MANNERS AND SOCIAL USAGES
CHAPTER XLVI. THE HOUSE WITH ONE SERVANT.
Many large families in this country employ but one servant. Although when life was simpler it was somewhat easier than it is now to conduct a house with such assistance as may be offered by a maid-of- all-work, it was necessary even then for the ladies of the house to do some portion of the lighter domestic work.
It is a very good plan, when there are several daughters in the family, to take turns each to test her talent as a house-keeper and organizer. If, however, the mistress keep the reins in her own hands, she can detail one of these young ladies to sweep and dust the parlors, another to attend to the breakfast dishes, another to make sure that the maid has not neglected any necessary cleansing of the bedrooms.
A mother with young children must have a thoroughly defined and understood system for the daily work to render it possible for one servant to perform it all.
The maid must rise very early on Monday morning, and do some part of the laundry work before breakfast. Many old American servants (when there were such) put the clothes in water to soak, and sometimes to boil, on Sunday night, that night not having the religious significance in New England that Saturday night had.
Nowadays, however, Irish girls expect to have a holiday every other Sunday afternoon and evening, and it would probably be vain to expect this service of them. But at least they should rise by five o'clock, and do two hours' good work before it is time to prepare the breakfast and lay the table.
A neat-handed Phyllis will have a clean gown, cap, and apron hanging in the kitchen closet, and slip them on before she carries in the breakfast, which she has cooked and must serve. Some girls show great tact in this matter of appearing neat at the right time, but many of them have to be taught by the mistress to have a clean cap and apron in readiness. The mistress usually furnishes these items of her maid's attire, and they should be the property of the mistress, and remain in the family through all changes of servants. They can be bought at almost any repository conducted in the interest of charity for less than they can be made at home, and a dozen of them in a house greatly improves the appearance of the servants.
The cook, having prepared the breakfast and waited at table, places in front of her mistress a neat, wooden tub, with a little cotton- yarn mop and two clean towels, and then retreats to the kitchen with the heavy dishes and knives and forks. The lady proceeds to wash the glass, silver, and china, draining the things on a waiter, and wiping them on her dainty linen towels. It is not a disagreeable operation, and all gentlemen say they like to eat and drink from utensils which have been washed by a lady.
Having put away the glass and china, the lady shakes the table- cloth, folds it, and puts it away. She then takes a light brush broom and sweeps the dining-room, and dusts it carefully, opening a window to air the apartment. When this is done she sets the parlor in order. The maid-of-all-work should, in the mean time, make a visit to the bedrooms, and do the heavy work of turning mattresses and making beds. When this is accomplished she must return to the kitchen, and after carefully cleaning the pots and kettles that have been in use for the morning meal, devote an undivided attention to her arduous duties as laundress. A plain dinner for washing-day--a beefsteak and some boiled potatoes, a salad, and a pie or pudding made on the preceding Saturday--is all that should be required of a maid-of-all-work on Monday.
The afternoon must be spent in finishing the washing, hanging out the clothes, and preparing the tea--an easy and informal meal, which should consist of something easy to cook; for, after all that she has done during the day, this hard-worked girl must "tidy up" her kitchen before she can enjoy a well-earned repose. It is so annoying to a maid-of-all-work to be obliged to open the door for visitors that ladies often have a little girl or boy for this purpose. In the country it can be more easily managed.
Tuesday is ironing-day all over the world, and the maid must be assisted in this time of emergency by her mistress. Most ladies understand the process of clear starching and the best method of ironing fine clothing; if they do not, they should. In fact, a good house-keeper should know everything; and when a lady gives her attention to this class of household duties she is invariably more successful in performing them than a person of less education and intelligence.
On Wednesday the maid must bake a part of the bread, cake, and pies that will be required during the week. In this the mistress helps, making the light pastry, stoning the raisins, washing the currants, and beating the eggs. Very often a lady fond of cookery makes all her dainty dishes, her desserts, and her cakes and pies. She should help herself with all sorts of mechanical appliances. She should have the best of egg-beaters, sugar-sifters, bowls in plenty, and towels and aprons _ad libitum_. She has, if she be a systematic house-keeper, a store closet, which is her pride, with its neat, labeled spice-boxes, and its pots of pickles and preserves which she has made herself, and which, therefore, must be nice.
The cooking of meat is a thing which so affects the health of people that every lady should study it thoroughly. No roasts should be baked. The formulary sounds like a contradiction; but it is the custom in houses where the necessity of saving labor is an important consideration, to put the meat that should be roasted in the oven and bake it. This is very improper, as it dries up all the juice, which is the life-giving, life-sustaining property of the meat.
Let every young house-keeper buy a Dutch oven, and either roast the meat before the coals of a good wood fire, or before the grating of a range, in which coals take the place of wood. By this method she saves those properties of a piece of roast beef which are the most valuable. Otherwise her roast meat will be a chip, a tasteless and a dry morsel, unpalatable and indigestible.
The cooking of vegetables is also to be studied; potatoes should not be over-boiled or underdone, as they are exceedingly unhealthy if not properly cooked. Bread must be well kneaded and delicately baked; a woman who understands the uses of fire--and every householder should--has stolen the secret of Prometheus.
On Thursday the maid must sweep the house thoroughly, if there are heavy carpets, as this is work for the strong-armed and the strong- handed. The mistress can follow with the dusting-brush and the cloth, and, again, the maid may come in her footstep with step- ladder, and wipe off mirrors and windows.
Many ladies have a different calendar from this, and prefer to have their work done on different days; but whatever may be the system for the management of a house, it should be strictly carried out, and all the help that may accrue from punctuality and order rendered to a maid in the discharge of her arduous and multifarious duties.
Most families have a sort of general house-cleaning on Friday: floors are scrubbed and brasses cleaned, the silver given a better cleansing, and the closets examined, the knives are scoured more thoroughly, and the lady puts her linen-closet in order, throwing sweet lavender between the sheets. On Saturday more bread and cake are baked, the Sunday's dinner prepared, that the maid may have her Sunday afternoon out, and the busy week is ended with a clean kitchen, a well-swept and garnished house, and all the cooking done except the Sunday meat and vegetables.
To conduct the business of a house through the week, with three meals each day, and all the work well done; by one maid, is a very creditable thing to the mistress. The "order which is Heaven's first law" must be her chief help in this difficult matter; she must be willing to do much of the light work herself, and she must have a young, strong, willing maid.
CHAPTER XLVII. THE HOUSE WITH TWO SERVANTS.
The great problem of the young or middle-aged house-keeper in large cities is how to form a neat, happy, comfortable home, and so to order the house that two servants can accomplish all its work.
These two servants we call the cook and the waiter, and they must do all that there is to do, including the washing.
When life was simpler, this was done without murmuring; but now it is difficult to find good and trained servants, particularly in New York, who will fill such places. For to perform the work of a family--to black the boots, sweep and wash the sidewalk, attend the door and lay the table, help with the washing and ironing, and make the fires, as well as sweep and dust, and take care of the silver-- would seem to require the hands of Briareus.
It is better to hire a girl "for general house-work," and train her for her work as waitress, than to take one who has clone nothing else but wait at table. Be particular, when engaging a girl, to tell her what she has to do, as many of the lofty kind object particularly to blacking boots; and as it must be done, it is better to define it at once.
A girl filling this position should have, first, the advantage of system, and the family must keep regular hours. She must rise at six, or earlier, if necessary, open the front-door and parlor- blinds, and the dining-room windows, and then proceed to cleanse the front steps and sidewalk, polish the bell-pull, and make all tidy about the mats. She must next make the fires, if fires are used in the house, and carry down the ashes, carefully depositing them where they will not communicate fire. She must then gather the boots and shoes from the doors of the sleeping-rooms, and take them to the laundry, where she should brush them, having a closet there for her brushes and blacking. Having replaced the boots beside the respective doors to which they belong, she should make herself neat and clean, put on her cap and apron, and then prepare for laying the table for breakfast. This she does not do until she has brushed up the floor, caused the fire to burn brightly, and in all respects made the dining-room respectable.
The laying of the table must be a careful and neat operation; a clean cloth should be put on, with the fold regularly running down the middle of the table, the silver and glass and china placed neatly and in order, the urn-lamp lighted, and the water put to boil, the napkins fresh and well-folded, and the chairs drawn up in order on either side. It is well worth a mistress's while to preside at this work for two or three mornings, to see that her maid understands her wishes.
All being in order, the maid may ring a bell, or knock at the doors, or rouse the family as they may wish. When breakfast is over she removes the dishes, and washes the silver and china in the pantry. After putting everything away, and opening a window in the dining- room, she proceeds to the bedrooms.
Every one should, before leaving his bedroom, open a window and turn back the clothes, to air the room and the bed thoroughly. If this has been neglected, it is the servant's business to do it, and to make the beds, wash the basins, and leave everything very clean. She must also dust the bureaus and tables and chairs, hang up the dresses, put away the shoes, and set everything in order.
She then descends to the parlor floor, and makes it neat, and thence to the kitchen, where, if she has time, she does a little washing; but if there is to be luncheon or early dinner, she cannot do much until that is prepared, particularly if it is her duty to answer a bell. In a doctor's house, or in a house where there are many calls, some one to attend exclusively at the door is almost indispensable.
After the early dinner or lunch, the maid has a few hours' washing and ironing before getting ready for the late dinner or tea, which is the important meal of the day. If she is systematic, and the family are punctual, a girl can do a great deal of washing and ironing on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, even if she has to answer the bell; but if she is not systematic, and the meals are not at regular hours, she cannot do much.
On Thursday, which we have already designated as sweeping day, she must sweep the whole house, all the carpets, shake the rugs in the back yard, shake and sweep down the heavy curtains, and dust the mirror-frames with a long feather-duster. The mistress can help her by insisting that her family shall leave their rooms early, and by herself refusing to see visitors on sweeping day.
On Friday, in addition to the usual daily work, the silver must be polished, the brass rubbed, and the closets (which, in the hurry of the week's work, may have been neglected), carefully cleaned and ventilated, On Friday afternoon the napkins and towels should be washed.
On Saturday these should be ironed, and everything, so far as possible, made ready for Sunday.
The cook, meantime, should rise even earlier than the waiter; should descend in time to receive the milkman, the iceman, and the breadman; should unlock the basement-door, sweep out the hall, and take in the barrels which have been left out with the ashes and other refuse.
A cook should be instructed never to give away the beef-dripping, as, if clarified in cold water, it is excellent for frying oysters, etc., and saves butter. The cook should air the kitchen and laundry, build the fire in the range, and sweep carefully before she begins to cook.
A careful house-keeper takes care that her cook shall make her toilet in her room, _not_ in the kitchen. Particularly should she be made to arrange her hair upstairs, as some cooks have an exceedingly nasty habit of combing their hair in the kitchen. It will repay a house-keeper to make several visits to the kitchen at unexpected hours.
