuncts to the young ladies certain men in pink. They "form" on a roadside, and the master of the hunt says, "Ladies and gentlemen, will you hunt?" and he motions to the whipper-in--a gallant creature in pink also-- to "throw off the dogs."
Then the prettiest forty dogs, all spotted, start on their mad career. It is a beautiful sight, with the red-coated huntsmen following, and it looks as if the real fox would be attainable after a time, instead of the farce of an anise-seed bag which now serves to make the ghost of a scent. The low, soft hat is a favorite with our young riders, but there is this to say for the hard hat, it does break a fall. Many a fair forehead has been saved from a terrible scar by the resistant hard hat.
The habit of riding every day and of getting thoroughly accustomed to one's seat should precede the daring attempt at a break-neck "jump." No one should pretend to hunt who has not a good seat, a good horse, and plenty of nerve. Much less should an incompetent rider venture on a friend's horse. It has been said in England that "a man will forgive you for breaking his own neck, but not that of his favorite hunter."
As the day for driving has come, many correspondents write to ask what is the best style of equipage for a young man. We can only say that a tilbury and one horse is very showy, that a dog-cart is the most "knowing," that a high chariot is very stately, but that the two-seated Park wagon is the most appropriate in which to take out a lady. There should always be a servant behind. The art of driving is simple enough, but requires much practice. The good driver should understand his horse well, and turn his curves gently and slowly; he must know how to harness and unharness a horse, and be ready to mend any trifling disarrangement if there is a break.
Now as to driving in a carriage with ladies, a correspondent writes to ask the etiquette which should govern a gentleman's conduct. He takes his seat with his back to the horses, opposite the ladies, nor should he assume to sit beside a lady unless requested to do so. When the carriage stops, he should jump out and assist her to alight, walking with her up her own steps, and ringing the bell. In entering the carriage he should put his left foot on the step, and enter the carriage with his right foot. This is, however, supposing that he sits facing the horses; if he sits with his back to the horses, he reverses the process. A gentleman should avoid treading on ladies' dresses, or shutting them in the door. Ladies who have country-houses should learn to drive as well as to ride. Indeed, in these days when young women drive alone in the Park in their pony phaetons and little carts, we need hardly advise that they should learn to drive well.
As to boating, which is practised so largely by men, we hear of but few ladies who pull the oar about New York; but doubtless it will be done on inland streams and lakes. One gentleman should stay in the boat and help to steady it, unless the oarswomen are very expert. Short dresses and round hats should be worn, with no superincumbent drapery, As the seat of honor in a boat is that occupied by the stroke oar, it is etiquette for the owner of the boat to offer it to his friend if he be a rower.
The asparagus party is a sort of a long picnic, in which a party of friends join, and drive or ride out to some convenient inn where a good dinner can be served, with the advantage of the early vegetable cut directly from the ground. As Long Island is famous for its asparagus, these parties from New York generally select some convenient locality there, near enough to the city to be not too fatiguing a drive.
The new passion for driving a coach has now become so much of an American taste that we need not describe the pastime here. At least four coaches will start from New York for some neighboring town-New Rochelle, Yonkers, etc.--during the summer, and there is no better way of spending a May day than on top of one. As for al fresco entertainments, game pie, patties, cold beef, pressed tongue, potted meats, sandwiches, pate de foie gras, champagne, are all taken out in hampers, and served on top of the coach by the obedient valets at the races, for those parties who go out with four horses and a London coach to see the favorite run.
We are often asked what would be the appropriate costume for a lawn party, and we can only answer that the costumes for these parties should be of a useful character. If it is a lawn party at a very elegant house, at Newport or up the Hudson, it may be, however, of a delicacy and elegance not proper if one is asked out in the country merely to "have a good time," when a person would be exposed to the weather, the wear and tear of games, and of a long day in the sun, Thick boots are indispensable. But if one is invited to a wedding in the country, even if the "lawn" is to play a decided part in the entertainment, one must dress very handsomely. At the regular lawn party the lady of the house and her daughters should receive on the lawn in their bonnets.
Yachting is a favorite "summer entertainment," and for those who love the sea it is unparalleled for its excitement, Yachting dresses should be made of serge or tweed, and possess warmth and durability, and young women can trim them according to taste with the name and insignia of their favorite yacht.
For a lawn-tennis party the players dress in flannels made for the purpose, and for a lady the jersey is indispensable, as giving so much freedom to the arms. These parties begin in May at all the country-houses and country parks about our larger towns, and certainly furnish as much healthful amusement as anything can do.
Archery has not yet become acclimated in America, but there are clubs in certain circles which promise a future for this game.
Now for those who go to country-houses to stay "over Sunday," as is the fashion about New York, let us give one word of advice. Always hold yourself at the disposal of those at whose house you are staying. If they propose a plan of action for you, fall in with it. If your visit is prolonged for a week, endeavor to amuse yourself as much as possible. Do not let your hostess see that you are dependent on her for amusement. Remember, however welcome you may be, you are not always wanted. A good hostess also learns when to let her guests alone. A gentleman visitor who neither shoots, fishes, boats, reads, writes letters, nor does anything but hang about, letting himself be "amused," is an intolerable nuisance. He had better go to the billiard-room and practice caroms by himself, or retire to the stables and smoke.
