MANNERS AND SOCIAL USAGES
CHAPTER LVI. ENGLISH TABLE MANNERS AND SOCIAL USAGES.
In no respect can American and English etiquette be contrasted more fully than in the matter of the every-day dinner, which in America finds a lady in a plain silk dress, high-necked and long-sleeved, but at which the English lady always appears in a semi-grand toilette, with open Pompadour corsage and elbow sleeves, if not in low-necked, full-dress attire; while her daughters are uniformly sleeveless, and generally in white dresses, often low-necked in depth of winter. At dinner all the men are in evening dress, even if there is no one present at the time but the family.
The dinner is not so good as the ordinary American dinner, except in the matter of fish, which is universally very fine. The vegetables are few and poor, and the "sweets," as they call dessert, are very bad. A gooseberry tart is all that is offered to one at an ordinary dinner, although fine strawberries and a pine are often brought in afterwards. The dinner is always served with much state, and afterwards the ladies all combine to amuse the guests by their talents. There is no false shame in England about singing and playing the piano. Even poor performers do their best, and contribute very much to the pleasure of the company. At the table people do not talk much, nor do they gesticulate as Americans do. They eat very quietly, and speak in low tones. No matters of family history or religion or political differences are discussed before the servants. Talking with the mouth full is considered an unpardonable vulgarity. All small preferences for any particular dish are kept in the background. No hostess ever apologizes, or appears to hear or see anything disagreeable. If the _omelet soufflé_ is a failure, she does not observe it; the servant offers and withdraws it, nor is any one disturbed thereby. As soon as one is helped he must begin to eat, not waiting for any one else. If the viand is too hot or too cold, or is not what the visitor likes, he pretends to eat it, playing with knife and fork.
No guest ever passes a plate or helps to anything; the servant does all that. Soup is taken from the side of the spoon noiselessly. Soup and fish are not partaken of a second time. If there is a joint, and the master carves, it is proper, however, to ask for a second cut. Bread is passed by the servants, and must be broken, not cut, afterwards. It is considered _gauche_ to be undecided as to whether you will take clear soup or thick soup; decide quickly. In refusing wine, simply say, "Thanks;" the servant knows then that you do not take any.
The servants retire after handing the dessert, and a few minutes' free conversation is allowed. Then the lady of the house gives the signal for rising. Toasts and taking wine with people are entirely out of fashion; nor do the gentlemen remain long in the dining-room.
At the English dinner-table, from the plainest to the highest, there is etiquette, manner, fine service, and everything that Englishmen enjoy. The wit, the courtier, the beauty, and the poet aim at appearing well at dinner. The pleasures of the table, says Savarin, bring neither enchantment, ecstasy, nor transports, but they gain in duration what they lose in intensity; they incline us favorably towards all other pleasures--at least help to console us for the loss of them.
At very few houses, even that of a duke, does one see so elegant a table and such a profusion of flowers as at every millionaire's table in New York; but one does see superb old family silver and the most beautiful table-linen even at a very plain abode. The table is almost uniformly lighted with wax candles. Hot coffee is served immediately after dinner in the drawing-room. Plum-pudding, a sweet omelet, or a very rich plum-tart is often served in the middle of dinner, before the game. The salad always comes last, with the cheese. This is utterly unlike our American etiquette.
Tea is served in English country-houses four or five times a day. It is always brought to your bedside before rising; it is poured at breakfast and at lunch; it is a necessary of life at five o'clock; it is drunk just before going to bed. Probably the cold, damp climate has much to do with this; and the tea is never very strong, but is excellent, being always freshly drawn, not steeped, and is most refreshing.
Servants make the round of the table in pairs, offering the condiments, the sauces, the vegetables, and the wines. The common- sense of the English nation breaks out in their dinners. Nothing is offered out of season. To make too great a display of wealth is considered bourgeois and vulgar to a degree. A choice but not oversumptuous dinner meets you in the best houses. But to sit down to the plainest dinners, as we do, in plain clothes, would never be permitted. Even ladies in deep mourning are expected to make some slight change at dinner.
Iced drinks are never offered in England, nor in truth are they needed.
In England no one speaks of "sherry wine," "port wine;" "champagne wine," he always says "sherry," "port," "claret," etc. But in France one always says "vin de Champagne," "vin de Bordeaux," etc. It goes to show that what is proper in one country is vulgar in another.
It is still considered proper for the man of the house to know how to carve, and at breakfast and lunch the gentlemen present always cut the cold beef, the fowl, the pressed veal and the tongue. At a country-house dinner the lady often helps the soup herself. Even at very quiet dinners a menu is written out by the hostess and placed at each plate. The ceremony of the "first lady" being taken in first and allowed to go out first is always observed at even a family dinner. No one apologizes for any accident, such as overturning a glass of claret, or dropping a spoon, or even breaking a glass. It is passed over in silence.