Cooks vary so decidedly in their way of preparing meals that no general directions can be given; but the best should be made to follow certain rules, and the worst should be watched and guarded. A great cleanliness as to pots and kettles, particularly the teakettle, should be insisted upon, and the closets, pails, barrels, etc., be carefully watched. Many a case of typhoid fever can be traced to the cook's slop-pail, or closets, or sink, and no lady should be careless of looking into all these places.
A cook, properly trained, can get up a good breakfast out of remains of the dinner of the preceding day, or some picked-up cod-fish, toast, potatoes sliced and fried, or mashed, boiled, stewed, or baked. The making of good clear coffee is not often understood by the green Irish cook. The mistress must teach her this useful art, and also how to make good tea, although the latter is generally made on the table.
With the sending up of the breakfast comes the first chance of a collision between cook and waiter; and disagreeable, bad-tempered servants make much of this opportunity. The cook in city houses puts the dinner on the dumb-waiter and sends it up to the waiter, who takes it off. All the heavy meat-dishes and the greasy plates are sent down to the cook to wash, and herein lies many a grievance which the mistress can anticipate and prevent by forbidding the use of the dumb-waiter if it leads to quarrelling, and by making the maids carry all the plates and dishes up and down. This course of treatment will soon cure them of their little tempers.
In plain households the cook has much less to do than the waiter; she should therefore undertake the greater part of the washing and ironing. Many very good cooks will do all the washing and ironing except the table linen and the towels used by the waiter; and if this arrangement is made at first, no trouble ensues. The great trouble in most households comes from the fact that the work is not definitely divided, and that one servant declares that the other is imposing upon her.
If a mistress is fair, honorable, strict, and attentive, she can thus carry on a large household (if there are no young children) with two energetic servants. She cannot, of course, have elegant house-keeping; it is a very arduous undertaking to conduct a city house with the assistance of only two people. Many young house- keepers become discouraged, and many old ones do so as well, and send the washing and ironing to a public laundry. But as small incomes are the rule, and as most people must economize, it has been done, and it can be done. The mistress will find it to her advantage to have a very great profusion of towels and dusters, and also to supply the kitchen with every requisite utensil for cooking a good dinner, or for the execution of the ordinary daily work--such tools as an ice-hammer, a can-opener, plenty of corkscrews, a knife- sharpener and several large, strong knives, a meat-chopper and bread-baskets, stone pots and jars. The modern refrigerator has simplified kitchen-work very much, and no one who has lived long enough to remember when it was not used can fail to bless its airy and cool closets and its orderly arrangements.
The "privileges" of these hard-worked servants should be respected. "An evening a week, and every other Sunday afternoon," is a formula not to be forgotten. Consider what it is to them! Perhaps a visit to a sick sister or mother, a recreation much needed, a simple pleasure, but one which is to them what a refreshing book, a visit to the opera, or a drive in the park, is to their employers. Only a very cruel mistress will ever fail to keep her promise to a faithful servant on these too infrequent holidays.
The early Sunday dinner is an inconvenience, but it is due to the girls who count on their "Sunday out" to have it always punctually given to them.
Many devout Catholics make their church-going somewhat inconvenient, but they should not be thwarted in it. It is to them something more than it is to Protestants, and a devout Catholic is to be respected and believed in. No doubt there are very bad-tempered and disagreeable girls who make a pretence of religion, but the mistress should be slow to condemn, lest she wrong one who is sincerely pious.
In sickness, Irish girls are generally kind and accommodating, being themselves unselfish, and are apt to show a better spirit in a time of trouble than the Swedes, the Germans, or the Scotch, although the latter are possessed of more intelligence, and are more readily trained to habits of order and system. The warm heart and the confused brain, the want of truth, of the average Irish servant will perplex and annoy while it touches the sympathies of a woman of generous spirit.
The women who would make the best house-servants are New England girls who have been brought up in poor but comfortable homes. But they will not be servants. They have imbibed the foolish idea that the position of a girl who does house-work is inferior in gentility to that of one who works in a factory, or a printing-office, or a milliner's shop. It is a great mistake, and one which fills the country with incapable wives for the working-man; for a woman who cannot make bread or cook a decent dinner is a fraud if she marry a poor man who expects her to do it.
That would be a good and a great woman who would preach a crusade against this false doctrine--who would say to the young women of her neighborhood, "I will give a marriage portion to any of you who will go into domestic service, become good cooks and waiters, and will bring me your certificates of efficiency at the end of five years."
And if those who employ could have these clear brains and thrifty hands, how much more would they be willing to give in dollars and cents a month!
CHAPTER XLVIII. THE HOUSE WITH MANY SERVANTS.
A lady who assumes the control of an elegant house without previous training had better, for a year at least, employ an English house- keeper, who will teach her the system necessary to make so many servants work properly together; for, unless she knows how to manage them, each servant will be a trouble instead of a help, and there will be no end to that exasperating complaint, "That is not _my_ work."
The English house-keeper is given full power by her mistress to hire and discharge servants, to arrange their meals, their hours, and their duties, so as to make the domestic wheels run smoothly, and to achieve that perfection of service which all who have stayed in an English house can appreciate. She is a personage of much importance in the house. She generally dresses in _moiré antique_, and is lofty in her manners. She alone, except the maid, approaches the mistress, and receives such general orders as that lady may choose to give. The house-keeper has her own room, where she takes her meals alone, or invites those whom she wishes to eat with her. Thus we see in English novels that the children sometimes take tea "in the house- keeper's room." It is generally a comfortable and snug place.
But in this country very few such house-keepers can be found. The best that can be done is to secure the services of an efficient person content to be a servant herself, who will be a care-taker, and will train the butler, the footmen, and the maid-servants in their respective duties.
Twelve servants are not infrequently employed in large houses in this country, and in New York and at Newport often a larger number. These, with the staff of assistants required to cook and wash for them, form a large force for a lady to control.
The house-keeper should hire the cook and scullery-maid, and be responsible for them; she orders the dinner (if the lady chooses); she gives out the stores; the house linen is under her charge, and she must attend to mending and replenishing it; she must watch over the china and silver, and every day visit all the bedrooms to see that the chamber-maids have done their duty, and that writing-paper and ink and pens are laid on the tables of invited guests, and that candles, matches, and soap and towels are in their respective places.
A house-keeper should be able to make fine desserts, and to attend to all the sewing of the family, with the assistance of a maid--that is, the mending, and the hemming of the towels, etc. She should be firm and methodical, with a natural habit of command, and impartial in her dealings, but strict and exacting; she should compel each servant to do his duty, as she represents the mistress, and should be invested with her authority.
It is she who must receive the dessert when it comes from the dining-room, watch the half-emptied bottles of wine, which men- servants nearly always appropriate for their own use, and be, in all respects, a watch-dog for her master, as in large families servants are prone to steal all that may fall in their way.
Unfortunately a bad house-keeper is worse than none, and can steal to her heart's content. Such a one, hired by a careless, pleasure- loving lady in New York, stole in a twelvemonth enough to live on for several years.
The house-keeper and the butler are seldom friends, and consequently many people consider it wise to hire a married couple competent to perform the duties of these two positions. If the two are honest, this is an excellent arrangement.
The butler is answerable for the property put in his charge, and for the proper performance of the duties of the footmen under his control. He must be the judge of what men can and should do. He is given the care of the wine, although every gentleman should keep the keys, only giving just so much to the butler as he intends shall be used each day. The plate is given to the butler, and he is made responsible for any articles missing; he also sees to the pantry, but has a maid or a footman to wash the dishes and cleanse the silver. All the arrangements for dinner devolve upon him, and when it is served he stands behind his mistress's chair. He looks after the footman who answers the bell, and takes care that he shall be properly dressed and at his post.
In houses where there are two or three footmen the butler serves breakfast, luncheon, tea, and dinner, assisted by such of his acolytes as he may choose. He should also wait upon his master, if required, see that the library and smoking-room are aired and in order, the newspaper brought in, the magazines cut, and the paper- knife in its place. Many gentlemen in this country send their butlers to market, and leave entirely to them the arrangement of the table.
If there is but one footman in a large house, the butler has a great deal to do, particularly if the family be a hospitable one. When the footman is out with the carriage the butler answers the front-door bell, but in very elegant houses there are generally two footmen, as this is not strictly the duty of a butler.
A lady's-maid is indispensable to ladies who visit much, but this class of servant is the most difficult to manage. Ladies'-maids must be told, when hired, that they can have no such position in America as they have in England: that they must make their own beds, wash their own clothing, and eat with the other servants. They must be first-rate hair-dressers, good packers of trunks, and understand dress-making and fine starching, and be amiable, willing, and pleasant. A woman who combines these qualifications commands very high wages, and expects, as her perquisite, her mistress's cast-off dresses.
French maids are in great demand, as they have a natural taste in all things pertaining to dress and the toilet, but they are apt to be untruthful and treacherous. If a lady can get a peasant girl from some rural district, she will find her a most useful and valuable maid after she has been taught.
Many ladies educate some clever girl who has been maid for the position of house-keeper, and such a person, who can be trusted to hire an assistant, becomes invaluable. She often accomplishes all the dress-making and sewing for the household, and her salary of thirty dollars a month is well earned.
As the duties of a lady's-maid, where there are young ladies, include attending them in the streets and to parties, she should be a person of unquestioned respectability. The maid should bring up the hot water for her ladies, and an early cup of tea, prepare their bath, assist at their toilet, put their clothes away, be ready to aid in every change of dress, put out their various dresses for riding, dining, walking, and for afternoon tea, dress their hair for dinner, and be ready to find for them their gloves, shoes, and other belongings.
A maid can be, and generally is, the most disagreeable of creatures; but some ladies have the tact to make good servants out of most unpromising materials.
The maid, if she does not accompany her mistress to a party and wait for her in the dressing-room, should await her arrival at home, assist her to undress, comb and brush her hair, and get ready the bath. She should also have a cup of hot tea or chocolate in readiness for her. She must keep her clothes in order, sew new ruffles in her dresses, and do all the millinery and dress-making required of her.
Very often the maid is required to attend to the bric-a-brac and pretty ornaments of the mantel, to keep fresh flowers in the drawing-room or bedroom, and, above all, to wash the pet dog. As almost all women are fond of dogs, this is not a disagreeable duty to a French maid, and she gives Fifi his bath without grumbling. But if she be expected to speak French to the children, she sometimes rebels, particularly if she and the nurse should not be good friends.
A lady, in hiring a maid, should specify the extra duties she will be required to perform, and thus give her the option of refusing the situation. If she accepts it, she must be made strictly to account for any neglect or omission of her work. A maid with an indulgent mistress is free in the evenings, after eight o'clock, and every Sunday afternoon.
In families where there are many children, two nurses are frequently required--a head nurse and an assistant.