A lady visitor should show a similar tact in retiring to her own room to read or write letters, allowing her hostess to have her mornings or her afternoons to herself, as she pleases. Some people are "born visitors." They have the genius of tact to perceive, the genius of finesse to execute, case and frankness of manner, a knowledge of the world that nothing can surprise, a calmness of temper that nothing can disturb, and a kindness of disposition that can never be exhausted. Such a visitor is greatly in demand everywhere.
A good-natured host and hostess place everything at the disposal of a visitor--their horses, carriages, books, and grounds. And here the utmost delicacy should be observed. Never ride a horse too fast or too far. Never take the coachman beyond his usual limits. Never pluck a flower in the ornamental grounds without asking permission, for in these days of ornamental and fanciful gardening it is necessary to be careful and remember that each flower is a tint in a well-considered picture. Never dog's-ear or disfigure the books, or leave them lying about; if you take them from their shelves, put them back. Be thoughtful in your treatment of the servants, and give those who immediately wait upon you some small gratuity. And if family prayers are read, always try to be present.
So much for the possibility of a "summer entertainment" at a country-house, one of the most agreeable of all, if the apple- blossoms are just out, and the charm of spring is over the whole scene.
We hear of a "rustic masquerade" as one of the spring entertainments at a country-house in Orange. This, it would seem, might be very suitable all over the country, if woods and water are near enough for the shepherds and shepherdesses. A copy of the garden parties which made Boucher the painter that he was, and in which we almost hear the wind rustling through the sedge, the refreshing murmur of the fountain, and see the gayly dressed marquise put her violet slipper on the turf, and the elegant and stately gentlemen as they light up the neighboring arbor with their fine silk coats in his pictures--a copy of such garden parties as those which made Watteau's fame (he has put them all on the fans, and the young people have only to copy them)--this would indeed be a "rustic masquerade," which might amuse and "draw" for a charity. Many of our country towns on the borders of lakes, many of the places near New York in their own fine grounds, would offer a terrestrial paradise for such a garden party.
To drive out to Jerome Park to breakfast, to get the early strawberry and the delicious cream--this is a spring entertainment which many of our business men indulge in, coming back to their work in New York refreshed and invigorated. The men of pleasure of this period have, as they have always had, an ample provision of amusement--not always the most useful, it is true--yet we are glad to see that the out-of-door excitements begin to distance the excitements of the gaming-table. Betting on the turf is not carried to the ruinous extent here that it is in England, while the polo, the base-ball, the boating, and the "riding to hounds "--open to ridicule as it is, in some ways of looking at it--are all healthful. The spring season has its little dinners, lunches, and weddings, but very few evening entertainments.
After a young girl has ransacked the fashionable world all winter, and been at all the f^tes and balls, concerts, operas, and suppers, she does not care for parties in May. Such infatuated ardor for amusement would make sad havoc of her charms if she did. It is quite enough if she finishes her exciting winter with a fancy dance or private theatricals at some charitable entertainment.
A high tea is served in courses like a dinner, excepting with less formality. The lady sits at one end of the table with the silver tea-tray before her, while the gentleman has before him cold chicken, or even, perhaps, a hot dish like roast partridges, to carve. Frequently scalloped oysters are passed, and always salads, so that those who are in the habit of dining at that hour have a solid meal. There are hot cakes and biscuits and sweetmeats on the table, so that it is really the old-fashioned tea of our grandmothers re-enforced by some solid dishes. It is intended to save the servants trouble on Sunday evening, but it is really more trouble to them as now served, as it gives the waiter additional dishes to wash, and quite as much service. It saves the cook, however.
CHAPTER XLII. FLORAL TRIBUTES AND DECORATIONS.
When every steamer leaving these shores goes out laden with people who are weighed down with flowers, it cannot but be a severe tax on the ingenuity of the florist to devise novel and appropriate forms for the typical basket that shall say _bon voyage_ in a thousand new ways. Floral ships, anchors, stars, crosses, mottoes, monograms, and even the national flag, have been used for these steamer decorations.
But the language of flowers, so thoroughly understood among the Persians that a single flower expresses a complete declaration of love, an offer of marriage, and, presumably, a hint at the settlement, is, with our more practical visionaries and enthusiasts of the nineteenth century, rather an echo of the stock market than a poetical fancy. We fear that no prima donna looks at her flowers without a thought of how much they have cost, and that the belle estimates her bouquet according to the commercial value of a lily- of-the-valley as compared with that of a Jacqueminot rose, rather than as flowers simply. It is a pity that the overwhelming luxury of an extravagant period involves in its all-powerful grasp even the flowers of the field, those generous gifts of sunshine and of rain.
But so it is. It is a well-known fact that the lady who will give her order three months in advance for the flowers needed for her daughter's wedding, or for any other grand ceremonial, can, by offering a sufficiently large amount of money, command any flower she wishes. Even daisies and buttercups, red clover and white, the delicate forget-me-not of the garden, nasturtiums and marigolds, the shy and tender anemone, the dandelion and lilacs and lilies-of-the- valley, may be forced into unnatural bloom in January. It is a favorite caprice to put the field-flowers of June on a lunch-table in January.