No English lady ever reproves her servants at table, nor even before her husband and children. Her duty at table is to appear serene and unruffled. She puts her guests at their ease by appearing at ease herself. In this respect English hostesses are far ahead of American ones.
In the matter of public holidays and of their amusements the English people behave very unlike American people. If there is a week of holidays, as at Whitsuntide, all the laboring classes go out of town and spend the day in the parks, the woods, or the country. By this we mean shop-girls, clerks in banks, lawyer's clerks, young artists, and physicians, all, in fact, who make their bread by the sweat of their brows. As for the privileged classes, they go from London to their estates, put on plain clothes, and fish or bunt, or the ladies go into the woods to pick wild-flowers. The real love of nature, which is so honorable a part of the English character, breaks out in great and small. In America a holiday is a day when people dress in their best, and either walk the streets of a great city, or else take drives, or go to museums or theatres, or do something which smacks of civilization. How few put on their plain clothes and stout shoes and go into the woods! How much better it would be for them if they did!
At Whitsuntide the shop-girls of London--a hard worked class--go down to Epping Forest, or to Hampton Court, or to Windsor, with their basket of lunch, and everywhere one sees the sign "Hot Water for Tea," which means that they go into the humble inn and pay a penny for the use of the teapot and cup and the hot water, bringing their own tea and sugar. The economy which is a part of every Englishman's religion could well be copied in America. Even a duchess tries to save money, saying wisely that it is better to give it away in charity than to waste it.
An unpleasant feature of English life is, however, the open palm, every one being willing to take a fee, from a penny up to a shilling, for the smallest service. The etiquette of giving has to be learned. A shilling is, however, as good as a guinea for ordinary use; no one but an American gives more.
The carriage etiquette differs from ours, as the gentleman of the family rides beside his wife, allowing his daughters to ride backwards. He also smokes in the Park in the company of ladies, which looks boorish. However, no gentleman sits beside a lady in driving unless he is her husband, father, son, or brother. Not even an affianced lover is permitted this seat.
It must be confessed that the groups in Hyde Park and in Rotten Row and about the Serpentine have a solemn look, the people in the carriages rarely chatting, but sitting up in state to be looked at, the people in chairs gravely staring at the others. None but the people on horseback seem at their ease; they chat as they ride, and, all faultlessly caparisoned as they are, with well-groomed horses, and servants behind, they seem gay and jolly. In America it is the equestrian who always looks preoccupied and solemn, and as if the horse were quite enough to manage. The footmen are generally powdered and very neatly dressed in livery, in the swell carriages, but the coachmen are not so highly gotten up as formerly. Occasionally one sees a very grand fat old coachman in wig and knee- breeches, but Jeames Yellowplush is growing a thing of the past even in London.
A lady does not walk alone in the Park. She may walk alone to church, or to do her shopping, but even this is not common. She had better take a hansom, it now being proper for ladies to go out to dinner alone in full dress in one of these singularly open and exposed-looking carriages. It is not an uncommon sight to see a lady in a diamond tiara in a London hansom by the blazing light of a summer sun. Thus what we should shun as a very public thing the reserved English woman does in crowded London, and regards it as proper, while she smiles if she sees an American lady alone in a Victoria in Hyde Park, and would consider her a very improper person if she asked a gentleman to drive out with her--as we do in our Park every day of our lives--in an open carriage. Truly etiquette is a curious and arbitrary thing, and differs in every country.
In France, where they consider English people frightfully gauche, all this etiquette is reversed, and is very much more like ours in America. A Frenchman always takes off his hat on entering or leaving a railway carriage if ladies are in it. An Englishman never takes his hat off unless the Princess of Wales is passing, or he meets an acquaintance. He sits with it on in the House of Commons, in the reading-room of a hotel, at his club, where it is his privilege to sulk; but in his own house he is the most charming of hosts. The rudest and almost the most unkind persons in the world, if you meet them without a letter or an introduction in a public place, the English become in their own houses the most gentle, lovely, and polite of all people. If the ladies meet in a friend's parlor, there is none of that snobbish rudeness which is the fashion in America, where one lady treats another as if she were afraid of contamination, and will not speak to her. The lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria, the duchess, is not afraid of her nobility; her friend's roof is an introduction; she speaks.