The nursery governess is much oftener employed now in this country than in former years. This position is often filled by well-mannered and well-educated young women, who are the daughters of poor men, and obliged to earn their own living. These young women, if they are good and amiable, are invaluable to their mistresses. They perform the duties of a nurse, wash and dress the children, eat with them and teach them, the nursery-maid doing the coarse, rough work of the nursery. If a good nursery governess can be found, she is worth her weight in gold to her employer. She should not cat with the servants; there should be a separate table for her and her charges. This meal is prepared by the kitchen-maid, who is a very important functionary, almost an under-cook, as the chief cook in such an establishment as we are describing is absorbed in the composition of the grand dishes and dinners.
The kitchen-maid should be a good plain-cook, and clever in making the dishes suitable for children. Much of the elementary cooking for the dining-room, such as the foundation for sauces and soups, and the roasted and boiled joints, is required of her, and she also cooks the servants' dinner, which should be an entirely different meal from that served in the dining-room. Nine meals a day are usually cooked in a family living in this manner--breakfast for servants, children, and the master and mistress, three; children's dinner, servants' dinner, and luncheon, another three; and the grand dinner at seven, the children's tea, and the servants' supper, the remaining three.
Where two footmen are in attendance, the head footman attends the door, waits on his mistress when she drives out, carries notes, assists the butler, lays the table and clears it, and washes glass, china, and silver. The under-footman rises at six, makes fires, cleans boots, trims and cleans the lamps, opens the shutters and the front-door, sweeps down the steps, and, indeed, does the rougher part of the work before the other servants begin their daily duties. Each should be without mustache, clean shaven, and clad in neat livery. His linen and white neck-tie should be, when he appears to wait on the family at table or in any capacity, immaculate.
The servants' meals should be punctual and plenteous, although not luxurious. It is a bad plan to feed servants on the luxuries of the master's table, but a good cook will be able to compound dishes for the kitchen that will be savory and palatable.
CHAPTER XLIX. MANNERS.--A STUDY FOR THE AWKWARD AND THE SHY.
It is a comfort to those of us who have felt the cold perspiration start on the brow, at the prospect of entering an unaccustomed sphere, to remember that the best men and women whom the world has known have been, in their day, afflicted with shyness. Indeed, it is to the past that we must refer when the terrible disease seizes us, when the tongue becomes dry in the mouth, the hands tremble, and the knees knock together.
Who does not pity the trembling boy when, on the evening of his first party, he succumbs to this dreadful malady? The color comes in spots on his face, and his hands are cold and clammy. He sits down on the stairs and wishes he were dead. A strange sensation is running down his back. "Come, Peter, cheer up," his mother says, not daring to tell him how she sympathizes with him. He is afraid to be afraid, he is ashamed to be ashamed. Nothing can equal this moment of agony. The whole room looks black before him as some chipper little girl, who knows not the meaning of the word "embarrassment," comes to greet him. He crawls off to the friendly shelter of a group of boys, and sees the "craven of the playground, the dunce of the school," with a wonderful self-possession, lead off in the German with the prettiest girl. As he grows older, and becomes the young man whose duty it is to go to dinners and afternoon parties, this terrible weakness will again overcome him. He has done well at college, can make a very good speech at the club suppers, but at the door of a parlor he feels himself a driveling idiot. He assumes a courage, if he has it not, and dashes into a room (which is full of people) as he would attack a forlorn hope. There is safety in numbers, and he retires to a corner.
When he goes to a tea-party a battery of feminine eyes gazes at him with a critical perception of his youth and rawness. Knowing that he ought to be supremely graceful and serene, he stumbles over a footstool, and hears a suppressed giggle. He reaches his hostess, and wishes she were the "cannon's mouth," in order that his sufferings might be ended; but she is not. His agony is to last the whole evening. Tea-parties are eternal: they never end; they are like the old-fashioned ideas of a future state of torment--they grow hotter and more stifling. As the evening advances towards eternity he upsets the cream-jug. He summons all his will-power, or he would run away. No; retreat is impossible. One must die at the post of duty. He thinks of all the formulas of courage--"None but the brave deserve the fair," "He either fears his fate too much, or his deserts are small," "There is no such coward as self-consciousness," etc. But these maxima are of no avail. His feet are feet of clay, not good to stand on, only good to stumble with. His hands are cold, tremulous, and useless. There is a very disagreeable feeling in the back of his neck, and a spinning sensation about the brain. A queer rumbling seizes his ears. He has heard that "conscience makes cowards of us all." What mortal sin has he committed? His moral sense answers back, "None. You are only that poor creature, a bashful youth." And he bravely calls on all his nerves, muscles, and brains to help him through this ordeal. He sees the pitying eyes of the woman to whom he is talking turn away from his countenance (on which he knows that all his miserable shyness has written itself in legible characters). "And this humiliation, too?" he asks of himself, as she brings him the usual refuge of the awkward--a portfolio of photographs to look at. Women are seldom troubled, at the age at which men suffer, with bashfulness or awkwardness. It is as if Nature thus compensated the weaker vessel. Cruel are those women, however, and most to be reprobated, who laugh at a bashful man!
The sufferings of a shy man would fill a volume. It is a nervous seizure for which no part of his organization is to blame; he cannot reason it away, he can only crush it by enduring it: "To bear is to conquer our Fate." Some men, finding the play not worth the candle, give up society and the world; others go on, suffer, and come out cool veterans who fear no tea-party, however overwhelming it may be.
It is the proper province of parents to have their children taught all the accomplishments of the body, that they, like the ancient Greeks, may know that every muscle will obey the brain. A shy, awkward boy should be trained in dancing, fencing, boxing; he should be instructed in music, elocution, and public speaking; he should be sent into society, whatever it may cost him at first, as certainly as he should be sent to the dentist's. His present sufferings may save him from lifelong annoyance.
To the very best men--the most learned, the most graceful, the most eloquent, the most successful--has come at some one time or other the dreadful agony of bashfulness. Indeed, it is the higher order of man being that it most surely attacks; it is the precursor of many excellences, and, like the knight's vigil, if patiently and bravely borne, the knight is twice the hero. It is this recollection, which can alone assuage the sufferer, that he should always carry with him. He should remember that the compound which he calls himself is of all things most mixed.
"The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together." Two antagonistic races--it may be his Grandfather Brown and his Grandmother Williams--are struggling in him for the mastery; and their exceedingly opposite natures are pulling his arms and legs asunder. He has to harmonize this antagonism before he becomes himself, and it adds much to his confusion to see that poor little pretender, Tom Titmouse, talking and laughing and making merry. There are, however, no ancestral diversities fighting for the possession of Tom Titmouse. The grandfathers and grandmothers of Tom Titmouse were not people of strong character; they were a decorous race on both sides, with no heavy intellectual burdens, good enough people who wore well. But does our bashful man know this? No. He simply remembers a passage in the "Odyssey" which Tom Titmouse could not construe, but which the bashful man read, to the delight of the tutor:
"O gods! How beloved he is, and how honored by all men to whatsoever land or city he comes! He brings much booty from Troy, but we, having accomplished the same journey, are returning home having empty hands!" And this messenger from Troy is Tom Titmouse!
Not that all poor scholars and inferior men have fine manners, nor do all good scholars and superior men fail in the drawing-room. No rule is without an exception. It is, however, a comfort to those who are awkward and shy to remember that many of the great and good and superior men who live in history have suffered, even as they suffer, from the pin-pricks of bashfulness. The first refuge of the inexperienced, bashful person is often to assume a manner of extreme hauteur. This is, perhaps, a natural fence--or defense; it is, indeed, a very convenient armor, and many a woman has fought her battle behind it through life. No doubt it is the armor of the many so-called frigid persons, male and female, who must either suffer the pangs of bashfulness, or affect a coldness which they do not feel. Some people are naturally encased in a column of ice which they cannot break, but within is a fountain which would burst out at the lips in words of kindliness if only the tongue could speak them. These limitations of nature are very strange; we cannot explain them. It is only by referring to Grandfather Brown and Grandmother Williams again that we understand them at all. One person will be furnished with very large feet and very small hands, with a head disproportionately large for the body, or one as remarkably small. Differences of race must account for these eccentricities of nature; we cannot otherwise explain them, nor the mental antagonisms, But the awkward and the shy do not always take refuge in a cold manner; Sometimes they study manner as they would the small-sword exercise, and exploit it-with equal fervor. Exaggeration of manner is quite as common a refuge for these unfortunates as the other extreme of calmness. They render themselves ridiculous by the lowness of their bows and the vivid picturesqueness of their speech. They, as it were, burst the bounds of the calyx, and the flower opens too wide. Symmetry is lost, graceful outline is destroyed. Many a bashful man, thinking of Tom Titmouse, has become an acrobat in his determination to be lively and easy. He should remember the _juste milieu_, recommended by Shakespeare when he says,
"They are as sick that surfeit with too much. As they that starve with nothing."
The happy people who are born unconscious of their bodies, who grow through life more and more graceful, easy, cordial, and agreeable; the happy few Who were never bashful, never nervous, never had clammy hands, they need not read these pages--they are not written for such blessed eyes. It is for the well-meaning, but shy and awkward, people that the manners of artificial society are most useful.
For the benefit of such persons we must "improve a ceremonial nicety into a substantial duty," else we shall see a cultivated scholar confused before a set of giggling girls, and a man who is all Wisdom, valor and learning, playing the donkey at an evening party. If he lack the inferior arts of polite behavior, who will take the trouble to discover a Sir Walter Raleigh behind his cravat?
A man who is constrained, uneasy, and ungraceful, can spoil the happiness of a dozen people. Therefore he is bound to create an artificial manner, if a natural one does not come to him, remembering always that "manners are shadows of virtues."
The manners of artificial society have this to commend them: they meditate the greatest good to the greatest number. We do not like the word "artificial," or to commend anything which is supposed to be the antipodes of the word "sincere," but it is a recipe, a doctor's prescription that we are recommending as a cure for a disease. "Good manners are to special societies what good morals are to society in general--their cement and their security. True politeness creates perfect ease and freedom; it and its essence is to treat others as you would have others treat you." Therefore, as you know how embarrassing embarrassment is to everybody else, strive not to be embarrassed.
CHAPTER L. HOW TO TREAT A GUEST.
No one possessed of his senses would invite a person to his country house for the purpose of making him unhappy. At least so we should say at first thought. But it is an obvious fact that very many guests are invited to the country houses of their friends, and are made extremely miserable while there. They have to rise at unusual hours, eat when they are not hungry, drive or walk or play tennis when they would prefer to do everything else, and they are obliged to give up those hours which are precious to them for other duties or pleasures; so that many people, after an experience of visiting, are apt to say, "No more of the slavery of visiting for me, if you please!"