This particular table is the greatest of all the consumers of flowers, therefore we may begin by describing some of the new fancies developed by that extraordinarily luxurious meal. A lady's lunch must show not only baskets of magnificent flowers up and down the table; but it must also bear a basket or a bouquet for each lady.
One of the most regal lunches, given to twenty-eight ladies, set the fashion for using little gilt baskets, with covers opening on either side of the handle--the kind of basket, of a larger size, in which, in New England and in Old England, Dame Trot carried her multifarious parcels home from market. These pretty and useful baskets had on each side a bunch of flowers peeping out through the open cover, and on the gilt handle was tied a ribbon corresponding in color to the flowers. One of them, having soft pink rosebuds of exceeding size and loveliness on one side and a bunch of lilies-of- the-valley on the other, with a bow of pink satin ribbon on the handle, was as pretty a picture as ever Kate Greenaway devised. Another, showing the strong contrast of purple pansies and yellow daffodils, and tied with a lovely purple satin ribbon, was a dream of rich color.
The stiff, formal, flat bouquets of yellow daffodils and bunches of violets, tied with purple ribbon, make a very fine effect laid in regular order at each plate. Repetition of a favorite idea in flowers is not ugly, although it seems at first very far from the primeval and delicious confusion in which nature throws her bouquets down upon upland and meadow.
In the arrangement of roses the most varied and whimsical fancies may be displayed, although the most gorgeous effect is produced, perhaps, by massing a single color or group. A basket of the pink Gloire de Paris, however, with its redundant green foliage, alternated with deep-red Jacqueminots, is a very splendid fancy, and will fill a room with fragrance. In February these roses cost two dollars apiece, and it was no rare sight to see four or six baskets, each containing forty roses, on one table during the winter of 1884.
We advise all ladies going into the country to purchase some of the little "Dame Trot" baskets, as they will be lovely when filled with wild-flowers during the summer. Indeed, the gilt basket, fitted with a tin pan to hold earth or water, is such a cheap and pretty receptacle for either growing or cut flowers that it ought to be a belonging of every dinner-table.
From the lunch-table, with its baskets and floral fancies, we come to the dinner-table. Here the space is so valuable that the floral bag, an ingenious plan by which roses may be hung at the side of the wearer, has been invented. This is a novel and very pretty way of wearing flowers. The roses or other flowers are tied together with wires, in the shape of a reticule, and a ribbon and pin provided, so that the lady may fasten her floral trophy at her side. The baskets of flowers and the adornments of the pergne for a dinner are very apt to be all of one flower. If mixed, they are of two sorts, as yellow roses and red ones, or white and pink, or, may be, half of lilacs and half of roses, or purple pansies and bright yellow flowers. Some tables are set with scarlet carnations alone, and the effect is very fine.
For wedding decorations, houses are now filled with palm-trees in pots and orange-trees in full bearing. An entire suite of rooms is made into a bower of large-leaved plants. Mirrors are covered with vines, wreaths, and climbing roses, trained across a trellis of wire. The bride stands under a floral umbrella, which juts out into the room. The monograms of bride and bridegroom are put in floral shields against the wall, like the _cartouche_ on which the names and the titles of an Egyptian king are emblazoned in the solitude of the Pyramids. The bouquets carried by brides and bridesmaids are now extraordinarily large, measuring a foot or more across the top.
Tulips have always been favorite ornaments for the dinner-table. These flowers, so fine in drawing and so splendid in color, produce an extremely brilliant effect in large masses. As Easter approaches, lilies come in for especial notice, and the deep Japan cup-lily, grouped with the stately callas, and the garden-lily, with its long yellow stamens and rich perfume, worthily fill the _,pergnes_.
Hyacinths are lovely harbingers of spring, and are beautiful in color; but there is a strong objection to this flower as a decoration, its heavy perfume being unpleasant to some people.
A fish-basket filled with bunches of lilies, mignonette, deep pink moss-roses shaded to the pale tints of the rose known as the Baroness de Rothschild, with a glowing centre of warm red Jacqueminots and a fringe of purple pansies and Marchal Niels, was one of many beautiful floral ornaments on a magnificent dinner- table.
In spite of the attempt to prevent the extravagant use of flowers at funerals, we still see on those sad occasions some new and rather poetic ideas expressed by floral emblems. One of these, called the "Gates Ajar," was very beautiful: the "gates" paneled with lilies, and surmounted by doves holding sprays of passion-vines in their beaks.
Palms crossed, and clasped by roses and ribbons, an oblique cross of roses lying on a bed of ivy, a basket made of ivy and autumn leaves, holding a sheaf of grain and a sickle of violets, an ivy pillow with a cross of flowers on one side, a bunch of pansies held by a knot of ribbon at one corner, a cross made of ivy alone, a "harvest-field" made of ears of wheat, are some of the many new funereal designs which break the monotony of the dreadful white crosses, crowns, and anchors, hearts and wreaths, of the past.
It is no longer necessary to exclude color from these tributes to the dead. Indeed, some of the most beautiful designs noticed at recent funerals have been composed of colored flowers.