There is a great sense of the value of a note. If a lady writes a pretty note expressing thanks for civilities offered to her, all the family call on her and thank her for her politeness. It is to be feared that in this latter piece of good-breeding we are behind our English cousins. The English call immediately after a party, an invitation, or a letter of introduction. An elegant and easy epistolary style is of great use in England; and indeed a lady is expected even to write to an artist asking permission to call and see his pictures--a thing rarely thought of in America.
CHAPTER LVII. AMERICAN AND ENGLISH ETIQUETTE CONTRASTED.
No sooner does the American traveler land in England than are forced upon his consideration the striking differences in the etiquette of the two countries, the language for common things, the different system of intercourse between the employee and the employer, the intense respectfulness of the guard on the railway, the waiter at the hotel, and the porter who shoulders a trunk, and the Stately "manageress" of the hotel, who greets a traveler as "my lady," and holds out her hand for a shilling. This respect strikes him forcibly. The American in a similar position would not show the politeness, but she would disdain the shilling. No American woman likes to take a "fee," least of all an American landlady. In England there is no such sensitiveness. Everybody can be feed who does even the most elevated service. The stately gentlemen who show Windsor Castle expect a shilling. Now as to the language for common things. No American must ask for an apothecary's shop; he would not be understood. He must inquire for the "chemist's" if he wants a dose of medicine. Apothecaries existed in Shakespeare's time, as we learn from "Romeo and Juliet," but they are "gone out" since. The chemist has been born, and very good chemicals he keeps. As soon as an American can divest himself of his habit of saying "baggage," and remark that he desires his "luggage sent up by the four train," the better for him. And it is the better for him if he learns the language of the country quickly. Language in England, in all classes, is a much more elaborate and finished science than with us. Every one, from the cad to the cabinet minister, speaks his sentences with what seems to us at first a stilted effort. There is none of the easy drawl, the oblivion of consonants, which mark our daily talk, It is very beautiful in the speech of women in England, this clear enunciation and the proper use of words. Even the maid who lights your fire asks your permission to do so in a studied manner, giving each letter its place. The slang of England is the affectation of the few. The "general public," as we should say, speak our common language most correctly. At first it sounds affected and strained, but soon the American ear grows to appreciate it, and finds the pure well of English undefiled.
The American lady will be sure to be charmed with the manners of the very respectable person who lets lodgings, and she will be equally sure to be shocked at the extortions of even the most honest and best-meaning of them. Ice, lights, an extra egg for breakfast, all these common luxuries, which are given away in America, and considered as necessaries of existence, are charged for in England, and if a bath is required in the morning in the tub which always stands near the wash-stand, an extra sixpence is required for that commonplace adjunct of the toilette. If ladies carry their own wine from the steamer to a lodging-house, and drink it there, or offer it to their friends, they are charged "corkage." On asking the meaning of this now almost obsolete relic of barbarism, they are informed that the lodging-house keeper pays a tax of twenty pounds a year for the privilege of using wine or spirits on the premises, and seven shillings--equal to nearly two dollars of our money--was charged an invalid lady who opened one bottle of port and two little bottles of champagne of her own in a lodging-house in Half-moon Street. As it was left on the sideboard and nearly all drunk up by the waiter, the lady demurred, but she had no redress. A friend told her afterwards that she should have uncorked her bottles in her bedroom, and called it medicine.
These abuses, practiced principally on Americans, are leading to the far wiser and more generous plan of hotel living, where, as with us, a man may know how much he is paying a day, and may lose this disagreeable sense of being perpetually plucked. No doubt to English people, who know how to cope with the landlady, who are accustomed to dole out their stores very carefully, who know how to save a sixpence, and will go without a lump of sugar in their tea rather than pay for it, the lodging-house living has its conveniences. It certainly is quieter and in some respects more comfortable than a hotel, but it goes against the grain for any one accustomed to the good breakfasts, the hearty lunch, and the excellent dinners of an American hotel of the better class, to have to pay for a drink of ice-water, and to be told that the landlady cannot give him soup and fish on the same day unless her pay is raised. Indeed, it is difficult to make any positive terms; the "extras" will come in. This has led to the building of gigantic hotels in London on the American plan, which arise rapidly on all sides. The Grand Hotel, the Bristol, the First Avenue Hotel, the Midland, the Northwestern, the Langham, and the Royal are all better places for an American than the lodging-house, and they are very little if any more expensive. In a lodging-house a lady must have a parlor, but in a hotel she can sit in the reading-room, or write her letters at one of the half-dozen little tables which she will find in each of the many waiting-rooms.