Now the English in their vast country houses have reduced the custom of visiting and receiving their friends to a system. They are said to be in all respects the best hosts in the world, the masters of the letting-alone system. A man who owns a splendid place near London invites a guest for three days or more, and carefully suggests when he shall come and when he shall go--a very great point in hospitality. He is invited to come by the three o'clock train on Monday, and to leave by the four o'clock train on Thursday. That means that he shall arrive before dinner on Monday, and leave after luncheon on Thursday. If a guest cannot accede to these hours, he must write and say so. Once arrived, he rarely meets his host or hostess until dinner-time. He is conducted to his room, a cup of tea with some light refreshment is provided, and the well-bred servant in attendance says at what hour before dinner he will be received in the drawing-room. It is possible that some member of the family may be disengaged and may propose a drive before dinner, but this is not often done; the guest is left to himself or herself until dinner. General and Mrs. Grant were shown to their rooms at Windsor Castle, and locked up there, when they visited the Queen, until the steward came to tell them that dinner would be served in half an hour; they were then conducted to the grand salon, where the Queen presently entered. In less stately residences very much the same ceremony is observed. The hostess, after dinner and before the separation for the night, tells her guests that horses will be at their disposal the next morning, and also asks if they would like to play lawn- tennis, if they wish to explore the park, at what hour they will breakfast, or if they will breakfast in their rooms. "Luncheon is at one; and she will be happy to see them at that informal meal."
Thus the guest has before him the enviable privilege of spending the day as he pleases. He need not talk unless he choose; he may take a book and wander off under the trees; he may take a horse and explore the county, or he may drive in a Victoria, phaeton, or any other sort of carriage. To a lady who has her letters to write, her novel to read, or her early headache to manage, this liberty is precious.
It must also be said that no one is allowed to feel neglected in an English house. If a lady guest says, "I am a stranger; I should like to see your fine house and your lovely park," some one is found to accompany her. Seldom the hostess, for she has much else to do; but there is often a single sister, a cousin, or a very intelligent governess, who is summoned. In our country we cannot offer our guests all these advantages; we can, however, offer them their freedom, and give them, with our limited hospitality, their choice of hours for breakfast and their freedom from our society.
But the questioner may ask, Why invite guests, unless we wish to see them? We do wish to see them--a part of the day, not the whole day. No one can sit and talk all day. The hostess should have her privilege of retiring after the mid-day meal, with her novel, for a nap, and so should the guest: Well-bred people understand all this, and are glad to give up the pleasure of social intercourse for an hour of solitude. There is nothing so sure to repay one in the long run as these quiet hours.
If a lady invites another to visit her at Newport or Saratoga, she should evince her thought for her guest's comfort by providing her with horses and carriage to pay her own visits, to take her own drives, or to do her shopping. Of course, the pleasure of two friends is generally to be together, and to do the same things; but sometimes it is quite the reverse.
The tastes and habits of two people staying in the same house may be very different, and each should respect the peculiarities of the other. It costs little time and no money for an opulent Newport hostess to find out what her guest wishes to do with her day, and she can easily, with a little tact, allow her to be happy in her own way.
Gentlemen understand this much better than ladies, and a gentleman guest is allowed to do very much as he pleases at Newport. No one asks anything about his plans for the day, except if he will dine at home. His hostess may ask him to drive or ride with her, or to go to the Casino, perhaps; but if she be a well-bred woman of the world she will not be angry if he refuses. A lady guest has not, however, such freedom; she is apt to be a slave, from the fact that as yet the American hostess has not learned that the truest hospitality is to let her guest alone, and to allow her to enjoy herself in her own way. A thoroughly well-bred guest makes no trouble in a house; she has the instinct of a lady, and is careful that no plan of her hostess shall be disarranged by her presence. She mentions all her, separate invitations, desires to know when her hostess wishes her presence, if the carriage can take her hither and yon, or if she may be allowed to hire a carriage.
There are hostesses, here and in England, who do not invite guests to their houses for the purpose of making them happy, but to add to their own importance. Such hostesses are not apt to consider the individual rights of any one, and they use a guest merely to add to the brilliancy of their parties, and to make the house more fashionable and attractive. Some ill-bred women, in order to show their power, even insult and ill treat the people who have accepted their proffered hospitality. This class of hostess is, fortunately, not common, but it is not unknown.
A hostess should remember that, when she asks people to visit her, she has two very important duties to perform--one, not to neglect her guests; the other, not to weary them by too much attention. Never give a guest the impression that he is "being entertained," that he is on your mind; follow the daily life of your household and of your duties as you desire, taking care that your guest is never in an unpleasant position or neglected. If you have a tiresome guest who insists upon following you around and weighing heavily on your hands, be firm, go to your own room, and lock the door. If you have a sulky guest who looks bored, throw open the library-door, order the carriage, and make your own escape. But if you have a very agreeable guest who shows every desire to please and be pleased, give that model guest the privilege of choosing her own hours and her own retirement.
The charm of an American country-house is, generally, that it is a home, and sacred to home duties. A model guest never infringes for one moment on the rights of the master of the house. She never spoils his dinner or his drive by being late; she never sends him back to bring her parasol; she never abuses his friends or the family dog; she is careful to abstain from disagreeable topics; she joins his whist-table if she knows how to play; but she ought never to be obliged to rise an hour earlier than her wont because he wishes to take an early train for town. These early-morning, perfunctory breakfasts are not times for conversation, and they ruin the day for many bad sleepers.
In a country neighborhood a hostess has sometimes to ask her guests to go to church to hear a stupid preacher, and to go to her country neighbors, to become acquainted with what may be the slavery of country parties. The guest should always be allowed to refuse these hospitalities; and, if he be a tired townsman, he will prefer the garden, the woodland, the retirement of the country, to any church or tea-party in the world. He cannot enter into his host's interests or his neighbor's. Leave him to his solitude if in that is his happiness.
At Newport guest and hostess have often different friends and different invitations. When this is understood, no trouble ensues if the host and hostess go out to dinner and leave the guest at home. It often happens that this is done, and no lady of good-breeding takes offence. Of course a nice dinner is prepared for her, and she is often asked to invite a friend to share it.
On the other hand, the guest often has invitations which do not include the hostess. These should be spoken of in good season, so that none of the hostess's plans may be disarranged, that the carriage may be ordered in time, and the guest sent for at the proper hour. Well-bred people always accept these contingencies as a matter of course, and are never disconcerted by them.
There is no office in the world which should be filled with such punctilious' devotion, propriety, and self-respect as that of hostess. If a lady ever allows her guest to feel that she is a cause of inconvenience, she violates the first rule of hospitality. If she fail in any way in her obligations as hostess to a guest whom she has invited, she shows herself to be ill-bred and ignorant of the first principles of politeness. She might better invite twelve people to dinner and then ask them to dine on the pavement than ignore or withdraw from a written and accepted invitation, unless sickness or death afford the excuse; and yet hostesses have been known to do this from mere caprice. But they were necessarily ill- bred people.
CHAPTER LI. LADY AND GENTLEMAN.
The number of questions asked by correspondents on the subject of the proper use of the familiar words _lady_ and _woman_, and of the titles of married women, induces the reflection that the "woman" question is one which rivals in universal interest those of Nihilism, Irish rebellion, and the future presidency. It is not, however, of ultimate importance to a woman what she is called, as arose by any other name would smell as sweet, but it is of importance to those who speak of her, because by their speech "shall ye know them," whether fashionable or unfashionable, whether old or young, whether welt-bred or ill-bred, whether stylish or hopelessly rococo!
Nothing, for instance, Can be in worse taste than to say "she is a beautiful lady," or "a clever lady." One should always say "beautiful woman," "clever woman." The would-be genteel make this mistake constantly, and in the Rosa-Matilda style of novel the gentleman always kneels to the lady, and the fair ladies are scattered broadcast through the book, while the fine old Saxon word "woman" is left out, or not properly used.
Now it would be easy enough to correct this if we could only tell our correspondents always to use the word "woman." But unfortunately we are here constrained to say that would be equally "bad form." No gentleman would say, "I am traveling with women." He would say, "I am traveling with ladies." He would not say, "When I want to take my women to the theatre." He would say, "When I want to take my ladies." He would speak of his daughters as "young ladies," etc., etc. But if he were writing a novel about these same young ladies, he would avoid the word "lady" as feeble, and in speaking of emotions, looks, qualities, etc., he would use the word "woman."
Therefore, as a grand generic distinction, we can say that "woman" should be used when the realities of life and character are treated of. "Lady" should be used to express the outside characteristics, the conditions of cultivated society, and the respectful, distant, and chivalric etiquette which society claims for women when members thereof.
Then, our querist may ask, Why is the term, "she is a beautiful _lady_," so hopelessly out of style? Why does it betray that the speaker has not lived in a fashionable set? Why must we say "nice woman," "clever woman," "beautiful woman," etc.
The only answer to this is that the latter phraseology is a caprice of fashion into which plain-spoken people were driven by the affectations of the shabby-genteel and half-instructed persons who have ruined two good words for us by misapplication. One is "genteel," which means gentle, and the other is "lady," which means everything which is refined, cultivated, elegant, and aristocratic. Then as to the term "woman," this nomenclature has been much affected by the universal sans-culottism of the French Revolution, when the queen was called _citoyenne_. Much, again, from a different cause, comes from our own absurd want of self-respect, which has accrued in this confusion of etiquette in a republic, as for instance, "I am a lady--as much a lady as anybody--and I want to be called a lady," remarked a nurse who came for a situation to the wife of one of our presidents. "I have just engaged a colored lady as a cook," remarked a nouveau riche. No wonder that when the word came to be thus misapplied the lover of good English undefiled began to associate the word "lady" with pretension, ignorance, and bad grammar.
Still, no "real lady" would say to her nurse, "A woman is coming to stay with me." To servants the term "lady," as applied to a coming guest, is indispensable. So of a gentleman she would say to her servant, "A gentleman is coming to stay here for a week;" but to her husband or son she would say, "He is a clever man," rather than, "He is a clever gentleman."
We might almost say that no women talk to men about "gentlemen," and no men talk to women about "ladies," in fashionable society. A woman in good society speaks of the hunting men, the dancing men, the talking men. She does not say "gentleman," unless in some such connection as this, "No gentleman would do such a thing," if some breach of etiquette had occurred. And yet no man would come into a lady's drawing-room saying, "Where are the girls?" or "Where are the women?" He would Say; "Where are the young ladies?"
It therefore requires a fine ear and a fine sense of modern fashion and of eternal propriety always to choose the right word in the delicate and almost unsettled estate of these two epithets. "Ladylike" can never go out of fashion. It is at once a compliment of the highest order and a suggestion of subtle perfection. The word "woman" does not reach up to this, because in its broad and strong etymology it may mean a washer-woman, a fighting woman, a coarse woman, alas! a drunken woman. If we hear of "a drunken lady," we see a downfall, a glimpse of better days; chloral, opium, even cologne, may have brought her to it. The word still saves her miserable reputation a little. But the words "a drunken woman" merely suggest whiskey, degradation, squalor, dirt, and the tenement-house.
It is evident, therefore, that we cannot do without the word "lady." It is the outgrowth of years of chivalric devotion, and of that progress in the history of woman which has ever been raising her from her low estate. To the Christian religion first does she owe her rise; to the institution of chivalry, to the growth of civilization since, has woman owed her continual elevation. She can never go back to the degradation of those days when, in Greece and Rome, she was not allowed to eat with her husband and sons. She waited on them as a servant. Now they in every country serve her, if they are gentlemen. But, owing to a curious twist in the way of looking at things, she is now undoubtedly the tyrant, and in fashionable society she is often imperiously ill-bred, and requires that her male slaves be in a state of servitude to which the Egyptian bondage would have been light frivolity.