For a christening, a floral cradle or swinging hammock, a bowl, a silver cup full of the tiniest flowers, are all favorite designs. A large table of flowers, with the baby's initials in the centre, was sent to one happy young mother on a recent auspicious occasion; and far more lovely was a manger of flowers, with the "Star of the East" hanging above it, all made of that pretty white flower the Star of Bethlehem.
Strange contrasts of flowers have been made: purple lilacs and the blue forget-me-nots were a favorite combination--"stylish, not pretty," was the whispered criticism.
The yellow marigold, a sort of small sunflower, has been the favorite "caprice" for _bouquets de corsage_. This is as near to an actual sunflower as the aesthetes have ventured to approach. With us, perhaps, there is no more splendid yellow than this marigold, and it admirably sets off a black or sage green dress.
An extravagant lady, at a ball, wore around her white dress skirt a fringe of real violets. Although less effective than the artificial ones, they had a pretty appearance until they drooped and faded. This adornment cost one hundred and fifty dollars.
A rainbow has been attempted in flowers, but with poor success. It will look like a ribbon--a very handsome ribbon, no doubt; but the _arc-en-ciel_ evades reproduction, even in the transcendent prismatic colors of flowers.
Ribbons have been used with flowers, and add much to their effect; for, since the Arcadian days of Rosalind and Celia, a flower, a ribbon, and a pretty girl, have been associated with each other in prose, poetry, painting, and romance.
The hanging-baskets, filled with blooming plants, trailers, and ferns, have been much used at weddings to add to the bower-like appearance of the rooms; and altars and steps of churches have been richly adorned with flowering plants and palm-trees and other luxuriant foliage.
The prices paid for flowers have been enormous. One thousand dollars for the floral decorations for a single dinner has not been an uncommon price. But the expenditure of such large sums for flowers has not been unprofitable. The flowers grow finer every day, and, as an enterprising florist, who had given a "rose tea" to his patrons, remarked, "Every large order inspires us to produce a finer flower."
CHAPTER XLIII. THE FORK AND THE SPOON.
A correspondent writes, "How shall I carry my fork to my mouth?" The fork should be raised laterally to the mouth with the right hand; the elbow should never be crooked, so as to bring the hand round at a right angle, or the fork directly opposite the mouth. The mother cannot begin too early to inculcate good manners at the table, and among the first things that young children should learn is the proper use of the fork.
Again, the fork should not be overloaded. To take meat and vegetables and pack them on the poor fork, as if it were a beast of burden, is a common American vulgarity, born of our hurried way of eating at railway-stations and hotels. But it is an unhealthy and an ill-mannered habit. To take but little on the fork at a time, a moderate mouthful, shows good manners and refinement. The knife must never be put into the mouth at any time--that is a remnant of barbarism.
Another correspondent asks, "Should cheese be eaten with a fork?" We say, decidedly, "Yes," although good authorities declare that it may be put on a morsel of bread with a knife, and thus conveyed to the mouth. Of course we refer to the soft cheeses--like Gorgonzola, Brie, cream-cheese, Neufchatel, Limburger, and the like--which are hardly more manageable than butter. Of the hard cheeses, one may convey a morsel to the month with the thumb and forefinger; but, as a general rule, it is better to use the fork.
Now as to the spoon: it is to be used for soup, for strawberries and cream, for all stewed fruit and preserves, and for melons, which, from their juiciness, cannot be conveniently eaten with a fork. Peaches and cream, all the "wet dishes," as Mrs. Glasse was wont to call them, must be eaten with a spoon. Roman punch is always eaten with a spoon.
On elegant tables, each plate or "cover" is accompanied by two large silver knives, a small silver knife and fork for fish, a small fork for the oysters on the half-shell, a large table-spoon for soup, and three large forks. The napkin is folded in the centre, with a piece of bread in it. As the dinner progresses, the knife and fork and spoon which have been used are taken away with the plate. This saves confusion, and the servant has not to bring fresh knives and forks all the time. Fish should be eaten with silver knife and fork; for if it is full of bones, like shad, for instance, it is very difficult to manage it without the aid of a knife.
For sweetbreads, cutlets, roast beef, etc., the knife is also necessary; but for the croquettes, rissoles, bouches ... la Reine, timbales, and dishes of that class, the fork alone is needed. A majority of the made dishes in which the French excel are to be eaten with the fork.
After the dinner has been eaten, and the dessert reached, we must see to it that everything is cleared off but the table-cloth, which is now never removed. A dessert-plate is put before each guest, and a gold or silver spoon, a silver dessert spoon and fork, and often a queer little combination of fork and spoon, called an "ice-spoon."
In England, strawberries are always served with the green stems, and each one is taken up with the fingers, dipped in sugar, and thus eaten. Many foreigners pour wine over their strawberries, and then eat them with a fork, but this seems to be detrimental to the natural flavor of the king of berries.
Pears and apples should be peeled with a silver knife, cut into quarters, and then picked up with the fingers. Oranges should be peeled, and cut or separated, as the eater chooses. Grapes should be eaten from behind the half-closed hand, the stones and skin falling into the fingers unobserved, and thence to the plate. Never swallow the stones of small fruits; it is extremely dangerous. The pineapple is almost the only fruit which requires both knife and fork.