London is a very convenient city for the writing and posting of letters. Foreigners send out their letters of introduction and cards, expecting a reply in a few days, when, lo! the visitor is announced as being outside. Here, again, London has the advantage of New York. The immediate attention paid to a letter of introduction might shame our more tardy hospitality. Never in the course of the history of England has self-respecting Londoner neglected a letter of introduction. If he is well-to-do, he asks the person who brings the letter to dinner; if he is poor, he does what he can. He is not ashamed to offer merely the hospitality of a cup of tea if he can do no more. But he calls, and he sends you tickets for the "Zoo," or he does something to show his appreciation of the friend who has given the letter. Now in America we are very tardy about all this, and often, to our shame, take no notice of letters of introduction.
In the matter of dress the American lady finds a complete bouleversement_of her own ideas. Who would not stare, on alighting at the Fifth Avenue Hotel in the hot sunshine of a June evening, to find ladies trooping in at the public entrance dressed in red and blue and gold, with short sleeves or no sleeves, and very low corsage, no cloak, no head-covering? And yet at the Grand Hotel in London this is the nightly custom. These ladies are dressed for theatre or opera, and they go to dine at a hotel first. No bonnet is allowed at any theatre, so the full dress (which we should deem very improper at Wallack's) is demanded at every theatre in London. Of course elderly and quiet ladies can go in high dresses, but they must not wear bonnets. The laws of the Medes and Persians were not more strictly enforced than is this law by the custodians of the theatre, who are neatly dressed women ushers with becoming caps. Here, again, is a difference of custom, as we have no women ushers in America, and in this respect the English fashion is the prettier. It would be well, if we could introduce the habit of going to the theatre bonnetless, for our high hats are universally denounced by those who sit behind us.
The appearance of English women now to the stranger in London partakes of a character of loudness, excepting when on the top of a coach. There they are most modestly and plainly dressed. While our American women wear coaching dresses of bright orange silks and white satins, pink trimmed with lace, and so on, the English woman wears a plain colored dress, with a black mantilla or wrap, and carries a dark parasol. No brighter dress than a fawn-colored foulard appears on a coach in the great London parade of the Four- in-Hands.
Here the London woman is more sensible than her American cousin. The Americans who now visit London are apt to be so plain and undemonstrative in dress that they are called shabby. Perhaps alarmed at the comments once made on their loudness of dress, the American woman has toned down, and finds herself less gay than she sees is fashionable at the theatre and opera. But she may be sure of one thing--she should be plainly dressed rather than overdressed.
As for dinner parties, one is asked at eight or half-past eight; no one is introduced, but every one talks. The conversation is apt to be low-voiced, but very bright and cordial--all English people unbending at dinner. It is etiquette to leave a card next day after a ball, and to call on a lady's reception day. For the out-of-door fetes at Hurlington and Sandhurst and the race days very brilliant toilettes of short dresses, gay bonnets, and so on, are proper, and as no one can go to the first two without a special invitation, the people present are apt to be "swells," and well worth seeing. The coaches which come out to these festivities have well-dressed women on top, but they usually conceal their gay dresses with a wrap of some somber color while driving through London. No one makes the slightest advance towards an acquaintance or an intimacy in London. All is begun very formally by the presentation of letters, and after that the invitation must be immediately accepted or declined, and no person can, without offending his host, withdraw from a lunch or dinner without making a most reasonable excuse. An American gentleman long resident in London complains of his country-people in this respect.
He says they accept his invitations to dinner, he gets together a most distinguished company to meet them, and at the last moment they send him word: "So sorry, but have come in tired from Richmond. Think we won't come. Thank you."
Now where is his dinner party? Three or four angry Londoners, who might have gone to a dozen different dinners, are sulkily sitting about waiting for these Americans who take a dinner invitation so lightly.
The London luncheon, which is a very plain meal compared with ours-- indeed, only a family dinner--is a favorite hospitality as extended to Americans by busy men. Thus Sir John Millais, whose hours are worth twenty pounds apiece, receives his friends at a plain lunch in his magnificent house, at a table at which his handsome wife and rosy daughters assist. So with Alma Tadema, and the literary people whose time is money. Many of the noble people, whose time is not worth so much, also invite one to lunch, and always the meal is an informal one.
English ladies are very accomplished as a rule, and sometimes come into the drawing-room with their painting aprons over their gowns. They never look so well as on horseback, where they have a perfection of outfit and such horses and grooms as our American ladies as yet cannot approach. The scene at the corner of Rotten Row of a bright afternoon in the Derby week is unapproachable in any country in the world.
Many American ladies, not knowing the customs of the country, have, with their gentlemen friends, mounted a coach at the Langham Hotel, and have driven to the Derby, coming home very much shocked because they were rudely accosted.