American women are said to be faulty in manners, particularly in places of public amusement, in railway traveling, in omnibuses, and in shops. Men complain very much that the fairer sex are very brutal on these occasions. "I wish women would behave like ladies," said a man at a matinee. "Yes," said his friend, "I wish they would behave like men." Just then a sharp feminine elbow was thrust into his chest. "I wish gentlemen would not crowd so," was the remark which accompanied the "dig under the fifth rib" from a person whom no one could call a lady.
In speaking to a servant, either a lady or a gentleman will ever be patient, courteous, kind, not presuming on his or her power. But there should always be a certain ceremony observed, and a term of respect to the person spoken of. Therefore a mistress will not say "Have the girls come in?" "Is Lucy home?" She will say: "Have the young ladies come in?" "Is Miss Lucy at home?" This sort of dignified etiquette has the happiest and the most beneficial result on the relations of mistress and servant.
In modern literature the terms man and woman have nearly obliterated the words gentleman and lady, and we can hardly imagine a more absurd phrase than the following: "I asked Mary what she thought of Charles, and she said he was a beautiful gentleman, and Charles said that Mary was a lovely lady; so it was quite natural that I should try to bring them together," etc., etc.
Still, in poetry we like the word lady. "If my lady loves me true," is much better than "if my woman loves me true" would be; so there, again, we have the contradiction, for the Anglo-Saxon rule of using the word "woman" when anything real or sincere in emotion is in question is here honored in the breach. But this is one of the many shadowy conflicts which complicate this subject.
The term "lady" is like the word "gentry" in England--it is elastic.
All persons coming within the category of "gentry" may attend the Queen's Drawing-room, yet it is well understood that birth, wealth, association, and position give the raison d'tre for the use of such a privilege, and in that carefully guarded English society the wife or daughters of an officer in the navy or in a line regiment whose means are slender and whose position is obscure would not be justified in presenting themselves at court. The same remark holds good of the wives and daughters of clergymen, barristers, doctors, authors, and artists, although the husband, if eminent, might attend a levee if he wished. Yet these women are very tenacious of the title of lady, and no tradesman's wife would deny it to them, while she would not, if ever so rich, aspire to be called a lady herself.
"I ain't no lady myself, but I can afford to have 'em as governesses," remarked a Mrs. Kicklebury on the Rhine. She was not at all ashamed of the fact that she was no lady herself, yet her compeer and equal in America, if she kept a gin-shop, would insist upon the title of lady.
A lady is a person of refinement, of education, of fashion, of birth, of prestige, of a higher grade of some sort, if we apply the term rightly. She may be out of place through loss of fortune, or she may have sullied her title, but a something tells us that she is still a lady. We have a habit of saying, as some person, perhaps well decked out with fortune's favors, passes us, "She is not a lady," and every one will know what we mean. The phrase "vulgar lady," therefore, is an absurdity; there is no such thing; as well talk of a white blackbird; the term is self-contradictory. If she is vulgar, she is not a lady; but there is such a thing as a vulgar woman, and it is a very real thing.
In England they have many terms to express the word "woman" which we have not. A traveler in the rural districts speaks of a "kindly old wife who received me," or a "wretched old crone," or a "saucy lassie," or a "neat maid," etc. We should use the word "woman," or "old woman," or "girl," for all these.
Now as to the term "old woman" or "old lady." The latter has a pretty sound. We see the soft white curls, so like floss silk, the delicate white camel's-hair shawl, the soft lace and appropriate black satin gown, the pretty old-fashioned manner, and we see that this is a _real_ lady. She may have her tricks of old-fashioned speech; they do not offend us. To be sure, she has no slang; she does not talk about "awfully jolly," or a "ghastly way off;" she does not talk of the boys as being a "bully lot," or the girls as being "beastly fine;" she does not say that she is "feeling rather seedy to-day," etc. No, "our old lady" is a "lady," and it would be in bad taste to call her an "old woman," which somehow sounds disrespectful.
Therefore we must, while begging of our correspondents to use the word "woman" whenever they can, tell them not entirely to drop the word "lady." The real lady or gentleman is very much known by the voice, the choice of words, the appropriate term. Nothing can be better than to err on the side of simplicity, which is always better than gush, or over-effort, or conceit of speech. One may be "ignorant of the shibboleth of a good set," yet speak most excellent
Thackeray said of George the Fourth that there was only one reason why he should not have been called the "first gentleman in Europe," and that was because he was not a gentleman. But of the young Duke of Albany, just deceased, no one could hesitate to speak as a gentleman. Therefore, while we see that birth does not always make a gentleman, we still get the idea that it may help to make one, as we do not readily connect the idea with Jeames, who was a "gentleman's gentleman." He might have been "fine," but not "noble."
As for titles for married women, we have only the one word, "Mrs.," not even the pretty French "Madame." But no woman should write herself "Mrs." on her checks or at the foot of her notes; nowhere but in a hotel register or on a card should she give herself this title, simple though it be. She is always, if she writes in the first person, "Mary Smith," even to a person she does not know. This seems to trouble some people, who ask, "How will such a person know I am married?" Why should they? If desirous of informing some distant servant or other person of that fact, add in a parenthesis beneath "Mary Smith" the important addenda, "Mrs. John Smith."
When women are allowed to vote, perhaps further complications may arise. The truth is, women have no real names. They simply are called by the name of father or husband, and if they marry several times may well begin to doubt their own identity. Happy those who never have to sign but one new name to their letters!
CHAPTER LII. THE MANNERS OF THE PAST.
In these days, amid what has been strongly stated as "the prevailing mediocrity of manners," a study of the manners of the past would seem to reveal to us the fact that in those days of ceremony a man who was beset with shyness need then have suffered less than he would do now in these days of impertinence and brass.
A man was not then expected to enter a room and to dash at once into a lively conversation. The stately influence of the _minuet de la cour_ was upon him; he deliberately entered a room, made a low bow, and sat down, waiting to be spoken to.
Indeed, we may go farther back and imagine ourselves at the court of Louis XIV., when the world was broadly separated into the two classes--the noble and the _bourgeois_. That world which Moliere divided in his _dramatis personae_ into the courtier, the provincial noble, and the plain gentleman; and secondly, into the men of law and medicine, the merchant, and the shopkeeper. These divisions shall be for a moment considered. Now, all these men knew exactly, from the day when they reached ten years of age, how they were expected to behave in the sphere of life to which they were called. The marquis was instructed in every art of graceful behavior, the _bel air_ was taught him as we teach our boys how to dance, even more thoroughly. The _grand seigneur_ of those days, the man who would not arrange the folds of his own cravat with his own hands, and who exacted an observance as punctilious from his valets as if he were the king himself, that marquis of whom the great Moliere makes such fun, the courtier whom even the _grand monarque_ liked to see ridiculed--this man had, nevertheless, good manners. We see him reflected with marvelous fidelity in those wonderful comedies of the French Shakespeare; he is more than the fashion of an epoch--he is one of the eternal types of human nature. We learn what a man becomes whose business is "deportment." Even despicable as he is in "Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme"---flattering, borrowing money, cheating the poor citizen, and using his rank as a mask and excuse for his vices--we still read that it was such a one as he who took poor Moliere's cold hands in his and put them in his muff, when, on the last dreadful day of the actor's life (with a liberality which does his memory immortal honor), he strove to play, "that fifty poor workmen might receive their daily pay." It was such a one as this who was kind to poor Moliere. There was in these _gens de cour_ a copy of fine feeling, even if they had it not, They were polite and elegant, making the people about them feel better for the moment, doing graceful acts courteously, and gilding vice with the polish of perfect manners. The _bourgeois_, according to Moliere, was as bad a man as the courtier, but he had, besides, brutal manners; and as for the magistrates and merchants, they were harsh and surly, and very sparing of civility. No wonder, when the French Revolution came, that one of the victims, regretting the not-yet-forgotten marquis, desired the return of the aristocracy; for, said he, "I would rather be trampled upon by a velvet slipper than a wooden shoe."
It is the best definition of manners--"a velvet slipper rather than a wooden shoe." We ask very little of the people whom we casually meet but that the salutation be pleasant; and as we remember how many crimes and misfortunes have arisen from sudden anger, caused sometimes by pure breaches of good manners, we almost agree with Burke that "manners are of more importance than laws. Upon them, in a great measure, the laws depend."
Some one calls politeness "benevolence in trifles, the preference of others to ourselves in little, daily, hourly occurrences in the business of life, a better place, a more commodious seat, priority in being helped at table," etc.
Now, in all these minor morals the marquis was a benevolent man; he was affable and both well and fair spoken, "and would use strange sweetness and blandishment of words when he desired to affect or persuade anything that he took to heart"--that is, with his equals. It is well to study this man, and to remember that he was not always vile. The Prince of Cond, had these manners and a generous, great heart as well. Gentleness really belongs to virtue, and a sycophant can hardly imitate it well. The perfect gentleman is he who has a strong heart under the silken doublet of a perfect manner.
We do not want all the decent drapery of life torn off; we do not want to be told that we are full of defects; we do not wish people to show us a latent antagonism; and if we have in ourselves the elements of roughness, severity of judgment, a critical eye which sees defects rather than virtues, we are bound to study how to tone down that native, disagreeable temper--just as we are bound to try to break the icy formality of a reserved manner, and to cultivate a cordiality which we do not feel. Such a command over the shortcomings of our own natures is not insincerity, as we often find that the effort to make ourselves agreeable towards some one whom we dislike ends in leading us to like the offending person. We find that we have really been the offender, going about with a moral tape-measure graduated by ourselves, and measuring the opposite party with a serene conceit which has called itself principle or honor, or some high-sounding name, while it was really nothing but prejudice.
We should try to carry entertainment with us, and to seem entertained with our company. A friendly behavior often conciliates and pleases more than wit or brilliancy; and here we come back to those polished manners of the past, which were a perfect drapery, and therefore should be studied, and perhaps in a degree copied, by the awkward and the shy, who cannot depend upon themselves for inspirations of agreeability. Emerson says that "fashion is good- sense entertaining company; it hates corners and sharp points of character, hates quarrelsome, egotistical, solitary, and gloomy people, hates whatever can interfere with total blending of parties, while it values all particularities as in the highest degree refreshing which can consist with good-fellowship."
It does the awkward and the shy good to contemplate these words. It may not immediately help them to become graceful and self-possessed, but it will certainly have a very good effect in inducing them to try.