So much has the fork come into use of late that a wit observed that he took everything with it but afternoon tea. The thick chocolate, he observed, often served at afternoon entertainments, could be eaten comfortably with a fork, particularly the whipped cream on top of it.
A knife and fork are both used in eating salad, if it is not cut up before serving. A large lettuce leaf cannot be easily managed without a knife, and of course the fork must be used to carry it to the mouth. Thus, as bread, butter, and cheese are served with the salad, the salad knife and fork are really essential. Salt-cellars are now placed at each plate, and it is not improper to take salt with your knife.
Dessert-spoons and small forks do not form a part of the original "cover;" that is, they are not put on at the beginning of the dinner, but are placed before the guests according as they are needed; as, for instance, when the Roman punch arrives before the game, and afterwards when the plum-pudding or pastry is served before the ices.
The knives and forks are placed on each side of the plate, ready for the hand.
For the coffee after dinner a very small spoon is served, as a large one would be out of place in the small cups that are used. Indeed, the variety of forks and spoons now in use on a well-furnished table is astonishing.
One of our esteemed correspondents asks, "How much soup should be given to each person?" A half-ladleful is quite enough, unless it is a country dinner, where a full ladleful may be given without offence; but do not fill the soup-plate.
In carving a joint of fowl the host ought to make sure of the condition of both knife and fork. Of course a good carver sees to both before dinner. The knife should be of the best cutlery, well sharpened, and the fork long, strong, and furnished with a guard.
In using the spoon be very careful not to put it too far into the mouth. It is a fashion with children to polish their spoons in a somewhat savage fashion, but the guest at a dinner-party should remember, in the matter of the dessert-spoon especially (which is a rather large implement for the mouth), not to allow even the clogging influences of cabinet pudding to induce him to give his spoon too much leeway; as in all etiquette of the table, the spoon has its difficulties and dangers. Particularly has the soup-spoon its Scylla and Charybdis, and if a careless eater make a hissing sound as he eats his soup, the well-bred diner-out looks round with dismay.
There are always people happy in their fashion of eating, as in everything else. There is no such infallible proof of good-breeding and of early usage as the conduct of a man or woman at dinner. But, as every one has not had the advantage of early training, it is well to study these minute points of table etiquette, that one may learn how to eat without offending the sensibility of the well-bred. Especially study the fork and the spoon. There is, no doubt, a great diversity of opinion on the Continent with regard to the fork. It is a common German fashion, even with princes, to put the knife into the month. Italians are not always particular as to its use, and cultivated Russians, Swedes, Poles, and Danes often eat with their knives or forks indiscriminately.
But Austria, which follows French fashions, the Anglo-Saxon race in England, America, and the colonies, all French people, and those elegant Russians who emulate French manners, deem the fork the proper medium of communication between the plate and the mouth.
CHAPTER XLIV. NAPKINS AND TABLE-CLOTHS.
The elegance of a table depends essentially upon its napery. The plainest of meals is made a banquet if the linen be fresh, fine, and smooth, and the most sumptuous repast can be ruined by a soiled and crumpled table-cloth. The housewife who wishes to conduct her house in elegance must make up her mind to use five or six sets of napkins, and to have several dozens of each ready for possible demands.
A napkin should never be put on the table a second time until it has been rewashed; therefore, napkin-rings should be abandoned-- relegated to the nursery tea-table.
Breakfast napkins are of a smaller size than dinner napkins, and are very pretty if they bear the initial letter of the family in the centre. Those of fine, double damask, with a simple design, such as a snow-drop or a mathematical figure, to match the table-cloth, are also pretty. In the end, the economy in the wear pays a young house- keeper to invest well in the best of napery--double damask, good Irish linen. Never buy poor or cheap napkins; they are worn out almost immediately by washing.
Coarse, heavy napkins are perhaps proper for the nursery and children's table. If children dine with their parents, they should have a special set of napkins for their use, and some very careful mammas make these with tapes to tie around the youthful necks. It is better in a large family, where there are children, to have heavy and coarse table-linen for every-day use. It is not an economy to buy colored cloths, for they must be washed as often as if they were white, and no color stands the hard usage of the laundry as well as pure white.
Colored napery is, therefore, the luxury of a well-appointed country house, and has its use in making the breakfast and luncheon table look a little unlike the dinner. Never use a parti-colored damask for the dinner-table.
Those breakfast cloths of pink, or yellow, or light-blue and white, or drab, are very pretty with napkins to match; but after having been washed a few times they become very dull in tint, and are not as agreeable to the eye as white, which grows whiter with every summer's bleaching. Ladies who live in the city should try to send all their napery to the country at least once a year, and let it lie on the grass for a good bleaching. It seems to keep cleaner afterwards.
For dinner, large and handsome napkins, carefully ironed and folded simply, with a piece of bread inside, should lie at each plate. These should be removed when the fruit course is brought, and with each finger-bowl should be a colored napkin, with which to dry the fingers.
Pretty little fanciful doyleys are now also put under the finger- bowl, merely to be looked at. Embroidered with quaint designs, these little three-inch things are very ornamental; but the real and serviceable doyley should not be forgotten, and may be laid either beside or over the top of the finger-bowl.