Now ladies should never go to the Derby. It is not a "lady" race. It is five hundred thousand people out on a spree, and no lady is safe there. Ascot, on the contrary, _is_ a lady's race. But then she should have a box, or else sit on the top of a coach. Such is the etiquette.
It would be better for all Americans, before entering London society, to learn the etiquette of these things from some resident.
In driving about, the most aristocratic lady can use the most plebeian conveyance. The "four-wheeler" is the favorite carriage. A servant calls them from the door-step with a whistle. They are very cheap--one-and-sixpence for two miles, including a call not to exceed fifteen minutes (the call). The hansom cab with one horse is equally cheap, but not so easy to get in and out of. Both these vehicles, with trunks on top of them, and a lady within, drive through the Park side by side with the stately carriages. In this respect London is more democratic than New York.
CHAPTER LVIII. HOW TO TREAT ENGLISH PEOPLE.
The highest lady in the realm, Queen Victoria, is always addressed by the ladies and gentlemen of her household, and by all members of the aristocracy and gentry, as "Ma'am," not "Madam," or "Your Majesty," but simply, "Yes, ma'am," "No, ma'am." All classes not coming within the category of gentry, such as the lower professional classes, the middle classes, the lower middle classes, the lower classes (servants), would address her as "Your Majesty," and not as "Ma'am." The Prince of Wales is addressed as "Sir" by the aristocracy and gentry, and never as "Your Royal Highness" by either of these classes, but by all other people he is addressed as "Your Royal Highness."
The other sons of Queen Victoria are addressed as "Sir" by the upper classes, but as "Your Royal Highness" by the middle and lower classes, and by all persons not coming within the category of gentry; and by gentry, English people mean not only the landed gentry, but all persons belonging to the army and navy, the clergy, the bar, the medical and other professions, the aristocracy of art (Sir Frederick Leighton, the President of the Royal Academy, can always claim a private audience with the sovereign), the aristocracy of wealth, merchant princes, and the leading City merchants and bankers. The Princess of Wales and all the princesses of the blood royal are addressed as "Ma'am" by the aristocracy and gentry, but as "Your Royal Highness" by all other classes.
A foreign prince is addressed as "Prince" and "Sir" by the aristocracy and gentry, and as "Your Serene Highness" by all other classes; and a foreign princess would be addressed as "Princess" by the aristocracy, or "Your Serene Highness" by the lower grades, but never as "Ma'am."
An English duke is addressed as "Duke" by the aristocracy and gentry, and never as "Your Grace" by the members of either of these classes; but all other classes address him as "Your Grace." A marquis is sometimes conversationally addressed by the upper classes as "Markis," but generally as "Lord A--," and a marchioness as "Lady B--;" all other classes would address them as "Marquis" or "Marchioness." The same remark holds good as to earls, countesses, barons, baronnesses--all are "Lord B--" or "Lady B--."
But Americans, who are always, if presented at court, entitled to be considered as aristocracy and gentry, and as such are always received, must observe that English people do not use titles often even in speaking to a duke. It is only an ignorant person who garnishes his conversation with these titles. Let the conversation with Lord B flow on without saying "My lord" or "Lord B--" more frequently than is absolutely necessary. One very ignorant American in London was laughed at for saying, "That isn't so, lord," to a nobleman. He should have said, "That isn't so, I think," or, "That isn't so, Lord B--," or "my lord."
The daughters of dukes, marquises, and earls are addressed as "Lady Mary," "Lady Gwendoline," etc. This must never be forgotten, and the younger sons of dukes and marquises are called "Lord John B--," "Lord Randolph Churchill," etc. The wife of the younger son should always be addressed by both the Christian and surname of her husband by those slightly acquainted with her, and by her husband's Christian name only by her intimate friends. Thus those who know Lady Randolph Churchill well address her as "Lady Randolph." The younger sons of earls, viscounts, and barons bear the courtesy title of "Honorable," as do the female members of the family; but this is never used colloquially under any circumstances, although always in addressing a letter to them.
Baronets are addressed by their full title and surname, as "Sir Stafford Northcote," etc., by persons of the upper classes, and by their titles and Christian names by all lower classes. Baronets' wives are addressed as "Lady B--"or "Lady C--." They should not be addressed as "Lady Thomas B--'" that would be to give them the rank of the wife of a younger son of a duke or marquis, instead of that of a baronet's wife only.
In addressing foreigners of rank colloquially the received rule is to address them by their individual titles without the addition of the surname to their titles. In case of a prince being a younger son he is addressed as "Prince Henry," as in the case of Prince Henry of Battenberg. The sons of the reigning monarchs are addressed as "Your Imperial Highness." A foreign nobleman is addressed as "Monsieur le Duc," "Monsieur le Comte," "Monsieur le Baron," etc.; but if there is no prefix of "de," the individual is addressed as "Baron Rothschild," "Count Hohenthal," etc.