We find that the successful man of the world has studied the temper of the finest sword. He can bend easily, he is flexible, he is pliant, and yet he has not lost the bravery and the power of his weapon. Men of the bar, for instance, have been at the trouble to construct a system of politeness, in which even an offensive self- estimation takes on the garb of humility. The harmony is preserved, a trial goes on with an appearance of deference and respect each to the other, highly, most highly, commendable, and producing law and order where otherwise we might find strife, hatred, and warfare. Although this may be a mimic humility, although the compliments may be judged insincere, they are still the shadows of the very highest virtues. The man who is guarding his speech is ruling his spirit; he is keeping his temper, that furnace of all affliction, and the lofty chambers of his brain are cool and full of fresh air.
A man who is by nature clownish, and who has what he calls a "noble sincerity," is very apt to do injustice to the polished man; he should, however, remember that "the manner of a vulgar man has freedom without ease, and that the manner of a gentleman has ease without freedom." A man with an obliging, agreeable address may be just as sincere as if he had the noble art of treading on everybody's toes. The "putter-down-upon-system" man is quite as often urged by love of display as by a love of truth; he is ungenerous, combative, and ungenial; he is the "bravo of society."
To some people a fine manner is the gift of nature. We see a young person enter a room, make himself charming, go through the transition period of boy to man, always graceful, and at man's estate aim to still possess that unconscious and flattering grace, that "most exquisite taste of politeness," which is a gift from the gods. He is exactly formed to please, this lucky creature, and all this is done for him by nature. We are disposed to abuse Mother Nature when we think of this boy's heritage of joy compared with her step-son, to whom she has given the burning blushes, the awkward step, the heavy self-consciousness, the uncourtly gait, the hesitating speech, and the bashful demeanor.
But nothing would be omitted by either parent or child to cure the boy if he had a twisted ankle, so nothing should be omitted that can, cure the twist of shyness, and therefore a shy young person should not be expected to confront such a trial.
And to those who have the bringing up of shy young persons we commend these excellent words of Whately: "There are many otherwise sensible people who seek to cure a young person of that very common complaint--shyness--by exhorting him not to be shy, telling him what an awkward appearance it has, and that it prevents his doing himself justice, all of which is manifestly pouring oil on the fire to quench it; for the very cause of shyness is an over-anxiety as to what people are thinking of you, a morbid attention to your own appearance. The course, therefore, that ought to be pursued is exactly the reverse. The sufferer should be exhorted to think as little as possible about himself and the opinion formed of him, to be assured that most of the company do not trouble their heads about him, and to harden him against any impertinent criticisms that he supposed to be going on, taking care only to do what is right, leaving others to say and to think what they will."
All this philosophy is excellent, and is like the sensible archbishop. But the presence of a set of carefully cultivated, artificial manners, or a hat to hold in one's hand, will better help the shy person when he is first under fire, and when his senses are about deserting him, than any moral maxims can be expected to do.
Carlyle speaks of the fine manners of his peasant father (which he does not seem to have inherited), and he says: "I think-that they came from his having, early in life, worked for Maxwell, of Keir, a Scotch gentleman of great dignity and worth, who gave to all those under him a fine impression of the governing classes." Old Carlyle had no shame in standing with his hat off as his landlord passed; he had no truckling spirit either of paying court to those whose lot in life it was to be his superiors.
Those manners of the past were studied; they had, no doubt, much about them which we should now call stiff, formal, and affected, but they were a great help to the awkward and the shy.
In the past our ancestors had the help of costume, which we have not. Nothing is more defenseless than a being in a dress-coat, with no pockets allowable in which he can put his hands. If a man is in a costume he forgets the sufferings of the coat and pantaloon. He has a sense of being in a fortress. A military man once said that he always fought better in his uniform--that a fashionably cut coat and an every-day hat took all heroism out of him.
Women, particularly shy ones, feel the effect of handsome clothes as a reinforcement. "There is an _appui_ in a good gown," said Madame de Stall. Therefore, the awkward and the shy, in attempting to conquer the manners of artificial society, should dress as well as possible. Perhaps to their taste in dress do Frenchmen owe much of their easy civility and their success in social politics; and herein women are very much more fortunate than men, for they can always ask, "Is it becoming?" and can add the handkerchief, fan, muff, or mantle as a refuge for trembling hands. A man has only his pockets; he does not wish to always appear with his hands in them.
Taste is said to be the instantaneous, ready appreciation of the fitness of things. To most of us who may regret the want of it in ourselves, it seems to be the instinct of the fortunate few. Some women look as if they had simply blossomed out of their inner consciousness into a beautiful toilet; others are the creatures of chance, and look as if their clothes had been hurled at them by a tornado.
Some women, otherwise good and true, have a sort of moral want of taste, and wear too bright colors, too many glass beads, too much hair, and a combination of discordant materials which causes the heart of a good dresser to ache with anguish. This want of taste runs across the character like an intellectual bar-sinister, forcing us to believe that their conclusions are anything but legitimate. People who say innocently things which shock you, who put the listeners at a dinner-table upon tender-hooks, are either wanting in taste or their minds are confused with shyness.
A person thus does great injustice to his own moral qualities when he permits himself to be misrepresented by that disease of which we speak. Shyness perverts the speech more than vice even. But if a man or a woman can look down on a well-fitting, becoming dress (even if it is the barren and forlorn dress which men wore to parties in 1882), it is still an appui. We know how it offends us to see a person in a dress which is inappropriate. A chief-justice in the war-paint and feathers of an Indian chief would scarcely be listened to, even if his utterances were those of a Marshall or a Jay.
It takes a great person, a courageous person, to bear the shame of unbecoming dress; and, no doubt, to a nature shy, passionate, proud, and poor, the necessity of wearing poor or unbecoming clothes has been an injury for life. He despised himself for his weakness, but the weakness remained. When the French Revolution came in with its _sans-culotteism_, and republican simplicity found its perfect expression in Thomas Jefferson, still, the prejudices of powdered hair and stiff brocades remained. They gradually disappeared, and the man of the nineteenth century lost the advantages of becoming dress, and began anew the battle of life stripped of all his trappings. Manners went with these flowing accessories, and the abrupt speech, curt bow, and rather exaggerated simplicity of the present day came in.
But it is a not unworthy study--these manners of the past. We are returning, at least on the feminine side, to a great and magnificent "princess," or queenly, style of dress. It is becoming the fashion to make a courtesy, to flourish a fan, to bear one's self with dignity when in this fine costume. Cannot the elegance, the repose, and the respectfulness of the past return also?
CHAPTER LIII. THE MANNERS OF THE OPTIMIST.
It is very easy to laugh at the optimist, and to accuse him of "poetizing the truth." No doubt, an optimist will see excellence, beauty, and truth where pessimists see only degradation, vice, and ugliness. The one hears the nightingale, the other the raven only. To one, the sunsetting forms a magic picture; to the other, it is but a presage of bad weather tomorrow. Some people seem to look at nature through a glass of red wine or in a Claude Lorraine mirror; to them the landscape has ever the bloom of summer or a spring-tide grace. To others, it is always cloudy, dreary, dull. The desolate ravine, the stony path, the blighted heath--that is all they can find in a book which should have a chapter for everybody. And the latter are apt to call the former dreamers, visionaries, fools. They are dubbed in society often flatterers, people whose "geese are all swans."
But are those, then, the fools who see only the pleasant side? Are they alone the visionaries who see the best rather than the worst? It is strange that the critics see only weakness in the "pleasant- spoken," and only truth and safety in those who croak.
The person who sees a bright light in an eye otherwise considered dull, who distrusts the last scandal, is supposed to be foolish, too easily pleased, and wanting in that wise skepticism which should be the handmaid of common-sense; and if such a person in telling a story poetizes the truth, if it is a principle or a tendency to believe the best of everybody, to take everybody at their highest note, is she any the less canny? Has she necessarily less insight? As there are always two sides to a shield, why not look at the golden one?
An excess of the organ of hope has created people like Colonel Sellers in the play, who deluded himself that there were "millions in it," who landed in poverty and wrecked his friends; but this excess is scarcely a common one. Far more often does discouragement paralyze than does hope exalt. Those who have sunshine for themselves and to spare are apt to be happy and useful people; they are in the aggregate the successful people.
But, although good-nature is temperamental, and although some men and women are, by their force of imagination and charity, forced to poetize the truth, the question remains an open one, Which is the nearest to truth, a pessimist or an optimist? Truth is a virtue more palpable and less shadowy than we think; It is not easy to speak the unvarnished, uncorrupted truth (so the lawyers tell us). The faculty of observation differs, and the faculty of language is variable. Some people have no intellectual apprehension of the truth, although they morally believe in it. People who abstractly revere the truth have never been able to tell anything but falsehoods. To such the power of making a statement either favorable or prejudicial depends upon the mood of the moment, not upon fact. Therefore a habit of poetizing the truth would seem to be of either excess the safest. Society becomes sometimes a hot-bed of evil passions--one person succeeds at the expense of another. How severe is the suffering proceeding from social neglect and social stabs! It might, much of it, be smoothed away by poetizing the truth ever so little. Instead of bearing an ill-natured message, suppose we carry an amiable one. Instead of believing that an insult was intended, suppose a compliment.
"Should he upbraid, I'll own that he prevail, And sing more sweetly than the nightingale! Say that he frown, I'll own his looks I view Like morning roses newly dipped in dew."
People who are thus calmly serene and amiable through the frowns and smiles, the ups and downs, of a social career are often called worldly.
Well, let us suppose that they are. Some author has wisely said: "That the world should be full of worldliness seems as right as that a stream should be full of water or a living body full of blood." To conquer this world, to get out of it a full, abounding, agreeable life, is what we are put here for. Else, why such gifts as beauty, talent, health, wit, and a power of enjoyment be given to us? To be worldly, or worldlings, is supposed to be incurring the righteous anger of the good. But is it not improperly using a term of implied reproach? For, although the world may be too much with us, and a worldling may be a being not filled to the brim with the deeper qualities or the highest aims, still he is a man necessary to the day, the hour, the sphere which must be supplied with people fitted to its needs. So with a woman in society. She must be a worldling in the best sense of the word. She must keep up her corner of the great mantle of the Field of the Cloth of Gold. She must fill the social arena with her influence; for in society she is a most important factor.
Then, as a "complex overgrowth of wants and fruitions" has covered our world as with a banyan-tree, we must have something else to keep alive our umbrageous growth of art, refinement, inventions, luxuries, and delicate sensibilities. We must have wealth.
"Wealth is the golden essence of the outer world,"
and therefore to be respected.
Of course the pessimist sees purse-pride, pompous and outrageous arrogance, a cringing of the pregnant hinges of the knee, false standards, and a thousand faults in this admission. And yet the optimist finds the "very rich," with but few exceptions, amiable, generous, and kindly, often regretting that poorer friends will allow their wealth to bar them off, wishing often that their opulence need not shut them off from the little dinners, the homely hospitality, the small gifts, the sincere courtesies of those whose means are moderate, The cheerful people who are not dismayed by the superior magnificence of a friend are very apt to find that friend quite as anxious for sympathy and for kindness as are the poor, especially if his wealth has caused him, almost necessarily, to live upon the superficial and the external in life.