Many ladies are so extravagant that they have a second napkin of small size put on for that part of the dessert which precedes the fruit, but this involves so much trouble to both the guest and the waiter that it is not ordinarily done.
The napkins made at Berlin, with drawn thread and knotted fringe and lace effects, are very handsome. They are also made at the South Kensington schools, and in Paris, and by the Decorative Art Society in New York, and are beautifully wrought with monogram and crest in red, white, and blue thread. But no napkin is ever more thoroughly elegant than the very thick, fine, and substantial plain damask, which becomes more pure and smooth every time that it is cleansed.
However, as one of our great dinner-givers in New York has ordered twenty-four dozen of the handsome, drawn-thread napkins from one establishment at Berlin, we must conclude that they will become the fashion.
When breakfast is made a formal meal--that is, when company is invited to come at a stated hour-_-serviettes_, or large dinner- napkins, must be placed at each plate, as for a dinner. But they are never used at a "stand-up" breakfast, nor are doyleys or finger- bowls.
If any accident happens, such as the spilling of a glass of wine or the upsetting of a plate, the _d,bris_ should be carefully cleared away, and the waiter should spread a clean napkin over the desecrated table-cloth. Large, white napkins are invariably used at luncheon, and the smaller ones kept for breakfast and tea. Some ladies like the little, fringed napkins for tea, but to look well these must be very carefully washed and ironed.
Never fasten your napkin around your neck; lay it across your knees, convenient to the hand, and lift one corner only to wipe the mouth. Men who wear a mustache are permitted to "saw" the mouth with the napkin, as if it were a bearing-rein, but for ladies this would look too masculine.
Napkins at hotels are now folded, in a half-wet condition, into all sorts of shapes: a goose, a swan, a ship, a high boot, are all favorite and fanciful designs; but this is a dirty fashion, requiring the manipulation of hands which are not always fresh, and as the napkin must be damp at the folding, it is not always dry when shaken out. Nothing is so unhealthy as a damp napkin; it causes agony to a delicate and nervous lady, a man with the rose-cold, a person with neuralgia or rheumatism, and is offensive to every one. Never allow a napkin to be placed on the table until it has been well aired. There is often a conspiracy between the waiter and the laundress in great houses, both wishing to shirk work, the result of which is that the napkins, not prepared at the proper time, are put on the table damp.
A house-keeper should have a large chest to contain napery which is not to be used every day. This reserved linen should be washed and aired once a year at least, to keep it from moulding and becoming yellow.
Our Dutch ancestors were very fond of enriching a chest of this kind, and many housewives in New York and Albany are to-day using linen brought from Holland three hundred years ago.
The napery made in Ireland has, however, in our day taken the place of that manufactured in other countries. It is good, cheap, and sometimes very handsome, and if it can be bought unadulterated with cotton it will last many years.
Very little starch should be put in napkins. No one wishes to wipe a delicate lip on a board, and a stiff napkin is very like that commodity.
At dinner-parties in England, in the days of William the Fourth, a napkin was handed with each plate. As the guest took his plate and new napkin, he allowed the one which he had used to fall to the floor, and when he went away from the table he left a snowy pile of napery behind him.
The use of linen for the table is one of the oldest of fashions, The early Italian tables were served with such beautiful lace-worked napkins that we cannot equal them to-day. Queen Elizabeth's napkins were edged with lace made in Flanders, and were an important item of expense in her day-book.
Fringed, embroidered, and colored napkins made of silk are used by Chinese and Japanese magnates. These articles may be washed, and are restored to their original purity by detergent agents that are unknown to us. The Chinese also use little napkins of paper, which are very convenient for luncheon baskets and picnics.
One of our correspondents asks us if she should fold her napkin before leaving the table. At a fashionable meal, no. At a social tea or breakfast, yes, if her hostess does so. There is no absolute law on this subject.
At a fashionable dinner no one folds his napkin. He lets it drop to the floor, or lays it by the side of his plate unfolded. When the fruit napkin is brought he takes it from the glass plate on which it is laid, and either places it at his right hand or across his knee, and the "illuminated rag," as some wit called the little embroidered doily, which is not meant for use, is, after having been examined and admired, laid on the table, beside the finger-bowl. These pretty little trifles can serve several times the purpose of ornamenting the finger-bowl.
Napkins, when laid away in a chest or drawer, should have some pleasant, cleanly herb like lavender or sweet-grass, or the old- fashioned clover, or bags of Oriental orris-root, put between them, that they may come to the table smelling of these delicious scents.
Nothing is more certain to destroy the appetite of a nervous dyspeptic than a napkin that smells of greasy soap. There is a laundry soap now in use which leaves a very unpleasant odor in the linen, and napkins often smell so strongly of it as to take away the desire for food.
Perhaps the influence of Delmonico upon the public has been in nothing more strongly shown than in the effect produced by his always immaculate napery. It was not common in American eating- houses, when he began, to offer clean table-cloths and clean napkins. Now no decent diner will submit to any other than a clean napkin. Every lady, therefore, who aspires to elegant housekeeping, should remember that she must never allow the same napkin to be put on her table twice. Once used, it must be sent to the laundry before it is put on the table again.
CHAPTER XLV. SERVANTS, THEIR DRESS AND DUTIES.