While it is proper on the Continent to address an unmarried woman as mademoiselle, without the surname, in England it would be considered very vulgar. "Miss" must be followed by the surname. The wives of archbishops, bishops, and deans are simply Mrs. A--, Mrs. B--, etc., while the archbishop and bishop are always addressed as "Your Grace" and as "My lord," their wives deriving no precedency and no title from their husbands' ecclesiastical rank. It is the same with military personages.
Peeresses invariably address their husbands by their title; thus the Duchess of Sutherland calls her husband "Sutherland," etc. Baronets' wives call their husbands "Sir John" or "Sir George," etc.
The order of precedency in England is strictly adhered to, and English matrons declare that it is the greatest convenience, as it saves them all the trouble of choosing who shall go in first, etc. For this reason, among others, the "Book of the Peerage" has been called the Englishman's Bible, it is so often consulted.
But the question of how to treat English people has many another phase than that of mere title, as we look at it from an American point of view.
When we visit England we take rank with the highest, and can well afford to address the queen as "Ma'am." In fact, we are expected to do so. A well-bred, well-educated, well-introduced American has the highest position in the social scale. He may not go in to dinner with a duchess, but he is generally very well placed. As for a well- bred, handsome woman, there is no end to the privileges of her position in England, if she observes two or three rules. She should not effuse too much, nor be too generous of titles, nor should she fail of the necessary courtesy due always from guest to hostess. She should have herself presented at court by her Minister or by some distinguished friend, if She wishes to enter fashionable society. Then she has the privilege of attending any subsequent Drawing-room, and is eligible to invitations to the court bails and royal concerts, etc.
American women have succeeded wonderfully of late years in all foreign society from their beauty, their wit, and their originality. From the somewhat perilous admiration of the Prince of Wales and other Royal Highnesses for American beauties, there has grown up, however, a rather presumptuous boldness in some women, which has rather speedily brought them into trouble, and therefore it may be advisable that even a witty and very pretty woman should hold herself in check in England.
English people are very kind in illness, grief, or in anything which is inevitable, but they are speedily chilled by any step towards a too sudden intimacy. They resent anything like "pushing" more than any other people in the world. In no country has intellect, reading, cultivation, and knowledge such "success" as in England. If a lady, especially, can talk well, she is invited everywhere. If she can do anything to amuse the company--as to sing well, tell fortunes by the hand, recite, or play in charades or private theatricals--she is almost sure of the highest social recognition. She is expected to dress well, and Americans are sure to do this. The excess of dressing too much is to be discouraged. It is far better to be too plain than too fine in England, as, indeed, it is everywhere; an overdressed woman is undeniably vulgar in any country.
If we could learn to treat English people as they treat us in the matter of _introductions_, it would be a great advance. The English regard a letter of introduction as a sacred institution and an obligation which cannot be disregarded. If a lady takes a letter to Sir John Bowring, and he has illness in his family and cannot ask her to dinner, he comes to call on her, he sends her tickets for every sort of flower show, the museums, the Botanical Garden, and all the fine things; he sends her his carriage--he evidently has her on his mind. Sir Frederick Leighton, the most courted, the busiest man in London, is really so kind, so attentive, so assiduous in his response to letters of introduction that one hesitates to present a letter for fear of intruding on his industrious and valuable life.
Of course there are disagreeable English people, and there is an animal known as the English snob, than which there is no Tasmanian devil more disagreeable. Travelers everywhere have met this variety, and one would think that formerly it must have been more common than it is now. There are also English families who have a Continental, one might say a cosmopolitan, reputation for disagreeability, as we have some American families, well known to history, who have an almost patrician and hereditary claim to the worst manners in the universe. Well-born bears are known all over the world, but they are in the minority. It is almost a sure sign of base and ignoble blood to be badly mannered. And if the American visitor treats his English host half as well as the host treats him, he may feel assured that the _entente cordiale_ will soon be perfect.
One need not treat the average Englishman either with a too effusive cordiality or with that half-contemptuous fear of being snubbed which is of all things the most disagreeable. A sort of "chip on the shoulder" spread-eagleism formerly made a class of Americans unpopular; now Americans are in favor in England, and are treated most cordially.
CHAPTER LIX. A FOREIGN TABLE D'HOTE, AND CASINO LIFE ABROAD.