We all know that there is a worldly life, poor in aim and narrow in radius, which is as false as possible. To live only for this world, with its changing fashions, its imperfect judgments, its toleration of snobs and of sinners, its forgiveness of ignorance under a high-sounding name, its exaggeration of the transient and the artificial, would be a poor life indeed. But, if we can lift ourselves up into the higher comprehension of what a noble thing this world really is, we may well aspire to be worldlings.
Julius Caesar was a worldling; so was Shakespeare. Erasmus was a worldling. We might increase the list indefinitely. These men brought the loftiest talents to the use of worldly things. They showed how great conquest, poetry, thought might become used for the world. They were full of this world.
To see everything through a poetic vision (the only genuine idealization) is and has been the gift of the benefactors of our race. Branger was of the world, worldly; but can we give him up? So were the great artists who flooded the world with light--Titian, Tintoretto, Correggio, Raphael, Rubens, Watteau. These men poetized the truth. Life was a brilliant drama, a splendid picture, a garden ever fresh and fair;
The optimist carries a lamp through dark, social obstructions. "I would fain bind up many wounds, if I could be assured that neither by stupidity nor by malice I need make one!" is her motto, the true optimist.
It is a fine allegory upon the implied power of society that the poet Marvell used when he said he "would not drink wine with any one to whom he could not trust his life."
Titian painted his women with all their best points visible. There was a careful shadow or drapery which hid the defects which none of us are without; but defects to the eye of the optimist make beauty more attractive by contrast; in a portrait they may better be hid perhaps.
To poetize the truth in the science of charity and forgiveness can never be a great sin. If it is one, the recording angel will probably drop a tear. This tendency to optimism is, we think, more like that magic wand which the great idealist waved over a troubled sea, or like those sudden sunsets after a storm, which not only control the wave, but gild the leaden mass with crimson and unexpected gold, whose brightness may reach some storm-driven sail, giving it the light of hope, bringing the ship to a well-defined and hospitable shore, and regulating, with a new attraction, the lately distracted compass. Therefore, we do not hesitate to say that the philosophy, and the creed, and the manners of the optimist are good for society. However, his excellence may well be criticized; it may even sometimes take its place amid those excesses which are catalogued as amid the "deformities of exaggerated virtues." We may be too good, some of us, in one single direction.
But the rounded and harmonious Greek calm is hard to find. "For repose and serenity of mind," says a modern author, "we must go back to the Greek temple and statue, the Greek epic and drama, the Greek oration and moral treatise; and modern education will never become truly effectual till it brings more minds into happy contact with the ideal of a balanced, harmonious development of all the powers of mind, body, conscience, and heart."
And who was a greater optimist than your Athenian? He had a passionate love of nature, a rapt and infinite adoration of beauty, and he diffused the splendid radiance of his genius in making life more attractive and the grave less gloomy. Perhaps we of a brighter faith and a more certain revelation may borrow something from this "heathen" Greek.
CHAPTER LIV. THE MANNERS OF THE SYMPATHETIC.
Sympathy is the most delicate tendril of the mind, and the most fascinating gift which nature can give to us. The most precious associations of the human heart cluster around the word, and we love to remember those who have sorrowed with us in sorrow, and rejoiced with us when we were glad. But for the awkward and the shy, the sympathetic are the very worst company. They do not wish to be sympathized with--they wish to be with people who are cold and indifferent; they like shy people like themselves. Put two shy people in a room together, and they begin to talk with unaccustomed glibness. A shy woman always attracts a shy man. But women who are gifted with that rapid, gay impressionability which puts them _en rapport_ with their surroundings, who have fancy and an excitable disposition, a quick susceptibility to the influences around them, are very charming in general society, but they are terrible to the awkward and the shy. They sympathize too much, they are too aware of that burning shame which the sufferer desires to conceal.
The moment that a shy person sees before him a perfectly unsympathetic person, one who is neither thinking nor caring for him, his shyness begins to flee; the moment that he recognizes a fellow-sufferer he begins to feel a reinforcement of energy. If he be a lover, especially, the almost certain embarrassment of the lady inspires him with hope and with renewed courage. A woman who has a bashful lover, even if she is afflicted with shyness, has been known to find a way to help the poor fellow out of his dilemma more than once. Hawthorne, who has left us the most complete and most tragic history of shyness which belongs to "that long rosary on which the blushes of a life are strung," found a woman (the most perfect character, apparently, who ever married and made happy a great genius) who, fortunately for him, was shy naturally, although without that morbid shyness which accompanied him through life. Those who knew Mrs. Hawthorne later found her possessed of great fascination of manner, even in general society, where Hawthorne was quite impenetrable. The story of his running down to the Concord River and taking boat to escape his visitors has been long familiar to us all. Mrs. Hawthorne, no doubt, with a woman's tact and a woman's generosity, overcame her own shyness in order to receive those guests whom Hawthorne ran away from, and through life remained his better angel. It was through this absence of expressed sympathy that English people became very agreeable to Hawthorne. He describes, in his "Note Book," a speech made by him at a dinner in England: "When I was called upon," he says, "I rapped my head, and it returned a hollow sound."
He had, however, been sitting next to a shy English lawyer, a man who won upon him by his quiet, unobtrusive simplicity, and who, in some well-chosen words, rather made light of dinner-speaking and its terrors. When Hawthorne finally got up and made his speech, his "voice, meantime, having a far-off and remote echo," and when, as we learn from others, a burst of applause greeted the few well-chosen words drawn up from that full well of thought, that pellucid rill of "English undefiled," the unobtrusive gentleman by his side applauded, and said to him, "It was handsomely done." The compliment pleased the shy man. It is the only compliment to himself which Hawthorne ever recorded.
Now, had Hawthorne been congratulated by a sympathetic, effusive American who had clapped him on the back, and who had said, "Oh, never fear--you will speak well!" he would have said nothing. The shy sprite in his own eyes would have read in his neighbor's eyes the dreadful truth that his sympathetic neighbor would have indubitably betrayed--a fear that he would not do well. The phlegmatic and stony Englishman neither felt nor cared whether Hawthorne spoke well or ill; and, although pleased that he did speak well, invested no particular sympathy in the matter, either for or against, and so spared Hawthorne's shyness the last bitter drop in the cup, which would have been a recognition of his own moral dread. Hawthorne bitterly records his own sufferings. He says, in one of his books, "At this time I acquired this accursed habit of solitude." It has been said that the Hawthorne family were, in the earlier generation, afflicted with shyness almost as a disease-- certainly a curious freak of nature in a family descended from robust sea-captains. It only goes to prove how far away are the influences which control our natures and our actions.
Whether, if Hawthorne had not been a shy man, afflicted with a sort of horror of his species at times, always averse to letting himself go, miserable and morbid, we should have been the inheritors of the great fortune which he has left us, is not for us to decide. Whether we should have owned "The Gentle Boy," the immortal "Scarlet Letter," "The House with Seven Gables," the "Marble Faun," and all the other wonderful things which grew out of that secluded and gifted nature, had he been born a cheerful, popular, and sympathetic boy, with a dancing-school manner, instead of an awkward and shy youth (although an exceedingly handsome one), we cannot tell. That is the great secret behind the veil. The answer is not yet made, the oracle has not spoken, and we must not invade the penumbra of genius.
It has always been a comfort to the awkward and the shy that Washington could not make an after-dinner speech; and the well-known anecdote--"Sit down, Mr. Washington, your modesty is even greater than your valor "--must have consoled many a voiceless hero. Washington Irving tried to welcome Dickens, but failed in the attempt, while Dickens was as voluble as he was gifted. Probably the very surroundings of sympathetic admirers unnerved both Washington and Irving, although there are some men who can never "speak on their legs," as the saying goes, in any society.
Other shy men--men who fear general society, and show embarrassment in the every-day surroundings--are eloquent when they get on their feet. Many a shy boy at college has astonished his friends by his ability in an after-dinner speech. Many a voluble, glib boy, who has been appointed the orator of the occasion, fails utterly, disappoints public expectation, and sits down with an uncomfortable mantle of failure upon his shoulders. Therefore, the ways of shyness are inscrutable. Many a woman who has never known what it was to be bashful or shy has, when called upon to read a copy of verses, even to a circle of intimate friends, lost her voice, and has utterly broken down, to her own and her friends' great astonishment.
The voice is a treacherous servant; it deserts us, trembles, makes a failure of it, is "not present or accounted for" often when we need its help. It is not alone in the shriek of the hysterical that we learn of its lawlessness, it is in its complete retirement. A bride, often, even when she felt no other embarrassment, has found that she had no voice with which to make her responses. It simply was not there!
A lady who was presented at court, and who felt--as she described herself--wonderfully at her ease, began talking, and, without wishing to speak loud, discovered that she was shouting like a trumpeter. The somewhat unusual strain which she had put upon herself, during the ordeal of being presented at the English court, revenged itself by an outpouring of voice which she could not control.
Many shy people have recognized in themselves this curious and unconscious elevation of the voice. It is not so common as a loss of voice, but it is quite as uncontrollable.
The bronchial tubes play us another trick when we are frightened: the voice is the voice of somebody else, it has no resemblance to our own. Ventriloquism might well study the phenomena of shyness, for the voice becomes bass that was treble, and soprano that which was contralto.
"I dislike to have Wilthorpe come to see me," said a very shy woman --"I know my voice will squeak so." With her Wilthorpe, who for some reason drove her into an agony of shyness, had the effect of making her talk in a high, unnatural strain, excessively fatiguing.
The presence of one's own family, who are naturally painfully sympathetic, has always had upon the bashful and the shy a most evil effect.
"I can never plead a cause before my father?" "Nor I before my son," said two distinguished lawyers. "If mamma is in the room, I shall never be able to get through my part," said a young amateur actor.
But here we must pause to note another exception in the laws of shyness.
In the false perspective of the stage shyness often disappears. The shy man, speaking the words, and assuming the character of another, often loses his shyness. It is himself of whom he is afraid, not of Tony Lumpkin or of Charles Surface, of Hamlet or of Claude Melnotte. Behind their masks he can speak well; but if he at his own dinner- table essays to speak, and mamma watches him with sympathetic eyes, and his brothers and sisters are all listening, he fails.
"Lord Percy sees me fall."
Yet it is with our own people that we must stand or fall, live or die; it is in our own circle that we must conquer our shyness.
Now, these reflections are not intended as an argument against sympathy properly expressed. A reasonable and judiciously expressed sympathy with our fellow-beings is the very highest attribute of our nature. "It unravels secrets more surely than the highest critical faculty. Analysis of motives that sway men and women is like the knife of the anatomist: it works on the dead. Unite sympathy to observation, and the dead Spring to life." It is thus to the shy, in their moments of tremor, that we should endeavor to be calmly unsympathetic; not cruel, but indifferent, unobservant.