As we read that a West Point hotel-keeper has recently dismissed all his waiters who would not shave off their mustaches, we must begin to believe that the heretofore heedless American is considering the appearance of his house and carriage-servants. In the early days of the republic, before Thomas Jefferson tied his horse's rein to the palings of the fence and sauntered into the Capitol to be inaugurated, the aristocrats of the various cities had a livery for their servants. But after such a dash of cold water in the face of established usage by the Chief Magistrate of the Country, many of the old forms and customs of Colonial times fell into disuse, and among others the wearing of a livery by serving-men. A constantly declining grade of shabbiness was the result of this, as the driver of the horses wore a coat and hat of the same style as his master, only less clean and new. Like many of our American ideas so good in theory, the outcome of this attempt at "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity," was neither conducive to neatness nor elegance.
But so strongly was the prejudice against liveries instilled into the public mind that only seven years ago a gentleman of the most aristocratic circle of aristocratic Philadelphia declared that he refrained from having a liveried servant behind his carriage from fear of shocking public opinion. In New York the presence of a large, foreign, social element long ago brought about a revulsion of opinion in this matter, and now most persons who desire a neat, plain, and appropriate style of dress for their coachmen and footmen put them in a livery, for which the master pays. Those who are particular in such matters do not allow a waiter or a footman to wear a mustache, and require all men-servants to be clean-shaven, except the coachman, who is permitted to wear whiskers. Each must have his hair cut short, and the waiter must wear white gloves while waiting at table or when handing refreshments; even a glass of water on a silver salver must be brought with a gloved hand.
Many ladies have much trouble in impressing upon their men-servants the necessity for personal neatness. The ordinary attire of a butler is a black dress-coat, with white cravat and white cotton gloves. A waiter who attends the door in a large establishment, and who is one of many servants, is usually in a quiet livery--a frock-coat with brass buttons, and a striped waistcoat. Some families affect the scarlet waistcoat for their footman, which, indeed, may be used with very good effect for the negro servant.
Neatness is indispensable; a slovenly and inattentive servant betrays a slovenly household. Yet servants often do their employers great injustice. They are slow to respond to the bell, they give uncivil answers, they deny one person and admit another, they fail to deliver notes, they are insolent, they neglect the orders of the mistress when she is out. We cannot expect perfection in our domestic service, but it is possible, by painstaking and patient teaching, to create a respectable and helpful serving class. Servants are very apt to take their tone from their employers--to be civil if they are civil, and insolent if they are insolent. The head of the house is very apt to be copied by his flunkies. One primal law we must mention--a hostess should never reprove her servants in the presence of her guests; it is cruel both to guest and servant, and always shows the hostess in an unamiable light. Whatever may go wrong, the lady of the house should remain calm; if she is anguished, who can be happy?
We have not here, nominally, that helpful treasure known in England as the parlor-maid. We call her a waitress, and expect her to do all the work of one floor. Such a person can be trained by a good housekeeper to be a most admirable servant. She must be told to rise early, to attend to the sweeping of the door-steps, to open the blinds, to light the fires, and to lay the breakfast-table. She must appear in a neat calico dress, white apron and cap, and wait upon the family at breakfast. After breakfast, the gentlemen will expect her to brush their hats, to bring overcoats and overshoes, and to find the umbrellas. She must answer the door-bell as well, so should be nimble-footed and quick-witted. When breakfast is over, she must remove the dishes and wash them, clean the silver, and prepare for the next meal. In well-regulated households there is a day for sweeping, a day for silver cleaning, a clay for mirror-polishing, and another for making bright and neat the fireplaces; but each one of these duties requires a certain share of attention every day. The parlor must be dusted, and the fires attended to, of course, so the parlor-maid, or the waitress, in a large family has much to do. The best girls for this arduous situation are English, but they are very difficult to procure. The Germans are not apt to remain long with one family. The best available parlor-maids are Irishwomen who have lived some time in this country.
A servant often sins from ignorance, therefore time spent in teaching her is not wasted. She should be supplied with such utensils as facilitate work, and one very good house-keeper declares that the virtue of a waitress depends upon an infinity of crash. And there is no doubt that a large supply of towels is a constant suggestion of cleanliness that is a great moral support to a waitress.
In these days, when parlors are filled with bric-a-brac, a parlor- maid has no time to do laundry-work, except such part of it as may pertain to her personally. The best of all arrangements is to hire a laundress, who will do all the washing of the house. Even in a very economical household this has been found to be the best plan, otherwise there is always an unexplained delay when the bell rings. The appearance at the door of a disheveled maid, with arms covered with soapsuds, is not ornamental. If a cook can be found who will also undertake to do the washing and ironing, it is a better and more satisfactory arrangement. But in our growing prosperity this functionary has assumed new and extraordinary importance, and will do nothing but cook.
A young house-keeper beginning her life in a great city finds herself frequently confronted with the necessity of having four servants--a cook, a laundress, a waiter or parlor-maid (sometimes both), and a chamber-maid. None of these excellent auxiliaries is willing to do the other's work: they generally quarrel. So the first experience of house-keeping is not agreeable. But it is possible to find two servants who, if properly trained, will do all the service of a small family, and do it well.