Life at a French watering-place differs so essentially from that at our own Saratoga, Sharon, Richfield, Newport, and Long Branch, that a few items of observation may be indulged in to show us what an immense improvement we could introduce into our study of amusement by following the foreign fashions of simplicity in eating and drinking.
The Continental people never eat that heavy early meal which we call breakfast. They take in their rooms at eight o'clock a cup of coffee and a roll, what they call _caf, complet_, or they may prefer tea and oatmeal, the whole thing very simple. Then at Aix-les Rains or Vichy the people under treatment go to the bath, taking a rest afterwards. All this occupies an hour. They then rise and dress for the eleven o'clock _d,jeuner ... la fourchette_, which is a formal meal served in courses, with red wine instead of coffee or tea. This is all that one has to do in the eating line until dinner. Imagine what a fine clear day that gives one. How much uninterrupted time! How much better for the housekeeper in a small boarding-house! And at a hotel where the long, heavy breakfast, from seven to eleven, keeps the dining-room greasy and badly ventilated until the tables must be cleared for a one or two o'clock dinner, it is to contrast order with disorder, and neatness with its reverse.
The foreign breakfast at eleven is a delicious meal, as will be seen by the following bills of fare: oeufs au beurre noir; saut, printanier (a sort of stew of meat and fresh vegetables); viande froide panache; salade de saison; compote de fruit et patisserie; fromage, fruit, cafe.
Another breakfast is: oeufs au plat; poulet ... la Godard; cetelettes de mouton grillees; reviere pommes de terre; flans d'apricot; and so on, with every variety of stewed pigeon, trout from the lake, delicious preparations of spinach, and always a variety of the cheeses which are so fresh and so healthful, just brought from the Alpine valleys. The highly flavored Alpine strawberries are added to this meal. Then all eating is done for the day until the six or seven o'clock dinner. This gives the visitor a long and desirable day for excursions, which in the neighborhood of Aix are especially charming, particularly the drive to Chambery, one of the most quaintly interesting of towns, through the magnificent break in the Alps at whose southern portal stands La Grande Chartreuse. All this truly healthy disposition of time and of eating is one reason why a person comes home from a foreign watering-place in so much better trim, morally, mentally, and physically, than from the unhealthy gorging of our American summer resorts.
At twelve or one begins the music at the Casino, usually a pretty building in a garden. In this shady park the mammas with their children sit and listen to the strains of the best bands in Europe. Paris sends her artists from the Chftelet, and the morning finds itself gone and well into the afternoon before the outside pleasures of the Casino are exhausted. Here, of course, trip up and down on the light fantastic toe, and in the prettiest costumes of the day, all the daughters of the earth, with their attendant cavaliers. There are certain aspects of a foreign watering-place with which we have nothing to do here, such as the gambling and the overdressing of a certain class, but all is externally most respectable. At four or earlier every one goes to drive in the voiture de place or the voiture de remise, the latter being a handsome hired carriage of a superior class. But the voiture de place, with a Savoyard driver, is good enough. He knows the road; his sturdy horse is accustomed to the hills; he takes one for three francs an hour--about half what is charged at Saratoga or Sharon or Richfield; he expects a few cents as pourboire, that is all. The vehicle is a humble sort of Victoria, very easy and safe, and the drive is generally through scenery of the most magnificent description.
Ladies at a foreign watering-place have generally much to amuse them at the shops. Antiquities of all sorts, especially old china (particularly old Saxe), also old carved furniture from the well- known chateaux of Savoy, are found at Aix. The prices are so small compared with what such curiosities would bring in New York that the buyer is tempted to buy what she does not want, forgetting how much it will cost to get it home. Old lace and bits of embroidery and stuffs are brought to the door. There is nothing too rococo for the peripatetic vender in these foreign watering-places.
The dinner is a very good one. Cooked by Italian or French cooks, it may be something of this sort: potage de riz; lavarets St. Houlade; filets de boeuf Beaumaire (a delicious sauce with basil mixed in it, a slight taste of aniseed); bouchers ... la reine; chapon roti au cresson; asperge au branches; glace au chocolat; cafe; or: potage au Crecy; turbot aux capres; langue de boeuf; petits pois, lies au beurre; bombe vanille; with fruits, cheese, and cakes, and always the wine of the country, for which no extra charge is made. These delicious meals cost--the breakfast four francs (wine included), the dinner ten francs. It would be difficult in our country to find such cooking anywhere, and for that price simply impossible.