Now, women of genius who obtain a reflected comprehension of certain aspects of life through sympathy often arrive at the admirable result of apprehending the sufferings of the shy without seeming to observe them. Such a woman, in talking to a shy man, will not seem to see him; she will prattle on about herself, or tell some funny anecdote of how she was tumbled out into the snow, or how she spilled her glass of claret at dinner, or how she got just too late to the lecture; and while she is thus absorbed in her little improvised autobiography, the shy man gets hold of himself and ceases to be afraid of her. This is the secret of tact.
Madame Recamier, the famous beauty, was always somewhat shy. She was not a wit, but she possessed the gift of drawing out what was best in others. Her biographers have blamed her that she had not a more impressionable temper, that she was not more sympathetic. Perhaps (in spite of her courage when she took up contributions in the churches dressed as a Neo-Greek) she was always hampered by shyness. She certainly attracted all the best and most gifted of her time, and had a noble fearlessness in friendship, and a constancy which she showed by following Madame de Stall into exile, and in her devotion to Ballenche and Chateaubriand. She had the genius of friendship, a native sincerity, a certain reality of nature--those fine qualities which so often accompany the shy that we almost, as we read biography and history, begin to think that shyness is but a veil for all the virtues.
Perhaps to this shyness, or to this hidden sympathy, did Madame Recamier owe that power over all men which survived her wonderful beauty. The blind and poor old woman of the Abbaye had not lost her charm; the most eminent men and women of her day followed her there, and enjoyed her quiet (not very eloquent) conversation. She had a wholesome heart; it kept her from folly when she was young, from a too over-facile sensitiveness to which an impressionable, sympathetic temperament would have betrayed her. Her firm, sweet nature was not flurried by excitement; she had a steadfastness in her social relations which has left behind an everlasting renown to her name.
And what are, after all, these social relations which call for so much courage, and which can create so much suffering to most of us as we conquer for them our awkwardness and our shyness? Let us pause for a moment, and try to be just. Let us contemplate these social ethics, which call for so much that is, perhaps, artificial and troublesome and contradictory. Society, so long as it is the congregation of the good, the witty, the bright, the intelligent, and the gifted, is the thing most necessary to us all. We are apt to like it and its excitements almost too well, or to hate it, with its excesses and its mistakes, too bitterly. We are rarely just to society.
The rounded and harmonious and temperate understanding and use of society is, however, the very end and aim of education. We are born to live with each other and not for ourselves; if we are cheerful, our cheerfulness was given to us to make bright the lives of those about us; if we have genius, that is a sacred trust; if we have beauty, wit, joyousness, it was given us for the delectation of others, not for ourselves; if we are awkward and shy, we are bound to break the crust and to show that within us is beauty, cheerfulness, and wit. "It is but the fool who loves excess." The best human being should moderately like society.
CHAPTER LV. CERTAIN QUESTIONS ANSWERED.
We are asked by a correspondent as to when a gentleman should wear his hat and when take it off. A gentleman wears his hat in the street, on a steamboat deck, raising it to a lady acquaintance; also in a promenade concert-room and picture-gallery. He never wears it in a theatre or opera-house, and seldom in the parlors of a hotel. The etiquette of raising the hat on the staircases and in the halls of a hotel as gentlemen pass ladies is much commended. In Europe each man raises his hat as he passes a bier, or if a hearse carrying a dead body passes him. In this country men simply raise their hats as a funeral cortège passes into a church, or at the grave. If a gentleman, particularly an elderly one, takes off his hat and stands uncovered in a draughty place, as the foyer of an opera-house, while talking to ladies, it is proper for one of them to say, "Pray resume your hat "--a delicate attention deeply prized by a respectful man, who, perhaps, would not otherwise cover his head.
Again, our young lady friends ask us many questions on the subject of propriety, showing how anxious they are to do right, but also proving how far they are from apprehending what in Old-World customs has been always considered propriety. In our new country the relations of men and women are necessarily simple. The whole business of etiquette is, of course, reduced to each one's sense of propriety, and the standard must be changed as the circumstances demand. As, for instance, a lady writes to know if she should thank a gentleman for paying for her on an excursion. Now this involves a long answer. In Europe no young lady could accept an invitation to go as the guest of a young gentleman on "an excursion," and allow him to pay for her, without losing much reputation. She would not in either England or France be received in society again. She should be invited by the gentleman through her father or mother, and one or both should accompany an her. Even then it is not customary for gentlemen to invite ladies to go on an excursion. He could invite the lady's mother to chaperon a theatre party which he had paid for.
Another young lady asks if she could with propriety buy the tickets and take a young gentleman to the theatre. Of course she could, if her mother or chaperon would go with her; but even then the mother or chaperon should write the note of invitation.
But in our free country it is, we hear, particularly in the West, allowable for a young lady and gentleman to go off on, "an excursion" together, the gentleman paying all the expenses. If that is allowed, then, of course--to answer our correspondent's question she should thank him. But if we were to answer the young lady's later question, "Would this be considered etiquette?" we should say, decidedly, No.
Another question which we are perpetually asked is this: How to allow a gentleman a proper degree of friendly intimacy without allowing him to think himself too much of a favorite. Here we cannot bring in either etiquette or custom to decide. One very general law would be not to accept too many attentions, to show a certain reserve in dancing with him or driving with him. It is always proper for a gentleman to take a young lady out to drive in his dog-cart with his servant behind, if her parents approve; but if it is done very often, of course it looks conspicuous, and the lady runs the risk of being considered engaged. And she knows, of course, whether her looks and words give him reason to think that he is a favorite. She must decide all that herself.
Another writes to ask us if she should take a gentleman's hat and coat when he calls. Never. Let him take care of those. Christianity and chivalry, modern and ancient custom, make a man the servant of women. The old form of salutation used by Sir Walter Raleigh and other courtiers was always, "Your servant, madam," and it is the prettiest and most admirable way for a man to address a woman in any language.
Another asks if she should introduce a gentleman who calls to her mother. This, we should say, would answer itself did not the question re-appear. Of course she should; and her mother should always sit with her when she is receiving a call from a gentleman.
But if in our lesser fashionable circles the restrictions of etiquette are relaxed, let a young lady always remember these general principles, that men will like and respect her far better if she is extremely particular about allowing them to pay for her, if she refuses two invitations out of three, if she is dignified and reserved rather than if she is the reverse.
At Newport it is now the fashion for young ladies to drive young men out in their pony-phaetons with a groom behind, or even without a groom; but a gentleman never takes out a lady in his own carriage without a servant.
Gentlemen and ladies walk together in the daytime unattended, but if they ride on horseback a groom is always in attendance on the lady. In rural neighborhoods where there are no grooms, and where a young lady and gentleman go off for a drive unattended, they have thrown Old-World etiquette out of the window, and must make a new etiquette of their own. Propriety, mutual respect, and American chivalry have done for women what all the surveillance of Spanish duennas and of French etiquette has done for the young girl of Europe. If a woman is a worker, an artist, a student, or an author, she can walk the Quartier Latin of Paris unharmed.
But she has in work an armor of proof. This is not etiquette when she comes into the world of fashion. She must observe etiquette, as she would do the laws of Prussia or of England, if she stands on foreign shores.
Perhaps we can illustrate this. Given a pretty young girl who shall arrive on the steamer _Germania_ after being several years at school in Paris, another who comes in by rail from Kansas, another from some quiet, remote part of Georgia, and leave them all at the New York Hotel for a winter. Let us imagine them all introduced at a New York ball to three gentlemen, who shall call on them the next day. If the girl educated in Paris, sitting by her mamma, hears the others talk to the young men she will be shocked. The girls who have been brought up far from the centers of etiquette seem to her to have no modesty, no propriety. They accept invitations from the young men to go to the theatre alone, to take drives, and perhaps, as we have said, to "go on an excursion."
To the French girl this seems to be a violation of propriety; but later on she accepts an invitation to go out on a coach, with perhaps ten or twelve others, and with a very young chaperon. The party does not return until twelve at night, and as they walk through the corridors to a late supper the young Western girl meets them, and sees that the young men are already the worse for wine: she is apt to say, "What a rowdy crowd!" and to think that, after all, etiquette permits its own sins, in which she is right.
In a general statement it may be as well to say that a severe etiquette would prevent a young lady from receiving gifts from a young man, except bonbonnieres and bouquets. It is not considered proper for him to offer her clothing of any sort--as gowns, bonnets, shawls, or shoes--even if he is engaged to her. She may use her discretion about accepting a camel's-hair shawl from a man old enough to be her father, but she should never receive jewelry from any one but a relative or her fiancé, just before marriage. The reason for this is obvious. It has been abused--the privilege which all men desire, that of decking women with finery.
A young lady should not write letters to young men, or send them presents, or take the initiative in any way. A friendly correspondence is very proper if the mother approves, but even this has its dangers. Let a young lady always remember that she is to the young man an angel to reverence until she lessens the distance between them and extinguishes respect.
Young women often write to us as to whether it is proper for them to write letters of condolence or congratulation to ladies older than themselves. We should say, Yes. The respect of young girls is always felt gratefully by older ladies. The manners of the present are vastly to be objected to on account of a lack of respect. The rather bitter Mr. Carlyle wrote satirically of the manners of young ladies. He even had his fling at their laugh: "Few are able to laugh what can be called laughing, but only sniff and titter from the throat outward, or at best produce some whiffling husky cachinnations as if they were laughing through wool. Of none such comes good." A young lady must not speak too loud or be too boisterous; she must even tone down her wit, lest she be misunderstood. But she need not be dull, or grumpy, or ill-tempered, or careless of her manners, particularly to her mother's old friends. She must not talk slang, or be in any way masculine; if she is, she loses the battle. A young lady is sometimes called upon to be a hostess if her mother is dead. Here her liberty becomes greater, but she should always have an aunt or some elderly friend by her side to play chaperon.
A young lady may do any manual labor without losing caste. She may be a good cook, a fine laundress, a carver of wood, a painter, a sculptor, an embroideress, a writer, a physician, and she will be eligible, if her manners are good, to the best society anywhere. But if she outrage the laws of good-breeding in the place where she is, she cannot expect to take her place in society. Should she be seen at Newport driving two gentlemen in her pony-phaeton, or should she and another young woman take a gentleman between them and drive down Bellevue Avenue, she would be tabooed. It would not be a wicked act, but it would not look well; it would not be convenable. If she dresses "loudly," with peculiar hats and a suspicious complexion, she must take the consequences. She must be careful (if she is unknown) not to attempt to copy the follies of well-known fashionable women. What will be forgiven to Mrs. Well Known Uptown will never be forgiven to Miss Kansas. Society in this respect is very unjust--the world is always unjust--but that is a part of the truth of etiquette which is to be remembered; it is founded on the accidental conditions of society, having for its background, however, the eternal principles of kindness, politeness, and the greatest good of society.
A young lady who is very prominent in society should not make herself too common; she should not appear in too many charades, private theatricals, tableaux, etc. She should think of the "violet by the mossy stone." She must, also, at a watering-place remember that every act of hers is being criticized by a set of lookers-on who are not all friendly, and she must, ere she allow herself to be too much of a belle, remember to silence envious tongues.