The mistress must carefully define the work of each, or else hire them with the understanding that neither shall ever say, "This is not my work." It is sometimes quite impossible to define what is the exact duty of each servant. Our house-keeping in this country is so chaotic, and our frequent changes of house and fortune cause it to partake so much of the nature of a provisional government, that every woman must be a Louis Napoleon, and ready for a coup d'tat at any moment.
The one thing which every lady must firmly demand from her servants is respect. The harassed and troubled American woman who has to cope with the worst servants in the world--the ill-trained, incapable, and vicious peasantry of Europe, who come here to be "as good as anybody," and who see that it is easily possible to make a living in America whether they are respectful or not--that woman has a very arduous task to perform.
But she must gain at least outward respect by insisting upon having it, and by showing her servants that she regards it as even a greater desideratum than the efficient discharge of duties. The mistress must not lose her temper. She must be calm, imperturbable, and dignified, always. If she gives an order, she must insist, at whatever personal cost, that it shall be obeyed. Pertinacity and inflexibility on this point are well bestowed.
Where there are children, the nurse is, of course, a most important part of the household, and often gives more trouble than any of the other servants, for she is usually an elderly person, impatient of control, and "set in her ways." The mistress must make her obey at once. Nurses are only human, and can be made to conform to the rules by which humanity is governed.
Ladies have adopted for their nurses the French style of dress--dark stuff gowns, white aprons, and caps. French nurses are, indeed, very much the fashion, as it is deemed all-important that children should learn to speak French as soon as they can articulate. But it is so difficult to find a French nurse who will speak the truth that many mothers have renounced the accomplished Gaul and hired the Anglo- Saxon, who is often not more veracious.
No doubt there was better service when servants were fewer, and when the mistress looked well after the ways of her household, and performed certain domestic duties herself. In those early days it was she who made the best pastry and sweetmeats. It was she who wrought at the quilting-frame and netted the best bed-curtains. It was she who darned the table-cloth, with a neatness and exactness that made the very imperfection a beauty. It was she who made the currant wine and the blackberry cordial. She knew all the secrets of clear starching, and taught the ignorant how to do their work through her educated intelligence. She had, however, native Americans to teach, and not Irish, Germans, or Swedes. Now, few native-born Americans will become servants, and the difficulties of the mistress are thereby increased.
A servant cannot be too carefully taught her duty to visitors. Having first ascertained whether her mistress is at home or not, in order to save a lady the trouble of alighting from her carriage, she should answer the ring of the door-bell without loss of time. She should treat all callers with respect and civility, but at the same time she should be able to discriminate between friend and foe, and not unwarily admit those innumerable cheats, frauds, and beggars who, in a respectable garb, force an entrance to one's house for the purpose of theft, or perhaps to sell a cement for broken crockery, or the last thing in hair-dye.
Conscientious servants who comprehend their duties, and who try to perform them, should, after a certain course of discipline, be allowed to follow their own methods of working. Interference and fault-finding injure the temper of an inferior; while suspicion is bad for anybody, and especially operates against the making of a good servant.
To assure your servants that you believe them to be honest is to fix in them the habit of honesty. To respect their rights, their hours of recreation, their religion, their feelings, to wish them good- night and good-morning (after the pretty German fashion), to assist them in the writing of their letters and in the proper investment of their earnings, to teach them to read and write and to make their clothes, so that they may be useful to themselves when they leave servitude--all this is the pleasurable duty of a good mistress, and such a course makes good servants.
All ignorant natures seek a leader; all servants like to be commanded by a strong, honest, fair, judicious mistress. They seek her praise; they fear her censure, not as slaves dread the whip of the tyrant, but as soldiers respect their superior officer. Bad temper, injustice, and tyranny make eye-service, but not heart- service.
Irresolute persons who do not know their own minds, and cannot remember their own orders, make very poor masters and mistresses. It is better that they should give up the business of house-keeping, and betake themselves to the living in hotels or boarding-houses with which our English cousins taunt us, little knowing that the nomadic life they condemn is the outcome of their own failure to make good citizens of those offscourings of jail and poorhouse and Irish shanty which they send to us under the guise of domestic servants.
Familiarity with servants always arouses their contempt; a mistress can be kind without being familiar. She must remember that the servant looks up to her over the great gulf of a different condition of life and habit--over the great gulf of ignorance, and that, in the order of nature, she should respect not only the person in authority, but the being, as superior to herself. This salutary influence is thrown away if the mistress descend to familiarity and intimacy. Certain weak mistresses vary their attitude towards their servants, first assuming a familiarity of manner which is disgusting, and which the servant does not mistake for kindness, and then a tyrannical severity which is as unreasonable as the familiarity, and, like it, is only a spasm of an ill-regulated mind.
Servants should wear thin shoes in the house, and be told to step lightly, not to slam doors, or drop china, or to rattle forks and spoons. A quiet servant is the most certain of domestic blessings. Neatness, good manners, and faithfulness have often insured a stupid servant of no great efficiency a permanent home with a family. If to these qualities be added a clear head, an active body, and a respectful manner, we have that rare article--a perfect servant.
If the invitation is to a country place not easy of access, still
more explicit directions should be given.
Page Last Updated February 11, 2008