Music in the Casino grounds follows the dinner. The pretty women, by this time in the short, gay foulards and in the dressy hats in which they will appear later at the Casino ball, are tripping up and down in the gas-lighted grounds. The scene is often illuminated by fireworks. At eight and a half the whole motley crew has entered the Casino, and there the most amusing dancing--valse, galop, and polka --is in vogue. The Pole is known by his violent dancing; "he strikes and flutters like a cock, he capers in the air, he kicks his heels up to the stars." There is heartiness in the dancing of the Swedes and Danes, there is mettle in their heels, but no people caper like the Poles. The Russians and the Americans dance the best. They are the elegant dancers of the world. French women dance beautifully:
"A fine, sweet earthquake, gently moved By the soft wind of their dispersing silks."
No lady appears at the Casino bareheaded; it is always with hat or bonnet, and she lives in her bonnet more or less even at the balls.
If a concert or a play is going on in the little theatre, the same people take their places in boxes or seats, until every face becomes familiar, as one knows one's shipmates. Sometimes pleasant acquaintances are thus formed. A very free-and-easy system of etiquette permits dancing between parties who have not been introduced, and the same privilege extends to the asking of a party of ladies to take an ice. All acquaintance ceases on leaving the Casino, however, unless the lady chooses to bow to her cavalier.
Sometimes the steward of the Casino gets up a fancy-dress ball under the patronage of some lady, and then the motley crew appear as historical characters. It is a unique and gay spectacle. Here in the land of the old masters some very fine representations of the best pictures are hastily improvised, and almost without any apparent effort the whole ball is gotten up with spirit and ingenuity. This, too, among people who never met the day before yesterday. There is a wide range of costume allowed for those who take part in these revelries.
The parquet floor of a foreign Casino is the most perfect thing for good dancing. They understand laying these floors there better than we do, and the climate does not alter them, as with us. They are the pleasantest and easiest of all floors to dance upon.
Not the least striking episode to an American eye is the sight of many priests and men in ecclesiastical garments at these Casinos. The number of priestly robes everywhere strikes the visitor to a French watering-place most emphatically. The schoolmasters are young priests, and walk about with their boys, and the old priests are everywhere. A solemn procession crosses the gay scene occasionally. Three or four acolytes bearing censers, a group of mourners, a tall and stately nun in gray robes and veil walking magnificently, and moving her lips in prayer; then a group of people; then a priest with book in hand saying aloud the prayers for the dead; then the black box, the coffin, carried on a bier by men, the motley crowd uncovering as the majesty passes; and the boys follow, chanting,
"The glories of our birth and state Are shadows, not substantial things; There is no armor against fate; Death lays his icy hand on kings."
Yes, and on the gay visitor at the Casino. These simple and unostentatious funerals are very impressive. The priests always walk bareheaded through the streets on these occasions, and on many others. Indeed, the priestly head seems impatient of a hat.
The f^tes of the peasants are things to go and see, and the unalterable differences of rank are deeply impressed on the American mind. An old peasant woman has brought cheese and milk into Aix for forty years, and now, in her sixties, she still brings them, and walks eight miles a day. There is no hope that her daughter will ever join in the gayeties of the Casino, as in America she might certainly aspire to do. The daughter will be a peasant, as her mother was, and far happier and more respectable for it, and certainly more picturesque. How many of the peasant dresses have given an idea to the modiste! And one sees in the fields of Savoy the high hat with conical crown, with brim either wide or flat, which has now become so fashionable; also the flat mushroom hat of straw with the natural bunch of corn and red poppy, which has gone from Fanchon up to the duchess. They both come from the fields.
Of course horse-races, formed after the plan of Longchamps, are inseparable from the amusements of a French watering-place; and in proportion to the number of guests to be amused; the horses come down from the various stables. Pigeon-shooting goes on all the time.
It is said that the French have a greater hatred of ennui than any other people in the world. They do not know what it means. They amuse themselves all the time, and are never at a loss. The well- bred French women have as much energy and industry as any New England woman, but they take their amusement more resolutely, never losing music, gayety, and "distraction." Perhaps what amuses them might not amuse the more sober Saxon, but the delicate embroidery of their lives, with all that comes thus cheaply to them, certainly makes them a very delightful set. Their manners are most fascinating, never selfish, never ponderous, never self-conscious, but always most agreeable. The French woman is sui generis. She may no longer be very young; she never was very handsome. Every sensation that the human mind can experience she has experienced; every caprice, whim, and fancy that human imagination can conceive she has gratified. She is very intelligent; she was born with a perfect taste in dress; and she is--all the novelists to the contrary notwithstanding--a very good wife, an excellent mother, a charming companion, a most useful and sensible helpmeet, with a perfect idea of doing her half of the business of life, and of getting out of her hours of leisure all the amusement she can. At a French watering-place the French women of the better class are most entirely at home and intensely agreeable.